Highpoints of Central America

On September 7, 2014 · 3 Comments

Today begins an effort to try to increase pushpins on the 12MC Complete Index Map for nations underrepresented by previous articles. This came from a realization that I’d continued to overlook certain parts of the world even after hundreds of posts. I’ll try to make it an occasional, relevant and unobtrusive effort, as with the following topic du jour.

It surprised me to learn how little information existed on the Intertubes about the highest points of elevation in each of the countries of Central America, beyond their simple names and locations. That wasn’t only English-language content either. I found little Spanish coverage as well. In fact, the highpoints of individual U.S. states seemed to receive better treatment from the digital masses than international highpoints of Central America. Mountain climbing sites such as Summitpost.org offered the most detailed accounts, albeit with not much even there.

I began by compiled the highpoint peaks onto a single map.



View Highpoints for Central American Nations in a larger map

I dug a little deeper, examining each of the seven Central American national highpoints from highest altitude to lowest. Oddly enough, the two lowest highpoints might actually be the most difficult to summit.


Guatemala: Volcán Tajumulco 4,220 metres (13,845 feet)



The highest point of Central America sat atop a Guatemalan stratovolcano, Volcán Tajumulco. While it’s possible for climbers to reach the mountaintop using their own resources and efforts, many people sign-on with one of several local guide groups that specialize in this activity. The trip took most people at least two days. One guide explained,

Conquering Tajumulco is no walk in the park. At the uppermost reaches of the volcano, the air is thin, the temperature plummets and the effects of altitude are likely to cause hikers some degree of discomfort.

The climb wasn’t supposed to be super-technical. The altitude seemed to be a primary issue.


Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó 3,820 m (12,533 ft)


Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica by Monty VanderBilt, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Many of the tallest Central American mountains traced to a recent volcanic origin. Cerro Chirripó, the centerpiece of Chirripó National Park did not. Rather, Chirripó belonged to the Sierra de Talamanca, the intrusive eroded core of a long dormant volcanic range subsequently uplifted.

Vegetation and climate changed with elevation as one would expect: "The mountains in this area are covered in thick primary cloud and rainforest to about 9,000′ elevation. From there, the Paramo, or wet desert is the primary ground cover." Sources claimed that the lowest temperature ever recorded in Central America happened here, -9°C (16°F), although I couldn’t find a primary source to corroborate it.

Many climbers took the mountain in two stages. They checked-in and receive a permit at a ranger station, stopped at Base Crestones and then made the final push to the summit.


Panamá: Volcán Barú 3,475 m (11,401 ft)


technologically advanced summit
technologically advanced summit by steve hanna, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

What better location to place an array of antennae and broadcast towers than the highest point in Panamá? Obviously the people who constructed these installations didn’t drag all of that material up the slope by hand. They drove. A steep, muddy, rutted road climbed to the summit, and provided a primary route for hikers as well. Once atop, on a clear morning visitors reported that it was possible to see both the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean from the same spot. That would be a very rare and precious sight, indeed.


Honduras: Cerro Celaque – Las Minas 2,870 m (9,416 ft)


Cerro Celaque, Honduras
Cerro Celaque, Honduras by Joe Townsend, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Honduras didn’t focus much attention on its national highpoint although it did establish Celaque National Park in 1987 to create a protective reserve. The mountainous terrain could be best described as a "cloud forest" with increasing amounts of rainfall as one ascended. That water had to flow somewhere, and the slopes of Cerro Celaque provided headwaters to several local rivers. Honduras.com explained that Celaque derived from the local Lenca language, meaning "box of water."

…it provides water to all of the communities that are around the national park, including the cities of Gracias, Erandique, San Juan, San Manuel Colohete and La Campa in Lempira, Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque, Corquin, Cucuyagua and San Pedro de Copan in Copan, among many others.


El Salvador: Cerro El Pital 2,730 m (8,957 ft)



Cerro El Pital might be the most visited Central American national highpoint. Interestingly, the summit itself was in neighboring Honduras so the highest point of El Salvador wasn’t even the highest point of the mountain. A road, the Ruta El Pital, provided convenient access and made the park very attractive to visitors. The easiest highpoint hiking option involved a 3-minute walk from the camping area. One account described the situation:

The views were nice, but I was not expecting to share the road with so many cars. The road is not just a hiking trail, but an actual road. There was not a steady stream of cars, but enough to be a bit annoying… HUGE!!!! camping area with hundreds of tents every weekends. A lot of people, dogs searching your tents and many STUPID people with fancy cars with super-sounds system to annoying everybody.

It didn’t seem contemplative or relaxing. However, if someone ever wanted a quick dash-and-grab highpoint in Central America, this would be the place to do it.


Nicaragua: Mogotón 2,107 m (6,913 ft)


Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua
Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua by cam landrix, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Not much more than two thousand metres high and yet Mogotón might not be an optimal choice even though Reserva Nacional Cordillera Dipilto y Jalapa was created to protect it. The situation traced back to recent history from a generation ago. Sandinista forces placed numerous explosive mines throughout the area during the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980’s. Many of those mines continue to lay buried and forgotten, just waiting for an unwary hiker to step in the wrong spot. Compounding that, jungle covered Mogotón and made it difficult to discern clear trails to the summit. It wouldn’t be advisable to approach the Nicaragua highpoint without a local guide.


Belize: Doyle’s Delight 1,124 m (3,688 ft)



While barely a bump compared to other Central American highpoints, I enjoyed learning about Doyle’s Delight the most. First, it wasn’t identified and named until 1989. Second, nobody climbed it until 2008. From Summitpost.org,

Doyle’s Delight was named for its resemblance to the prehistoric setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel "The Lost World." Towering palms and strangler figs, their trunks wrapped in a green shag of ferns and mosses, rise and converge in a leafy canopy that keeps the moist forest floor in perpetual dusk. The ridge is so remote that the British Army’s jungle training unit, scientist and other researcher with multinational expedition drop most of the expedition members in by helicopter.

Go ahead and watch a few frames of the video shot during that initial expedition. Notice the spiked and poisonous trees, the venomous snakes, the hardships of the hike, and the determination of the climbers. It was hard to believe that even today remote corners continued to remain unexplored.

U.S. States’ Lowest County Highpoints

On August 24, 2014 · 3 Comments

The setup might take a little explanation. I wanted to find the lowest county highpoint in each of the fifty United States. There would only be one per state based upon a series of lists provided by Peakbagger.com. That might lead to speculation that a better solution would involve examining all county highpoints regardless of state and rank them accordingly. I’d consider that fair criticism and maybe I’ll draft a Part 2 where I do that someday. However, just for today, I found it a lot easier to deal with a sample of 50 data points rather than 3,142 because I had to transcribe everything by hand. That was the real explanation.

I’ve shared the resulting Google spreadsheet with the 12MC audience, featuring one single lowest county highpoint per state. Can you guess which states had the lowest county highpoints? I knew most of them although the order surprised me.


Virginia


060314-A-5177B-035
060314-A-5177B-035 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Virginia provided the overall lowest county highpoint with the independent city of Poquoson (map), which was considered a "county equivalent" for census and other statistical purposes. Poquoson’s peak elevation hit only 10 feet (3 metres) in several different places, just a storm surge away from complete nonexistence. It certainly seemed flat enough judging by the image published by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Plum Tree Island. Those holes might be bomb craters by the way. The Corps explained that Plum Tree served as a bombing and artillery range before it became a wildlife refuge.

I agree, a "county equivalent" with only 15 square miles (40 square kilometres) of dry land felt like cheating. Virginia and its wacky independent cities always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into county comparisons. Looking solely at Virginia COUNTIES, the lowest highpoint would be Accomack on the eastern shore with a summit of 60 ft. (18 m.). That exalted elevation would knock Virginia several notches down the list.


Louisiana


road to cocodrie, la
road to cocodrie, la by Gerald McCollam, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

No state suffered more from my arbitrary set of rules than Louisiana. I don’t think any other state had anywhere near the sheer number of low-elevation counties than Louisiana, where of course they were called parishes. I counted 25 parishes with a peak elevation of 100 ft. (30 m.) or less, including 7 parishes at 20 ft. (6 m.) or less. Louisiana’s issues with erosion were well understood. The southern end of the state continued to wash into the Gulf of Mexico as each big storm passed.

Terrebonne Parish climbed to only 13 ft. (4 m.), and barely resembled dry land at all with its endemic pockmarks clawed by hurricanes (map). Jefferson Parish, a west bank and east bank suburb of New Orleans, ranked a close second at 15 ft. (5 m.). One of my family members lived in Jefferson Parish during Hurricane Katrina and the elevation was just high enough to keep the house from flooding.


North Carolina


Potato plants in a Gum Neck field
Potato plants in a Gum Neck field by Tony Pelliccio, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Conventional wisdom led me to believe that the lowest county highpoint of North Carolina would be found on the sandy barrier islands and ridges of the Outer Banks. That would be wrong. I should have remembered that the Wright Brothers chose Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks for gliding experiments prior to the first airplane flight precisely because it was a hill.

The actual lowest county highpoint triangulated to a spot on the mainland nearby in Tyrrell County, a place without sand dunes (map). Tyrrell’s highest summit hit 17 ft. (5 m.).


Other Notable Highpoints


Brooklyn - Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty
Brooklyn – Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty by Wally Gobetz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I’ll mention a few more locations briefly.

Perhaps I could be excused for thinking Monroe County, Florida — the county of the Florida Keys — would have been the winner. It wasn’t. Monroe County had a highpoint on Lignumvitae Key at 19 ft. (6 m.), the site of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. It wasn’t accessible by road so maybe that’s why I never noticed it during my many drives along the Keys.

Much farther down the list, New York featured Battle Hill (map) as its lowest county highpoint. That was in Kings County, a place known better as Brooklyn. It led me to wonder about the namesake battle of said hill. Fighting took place on the hill at the site of the current Green-Wood Cemetery during the early phase of American Revolutionary War, August 1776, a part of the larger Battle of Long Island. American forces inflicted heavy losses on British troops who attempted and failed to capture the hill. Shortly thereafter, George Washington evacuated all of his troops from New York City anyway because he was badly outmatched.

A final nod should go to Utah with the highest of lowest county highpoints. That was a rather impressive 9,255 ft. (2,821 m.) at Rich County’s Bridger Peak (map).


Completely Different Topic: Welcome Manaus!



Manaus

Twelve Mile Circle seems to have attracted a regular reader from Manaus, in the Amazonas state of Brazil. I first noticed the anomaly during the World Cup when the United States played in Manuas and I figured it was an US reader who traveled down for the game (even mentioned it on the 12MC Twitter). However I continue to notice hits from Manaus at a regular pace. This counts as my official welcome. Thank you for coming to the site!

Turpan Depression

On August 10, 2014 · 1 Comments

Are you ready for another installment in my occasional series on lowpoints? I am.

Everyone always focuses on the greatest of mountains and the highest of elevations. Lowpoints need a little love too, especially those below sea level, and the further down the better. I turned my attention to China, a nation that does not receive nearly as much 12MC coverage as it deserves, and to its Turpan (Turfan) Depression in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The deepest spot on the Turpan Depression descended an impressive 154 metres (505 feet) below sea level, which made it perhaps the second, third or fourth lowest point of land on earth depending on the source consulted.


The Lowest Point on Chinese Land.jpg
The Lowest Point on Chinese Land” by KgbkgbkgbOwn work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


The Chinese deserved credit for marking the spot rather distinctively. It might not be quite the tourist destination as Death Valley, however it seemed to have a lot more potential than Laguna del Carbón or Lac Assal. It is also located near a sizable city, Turpan, with more than a quarter of a million residents, and it’s already becoming an attraction for extreme sports.


Ancient city of Jiahoe
Ancient city of Jiahoe by Farrukh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The Turpan Depression exhibited history in abundance as a site along the famous Silk Road’s northern route. Dynasties came and fell over a couple of millennia as they sought to control trade at this pivotal oasis that later became the city of Turpan: Tang, Uyghur, and Moghul all spent time here. The nearby ancient city of Jiaohe dated to the earliest of those times around the same basic period as the Roman Empire, only to be destroyed later by Genghis Khan.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the city of Jiaohe is nearly 2,300 years old. Jiaohe was of great military significance as it was located directly in the path which at the time safely and conveniently connected the Orient to the Occident. Geographically Jiaohe city is located near the nexus of the Flame Mountain and the Salt Mountain, through which was the only course for trade exchanges and military movement. On the other side of the pass ancient cavalries could reach an oasis in the Turpan Basin.

Clearly, this lowpoint of China has potential as a premier tourist attraction in the desert.


Flaming Mountains
Flaming Mountains by momo, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

It is truly a desert too, and hot.

Turpan is not only special for its low altitude, but also for its strange climate. In summer, the temperature can reach as high as 47°C (117°F), while on the surface of the sand dunes, it may well be 82°C (180°F). It is no exaggeration to say that you can bake a cake in the hot sand. The average annual rainfall is little more than ten millimeters; sometimes there is not a drop of rain for ten months at a stretch.

The extreme lowpoint of the Turpan Depression can be found at a location known as Ayding Lake or Aydingkol Lake.



View Larger Map

As one might suspect, a gouge in the earth created by shearing land masses during continental drift might serve as an excellent basin to catch water. Ayding Lake was indeed an impressive body of water into the early part of the 20th Century. Its name derived from the Uygur word for Moonlight, "gaining the name for the lake water as bright and beautiful as moonlight."

Today it might be described better as a cautionary tale or an ecological disaster. People siphoned the waters of Ayding Lake primarily for agriculture. Now instead of a large lake "…you won’t see moonlit water. What you can see is perhaps dried mud and salt beds."

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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