Mike Clemens Becomes First to Complete 50 States Solo

[Published in Apex to Zenith #54 – Third Quarter 2001]

With a solo ascent of Mt. McKinley in May/June 2001, Mike Clemens becomes the first person to complete the 50 highpoints solo!

Mike Clemens beside his RV showing his 50 state highpoint map.

A couple of issues ago, I sent in a write-up on my 48 completion, since I was thwarted (again) on Denali in 2000. This had been my second attempt (my first with Mountain Trip in ‘98) and I just wasn’t in climbing shape because of a bone spur in my foot. This year I decided I would give it a third shot, but do it my own way, which is solo. I’d climbed the other 49 HPTS solo and figured that after two previous Denali trips, I was ready for the “big one” to celebrate my 54th birthday.

Highlights of the trip: finding a little dead bird inside my boot stowed in the tent vestibule the second morning, being snowed in at 11,000’ camp for three days, spending a -30 degree night at Windy Corner, summit-ting at 4 am in clear windless weather, and pitching my tent in an inch of water on the way out at 8000 feet due to the big thaw this year.

Many, many new friends were made this trip, especially in the park service. They were absolutely wonderful: keeping me updated on weather, giving me advice on climbing conditions, and tracking my progress up the mountain. The Finnish team of 35 were a joy to behold as they leapfrogged around me making single carries to 11,000 feet. I was very saddened to see my new friends, the Texas Green Team, have to turn around because of sickness and minor frostbite.

Everybody asks, “What was your favorite?” and I will always say, ALL OF THEM! Each one is different and unique and poses it’s own set of problems and enjoyment. My first two years of HPing were done in a 35ft RV with-out a tow car, so getting that monster in some trailheads was 90% of the challenge. Driving standouts include: Mt. Frizzel, Sassafrass Mtn, Hamey Peak, Black Mtn, and Spruce Knob

Then, after 2 years and 35 HPTS I figured I’d need a tow car to get to some out-of-the-way spots, so I picked up a repo’ed ‘94 Chevy Cavailier and used it for Boundary Peak as its first test. Except for having to move the big rocks, to keep from dragging, it worked great and I towed it for the remainder of my climbs, behind my RV. I bought my 1990 Silver Eagle with 4000 miles on it in 1994 and put 66,000 miles on it through the summer of 2000, most of it highpointing and visiting all 48 lower states. Trust me on one thing, if you drive an RV to highpoints, you WILL become a good mechanic and home repair person.

My most memorable climb, both times, was Kings Peak in Utah. The scenery, the climbs, the whole experience was absolutely wonderful. My solo climb in 1996 was great, but my 1999 with my wife Linda, daughter Heather, and son Mac was fantastic. Sharing the great outdoors with my family is a memory I will always treasure, especially the part where the moose ran through our campsite at suppertime.

What will I do now? Well, believe it or not, I’m back to Denali in 2002 for a two-fold reason. First, when my 6 year old son started asking to highpoint in 1995, I told him I’d take him, as long as I had already climbed the ones he wanted to climb. So, as you’ve already probably guessed, all he needs now is Denali for his 50 sweep, since he and I climbed Rainier and Hood in June after my Alaska trip. And yes to the second reason – if we summit Denali in 2002, it will be my second time to the top of each HP peak.

After that, then I’m going to try something much more sedate—the Appalachian Trail in 2003!! Senior years and senior discounts are without a doubt – the BEST.

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