Peak(s):  Guadalopue Peak (8,749)
Clingman's Dome (6643)
Mount Rogers (5729)
Black Mesa (4973)
Brasstown Bald (4784)
Black Mountain (4139)
Magazine Mountain (2753)
Britton Hill (345)
Hawkeye Point (1670)
Charles Mound (1235)
Date Posted:  12/02/2021
Date Climbed:   12/14/2020
Author:  Ptglhs
 A year of High Points (1 of 3)   

Humans love lists, with some caveats. There is a correlation between our affinity for a list, the points on the list, and its length. People work their way through the 14ers, which is a list of 52, 53, 54, or 58 (or more, looking at you, sunlight spire). A much more challenging list are the mountains over 13,000ft, which is 584 to 713. I had finished the 14ers in CO in 2019. I have done more 13ers since then, but haven't felt the same pull to complete the next lower list, swarming with orphans I had hiked past to reach their loftier neighbors above a magical line of fourteen thousand feet. After a couple of trips to visit family in NC and CA I stumbled on another list in the 50s: the highest natural points in each state.

It began much the same as my sojourn through Colorado's mountains over 14k: I did a couple ones for fun or because I was close or traveling through: Wheeler in NM while on a weekend trip to Taos with a new car and a girlfriend in Nov of 17, Mitchell with a girlfriend in NC in Feb of 19, Whitney in CA in July of 19 on a trip with my sister and her husband, Humphrey's in AZ on the drive back. By the time 2020's summer was concluded I was looking in earnest at completing this list. Unlike Colorado's peaks which are day or overnight trips, I would have to combine several in the same area. 7 trips and thousands of miles in a rental car later, I had hiked (or walked, or drove to) 40 state high points in a year. It involved snow shoeing a mile and a half to stand next to a farmhouse in Illinois, car camping in a midwest winter of -10F, nearly wrecking an oversized rental car in the middle of nowhere, NV, on a 'road' that doesn't show up on google; serene and beautiful fall colors, ocean surf, a shortcut through Canada, being the only car on the highway for over an hour the day after a snow storm in Oklahoma, falling in a river of glacial runoff in Wyoming, and a lot of deserted campgrounds!

I'll bookend my year, since it covers 2020 and 2021, with our local state high point, Elbert. I did it as a repeat with someone I met off the internet who had never climbed a 14er. It was a beautiful fall day in the Sawatch. I won't overload this trip report with photos of the gentle giant we all know and love, but here's one of the brave grey jays helping themselves to a snack. After Elbert in Oct, while visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I started planning the logistics of a road trip.

The CDT here looks more like a road than a trail

I had decided to do the southern high points in winter. I was off work, and hot and humid are anathema to me. I confirmed I'd be able to access the high points in the former confederacy without too much difficulty, though it would turn Tennessee from a stroll to a hike. as long as I brought enough layers and gear for icy surfaces I'd probably be fine.I looked at the various high points and decided to drive south, east, north, then west, zigzagging a bit to hit each high point. I'm not claiming this was the shortest route available, but I think it was pretty efficient. My plan was to stay at national forest campgrounds where ever possible, with a state park or a private campground if it was all that was available.

Or at least that's what the internet said... What google didn't tell me was its directions left a lot to be desired when navigating back dirt roads in winter. On December 14th, 2020 I left my car at the Colorado Springs Airport long term parking with a coupon for 50% off, got a rental car, with unlimited mileage, and stocked up on provisions for 10 days of mostly car camping. Turning off US 160 in SE Colorado at first I was quite confident my car would be fine on a plowed dirt road. "I got this" very quickly turned into "oh shit, I hope this car has got this." I had plenty of camping gear and food and water, but I didn't want my trip to ignominiously end on its inaugural day. Oklahoma had apparently gotten the storm which swept through Colorado the previous week. I crossed the state line on a dirt road which had some tire tracks in the snow, no sign of a plow, and a wrought iron sign.

How does a state which denies global warming not own a single goddamn snowplow? Yes, I am driving on the wrong side of a highway!

An hour and 20 miles later I was finally on a state highway, without much improvement in road conditions. I was however, treated to a stunning sunset, glowing off the snow clouds in the sky an the snow on the ground in black mesa state park. The park was deserted, and a void of cell service. I set up my tent on the snow, cooked some ramen in a camp stove, and curled up for the night.

End of the 1st day's drive

Black Mesa in the tip of Oklahoma is unremarkable as mountains go, despite being the namesake of a villainous corporation in a computer series. It is 1300ft from the NM border, but the prairie after an almost winter snowstorm provided a serene mostly white landscape. I wore my snowshoes to move more quickly though the several inches which drifted to over a foot in places going up the gully to reach the crest of the mesa proper. Once up there I was blasted by winds and wind driven sand and snow. I was wearing more layers at 5k in Oklahoma than I had the previous week atop the Lincoln group in Colorado! 8.6 miles, 800ft of gain, and had the mesa to myself.

If only USGS peak markers were this big, fewer people would steal them!

Given the lack of daylight this time of year my plan was to hike/walk/visit in the morning and then drive until late in the evening to be close to my next high point. I was trying to move quickly, enjoy the sites, and do as little hiking via headlamp as possible. After negotiating the still treacherous state highways in the panhandle I quickly crossed into TX on 385 and drove south for Guadalupe National Park and its eponymous mountain range. I was surprised at how crowded the campground in the park was. It was the opposite of the state parks and national forests: they were nearly empty, this place was full. I had to setup my tent in a group site that was probably closed due to covid regulations. It was after 10 and I would be gone at 1st light so I hoped and assumed I wouldn't be causing too much trouble.

Guadalupe Sunrise

It was on the trail for TX high point that my elevation training in the mountains of CO really kicked in. I was on a great trail in a national park, climbing to a high point that was over two thousand feet under what I called home in CO. 4.3 miles and 3000ft of gain passed in just under 2 hours. The desert floor over a mile beneath me rolled away to a hazy horizon, obscured by dust storms in the West Texas wind. 8.6 miles total hiking.

Trail goes quickly, and passes through different biomes

The next part of my trip was perhaps the most tedious: I had to drive across Texas (though I crossed into and out of New Mexico while heading east) and into Louisiana that day, after a 9 mile hike. The flare offs of Permian Basin shale oil extraction seemed to be literally playing with fire, given how dry the scrub grasses were. Darkness fell long before I made it to anything approximating a 'Sportsman's Paradise.' I20 faded into something of a blur for me. The lights of the Dallas Fort Worth megalopolis were a kind of Xmas decoration to my eyes. I stopped and treated myself to fast food, before the restaurants closed at 9, and I was still hours away from a national forest campground in the Bayou.

Sunrise over the swamps

With so much windshield time I had plenty of chances to chat with friends and family. The morning I was in Louisiana I had someone ask me if I was afraid of alligators at the campground. My response was something like, "Considering it's 31F I think they're wriggled into the mud, trying to stay warm. If any were out I could probably outrun them. Yay for being exothermic."

The highpoint of Louisiana is a rise in the northern part of the the state. It sits on a private forestry tract, the owners have graciously allowed a short trail to the top where the high pointers club has a small pavilion. I do wonder if they'll have to reroute once the areas next to the path are up for harvesting. I was surprised to see so much pine in LA.The constant rain, alluvial soil, and our insatitable need for timber and paper products drive this industry. It was beautiful, with undergrowth unlike anything I'd see in a conifer stand in CO. The oddest part about Driskill is the trail starts next to a church and cemetery. I wouldn't have thought there'd be a need for graves seeing as how the trail is 1.75 miles round trip, with 150ft of gain!

Victims of the daunting trail up mount Driskill, May the gods have mercy on their souls

My father grew up in Baton Rouge. We hadn't visited since after his father died, in 1998. I had a few memories of winter vacations with family there, but it was a connection to family and history. I decided to detour to Baton Rouge en route to the lowest high point of the year: Florida's Britton Hill (the name is a misnomer). I stopped outside the house my dad had a teenager, where I broke my collar bone, and where my grandmother tore the door off her car because of a then undiagnosed malignant brain tumor destroying her peripheral awareness. She died just 6 weeks later. I thought about our ephemeral connections. Houses do not define us, anymore than mountains remember us. The new owners paint, clean, renovate, and make the house theirs.Time flows onward, moving to whatever awaits at the end of ours, like the waters of most of the country being carried to the gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi. Coming from the mountains of Colorado the sheer size of the Mississippi was daunting. It was wider across than our lakes.


Being so close to the shore is a novelty for me. I decided that since it was so late I would catch a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. I drove to Biloxi and was not disappointed. The people who got their car stuck in the sand trying to drive out on the abandoned and derelict concrete and sand filled pier did not have as good luck as I.

Zoomed in sunset over the non-surf of the gulf

It was dark by the time I got to the panhandle of Florida. Thankfully their state high point is in a city park, about 20 feet from where the cars are parked. It was longer walk to the park's bathroom than to the plaque which parks Florida's highest natural point, 500 feet below their tallest building.

Driving north into Alabama the roads had the most unusual -to me- signs. I'm not accustomed to roads marked with "hurricane evacuation route." It makes sense, given the weather conditions, but it was still a raised eyebrow for me. Alabama's high point is something of an actual mountain, albeit with a low elevation. Cheah Mountain is the southern spur of the Appalachians. It is a highly commercialized state high point, and one of my least favorite.

I arrived at the entry into the state park after 11pm on the 17th. The Entry was manned, which was my 1st clue this wouldn't be easy. I was told the cheapest option was the lower primitive campground, for 25$. After confirming my this would allow me to walk around the next day at the state park which actually contained the high point I paid and was given a map and code for the gate.

Amazingly not to scale

Looking at that map a reasonable person would assume the CCC Primitive Campground is relatively close to the gate. The campground in fact, is in the next county! Several minutes and miles of driving, searching in the dark, and looking at the map with directions led me to feel like European treasure seekers hunting the mythical golden city of Cibola. Unscrupulous men relying on directions from the natives who in all reality gave the most treacherous and convoluted waypoints possible to get the scoundrels killed, maimed, or at least too far away to return for revenge. When I finally found the site, the gate consisted of two swinging steel pipes padlocked together with a chain. The code I was given opened the padlock, but had I been so inclined I could have absconded with it. I was dumbfounded that they didn't have a lock with was attached to one side of the gate. The campground was as primitive as advertised: sloping floors, narrow road, plenty of rocks and tree branches. It was after midnight and I hadn't seen a soul, so I just parked on the flattest spot which would allow me to both setup up a tent and U turn the rental car.

The next day I slept in til about 9, and then drove to the lookout tower which sat atop the southern end of the United States' eastern mountains. I had a cell tower blocking on of the windows and the other overlooked a dumpster. Commercialization definitely hurt the ambience of this park. I guess a lot of people come here not because it's a high point, but because it's a nice place to car camp and fish in the lakes below. I passed the upper campground bathrooms, and much to my annoyance 25$ for a tilted patch of dirt for my tent did not come with a shower. I was glad to be leaving Alabama, roll tide or whatever.

Georgia's Brasstown Bald has a bit of Alabama's built up nature, but much more charm. A lower parking lot has a shuttle to the top, or one can take a short 1/2 mile path. I elected for the later. There were Rhododendrons and other plants I couldn't recognize. I thought it would have been quite beautiful, fragrant, and way too hot here while these were in bloom. A lookout tower sat next to a small museum about the geology of Georgia and the Appalachians. The snow and frost on the northern slopes of the mountain glimmered in the late day sun. A quick walk to my car and I started up the spine of the eastern range. I had another high point and still more driving after that to go that day.

Brasstown Bald

Driving north into the Appalachians I was wondering why my phone's navigation was saying I would average 35 miles per hour. Surely the roads allowed for faster traffic? I was wrong. To state the obvious: roads connect people. Out west people don't live on mountain tops. Pockets of humanity are clustered where food can be grown, money can be made, and recreation awaits, this is usually found in the river valleys. In Appalachia, even the lowly 3000ft hilltops can be farmed. Roads cover the easiest terrain to connect people. In the mountain west that means longer, flatter sections with higher speed limits. On the border of Georgia and South Carolina, 45 was hauling ass.

My phone's reception was tenuous, at best, so I was glad the road to Sassafras Mountain was well marked. It was only a few hundred yards from the car to the lookout, and it was after 8pm, so I was going up under headlamp. I consoled myself with the knowledge that tomorrow I was doing Clingman's Dome, nearly twice the elevation, so the views would be better, and I would be starting up in the early morning. Driving the back roads, leapfrogging between states as I worked my way to national forest campground on the NC/TN border was tedious. When I finally arrived the road in was closed about a mile after I turned off the highway. I was at a gate in a "horse trailer" area. Looking around I realized this was probably as good as it got, unless I wanted to drive in to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and try my luck at a campground there. I was tired so I just pitched a tent behind my car and tried to get some sleep. I knew 5am was going to come dark and early.

I knew I had to get an early start as I was still about 40 minutes away from the trailhead via car. The road to Clingman's dome travels to within half a mile of the state high point for Tennessee, most of the year. Dec-March it shuts down and the closest access is Newfound Gap parking on US 441, 8.5 miles down the AT.

My 1st time on the AT!
Ice sculpture around root systems

The hike was an actual hike, in a beautiful part of the country. I encountered 4 or 5 people on the AT, most going the same direction as myself. The terminology out east is different from what I was used to. What Colorado calls a saddle the Appalachians call a gap, for example. The AT is the shortest of the 3 long distance through hikes, but it is also the one with the most vertical elevation gain, over 515,000ft. 17 miles on the AT and the road to Clingman's made me see why.

Red Srpuce over 6,000ft

The amount of water the east coast sees just dwarfs anything in the southwest. The water works it's way into the mountains and through the honeycomb rocks. It finally emerges from faces where the rock gives way and refreezes, forming beautiful ice castles against the closed road.

This formation is probably 12ft tall

On the way back I stuck mainly to the road as it was mostly snow free and I didn't want to slip on the return portion of a 17 mile hike. It was a bit eerie walking along a clear, dry paved road without any car traffic at all. As I got within a mile of the parking lot I began to encounter more and more people. This was before hardly anyone was vaccinated for covid and it was akin to a tailgate at the lot. I realized why: it was a weekend, it was a national park, and a lot of recreational sites were closed. I fielded a few question from people about my destination, >95% of the people at the lot had no interest in tagging the highest point on the AT. My longest hike was done! Tomorrow's peaks were slated to be a hike to Virginia's high point and a drive and walk to Kentucky's.

I had an exceptionally generous benefactor spring for a hotel room for me that evening. A hot shower and a room at the motel 6 have never felt so comforting! dawn was approaching in the eastern sky as I headed away from interstate 81 and into the hills of SW Virginia. The car's temperature gauge let me know this would be the coldest hike yet, and hopefully of the trip. After this I would head west-southwest and down in elevation. This time of year it was a bit chilly to be this close to the Mason-Dixon line, but a list is a list!

1st, and only time in a wilderness area the whole trip

The trail was a beautiful, ethereal winter wonderland. I spent 7 of the 1st 8 years of my life in VA, and the recent snow and ice they had received reminded me, at a barely conscious level, or winters when I was a kid.

Ice storms shaped by the wind above 5k
Wonder what it looks like when people are through hiking?
Reminds me of Xmas lights
Walking Through Woods on a Snowy Evening...

The whole hike felt like something out of a Robert Frost poem. Despite it being over cast and in the 20s AND humid, I was enjoying myself. The Red Spruce only grows over 4,000ft at mid Atlantic latitudes. This was the only state high point without human structures. It was in a wilderness area and being quieted by winter's silent, snowy kiss. I could hear the wind in the trees and see my breath. The only human sounds were my microspikes crunching into the snow and ice as I descended. I was sad to leave it behind.

I was a bit tired from the 17 miles, with 3500ft of elevation gain the day before, and then another 8.5 miles and 1,800 ft of gain today, so I was glad to be done with hiking for a bit, but I knew that I would miss the feeling of being in an Appalachian winter before too long. The drive to Kentucky was relatively brief. Stereotypes exist for a reason, like the stereotype of Appalachian coal mines.

Older coal chute. I saw several new plants as well

Kentucky's high point is on a hill which was partially mined for coal, accurately called black mountain. It is a drive up, or so I thought.

Not Nissan Altima-able

After 25 miles in the last 2 days I was not looking forward to more hiking, even 3.5 miles down a dirt road, but it was the only way so on went the snowshoes -didn't know what I'd encounter. I grabbed a half full water bottle and stuffed a package of lemonheads in my pocket and off I went, into the fog. I could only see about 200 yards ahead of me, and I was hearing a bizarre, electrical humming. I was wondering if it was a mining substation with a generator. A giant orb appeared out of the mists over my head , surrounded by a chain link fence, and for a moment I was wondering if this was where the spaceships were landing. It was an FAA radar/transponder station. I obviously couldn't get into take a closer look, fencing and warnings of felony charges surrounded it.

Take me to your... air controller?

I made Black mountain quickly, and the weather even cleared a bit on the way back.

Pastel sky

On the way back I passed some enormous bird tracks. I assume they were geese but for a moment, in the mist, I recalled a scene from Jurassic Park. My trip back to my car was completed in an hour, start to finish, without me having to say "clever girl" to a creature eating my face.

Size 13 boots, inside snowshoes, those tracks though...

On the way back to highways to get me south, to Mississippi, I passed by the actual town of Appalachia. I always thought it was a geographic region, turns out it's also a city.

The original target of 'The Great Society' programs

After this the drive was on! There was no direct way to line up all these high points. I had to zigzag a bit. After Kentucky I dropped south west, heading in the direction of northern Mississippi. Other than seeing the rockets of Huntsville, AL, and being reminded of a trip to Space Camp as a 10 or 11 year old, there was little upon which to remark.

806 ft of fury!

From here it was on to Taum Sauk Mountain in Missouri. It was stroll along a path and it was set up as a day use area, enough picnic tables and pit toilets to be welcoming, but not overbuilt like Cheah's summit.

Getting creative with photo angles, how many photos of leaden skies and winter deciduous trees can one trip report have?

The 2 private campgrounds where I stayed had proprietors who were amazed that I would camp out in December, despite it being above freezing most of the nights on my trip. The benefit to this was I had my pick of the best spots, and steeply discounted off season rates.

Early morning light, somewhere in northern Arkansas

I have tried to eschew any discussion of social issues in these trip reports, but passing a hill in Arkansas I saw two signs, one for each political party in the elections. I wondered if it was the same non political work crew that did both in a day and went home, or if supporters from both camps did it while hurling jeers and curses at each other.

Supporters of half of the billboards in this photo were really pissed at the election.

Magazine Mountain in Arkansas is another state park, but I really liked how they laid out the facilities. The high point itself is a short walk up a path, maybe a mile round trip, with a couple hundred feet of gain. The human structures are barely visible, even in winter when the leaves have fallen. At the top is reproduction of the shape of Arkansas, done with rock common to the various regions.

I didn't say the rock was that different...

The bluff overlooks valleys over a thousand feet below. Some areas have rather sheer cliff faces. Along at least one side are developed campgrounds, a hotel, complete with a restaurant with a great view out the window of the valley floor. it was nice to have the trappings of civilization, without feeling the waste products on the high point.


I had a fair bit of driving left still, so I pushed off and on top the road. The TLDR version of my quest to find a worthwhile radio station in rural Arkansas was: I didn't. That's what MP3 players are for. It was well after dark by the time I made it to western Kansas. I had inquired about a spot at a private campground. The owner seemed to think I would need to sleep in the bathroom to stay warm, my 10f sleeping bag notwithstanding. I knew the cold wouldn't bother me as I pulled in to the campground. I was hearing an odd ululating noise though...

When I turned off the engine with the music it got louder and it sounded like birds. At 1130 at night? I opened the door and the sound was deafening. What are thousands of birds doing in December in Kansas? Some kind of ornithological rave? The campground was next to several shallow lakes and a watercourse. Apparently this was where the action was for avians. I shone my flashlight and could see birds til the light faded out. I had to rethink where I was spending the night, but not from the cold. I found a city park a couple of miles away and repeated the procedure of setting up a tent and vowing to be on my way before it was too light. In my defense I didn't see a "No Camping" sign.

Anti Climatic but there she is

The next morning I made Mount Sunflower in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. A winter windstorm was whipping across the prairies. Being outside for a minute to get the high point selfie hurt all my exposed skin. I quickly hopped back into the car and kept driving west, back to the mountains and a home higher than any 'high point' I had visited.

Mileage for this trip was about 5,000 on the car, 50 on my feet.

2nd trip for this report: Charles Mound (IL) and Hawkeye Point (IA), 14 February, 2021.

The high point of Illinois is the most challenging as far as access goes. Other high points are on private land -Delaware's is in a trailer park, Louisiana and Michigan are both on private forestry tracts- but there are public workarounds by the landowner and the local government, and usually they are far removed from private residences. Illinois' is right next to a family home. The owners have generously allowed high pointers to walk a path on their property, parking on a county road and not on the long, farm driveway, and allow access the 1st weekends of June, July, August, September, and President's Weekend. The summer weekends overlap with my work, so a mid-winter road trip in the Midwest it was! I decided to get Iowa as well, since it was sort of on the way, and the way the local government worked with the landowners to turn a small piece of farmland into a high point display, informational stop, and campground was really cool.

My plan was to drive to Illinois, car camp along the way, and then tag the high point, Charles Mound with a stop over in Iowa on the way back. I picked up my rental car and departed. Just for fun, the drive out there was on one of the coldest weeks of the winter. The temperature kept dropping as I left Denver and I don't think it got above zero much, if at all, on my trip. I passed at least one person stuck on the side of the road in southern Wisconsin, and I noticed the right side of their car was a couple of feet into the snow. When I got out to ask is they were okay, and had someone coming so they wouldn't freeze to death, I noticed the shoulder dropped off a few feet from the road, presumably for water drainage and for the plows to have a place to move the snow. I made a note to myself not to pull off without verifying something solid underneath my feet.

I'm sure Apple River Canyon State Park is lovely in the fall and spring, and muggy in the summer, but in Feb it was -10F and I was trying to car camp. I wore more than half of what I brought with me and zipped myself into my sleeping bag with a bottle of water next to me so it would be liquid in the am, and my insulin tucked into my jacket pocket. I had 3 layers of socks on and something wrapped over my feet. I'm sure people who dislike the cold won't believe me but I was actually quite comfortable, for the temperature. I would wake when I rolled over in my sleep and have to re-position so the bag was over my face, but I got a good amount of rest, and kept all my fingers and toes. I knew I should be taking more photos, to remember the trip, but I wanted to leave my fingers in the gloves and not pull my phone out of my pocket!

Dave Barry opined that there is a fine line between hobby and mental illness. As I broke down my tent in temperature well below zero I resigned myself to the fact that I was on the wrong side of that line, and resolved to enjoy the crazy! I arrived at the pull off of the county road, choked down some frozen peanut butter sandwiches, and layered up. I was in rural, but well populated, farmland. That fact didn't mean much as I was sure anyone with any ounce of common sense was inside next to a fire. Snowshoeing up a closed dirt path and breaking through to a driveway wasn't fun, given the wet heavy snow of the Midwest, but there was a kind of austere beauty to it, and I had the hill to myself.

I think it was warmer last January on Bierstadt...

Coming back with a detour to Hawkeye Point in Iowa I kept an eye on the thermometer, and several layers on. The Mississippi river was frozen over, and I briefly stepped out on to it, at it's edge. I had already tempted fate enough with my nights below zero.


Hawkeye point had it's charms, for a slightly raised patch of prairie in northwestern Iowa. But I was pushing to get back to Colorado.

Better when the windchill isn't minus 20.

On the way back I took a longer route than google advised, because I was sticking to US and state highways. I didn't want to risk getting stuck. A temperature reading of -24F in Nebraska made me nostalgic for the winter I worked on well pads in North Dakota.

According to this display my car's shields are down, but its armor is intact and systems are operational

I did a lot for 2 unremarkable mounds in the Midwest. I told myself it's about doing a list to say you've done it. I didn't skip Cameron or North Eolus, and perhaps this was my Cameron. That would make Delaware my north Eolus?

This trip was about 1900 miles of driving, with about 2.5 miles of snowshoeing.

To be continued...

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
What an adventure...
12/05/2021 10:57
and more to come as I take it. You have a fluid writing style
that makes for great reading. Thanks for posting.

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