[Published in Apex to Zenith #54 – Third Quarter 2001]
By: Roger Rowlett
As a techie, I was one of the first people to jump on the bandwagon when the Internet went public in 1992. That same year my passion for highpointing rewoke after nearly 20 years on a visit to High Point, NJ. I posted an item on rec.backcountry that I was interested in writing a book about 50 high points. Mike Fedor replied that not only were there books about the summits by Paul Zumwalt and Don Holmes but there was also a Highpointers Club!
Not only that, but there was also something called “the Worldwide Web” where you could search for information on anything. In the age of 9600K modems and before Netscape that meant crawling lots of text base information via the text browser “Lynx.”
So in planning my future trips, there was an astonishing amount of information at my finger tips. I didn’t have to find an outdoor bookstore in New York City or even go to the library. It was all right there in the privacy of my own home. The USGS has incredible amounts. There was weather information. And students had even started posting trip reports
I started bookmarking all these cool sites. Given the level of passion in the rec.backcountry discussion, I was sure everybody on the planet had to be into highpointing. Yet there was no central clearing house for a site that told you everything about a mountain — its geology, history, climbing information, etc.
Since I had only visited NM, MO, KS, OK and IA in the early 1970’s, I thought Mike might have some more current information and would be a perfect candidate for creating this great clearinghouse. He declined noting it would be too time consuming.
So over Memorial Day 1993, I put together the first draft of americasroof.com. It consisted of USGS links, weather links, bookmarked searches, and travel links for each summit. Since I didn’t have a lot of pictures, I bought a DeLorme street atlas and a Delorme “3D Geographic Explorer” and posted maps and renderings of the summits. While many renderings looked like silly flat patchwork quilts (e.g., Panorama Point), some were eye opening. Did Mauna Kea really resemble more a pancake than the classic island inverted “v'” shaped volcano? Could Mount Magazine really have such a distinctive mesa-like profile? The answers to these questions would be years in answering.
During this period I also wrote the first “highpointing on the computer” column in Apex to Zenith.
I found the web site a great way to play in practical sense with budding technologies that I might or might not want to use at my day job. These arm chair fantasies included virtual reality hikes and animated flybys that were in living color or in 3D red-blue sterographs. I generated animated snow, lightning, fireworks and even space ships over the peaks.
However, the most spectacular special effect were the 360-degree summit panoramas. There are 18 on americasroof.com and links to several more. In the age of digital photography and special software packages, more people have come forward to help out.
My day job never proved to be interested in these. But I also did learn a lot about databases.
Since I was the only source for much of this information, people began sending me emails. They weren’t all that offended that I had renderings instead of actual photos. When you are subsidizing a web site with your time and money with no hope of financial return, positive email is literally all that keeps you going.
In the early days when the Internet was still altruistic. I envisioned that I have a web site that people would “adopt” a state and write about it and that I would continue to be the clearing house.
Mike was the first to do this when “adopted” Connecticut. Mike’s interest expanded and he soon also had a guide to the highest points. We were friendly rivals linking back and forth through the mid-90’s and I think the quality of both of our sites was ratcheted up because of this. His site was “State Highpointers” and I had adopted “Americas Roof.”
Mike put some Club information on his site (and won the Vin Hoeman Award in 1997 for doing this) and in 1998 he handed off his site entirely to the Club, which would become highpointers.com
During this period, I added a feature to americasroof, which is probably the single best item of my site: The Forum (which today gets nearly a million hits a year and I have striven to make it the definitive record of outdoor news).
I never had any aspirations for maintaining the Club web site. I always liked the idea that americasroof.com and the Club should be separate because I liked the idea that my site could be opinionated while the Club had to maintain a sort of “matter of fact” neutrality on most issues.
This separation has served some useful purposes. In 1998 following the Highpointers Convention in South Carolina, I returned to find a frantic message on the Forum warning that the summit of Black Mountain was about to be blown up as part of a “mountaintop removal” mining operation.
This began my involvement.of what was to become a very high profile case that was highlighed on ABC’s Nightline, found Jesse Jackson joining in and even had pickets urgeing President Clinton to intervene.
The effectiveness of the Forum proved itself invaluable as we debated courses of action as more and more turmoil arose and access to the summit was cut off. Highpointer Club member Fred Lighty came forward to do pro bono legal work and excellent advice: keep the focus on access and avoid all the ancilliary coal mining debates.
Since the Club did not want to file the papers to formally intervene in the matter, I was able to do it as americasroof.com.
The combination of americasroof.com and Don Holmes appointing Craig Noland and I to handle matters on behalf of the Club, led to the eventual outcome where access was granted to Kentucky provided visitors sign a release. The State of Kentucky was to go on and protect the summit by buying summit timber and mineral rights for $4 million (buying the summit outright is difficult because of the active mining underneath it).
This in turn led me to report to the Board at its 1999 meeting in Missouri on Kentucky. At the same meeting, Don caught me off guard by asking me to take over the Club web site.
The rest is history I guess.
Both sites have sprawled.
I am told by Craig Noland that almost all new members join using our Internet web site. Jean Trousdale says that virtually all orders for the HP Merc between conventions come from the Internet. Almost every newspaper article about the Club refers to highpointers.org.
Highpointers.org now contains more than 250 pages and 250 pictures which if printed would create a document at least 750 pages long. I try to include a segment from the newsletter in each paper.
Since I consider all of our newsletters literature, in a perfect world I would like for the full text of our newsletters to be online and searchable. Non-members could pay for them. Unfortunately this costs an enormous amount in time and money and somehow our club of 2,500 is not quite up to it (unless anybody out there really, really wants to type a lot!!!).
Americasroof.com has nearly 1,000 individual pages and 1,400 pictures, and 4,000 links, plus animation, movies, and sounds. If printed this would be nearly 3,000 pages long!
The Forum has more than 6,000 posts and I suspect that if you tried to print it, it could be close to 20,000 pages!
None of this would have been possible without the substantial contributions of photos, reports, and lists from club members and visitors.
I am always astonished that the bar on the quality of new websites coming on seems to improve dramatically. Web designers are making flashier websites and the photography has gotten spectacular.
I would say that almost all new sites look much better than mine as I still have lots of relics from the early 90’s when I was restricted by Windows 3.x naming and structure limits.
Keeping up an opinionated officially “for profit” site (although there’s no profit) — although I did get some buy-our offers in dot com frenzy –.and a staid non-profit Club-sponsored site may pose some challenges or raise questions in a perfect world. But, again we’re not in a perfect world.
I enjoy the freedom to do whatever I want on the americasroof.com site and have learned a lot about teamwork by working with Club members for the Club
Keeping tabs on all this is getting to be a burden for one person. So if there’s somebody out there that wants to help out, let me know. There’s always a project!
It’s always interesting to find out what Highpointer internet visitors are thinking so there’s occassional polls at http://americasroof.com/polls/
As I write, visitors narrowly favor Alaska’s bid to rename Mount McKinley 52 to 48 percent.
The most popular poll regards a New York’s efforts to remove registration canisters from trailless peaks in the Adirondacks (the “leave no trace” effort carried to its conclusion). This move is opposed 83 to 17 percent.
Our highpointers web ring now has 21 members. You can join it at http://highpointers.org/webrings/
The newest members:
Mary Jo and Randall’s Highpoint Page – http://www.zerr.net/highpoints/
They have wonderful pictures and narratives from their exploits in Texas, Arkanas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Florida.
Red Lodge Montana Hiking and Climbing – http://home.att.net/~coonlakebeach/montana/montana_moving_on_the_trails2.htm
There are more than 6.9 megs and 209 files with pictures and sounds devoted to Montana’s highest point and the Beartooth Absaroka & Custer National Forest.