Welcome to American Backcountry’s Notes from the Trail. Here we share stories and thoughts from some of our favorite contributors. Each mountain is different and each trip has a different story – these are notes collected along the trail.
National Summit Day – 3 Stunning Peaks of the United States
August 14, 2020
The start of August marks National Summit Day – a day set aside to appreciate any and every summit and the humbling views they bestow. Whether you heaved groceries up the hill on your walk home, or collapsed after 10 miles and thousands of feet in elevation – this day salutes your accomplishment.
To celebrate this day of epic heights, we’re going to take a look at some of the most notorious peaks and summits that the United States have to offer. So, get your bug spray, sunscreen and water bottles ready.
1) Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA
Like any hike, you’re going to want to start bright and early, because summiting Half Dome will take you anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. The view, however, is worth it, to say the least. If you can stick out the trying, arduous yet exciting way up, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning sight that overlooks Yosemite Valley, as well as captivating panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With a total elevation gain of approximately 4,800 feet, this 14-16 mile round trip hike is not for the faint of heart. The National Park Service suggests you start around sunrise or earlier and establish a non-negotiable turn around time, or you may find yourself huffing and puffing back past sundown – which is never fun (and potentially dangerous). When taking on Half Dome, you’ll encounter the infamous cable route to the top, which is where your comfort-level with heights will truly be put to the test. All of this information may make the hike seem daunting, but so long as you exercise responsible safety measures, you’ll have an amazing adventure that’s chock full of breathtaking sights.
2) Desolation Peak, North Cascades National Park, WA
Desolation Peak, which isn’t as ominous as it sounds (or, maybe it is), is located in the North Cascades of Washington and offers an astonishing view of the mountain range from its summit. It’s a trying hike that’s steeply inclined to grand vistas and open meadows, beautifully scattered across the landscape, reaffirming that the journey is well worth it. At around 9.4 miles with a 4,400 foot elevation gain, the hike takes most folks around five hours to complete. It starts off smoothly with lakeside views, then veers east and starts vigorously climbing, so buckle up. You’ll be met with stunning views of the Picket Range and Ross Lake, potentially some wildlife, and some charred wood from a major burn that took place in 1926. This is actually what accounts for most of what are now those subalpine meadows! Needless to say, the mountain is gracefully spun with captivating variety. The fire tower lookout at the peak is where Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac lived for a summer, chronicling his experiences into what would later be known as his novel – Desolation Angels. His send off note on the tower is a comforting log that’s relatable to anyone who’s had a hard day on a mountain.
3) Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, VA
Let’s take it down a notch and cover a stunning summit that isn’t gatekept by extreme conditions, terrain or preparation. Stony Man Mountain is a relatively chill trek that awards hikers with extensive sights of Shenandoah Valley, Appalachian Mountain Range and George Washington National Forest. With an elevation gain of around 860 ft and a mileage of about 3.7, it takes most people around 1-3 hours depending on how long you stop and take in the stunning spectacle. While young ones may need more than a few breaks to catch their breath, it’s still a suitable stretch for beginners and novices alike who want to get a decent workout while adoring the lush green waves that cast as far as the eye can see.
Whatever adventure awaits you for your next summit, no piece of gear will keep you drier, cooler and just plain stylish than American Backcountry shirts! Check out our full National Parks Heritage lineup to see if your weekend hike has its own design.