Mt. Garfield Grumble

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 7.3 miles
Race one-way: 4.1 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Skill level: Advanced hiking skills
Elevation: 4805 - 6785 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Mt. Garfield
Fee: none
Attractions: Do the unimaginable




The Mt. Garfield Grumble is a 4.1 mile foot race up the mountain from the trailhead to the flagpole and down the steep slope on the west side of Mt. Garfield. The race is touted to be around 5 miles but we have measured it several times with our GPS and it comes out just over 4 miles. That said, it is probably the toughest 4 miles that you will find anywhere. I have run the route quite a few times but I have only ran in the race once. When you look at the west side of Mt. Garfield from the valley floor it is hard to imagine there could be a trail on the steep slope. The finish line for the race is 4 -5 miles from the trailhead depending upon which route you take. The participants get rides out of the desert from friends or support vehicles.


To get to the trailhead from Palisade head west on G 7/10 Road. At the end of the road it turns right and travels through a viaduct under Interstate 70. People have gotten their cars stuck trying to drive through the tunnel when it had water in it and even smashed into the concrete walls.


The first quarter mile up Mt. Garfield is along a ridge of adobe clay. The trail is very steep and when it's wet the clay sticks to your shoes and adds 5-10 lbs. to your load.


The second quarter mile of the trail winds around huge boulders and at times there can be a lot of scree to slip you up.


After completing the first half mile the trail briefly tops out on a little bench where you get a little more than a hundred yards to catch your breath and pick up the speed. The next field of boulders can require some big step ups and at times maybe the use of your hands to help you along.


The next bench area is the longest stretch of level ground other than the summit ridge. Wild horses can be seen grazing here in the cooler months. After crossing the field the trail begins climbing again at a fairly easy rate.


The trail bends around the face of the cliffs and pops out onto the saddle between the two hills. The next quarter mile climbs at a little steeper rate. This section can be pretty difficult in the winter when it is covered with snow.


After making it up the last steep section and rounding the corner the summit ridge comes into view. One more little cliff and then it's a walk in the park.


Most hikes end here at the flagpole, which is flag-less today, but the Grumble continues on beyond the summit. There are numerous cairns to mark the route from this point to the edge of the mountain. The spot where the cairns direct the trail over the side is so steep that it requires you to practically climb down for the first 100 feet or so. You can go past this spot a little bit to a point where it is a little less treacherous.


The trail follows a shallow ravine that descends to an opening in the cliff. The greatest amount of exposure for the trail is at this point. The trail crosses a coal seam that sits on top of a short cliff. This is probably the one section where if you were tripped up and went over the side you could get seriously hurt. Fortunately the trail is usually very stable through here and easy to cross.


From here the trail descends at a gradual pace across the face of the Book Cliffs. The trail ranges from 6 - 12 inches wide. If it wasn't for the numerous spots that get washed out where the trail crosses little gullies you could run down this at full speed.


There are I-joists spanning a half dozen or so of the washes. Most of them are shorter spans than the one in the picture.


The trail continues cutting down the slope at times passing between, under and over boulders, until you arrive at what I call Sinners Ridge. When I ran the race I followed the trail markers that lead you off the left side of the ridge and around to the hogback that takes you to the finish line. As I reached the hogback 2 other runners came along at a dead run and passed me up changing my would be 6th place finish to 8th. I came back the next day and found out that they had continued on over the top of the hill where they had a direct shot all the way down the hogback and had cut out the lateral traverse around the hill. There was a big sign on the trail that they had taken that said 'Sinners Repent!'. The rules of the race said that all you had to do was start at the trailhead, pass the flagpole and take any route you wanted.


Here's a look down the hogback at the final stretch to the finish line. Sometimes you can run faster off to the side of the trail in the softer dirt. There isn't much scree on the trail so if you have any legs left you can really book it.


As far as the Mt. Garfield Grumble trail run goes that is all there is to it. If you are hiking or running the loop then there is still a little over 3 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. You can follow the road out to the interstate and then follow another road that parallels it back to the trailhead or you can cut across at an angle and knock over a mile off the distance. This wash provides a good start for the shortcut route.


The area below Mt. Garfield is about as hospitable as Death Valley. It does have its own little ecosystem that you can explore. Years ago it was used heavily as a dump and in places you can see junk sticking up through the ground. There is some private property in the area that you might want to give a wide berth.


There is a horse trail that meanders around the base of the mountain in places or you can hike down the road along the interstate. The old road along the interstate is the most direct route and for the most part it stays pretty flat. In some ways the Garfield Grumble is sort of a goof off race where only a few of the participants are serious about winning. The time that I ran it there was a $2 fee which got you a t-shirt and at the finish line they had a cooler of beer. The idea was to poke fun at some of the more serious races with their high entrance fees and just have some fun doing what everyone enjoyed doing. If you would like to see the Grumble for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike' (or go for a run).