Ascent of Black Mesa on 1996-05-25

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Saturday, May 25, 1996
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Black Mesa
    Elevation:4973 ft / 1515 m

Ascent Trip Report

My day started in Burlington, Colorado. The weather was miserable, with heavy rain and thunderstorms. I visited Mount Sunflower in Kansas earlier, then drove south with plans to hike Black Mesa. The weather never improved, staying cold, dark and wet the whole drive. In time, I had located myself to the tiny town of Kenton, south of the mesa. It was about noon, but dark and foreboding.

I stopped into the Merc, a small general store, and essentially the only business in the town. The proprietor, Alan, was friendly and knew everything about how to get up Black Mesa. He even showed me some books on the state highpoints. What? Other people actually do this? I was intrigued! Long story short, we chatted for awhile and he gave me all sorts of useful information. It was through him that I learned of the National Highpointer's Organization, which I joined afterwards.

I drove to the trailhead parking lot, and parked. A small stile-ladder allows access up and over the barbed wire fence. I followed the trail (Jeep tracks at first) as it meandered across the flat desert. I had reasonable visibility, about a half-mile's worth, and after about 15 minutes came upon a surprise: three other hikers. They were coming down from the top and heading back to their car. We chatted before moving on.

After a mile, the tracks ascended up the side of the mesa. I was now on top of the mesa in dense fog, and I could see about 20 feet. The rain fell heavier, augmented by gustier winds. I seriously considered turning back but always told myself "a couple more minutes". I was jogging, just hoping to come upon the stone pillar marking the highpoint. Finally, after about 20 minutes of blindly hiking atop the mesa, a shadowy figure emerged from the mist: the obelisk. I tagged it, signed the register, took two lousy photographs and immediately hightailed it back down.

As I hiked back down and lost elevation, I emerged out of the fog and once again had some semblance of visibility. I jogged most of the way down, battling the wind and rain, and now the lightning. Within an hour, I was back to my car, muddy and soaked. I changed back into dry clothes and headed back to Kenton and the Merc. At the Merc, I enjoyed a good burger and good conversation with the proprietors. They made this portion of the trip worthy.

I still had some distance to travel and a few hours of sunlight remaining to do it in, so after about an hour in Kenton, I hit the road into New Mexico, following the highway south toward Clayton. The rain was extremely heavy, with hail and lightning, and black skies. I sped south, always keeping an eye out for funnel clouds. I wanted no part of any twister, but if one were to appear, I had my camera ready. I may as well get some photos, I figured.

Luckily, I saw no twisters, and arrived in Clayton safely. Without making a stop, I proceeded west toward Interstate-25 and the city of Raton, about 100 miles away. It was about 5 p.m. and I could see some sunlight way off on the western horizon. The view toward the east was black, while to the south it was muddled with clouds of all different hues, plus some ominous horizontal ribbon-type clouds in a corkscrew motif. As long as all this was in my rear-view mirror, I had no quarrel with it. What I did find interesting was all the east-bound travelers heading toward Clayton bailing from the highway, driving across the median and merging onto the west-bound lanes. They probably sensed the same bad weather-mojo that I did.

I made it into Raton and took a hotel room. While watching the Weather Channel that night, they showed footage of the supercells developing in the Texas Panhandle, and some footage of twisters touching down near Pampa. I had dodged a bullet, for sure.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:675 ft / 205 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8.5 mi / 13.7 km
    Trailhead:4298 ft / 1310 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail

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