Mike Clemens Is Flying High After Finish the 48!

[Published in Apex to Zenith #51 – Fourth Quarter 2000]

Mike Clemens on Hood with Rainier and Adams on the horizon.

Highlight on Mount Mitchell: “going for an evening stroll, and stumbling on a moonshiner’s camp in the woods.”

Okay, I’ve put this off long enough, hoping to snag Denali for a 50 sweep, but it wasn’t to be this year, so, here’s a 48 writeup.

I retired as a navy pilot, after 28 years of service, in late 1994, and was trying to see where I could travel in retirement with my trusty Rand-McNally atlas.

Had been up and down both coasts, with the Navy, but never really saw the heart of our fine country. Then I spied the little black triangle in each state and that piqued my interest. Previously, having been stationed in Hawaii for 9 years, I had hiked to the top of the big island, Maui, Molakai, Lanai, Kauai, and Oahu. (Ohau can’t be reached unless you’re in the military, have a special clearance, and know where to go through the cane fields). Realizing I had stood on the HP of Hawaii in 1984, my “unique” quest was on.

Using only my RM maps I snagged TN, IA, SD, NE, OK, AR, and MO. On 26Aug95, I located Driskill Mtn in LA, and found, in the magazine box, one photocopied page out of a book called Highpoints of the United States. A quick visit to my local library illuminated the fact there are lots of idiots just like me. Off I went in earnest, now armed with “real” directions.

Just before retiring, I had bought a 35 ft RV and I have taken it places no SUV would dare to go. Examples: state line parking “slot” (36 ft long) between MA and CT to climb Mt Frissell, the stone parking area at Sassafras Mtn, and the middle of the pasture at the tri-corner marker for CO, WY, and NE. (all that in a forthcoming book though—RVing to the hpts).

Highlights of my climbs:
* Traversing Katahdin via Katahdin Streams campground, Knife Edge and Roaring Brook campground.
* Parking for the night on the Blue Ridge Parkway after climbing Mt Mitchell, going for an evening stroll, and stumbling on a moonshiner’s camp in the woods.
* Making new friends with a group of Mazamas at Hood, summitting solo, but finding out the Mazamas were caught in an avalanche on their route.
* Standing in the middle of lacal basin on June 8 after climbing up the Bull-of-the-Woods route and being caught in the middle of a whiteout, turning around, and trudging out, only to return the next day and summit, without a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky.
* Standing on the summit of Mt Rainier, -1 degrees, 40 knots of breeze, and snowing like crazy, but grinning so big I was choking on snowflakes. Then the next day, on the way down, meeting a guy two thirds the way up the Muir snowfield wearing a sweater, shorts, and sandals (nothing else) looking for directions to the hut and the summit!! Took 15 minutes to convince him down was better than up, especially since his 62 year old dad was about a half mile behind him. (some folks remind me of the mule and 2 x 4 story)

To date, I’ve tried Denali twice—pulled a groin muscle low on the gla-cier in ‘98 and in ‘00, developed a heel spur in Feb and just wasn’t able to get in good enough shape to keep up with my two pardners. Hopefully the third time will be the charm.

Wouldn’t be a bad birthday present to stand on the top of North America and celebrate #54. When I started this “quest”, at age 47, I had no experience whatsoever (except dayhikes), no gear (except tennis shoes), never camped out (unless military survival training counts) and knew no one who did this kind of stuff. So I made a few rules which I live by:

  1. Be safe and don’t take any unnecessary chances.
  2. If it becomes uncomfortable, turn around and come back at a later time.
  3. Read everything I can find on climbing, hiking, camping, etc and talk to other people I meet on the trail and pick their brains.
  4. Enjoy myself and explore the great country of ours.

Now a lot of folks don’t like solo climbing, but for me, it has been really great. Nobody to argue with, decisions on route choice require only one vote, and the food choices always make my whole group happy. Seriously though, I fully understand solo climbing is not the safest way to go, but for me, it works and as long as I don’t take any chances, I’m happy. This coming May I’m off to Denali once again, and with a lot of luck and good weather, I’ll be owing another writeup in the fall. After that, it’s up Hood and Rainier, again, with my son for #48 & 49 on my second go-around.

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