What Dave refers to as “highpointing” is known to me as “peak bagging.” The object is to reach the highest point in all fifty states. Some, like Florida or Delaware, you can drive to. Others, like Gannett (Wyoming) or Denali, formerly McKinley (Alaska) require great effort, skill, courage, and specialized equipment. My older brother Steve was a Peak Bagger, but he never got to Denali or Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, as he simply did not have time. Denali especially can be a challenge – think of being holed up in your tent for days at a time waiting for the weather to clear. He did manage to do the lower 48. He told me once of coming down from Ranier in Washington in a state of hallucination, dehydrated and physically exhausted. After that, the next day, he and his two companions decided – “What the hell. Let’s go do Elbert too!” That is the highest peak in Colorado, one that I have done. It is a “walk-up”, albeit a 4,000+ feet walk-up with two false summits. (I regard the words “false summit” as the two ugliest words in the English language.) So they drove from Seattle to Colorado the next day, and if I got the story right, jogged up Elbert.
I would say “I don’t get that”, but I do. I am just not motivated in that manner. But I do know that when we, all of us, set out to do something hard, even dangerous, and we accomplish the task, be it highpointing or rafting a dangerous river, what follows is a great sense of satisfaction. With peak bagging, it starts with an adrenaline rush, and ends with that sense of accomplishment. I do indeed get it.
Dave writes of climbing Mt. Borah, the highest point in Idaho. I warn you that he uses foul language, as real people do when in the wilderness. That does not fucking bother me.
Chicken Out? Panda Mayor? What Gives?
By: DS Klausler
I was in the saloon a couple of weeks ago and had arrived “late” according to The Guys already present – uh huh, sure – it was just 3:50pm on a Friday. The usual rambling discussion of past events was ongoing. A relatively new User to the Tall Tale Club was present and they had meandered to hiking stories – he had never strapped on the big package, or ventured up high enough to challenge flatlander breathing. Specifically, they were speaking of a hike that had a lasting impact on me. Coincidentally, my dental hardware buddy[i] had recently commented out of the blue on the very same location; I didn’t even think to ask from whence the intrigue originated – ding for me. I probably had mentioned it offhanded in one of my [verbal] reports upon return from the trip – I do this following most outdoor adventures. However, I usually write up a brief trip report with as little as long bullet points; this trip generated vocal expansion of the story line. Even more so, this trip warranted this essay. Let me first assure you that no, I do not speak this way professionally, nor would I at your wedding… but certainly at my own funeral (I’ve got skills[ii]).
I had been a Highpointer for years, but mostly casually, without a plan or tactics for accumulating the 50. Huh? Highpointer? What game[iii] is this jackass gonna talk about this time? And FIFTY of it, or them… just great. Settle down there Wally-Worlder, I speak of the 50 STATES in the U.S., and each of their highest point – in elevation from sea level. There are formal clubs, but I am not a member of any. I was tempted once to file a genuine trip report – again, as a result of the subject of this story. The highpoints vary from actual drive-up, park and walk a few yards, to donning full mountaineering gear and climbing for miles and thousands of feet up. Actually, there was one that I parked upon – no exit necessary – Kansas, if I remember correctly. It was a hump in a field with a tiny K-Mart plastic gardening fence surrounding the obelisk marking the point. Hmmm, I think the ruts in the dirt road may have exceeded the level of the USGS benchmark. Others take serious effort to bag, serious participants, or both. I had snagged many with my immediate family while vacationing, some while on backpacking trips with the guys (of the aforementioned watering hole), and more recently, some with my brother Jape. Only one solo… 15 nondescript bullshit miles round trip on a [snow] closed blacktop road in the Smokies – Tennessee’s Clingmans Dome. One even had the USGS benchmark embedded in the concrete of a city street – Delaware, I do believe. We once collected four in a long eastern weekend. More recent efforts to call attention to these things (and revenue) has led to some really expensive and expansive structures… not the high ones though – they are beyond reach of even the most well-funded idiotic wheel-chair access social justice warriors (nincompoops all). Can you not accept that you simply cannot perform certain activities without functional legs?[iv] Ultimately, these travels were fun, frustrating, fatiguing, and fucked up – sometimes all at once – like the trek up Borah Peak, the highpoint of Idaho at 12,662’, and subject herein.
As is the case with any highpoint trip involving more than a simple stop-snap-depart, this one had research involved. Not a lot though, as there are several really helpful web sites divulging useful tips, locational info, and warnings. Basic itinerary mostly; maps of course (mandatory for me); recommended gear; and suggested fuel for the hike. I suggested the hill and date to Jape, laid out the plan, and he agreed in short order. [I had to get this bitch done before I would again go under the knife, two days hence. Rehab in winter usually – everybody’s doing it!] We had once driven through the night, parked at the trailhead, dressed, threw on our day-packs and ascended some 3,000’ – Humphreys in AZ. We were VERY tired on the descent – but had run into some scantily clothed NAU ladies in the steady chilly rain (two wearing fucking flip-flops, just one with a very light jacket) – you don’t see that too often on real mountains. Incredibly stupid, but visibly pleasing. Since that exhausting hike, and as a result of our years previous hauling the big package right out of the car at the high trailhead, we tend to now camp a night at altitude before commencing further outward and upward. This was in our plan. Coincidentally, I trained Hapkido with a woman who purportedly owned a rustic cabin in the mountains nearby, and had been raised somewhere near Boise, the capital of the Gem State. Her claim relevant to our trip was that the locals pronounce that city name as Boy-SEE′. Ridiculous – improper in any language that I am aware of – which includes both Comanche and Pig Latin. I told her so. [I had previously dragged her to the mat by her hair, and totally destroyed one of my fingers in the process; yeah, that [second] surgery I mentioned earlier.] This surely must be similar to that drug addict Bretttte Favre pronouncing his surname with the R preceding the V – can you say retard? We needed to investigate this preposterous claim while casually rock-hopping over the diamonds and rubies.
I mentioned warnings a minute ago… depending on who you read, that may be either too loose, or too tight a description of the most noteworthy attribute of this highpoint: Chicken Out Ridge. The ridge consists of maybe a quarter mile of uneven, completely exposed irregular and loose rock of all sizes. There is no trail in the section, hands are needed, and hiking sticks are practically useless (but must be carried for other sections). Exposed = THREE THOUSAND FEET of almost straight drop on either side with regular 30mph wind. You know, just stroll across! Apparently, estimates say that more than 33% of hikers turn back at the onset of the ridge – even many of those venturing up knowing what is to come. Even the most cautious of the reporters would say little about the nose of the ridge – I will, later. The standard approach straddles this ridge… more on that too, later.
We headed out of my Chicagoland house on a Thursday preceding Labor Day at about noon. Borah is in southern Idaho; a long, lonely and lovely 1,400 mile tour upon the never-ending Interstate 80 was on the books. Summer on that unwavering four-laner always has construction and Nebraska seemingly bests AZ for frying eggs on the tarmac. As per usual, and restricted by rule, as soon as we hit the highway, we cracked a few ice cold brews to unwind from our working lives. Three maximum [for me] else the 3:00am shift would be problematic. After all these traverses of the trucker tramway, we actually remember the good gas stops (although now you can simply dial them in on your phone). Even I don’t touch anything in the bad ones – which we sometimes cannot avoid – late, late night. We change driving duties at two hour intervals – sometimes even making it that long is tough. On a previous trip Jape once handed back the helm after only fifteen minutes; “Sorry man, we cool?” It was okay though because he had pulled over on one of those Ranch Access go-exactly-nowhere cow paths – piss break in the wind through the undulating late-season feed grasses – beautiful. Oh, yeah, we always drive through the night – to save time for the destination instead of a layover in Stopsign, USA.
Jape offered to provide road food for dinner; he had chilled the beer as well – might have been Miller. [I think that he may actually believe that it is in fact The Champagne of Beer.] He had some self-assigned cred on sammich[v] building: “Quarter Inchers”. ¼” of meat, ¼” of cheese, and of course, ¼” of raw onion (probably ¼” of unidentifiable gelatinous goo too). Historically, they were actually quite good. Stuff your shit up no problemo! We never make it to anyone’s idea of Dinner Time – even with the multitude of extra salty nuts, chips, and Wifey’s healthy cookies consumed from our mobile pantry. Maybe 4:30pm at latest and we were into them, with me at the helm. Co-pilot really has to present all the stuff so as to keep the driver operating under control and well above the posted speed limit. He unwraps one of the humongous slippery things and hands it over – after a generous drop cloth of some kind. I take one bite and realize that something is amiss. I recognize both the texture and the paper thin folded sheets of the legendary Buddig coalescent flesh from my childhood onward until dismissing the poisonous possum food later in life. He knows better than trying to attempt such a questionable maneuver with me… I am perturbed.
“If you ever make sammiches again with this shitty toxic mystery meat, I’m gonna throw them out the window… and kick you out the door!” I rambled derogatorily for a minute or two; goddamned wooden bread too!
It was quiet for a while after that. I repaired things with one of my famous out-of-nowhere rants:
“FUCK those goddamned Franco brothers – pieces of SHIT! Androgynous fuckheads. Fuck those asshole Baldwins too – all dumber than shit. Beady eyed, pasty fat fucks. Dump those cocksucking Afflecks in there as well – although Ben was decent in The Accountant. Casey should obviously stick to making pizza! Come on, tell me of ANY decent brothers in WhoreyWood. Dickless shemales needing tools, toys and turbans.” What? The screeds often don’t make too much sense, are never reasonable, and certainly not respectable.
Jape was still stewing about my critique of the sludge on a shingle when later he got back at me by flipping on an interview with codger Ian Anderson bad-mouthing Robert Plant – and promptly fell asleep and started snoring. Nice. The Hondo did not come with a CD player, and I think we had not yet started using streaming services for music – thus I was stuck with that shite, or his Husqvarna imitation. There is very little radio worth a shit way out there. Bastard!
If you have ever driven west into Wyoming on I-80, you would have seen innumerable billboards for Little America… I don’t even know how many there are – if even more than one. It’s a Branch Davidian like pseudo-luxury micro-city complex targeting those who think that they are rich. Anyway, we made the transition to almost dawn and there that fucker was – right at stop-time, and near our exit OFF of the big road. It called out to us. We pull in near 6:00am, or some hazy early hour. Rent-A-Cop at the oasis motif fuel area, and we had to REQUEST a fucking cup for hot beverage. We are getting stared at… it’s me and Jape at five or six in the morning, still dark, on I-80… a real threat right? Fucking psycho cheapskate shit-bags. We depart with our scalding tea and Trucker Coffee[vi] – maybe some ultra-healthy White Gems, too. I’m singing ♬Fruit-pie the Magician, the Hostess pie Technician♪ – oops, wrong product – but obviously a memorable jingle.
Sometimes I purposefully blend events from an assortment of our miscellaneous trips. Not this one though, my memory is perfect and yours is shit!
We wrap up the long drive with some hundreds on two-laner, and go directly to the trailhead. A couple miles or so of dusty rut-filled gravel pretending to be a state maintained roadway ends at the trailhead area. The few [non-reservable] campsites are full, and the area is overflowing with gypsy campers and vehicles of all types. Quick reconnaissance then “Fuck this, let’s go find a real campground.” We head out, backtrack a few, then head westerly on good gravel – yeah, 60mph Oklahoma style dust storm behind us. We pass one, then another campground that are not even worth a cruise through. Finally, at almost an hour we pull into a very nice federal spot. It’s fairly early in the afternoon, maybe 2:00pm, as we set camp. Phi Kappa in the Salmon-Challis National Forest if you’re interested. That forest also contains the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness (seriously), at which the guys and I hiked through a section of actual gypsum. Talk about bullshit… picture a 70# pack on your back, 80° direct sun, up clear at 9,000’ and hiking on something like the Indiana Dunes in mid-summer – fun times! It’s also the location of the infamous Love Jane letter penned to Jape by The Executives while spooning at camp (ask Gerald, he was truly inspired).[vii] Anyway, the campground was high enough for our purposes at about 7,500’. We decide to head back to the trailhead to investigate the trail itself, since some of the reports at least mentioned “steep.” After slaloming through the gravel again, and the ruts after the brief blacktop, we were back at the trailhead. Far fewer cars and less over-niters – but our vacant campground along a beautiful creek with woods, a fire and solace, blows it away – we’ll just get up a bit earlier to compensate for the “drive.” It’s cooking in the 5:00pm sun at the marquee. The USFS on-line data says that Forest Service Trail 4044 “Borah Peak” is “easy to moderate for about two miles”. The nicest I can muster is FUCKING IDIOTS; does no one ever verify this shit? Jape and I are huffing (packless) after just ONE mile of incredibly steep marbles and shit; no shade to speak of in the borderline desert. Some of that gravel chute had to be close to 45°. Look, you and I pay for this crap (indirectly) – it gets aggravating. They must actively search out and fire anyone with any reasonable reading or geometric skill. Good enough though; we got the unmistakable trail located and tested. You might be surprised that we are frequently checking our maps within the FIRST MILE on some of our hikes. Back to camp.
I must have gotten into some poison bullshit, because by the time we arrived at camp, my lower leg was itching like a mutha. I normally watch carefully for those plants, but I was probably sweating and swearing at the dipshit ranger report. This was before I carried industrial epidermis ablating surfactant for that kind of thing and I certainly did not want to be preoccupied with the shit while on the hard hike. We toured the grounds noting that which needed to be noted (zip), but also looked for those plants that Granny Hawkins[viii] advises to rub into anywhere any time “sumthin ain rie.” I tried a few plants that I thought that I recognized. Didn’t seem to be working, shocking I know, no results in five seconds and I’m moving on. My scalding tea bag, routinely used on mosquito bites, achieved nada. [That’s right! Burn, dissolve and flush! That’s sometimes followed by GOUGE it out. I have no time for dicking around when out in the wild.] The active patch wasn’t weeping or similar, so the patch-up in-a-pinch maneuver of toothpaste wouldn’t accomplish much. I scratched the shit out of it, and sprayed in 100% DEET; that burned a bit, but in six seconds (see, I am patient) I still feel a presence. Fuck it… using my super-tool, I aggressively abraded the shit out of the skin and the now appearing pimples and poured on a liberal amount of white gas[ix]. Jape was laughing in the background while cautiously sipping a brew. That shit definitely burned. THEN I applied a goober of toothpaste, taped on a toilet paper patch and called it Done! It was chilly as we hit the sack. The stove had been prepped, as had light-duty and some mid-grade wood for a modest fire in the morning.
I think that we were up by 3:00am, 3:30 latest. It was much colder than anticipated… 27° according to the Hg in my McMaster thermo. We quickly ignited a small hand-warming fire, choked down some green drink and then went to the stove for our hot fuel breakfast. I think that this is where Jape offered up some alleged cranberry juice to wash down some supplements or pain killers – it would have been appreciated except that I think he found the battle-damaged cans in the same place that the Buddig came from: Fat Tony’s House of Shit. I actually gagged on the first and only sip – this guy needs help I thought. We suited up, packed camp completely, and hit the long gravel yet again; 4:00am or thereabouts.
We arrived at the trailhead having hit a new land-speed record en route. What the fuck… more had arrived during the night; 4:40am and we had to shoehorn into a non-existent deep grass makeshift parking spot burying the rear bumper into the sandy soil. Water was already planned at just two liters each, a couple of heavy energy bars, energy goop, basic first-aid and Jape’s secret adult celebratory beverage (I hoped that the selection hadn’t originated under the bottom shelf of Fat Tony’s). We geared up, decided on shorts (no wind) yet double top (cold), leather gloves, and checked the mental list for the tenth time. I think our day-packs went about 20# max. [I can’t remember why they were so heavy.] Eight hours supposedly on the Standard Route for the young and fit – that was our target – along with the summit of course. We headed out with headlamps blazing while under a nearly full moon.
We re-hiked the test-mile, then went up and up and up on unending switchbacks. The documented distance is listed at 3.5 miles and up over 5,400’. On average, it’s easily the steepest of the highpoints. If you can believe this: our chosen route up Mount Graylock was steeper but only for a mile or so up the former U.S.A. official ski slope in Massachusetts – ankle deep mud and snowmelt – a real fun one. Anyway, we felt the angle the whole way winding through the scraggly trees to the first saddle, after clearing the timberline. I think I was on the balls of my feet for some length; no way to keep your heel down on that angle. This is the TRAIL, not yet to the rocks.
We had hiked a section without our lights as the moonlight was substantial… but one trip on the numerous roots and we flipped them back on. No trail dumps, as we were burning everything that we had choked down. At a rest spot on the extended, but angled saddle, we could see some hikers way above us. It’s strange, and somewhat frequent, that on these hikes the distant shapes seem unattainable – miles away and way, way up. Then you get into a hiking haze and there you are: at the first… then the second – but they never end, and false summits are common. Dang Mt. Elbert had a couple heart-breaking humps hiding the summit, and that bitch was up at 14,440’ in Colorado. I think we took a short-cut there like in Mass., and it hurt to speed around the numerous pre-dawn slowpokes (it was crowded, and we had started at a sinful 5:45am).
As I said, it was dark when we had started, then unhelpful direct sun, and finally get-me-down-from-here-already indifference; so we have few really good images. I borrowed this excellent representative image from the InterWeb and added my fine line-work using a selection from the 6th #33 Crayola box[x] remaining from grade school “art” classes. Of particular note is the green line.
When Jape and I had finally approached that pronounced rock pile, we simply selected the least strenuous route – around it – on the billy goat path in green. We could see the higher targets, even in the relatively low light. Really, it was obvious, and the packed dirt indicated that others had headed similarly. We had no idea, at the pre-sunrise time, that we were actually skirting the legendary ridge. Afterwards, we couldn’t understand why anyone would go up on that ridge – but wait – we did. The snow bridge wasn’t quite so voluminous (as is shown) when we crossed – and it was still quite cold and hard. It was more patchy and mixed with the dreaded [still] loose scree. We just very quickly tiptoed across – like the Grinch – minimal slipping down towards the bottomless chute. We did look, of course – a tumble down that incredibly long, steep and rocky thoroughfare would have been death – no doubt whatsoever.
You can see the spot of our decision in another borrowed image below – where the colored lines are parallel. Those are people on the top of the ridge (when we were there as well), and the summit is off high to the left – beyond the sunlit almost-orange hump. Uh huh, we were already well onto the rock ridge technically NOT part of Chicken Out – but just as exposed.
We really weren’t even looking back once across that snow bridge – we were looking up… ugh WAY up ahead of us. This was one of those times of all the way up there… that’s gotta be miles away. We located the llama track through the rock heading up the first big hump. We lost it once or twice because the rocks were very large and there was no actual trail… but the meander was pretty clear – to us. Now early daylight, we yelled out to a family who had severely missed the trail, and were heading onto a ridge going nowhere near the summit. It was obvious from our point of view, but they had approached from the Chicken Out Ridge end area – apparently NOT clear there. They heard us and headed downward on a decent angle. We moved on. We passed by two duos in the rocky channels in which we were currently weaving – we had seen them from afar. You’d be surprised how easy it becomes to recognize that guy with the red hat along with Gollum sporting the chartreuse coat from a quarter-mile away.
As we advanced to the summit knob, the rock terrain again turned very steep; we were using our hands. You know… we didn’t consider this risky AT ALL – just moving on up! Apparently some hikers did. Pretty suddenly, we could hear others; then we could see them… they were directly above us maybe twenty or thirty feet. No way were we getting up to them; it was almost a wall. Fifty yards out and up then fifty yards back and up steeper still. Jape was yelling up to them that they better have lunch ready for us. Maybe 9:30am or so: Summit!
We both yelled… LOUD, and scared the shit out of the four or five guys up there. I forgot to mention that we had not passed anyone coming down; this means that these were the only ones who had started before us – who summited (so far, as Gollum was still on his way). Joey on top had a 16oz Pabst can – holding it reverently. I asked him what gives, you gonna crack that baby? “Oh no, I don’t drink it, it’s just to remember…” and I was already ignoring him. Next! Jape was digging in his pack. These are the first people we were near enough to speak to on the hike so far. Another dude was making a P, B & J. Fucker had the entire jar of each; not concerned about weight apparently. We casually asked for one – he was surprised – then we indicated easy baby, a joke Man. Jape revealed the secret beverage. Yep, he had scoured Tony’s… two splits of the always excellent Cook’s Spumante – they all looked on. We were talking loud and excitedly – I know, you’re shocked. Unwrapped, uncorked, clinked and sipped. We offered a slurp to P, B & J man – surprised again – he accepted. We sat for a minute or two… everyone was within earshot, but it was windy. Oh yeah, I asked them about the capital city name – not to influence them with my perfect Midwestern King’s English. Two or three were in fact from Idaho; Boy-SEE′ in agreement– I just stared, seriously? NEXT! We started in on a story about bringing golf clubs up to one summit. Jape corrected me here and there to gain credibility. Fuck yeah, we brought up a dozen shags and were teeing them off onto the luxury homes way down there. Crazy, but they rolled with our drinks and bullshit. Generally, after busting your balls on something like that, all are friends. We had one of the guys take some snaps of us; I have a few pictures on ShutterFly, let me know if you would care to view them. We packed up our junk and headed down. We made good time down to the snow bridge saddle and came upon either Gandalph the Grey or Rip van Winkle – no names were exchanged – he was looking for someone to talk to… we stepped in. Jesus H. Christ: Boy-SEE′, let me outta here. He had stories, many stories. He wasn’t summiting that day; he was truly there just to chat people up. A smart guy… we blew ten full minutes there. Funniest part was when he tried to describe how good looking he was and that the ladies were all over him. Let’s just start with his gnarly American Werewolf in London teeth… and actually end there. [When I first viewed that movie in the theater, that creature looked real, evil, and mean; quite startling.] Given the much higher and brighter sun, we could really see down the scree chute that we had so casually skipped across. Yikes! That baby went all the way down to fucking Boy-SEE′! Now then, right around the corner we could actually see the Standard Route, THE termination of Chicken Out Ridge at The Nose (the image way above has it circled in yellow).
The borrowed image below shows the twenty-five foot face. Keep in mind that normally hikers would be coming DOWN that backwards… it’s called blind down-climbing. Roping up is not uncommon. As you know, we had inadvertently skirted the whole deal. You see the people in that image? There were FIVE TIMES as many when we arrived – I have no idea where they all came from – none had summited, as we were the first ones coming down. Worse, the top of the nose had a visible group looking over the edge and down at the bottom. Even worse, mommy was attempting this down-climb with hubby on the bottom already making some sorry-assed attempt to direct her – it was painful to witness. He had no confidence and his squeaky voice generated even more fear for her. Other people there were silent. Jape and I moved between them, cutting off his direct comm line. I immediately asked her if she could hear me – affirmative. We both generated some reassuring words to calm her down – she was crying. What a useless asshole of a male. We actually went through the now put your right foot here, left hand there… yes , I know you can’t feel the next spot… you have to trust me when I tell you that it is only six inches down (really). She lost her balance when wrapping it up, but one of us casually blocked her tumble. She was down and thanked us while sobbing. I turned around and shook my head while glaring at the dumbass – of course he turned away.
I signaled the lead man up top the nose that we were coming up and to hold them back – all in body language. Before I was even done with the niceties, Jape was halfway up. I’m telling you, he was up that goddamned wall in about thirteen seconds… I immediately followed. Pretty simple when going up using the visible holds – your mileage may vary. People were staring at us on top – maybe because of our quick ascent, maybe because they overheard us helping mommy down below – who knows. There were at least twenty people there, maybe many more; we weren’t interested at that time. Two hikers tagged in with us as we proceeded on The Ridge. They lied, saying that they had summited, and they wouldn’t mind hiking with us since it looked like we knew what we were doing. “How many times have you guys been up here?” First time for us. Absolute shock on their faces; whatever, let’s roll.
NOW we could see the chicken out aspect – WOW – it was a long, long way down sharply on either side. 3,000’?? It looked bottomless. We traversed the somewhat southern exposure, and I am not kidding: we were using both our hands, and our feet were not even completely on a surface – edge climbing, I believe it is sometimes referred as. We were actually on a wall… not rocky like those images, sheets of a WALL at about 80° I think – almost vertical. The yahoos followed, but were losing ground. At one point we went up and over the very rocky spine to an area above the billy goat path we had used on the ascent. SHEEE-IT! Even that required hands and full span of leg lift. I was really mad at the trip reporters; there was no way that this was a casual day-hike with a little exposure, and a trail; la de da. This was rock-climbing, with substantial risk, massive dangerous exposure, and horrible for even the slightest of the acrophobes. THAT is why I was going to file a genuine trip report at the two main highpointer web sites – there is just no way you should recommend this to a family, the young, or the elderly – in my somewhat experienced opinion anyway. FUCK! I was really mad. I never did though, and typing here now, I don’t know why. No problem for us though – we moved on.
The sun was now really cooking. We were on The Ridge for a while… no trail, so people were scattered a bit, looking for their own comfort on the sharp irregular rocks. We finally dropped down to a walkable area and there were even more people heading up. Hikers really should start these things early. Mid-day precipitation is the norm up high. Yep, even snow in July on occasion; lightening more regularly. You obviously do not want to be on that exposure when adverse weather comes in. Where we were, coming UP would have taken maybe three hours. That means, given the clock time, that some of these visitors (yeah, not hikers) had started later than 8:00am. That would put them nicely into the danger zone for weather at the most dangerous spot. What do you say to someone like that? Nothing, unless they are pushing a Vienna Weenie Wagon, or are wearing bikinis. Hah! Remember the Sweedish Bikini Team; what the fuck was THAT?
We had dropped the hangers-on by the time we pass by a couple of kids going up, then presumably their mom – with a BABY, and finally Daddio with yet another kid. We happened to be just at rest time and a decent Ethan Allen rock bench. We parked, and he approached. We were hot and tired, but not dead. We had our meal bars out, as he joined us. He shooed the kid to join the others. Standard chat until he saw what we were eating. “Hang on, you want something good?” What is this shit we are thinking as we glance at each other. This guy digs and digs and finally pulls out a gallon sized zip-lock full of meat sticks – elk he tells us (personally shot and processed). He says that no way is he hauling all this crap up and back. He starts with one then ends up given us each three of these things that are bigger than a large SlimJim – nice. We ate one while discussing his adventure bringing his young family up – I think the oldest may have been seven or eight. We warned him, but he seemed to have some experience, and the mom was making good time up to the base of the ridge. We talked about where we lived, and he too was from Idaho. When he let out the Boy-SEE′ I about lost it. He was reasonable though and just shrugged his shoulders – potatoes had obviously affected many Idahoans. We were into our second liter of water on the rinse move. He either asked as a joke, or we actually agreed to carry something of his that he said was useless, back to his car. Can’t remember. Handshakes this time. He moved on as did we.
We cleared that long-assed saddle and hit the trees. As the sun was straight up, the bristly sparse pines offered almost nothing for shelter. Man-O-Man, that steepness came back hard. We had both sticks out and were retarding almost every step. Hard work; quads getting fried. We came upon two young guys with bikes – yeah. Jape and I just stared at them while they approached – already thinking that they clearly ride the short bus.[xi] They paused and we greeted in the usual casual manner. One guy scurried off upward – don’t know what that was about. Yeah, so one was carrying his bike and one was pushing his; recall that the trail here is near 45° – STEEP. I just don’t know how to be nice to these idiots. You know that there is exposed rock up there? We had to use hands, feet, sticks – everything. Fucking Shaggy[xii] says “Yeah Man, like we’ll just ride her down… no problem.” Incredible; remember I mentioned cliffs, walls, the pit of despair? Do you have a map; did you check out the actual terrain? “Nah Man, we’re good; just wingin’ it.” Just confirming things with my Boyz now. You’re going to SUMMIT, then cruise down? “Right, right Man, you got it.” Okay, sure… NEXT!
Many people are passing by still ascending at 11:00am… 12:00pm… and it is now hotter than Hell – had to be in the 80s. This is just plain ridiculous; even the fittest would need four or five hours into the danger zone; the average couch potatoes coming up would need half a day, a travois, and a couple St. Bernards. Our own water is now gone, but we’re almost down. We had passed people with just one of those 12oz VitaPiss bottles; one with an actual bottle of the slippery limey Dew; crazy. We actually pass a few going downward, and they are cooked. We’re getting jumpy at the sight of the mess of cars below, and we’re yammering about a cold brew. They chime in for that action – but supposedly have none. We say, “stop by.” We hit the trailhead marquee and note the time: eight hours twenty minutes, not too shabby. The magma-tempered lot is jammed. We head over and have to wade through the long grass and barely squeeze a cooler out between the nine thousand cars and trucks. More secret shit revealed by Jape. As the couple just happen to come by, he opens up and digs out four Big Blue Labatt Canadian beers, with ice shards falling off; they are thrilled, and thankful. They are disappointed at failure, and we are relatively ecstatic. Brief chat, more thanks, and they go their own way.[xiii] We pound that bucket down, gain immediate effect, change just shirts I think, and hit the road.
It was a fine Saturday afternoon as we headed first south then easterly towards Rexburg, ID – one of the best Small Towns of America or some such shit according to some book Wifey and I perused eons ago. Jape said that he heard that there was a statue of Napoleon there… of Dynamite fame. When we finally gained some cell service, he found no mention of it at all on the InterWeb. We did set a new record at 35mpg in the Hondo with a strong trailing southwest wind. We gassed up and snagged a marginal veggie tray at the decent grocery store.
The loose plan, because of the indeterminate hike time, was to grab any available campsite along the route northerly. This was roughly the backside, western that is, of the Tetons. Then on the west side of Yellowstone. Every campsite, empty or not, had Reserved tags posted. Six or seven campgrounds; federal and state; small and large – NOTHING. It was getting dark and we were dead meat. We dicked around on the phone and the maps, and the road trying to locate a simple hotel room. I think that we finally pulled into a chain and it had nothing, but Joey said that their Sister Station?? did have a couple. We drove a bit more and bunked up in Bozeman, MT. I have no idea what nondescript meal we may have consumed. Shower and passed out; perhaps there was some shitty old TV shows we like to laugh about in such situations.
Up early, as usual, and maybe a Denny’s for a fast marginal breakfast once down the road. When we hit Billings, the route lead onto the truly dreadful Interstate 94. That road was awful – worse than Illinois roads. You had to almost weave around the multitude of ripped up expansion joints, cracks and unintended rumble strips. No napping through that stretch. A couple of paragraphs now; aren’t you wondering why we are headed north, then east through Montana? The reason, the Target is the highpoint of North Dakota. White Butte (3,506’) is pictured below. The not so numerous trip reports suggested long pants because of the brambles n shit. Not the easiest spot to find, but we eventually parked along a road in the middle of nowhere. We suited up; just t-shirts up top – and day-packs with just a few items. The sun was relentless; not a tree in sight. A mile and a half one way, and we were up top; done! The long pants were NOT necessary… just some scraggly miscellaneous plants along a fairly well-defined almost sandy path. I think Fat Tony made an appearance once again; Jape must have cases of that Cook’s swill. After about an hour hiking in that inferno, the stuff was as warm as my morning tea. Yep, we drank it anyway
We get back to the Hondo at maybe 1:00 or 2:00pm; I’m not sure. We decided on a late lunch… maybe a tavern or something similar. A couple miles away we find the town nearest to the north of the highpoint: Amidon, ND; population 16. Yessir. We drove through it in eleven seconds and had to hang a u-ball. One saloon, and they were open; HAH! The bar was in the basement. One barfly, one regular, and the bartender who was not even forty. He may have even been a farm-beaten thirty – tough call. We saunter in, and belly up.
All three were drinking Hamm’s… that’s “Panda” these days (just look at an old commercial if you’re confused). How do I know it was Hamm’s? Because this ritzy joint serves it up in cans. We requested two, and one for the bartender. We get right into a discussion about the highpoint, the lack of signage, the potential for Big Bux at the bar by just posting a single sign at the trailhead. It was a tough sell. He started talking about local revenue in a manner that suggested that he actually knew his shit. Turns out that this guy is the Mayor, and his wife is the owner of the bar. We shot the breeze with this guy so loudly, casually and friendly that when the Regular departed, he asked us how long had we known him. Uh, we just got here buddy. At one point some other person came in and dropped off a basket of beautifully colored and varied fresh produce. Bartering is ALIVE! The Mayor claimed that the Hamm’s only comes sporadically due to their minimal sales; and it comes in 30-packs – crazy, no kegs. He practically shit his pants when we told him that we can get those for $9.99 on sale; he was paying $16.99 on volume discount. Ah Chief, that’s called gouging where we come from. We talked about farming, equipment, profit… all kinds of stuff. Almost no one farms, he said, they all lease their land to the huge corporate farm conglomerates. You know, even with the slight gripes about the farm life, underfunded town, and trying to raise a decent family – that guy seemed happy. It was a great stopover. We said our friendly good byes and hit the road.
Just a few interesting points on the way home… that’s right, no rest.
The first twenty or thirty miles on the absolutely scalding two-lane heading east split endless fields of blooming sunflowers – just beautiful. Sunflower oil; the presumed end-product.
You know those times when some asshole performs a real genuinely dangerous jackass move on the road and you wish The Man was right there? Wellllll, a Cadillac SUV absolutely flies by us close enough that I thought we would make mirror contact. The wind wake shook us violently. No reason for it, no one else is in sight and hadn’t been for many miles. The road was plenty wide and in decent shape. Jape and I looked at each other… no clue. We were above the limit, but cautious. Why? Did I mention that we just left the saloon? AND, we were passing through The Rez. About ten minutes later, we see flashing lights ahead. I multi-toot the horn friendly as we pass by the ass-wipe now on the shoulder; Tribal Police enquiring within. Yessir.
After many scenic miles on various two-laners, including a lengthy stretch along the Missouri River and a lot more trashed Rez, we link up first to I-29 south in Summit, SD, then I-90 east towards home. We unknowingly pass within twenty miles of the Iowa highpoint after the paper maps were finally being put away. [Maps: “They’re gr-r-reat!” Tony[xiv].] We were cursing each other in the rain while drinking a cold 32oz bottle of Bud playing Yahtzee in some military park. Not to worry though, we later bagged it on a shortened backpacking trip… threw in Minnesota as well.
We arrived home mid-day Labor Day after having driven through the night again – the Wisconsin approach. It was a lot of driving miles in just a couple of days, but a memorably hard highpoint hike, a lot of laughs, and a pretty good tour of an area we rarely visit.
[i] He’s a DDS and fellow martial arts practitioner; only the second true friendship I have formed in the last 25+ years. I’m unforgiving, intolerant, fit, smart, honorable and pride myself with high morals, ethics and integrity… not easy to accept – especially for males. So, no surprise there; and it’s not like I am actually seeking these people out.
[ii] “Girls only like guys with skills.” Napoleon; Napoleon Dynamite
[iii] In previous writings I have covered Yahtzee, poker, and some more difficult card games.
[iv] “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” The Dude; The Big Lebowski
[v] “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.” A mainstay of my childhood. Tastes good, but look what it did to my vocabulary!
[vi] A double-jigger of every one of the ten flavors of machine lube “coffee” offered; and at least two or three of the mystery slimy flavored “creams.”
[vii] Yes, I know you do not know who Gerald is, or The Executives. These are nicknames of some of The Guys I grew up with, and until recently, hiked with. YES! I have a nickname as well: The Old Badger. The content of the letter was hilarious and practically soft-porn involving one of our other buddy’s mother. We are adolescents in many ways.
[viii] If you have not viewed The Outlaw Josey Wales, go do it right now.
[ix] This was well before I knew of the transdermal capacity of gas.
[x] As children, we were required to buy this box every year of the NINE in my primary school. The crayons rarely were used, certainly never beyond re-use, yet we were forced to purchase them new every year! Someone was getting a kick-back – for sure… like a buck or so. WOO HOO!
[xi] Where I grew up, and even where I currently reside, the norm is a full length traditional yellow-orange school bus – holds 40 or so geniuses. The Short Bus carries less than half that, and the riders are challenged in some way. Use your imagination.
[xii] Didn’t everyone in the entire world watch Scooby Doo?
[xiii] Lyndsey Buckingham is fantastic.
[xiv] No, not Fat Tony… the striped guy, fronting for that ultra-healthy cereal. More garbage from my childhood.