[Ed: The information provided below is a reprint of an article that appeared in Apex to Zenith #18 – Third Quarter 1992. The article is authored by Don Berens – himself a 50 state highpoint completer – who is owed a tremendous amount of thanks for the many contributions he makes to the club. In recognition of his service to the club, Don was given the club’s 1993 Vin Hoeman Award.]
[Ed: You may also want to listen/view the Oral History of First 10 48 Completers article which talks about Vin Hoeman among others.]
One of America’s foremost mountaineers, Anchorage, Alaska’s Vin Hoeman was born on September 2, 1936. He was killed in an avalanche on the slopes of Nepal’s Dhaulagiri (at 26,795 feet it is the world’s sixth highest peak) on April 28, 1969 at age 32. See Mountain of Storms by Andrew Havard and Todd Thompson. His widow, Dr. Grace J. Hoeman, also an outstanding mountaineer, was herself killed in an avalanche in Alaska in 1971. It is widely conceded that Vin was the first person to stand atop the highpoint of each of the fifty states. However, because of their deaths, it is difficult to confirm all the details of the accomplishment.
According to a 1970 list compiled by Rowland Stebbins, Hoeman was the eighth person to climb the 48, the second to climb 49, and of course the first to climb fifty. Stebbins thought Hoeman finished the 48 in 1966 and fifty on July 1, 1966; he did not indicate if Vin finished the fifty on one of the lower 48, but we know from other sources that he did not finish in Alaska on that date. In 1970 Stebbins wrote to Grace Hoeman that Vin was the second person to reach “all 49 state summits”. This might imply that Hoeman climbed all but Hawaii before its admission as the the fiftieth state 8 1/2 months after Alaska in 1959. This might further imply that his fiftieth, climbed in 1956 was Hawaii. Such implications are uncertain. However, we know that he did not climb McKinley as early as 1959.
Hoeman led the first east-west traverse of Mount McKinley reaching the summit on July 19, 1963. He climbed it again via the West Buttress on August 27, 1967. This information comes from Bradford Washburn’s booklet, A Tourist Guide to Mount McKinley, which, among other useful information, lists the first hundred ascents of Denali from 1913 to 1972.
Since Hoeman’s death, Iowa and Michigan have been resurveyed and their highpoints redesignated by USGS. This illustrates one of the conceptual issues to be addressed by any definition of the feat of attaining the fifty highpoints. By current reckoning, Hoeman missed two of the points now thought to be highpoints. But when he was climbing he had no reason to visit the points now thought to be highpoints. In the case of Hoeman, who was young and skilled, and these states, the highpoints of which are not difficult, there can be no doubt that he could have and would have reached them if he had known enough to try. Accordingly, some have suggested that the definition of a highpointer should be someone who has stood on the fifty highpoints as defined by USGS as of the date that he or she has reached his or her fiftieth.