This March I completed my USA State Highpoints project by visiting Sassafras Mountain, Brasstown Bald, Cheaha Mountain, and, lastly, Britton Hill.
The Western USA State Highpoints
I began visiting USA State Highpoints in June 1977 with Mount Hood, the highpoint of Oregon. But I had no idea I was starting a State Highpoints project. I had previously climbed two other Oregon volcanoes and somehow the opportunity to join other work colleagues on an attempt of Mount Hood came up. This was my first experience with roped climbing on snow and ice with ice axe and crampons. I wore jeans and a cotton shirt, but the weather and conditions were excellent and I got away with my inexperience. Soon afterwards I improved my skills on a week-long snow and ice climbing course.
Since I lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon my interest was climbing in the nearby Cascade Range. I climbed several other Cascade Range peaks with friends and upgraded my climbing gear. Mount Hood became my spring training and conditioning ground as I explored several routes up the peak.
In August 1979 a Bozeman friend Bill led me up Granite Peak in Montana. He timed our climb when the snowpack was best to avoid more difficult rock and yet not hinder us on the ridge. He also recognized poor weather approaching and we escaped an oncoming storm.
In August 1980 it was my turn to lead Bill and Doug up Mount Rainier in Washington. I had been turned back twice on Rainier due to wind and storms so we scheduled our climb when the weather would be the most stable and the route well-traveled. The weather proved to be perfect and the three of us summitted Rainier for the first time. I think we all learned the importance of sunscreen on this trip, though I often neglected to reapply it on long climbing days.
In the early 1980s I found work and continued my graduate studies in Oregon. I met other climbers who were interested in rock climbing and we spent many weekends gradually improving our rock climbing skills. We applied what we learned to more challenging mixed routes on local volcanic crags, North Cascade peaks, and elsewhere. I shared many adventures with this small group of friends, but eventually this climbing network faded away as we moved in different directions with our lives.
During the summer of 1985 I joined two local climbing clubs, the Chemeketans and the Santiam Alpine Club. Through these clubs I broadened my climbing network and had opportunities to visit many new summits. The club members shared training and detailed knowledge of climbing routes that augmented the climbing guidebooks of the day. By developing new members the clubs persisted as valuable resources of climbing knowledge and partners as individuals dropped from active climbing. Furthermore, I later met my wife Linda through one of these clubs.
Perhaps I first considered visiting all Western USA State Highpoints in 1986. In August 1986 I climbed Gannett Peak in Wyoming as part of one club trip. Later that month I hiked Boundary Peak in Nevada and Mount Whitney in California.
Over the next few years I made little progress on this goal, only climbing Mount Elbert in Colorado with Linda in 1991.
For several years I considered joining friends on attempts of Denali, but it seemed a huge undertaking in time and planning. Also, I did not have climbing experience above 15000 feet; I thought I should gain that experience. So I climbed Mexico’s Popocatepetl and Orizaba in 1990 on a guided trip, and Cotopaxi in Ecuador in 1992 with three friends. I learned how I handled higher altitudes and the importance of acclimatization.
I decided in 1996 the time and circumstances were right to attempt Denali. To simplify logistics and planning I joined a small guided expedition that June. The original plan was to climb the West Rib, but the guides modified our route to the Upper West Rib for changing conditions and timed our summit for a short window of good weather. It was a successful and very rewarding experience.
With my climb of Denali behind me, the goal of climbing the Western USA Highpoints became feasible, though I was distracted by other goals for several years. I eventually resumed the project and finished it in 2014 by climbing Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
The Central and Eastern USA State Highpoints
Meanwhile Linda and I had taken bicycling trips east during which we visited a few Central and Eastern State Highpoints. In September 2005 we bicycled along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway after which we visited Mount Mitchell.
In late March 2010 we drove to Big Bend National Park in Texas, our first visit there, to bicycle roads across the flowering desert. On the way we stopped at Guadalupe Mountains National Park and hiked Guadalupe Peak, the highpoint of Texas. It was a pleasant and scenic visit.
In 2014 we joined a bike tour in Michigan. I carried our bikes out to meet Linda there for the bike tour. On the drive out and back I visited several state highpoints. I enjoyed seeing much more of the country than just the western states. It seemed to help me better understand and appreciate the diverse character of my country. I decided to try to visit the remaining USA State Highpoints over the following years.
In the summer of 2018, I drove from Oregon to Maine and back and visited 22 state highpoints along the way. Linda joined me for a few days and finished her project of bicycle riding in all 50 USA States. It was a successful and very memorable trip. I especially enjoyed my time in the mountains of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
On March 17, 2022, I finally completed my USA State Highpoints project by visiting the summit of Britton Hill, Florida. For a few minutes I had Walton County Lakewood Park to myself. I visited the marker and walked the forested park trails in short sleeves amongst the sound of songbirds. It was a pleasant and very satisfying way to savor the completion of such a long project.