Mt. Garfield Nearly Killed Us

Mt. Garfield Nearly Killed Us

Palisade, Colorado – July 26, 2014

Life is all about choices. My daughter and I had multiple opportunities this morning to make good choices–we failed on several occasions.

The morning started innocently enough; up just before sunrise, Egg McMuffin, and a drive to the Mount Garfield trailhead. We parked in the lot at the trailhead. Leaving the safety of our vehicle, we walked over to the trailhead sign. Little did we know we would be praying soon to be at this same spot a little later that morning.

Mount Garfield as seen from the trailhead parking area.
The Mount Garfield trailhead sign. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the “Caution” portion of the sign…

Mount Garfield is a plateau that is part of the Bookcliffs, which are on the eastern side of Grand Junction. It rises to an elevation of nearly 6,800 feet. That extrapolates to a climb of some 2,000 feet, almost straight up from the parking area. We conveniently missed that bit of information on the trailhead sign.
On the sign is an entry titled “Caution.” It reads, “These trails are extremely steep, rough and challenging. The footing is unstable and slippery, especially when wet.” In retrospect, we should be very thankful the trails were not wet that morning. Oh, note to self, read the sign BEFORE going up next time…
The next warning sign, an arrow pointing straight up to the heavens, awaited us a few hundred feet beyond the trailhead sign. STRAIGHT UP!! A couple of hundred feet beyond the ominous arrow, the trail began its ascent to the clouds. Looking up from the solid earth, I thought any member of the Flying Wallendas would think twice before undertaking such a climb from terra firma. By the way, the trail was barely wider than a tightrope cable customarily used by the Flying Wallenda clan.

The arrow on the trail sign actually points to the trail on the knife-edge of the mountain.

After we had shuffled up the trail a hundred feet or so we stopped to catch our breath and balance. The angle of this brutal trail had to have been 45 degrees. That is an exaggeration; it was more likely 44 degrees. I do not consider myself afraid of heights, but I was scared of this height. The slightest wobble in my balance and I would have gone down one side or the other, not stopping until the earth became comfortably flat again.

Mount Garfield is the formation on the left.
View of the Colorado River valley from about halfway up the trail to Mount Garfield.
Looking back along the very narrow, knife-edge trail.
My mountain goat hiking companion for the morning.
The steep sides did not seem to deter this man. He was descending one knife-edge to the west of our ascent.
Another look at the crazy trail.
Three women stopped to admire the view. They were one knife-edge to the west of us.
This group passed us on the trail.

We continued shuffling up the knife-edged trail. At times, we had to hug immense rock formations while our feet barely fit on the ledge.
At one point, we came to a fork in the trail. I chose the left fork. We quickly found out the right fork would have been a much saner choice. I genuinely think we were both afraid because of the steep pitch of the slope upon which we found ourselves. At that point, the knife-edge trail seemed as wide as a wheat field in Kansas. It took us 30 or 40 minutes to make it back to the path. When we finally arrived at the trail again, we looked up and then looked down. That is when we made the best choice of the day; descend back to the bosom of Mother Earth.
Our descent was harrowing. There were times that we slid down instead of walking down.
Finally, back on level ground, we looked back up the so-called trail and then at each other. In unison, we said, “Never again”; thus ended our attempt to conquer Mount Garfield or rather be conquered.

Once back at the parking area, I turned around for another look at Mount Garfield. It is the formation on the far left.

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