Highpointers Club Survey – Mountaineering KSE

[Published in Apex to Zenith #53 – Second Quarter 2001]
By: Pete Anderson

As the new millennium arrived, membership of the Highpointers Club surpassed 2,000. With this increase in membership, I became curious about the mountaineering knowledge, skills, and experience (KSE) of club members. As a physical geographer, I normally study the composition, structure, and dynamics of the physical environment and landscape changes that occur due to human activity. With this survey, I was interested in doing something different: developing a profile of the mountaineering KSE of Highpointers Club members.

To develop this profile, 1249 questionnaires were mailed with the autumn issue of Apex to Zenith Newsletter, the Highpointers Club quarterly. Club members were asked to complete the eighteen questions and return the questionnaire; 583 were completed and returned. The return rate of 41% was much higher than expected. This was the first interesting characteristic of club members: the willingness to complete and return the survey. A return rate of 10-12% was expected, however a return rate of 18-20% would have been great; 41% is phenomenal.

Based on this survey, what are some the characteristics of Highpointers Club members? One question asked the number of years since your first highpoint visit. The answers ranged from 1 year or less (95) to 61 years (1), with 72% of the respondents (418) indicating that their first highpoint visit occurred within the past nine years. Twenty four percent (141) of the surveys indicated their first visit occurred between 10 and 23 years ago, and 4% (24) members indicated there first highpoint adventure occurred more than 24 years ago. Seventy-four individuals (12.7%) indicated their first highpoint visit occurred prior to the formation of the Highpointers Club during June 1987.

What was your first highpoint? All highpoints except Backbone Mountain, Black Mountain, and Woodall Mountain received at least one ‘vote’ as the first highpoint visited. Mount Washington received 71 first highpoint visits, following by Mount Whitney’s 61. The following highpoints round out the top sixteen list, all received 11 or more ‘first highpoint votes:’ Clingman’s Dome, Mt. Mitchell, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Marcy, Mt. Elbert, Guadalupe Peak, High Point, Harney Peak, Mt. Katahdin, Mt. Hood, Wheeler Peak, Borah Peak, Mt. Greylock, and Eagle Mountain.

survey comment: You may be interested to know that I climbed my first HP (I thought of it only as a mountain then), Mt. Washington, in August 1949 when I was 19. I am currently at HP #32, and plan to “retire” after 45 HPs.

The highpoint pursuit requires time, money, and dedication. To achieve a 48- or 50-state completion, an individual must travel many miles north and south, east and west, throughout the United States. To obtain an indication of the extent of travel in pursuit of the highpoint completion dream, members were asked to base their travel on the club regions. Four hundred fourteen respondents (71%) indicated they had traveled to all regions, while 82 (14%) indicated they had visited two or three regions. Eighty seven surveys (15%) indicated that their highpointing travel was limited to one region. Some members stated that they would love to travel to more highpoints, and to travel more often, however the cost of highpointing increases considerably after the highpoints near home have been ‘collected.’ Other club members combine highpointing with family vacations, while a few combine highpointing with business trips. Unless a person has unlimited funds or time, the highpointing goal usually progresses slowly.

survey comment: Highpointing is a good enticement to see our country in some level of detail. The planning & route-finding adds intellectual interest to a trip and usually some good exercise in addition. Obviously, I’m not in any hurry to get the highpoints, since I started in 1959 and now have 37.

A primary goal of this survey was to develop a profile of the mountaineering knowledge, skills, and experience of HP Club members. Although the following information does not definitely characterize all aspects of mountaineering KSE, the information is useful in developing a profile of the club membership. Hiking on trails was the primary KSE for 117 club members (20%), 118 people (20%) indicated their KSE related to backpacking and/or hiking and backpacking. Thus hiking and backpacking on trails are the primary KSE for 40% (235) of survey respondents. These individuals should be able to attain at least 40 state summits.

One hundred ten members (19%) stated that their KSE related to on-trail and off-trail hiking and backpacking. This KSE will be required for some of the western highpoints, and a few eastern and western highpoints if the primary ascent route isn’t used. One hundred twenty eight members (22%) indicated their KSE included hiking and backpacking on and off trails, and technical rock and/or ice climbing KSE. Individuals with this background should be able to attain the summits of all states. However, elevation KSE wasn’t considered and will become part of the experience when visiting western highpoints.

When considering an ascent of Denali, the climber’s toolbag must increase, including KSE such as: glacier travel and crevasse rescue, steep show and ice climbing, and elevation related medical problems. Another consideration is cold weather camping KSE. This could be one of the least favorite and more difficult activities to acquire, not all locations of the United States experience an extended, cold, snowy season. Two hundred forty two individuals (41%) indicated they did not have cold weather KSE. One hundred eighty individuals (31%) stated they had camped during winter between one and five times, whereas 161 club members (28%) stated they camped more than 5 times. The glaciers and slopes of North America’s tallest mountain aren’t the place to learn cold weather camping and travel KSE. However, due to the comforts of a heated home, fewer people tend to camp in cold and snowy conditions than during the warmer time of year. Additionally, a smaller number of people tend to participate in winter camping trips that last more than five nights with nightly temperatures that often plunge below zero fahrenheit. Extended camping KSE in subzero temperatures is critical when considering potential conditions that Denali offers the highpointer.

survey comments:

  • I’ve got 45 w/2 tries at Denali. At age 70, I don’t think I will ever complete but it has been fun.
  • Now it is ‘the journey,’ but for first 4 years it was ‘the summit.’ An 18-hour bivouac on Denali at 19,500′ will cure one of ‘the summit’ real quick!
  • Life in the United States during the 1990s has been characterized as fast paced. Some highpointers have also been fast paced, attempting to become a 48- or 50-state completer as rapidly as possible. I wondered if the the summit or the journey was more important while traveling the country attempting to attain his or her goal. Three hundred seven (53%) individuals indicated that the summit was of greater importance, while 222 people (38%) stated the journey had greater importance. Of equal importance wasn’t a survey category, however 54 (9%) members felt that the summit and journey are of equal importance was the appropriate answer. The following comments suggests some of differing views of club members.

summit comments:

  • I like them both, but if you’re pursuing highpoints, you can’t be satisfied with the journey alone.
  • While I enjoy the whole process of traveling to a highpoint, etc., and I am not in a rush to complete, the goal of the game is to get to the top.
  • I wouldn’t plan to go to some of these spots without a highpoint there.
  • Equal, but the trip is for the summit so really I guess it is the summit.

journey comments:

  • Highpointing is fun/great, but “we” must not become fixated on the goal, but the enjoyment of getting there and seeing the U.S.
  • The journey, it used to be “the summit” but now I am older and wiser.
  • Both are important, I am not fanatical enough to select the summit all by itself.

equal importance:

  • Hard to call; I guess 49% A, 51% B. In a way, B is more important. I you’re not having fun getting to and from the HP, what’s the point? However, after all the planning, money, time, travelling, etc., it can be very disappointing to not reach the summit.
  • Very equal. I love planning trips, but I do have a high desire to conquer summits buffered with the good sense to know when conditions are not favorable for safety, which is why I am still climbing today!

The growth of highpointing during the late 1990s has drawn many people to outdoor activities that they may never have otherwise attempted. Highpointers travel to locations that they may never have considered visiting, if highpointing hadn’t ‘forced them’ to visit those locations. Driving thousands of miles to visit the state summits may seem like a crazy pursuit to many Americans. Sometimes a drive of two to six hours might result in a ten minute walk to a less-than postcard perfect scenic vista, but the highpointer continues. Bug bites, scraps, cuts, blisters, sunburn, and thirst accumulate. Knees ache and the head pounds. Thunderstorms drench and darkness descends. The highpointer pushes on, hoping to attain the summit. With each new highpoint adventure, his/her knowledge, experience, and skills increases. Further planning also increases a person’s KSE. Soon, more challenging goals are set and preparations made; KSE builds. The occasional setback also increases a person’s KSE. Days blend into weeks, then months, and years. The highpoint total grows larger and the completion goal draws closer. Friends begin to accompany you on the trips and the highpoint visits become all the more memorable. You begin to teach other people the knowledge and skills needed to achieve the goal of visiting all of the state summits. My how time has passed by; how priorities in life have changed; how life seems a little more special, now that you have learned a little more about yourself and the numerous places that you have traveled to, in this grand land we call the United States of America.

survey comments:

  • I am 81 and have 20 hp’s. Wish I had known about HPing earlier.
  • Started at age 74, now 80. Have 14 HPs so far; looking forward to more HP climbs.
  • I started climbing at age 54; did highpoints during next 8 years (1971-1979). I am now almost 84.
  • Highpointing is a wonderful way to go places you probably wouldn’t go to and meet fun people on the mountain. I am a 69 year old woman celebrating my senior years. I summited Mt. Whitney last week. I love climbing and highpointing.
  • I wanted something that I, my wife, and 8 year old daughter could do together. So far we have been to 7 HP together.
  • Highpointing has been an extremely rewarding way to see our country. Although I’ve only been to 22 highpoints, I can’t wait to plan my next trip which is annually.
  • Highpointing is a unique motivator to get you out, get in shape, and see this whole beautiful country we live in. We have taken many wonderful trips with good friends because of this and hope to take many more.
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