Adam Blauert

Blauert on Outdoors: Tallest mountains and highest roads

Most people know Mount Whitney is the highest point in the United States outside Alaska. If you’ve ever wondered about the high points of any other states, here’s a quick overview:

Alaska’s Denali (Mount McKinley) is the tallest peak in the United States and North America. It rises 20,320 feet, nearly four vertical miles above sea level. Between Denali and Whitney are 22 other extremely tall peaks, 17 of which are in Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia, and five of which are in Mexico.

That makes 14,505-foot Whitney the 24th-highest in North America. It’s also one of the easiest to access, though “easy” is a relative term when it comes to high points. Summiting Whitney requires a 22-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of more than 6,000 feet.

Despite the well-maintained trail, it’s an extremely challenging day hike or a strenuous backpacking trip. It’s so popular that access permits are required and a strict limit is placed on the number of people who can make the trek each day. Permits are granted through an annual lottery that is open from Feb. 1 through March 15. For information, contact Inyo National Forest (http://www.fs.usda.gov/inyo//760-873-2400).

California has 14 other summits that top 14,000 feet, 12 of which are in the Sierra Nevada. Mount Shasta (14,162 feet) in the Cascade Range and White Mountain (14,246 feet) are the other two. White Mountain is comparatively the easiest to hike of California’s “fourteeners,” though it does require a 14 1/2 -mile round trip with a 2,600-foot elevation gain through thin air and a barren, exposed landscape.

Colorado comes in a close third for highest high point with Mount Elbert at 14,433 feet. It also boasts more than 50 peaks that top 14,000 feet – more than four times as many as California.

Washington isn’t far behind California and Colorado with Mount Rainier at 14,410 feet. Here’s how the next 11 states stack up:

5. Wyoming: Gannett Peak, 13,804

6. Hawaii: Mauna Kea, 13,796

7. Utah: Kings Peak, 13,528

8. New Mexico: Wheeler Peak, 13,161

9. Nevada: Boundary Peak, 13,140

10. Montana: Granite Peak, 12,799

11. Idaho: Borah Peak, 12,662

12. Arizona: Humphreys Peak, 12,633

13. Oregon: Mount Hood, 11,239

14. Texas: Guadalupe Peak, 8,749

15. South Dakota: Harney Peak, 7,242

That makes up the list of states with peaks that top 7,000 feet. None of the other 35 is higher than the 6,000-foot range, and most are far lower.

If you have enough determination and are in physical shape for a hard hike, you can reach any of these summits.

Some of the hardest require climbing skills. But what if you want to experience the thrill of the highest mountains and you’re not up to doing it on foot? Here are four of the highest points you can reach by vehicle:

 Mount Evans, Colo.: 14,130 feet (the highest paved road in North America).

 Pikes Peak, Colo.: 14,115 feet.

 Mauna Kea, Hawaii: 13,796 feet.

 U.S. 34 in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.: 12,183 feet.

Closer to home, these are almost as tall and provide memorable drives:

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California, 11,300 feet: Beyond the 10,000-foot point, this road is unpaved, but most cars can handle it if driven carefully. It leads to a stark, high and dry elevation where gnarled bristlecone pines thrive. Some are more than 4,000 years old.

Rock Creek Lakes, California, 10,255 feet: This is the highest paved road in California and the start of a trail to a memorable series of high mountain lakes.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada, 10,161 feet: The road ends at this elevation, but the trail continues to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the second highest in Nevada.

Tioga Pass, California, 9,946 feet: The pass is part of the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park, and this extremely high country is my favorite part of the park. As the highest point on a state or federal highway in California, it’s a relatively easy drive and the closest to home of all the high points featured here.

There also are ski lifts that climb to the sky. These include:

1. Breckenridge, Colorado: 12,998 feet.

2. Loveland, Colorado: 12,700 feet.

3. Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico: 12,481 feet.

4. Arapahoe Basin, Colorado: 12,472 feet.

5. Ski Santa Fe, New Mexico: 12,075 feet.

6. Winter Park, Colorado: 12,060 feet.

7. Ski Apache, New Mexico: 11,500 feet.

8. Brian Head, Utah: 11,307 feet.

9. Big Sky, Montana: 11,166 feet.

10. Mammoth Mountain, California: 11,053 feet.

Mammoth may only be the 10th highest, but the views from the summit are unforgettable. Although the ski season is drawing to a close, Mammoth’s lifts operate much of the summer, carrying sightseers and mountain bikers to the summit.

If you visit any of these destinations, make sure to check their season dates. The roads are typically closed during the fall, winter and spring, and the ski resorts are open only when snow is plentiful. Many of the roads are narrow and have sharp curves that frequently lack guardrails. If you plan to hike in high-elevation conditions, spend as much time acclimating to the elevation as possible before your hike to avoid altitude sickness.

Adam Blauert: adamblauert@yahoo.com

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