Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy Holidays!

And a special thanks to all of you who've shared my work with others, whether they be friends, family, climbing buddies, coworkers, students, strangers on the street, aliens with whom you've made first contact, travel editors with big budgets... you get the picture. When I started this blog last April, I never would have guessed it'd run any longer than a summer's worth of highpointing, but if you all are still getting a kick out of it, I can certainly keep going.

In fact, I've been sitting on three or four posts' worth of material for a while now. I'll get those written up for you just as soon as the holidays slow down and let me off. Check back in a couple weeks for more Larvitar shenanigans!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains

Remember that huge anti-Smokies rant I posted back in May? I'm sure it sounded like I wanted Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville to go up in flames--and in the moment I just might have--but now that it's actually happening, I've entirely reconsidered.

When a friend of mine in Chattanooga informed me of the fire there this morning, I was surprised. Wildfires in November? Shouldn't those hills be covered in snow? But it turns out that the Smokies are at the center of a severe drought afflicting the entire Southeast. As my Chattanoogan friend said, "[L]ast night was the first rain of measure here for something like a hundred days." Wildfires have blazed throughout the Blue Ridge for the past month, including this particularly nasty one near the west entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The fire began on Chimney Top Mountain:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Post-Trip Highpoint Difficulty Rankings

And now it's time to do something I've wanted to do ever since I arrived in Seattle: rank the high points by difficulty!

I'd come across the Martin Classification of state high point difficulty while planning my trip, but it didn't quite satisfy me. For one, it only considers the easiest route to a high point's summit, which leads to sizeable mountains like North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell and New Hampshire's Mt. Washington being ranked in the easiest class. While technically correct, in that those summits can both be accessed by walking less than 0.2 miles, such a ranking is useless to one who intends to hike those high points from their base. What's more, both those mountains have "standard approach" trails that could easily be incorporated into the ranking alongside the drive-up routes.

And second, Martin's classification takes little account of the technical difficulty of a route; instead, it relies almost exclusively on elevation gain and trail length. This also leads to some odd rankings, in my opinion (for instance, the gentle stroll up Black Mesa, OK is ranked a class above the rough, rocky trails on Mt. Frissell, CT and Mt. Mansfield, VT). While an experienced mountaineer considering the glaciated Western high points might not care whether the approach is Class 1 or Class 2 terrain, the distinction matters to casual hikers, not to mention those with mobility issues, acrophobia, and/or small children in tow. And regardless of ability, many people would find a 7-mile hike easier than a 4-mile scramble of equal elevation gain (just ask anyone who's done both Mt. Marcy and Katahdin's Knife-Edge which was harder).

Thus, I've put together my own ranking of the highpoints I've climbed, available here as a list and on my homepage (where I control the backend code) as a sortable table. The standard route up each high point (as selected by me) is listed below, as are any alternate routes of sufficiently different character (again, my judgement call). Starred routes are featured in this blog. I intend to complete this ranking as I continue highpointing, so check back for additions.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Post-Trip Gear Post! (and Trip Stats)

A couple of you have asked about the gear I used this trip, so here's the lowdown:

The two most important pieces were definitely my tent and my day-hike pack. The tent was a 1-person Big Agnes model designed for backpacking (but conveniently light and compact even for lazy car-campers like me). It was quick to set up and plenty spacious for my needs. At first I used the raincover even on clear nights, but after that mosquito mess in Ogema I started leaving it off--and what do you know, half of those weird, rustley, potential-bear noises that had kept me up at night went away.

My pack, a 28 L Osprey (that link isn't quite it, but it's the closest model I could find in their current product line), was thrust upon me by the employees of the Eastern Mountain Sports in North Conway when I showed up for their mountaineering course without one. Though designed for snowboarding, it served my day-hiking needs just fine. It has way more pockets and features than anyone could conceivably use, like all modern hiking packs. I stuck to the two main pockets (it's reassuring to be able to segregate one's spare clothes from one's water bottle), a medium-sized pouch where I kept small things I hoped I wouldn't need (bandages, headlamps, a compass, water-filtration tablets, matches, emergency cash, etc.), and the pockets on the hip belt (where the Lars and my phone rode).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Epilogue: Atlantic to Pacific

On my way home from Mt. Washington in February, I detoured through Maine so that I could say I'd been there (not knowing I'd return in the summer). I didn't go far, just across the Piscataqua River to a town called Kittery. The town was nice enough (in a cramped, steep-roofed, narrow-streeted New England way), but what I really wanted was to see the sea.

And I did, at a local park called Fort McClary Memorial:

Quite the contrast it was from the ice-coated slopes of Mt. Washington. I dipped my fingers in the water, then sat down on the grassy bank to bask in the warm sun.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Side Trip: Crater Lake, OR (8929')

I doubted correctly. The only other person I saw all night was a dude in a white SUV who pulled into the loop around 5 am, set up a hammock in the trees, and slept. Hail, fellow illicit camper, I'd have called, but I didn't want to startle him into thinking I was the angry ranger I'd at first thought he'd been. 'Tis a strange shadow-community to which we belong.

I woke with the sun, more or less. The morning was both cloudy and hazy, as if a fire was burning somewhere in this pine-tinderbox of a forest. But if it was, I couldn't see it through the trees. After decades of artificial protection, the forests around Crater Lake are unnaturally thick. Ecologists, you see, didn't realize until halfway through the park's existence that wildfires are a natural (and beneficial) occurrence in the fir forests of the Cascades. Prior to that, park policy had been to immediately extinguish all fires, whether natural or human-caused, which left nothing to thin the young trees and clear away dead wood. Natural fires are now allowed to run their course (though kept in check so that they don't escape the park or destroy its structures), but they've still got lots of catching up to do. Parts of the park haven't burned in over a century, including (I'd bet) this one.

It turns out I'd spent the night at the head of the Pinnacles Trail, a short trail built to showcase a line of pumice spires sprouting from the side of a steep river valley. Might as well take a look, I figured, since I'm here. So I rolled out of my car-bed and headed down the trail:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Side Trip: East Oregon (~5000')

(Just so we're clear, Borah Peak was my last high point on this trip. If that's all that interests you, you can stop reading now. However, if you'd care to see my journey through to its conclusion, I've got two more posts for you...)

With mighty effort I roused myself from the abyss of dreams and returned (up a Class 3 chute) to reality the next morning. Here I lay in my motel room, stretched horizontal beneath the sheets, still, sheltered, and safe... and holy cow it was 10:20 am. I had forty minutes to eat, shower, and skedaddle before they tacked an extra night's stay onto my bill.

Thirty-nine and a half minutes later, I emerged blinking into the Idaho sun, toting all my possessions in a profusion of bags. I shoved the stuff haphazardly into the front-passenger seat and set off, heading west down I-84. The Oregon border was less than an hour away. I crossed the Snake River on the interstate, then pulled off at the oddly-named Ontario (aspirational...?) for gas.

Remember, back during my brief sojourn through New Jersey, when I had my gas pumped by an attendant? Only two states in the Union have enshrined that antiquated profession into law, and, as I discovered that day, Oregon is the other.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Highpoint #38: Borah Peak, ID (12,668')

What does one do with an unclimbable mountain? Give it a try anyway and see how high you can go.

I woke before dawn the next morning due to both nerves (upon my decision) and the commotion of day-hikers arriving. The air was frigid; I shivered all the way to the outhouse, where I tugged on my spandex climbing-pants and down jacket (though, as usual, I'd shed the latter within the hour). I packed away my tent, strapped my new trekking poles to my day-pack, locked the car, double-checked that it was locked, and--oh, there's no sense delaying it. Up the mountain I went.

Borah or bust...?
I honestly didn't expect to make it to the summit. Something--bad weather, elevation, exposure, exhaustion, Pamola's last revenge--was sure to intercept me along these next 3.4 horizontal miles (and 5200' in gain) and force me to turn back. And, honestly, I'd be lucky if that was the worst of it. The mountain would remain after a failed attempt; would I? (I'd like to think I have enough sense to keep myself alive, but I'll admit the matter's not entirely in my hands.)

But the route up Borah began, as all trails do, relatively gently, as a simple dirt path.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Side Trip: Base of the Lost River Range, ID (~7000')

In August, the Lost River range is defined, or rather, undefined, by haze. Dust hangs in the distance, obscuring the elegant curves of the foothills and reducing the peaks to no more than cloud-shadows hovering over the horizon. As one approaches, they solidify one by one into gray granite pyramids sprinkled with shreds of snow, each summit higher than the last.

This, of course, makes spotting the high point rather difficult. As I drove north on US-93 that afternoon, a new candidate emerged for every mile I progressed--but no sooner had I voiced aloud "Is that one Borah?" than a higher peak popped into view just beyond. Finally, a dozen miles past Mackay, a clear victor emerged. I followed the highway's curve around its magnificently smooth slope, then turned up a gravel road towards the Borah Campground... and caught my first glimpse of the real Borah Peak behind it.

Several hundred feet higher, of course.
That road took me over a brook (one of many "lost rivers" in this valley with no aboveground outlet: they gather, flow a ways, then vanish into the water table):

around a hairpin turn, and up to the campground itself:

Side Trip: Craters of the Moon National Monument (~6000')

And so I headed north again on I-15... and before I knew it, I was in Idaho. The Spud State greeted me with a beautiful broad valley lined with moderate mountains covered in grass and pines:

Sorry, North Dakota, but the summer-yurt just jumped 500 miles west.
It wasn't quite what I had expected... then again, my entire prior knowledge of Idaho consisted of potatoes and Mt. Borah, so I didn't really know what to expect. I read up on the state that evening as I dined in Pocatello: apparently it's known as the Gem State due to the immense variety of gemstones and minerals found there. It's also home to Hell's Canyon, the deepest gorge in the United States (out of my way, unfortunately), and quite a bit of recent volcanic activity.

If you've been following along on a map, you might be wondering why I veered so far north on I-15. The direct route to the coast from the Great Salt Lake runs through Nevada rather than Idaho, and if all I'd wanted was a glimpse of the latter, I could have gotten that just as easily westbound on I-84. But out of all the western highpoints I'd hoped to climb this summer, Idaho's Borah Peak was the one I'd most looked forward to. Even if my lungs wouldn't let me summit, I wanted to see it with my own eyes--and thus the Lost River Range, north of Arco along US-93, was my destination.

But I couldn't quite make it there tonight. The hotels in Pocatello were pricey, so I drove another 30 minutes northeast to North Bingham County Park, a small park along the Snake River whose website promised both tent and RV camping. I arrived to find the tent site(s?) were unlabeled, so I pitched my tent on an unoccupied spot of grass, paid my fee, and settled in for the night, hoping I wouldn't be evicted midway through.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Low Point: Great Salt Lake, UT (~4206')

I woke the next morning just as the sun rose over the walls of the Colorado River canyon:

After a quick breakfast on a flat-topped boulder, I packed my gear away and set off for the Great Salt Lake.

View from the boulder.
All morning I drove northwest through the most arid desert I'd yet seen on this entire trip. Texas and New Mexico had been dry, for sure, but at least their lowlands were filled with grass and scrub and cacti. Utah's were only rock and sand. Weird rock formations reared up beside the highway, mesas crumbled in the distance, and in between the road stretched ever on.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Side Trip: Arches National Park, UT (4085-5653')

I spent the first half of the next day bouldering in the Sandia foothills:

and the second half recovering from my injuries (I didn't fall off a problem, I'll have you know--I tripped over a rock on the ground). That pretty much exhausted my list of things to do in the Sandias. I could have stayed longer--my hosts were glad to have me, and those two German Shepherds wanted me to move in for good--but the open road was calling me... and if, for some reason, I changed my mind about climbing those other high points (perhaps because I'd made it up and down from 10,678' without incident?) I'd have to do it soon. August was nearly up, and the alpine winter sets in quick.

So the next morning I departed Albuquerque (with a chunk of Sandia granite squirreled away in my luggage and a strange urge to rewatch Breaking Bad) and headed northwest up US-550. I drove through reservation land all morning, painted deserts dotted with the occasional small town or casino. At Shiprock I turned north and continued into Colorado. Here on the far side of the Rockies, the land was high, dry, and gently rolling, save for a few lonely ranges jutting into the skyline. Most notable of the bunch was Sleeping Ute Mountain, which lingered in my sights for several miles. The local Ute tribe likens its shape to a gigantic warrior resting from his battles against evil--a sort of western Mt. Mansfield.

Around midafternoon I crossed into Utah. I'd held off on filling my gas tank in New Mexico, hoping it'd be cheaper across the state line, but instead, to no one's surprise but mine, the price shot up 20 cents a gallon. Utah is pretty remote, you know; it's hard to ship fuel there. The higher prices held all the way through Idaho and eastern Oregon until I crossed the Cascades, where they jumped an additional ten cents for no apparent reason. Anyway, I filled up reluctantly in Monticello, then turned north onto US-191 and headed for the day's destination: Arches National Park.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Side Trip: Sandia Crest, NM (10,678')

I headed out early the next morning and drove north across town, parallel to the ridgeline of the Sandia Mountains. The trailhead of La Luz was on the far northwest corner of Albuquerque, sharing an access road with a Forest Service picnic site. I hopped out of the car, changed into my boots, and headed up.

We'll follow the light all the way to the summit!
The trail began with a gentle climb up and over the foothills. It contoured south through the scrub in the shade of the mountains:

then, as the slope increased, started to switchback.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Side Trip: Albuquerque, NM (4900-6000')

Whereas in northern New Mexico half the population looked Hispanic, here in El Paso half the population actually conducts business in Spanish. The girl at the front desk was flawlessly bilingual—she spoke perfect Spanish to the guest before me and perfect English to me. I understood snatches here and there: the guy calling his buddy an idiot, the mom yelling at her kids to stop running in the halls, but for the most part I was shut out of sus conversaciones. As a chronic eavesdropper, I suppose that’s my just deserts.

I woke up late that morning, as though my body was in on my mind's conspiracy to postpone decision-making. With Guadalupe climbed, I was now past the planned portion of my journey, but on the opposite end of the country from its destination. All the remaining high points were over 10,000 feet high and thus unreachable, but where else was I to stop on my way north to Seattle? The most direct route was 1700 miles long, 25 hours of driving--I'd need to split that over at least three days.

I glanced over at the clock: there was an hour left until I had to leave. An hour to figure out where I was leaving for. I turned on my laptop and pulled up the maps.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

High Point #37: Guadalupe Peak, TX (8751')

I headed out early the next morning, since all the campsites at my destination, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, were first-come-first-served (and it was a Friday, too). The roads through the eastern New Mexico plains were nearly empty. I made good time at a conservative 5 mph over the speed limit. The shoulders were littered with the night’s crop of dead jackrabbits, whom the vultures would no doubt devour before evening. I bypassed Roswell around midmorning (seeing nothing weird in the skies, but you never really know...) and stopped for lunch in touristy Carlsbad.

New Mexico has so much character, I thought as I drove through town, with all its adobe buildings and clay-tiled roofs and fiestas and roadrunners and red-or-green chili peppers. It's a land apart from the lawns and shade trees of suburbia, a place that's not afraid to flaunt its differentness. And, what's more, I fit in with the locals; we're all suntanned and at least vaguely Hispanic (unlike, say. Minnesota, where my dark features stuck out like a sore thumb). Call me enchanted.

As I emerged from the built-up part of Carlsbad, I spotted the Guadalupe Ridge on the horizon:

Note the drop at the end.
The long ridge rises up from the desert and follows a gentle curve southwest for nearly a hundred miles, looking for all the world like the spine of some long-dead earth giant.

Monday, October 3, 2016

High Point #36: Black Mesa, OK (4975')

I popped back over the state line to spend the night in Lamar, CO--the only town within a hundred miles large enough to host multiple motels--then woke with the sun and headed south down US-385 to the Oklahoma Panhandle. The low scrub of the plains did little to keep the sun from my eyes; the 18-wheelers I kept having to pass did much better, though with the side effect of checking my speed to the posted limit (sigh).

The Panhandle, by the way, has quite the interesting history. Originally part of the Republic of Texas, the strip was ceded to the federal government when Texas joined the U.S. as a slaveholding state, since that land was north of the 36°30' slave/free cutoff imposed by the Missouri Compromise. It spent the second half of the 19th century as an unorganized no-man's-land, serving as a hideout for outlaws and squatters. Towards the end of the century it campaigned to be recognized as its own Cimarron Territory, but was instead incorporated into the Oklahoma Territory in 1890.

I arrived around midmorning at Black Mesa State Park only to discover that the high point wasn't actually there:

but in Black Mesa Nature Preserve a few miles up the highway.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Highpoint #35: Mt. Sunflower, KS (4041')

And when I say east, I mean straight-as-a-line exactly due east. That's how the roads are, out on the plains, and CO-94 was no exception. I spent the rest of the afternoon zipping down that two-laner, which eventually joined up with US-40, with the sun at my back (for once!). A few miles past Arapahoe I crossed the border into Kansas, and a few miles after that I turned onto a gravel road that took me north through twelve miles of cornfields to another gravel road, which in turn brought me the remaining mile to the high point. It was appropriately marked, I'd say:

Though, ironically, the area had the fewest sunflowers of any Plains high point (if you don't count the metal ones).
Like Panorama Point, Mt. Sunflower was also on active rangeland, but its approach was somewhat gentler on my car. I followed the dirt track up from the road and onto a slight rise in the middle of nothing.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Side Trip: Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO (~6500')

After spending most of the morning looking up directions for my new, Rocky-less route through the West, I once again bade goodbye to Nancy and departed Denver. The Kansas high point, my goal for the day, was only a few hours away, so I figured I had time to detour down I-25 and see a little more of the Front Range (from the plains, of course). I don't know why I felt the need to taunt myself with more views of those inaccessible peaks, other than that they were there, and I was there, and even after yesterday's near-asphyxiation I still hadn't entirely stopped wanting to climb them.

So I followed the highway south to Colorado Springs and pulled off at the Garden of the Gods, a famous park on the northwest side of the city. Its Wikipedia article, which I'd come across ages ago while looking into rock climbing, is full of glorious photographs of red stone outcroppings jutting up from an empty hillside--and when the Lars saw those, they insisted we stop by.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
You might be wondering why a bunch of rocks in a mid-sized Colorado city wound up with such a grandiose name. The answer, I'm told, goes back to a dialogue between two surveyors who explored the area in 1859. The older one, perhaps a bit thirsty at the time, remarked to his companion that the area would be a "capital place for a beer garden," to which the awestruck young fellow replied, "Beer garden? Why, it is a fit place for the gods to assemble!" and thus it was called "Garden of the Gods." The land was purchased in 1879 by Charles Elliott Perkins, a railroad baron, who intended to build a summer home there but never quite got around to it. Upon his death, his children ceded the land to the city of Colorado Springs on the condition that it become a free public park, and public and free it has remained through the years... perhaps uncomfortably so.

Now, if you've learned anything about me from following this blog through 64 posts, you know I'm not objecting to the freeness of the place. So what went wrong with this ol' heavenly rockpile?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Side Trip: Lookout Mountain (7377') and Golden, CO

I pulled to a stop atop Lookout Mountain (7377'), a foothill just west of Golden, CO. An aptly-named town, I thought as I emerged from my car, because that's just what those hills were, golden with the grass of the plains:

I later learned the town was named after an early prospector, Thomas Golden, who founded the town during the gold rush of 1859... but the grass is the only gold left in these hills, so there.
I wandered around for a bit:

then sat down on the rocks to decide what to do next, if not climb the high high points. You know, the ones that were kind of the entire purpose of this trip.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

High Point #35... erm... (gasp)... no.

The eastern third of Colorado is much like Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Dakotas: gently-rolling plains as far as the eye can see filled in with a tricolor palette of corn, hay, and soybeans. From the Nebraska high point, I drove a long way down a gravel road, my eyes fixed on the western horizon. Any minute now, I thought, as trucks full of hay bales whizzed past in the opposite direction. One more mile, one more rise, and I'll see them at last, the skysplitting Rockies of my dreams.

The gravel turned to pavement; a small town flickered by. Flat and straight the horizon remained, clogged with dull clouds. Another dozen miles, a slightly larger town, and then just as a few grubby brown foothills resolved out of the murk, I hit I-25 again at Fort Collins and turned away from the Front Range. No Rocky panoramas for me today. Oh well; there'd be plenty of chances for that later on, I figured.

Though I re-entered only 50 miles south of where I'd exited at Cheyenne, the highway was noticeably more crowded--which meant, of course, that it was full of Northern-Virginia-grade tailgating going on at Wyoming speeds. After a tense hour of mentally begging giant SUVs not to crush my bumper, I pulled off at Denver, the Mile High City home to mediocre pitching, high-altitude cooking instructions, and, as of late, weed dispensaries (at least half of which were named some variant on "Rocky Mountain High"). I generally avoid major cities while traveling, but my aunt's friend Nancy, a local, had offered to host me for a night on my way to Mt. Elbert, so here I was.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

High Point #34: Panorama Point, NE (5427')

It was on that long drive south through the High Plains of Wyoming that I finally got the hang of passing across the yellow line. The trick to it is to drift a little over the line so you can see around whatever giant truck or RV is blocking your way. If there's oncoming traffic, you can zip right back into place, but if not (and in Wyoming, there's usually not), you can go for it.

From the Black Hills I followed US-18 through Lusk (whose gas station was abuzz with motorcycles leaving Sturgis), then continued south down US-85 through Lingle and Torrington. Along the way I passed miles and miles of empty rangeland, sunbaked buttes, blizzard gates, and tiny towns that stuck out like oases from the prairie. I noticed that one such town, Hawk Springs, listed its elevation on the town sign rather than its population... because the former was the higher number? At Cheyenne I returned at last to civilization. I got a motel room and some supper, scrubbed off the dust of the Black Hills, and slept straight through to the dawn.


The next morning I spent some time catching up on my online life (thankfully, there'd been no more attacks on my email account), then headed out around 11 am (still on Mountain time) towards the Nebraska high point. I-80 took me all the way to Pine Bluffs, a scenic little town along the WY-NE border. The Bluffs it's named for are a long row of pine-covered cliffs--a sort of Black Hills-lite--that drop from the Nebraska plains to the slightly-lower plains on the Wyoming side. I climbed the bluff south of town, followed its edge southward, and then veered east to cross the border. The gravel roads were lined with sunflowers--a theme of these Plains high points:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

High Point #33: Black Elk Peak, SD (7244')

Having returned safely to my car, I drove back towards Amidon. Funny, I thought as I passed through the town, how people plant trees and green lawns wherever they go. Why not embrace the unique palette of the Great Plains rather than forcing it to conform to the stereotypical suburban vision? It scares me a bit how that single aesthetic holds such sway, even in a place as remote as this.

I filled my tank in Bowman, then headed south on US-85 for the Black Hills. The first two thirds were much like the previous day's drives: a long, gently rolling trip through a whole lot of nothing (except for distant buttes, which I ogled). I spaced out the whole way through. It was wonderful.

Returning to I-90 (by way of Belle Fourche) was a shock to my system. Welcome back to the billboards, the traffic, the ugly, boxy, light-flashing sprawl of humanity. To think I missed this just a day ago (well, more like I missed its conveniently-located gas stations, but I suppose you can't have one without the other). I circled southeast around the Black Hills, passing through Sturgis--at the time it was hosting its massive annual motorcycle rally, which explained all the bikers I’d been seeing everywhere--and exited at Rapid City, which was indeed citylike in size. The build-up stretched down US-16 all the way to the entrance of the Black Hills National Forest:

Monday, September 19, 2016

High Point #32: White Butte, ND (3506')

Did you know that the western third of South Dakota (and the corner of North Dakota I visited) is on Mountain time? Neither did I until I reached Faith, a tiny town on the South Dakota plains that was home to the first civilization (read: gas station) I'd seen in hours. "Next Services 53 Miles," my tail. The gas was expensive, but I filled that tank all the way up--what choice did I have?  Afterwards, I popped into the convenience store for a snack. As I ate I leafed through the local newspapers, which were full of local ranch news and columns like "Ramblings of a Conservative Cow Doctor." In the process, I realized just how little I knew about farming and ranching--I couldn't tell a hay baler from a milking machine if my life depended on it. Perhaps we all ought to put a little more thought into how the food we eat is grown and raised.

And yes, their stockyard was a PokeStop.
I headed north again from there, then turned west onto US-12 at Lemmon, ND.The fields all around were a sun-scorched orange, empty save for the stray herd of cattle (or possibly buffalo, though I couldn't spare my eyes from the road long enough to tell the difference). Tumbleweeds (for real!) cut across the road in front of me, as did several foot-high, squat, terrestrial birds--prairie chickens!

Well, more likely sharp-tailed grouse, but those don't sound half as funny.
Though the late-afternoon sun left me half-blind, I did my best not to run them over (to my kid brother's disappointment--Joey, you monster, those chickens have families).

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Side Trip: Ft. Pierre, SD (1434')

The grim clouds that lingered over the last of Minnesota broke as I crossed the border into South Dakota. I shot through Sioux Falls at 70 mph... and then, just past the last exit, I spotted a pair of numerals I'd never thought I'd see beneath "Speed Limit": 80. My home state's threshold for reckless driving was the legal limit here.

Then again, that highway was arrow-straight and uncannily flat. I zoomed on down, passing RVs left and right--turns out they're not just a thing in the Midwest, but everywhere west of the Mississippi. Vast fields of corn stretched in every direction:

At a rest stop.
blocked only by a bright parade of billboards urging the cross-country traffic to stop in at various museums, hotels, RV parks, and president-marred mountains. Yep, the signs for Mt. Rushmore started at the border, over 300 miles from the Black Hills, and continued all the way through the state (though, thankfully, only on the interstate itself).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Highpoint #31: Hawkeye Point, IA (1671')

I got a late start out from Duluth that morning and spent most of the day cutting a diagonal across Minnesota. Along the way I witnessed landscape change in action: from the rolling hills of the North Woods along the northern half of I-53 to a transition zone of agriculture and scattered groves and then at last to the Great Plains. The land had flattened out by the time I hit Minneapolis (where I crossed the Mississippi one final time, though it was so narrow that I mistook it for just another highway overpass). By Mankato the forests were done, and beyond that was pure prairie. The only trees were windbreaks around houses; the tallest shapes on the horizon were silver grain elevators.

Shortly afterwards, I spotted another storm sweeping east to meet me: huge and dark, just like yesterday's. The other cars seemed unconcerned, so I drove on, but every few seconds I found myself glancing up to the deep-gray clouds, tracking their progress. Weather is so much more intense out on the plains than any forest- or city-dweller can imagine. You see it coming for minutes, even hours, before it hits. Slowly but unstoppably, it bears down on you until it fills half your field of vision. All you can think about is how tiny you are in your little car, how helpless without any trees or hills or buildings to protect you from the sky's wrath. No wonder ancient peoples of the plains worshiped it; no wonder today's plain-dwellers block it out with windbreaks and clustered buildings. It demands respect.

Fortunately for me, the worst of that particular storm passed to the southeast--it only sprinkled on me--but more clouds waited beyond it. I spent the whole afternoon with my lights on, dodging in and out of showers. At least it was only rain this time.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Side trip: PANIC! on Lake Superior, or The Near-Wreck of the Old Honda Accord (600')

The legend lives on from highpointers on down
of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.
The lake road, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of mid-August turn gloomy.

The car was the pride of a hiker named Stoat,
loaded down with her worldly possessions.
As mid-size sedans go, it was bigger than most
with driver and Pokemon well-seasoned.

They were headed southwest from that old raven's nest
Eagle Mountain, a hill they'd been climbing
As they turned from the forest to highway they saw
they'd got down with impeccable timing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Highpoint #30: Eagle Mountain, MN (2302')

I woke to find several of that mosquito swarm stuck between my tent's raincover and the mesh shield. I extricated myself carefully, then whipped the raincover off, sending several (I hope) to their deaths. Then, quickly, before the survivors could return with reinforcements, I stowed my tent and set off for the state line.

I blame the pond beside my campsite.
The long road to the Land of Clouded Waters was draped in fog that morning. It thickened as I drove, then gradually lifted--and yes, that's exactly how fog dissipates, rising inch by inch from the ground with its threshold held level until it joins with the overcast ceiling.

While stopped at a road-work site, a bald eagle flew over my car. They must love this place, I thought, with all its lakes and bogs and sportsman-stocked ponds full of fish. The woods are popular with human hunters, too. Along US-53 I saw a sign for “,” a local business that sells exactly what you'd think it does (for use as an attractant). How did they extract it? I wondered as I passed. Some kind of elaborate deer-diaper-funnel apparatus, or the old-fashioned way, by hand? And do the (presumably captive) source-deer know their urine is being used to lure fellow members of their species to their deaths? That's some sci-fi horror stuff right there.

At Trego, WI, I passed beneath some scary dark-looking clouds. They weren't quite ready to burst (it was still well before noon), but for a while they seemed to be following me north. Realizing this, I punched the gas and left them behind.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Highpoint #29: Timms Hill, WI (1951')

From L'Anse I headed south to the MI/WI border, then on down US-45 towards the Wisconsin high point. Along the way, I realized that the Great North Woods are basically Finland. They've got the same climate, same low hills, same boreal wildlife, and the same endless forest. The immigrants who settled here must have thought the same: I passed a Korpi Rd. (Finnish for "forest") and a handful of Finnish flags hanging from houses and mailboxes. A broader Scandinavian influence was visible all the way down in the names on billboards and businesses and the old Lutheran churches in every town.

Like this one in Ogema, the town where I spent the night.
The roads to Wisconsin’s high point, like the ones I’d driven the previous day, passed straight through essentially nothing, just acres and acres of forest broken by the occasional farmhouse or tiny junction-town. I can see why the Packers wear green and gold: all they've got up here is trees and cheese. Further north those trees grew wild, but as I neared the high point park they separated into rectangular patches in various stages of growth--timberlands, I assume.

Around mid-afternoon, I pulled off WI-86 onto [RR], or “Rustic Road,” a twisty parkway that surrounded Timms Hill County Park. From that road I turned onto a narrow, one-way asphalt track that led me up through a grim gauntlet of trees. The thick forest closed around the road like Mirkwood come to life--passing through them, I understood how the ancients came to fear certain forests as evil, haunted places. But soon enough I pulled out of that gloomy patch of pines and into the parking lot. Just behind it, a cross-country ski trail crossed the road--maintained, a sign informed me, by the local high school's cross-country (running) team. It seems they practice here, no doubt so they can run hill repeats up their state's high point(!!!).

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Highpoint #28: Mount Arvon, MI (1979')

Leaving behind the Land of Lincoln, I drove out from the canyon and over the border into the legendary dairy-land of Wisconsin. Seriously, the first town I hit after crossing the border had a monument to the Swiss settler who first made cheese there:

Good ol' Nicky Gerber.
Other than that, the roadside terrain was much the same farms-and-fields deal as yesterday. I sped over the Sugar River (are all the local rivers named after pie ingredients? If so, I totally approve) and through Madison, then stopped for lunch in Fond du Lac at the foot of Lake Winnebago (another large Midwestern lake just short of greatness). Seagulls circled above the parking lot, hinting at waters beyond the horizon.

From there it was a relatively (and, at times, absolutely) straight shot up I-41 to the Upper Peninsula. Never had I seen an interstate highway so hypnotically flat and level--certainly none with four lanes of traffic on each side. Without curves or hills or any meaningful change in scenery, there was nothing to hold my attention to the road--even at 80 mph it felt like I was barely moving. I had to sing to keep my mind from straying. Up I shot through Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Side Trip: Apple River Canyon State Park, IL

That night I camped in Apple River Canyon State Park, a quiet little place tucked, as the name suggests, into a canyon carved by a tributary of the Mississippi. Though I'd found the place by my usual unselective method of pulling up Google Maps and zooming out until I spotted a patch of green, it turned out to be another hidden gem of the state park systems, much like Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi. No flush toilets, but the campsites were cheap and spacious and self-registrable (for which I was grateful, having arrived, as always, after staffed hours). Tired from the day's drive, I pitched my tent, chowed down on my now traditional peanut-butter tortillas, and conked out.


So that was the first day of my journey away from home. It felt oddly normal, I must say, like any other "there and back" trip, only without the "back" this time. I felt no internal sense of how far I'd come, no twinge in my gut to tell me I’m going the wrong way. But the Midwest doesn't feel all that different from home, so far. There's still the same humidity, the same trees, and the same road signs (those, at least, will be a constant all through my trip across the US)--nothing to say that the Sleepy Hollow Rd. I passed in the Chicago suburbs wasn't just some unknown stretch of the one that runs by my house. At least not yet...


I woke in the night to a scuffling sound just outside my tent. My ears pricked, listening through the blind night and my tent's opaque rain cover. The sound continued; something was out there. A bear?--no, not here in Illinois--possums? Raccoons? Perhaps. I sighed in relief. No doubt the critters would soon move on, for there was nothing in my camp to interest them, not with all my food sealed up in... car, whose windows I'd left cracked after dinner. That's what they were after.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Highpoint #27: Charles Mound, IL (1,235')

I began my Western leg in earnest with a long drive from Lake Erie to western Illinois. My first challenge, as I headed out at dawn, was getting to the interstate. Shouldn’t be hard, I’d thought, since this Cleveland suburb’s streets were on a grid... but they turned out to be a grid drawn by an attention-deficient toddler, full of three-way intersections, missing links, and random squiggly river-roads. After minutes of circling I finally found a ramp onto I-90/80W and immediately realized why there were so few of them: each one required a plaza to collect the highway’s toll.

Just keeps getting better, doesn't it?
$10.50 later, I was back in Indiana, this time on the Indiana Toll Road that runs across the state just south of the Michigan border. A sign at the border welcomed me to "The Crossroads of America"—a proud flyover state. Even its toll tickets were helpful, with a handy grid printed on the back that listed all the exits and the cost to travel from one to another. This is how toll roads ought to be done—if they must, only if they must. Certain other states (*cough cough* Illinois) ought to listen up.

From here, as expected, things got flat and rural. Not the grand open flatness of the Great Plains, though, but an odd claustrophobic flatness hemmed in by trees and buildings. The world seemed to shrink: there were no distant hills on the horizon to remind one of its vastness and no sudden panoramas around the bend, nothing but whatever lay between you and the nearest vertical structure... corn, most likely, for the good ol’ Midwestern Monoculture held sway here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Low Point: Great Lakes Region (600-246')

...But first, a quick spin around the Great Lakes. There are five of them, as I'm sure you recall from grade-school geography:

Formed by glacial activity at the close of the last ice age, these lakes cover 94,250 square miles of land and contain 21% of the world's surface freshwater by volume. This water flows first into storm-driven Lake Superior,

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Guess what?

I made it to Seattle without falling off any mountains! Three cheers for me, 'cause now I get to... hunker down and churn out more posts for y'all.

It might take a while.
So keep refresh-spamming this blog, and in a few days I'll take you on a vicarious visit to the magical foreign land of the Midwest...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Side Trip: Gobbler's Knob, PA (~1300')

In order to avoid the toll-heavy Pennsylvania Turnpike on my way to Ohio, I detoured through the dull, woodsy, modestly mountainous heart of Pennsylvania. Halfway through, I found myself in a strange little town with an inordinate fondness for deformed beavers:

or so I first thought. A storefront on Main Street cleared up my confusion:

This wasn't just any Alleghenian hamlet. It was the weather capital of the world, a mecca for marmot prognostication, and home to the most famous of my mutant mountain groundhogs' untainted brethren: Punxsutawney, PA.

Friday, July 29, 2016

From Here On Out

Once again I've managed to finish a batch of posts just in time to set off to gather data for the next ones. This third leg of my trip will be the longest yet--and the last of the year--so listen up:

I'll head out from Ohio (following a family vacation) on August 7th in order to hit Illinois on a permissible day, then continue north through the Upper Midwest, down to Iowa, and back up to the Dakotas. From there I'll make a line down the Plains states, interrupted by quick jogs west to Mt.s Elbert and Wheeler, then rebound up from Texas by way of Arizona, Utah, and Idaho, and conclude with a visit to the former Mt. Mazama.

As I predicted back in April, the glaciated high points of Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, and Washington remain out of reach for me, as does a 22-mile day hike up Mt. Whitney (and its neighbor Boundary Peak is so close that I might as well do those two together). So it looks like I'll have to cap it at 42 high points for this summer... unless someone wants to step forward with airfare to Hawaii? (Any sarcastic fool who steps forward with airfare to Alaska is coming along to be my rope-buddy on Denali's glaciers. I mostly know how to self-arrest.)

So, here goes!
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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Highpoint #26: Jerimoth Hill, RI (811')

After a brief night in a disgusting motel in Clifton, MA (the cheapest I could find at the last minute), I headed down I-395 to snag my last high point. The highway was lined with bright broadleafed trees--I'd left the north woods behind in Maine--and traffic was light for a Saturday morning. I drove for several minutes through extreme-eastern Connecticut, then exited onto SR-101 and made a beeline for the border.

Jerimoth Hill was just a few minutes past it, atop a rise in the road:

Trees sealed off most of the view, but a glance down the road-cut revealed the distant hills of Connecticut:

On par with the view from Campbell Hill, I'd say.
A path beside the sign led into the piney woods atop the Hill:

Quite tame, compared to yesterday's hike.
I grabbed my camera and the Lars and walked right in.

Ten years ago I could have been shot for doing that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Highpoint #25: Katahdin, ME (5267')

Two thousand feet is a long way to fall.

An obvious statement, but one whose reality is never quite felt until one finds oneself that far above the nearest level ground, inching along a jagged knife-edge so narrow that you don't dare stand or even step from rock to rock, but scuttle through on your butt like a hyperventilating crab with its shell soaked in rank nervous sweat and its claws clamped to holds it would never have trusted below--but it's that or thin air on the ridge of Katahdin--and a look up confirms, by Pamola! you've still got a mile to go to the summit.

Oh, Katahdin, wildest of the Northeastern high points. SummitPosters call your rugged profile "the only Western peak in the East." Your renown stretches south to Georgia, where each spring hundreds of saps slip on their hiking boots and go a-questing for your summit 2190 miles north. Far better writers than I have cowered before you--but if I am allowed a few brief words, let me simply say thank you, thank you, thank you for not killing me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Highpoint #24: Mt. Washington Redux (6288')

…and, to my surprise, it was.

 I returned to Pinkham's Notch shortly after 8 AM the next morning. The skies above the Presidentials were much clearer than they'd been the day before, so clear that I could see almost all the way up Washington from the road. Once there, there was no need to repeat the past day's deliberations; I packed my bag, strapped on my gaiters, and headed up the trail towards Tuckerman's Ravine. Following the recommendations of a map I'd found in the hostel, I planned to ascend via the headwall of the ravine, then descend the same Lion's Head route I'd taken last February.

That first wide stretch through the woods (the "trunk line," so to speak, from which all the summit trails branched off), was much steeper and rougher than I'd remembered. Or perhaps it was just easier to crunch my way up a smooth ice path than to stumble over the uneven rocks exposed by melting:

Either way, that bit was just a stroll in the forest compared to what came next.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Highpoint #24: Mt. Wa- JUST KIDDING!

For all their seeming interchangeability, those two tiny states who take up opposite corners of New England's interior, Vermont and New Hampshire, are quite different. And, in the arbitrary-conclusion-jumping spirit of the early novelists--arguably the first social scientists--I attribute this difference to their disparate geography. On one side of the state line, we have rolling farmland, socialist congressmen, and gentle Green Mountains; the other features dark fir forests, license plates emblazoned with "Live Free or Die," and the perilous Whites. I saw this shift in action as I crossed the border that afternoon on I-93. The pastoral meanderings of the Vermont state route from which I'd come gave way to a wide, fast, and empty highway. I zipped past steep hills covered in clinging firs, glancing up every so often towards the cloud-swathed peaks that filled the eastern horizon. Somewhere in that hazy mess was ol' Mt. Washington, the windswept mountain of my nightmares... and here I was, coming back for Round Two.

A raindrop hit my windshield as I entered White Mountain National Forest on US-302, and then another, and then all ten thousand of their closest friends crashed like a waterfall onto my car, as if to welcome me back to the Whites' crazy weather. In the midst of this cloudburst, I passed through Crawford's Notch:

The same place we ice-climbed last February.
and I must say, the hills were just as freakishly stark and intimidating in green as they were in white. I would have wandered up the train tracks in search of the spot where we climbed, but 1. it was raining, 2. they actually run the railroad this time of year, so it probably wasn't a good idea to walk on it, and 3. I had a check-in time to make.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Highpoint #23: Mt. Mansfield, VT (4395')

Although I slept for over ten hours that night, I was still tired the next morning. Fifteen-mile hikes do that to you, I suppose. As I stretched my aching legs, I wondered if hiking the four highest Northeastern high points back-to-back-to-back-to-back was really the best idea. What's more, the weather up on Mt. Mansfield was slated to be just as grim--though less windy--as Marcy was yesterday. Perhaps I ought to have taken a rest day... but this motel was already breaking my budget, and my reservation at Katahdin wouldn't budge.

And so I decided to drive to Mansfield, at least, and see how the weather looked (and how my legs felt) when I got there. The trail up Mt. Mansfield was less than half the length of Marcy’s (only 6.6 miles round-trip), so I figured I could manage it even in slightly-suboptimal conditions. If all was good, I'd climb; if not, I'd camp nearby and wait it out.

After a lovely 45-minute drive through the Vermont countryside, I arrived at the logically named Underhill State Park and paid the $4 day-use fee. As I assembled my gear in the parking lot, a pack of  local college kids drove in and (noisily) started up the trail. I waited a moment, so as not to start right on their tail, then headed up myself.

My journey to Mansfield's summit, the highest of both Vermont and the Green Mountain chain to which it belongs, began on the Eagles Cut trail.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Side Trip: PANIC! on Lake Champlain, NY/VT (100')

The only problem with my pizza-plan, you see, was that there was no civilization within fifty miles of the Adirondack High Peaks.

Though I pulled over in each tiny hamlet I encountered on my way out of the park, none of them had a reliable phone signal, let alone 4G for maps. I had no idea where I was going at this point--all I knew was that Mt. Mansfield, my next high point, was east of here, and that the bridgeless expanse of Lake Champlain lay in between--so getting that data signal was my first priority. But there was none to be had all the way to the interstate. I got on I-87 southbound, thinking I could just head back to town where I'd lunched on the way up. After a few miles I pulled into a "text stop" to confirm my hunch.

Just your typical rest stop... except with French truckers.
While I fired off the usual "Hi Mom, I'm still alive" texts, several emails popped into my inbox. I flipped over to see what they were: spam, spam, newsletter, spam, and holy cow my Gmail account had been hacked. Google had blocked the illicit access, they informed me, but whoever it was had still cracked my password, so I had to-

The data signal blinked out of existence.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Highpoint #22: Mt. Marcy, NY (5343')

I spent the next morning resting and looking up directions to the Adirondacks. After some deliberation, I decided to circumvent Albany and take the long way around to I-87, since I'd set aside the whole day for getting there. So I set out from my motel around noon, under intermittent rain, and headed north. I clipped the corner of Vermont, passed through the lovely towns of Waloomsac and Schaghticoke (I pity the kindergartners who grow up learning to write those names). and finally hit the interstate near Malta. An hour's drive later, just after Queensbury, the road entered Adirondack State Park and all the usual highway services disappeared--including cell.

Like Maine's similarly vast and remote Baxter Park, Adirondack State Park is practically a state unto itself. It encompasses the entire Adirondack range, including six million acres--an area the size of New Hampshire--of mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, lodges, camps, small towns, ski resorts, and sawmills. Yes, I said sawmills. This weird park is a patchwork of public and private land, the latter being  home to over 100 towns (though none large enough to get a proper phone signal) and 130,000 year-round residents.

The Adirondacks themselves are an anomaly among the Eastern mountains. They’re not Appalachian, for one—they were raised up from the Canadian Shield in a separate, ongoing orogeny. Unlike their neighbors to the east, they’re still growing, so when aliens arrive in a million years to sift through the remains of our civilization, they might well wonder why this blog was so concerned with little old eroded Mt. Washington rather than the cloud-splitting Adirondack High Peaks that loom over it.

Tahawus, or Cloud-Splitter, is already the Native American name for Mt. Marcy, and a far superior name in my opinion. Mt. Marcy sounds like a friendly little hill you’d take the kids up for a picnic (“Come on, Billy, smile! We’re going to Mt. Marcy!”); the deep, savage vowels of Tahawus are much more fitting for the wind-battered behemoth I climbed. The high point of New York, Mt. Marcy is also home to the state’s only region of alpine tundra—and the weather to match it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Highpoint #21: Mt. Greylock, MA (3489')

Western Massachusetts was an interesting place, a prelude to the northeastern countryside I'd spend the rest of this leg driving through. At first glance, it was much the same as any other mountain-land I'd seen, but subtle differences revealed themselves as I drove.

New England was full of old, small towns whose boundaries seemed almost to overlap: each time I left a town the next one was just a few feet down the road. (I didn't discover until I got home that in Massachusetts and Connecticut, "town" refers to a subdivision of a county, not necessarily an urban area.) What development there was was sparse yet evenly spread through the land. The countryside was rural, but on an entirely different scale from the vast, machine-shaped fields of the South and Midwest. The (literal) towns were made of small, old buildings joined by narrow streets. I could tell most of it hadn't been built with this century in mind. There was less fast food and fewer chain stores than I'd seen elsewhere in the country--though a lot more hipsters--and the few churches I saw all seemed to be historic.

I'd planned to camp on Mt. Greylock that night, so I picked up dinner in Pittsfield, then rushed on to the mountain's visitor center. I would have stopped to eat, but I didn't want to arrive too late to get a site. My instincts were right in that regard, but not enough, as it turned out...

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Highpoint #20: Mt. Frissell, CT (2379')

I crossed the Hudson River on I-84 around noon, then turned north onto Taconic State Parkway. From the name, I’d expected an arrow-straight toll road, but it turned out to be the love child of the Blue Ridge and Fairfax County Parkways, with Mommy’s meandering curves through scenic hills and Daddy’s kamikaze speed demons taking said curves at 20 mph over the limit. Despite the wackos, I rather enjoyed the drive… so much that I missed my turn (though I swear it wasn’t labeled) and drove several miles farther north than intended. But there's no lack of roads through Massachusetts--even the rural bits--so I soon regained my course.

The correct road wound through a narrow gap in the Taconic Mountains, then slid down a shady rural valley. Much of it belonged to the Mt. Washington National Forest (named for the Massachusetts peak of that name, not the New Hampshire one). Eventually the road turned to gravel, just like in the national forests back home, then arrived after a few miles at the Mt. Frissell trailhead. I parked at the little pull-in, got my stuff together, and set off down the nearest trail.

A hundred feet in I stopped to glance at a map posted beside the trail by the Appalachian Mountain Club, the folks who maintain the AT and other nearby trails in the Northeast. Good thing I did, because I was headed in the wrong direction. That trail led east to Bear Mountain, Mt. Frissell’s next-door neighbor and the highest summit in Connecticut (though not the highest point--more on that later). I reversed course, crossed the road (and the state line), and headed up the correct trail.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July!

I hope your holiday weekend's been as fun as mine. Posts will resume tomorrow!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Highpoint #19: High Point, NJ (1803)'

That's no placeholder--New Jersey's high point is known, in a burst of creativity well-suited to the Inter Garden State, as "High Point." But I'm not quite there yet; I'm still in that parking lot at the Water Gap, sleeping like a rock...

...on a scree slope filled with popular trails. A few moments’ oblivion, and then something or other would twinge or prickle or need to stretch farther than my car’s backseat allowed, so I’d be up again, staring into the woodsy darkness as my thoughts circled round in distorted patterns, repeating the songs I’d heard on the drive up in a slow decrescendo until they slithered off again into a shallow dream in which the lot was filled with cars and their inhabitants, all listlessly waiting, like myself, for a tardy dawn-

Outside my dreamscape, gravel crunched.

I shot up from my sleeping bag. What was that? Another bear? A lost traveler pulling over for directions? The police?

Side trip: Delaware Water Gap

The traffic, as though to wish me a special welcome to the Northeast, was bumper-to-bumper in the Philadelphia suburbs that afternoon. It took me so long to inch my way up I-476 that I almost skipped the Delaware Water Gap (I'd meant it as a midpoint stop between Ebright and New Jersey's high point), but I'm glad I didn't, since it turned out to be the most visually impressive place I saw on this trip until the White Mountains. Blame that on bad weather in the Adirondacks if you like, but you must admit that this:

is really something. Enough, I'd say, to make up for both that morning's disappointing Azimuth and the tepid flatness of Pennsylvania's own high point (remember Mt. Davis? I barely do).

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Highpoint #18: Ebright Azimuth, DE (447')

The second leg of my journey began on a warm sunny morning in June (the 9th, for those of you who keep track of dates). I loaded up my car, bade my family goodbye, and drove off to face my most formidable foe of the day: traffic on I-495. It took me an hour to drive perhaps 120° around the Beltway to I-95 proper, then another eternity to get past Baltimore. I finally defected at Havre De Grace when faced with an $8 toll to cross the Susquehanna River. Think about that for a moment. They’re charging eight dollars—more than an hour of this country’s minimum wage—just to cross a river, and on a taxpayer-funded interstate highway. Gives a new meaning to “highway robbery,” eh? Needless to say, I wasn’t having any of that. I was only fifty miles from the Delaware high point; the local routes would get me from there to Wilmington just fine.

But the joke was on me, as any of you who’ve driven through the Northeast could guess. The local route, US-40, charged me the exact same toll to cross a much more dilapidated bridge. Oh well, I consoled myself as I pulled away from the plaza, at least I’d see more of the area this way.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'm Baaaack...

...from my tour of the northeastern high points. I sloshed through Mt. Marcy's mud, flicked the Chin of Mt. Mansfield, scrambled up the rocks of Mt. Washington once again, and survived Katahdin's Knife-Edge!

Snatched from the jaws of death and defeat, of course.
Oh yeah, I also saw a few other (teensy) high points. I'm all unpacked and settled in now, so get ready for more posts!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Revised Northeast Itinerary

By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way north to bag my second batch of highpoints.

Wow, you’re probably thinking, that was incredibly good timing. Did she mean to stretch out the first leg’s posts to cover her entire layover in Virginia? Well… yes, let’s ascribe that to planning and not procrastination.

Fortunately, this northeastern leg will involve a lot more hiking and a lot less driving than the last one. I’ve got 9 high points to hit, 4 of which (Marcy, Mansfield, Washington, and Katahdin) are pretty darn remote. I don’t expect to have proper Internet access at all on this leg... which means you’ll get a week-and-a-half-long break from my blathering. Yay!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Highpoint #17: Campbell Hill, OH (1549')

I spent the night of the 17th in a motel in Dayton, just across the Indiana-Ohio line. I’d driven over 400 miles to get there from Missouri, and I had another 500 still to go to reach Virginia—a long day’s drive, even for me. If I’d hit the road first thing in the morning, I might have made it home in time for dinner. But I had one more stop: the high point of Ohio.

I pulled off I-70 once again at Springfield and shot up US-68 to Bellefontaine. Under clear morning skies, the town lived up to the charm of its name. I passed a lively business district and climbed through neat neighborhoods, ascending the gradient to the Hi-Point Career Center. No, I wasn’t planning to renounce my peripatetic, writerly life in exchange for technical education and a 9-to-5; this vocational school was the pinnacle of Ohio.

I drove straight through their gates and followed my eyes to the tallest rise on campus: Campbell Hill. There was a bus lot right below the hill. I parked to the side of it, then hopped out into a lovely alpine meadow…

...of a sort.