Friday, July 16, 2010

Highpoint: Oklahoma. Black Mesa (4973 ft). July 4, 2010.


When I planned this trip back in early June, there were four highpoints that gave me pause. Virgina was one, but we ended up climbing Mt. Rogers easily enough. Oklahoma was another (I'll get to the other two at a later date). This hike is 8.6 miles roundtrip with 1500 feet elevation gain. This kind of trek is well within Alex's capabilities, but it presents a challenge for Sage. My youngest daughter has ascended 1500 feet over 4.5 miles, and she's hiked 8.5 flat miles...but she's never climbed 1500 feet over 8.5 miles. Add to the fact that the temperatures in this area are notoriously hot (mid-90s plus), and you might understand my concern. I decided we'd go ahead and try it, and that we would turn back if/when Sage wanted to call it quits.

The days leading up to our ascent were fraught with thunderstorms, and the forecast predicted lightning for the week ahead. We therefore took advantage of the one day Weather Underground predicted clear skies -- July 4.

The trailhead is in the western panhandle, a few miles from both the New Mexico and Colorado borders. From reading my guidebooks and SummitPost printouts, I knew we would be dealing with two miles of flat, one mile of steep, then one additional mile of flat (on top of the mesa). I also knew we should keep our eyes peeled for rattlesnakes.

The 4th was predictably hot, hot, and hot some more. After slathering sunblock on the girls and packing ten liters of water (literally!) in my backpack, we set off on the dusty trail...

The going was initially easier than I expected. The heat didn't bother us as much as I thought it would, perhaps because there was little humidity. I continually nagged the girls about drinking water, that probably helped too.

The miles along the trail are marked with benches. Here, the girls happily make use of "Mile One."

The second mile was just as flat as the first, though we had more interesting things to see.

Here are some of the ancient volcanic rocks that abound near and on Black Mesa...

...and some lovely vegetation...

...and a sample of the animal life.

We made it to the second bench in good time, though I noticed the girls' faces were getting red. Both of my daughters told me they felt fine, but I started slowing our pace and becoming even more of a nag about the water.

We embark on mile three -- time to climb the mesa!


...up some more...

...until we came to the bench marked "Mile Three."

Lovely views from here!

Shortly after leaving the third bench, the trail flattened out and crossed the top of the mesa; we still had over a mile to walk before reaching the official highpoint.

Eventually, we saw the rectangular monument in the distance...

...and arrived at the top!

We took refuge in that sliver of shade in the picture above, then we ate some grapes and drank even more water (only three of those ten liters remained). Both girls were feeling fine. Sage had not uttered one word of complaint or fatigue during our ascent; I suspect she is now just as strong as Alex was at her age.

Views from the official highpoint.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, we made our way back down.

The girls took turns bursting into the occasional Sondheim tune.

The last two miles were the most difficult -- we were now feeling the heat, and we drank every remaining drop of water before we reached the car. That's ten liters of water between one adult and two young children!

When we reached the parking lot, Sage was hot and tired, but very proud of herself. We enjoyed this hike -- Alex in particular thought the mesa landscape was beautiful and she didn't want to leave -- but we were grateful Oklahoma was now in the bag. We were also grateful that we hadn't encountered any rattlesnakes.

Next stop: Kansas.

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