Oct 7, 2009

Steve's Bucket List: Highest point of 50 states

This is part of a series of posts where I discuss items on my "bucket list." the introduction to the series is here.

denali, highest point of alaska

Many of you know that, for longer than I've been an ultrarunner, I have been a card-carrying member of the Highpointers Club, a club solely dedicated to the preservation & promotion of the highest points of all 50 states, and support those who wish to climb them.

Harney Peak, South Dakota - my favorite highpoint (so far.)

Certainly the longest-term item on my bucket list, I've thus had a goal to climb to the highest point of all 50 states for at least the last 4 years, and have been making steady progress to that end. I won't be finished for at least several years to come, probably decades.

As of this writing, I've been to the highest point of 31 states, including all but two east of the mississippi river

The hardest work, however, has been saved for last. Without exception, all of the highpoints west of and including the continental divide are over 11,000 feet high (only mount hood, oregon is below 12,000'), and all but Hawaii's highpoint involve strenuous hikes with lots of climbing. This is in contrast to the highpoints east of the divide; most are either very low, or if they are high involve little or no effort to climb 'em because they have roads to the top. There are exceptions - Maine, NY, Texas, and to a lesser degree South Dakota, Virginia and Vermont involve at least a couple of miles of hiking with at least 1000' of climbing, but by and large the states east of the Continental Divide are logistical challenges rather than physical. My fitness 4-5 years ago was insufficient to climb most of the states requiring any degree of physical fitness, and it still isn't adequate for some.

On the highest point of South Carolina in November 2004, weighing at least 350lbs.

Needless to say, having completed a couple of 50-milers, including one at altitude in the mountains of Wyoming, the weight I've already lost and the fitness I've already gained will allow me to attain most but not all of the highpoints that are left. Here's a quick summary of what I need, sorted from easy to hard:

Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Hawaii
These are the only states state highpoints that I'd describe as physically easy. None of them have hike longer than a mile. They're just hard to get to.

Virginia, Minnesota
States that are also very easy, but they do have hikes of around 5-8 miles RT, so it's not fair to lump them with the super-easy ones.

Texas, Maine
These more difficult hikes bridge the gap between the "moderate" and "very difficult."

New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, California, Utah
All are very long days, especially Utah - where it would take an ultrarunner's level of fitness to complete in a day. The easiest routes up all of these are all pretty serious undertakings, and can offer problems with altitude, exposure, steepness or sheer distane.

Oregon, Montana, Washington, Wyoming
Here we add the element of specialized technical knowledge. All but MT involve glacier travel, and in Washington's case, crevasse rescue skills. MT has a technical rock climbing section at the end. Wyoming is 40 miles round trip.

Multi-week expedition up to the highest point in North America. Ambitious by anyone's standards.

Humphreys Peak, AZ - Over 12,000', it's the highest state highpoint I've been to.

So the 19 I have left will certainly take longer than the 31 I've already done, but I would like to start picking off one of those big western highpoints every year. I also hope to complete the Eastern USA in 2010. If I do those two things, chances are I'll above 45 highpoints and learning glacier travel skills by the time I'm 40, just to get those last few elusive states.

I maintain a separate web site dedicated to this little project of mine. You can view it here: http://turzman.com/projects/highpoints/.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com