[Ed: The information provided below is a reprint of an article that appeared in Apex to Zenith #26 – Third Quarter 1994. 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 Mitch Michaud among others.]
Easily the most controversial state highpoint, Mitch Michaud is at once the most mysterious and the most publicized. He has provoked strong negative reactions from some who have met him. He is not available now to rebut his critics.
In 1970, Mitch climbed all of the fifty state highpoints in a single calendar year. He was reported to be 40 years of age. The exploit was well documented before, during and after its execution and that appears to be a source of some of the criticism of Michaud. He actively sought publicity.
Michaud, a professional mountain guide born in Maine, set out on the “U.S.A. 1970 Summits Expedition” sponsored in part by the Oregon Grass Seed Growers Association based near his Portland, Oregon home. He carried 20,000 half-ounce packets of grass seed to give away and to sprinkle on each summit. The growers paid him $100 for each state in which a newspaper mention the seeds. Naturally he sought interviews. Many were published around the country. I have 24 newspaper articles from seven states reporting on his progress. The entire feat was described in the December 14, 1970 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Mitch was accompanied on 35 of his 1970 highpoint climbs by his 19 year old stepson, Peter.
In my opinion, there is evidence that Michaud or his interviewers looked for angles to make published accounts more interesting. For example, the Sports Illustrated article featured a picture of him carrying ice ax and climbing rope on the pavement of Delaware’s 442 foot highpoint and a low perspective hero shot on Mount Elbert with lots of sky and exaggerated verticality. Sinister prevarication or harmless posturing? I think it is the latter, a sin of which more than one mountaineer has been guilty.
I for one, credit Michaud with climbing the fifty and with doing it in a single year. Perhaps he gilded the lily, but I don’t think the flower was entirely imaginary.