I was discussing highpoints with 12MC reader Michael from Atlanta recently. He mentioned the curious situation of North Carolina. Its highpoint is Mt. Mitchell — no dispute there — but curiously the mountain summits that form highpoints for South Carolina (Sassafras Mountain) and Tennessee (Clingmans Dome) are also right along their respective borders with North Carolina. Thus, the highpoints for three distinct states have a direct relationship with North Carolina.
View Larger Map
We theorized that stranger situations probably existed at the county level because of their considerably smaller sizes. This left me to wonder if there were counties that shared common highpoints ("two-fers") and more improbably whether there were three counties that shared a common highpoint at their tripoint ("three-fers"). I asked, and Michael delivered. He directed me to the proper page on the County Highpointers site.
Blanca Peak in Colorado (pictured above) appears to present a unique situation. As far as I can tell, meaning I didn’t feel like searching exhaustively, I believe this could be the only spot in the United States where three counties share a common highpoint. The counties involved are Alamosa, Costilla and Huerfano. I use phrases like "appears" and "as far as I can tell" so that when someone in the Twelve Mile Circle audience proves me wrong I can still save face, just so you know.
View Larger Map
One can clearly see the county lines on this Mapquest map. I apologize to people subscribed to 12MC using Google Reader because it doesn’t display embedded Mapquest images (I think maybe Google dislikes like the competition), but Mapquest provides a superior view this time. You can always open the map in another tab if you can’t see the image.
For the sake of disclosure, I did see another page that says that maybe the Huerfano Co. highpoint is about a hundred feet away from the summit, making it a "near three-fer." Other sources claim that the tripoint hasn’t been definitively delineated yet, making it hard to claim either option. Still others say that the three counties involved all believe their tripoint is located at the summit so it’s the right spot de facto, regardless. I don’t know. In any case the tripoint and the summit are found in close if not exact proximity by all measures, thus earning a coveted 12MC "good enough" designation.
View Larger Map
Blanca Peak is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost extent of the Rocky Mountains. A great series of photos can be found on the 14ers.com Blanca Peak page. Indeed, it’s a "Fourteener;" or one of those rarefied summits that reaches an altitude higher than 14,000 feet (4,267 metres). This would be an amazing site in most places but it’s almost pedestrian in Colorado where twenty five summits earn that honor.
It’s not even the Colorado state highpoint. At "only" 14,345 feet (4,372 metres) Blanca Peak is surpassed by four other mountains.
SummitPost.org lists several ways to get to the highpoint tripoint on Blanca Peak: (1) Highway 150 and Lake Como for most people; (2) Huerfano River Valley for highly experienced climbers; and (3) Highway 160 which is currently closed to public access. SummitPost notes that the first option is the preferable with one additional caveat, "The mosquitoes are fierce at Como Lakes… they will piss you off to the point of uncharacteristic fits of rage."
An extremely challenging 4-wheel drive road winds its way up to Como Lake and beyond. It’s not for the feint-of-heart as this YouTube video I lifted clearly demonstrates. However it seems to hand drivers about 5,000 feet of elevation gain towards their goal that they’d ordinarily have to hike on foot.
Thanks again, Michael from Atlanta. I don’t think I’ll ever experience the highpoint tripoint in person but I certainly enjoyed climbing it vicariously.