Ascent of Black Mesa on 1989-04-23

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, April 23, 1989
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Black Mesa
    Elevation:4973 ft / 1515 m

Ascent Trip Report

Sunday, April 23, 1989

At the town square in Boise City I stalled again, and pulled over and walked around the block before moving on, heading west on a un-numbered road in the late afternoon which then turned north. After several miles of this I turned left on a poorly-maintained semi-paved road towards the town of Kenton. My crude map said that there was a road heading north just east of Kenton, and I followed this dirt track as it passed a large mesa to my left before petering out. I guessed that the high point was up on the mesa, but I didn't want to just climb the huge thing and wander around on top of it without a better map, so I pulled into a ranch near the end of the road to ask directions, the car stalling as I pulled over. No one was home, so I drove back down the road the way I came and stopped at another ranch, but again no one was home.

I decided to go into the town of Kenton and ask how to get to the top of Black Mesa, but on the way back there was a church van parked on the side of the road with some kids milling around it. I stopped and asked them, but their group had just come down from the mesa without finding the monument, and were waiting for others to return from the steep-sided butte towering overhead. They
seemed pretty clueless.

In Kenton, a town as small as they come, there was a classic tiny little general store I pulled in at and went inside. The old guy there was more than happy to give me detailed directions to Black Mesa, and he even drew me a little map. I was to turn off of the dirt road I had been on to a rutted track that paralleled the south side of the mesa, and then climb its sides and head west to the monument at the apex of Oklahoma. I bought a soda, and was about to leave when the guy mentioned that he had a book he sold called "Fifty State Summits", by Paul L. Zummwalt, with maps and descriptions of all fifty highpoints, even signed by the author, who had been in Kenton when he did Black Mesa.

I immediately coughed up the eight dollars for the volume, realizing that with it I wouldn't have to ask directions, stop at local libraries, or look for map stores the way I had been doing it. From that point on, "Zummwalt" became the key guidebook for my quest for the state highpoints.

I followed the directions the guy in the store gave me, crossing the Cimarron River on the road I had been up before, taking a left soon afterwards on two tire tracks, fortunately not too deep or rutted, that led me a mile or so along the south side of the mesa before it stopped at a barbed-wire fence. I parked the car off of the track and climbed over the fence and made for the slopes of the mesa, taking some water and my new book in my backpack.

The sides of the mesa were steep and rugged, and I had to be careful of cactus, loose rocks, and tangled bushes. I made my way towards a cleft in the cliffs, which offered a route up to the top of the mesa, which I soon reached. It was utterly flat on top, and covered with sagebrush, grass, and some cactus. I headed basically west, angling a little bit away from the edge of the cliffs, and then saw a small black thing sticking up about several hundred yards away. I aimed towards it, and soon I could see that it was a granite monument about seven feet high. Shortly I was at the highest point of Oklahoma, at about 6:00 P.M.

I rested, took pictures, drank some water, and started reading my new guidebook. I checked out all the states I had been to already, and was shocked to discover that I had missed Arkansas's highpoint. It was at Signal Hill, and not at the radio area, where I thought it had been. Annoyed at myself, I was at least glad that now that I had this book that kind of gaffe wouldn't happen again. I signed the logbook (people had commented on how hard it was to find), wondered how on earth the surveyors had determined that this point on the flat mesa top was higher than the others, and finally decided to return to the car, since it was getting late.

I blew it going back down, since from on top of the mesa I couldn't see which clefts were the best ones, and I ended going down a very sheer area of cliffs, with quite a few hairy places. The footing was bad on the route I found, and even though I could see my car parked below it was hard to make a beeline for it until I was down on the prairie. There were now cows milling around my car, but I drove off without disturbing them. I didn't have any more vapor lock problems this day, since my hour-and-a-half hike had given the car ample opportunity to cool off.

This beautiful granite monument atop the flat expanse of Black Mesa marks the highest spot in Oklahoma (1989-04-23).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:623 ft / 189 m
    Trailhead:4350 ft / 1325 m
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Bushwhack, Scramble
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Clear

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