Saturday, July 31, 2010

Highpoint: North Dakota. White Butte (3506 ft). July 21, 2010

2 miles roundtrip.

What to say about North Dakota.

Well, let me start in South Dakota two nights before, where the girls and I slept in a campground near Mt. Rushmore. A dangerous lightning storm rolled through the area in the middle of the night, and 1am found me dragging the girls out of their sound slumber and into the relative safety of our car. We spent the remainder of our sleeping hours huddled within the narrow confines of our Honda Civic and covering our ears as the thunder boomed all around us.

By the time we arrived in North Dakota the following afternoon, I was ready for a good glass of wine and some serious shut-eye. The forecast once again called for lightning, so I thought I'd book a motel. However, to my dismay, all lodging throughout the entire western half of North Dakota -- from city to fledgling town -- was completely booked not only for that night, but for most of the summer. Turns out there are a lot of oil workers up there...and they stay in the region for the entire season, completely filling all hotels and motels. At 9pm, the girls and I finally settled for a tiny campground out in the middle of a flat plain -- it was the only place that had availability.

Though the forecast called for clear skies that night, I brought my NOAA weather radio into our tent, just in case. Sure enough, I awakened in the wee hours of the morning to the vision of lightning streaking across the plain. The storm was too far in the distance to hear, but I had a hunch it was headed our way. The radio informed me that the storm was 15 miles to the south, but that the north was clear. As the storm approached, I dragged the girls from the tent, secured the rainfly and stakes, and took off in the car. We drove 55 miles away from the storm in the middle of the night...I eventually stopped, turned around, and watched as the severe system beat the crap out of the piece of land which housed our campground. When I came back for the tent, two hours later, it had been yanked from the stakes and tossed across a field. Miraculously, everything inside of it was dry -- as I hurriedly packed everything up, a new storm brewed to our east. As soon as the last piece of gear was in the car, the girls and I fled north once again.

At 10am we were 5 miles from White Butte, our car facing the dirt road that led to the trail. Yet another storm had come and gone, and another giant dark cloud was, according to my NOAA radio, 40 miles away and slowly approaching.

The girls and I decided to take advantage of the present window of relatively blue sky. The entire week called for storms off and on -- we were sick of lightning and wanted to bag this baby and leave this part of the country already.

We drove to the base of the Butte...

...and started along the trail. Our plan was to ascend and descend as fast as safely possible and be well on our way before the next storm hit. The girls and I set off at a jog, with me in the lead to watch for rattlesnakes (we never saw any).

Sage laughed all the way up. She was hiking in her pajamas (why not) and bouncing along like a happy chipmunk.

After an initial jaunt in the wrong direction, toward the white part of the Butte, the three of us found the faint trail leading toward the summit.

It didn't take us long to reach the top, perhaps 20 minutes tops.

Views into stormy North Dakota...

Those clouds were indeed heading our way, so we didn't linger. Back down we went.

Thankfully, we made it east without experiencing any more electrical storms.

Next stop: Iowa.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Highpoint: South Dakota. Harney Peak (7242 ft). July 19, 2010

Trail #9
6.8 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain.

Harney Peak, the third "tough" highpoint of our summer. When planning this trip, I had worried that this hike might be too long and steep for Sage. I needn't have youngest daughter took on this highpoint with enthusiasm and easily kept pace with Alex. She actually led the way most of the time.

'Twas a wonderful "walk in the woods."

Next stop: North Dakota.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Highpoint: Nebraska. Panorama Point (5424 ft). July 17, 2010

After spending a lovely and relaxing ten days in Colorado, it was time to head north.

Nebraska's highpoint is in the southwest corner of the state, just a couple of miles away from the Colorado and Wyoming borders. This was another easy "summit," as all we had to do was drive.

Scenes and views from the highpoint (notice all the bison droppings!).

Next stop: South Dakota.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Highpoint: Kansas. Mt. Sunflower (4039 ft). July 6, 2010

Kansas has a 4000 Footer! Of course, the entire state lies at about 4000 feet or so, therefore this "peak" doesn't have much of an elevation gain....about 20 feet, perhaps?

Our journey to Mt. Sunflower was simple and straightforward...almost. I took a wrong turn and ended up in a cattle field (would-be highpointers, this is NOT the right road!)...

...but I turned around and got back on track without too much trouble.

The scenery surrounding the highpoint...

...and the road that leads to the "summit"....

...and the sign pointing toward our day's goal...

...and the highpoint itself!

The register was the biggest one we've seen. I could've put a small calf in there.

Views from the top of Kansas...

We hung about for a bit, then we said farewell and headed into Colorado. The girls and I are NOT highpointing Colorado this summer, as that would be far too much, too soon for Sage (and possibly Alex). Instead, we used Colorado as another place to meet Hugh and relax for a couple of weeks.

While in Colorado, the girls and I panned for gold, went dog-sledding, visited an amusement park, and spent a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park. When Hugh arrived, he took the girls climbing, bouldering, and swimming.

Then it was time to embark on Phase Three of our highpointing extravaganza...

Next stop: Nebraska.