Ascent of Garden County High Point on 2004-05-20

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Thursday, May 20, 2004
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Garden County High Point
    Elevation:4160 ft / 1267 m

Ascent Trip Report

Fresh as a daisy after a night's sleep, I was ready for real Sand Hills hiking, something I'd been looking forward to all trip. Alliance is a big city (10,000 people), built on a patch of flat ground like an island amid the wildly convoluted Sand Hills that surround it. From afar, the Sand Hills look like waves in the ocean, innumerable hilltops, dunes and canyons forming between them.

A number of counties (and ergo, county highpoints) lie within the Sand Hills Complex. Very few people live out here, and many of the counties have populations in the hundreds. The occasional town is usually a tiny place, a few old homes, a tiny business district, and services vital to the area ranchers. Some county highpoints out here are on private lands, a few have good public access, and others are uncertain. I kept to mainly those I knew had good public access, although I cannot guarantee I was always on "public" land. There are few fences, few signs and fewer people. Each was a calculated gamble.

First up were the two contending hills for highpoint honors of Garden County, east of Alliance. I drove 45 miles along lonely highway NE-2, the main thoroughfare through the Sand Hills. I drove until I came to the Sheridan and Grant county boundary, then right (south) immediately thereafter, a sign mentioning the Rex Ranch.

This local road is paved but only one car-width wide, and the pavement was torn up, too. Thus, the five-mile drive to the first hill took awhile. I drove onto a track toward a hill overlooking Longfellow Lake. I had to pass one gate early on (unlocked, no signs) and another single-strand wire gate. Using my GPS, I pegged my location, and ascertained that the hill I thought was the county highpoint is actually the correct hill. Everything looks the same.

I hiked south along a track, then hopped a fence and then had to cross a wet bog. I could see no easy way around it, so I walked through it, soaking my shoes and pants to about the knees. It was very uncomfortable. I crossed another fence then hiked up the hill, scaring cattle along the way. The stupid beasts wouldn't run away necessarily. They kept running a few feet ahead of me, as though they knew of my intended path already. This went on for awhile, but finally, as I neared the top, they went to the side. The top was lovely, as were the views of the sea of green-covered Sand Hills.

Looking down from where I came, I saw that if I followed a slightly more west bearing, I could cross the small stream and bog where it narrowed. This worked well and in a matter of minutes I was back to my car. This hike had taken about an hour and covered 2.5 miles. The wetlands support many bird species including hawks, geese, ducks and cranes.

Momentarily, I was back onto that narrow paved road, I proceeded south another six miles to the other highpoint hill. The pavement ends but the road was hardpack and easy to handle. Fortunately, the southern hill is along the road, so the hike was faster, although still quite steep and sandy. Here, the ground was more scrubby, less grassy, and more barren. Once on top, I tagged all the little hilltops and then returned to my car, "sand-skiing" down the steep slope.

Together, these two hikes encompassed 3.5 miles and about 25 miles of driving, to and from state route NE-2. Back at the highway, Grant County's highpoint was conveniently right there across the highway.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:350 ft / 106 m
    Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Trailhead:3810 ft / 1161 m
    Route Conditions:
Open Country

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