Highpoint #22: Black Mesa, OK

It was a little overcast outside when we rolled out of bed and sat on the stoop of our motel room to drink coffee and eat breakfast (there was an excellent view of the empty swimming pool from our room). The plan was to get to the eastern-most part of Oklahoma to hike the state’s high point and pick another place to hunker down for the night.

It was an easy drive to Kenton, OK, the closest town to the trailhead. My book made note of a mercantile store in town that would give you a certificate after you hiked Black Mesa, but we went out there to ask a few questions about the weather and about the dependability of some of Oklahoma’s backcountry dirt roads. The store happened to be closed so we sat on their front steps to consume some peanut butter and banana sandwiches and put on our shoes and fill the hydration reservoir for the hike. In the 45 minutes that we sat there, two sets of travelers stopped and asked us for directions. Good thing for my road atlas, right? I was a little baffled by the fact that people were driving in the Oklahoma ‘wilderness’ without any sense of where they were going or from where they had come.

We packed up our picnic spread and drove the 6 miles to the trailhead parking lot. There was a hiker who had just made it back to his car and told us he believed the weather should be fine. It was around 4pm when we took off and we were hoping to return before it got too dark and especially before a thunderstorm passed through because that was what the Weather Channel was threatening.

The old Jeep trail around and over the mesa is well worn and has a number of green metal arrows to point the way. We passed a few benches that served not only as resting areas but also as mileage markers. It was hot and the first 2.5 miles was rather windy in some sections. We kept rounding parts of the mesa and weren’t quite sure which area we were to climb up until we counted the 8th and final green arrow and saw the switchback trail leading to the summit.

The entire hike had an elevation gain of about 650 ft which was all gained within about a third of a mile. I had been (there’s no better word to describe it but) panting to keep up with Ingo’s pace. There was a point when we neared the part of the mesa we were to ascend where I stopped to snap some photos and by the time I looked up, Ingo was a quarter mile away. And he had the water! I had to jog to catch up to him because the wind just carried my voice and he didn’t turn when I called to him. I took a few quick gulps of water and pressed on.

We began climbing gradually but by the turn of the first switchback the hike got very steep. Ingo stopped to rest and I paused here and there to catch my breath but I became focused on remaining ahead of him so that I wouldn’t have to run again. I guess I went into pack mule mode. I trudged uphill until I reached the summit and I glanced back to see where Ingo was. I couldn’t see him while trying to lean over the face so I wandered down the trail until I found a large bush to sit beside which still gave me a view of where he would summit. I waited about 10 minutes. I got bored and poked around and found a dusty lizard sunning himself on a rock. I waited another 5 minutes. Ingo still had not reached the top.

I started backtracking and almost made it back to the edge when Ingo met up with me and quieted my worries. It was a steep climb and he admitted that he wasn’t in the best shape for the sport. We waited a few minutes for his pulse to come down a bit and hiked the remaining flat mile to the granite obelisk marking the high point. We rested a little and tried to sign the register but only got as far as reading someone’s scrawl about an amazing view 200 yards south before a large hornet became very interested in Ingo. He put the notebooks back in the box and we headed south, into the wind to avoid the flying invertebrate.

The view really was spectacular. The wind was blasting up the face and pushing us backward but there was a beautiful valley there to the south. The sky looked promising in this direction but the dark clouds toward the north got me a little worried. We returned to the granite marker, picked up our bag and left.

The descent was quick and easy. We saw the lizard again and his whole body had turned a brilliant blue color with yellow speckles. We also came across a snake in the trail and miles later a rabbit. After a while we were able to pick out the red Vee-Dub off in the distance. We covered the 8.4 mile hike in 3.5 hours which was good time according to the trail description. We unsheathed our sweaty feet from the socks and dusty shoes, threw everything in the car and took off.

I had called ahead about a state park within 10 miles of the trailhead so we drove there and picked a proper camp site. We pitched the tent and made a plan for covering it quickly in case it began to rain. There was a lot of wind blowing through our site and it wasn’t necessarily cold, but it was very loud. We ate chips and salsa and hummus and washed our salty, dusty faces.

By the time we got settled in the tent the sun had set and most of the cloud cover had blown over. We could see heat lightning in the distance northeast of us and when we rolled on our backs we could see a million glittering stars. I had trouble falling asleep because the sound of the wind whipping through the trees was so loud but I must have drifted off eventually because I woke very slowly the next morning to the sight of the sun glowing against the tent and the sound of braying burros from a neighboring farm.

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