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Highpointing: Climb To The Top Of 50 States

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High on Denali, John Mitchler took out a pencil to write a list. It was the summer of 2003, and as wind tore into the fabric of his cramped tent, he knew the end was near.

Mount Whitney, the dramatic highpoint of California
Mount Whitney, the dramatic highpoint of California

“I decided to write a list of all the people I’d climbed with over the years,” he said. “McKinley [Denali] was to be my final mountain.”

Mitchler didn’t perish on that high Alaskan peak. Indeed, his party soon made the mountain’s 20,320-foot summit.

But for Mitchler, a geologist from the Denver area, Mount McKinley (now called Denali) signified the end of a personal era: For more than 20 years he had traveled the country climbing peaks and hiking hills in order to stand at the highest natural point of elevation in each of the 50 U.S. States.

Highpointing: Climbing 50 States

Highpointing, as this state-by-state, summit-seeking pursuit is called, has garnered a following of more than 10,000 people, according the Highpointers Club, which was founded in 1988.

Every state has a highest point of elevation, be it a towering mountain peak or a nondescript knoll in a cornfield. To highpointers, each one of these summits is geographically significant.

Iowa High Point
“Summiting” the high point of Iowa

You need advanced mountaineering skills for peaks like Mount Rainier and Denali. But completing the 50-state list also means traveling thousands of miles through obscure parts of the country.

To tick off Florida, for example, highpointers drive to Britton Hill, a meager slope in the Panhandle with an elevation of just 345 feet above sea level.

In Illinois, a state of cornfields and prairie, a 1,235-foot rise called Charles Mound is the destination. Rhode Island’s Jerimoth Hill tops out at 812 feet above the nearby Atlantic waters.

More than a dozen states have highpoints with road access, letting people essentially drive to the summit. Wyoming’s Gannett Peak, in contrast, requires up to 40 miles of roundtrip backcountry hiking in the remote Wind River Mountain Range.

To date, more than 300 people have completed all 50 highpoints. Roughly 10 new people a year climb their 50th state summit and are added to the Highpointers Club’s list of completers. Plaques are awarded to club members who reach all the state summits in a lifetime.

High Peaks To Moderate Hikes

Going to the extreme is not a highpointing requirement, however. Indeed, most of the 50 state highpoints are moderate hikes with elevations of less than 7,000 feet, and climbing all 50 peaks is not the goal of every highpointer.

On the summit of Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado
On the summit of Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado

Some people make a goal to see the country and ascend 20 or 30 highpoints with no serious mountaineering involved. Families with young children may schedule a road-trip vacation around highpoint destinations.

Frozen toes and altitude sickness are a real danger on a dozen of the summits. The drive-up peaks in Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio and the like are at the other end of the spectrum.

But many states, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Maryland, offer an in-between, with moderate, half-day hikes that require just enough effort to provide a sense of accomplishment.

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Harney Peak, the 7,242-foot highpoint near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota (which was recently re-named), for example, necessitates a six-mile roundtrip hike in the scenic Black Hills wilderness. Hikers pass through dense pine forests and vertical spires of granite on their way to the top.

The trail gains about 1,500 vertical feet of elevation from the parking lot, which takes most hikers a half-day to complete. Bighorn sheep and mountain goats may be sighted along the way.

Road Trips Required

Wilderness adventure is an obvious allure for highpointers. But the pursuit also attracts goal-motivated individuals who savor keeping a checklist and marking off each highpoint they reach.

minnesota highpoint
Survey marker at the highest point in Minn. (Eagle Mountain); photo Jimmy Emerson, DVM

“There’s something tangible and satisfying about having a list to check off,” said Roger Truesdale, a retired physical-education teacher who has climbed all 50 highpoints, including 49 of them with his wife Jane. “Highpointing gives you well-defined goals and many people like that.”

The Truesdales, who started their highpointing quest in 1988, took road trips during the summer months to climb several state highpoints at once.

On one trip through the Midwest the Truesdales hit 10 summits over a couple weeks. They did the same in New England, driving to the top in flatter states and hiking Appalachian trails in states like Vermont to climb eight peaks on one vacation.

In 2005, Roger Truesdale climbed Denali, his 50th summit. A storm stranded his group for five days, where they hung out in tents and built snow walls to protect the camp from wind.

Like John Mitchler and many other highpointers, Truesdale saved the most difficult climb for last.

After the storm passed, Truesdale and his team climbed to the top of Denali in an eight-hour push from a high camp at 17,000 feet. He said, “It was an awesome way to end the journey.”

Highpointing: 50 U.S. Highest Points Of Elevation

Alabama Cheaha Mountain 02407
Alaska Mount McKinley/Denali 20320
Arizona Humphreys Peak 12633
Arkansas Mt Magazine/Signal Hill 02753
California Mount Whitney 14494
Colorado Mount Elbert 14433
Connecticut Mt Frissell/South Slope 02380
Delaware Ebright Azimuth 00448
Florida Britton Hill 00345
Georgia Brasstown Bald 04784
Hawaii Mauna Kea 13796
Idaho Borah Peak 12662
Illinois Charles Mound 01235
Indiana Hoosier High Point 01257
Iowa Hawkeye Point 01670
Kansas Mount Sunflower 04039
Kentucky Black Mountain 04139
Louisiana Driskill Mountain 00535
Maine Katahdin 05268
Maryland Backbone Mountain 03360
Massachusetts Mount Greylock 03491
Michigan Mount Arvon 01979
Minnesota Eagle Mountain 02301
Mississippi Woodall Mountain 00806
Missouri Taum Sauk 01772
Montana Granite Peak 12799
Nebraska Panorama Point 05424
Nevada Boundary Peak 13140
New Hampshire Mount Washington 06288
New Jersey High Point 01803
New Mexico Wheeler Peak 13161
New York Mount Marcy 05344
North Carolina Mount Mitchell 06684
North Dakota White Butte 03506
Ohio Campbell Hill 01550
Oklahoma Black Mesa 04973
Oregon Mount Hood 11239
Pennsylvania Mount Davis 03213
Rhode Island Jerimoth Hill 00812
South Carolina Sassafras Mountain 03560
South Dakota Harney Peak 07242
Tennessee Clingmans Dome 06643
Texas Guadalupe Peak 08749
Utah Kings Peak 13528
Vermont Mount Mansfield 04393
Virginia Mount Rogers 05729
Washington Mount Rainier 14411
West Virginia Spruce Knob 04863
Wisconsin Timms Hill 01951
Wyoming Gannett Peak 13804

–See Highpointers.org for more info on climbing peaks around the U.S.

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