Adventure Travel

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Michael Becker/AP
Mount McKinley

Highpointing: A View From the Top

November 25, 2010
by Cara McDonough
Some consider mountain climbing or hiking as hobbies. But there are others—highpointers—who are into something a little more specific: reaching the highest peak in every state, from the 345-foot Britton Hill in Florida to Alaska’s 20,320-foot Mount McKinley.

Up for a Challenge?

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The task may sound daunting, but those interested in highpointing can ease into the sport. A November 2008 New York Times article points out that while reaching a state’s highest natural point of elevation can certainly involve a fair amount of toil and sweat—climbing actual mountains out West, for instance—scaling a highpoint might require nothing more than a drive and a search for the official marker. Delaware’s highpoint, for example, is located at an intersection of a suburban neighborhood.

Many highpointers move on to more strenuous hikes, however, and enjoy the challenges posed by the hobby, “which blends the rigors of adventure travel with the fastidiousness of stamp collecting,” according to The Times.

As the sport gains more attention, it’s becoming more competitive. Last year, Mike Haugen, a schoolteacher from Denver, and Zach Price, a Seattle architect, set a record for the fastest ascent of highpoints in the United States. Haugen recorded their time as “45 days, 19 hours and 2 minutes and 20 seconds,” The Times reported.

Join the Klub

Highpointing enthusiasts don’t have to go solo. Support, guidance and even an annual convention are all part of a membership to the Highpointers Club, which promotes highpointing through a Web site and newsletters. Founded by Jakk Longacre in 1987, the club has “a propensity for substituting ‘k’ for ‘c’ in its literature,” according to The Times; their motto is “Keep Klimbin’.” Longacre died in 2002 and his ashes are spread on all the state highpoints.

Some have taken their love of highpointing to new levels, including supporting a good cause while scaling the peaks. Randy Clukey and J.R. Jasinski have created their own personal highpointing challenge of ascending the highest points in the lower 48 states “as fast as humanly possible” while collecting money for Big City Mountaineers, an organization that works to enhance the lives of under-resourced teens through outdoor activities. Donations are accepted through their Web site, Highpointing Challenge.

But highpointing isn’t all about the Internet. Those who want to socialize with other highpointers in person can do so at the Club’s 2009 “Konvention,” which will take place from July 30 to August 1 in the very fitting High Point State Park of New Jersey.

Read All About It

If the thought of the country’s highest peaks brings on a sudden case of vertigo, simply reading about extraordinary highpointers may be just the ticket—at least at first.

Jim Lockhart, 70, wasn’t satisfied after completing every U.S. highpoint so he turned his sights to the rest of the world. So far, he's climbed the highest points on five continents, and recently summited Mount Elbrus in the Republic of Georgia. “I said, 'Well, I want to do the high peak over here, that high peak over there,’” Backpacker Magazine quoted Lockhart as saying. "Then, I went to foreign countries and asked, 'Where's your highest peak?’”

Derek Miller chronicled his highpointing adventures for North Carolina newspaper The Salisbury Post. Miller has completed five highpoints so far, and notes that each one was “vastly different from the others.” He encourages others to join in the fun. “Highpointing can range from an extreme sport or strenuous activity to an afternoon drive.” Most importantly, says Miller, “The best thing about highpointing is that it's a motive for seeing the country.”

Starting Small and Other Lofty Goals

As with any new outdoor hobby, safety is key. Before hitting the peaks, a basic primer in rock climbing may be in order. FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Rock Climbing provides all the best rock climbing Web sites, magazines and news, and information on where to buy appropriate gear and the best places to climb.

Once equipped with the proper tools and information, climbing enthusiasts may look for other ways to explore their new hobby. Those who enjoy the list-making aspect of highpointing may also like exploring Colorado’s “Fourteeners,” a series of peaks more than 14,000 feet. KMGH Denver Channel 7 News reported that on June 1, trails owned by private landowners that had been closed due to liability concerns were reopened conditionally, allowing renewed access to two of the peaks.
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