County High Point Mentions in Hugo Finalists (Part One)

I knew of Ursula’s longstanding love of Steens Mountain in the remote high desert of the farthest corner of southeastern Oregon, a landscape that had informed the world of her novel The Tombs of Atuan, as well as her poetry-photography collaborative collection Out Here.

—David Naimon, Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing (Portland, Ore.: Tin House Books, 2018), p. 53

Steens Mountain’s summit, at 9,733 feet, is the highest point of Harney County. It’s been on my to-visit list for a while but hasn’t really bubbled up to the top due to, as mentioned, its sheer remoteness; the nearest town with a gas station is Burns, about ninety miles away. The Tombs of Atuan mention makes it an even more intriguing visit though, as does the mention of incredible local stargazing. (I really need to remember to bring my binoculars on my car-camping trips; the last truly dark skies I saw were at Hinkey Summit, in remote northwestern Nevada, and they were spectacular.)

I use “Steens Mountain’s summit” advisedly, as the mountain itself is a huge fifty-mile fault block that rises directly from the nearby Alvord Desert, five thousand feet below. Beyond the Alvord Desert is the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which you may remember from the 2016 occupation of its headquarters by armed seditionists. Or “Right-Wing Loonybirds”, as Le Guin called them.

Rose Peak

Rose Peak (3817′)
7 April 2019
4:19↑, 3:36↓


I’ve been to the Ohlone Regional Wilderness a couple times, but never gotten to its highest point, Rose Peak. At 3817 feet, Rose Peak stands just 32 feet short of Mt. Diablo and is the highest legally accessible point in Alameda County. Previous excursions to the Ohlone Wilderness were from the Del Valle Regional Park; to switch things up a bit, I decided that when I tagged Rose Peak I’d do it from the Sunol side.

This past weekend was the first weekend of the year when Sunol Regional Wilderness gate hours extended to 8pm. Wanting to give myself an ample amount of time to finish this 19-mile hike, I decided that this would be a good weekend to go for Rose Peak while still using my Ohlone Wilderness Permit from last year; it doesn’t expire until 10 May. I got to the trailhead at 10am and set off; not from the visitor’s center, as is standard, but from Camp Ohlone Road, where parking was available.

It was a beautiful spring day, with green hills fed by our wet winter. Less beautiful was my Camelbak springing a leak maybe twenty minutes into the hike. Half my water supply was now dripping from my pants. That annoyance aside, the McCorkle Trail soon rose into the Sunol Wilderness and the crowds of people thinned out. After some nice single-track through the woods, I reached signpost 19 and a gate towards camping areas. Past this gate, there was almost nobody except me and the cows.

The Ohlone Wilderness Trail winds its way up through San Francisco Water Department land and then reaches the Ohlone Regional Wilderness proper. This area was full of blooming wildflowers fed by the recent rains. Fortunately, it wasn’t too muddy except where cows had trampled the trail. I had to dodge around a couple cow groups that were intent on blocking the trail (and of course, plenty of cow pies left on the trail), but the open serpentine grasslands of this area make that easy. There are some great views of the back side of the Mission Peak area.

After a bit of a dip to cross the South Fork of Indian Creek (2800′), it’s a couple miles uphill to the summit of Rose Peak. It might not be the highest point of Alameda County, but it has better views than the true high points due to a paucity of trees at the top. You can see Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the South Bay, and many other points of interest. The Ohlone Wilderness trail map has a good compass indicator of what’s in sight.

The summit register was a complete mess of loose papers. I found a usable pen and a bit of space to sign in. I noted my nominal completion of the Everest by the Bay peak list, although I’m not sure it really counts; I usually took shorter routes than those described. On the other hand I’m pretty sure I have gained more than thirty thousand feet in climbing various Bay Area peaks, so whatever.

I started back at about 3pm; the journey back was uneventful except for a quick view of a coyote running by in the distance. When I got back to the Sunol Regional Wilderness, I detoured once past the gate at signpost 19 to Camp Ohlone Road. It’s much more boring than the McCorkle Trail, but I was okay not reascending a couple hundred feet. I got back to my car a bit after 6:30pm, well before closing time, and headed home.


San Francisco Bay Area Nifty Ninety: 73/90
California Coastal Peak List:

Chalk Mountain

Chalk Mountain (1609′)
20 May 2017
3:13↑, 3:37↓


Chalk Mountain is one of two CC-listed peaks in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I had hiked up Pine Mountain the previous November, but Chalk is a bit further away from the visitor’s center or any other trailhead. Depending on the route you take, there’s also a lot more sun and less redwood-induced shade.

I started at Waddell Beach and made my way up past the marshes of Rancho del Oso, once owned by Presidential brother Theodore Hoover. The Westridge Trail is quite bumpy; there’s a good 3696 feet of elevation gain from the beach to the top of Chalk Mountain even though said peak is only 1609 feet high.

There’s an old lookout atop Chalk Mountain, and some great views into the West Waddell Creek Wilderness, the western part of Big Basin State Park that isn’t as frequently visited.

For my descent route, I continued on the Chalks Road (essentially, a nice ridge road atop the Chalks) and then eventually descended on the Henry Creek Trail after a couple miles. This route was longer but avoided the ups-and-downs of the Westridge Trail. Plus, it’s usually more fun to make a loop hike when you can.

However, this route had a couple of unexpected hazards. The first was shortly after the Henry Creek trail junction, when I heard a sound that I first thought was my water pack springing a leak. Nope. That’s a rattlesnake. Fortunately, the snake was on the hillside to the right of the trail, so I dashed past hugging the trail’s left. The second was at the very end of the Henry Creek Trail. The trail had already crossed West Waddell Creek once at a point that was easily jumpable, but this crossing was a lot wider and required a bit more care in wading across and being sure not to slip on the slick rocks at the creek’s bottom.

After successfully fording the creek and putting my shoes back on, it was smooth sailing via the Skyline to the Sea Trail back to Waddell Beach. A solid and enjoyable 19-mile outing that made for some great exercise.


California Coastal Peak List: 42/302

Mid-May Monterey Peakbagging

Chews Ridge (5045′)
Eagle Peak (1607′)
Ollason Peak (1799′)
13 May 2017

20170513_120221 (1)


It was a temperate Saturday in May and my eyes were wandering south for some peakbagging. I had climbed the highest point of Monterey County the year before, but there are three other peaks in the county with at least two thousand feet of topographic prominence. Today’s objective was an easy one: Chews Ridge, which rises to 5045 feet at its highest point. It’s easily reached off of Tassajara Road. I took a nice leisurely stroll around the fire lookout that crowns the highest point of the ridge, as well as the nearby MIRA Observatory. As befitting a peak in the northern Los Padres National Forest, there are great views of the Ventanas, from Uncle Sam Mountain to Junipero Serra Peak, the county high point.



Chews Ridge has great views but isn’t much of a hike, and I was hungry for more. So I headed off to Toro County Park. Via the East Ridge Trail, I first obtained Eagle Peak, which is really just a little bump that happens to be on the California Coastal Peaks list, and then continued to Ollason Peak via Toro Park Peak. As is common in northern California parks, I saw a few cows on the way.

Ollason Peak overlooks the city of Salinas, Monterey’s county seat. It’s overshadowed by Simas Peak, which I believe to be the highest point in Toro County Park at 2129 feet. (And yet is not on any peak lists. Might have to write my own to remedy that, although I should probably actually go there first.) After enjoying the views, I hiked out via the Red Tail Canyon and Gibson Gap trails.


California P2Ks: 13/164
California Coastal Peak List: 41/302

2018 Highpointing, and What Comes Next

My current county high point completion map.

I didn’t have a particularly productive year in terms of county highpointing in 2018. The biggest reason for this is simple distance. With a couple access-related exceptions, I’ve now climbed every county high point that can be done in a single day from my home. The other problem is time and energy. I did San Gorgonio Mountain and Mt. Eddy, this year’s two ultras, as full-weekend trips, but that does require spending pretty much the entire weekend away from home, and with the usual schedule of “hike Sunday morning and then drive back” that means going pretty much right from a long drive to bed to work.

The other issue I ran into was that having a narrow vacation window is a good way to be vulnerable to weather problems. My vacation plan this year was to spend the first half of a week or so near the Nevada–California border and claim successively higher high points, then head back home and go to the Worldcon. Unfortunately, the week in question was plagued with atmospheric instability that led to two of three hikes having to be aborted early; I didn’t even bother attempting White Mountain Peak given the low likelihood of pre-thunderstorm success and car-camping fatigue.

I’m not sure what lessons to take away from the above. I don’t really have a way to try to reschedule vacations on short notice based on the forecast. The best plan would have probably been to go somewhere else, although in this particular case the need to get advance permission from the Army for Mt. Grant would have made that difficult as well. Still, worth noting for future years.

In 2019, I am planning on hiking Thurston Peak, high point of Davis and Morgan Counties in Utah, at some point over Independence Day weekend in conjunction with Westercon. (There will be ribbons.) Apart from that, I’m not really sure what county high points are on the docket for next year, as I will be using most of my vacation time on a trip to Ireland for the Dublin Worldcon. (As I do not expect to have a car there, sadly neither Carrauntoohil or Kippure are likely.) I might look at using some or all of Labor Day Weekend to tackle Hat/Eagle or Salmon/Bear. Depending on snow levels, it might also be possible to leverage Memorial Day Weekend into a couple county high points. I’d still really like to get White Mountain Peak done, but I’m not quite sure how to acclimate sensibly over the necessarily short amount of time I’d have.

In the mean time, there are still plenty of other peaks to ascend. I have twenty-five peaks remaining on the SF Bay Nifty Ninety list, and hope to finish them off in the first half of next year. The biggest limiting factors here are Brushy Peak, which can only be legally accessed via a $40+ tour that you have to sign up for, and the peaks in Henry Coe that are best accessed via the seasonally-closed Dowdy Ranch entrance.

There are also plenty of unclimbed peaks (e.g. Konocti) relatively nearby with 2000 feet of prominence, are the most prominent point in their county, or are otherwise of interest (e.g. South Chalone Peak, the Pinnacles Wilderness high point). If nothing else, Tahoe is still fairly close and has plenty of interesting mountains that are not county high points. Hopefully 2019 will see less fire and smoke.

Here at Acrophilia, I’m hoping to keep the posts about peaks climbed in the last couple years coming at noon on Fridays until I’m caught up. No guarantees, but that’s the schedule I’m working towards.

2018 year-end statistics:

  • New county high points: 6 (54 total)
  • Home glob: 46 counties (+7), 123,603 square miles (+37,211)
  • New 2000′ prominence peaks: 5
  • New SF Bay Nifty Ninety peaks: 34
  • Highest and most prominent peak climbed: San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499′)
  • Highest point reached: the side of Boundary Peak at about 12,480′
  • New peaks (min. 300′ prominence) climbed: 22
  • P-Index: 93

Peakbagging Pictures, Part Three

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m probably not going to get up-to-date by the end of the year. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the first five months of 2016. I also went back and fixed the pictures that weren’t displaying from the first two posts. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part Three”

Peakbagging Pictures, Part Two

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m not quite sure I can get up-to-date by the end of the year, especially as hopefully I’m not done going outside for the year, Camp Fire smoke aside. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the final five months of 2015. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part Two”

Peakbagging Pictures, Part One

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m not quite sure I can get up-to-date by the end of the year, especially as hopefully I’m not done going outside for the year, Camp Fire smoke aside. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the first seven months of 2015. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part One”