MY FIRST DESERT SOUTHWEST LOOP: Charleston Peak (11,918'), Mt. Agassiz (12,346'), Mt. Humphreys (12,633'), Mt. Wheeler (13,063') and More

September 29 to October 9, 1978

Putting this weeklong trip into the local Sierra Club chapter schedule as "Bristlecone Pines Peaks," I was willing to go back to climb Telescope Peak 2X, done earlier the previous year, as first intended. White Mountain Peak was also in the cards. Predictably, I had no takers. Despite my car getting some 38 mpg, and being a highly reliable vehicle, it was a target of a national enviro boycott. High club officers and others had no problem taking rides, although they paid very little for any gas sharing. Though any such activity with me thusly financially supported wildlife destruction, by them, I pursued my dream of visiting the Southwest in such a highly economic fashion.

Leaving after work Friday, I motored swiftly south along U.S. 395, and reached Independence, CA, to camp. Saturday, I was up early to snap a few pictures of Lone Pine, CA, and Mt. Whitney. I stopped for more photos along CA 190, eastbound.

The radio said the high for the day was to be 113 degrees, in Death Valley, CA. I had no air, being that CFCs destroyed the ozone layer, standard in most cars, except for no such polluting frills or extras, back then, for me. Gladly though, I had the foresight to bring along an ice chest, filled with various drinks, and replenished along the way.

I made short stops at the Dunes, Devils Cornfield, Badwater, Artists Palette, and Zabriskie Point. In only shorts with the car windows rolled down, I survived the heat, and saw the sights. Motoring east, I got my first sight of Eagle Mountain (3,806'), never knowing then that I would climb it four times. Coming into Las Vegas, NV, I took a few pictures, then saw the neon at night. I had never seen Las Vegas to this point.

The next day, Sunday, saw me up and early to hike Charleston Peak. I hiked from the south side of the trail loop, seeing stunted trees and some fall color. With my heavy day pack, I quickly ascended the peak, took more photos, and hiked back on the north side of the loop. Back to my car in about 8 hours, round trip, I was happy to have finally bagged this high summit. Never having hardly heard of this peak, I was to drive on a local Club chapter holiday Nevada weekend in 1977, to have to turn back due to poor planning and inept leadership.

Well, it was back into Las Vegas. I had secured a room on the Strip, a seedy locale, then. The rest of this trip, I was to carcamp.

Seeing Hoover Dam, I drove to Flagstaff, AZ, the next day, Monday. I refreshed myself with drink and food, seeing this sort of college town. Sunset Crater and the Wupatki National Monument made for sights. Spending some late evening in a bar, I went to camp in the nearby forest.

Up early again, Tuesday, I sought to bag the highest peak in Arizona, Mt. Humphreys. Starting at the ski resort, I hiked up one of the ski runs. At the top of the lift, a conservation crew was working on a trail. I had wondered about getting local permission to climb the peak, being that it is a Navajo holy mountain, but I could find no clear venue for doing that. It is Forest Service land, so I guess hikers are allowed.

Hiking first the sub peak, Mt. Agassiz, I followed the ridge over to the top of Humphreys. Another hiker joined me, and happily snapped my photo at the top. Views of the aspen were fantastic. I had more views as I hiked down, and the aspen forest, lower on the peak, was impressive.

On the advice of a tourist, I drove south to see Oak Creek Canyon, then Sedona, in the evening.

For me, then, Wednesday, I motored to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. My first time. The morning light was good enough, and I stopped at each vistapoint on my way east. I shortly headed north on highways through Navajo land, cautioned about my speed at a checkpoint. It was around through Vermillion Cliffs, Page, AZ, and then along highways back westward. I made a late sunset stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Probably having a cold night somewhere in my car, Thursday, I then entered Zion National Park. I ventured in towards the Narrows, and then up to Observation Point. Alone, I shot the views, and my own picture, with my tripod.

Friday, now, I motored over to see Bryce Canyon National Park. I had never hardly been this far east in Utah, on my own. I took more photos, and then headed back to the west. Made another stop at Cedar Breaks. I motored north along U.S. 93 in Nevada, after stopping at Cathedral Gorge, and had some sights of my next hike, Wheeler Peak.

So, Saturday, I hiked to the top. It was cold and windy, with snow on the rocks. Having time, I also visited Lehman Caves.

Continuing north, Sunday, I stopped at the Ruby Mountains, photographing fall colors up Lamoille Canyon. I had my 16 mm movie camera for some more records, but it was mostly a waste. The fluttering of the leaves falling from the aspen trees wouldn't impress anybody.

Now Monday, the 9th, it was time to drive home. I must have been low, or out of film, and I have seen Interstate 80 through Nevada, many times, then.

I thus began my liking for fall peak climbing and road trips, solo. I assumed my photos would provide me with any record, and I didn't then have any computer to keep typed notes. An old typewriter was employed before I started my photography, but as many in the then peak section hadn't been any thorough chroniclers of any traveling, I did as such, too. I did keep notes on the days of my climbs, but that was basically it.

Enjoying my restaurant meals, I had some reviews for my own records, but what can you say about the food when you only are there once? There was Mexican food in Sedona, and beers at the bar in Flagstaff, but I recall little else.

The Desert Southwest has changed much since then, and it's too bad most locals deplore peak climbing. I think it's so glorious, and fun, too, but people derive from social contact, and hike in their larger groups. That is the basic difference between many local hikers and me. I love the natural scenery, both alone, and with whatever associates.