I've been lazy about posting trip reports this year, but to catch up, i thought i'd just mention a few words about the alternative routes i've taken this year to KY, VA, MA, VT, NJ, SC, NC, AL, and for the county highpointers out there Haleakala, Maui, and Mt. Thielsen in Oregon.
Saturday, July 30th, Mt. Rogers, VA was a wet place to be. In the nightime darkness lit up by phosphorescent mushrooms, i started from the Old Orchard Appalachian Trail trailhead, on the northeast side of the mountain at a little under 3500'. A short 1 1/2 walk took me to the AT shelter there, where there were the standard AT luxury accomodations. (flat space, creek, privy, disgusting shelter) Along with the luxury accomodations came the bonus of 5 people talking and laughing loudly past midnight. The next morning, starting in thick fog and ending in sunshine, i completed the ~14 mile loop by hiking up the AT to the Pine Mountain Trail, rejoining the AT and the Mt. Rogers summit spur, then descending via AT, Crest Trail, Lewis Fork Trail, Cliffside Trail, and the Old Orchard trail back to the AT. I'd call this route very worthwhile for its variety, though i can see how someone with less time and craving nonstop views would rather start from Grayson Highlands. Highlights of my route were Pine Mountain, with its rock formations (and potential primo tent sites on open highlands), the fog lifting to show the highlands from the Crest Trail and its resulting fresh breath, seeing the wild ponies from the Lewis Fork Trail (though they weren't all that wild...they seemed to want to be petted), a perfectly ripe blueberry grove near the top of the Cliffside trail (along the trail, though it may be a week or so before more blueberries are ready...burp), and fascinating mushrooms of otherwordly variety lower on the mountain. Good route for a dayhike, or for camping atop Pine Mountain. I crossed paths with other hikers only on the top portion of the AT. Not a memorable summit or shelter.
Earlier on Saturday, July 30th i was at Black Mountain, KY. What with the waiver and the No Trespassing signs, i didn't get creative about this route. I did need to start at about 3000' though in order to climb the majority of the prominence, so with the help of a GPS and topo i picked out a spot on the highway to use as my impromptu trailhead. Nice 8-mile roundtrip walking on the mostly-deserted highway and the completely-deserted summit road. Ok route...peaceful and noticeably cooler than the rest of Kentucky. Another forgettable summit.
In the second week of June, i was in the northeast with Emma and a chance to finish off my northeast HP's and repeat my favorite one.
The weather was too hot to be hiking, but highpoints beckoned anyway. For Mt. Greylock, MA, we started from the Hopper Road trailhead on the northwest side of the mountain. There is an open dispersed camping area about a half-mile up the Money Brook Trail which was all ours. (stream, some open views) This would be a good place to base a winter climb from. Our route was Money Brook Trail to Hopper Trail to Overlook Trail, descending on the AT and the Hopper. I wish i had done this as a winter climb. In June, the bugs were bad, and the trail felt claustrophbic, being mostly in the woods with steep slopes on one or both sides. Still, it was a way to hike Greylock (~10-mile RT?) instead of driving it.
Mt. Mansfield, VT was a little cooler, and i was glad Emma gave me an excuse to repeat the route i took last year from the west side of the mountain, climbing (at times really climbing, not just hiking) up the Maple Ridge to "The Forehead," then following the Long Trail along the face to the summit, and descending on the Sunset Ridge Trail. This route, unless you're averse to a little hands and feet scrambling in a couple places, is pretty much perfect, on open granite with wildflowers and dwarf growth. (no, we weren't in Kansas anymore) wrote it up last year in the trip report section.
My last northeast HP was High Point, NJ. Approaching from the west on the Appalachian Trail, this was a steep but short hike. (Actually starting from a few hundred yards lower down the road from the state park's AT overnight parking lot.) The spur trail up to the obelisk is easy to miss. The AT shelter just east of the spur seemed unremarkable at the time, but has turned out to be the site of a bear attack this summer. Not a very special hiking route or campsite, and if you try it, be sure to bear-proof your salmon and huckleberries.
During the first week of May, i was in Florida with my friend Mark Butin for business, and we had time to drive north to highpoint. (Is highpoint a verb?) For Sassafrass Mountain, South Carolina, we did an overnighter on the Foothills Trail from Table Rock State Park. It was a great time of year to be there, with spring so new and green and thick that it felt nearly Amazonian. This is a beautiful trail section, rivaling the Roan Highlands and Humps section of the AT we were on later in our hiking trip. The Table Rock half was along classic stream and rock formations, and as the trail rose in the western half, a series of balds afforded views across the Appalachians. We set camp on top of one of these balds 5 miles in, and then hiked the remainder to the most unattractive of summits. The hike back was a little dicey in the dark and rain, but the next morning's clear view from camp and hike out were pretty great. We did a spur trail up Mt. ? (dang, no map with me) on the way back...a county hp i think. This route was as nice as any i've been on in the southeast.
Next up was Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina. A late snow had closed Black Mountain campground, our intended camp. The road wasn't blocked by any barriers or snow though, and no one was around to forbid us from camping there, so we had the whole campground to ourselves, without running water (river right there anyway) or unlocked bathrooms. Not bad. In the parking area we talked to a photographer who was there taking pictures of bears, but we didn't see any ourselves. The next day, our loop route up Mt. Mitchell started from the Mt. Mitchell trail, splitting off from it with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, then heading northeast on a wide old dirt road that is used as a horse trail in summer, cutting straight uphill on the Tom Connector Trail, and approaching the summit on the Black Mountain Crest Trail, heading over Mt. Tom and Mt. Craig along the way. On the way down, we just took the Mt. Mitchell Trail the whole way. This was a pretty nice hike too, with less interesting land and flora, but with a real feeling of being up high. The horse trail and Black Mountain Crest Trail were the best parts, and the Tom Connector was nearly a bushwhack, though maybe that was just because it was early in the season.
Our planned 2 1/2 days on the AT at Roan turned into a l o n g 20-mile day hike instead, so we had an extra day to stop by Cheaha Mountain, Alabama. We camped at Cheaha at what had to be one of the most pathetic campgrounds anywhere. It was like a dirt parking lot to a dump. After seeing that park, the visitor center, and the summit, it's hard to imagine where the $10 camping fee goes. Anyhow, we found a little very steep trail that climbed most of the way up Cheaha from Cheaha Lake. I'm afraid i don't remember its name, but it was pretty much the only trail in the park. It was ok, but steep and forgettable. This was a prominence hike for the sake of a prominence hike. The tower at the summit was kind of neat.
And i'll mention our Haleakala hike in April, since it's a county highpoint, and since it was remarkable. I did this with Mark Butin, Eric (the same guys i did Mauna Kea with), Becca, and Don. We hiked it from the ocean to the summit, over 10,000 feet and 20 miles, in one day. We started pre-dawn from an abandoned white church on the eastern windward coast of Maui, and walked up a short stretch of road to the Kaupo trail, a real tropical paradise trail past waterfall-strewn cliffs. This trail climbs past tropical postcard scenery all the way to the rim of the crater at Paliku, where the National Park trail system heads across the moonscape center of the crater, and then up the Sliding Sands Trail to the summit. It was a tiring climb to do in one day, but where else can one hike one-way that much distance and that much elevation gain on all maintained trails with not so much as a dirt-road-crossing the entire way? It's completely remote from the road at the coast to the visitor center at the summit, as all the towns, resorts, and the Haleakala roads are on the reverse side of the mountain. I couldn't recommend this trip enough. It can also be done as an overnighter by camping in the crater at Paliku, but i didn't want to haul that much stuff up 10,000 ft. The only trick to this venture is the car problem. Unless you wanted to do a 40-mile roundtrip dayhike, or haul your gear and make a multi-day outing of it, you need either two cars or a driver, and the drive to Kaupo is a couple hours from anywhere, though it's a stunningly picturesqe drive. (There were actually 3 people doing a naked pinup-calendar type photo shoot as we drove out there the previous afternoon...) For us, the car problem was solved by asking our friend Emma to drive us all in a van, in exchange for the five of us splitting her expenses from Oahu. She did such a great job of being our driver, replete with champagne and sandwiches at the summit, that i decided to talk her into being my girlfriend. Now THAT's a successful highpointing trip. (It's turned out she's a better hiker and climber than any of us, so i think the driver job is vacant from now on.)
And yesterday, Emma and i climbed Mt. Thielsen, cohp of Douglass county in Oregon. If you're the type of climber that likes dangling off of a nearly-vertical cliff face with no rope and a few thousand feet of air beneath you, Thielsen is your mountain. For me, all i can say is i did it. A long, lovely, but unremarkable ~5mile walk through an Oregon dry forest trail and scree slope brought us to the scariest looking summit pinnacle i've faced. It's only about 100' of vertical, but it is nearly vertical. Since it's solid rock with good holds though, most people climb Thielsen with no rope or protection, and that's how we did it. Emma helped me with suggesting holds and the route, and 2 climbers did the same for her (and in turn me) on the much more difficult DEscent. The books and reports rate this climb as everywhere from Class 3 to Class 5.3. I'd have to rate it a 4, but with extreme exposure. Think Chicken-Out-Ridge, but chopped to 1/4 its width, and then rotated so it's up and down instead of side to side. It was a rush, but i'm not hoping to go back anytime soon.
33 state hp's now, but still no Gannett or John Muir Trail. Feel free to email with any questions about the above trails or camping.