Nantucket County Highpoint Trip Report

one long contour (110+ ft) and spot elevation by Sankaty Head Lighthouse (111 ft)

Date: August 21, 2004
Author: Dave Covill

We took the slow ferry from the Vineyard to Nantucket on Friday, leaving at 10 AM, arriving at noon, and needing to catch the 4 PM ferry to get back for 6 PM. We debated a taxi, a car rental, a bike rental and, on the advice of a tourist board gentleman in a booth on the pier, we opted to simply spend $2 apiece each way on the Nantucket shuttle bus system, which took us to Siasconsett, near Sankaty Head Lighthouse and the cohp, in less than a half hour, and leaves once every hour or so. From the bus stop, we walked about a mile northeast on the road bounding the ocean, staying right after a hundred yards where the main road stays due north towards Nantucket center. We passed the golf course area and walked uphill to the lighthouse at Sankaty Head. The fenced lighthouse parking lot is open and you can drive right up to it and check out the locked lighthouse. We were able to circumvent a loose fence gate and walk around and up onto the bluff overlooking the ocean, with a view down 111 feet to the beach.

We then hand-leveled over to the bluff edge to the south, in the backyards of several houses, and could see the area Fred Lobdell has mentioned as being a candidate for high ground. The distance was about 500 feet. I got down on one knee, and leveled my eyeball, now about 30 inches above ground level, on the high ground at Sankaty Head, even with a fence separating the bluff open space area with the yards to the south, which lay maybe 100 feet south of me. We then walked out and down to the 4th house, as it appeared to be the owner of the high ground down there. Luckily, the owner was in the front yard near the street gardening and, after listening to the story, she told us we could walk around. We walked to the bluff edge, which she said had retreated several feet horizontally and perhaps a few feet vertically in the decade or more she had owned it. We could see that the high ground was indeed in her yard and that the highest land was right at the bluff edge and surely had been higher in the past. The town is not allowing residents to reinforce the bluff edge, as it would "impair the vista from below" so owners have had to cope with losing yards. One guy next to this woman (5th house south from the lighthouse) actually had to move his house back across the street, as his was a smaller lot, closer to the bluff edge, and his house had been built too close to it.

I got down to the knee and sighted with my 5X hand-level north the roughly 400 feet to the fence top. I was looking about 12-18 inches below it. I conclude that currently the land near the lighthouse is about 12-18 inches higher than the bluff edge in the back yard but that a decade or two ago the bluff edge was higher. The lighthouse high ground is not at the bluff edge, which is maybe 20 feet southeast of it, and 12-18 inches lower than the high ground; thus the ground there has been at that elevation for a long time, not subject to bluff-edge erosion like in the yards to the south. We returned via the bus with an hour to spare to shop in town before the ferry.

It is unlikely that I, as a teen, ventured around the fence to the bluff edge, if the fence was there then, and it looked old, rusted, and likely to have been there for a long time. It is equally likely that if I had, at that point in time the highpoint was in the yard 4 houses south of there. Dave hereby relinquishes his claim to First Ascent status on Nantucket County, based upon my visit there as a youth, and I believe Fred Lobdell and Bob Packard were first to visit there, although it may have been someone else.