Navajo County Highpoint Trip Report
Black Mesa (8,168 feet) - approach via the Yazzi Trail and eastern rim
Date: November 3, 2001
Author: Adam Helman
Arizona state completion
Bob Packard and myself decided upon attempting an alternative approach to
the highpoint of Navajo County. Our experience was exciting, exhausting, and
alltogether made me feel that I had earned the title of Arizona state completer.
My train arrived nearly an hour late into Flagstaff - 7 A.M. or so. Bob drove
with me in his camper to the disorganized grid of unmarked roads that so often characterize
Indian lands in the desert southwest. After a few wrong choices we eventually found
the road leading to the start of the Yazzi trail at the base of Black Mesa.
Our plan was to hike up to the mesa rim on the trail (a 1,600 ft elevation gain),
followed by a cross-country route of our choosing, trending north by northwest in general,
along the east rim, until the highest point of the mesa was encountered.
This route would necessarily involve negotiation of 3 uphill sections with 2 downhill sections
in-between as described here. The TOTAL elevation gain ended up being 3,700 vertical feet
with a NET gain of some 2,300 vertical feet.
Please refer to this
when following the route description.
The first uphill section occurs shortly after reaching the rim and entails a 400
foot gain. This is followed by a gradual 100 ft gain, trending north, to a point marked
with 7,985 ft elevation. A slight dip (no more than 50 ft) is followed by more
gradual gain to a highpoint (8,059 ft) with insufficient prominence to be considered
a separate summit using a 300 foot rule.
From the 8,059 ft highpoint one continues north to encounter a 300 ft downhill section
which must be negotiated prior to regaining the altitude on approach to a true summit
with perhaps 400 feet of prominence (8,098 ft). Still trending north by northwest,
drop down again some 400 feet (hence the indicated prominence) to yet another canyon
whose northern slopes must be ascended to gain the true highpoint of Navajo County
at 8,168 ft.
What awaited us on each uphill and downhill leg of this cross-country route was a
series of rock bands, largely sandstone, that demanded technical rock climbing gear -
none of which we had brought along with us.
A good deal of time was spent traversing along contour lines in the (nearly fruitless)
pursuit of some break in the sandstone that would permit us safe passage. Despite our
efforts to locate the sanest route we nonetheless were compelled to use Bob's rope
as a hand line on perhaps three or four steep (at least 60 degree) sections of
roughly ten to twenty feet each.
Had we ample time to conduct a thorough survey, it is likely that the rope would have
been rendered superfluous - so giving the rim portion of our hike a class 3 rating. Bob
and myself agree that there is no way that one could avoid class 3 portions in proceeding
from where the Yazzi trail tops out on the rim, to the highpoint some 2 air miles
to the north by northwest.
We began our climb at 10:45 AM and attained the Navajo County highpoint at 3:24 PM.
Normally I should have been thrilled at having completed the state of Arizona.
Unfortunately both of us realized that we would be climbing down in the dark - and
this meant that only one-half of the battle had been won ... with the potentially
most precarious portion of the climb awaiting us after sundown.
After a hastily eaten pumpernickel bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese I took
an all-too-brief look north towards Monument Valley by walking one minute to the
most northeasterly part of the mesa. Edward Earl feels that the very highest point
may lie not at the cairn, but rather as a large rock about one hundred feet north.
Thereby in walking towards the north rim I fortuitously (and unknowingly)
covered all possibilities.
We made excellent time on the descent. Nonetheless we had reached only the
top of the first (i.e. first on ascent) 400 ft uphill (now downhill) section by the time,
some thirty minutes after sunset, that it became difficult to see our way.
I was aghast when, upon looking and feeling into my daypack, I learned that
my headlamp was missing!
The headlamp was forgotten on my train seat the previous night - having used it to
read magazines while others slept. Bob and I continued descending, still on
very tricky terrain with sheer dropoffs and much boulders, using just the illumination
from his penlight. We miraculously managed to make it down to the flat terrain
which would take us in an easterly heading to the rim (it had been necessary to
travel away from the rim, that is west, in order to avoid the worst of the
sandstone cliff formations).
We located the terminus of the Yazzi trail by having marked it with a pair of
glass jars that we had found on ascent several hours earlier. After a well-deserved
break we resumed our trek, now along the Yazzi trail rather than cross-country,
moving very slowly because our tiny light had to be shared between us.
In yet a second stroke of bad fortune,
the penlight failed us about one-half hour along the trail, and, without any usable
light, we found ourselves effectively stranded one-third way down the trail and
over a thousand feet above the valley floor. The trail is very scanty and
hard to find at some portions even by daylight - and so it was nearly impossible
to stay on the trail without a source of illumination.
I resigned myself to a night on the mountain wearing my gloves and Bolivian ski hat
to stay warm. Bob had no gloves or head protection. Nevertheless after much
trial and error, he somehow managed to locate what appeared to be the
trail that we had evidently lost. Without his considerable experience in
routefinding it is certain that an uncomfortable, yet survivable night, would
have been spent right there.
By now the nearly full moon was high enough above
the eastern horizon that we could use its light to safely negotiate our would-be trail.
Thereby after perhaps an hour we gleefully enountered Bob's camper glinting in the
moonlight. We embraced each other and, finally, Bob offered congratulations for my
Arizona state completion. Later we agreed that, given the need for descent by dark
(let alone without artificial light!) it would have been premature to celebrate
at the summit cairn.
For dinner Bob cooked us fetuccinni alfredo, Hebrew National hot dogs, and green beans.
The green beans tasted good inside the pasta with extra chopped garlic - and pine nuts
made the meal even tastier still.
We both slept very well that night.
Bob and myself would not recommend this route as a replacement for the "standard" route
to the Navajo County highpoint as described in other trip reports: it is far more demanding.
Nevertheless our route is certainly appropriate for somebody who wishes to add a little
spice and challenge to his Black Mesa experience.
As a result of this trip I finally reached my year-long goal of a 400 statute mile
home glob radius:
the nearest unclimbed county is now Beaver County in Utah at 401 miles from
my home in San Diego.