Scaling a formidable peak such as Mt. Sunflower requires meticulous planning. Prior to embarking on our expedition, we lined-up sponsors, hired Sherpas to go before us to set-up base camp, and packed away plenty of Diamox to ward off altitude sickness.
After spending as much time as possible at base camp acclimating to the thin air, we launched into our high adventure with all the usual mountaineering accoutrements; balaclavas, avalanche beacons, ropes, crampons, ice axe, and most importantly, bottled oxygen tanks, although we intended to attempt the summit without supplemental oxygen.
One of our biggest fears are the rogue storms that buffet the slopes of Mt. Sunflower on a regular basis, but this day was relatively calm.
Although Everest might have its Hillary Step, Mt. Sunflower has the infamous Jayhawk Traverse that must be negotiated along its Northeast Face before reaching the summit. Here’s a view of the steep canyons as we pressed through the oppressive atmosphere:
One of the many false summits we experienced during the expedition:
After numerous false summits, too many to keep track of, the face of the dreadful peak comes into view, marking our final approach to the summit:
It was at this time that I recalled some sage advice from world famous mountaineer, Ed Viesteurs; "Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory". This bit of wisdom and guidance was weighing heavily on my mind at this point.
Suffering from extreme exhaustion, hypoxia and Acute Mountain Sickness, the team finally arrives at the 4039-foot summit:
So you may be asking yourself: Why would anyone climb Mt. Sunflower? The only reason I can think of right now in my oxygen-starved mind is simply because it was there.
Mt. Sunflower, the 14th state highpoint we've reached, is located on the far western border of Kansas on the Harold Family Ranch in Wallace County. The most difficult part about reaching the summit for would-be climbers are the 20+ miles of un-paved roads you need to drive on.
Onto Rocky Mountain National Park!
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