Utah and Wyoming September 2003 Trip Report


Months earlier I had conceived of a trip wherein I would climb Gannett Peak - the Wyoming state highpoint. In addition I would secure a few Utah county highpoints on the long drive either to and/or from Wyoming.

Unfortunately I could not secure a lead climber for summit day on Gannett Peak. Thereby I altered my plans and decided upon several additional Utah counties as the sole venues for my journey.

Then Jobe Wymore of Salt Lake City made an open invitation for joining him to do several counties in Wyoming over a four day span in early September. I accepted - and would tack on a few Utah counties afterwards prior to driving home.

I easily could have completed Utah on this trip. After all, there were but eight counties remaining of twenty-nine in the state. However I intentionally left a few unvisited so as to have something to look forward to all winter - a Utah state completion. Furthermore, should I fail to summit on Gannett Peak the following summer, I would have the Utah completion as a "consolation prize" on the return leg of my journey.

Jobe planned upon six Wyoming counties. We would end up with six, albeit not the original ones. Poor weather was to blame for nixing Cloud Peak of Big Horn and Johnson Counties, and replacing it with a slew of Wyoming plains counties less dependent on good weather for success.

I also planned upon and succeeded in climbing American Forks Twin Peaks of Salt Lake County, Utah. This morning ascent was in the company of Ben Knorr and Dale Millsap, two Utah residents just getting into the hobby. I expect to hear much about their future exploits - they are young, fit, and full of excitement.

I would also succeed in securing the three southern Utah counties that held back my home glob radius - Garfield, Grand and San Juan Counties.

In total, ten western counties to round out my summer season - so raising my count for the year to fifty-seven, and my overall county total to 204.

Here is a trip itinerary as prepared for my parents prior to my departure. The itinerary contains material designed to allow my remote base camp manager to have peace of mind as I travel.

Note: Click on any photograph for a larger version.

Trip Details

Wednesday September 3

I drove from San Diego to Beaver, Utah - taking a room at the Sleepy Lagoon Motel. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was on TV, one of my all-time favorite westerns. Five hundred thirty five miles was enough for one day - I did not have to meet Jobe until late morning.

Thursday September 4

I complete the 200 miles to downtown Salt Lake City and meet Jobe Wymore. We had co-completed Nevada the previous year on Ruby Dome of Elko County. I enjoy Jobe's insatiable enthusiasm for climbing.

We travel in his pickup to Francs Peak of Park County - meeting Mike Coltrin at a meandering stream near the start of a trail leading up the first 1,700 vertical feet. The trail, by the way, disappears shortly thereafter.

Friday September 5

A storm was brewing. Jobe had returned from the summit and passed me by as the tempest slowly approached from the south. We were on the high alpine basin, above twelve thousand feet, and completely exposed to the elements. Jobe corroborated my tentative route plan, warned of grizzly bear tracks at the summit, and we parted ways.

I continued towards Francs Peak as Jobe continued his descent. The storm hit as I was about to walk the exposed summit ridge. Hail and freezing rain forced a rapid clothing change. I was not going to be denied with only 750 vertical feet remaining - no, not after having traveled 1,100 road miles!!

I spent no time at the summit, choosing instead to touch the benchmark and summit cairn as I made an about-face in one sweeping counterclockwise motion.

Mike turned back before the summit - a wise decision in my opinion. I would not have pressed onward had there been lightning.

The net gain is 4,650 feet while the total gain is perhaps 5,250. It was a full day, ten hours for me.

We caravaned to a secluded sight in preparation for the next morning's venue, arriving by dark after nine p.m.

Saturday September 6

The next day inclement and threatening weather suggested that we cancel our plans for Cloud Peak the following day. Instead, we decided on simpler fare - four Wyoming "plains" counties in one day - a new Wyoming speed record!

Mike Coltrin used his satellite phone to call Dave Covill. I then invited Dave for an ascent of Warbonnet Peak, of Converse County, for the following day. This invitation was only made possible by our decision to cancel Cloud Peak - for otherwise Warbonnet would be climbed on Monday, a day too late for Dave.

In the morning we got to the Natrona County highpoint. Here, the western rock is definitely lower than the eastern rock as determined by hand leveling and also by sighting lower terrain on the western horizon as lying ABOVE the western rock when viewed from atop the eastern rock.

Washakie County consists of three points, one being a liner. Only I visited all three on this day.

Niobrara County required permission by a rancher. The third, most northeasterly contour area is lower than the adjacent contour immediately west, as independently verified with hand-level by Jobe, Mike and myself. Thereby one need visit only two of three for claiming the county. A rattlesnake made life interesting.

Goshen County was done after sunset by moonlight, 8 p.m. The highpoints are near an FAA facility with a huge radome. Mike suddenly decided to go home.

Guess that makes four Wyoming counties. In truth this record can easily be broken with some careful advanced planning.

Sunday September 7

Dave Covill joined Jobe and myself for an ascent of Warbonnet Peak in Converse County. Our route was from the west using sketchy information provided by some locals. Unfortunately we could not find the correct jeep track that would have brought us very close to the base. We traveled cross-country, over hill and dale, to the peak.

The summit siesta for my 200th county featured beautiful, sunny skies. After much good lunch food shared by Dave, and the requisite pictures, we departed with heavy reliance on map, compass and GPS waypoints. Five hours round trip. Dave then departed.

I was looking forward to the following day - Larimer County, trivial, would get me a diagonal swath across Wyoming from Park County in the northwest to Larimer in the southeast. Then we would climb a broad and popular trail up Medicine Bow Peak - the Carbon County highpoint. The Albany highpoint is a liner near the trail. Wow!! I'd have nine new Wyoming counties - with them all connected into my home glob via Carbon County! I would also finish my season with sixty counties for calendar 2003 - well beyond my expectations.

However all that was not to be.

Jobe suddenly decided to call it enough, and we drove back on I-80 to Salt Lake City by 10 p.m. Our trip home featured some of the wildest and most bizarre conversation this side of an insane asylum - I tried hard to make up for a decision that had obviously upset me. I now have a "grudge" set of Wyoming counties for next year as Laramie, Albany and Carbon - all having been set, in principle, for the following day.

Monday September 8

I took the day off near Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. I got a motel room close to the next day's climb and do nothing even remotely constructive afterwards. The shower felt good.

American Forks Twin Peaks

American Forks Twin Peaks as seen
from the Motel in Midvale.
Tuesday September 9

I met Ben Knorr and Dale Millsap in the large parking lot at the entrance to Big Cottonwood Canyon. At six a.m. I drove them to the Snowbird Ski Resort and we climb American Forks Twin Peaks of Salt Lake County. Our time was good, some two hours thirty minutes for the 3,750 foot ascent. This was a great way to meet one another. It was a nippy morning but certainly tolerable enough to enjoy a good forty minute summit siesta. Here are some photos on my county highpoints website.

Dale Millap and Ben Knorr at my truck

Dale Millsap (at photo's left) and Ben Knorr
after the climb of American Forks Twin Peaks.
After our farewells I drove south on I-15, eventually leaving the paved road grid for a western approach to Mount Ellen of Garfield County. The BLM office in Hanksville, Utah said the northern approach, via Lonesome Beaver Campground, was closed indefinitely due to a destroyed culvert.

The approach is long. One takes the Notem Road fourteen miles south from a junction with route 24 some thirty miles west of Hanksville and just east of the Capital Reef National Park east entrance. Then, at Sandy Junction (fourteen miles), travel east nineteen miles to the MacMillan Springs Campground on generally good gravel. About nine or ten miles into this nineteen mile stretch, turn left at a sign "Camp".

rock pinnacles in Capitol Reef

Rock pinnacles in Capitol Reef
National Park.
I stopped at the MacMillan Springs Campground around seven p.m. (8,700 feet). A BLM worker, Brian, was renovating the grounds and invited me into his camper for a supper of chili dogs with cheese. Brian is a remarkably kind person. He is very opinionated and has strong political views.

After a lot to munch on, some lively political discussion, and an exchange of edibles, I returned to my Tacoma and slept.

Wednesday September 10

Time to climb Mount Ellen. The approach to Bull Creek Pass (BCP) from the west is tamer than the reports of difficult 4WD conditions from the north / east . It is 5.2 road miles from the Campground to BCP. Any high-clearance vehicle can make it - four wheel drive is not needed from the west.

Mount Ellen

The uppermost slopes of Mount Ellen
by morning after the cold front passed.
I climbed under clearing skies from the first cold front of the season - one that only dusted the Henry Mountains but left more of the white stuff on Fish Lake Hightop to my west, and on the La Sal mountains, my next destination, to my east.

mesa west of Henry Mountains

A mesa west of the Henry Mountains
while driving back from Mount Ellen.
It took two hours to arrive in Hanksville, returning via that long dirt road approach. I drove north to Interstate 70, east to Crescent Junction, and passed Arches National Park enroute to Moab.

From Moab I paralleled the Colorado River on route 128 and eventually drove up the Beaver Basin spur road for an eastern approach to Mount Waas the following morning. I stopped after three miles of the six required to reach road's end. It snowed lightly that evening at my makeshift 9,600 foot high camp. Had it snowed any more I was prepared to leave in order to avoid the nightmare scenario of a stranded vehicle until the snow melted. I doubted the sanity of what I was doing - alone, snow on the way, terrible road, and freezing weather all contributed to the desire of just going home.

However persistence is generally rewarded. At two a.m. I entered my sleeping bag - damp socks inside tight boots having contributed to cold feet and to my decision of switching boots in favor of sleeping bag.

National Forest road sign

A sign in the Manti-La Sal National Forest
near Mount Waas. Note the proximity to Colorado.
Thursday September 11

With reasonably clear skies I walked up to road's end at some 10,700 feet. From there the route followed Andy Martin's description. The snow was only three inches deep and my ice axe was never used. However at 12,000 feet the snow turned from soft to hard and crusty - likely the freezing line. I spent a nice twenty minutes on top with beautiful, white views of the remaining La Sal peaks. The bagel with cream cheese and Brian's hard sausage was an apt reward for my efforts.

orange Utah beauty

The type of scenery which has made
southern Utah home to several National Parks.
I returned via Moab and then went to La Sal Pass for the next day. At the 10,100 foot pass, a herd of cows annoyed me with their continual stares, encroaching on me and my vehicle whenever I took out something to eat for supper. They are remarkably dumb creatures.

Friday September 12

Time to climb Mount Peale - the La Sal Range highpoint and San Juan County higpoint. A cloudless dawn saw me heading northeast through the forest to the base of the couloir at some 10,700 feet. The latter was largely snow free in the lower one-half owing to the meltoff of the previous two days.

Mount Peale from La Sal Pass

Mount Peale from La Sal Pass
at 10,100 feet elevation.
Just before reaching the top of the couloir, at the 12,145 foot saddle, I cut across the couloir's eastern slope to avoid a snowy section, so reaching the summit ridge. Still early morning, it was quite windy on the ridge. Windy enough to make the going uncomfortably cold. After part of a brownie and some licorice candy, I walk the ridge south until it began trending east. There, a use trail was located on the south side of the ridge. I traversed the final slopes to stay clear of the ridge itself - it was simply too windy.

I circumnavigated the summit wind break, really just a pile of rocks, and touched the highest naturally-placed stones. I did not tarry owing to the cold, and but briefly enjoyed the views. I ate no food. Instead, I had to be satisfied with the realization that I had just increased my home glob radius to 488 statute miles!

my green Tacoma truck

My jade green Tacoma pickup truck
sits pretty at La Sal Pass.
I ate my summit food halfway down the couloir, and was back to the truck in just under five hours from my dawn start. I gave a large "mooooooo" to all the cows and departed - having heard them even while on the summit ridge. They stared in seeming disbelief.

Driving south on route 191, I decided to diagonal southwest past Mexican Hat, Utah in the direction of Flagstaff, Arizona. One hundred forty five road miles from La Sal Pass and STILL inside San Juan County before crossing the state border!! These counties are as large as some states, for goodness sake.

spectacular rock pinnacle

A spectacular rock pinnacle lies near the
Arizona - Utah border in Monument Valley.
Near the Arizona border I passed through Monument Valley. Shortly after I drove through Kayenta and spied Black Mesa, with the Navajo County highpoint, to its south and west.

The Pueblo Motel in Flagstaff is across from the railroad line - something to be noted if you really need to sleep soundly. In compensation the full price of my room, with taxes, was just $22. Be advised that they do not get the most savory of customers. Indeed, I was looking out the bathroom window on a regular basis to check that my truck was not damaged or worse.

restaurant in Dateland, Arizona

This establishment in Dateland, Arizona
specializes in date and cactus desserts.
Saturday September 13

Throughout the entire trip I saved both money and time by foregoing hot meals while on the road - I am on a severe budget. Today, with no trailhead to meet or schedule to maintain, I intentionally "gave into" my basal desires and had pizza, ice cream, and whatever came my way while driving home to San Diego.

The most notable item was in Dateland, Arizona some 35 miles west of Gila Bend along Interstate 8. Here a restaurant specializes in date products. I enjoyed a chilled slice of date cream pie (!!) and also bought a pound of dates for just $1.75. Date shakes and cactus shakes are also available. A whole date cream pie will set you back eleven dollars.

What a satisfying way to finish my county highpointing season!

My truck had accumulated 2283.3 miles according to the trip odometer. With the distance driven in the company of Jobe, the entire trip was close to 3,500 miles.