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Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

Going to Extremes

Can you ever really have too much of a good thing? Once you've seen the biggest tree, largest glacier, and deepest canyon, nothing else compares.

by: Ted Alvarez

Mt. Washington's Nelson Crag Trail (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)
Mt. Washington's Nelson Crag Trail (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)
Emerald Lake in the Weminuche (Tad Bowman)
Emerald Lake in the Weminuche (Tad Bowman)
White Fringed Phacelia in the Smokies (Paul Rezendes)
White Fringed Phacelia in the Smokies (Paul Rezendes)

Colonial Creek Falls—North Cascades NP, WA

Want to put yourself in the record books? Colonial Creek Falls has never been officially measured. But topo maps and aerial photos suggest the obscure cascade bests Yosemite Falls by more than 100 feet, making it the Lower 48’s tallest. To see all 2,584 feet pouring down from a glacier, bring a topo map and ascend a tricky climber’s path that follows Colonial Creek 1.5 miles to a hidden basin just below the falls.

Tallest Cliff / Oldest Trees
Notch Peak, UT

Until Guinness crowns a winner in the tallest-vertical-cliff category, we’ll have to content ourselves with parsing between the many spectacular contenders. That’s because interpretations of “pure vertical” vary. Happily, that means we can skip the glamour queens (Yosemite’s Half Dome and El Capitan, Glacier’s Mt. Siyeh) and anoint the cliff with the best backcountry solitude: Utah’s Notch Peak, in the barely visited House Range of southwestern Utah. Its north face rises nearly 3,000 vertical feet. A strenuous 7.5-miler (dayhike or overnight) ends at the top of the 9,654-foot peak, where you’ll score dizzying views of the Tule Valley nearly a vertical mile below. Bonus record: You’ll pass stands of the world’s oldest trees—bristlecone pines—while hiking along the ridges of white and gray limestone.

From Sawtooth Canyon trailhead, follow a clear user trail .8 mile until it fades where the canyon forks (good navigation skills required). Take the left (south) fork through a narrow wash until it ends. An easy scramble .3 mile through piñon and juniper ends at a drop-off where you’ll first glimpse Notch Peak’s sheer west face—indisputably the tallest limestone cliff in the U.S. Hike along the summit ridge (stay well back from the edge) and through scattered groves of gnarled bristlecones. Finally, ascend a class 2 scramble over broken limestone to the summit.

Do it
The trailhead is 53 miles west of Delta. Map USGS quad Notch Peak & Miller Cove ($8, Guidebook 100 Hikes in Utah, by Steve Mann and Rhett Olson ($17, Contact

*Most Notch Peak bristlecones haven’t been dated, but the few that have are more than 2,000 years old. Some researchers suspect that groves here could contain individual trees up to 4,000 years old—close to the current record-holder, the Sierra Nevada’s Methuselah at age 4,789.

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Tammy Vanden Heuvel
Jun 30, 2011

I just was at Black Canyon in May 2011 and hiked to the bottom. The only animals I saw were the birds, squirrels and pikas. But there were posted signs around that the park was having an issue with a problem bear.

Don't let the predators scare you off - this is an absolutely gorgeous park. Take time and the right gear and hike to the bottom.


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