Frank Ashley: Author of The First State Highpoint Guidebook

Frank Ashley: Author of The First State Highpoint Guidebook
(Apex to Zenith #49: Second Quarter 2000)

Do you recognize the gentleman on the cover of this issue? Who is he, and what has he done of significance to our hobby? Well, Frank Ashley is known for two accomplishments. 

First, Frank visited the 48 state highpoints in one year (112 days, to be exact), a feat so amazing it earned him an article in Summit Magazine. Frank may be best known, though, for the guidebook he wrote to the 50 state highpoints.

Frank Ashley (48-state Completer # 9) was born October 3, 1930, in Crawfordsville, IN. He spent many of his adult years in California, exploring the Sierra Nevada, and it was from a base in Culver City, CA, that he conceived the idea to visit the highest points of the 48 contiguous states. 

He now resides in Spickard, Missouri, in a small home in a rural area with his wife Mary, enjoying their retirement. Frank and Mary were gracious hosts to editors John and Dave, who visited them enroute to the 1999 Missouri Highpointers Convention, with Beckie Covill and Wendy Hecht.

The highpoint quest of Frank Ashley began in the 1960’s. In a search for more detailed information, Frank contacted Charles Feris, George Peters, Vin Hoeman, and several other early pioneers of highpointing. Frank had many questions for these adventurous souls who had gone before him. He was very much uncertain of locations or routes on OH, RI, CT, MI, FL, IN, IA, KS, LA, MS, NE, DE, and ND, and he felt he needed clarification.

Veteran highpointer Charlie Feris, who was up to 39 at that point, welcomed Frank to the ranks, and discussed the history of highpointing with him. Charlie had met most of the pioneers, all but A.H. Marshall, who had passed on in the late 1950’s. Apparently Charlie was quite familiar with Mr. Marshall, who rode the railroads around the country to each state, climbed more than 600 peaks solo, and left behind a legacy of journals “rivaling those of Marco Polo”.

In December, 1967, Frank wrote to various state tourist councils asking for information about reaching the highpoints. Then in early 1968, Frank contacted Rowland Stebbins of Lansing, Michigan. Rowland was the second to summit the 48 states (that’s all there were back then) in 1950. These two gentlemen continued to communicate for some time, even after Frank finished his quest. 

Early in 1969 when there were 8 known completers, Frank asked Rowland if he knew if any of the completers had  done the 48 all in one calendar year. 

He was obviously well aware of his mission at that point. He was searching for sponsorship at that time, and while no major companies came through, his motor home was provided, an he had an idea to sell stamps of the summits.

Rowland wanted Frank to have a little bit of a challenge to his quest, so instead of giving Frank explicit direction which he and his sons had gleaned through exhaustive research, he lent Frank his files (dozens of manila folders) and Frank was left to carry out his own research. During Frank’: tour of the states, the two men did actually meet when Fran! passed through Michigan.

And later, in 1970, Rowland nominated Frank for membership in the prestigious American Alpine Club noting his many mountaineering accomplish ments, and of course, his successful state highpoint quest When Frank published his guidebook to the states, Rowland ordered 20 of Frank’s guidebooks and had Frank mail five o them to George Peters, F.W. McDermott, Grace Hoeman Mitch Michaud, and Charles Feris

Frank began his travels on Guadalupe Peak in Texas. He proceeded through the plains, into the South, and up into New England by June. By the Fourth of July he had summited Katahdin, his toughest to that point.

And shortly after that, Frank found Vin Hoeman’s name in the register on Kings Peak, Utah. Frank had to make a second attempt on several western peaks, most notably Gannett Peak in Wyoming.

Guided by members of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club and his wife and daughter, he reached the summit of Humphreys Peak in Arizona, his 48th state, on September 13, 1969, a span of 112 days. This signaled the culmination of Frank’s quest. It allowed his return to a normal life, but forever marked him as one of the pillars of our hobby.

Frank followed up his amazing feat with an even greater one. That was his guidebook. In 1970, La Siesta Press of Southern California printed a 36 page pamphlet that sold for about  1.00 and was available nation-wide, typically in outdoor-oriented stores.

The book has been out of print for many years, and the only way to find one is to use a book search service and expect to spend $25 or more. While the modern guidebooks by Holmes, Winger, and Zumwalt have more accurate and detailed information, the quaint little guide by author Ashley is a valued possession of those interested in highpointing.

Later, in 1987, Frank wrote a letter to Don Berens, responding to Don’s request for information about Frank, his book, and his quest for highpoints. Frank congratulated Don for reaching 50 state summits, something he himself had never accomplished.

Frank was rather proud of being the first, and until this past decade, the only person to visit the 48 state highpoints in one year. He lamented the uncertainty of the states where the highpoints changed over the years, such as Iowa, Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

He told Don his favorite highpoints were, “Utah; not so difficult, of course, but rarely visited. Wyoming and Montana were equally hard, remote and leave little margin for error. I sure discovered that fact on Granite in 1970!”

Frank recalled that he had heard of a man from Lansing, Michigan, and another from Albany, New York, who had visited the 48 state highpoints back between 1930 and 1950.

Their identities remained a mystery to him. Frank also recalled the legendary Mitch Michaud, the second person to complete the 50 state highpoints. He viewed Mitch as a publicity hound, Apparently Mitch had a “great adventure” on nearly every highpoint he visited. He was almost hit by a car in Delaware, he fell off a boulder in Rhode Island, he joined in a successful search party for a lost boy in Maine, he led a high school band to Mt. Sunflower in Kansas, and he spent three days searching for the highpoint of Florida.

Mitch was highpointing at about the same point in time as Frank, and seems to have stolen some of Frank’s thunder. But Mitch faded into obscurity (the Club has no idea what became of him) and it is Frank who has left us an enduring legacy.

No matter what else he accomplished in life, he joked with us, “I have always been known as that fellow who did the 48 state highpoints in one year, and wrote a little guidebook about it”.

Highpointers Club members recall what Frank Ashley has meant to them.

Charlie Feris
Veteran highpointer and long-time Club member Charlie Feris recalls Frank and his adventures as if it all happened yesterday. Charlie helped Frank by providing knowledge of the 39 highpoints which he had visited by the time Frank was ready to embark on his quest.

He recalled Frank having to raise funds for his trip via a series of souvenirs consisting of envelopes with a commemorative stamp and seal, each notarized and sent out to the investor attesting to Frank’s achieving his 48 goals. The cost was $7 per set. He believes Frank was helped greatly by Red-E-Kamp of Riverside, California, who lent him a camper to get to the trailheads.

Charlie says, “I remember Frank first as a climber, but second as a promoter who, with limited funds and bold determination, completed this project. He has a great sense of humor, especially about himself. We met briefly in Portland and had dinner together after his trip. I sure would like to meet him again.”

Jim Lockart
Fifty Completer #3, Ranger Jim Lockart, wrote us of his memories of Frank, “I never met him, but I have used his $1 booklet for many years. With Frank’s simple directions, and by asking some questions in each highpoint area, I was able to locate them all. The apple pie cafe in Rhode Island wits closed and getting permission to visit Jerimoth Hill was no pie in the sky, but otherwise the climb was a piece of cake! The Highpointers Club has been a great achievement of Century # 20. What will we do when membership reaches 100,000? There will always be one more hill to climb.”

George Johnson
Director and longtime member George Johnson was inspired by Frank’s book to climb them all. “I first heard of Frank Ashley years ago when I had a chance meeting with Jack Parsell and Clark Hall on the road into Boundary Peak, Nevada. Our cars came head to head. We all got out and they began to talk enthusiastically about their climb and highpointing.

At the time I was highpointing by using the Rand McNally road map and sending for topos from the USGS. Jack and Clark showed me Frank’s book and couldn’t believe I was highpointing without a copy. I noticed they had several passages underlined as well as dates and corrections written in. I found their names in the summit registry and wrote them, asking for climbing information from their “50 states guide, book.” The next Spring (’87) we met in Michigan to, climb Mt. Arvon.

They brought Don Berens from New York, and of course Jack Longacre was there. My friend Dennis Whitehead, then living in Marquette, escorted us to the summit. Later, Don sent me a photocopy of Frank’s book in it’s entirety. I sent the title page to Frank and he graciously signed it for me.

I used those pages until Paul Zumwalt came out with his first guidebook. One day I received a catalog from Chessler Books ‘ and in it were two copies of Frank’s book for sale. I immediately called and purchased one. It is a cherished addition to my climbing library.”

George Vandersluis
In most cases, Frank’s book fanned the flames of desire for would-be Highpointers. But instead of the book, it was a near-miss meeting with Frank that caused one person to complete the 50. George Vandersluis (Completer #11) reports, “Originally, I had no intention of visiting the highpoint of all fifty states. As I discovered one on a map, I would climb it as something interesting to do. But early on I had no plans for completion.

However, my attitude changed during a trip to the Nebraska highpoint. I met Mr. Constable, then the owner, and he insisted on driving me to the highest point. Back then the HP was marked with just a metal pipe driven into the ground. After visiting the pipe, he invited me back to the ranchhouse and we chatted about state highpoints.

Just a week before a man had been through there on a mission to visit all 50 highpoints. That man was Frank Ashley! This sounded like a great idea and at that point I decided to make it my goal too.” Little did George know, but Frank had gone on from Nebraska to Montana, the scene of his terrible accident. George remembers seeing the write-up in the Denver Post.

John Mitchler
I had not considered the hobby of highpointing until I saw Frank Ashley’s booklet in an outdoor store in Champaign, Illinois. The whole idea intrigued me. So I researched each site using USGS topos at the University of Illinois library, however, I had limited experience and never expected to conquer the “Big Boys” out west.

I collected ten HPs before I found Don Holmes book and was introduced to the Highpointers Club. I met other Highpointers and gained more experience and skill, and now sit at 46 summits. It had always been a goal of mine to located Frank and meet this unique man. And of course, I wanted my copy of his book signed!

When the members selected Missouri as the 1999 convention site, I immediately made plans to visit Mr. Ashley. I salute this amazing pioneer and wish him and his family well.

Dave Covill
My good friend Steve Doppler and I were at a major sporting goods store in Denver in 198 1, leafing through some books, when we came across Frank’s book. We had visited a few highpoints by then, including ME, CO, NM, NH, KS, OK, NE, and AR, but had no idea there was a guidebook available.

We had been working from topo maps and a Rand McNally. I really caught the bug then, and used Frank’s book extensively, bagging over half of the states by the time that the Zumwalt and Holmes books came out. I joined the Club shortly after that, around 1990, and became more involved, but it was that little thin paperback book that first opened my eyes to ig pointing. I never imagined I’d meet Frank, let alone write about him. This has been a thrill.

Dave Foote
Frank Ashley; a friend I never met and the reason Kevin and I embarked on Highpointing!

The first encounter with Frank was in May 1979 when I spotted this little book at an EMS store entitled “HIGHPOINTS of the STATES.” I’d always wanted to see this wonderful country of ours and that was a great reason to see them all. Kevin was four and I’d never done anything but moderate trail walking, with the most challenging being Mt. Monadnock, a 3000′ peak climbed by thousands on Columbus Day.

We had no skills, just a desire to try it and my hope that Kevin could be the youngest to do all 50. Fast forward six years to July 27, 1985, and we do our 25th state highpoint, Nebraska; still no name for this peak, but wonderful hosts in the Constables. After “summiting,” we are invited in for conversation and to sign the register. Second in the book, signing in on May 29, 1969 is Frank Ashley, a second delightful encounter. On October 16, 1992, Kevin and I completed the 50 state summits in Louisiana.

We became the first two to complete all summits together and Kevin became the youngest at the time to complete at 17 1/2 years of age. With 13 years of challenge and beauty, memories for a lifetime, and friends we seldom see, but always treasure, we owe a debt to Frank Ashley that can never be repaid. May the Lord bless you and keep you, Frank.

Jack Parsell
I was one of the early Highpointers who got a lot of help from Frank’s little guidebook.

Prior to publication of his book in 1970 1 had visited 14 state highpoints, but two had to be revisited. Before that time it was commonly thought that the Bock Tower area was the Florida’s highest, and Ohio was a problem because the high spot was in a fenced-in Air Force radar station so I couldn’t get all the way to the top. With the Ashley book, I got 6 more in the 70’s and after climbing Denali in 1981

I decided to finish off the rest of the 50. During the 80’s Clark Hall was my constant climbing partner and the club was organized in April 1987 at L’Anse, Michigan gan I had only Kings, Granite, and Gannett left to do. Pa Zumwalt’s guidebook came out late in 1988 so only Gannett was climbed with Paul’s help.

All of the others were by Ashley or other research. Since a lot of the climbs were more the ten years after Ashley’s book came out, many route descriptions needed updating. My copy has a lot of marginal notes and corrections. But it still was a very valuable aid for getting close to highpoints and in most cases the climb info was accurate. Of course he had Michigan and Iowa wrong but the wasn’t his fault.

It’s a good thing that the Sterler’s are such fine, cooperative people because Ocheyedan Mound is a much more satisfactory hill than the bump at the Sterler farm. Frank wrote to me once in answer to my offer to send him corrections and revisions of his book. I can’t find that correspondence dence but I recall he said he had no plans to publish a revise edition.

Jakk Longacre
While Frank’s trail mile and mine differed greatly, I hasten to add that I could have never accomplished reaching the state highpoints without his guidebook.

That, along with Mr. Rand and Mr. McNally, were my sole references for all the highpoints (excepting of course for the likes of Rainier, Hood or Denali).

I am a firm believer that when climbing or hiking you cannot have too much information. But, in the time span of four years between June of 1981 and August of 1985, these two references were just about all there were to be found. A that, the road atlas offered little if anything in assisting one LL find the true highpoint it only generalized. That then brings us to Frank’s fine guide.

Repeating myself, “I could never have accomplished the state highpoints without his guidebook.” I was a member of Boeing’s Boealps Climbing Club in Seattle, and found a copy of Frank’s guidebook in our Club’s library. I xeroxed the whole thing (don’t tell the publisher!). That became my constant companion to nearly every state highpoint. My deepest gratitude to Mr. Ashley. Side note: The Highpointers Club has a mint condition copy of Frank’s guidebook. Long standing member Ken Jones managed to locate one, bought it, then graciously donated it to the Club library.

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