Whit Rambach Climbs All 50 Highpoints Twice!

Whit Rambach, Chris Califoux and Rick Moore on Gannett Peak

What a long, strange trip it’s been. In 1992, a small group of friends piled into an even smaller Cessna and flew to Shasta. The next few days were a slice of heaven as we climbed the daunting peak. That was both my first l4er and first crampon experience. Boy, did I come down with a bad case of summit fever! Being high in the mountains felt as natural as breathing. Before gaining the summit, we were already planning the next logical ascents, Whitney and Rainier.

Within a month, I was driving between Shreveport and Monroe on a business trip in Louisiana. I read “Driskill Mountain Highest Point in Louisiana” on the map, and decided to check it out. After all, this could be my first of three state highpoints. My archaic map proved useless as I approached the general area, so I began knocking on doors in the middle of rural Louisiana to get directions to this 535 foot monolith. Finally, I parked the car and made my way along a ridge to a rock cairn. My first state highpoint, or so I thought.

The following month, we took the same Cessna across the Sierra to Lone Pine on a quest to hike Whitney. During our hike we decided to ascend the more challenging mountaineers route. We soon discovered we were ill-prepared for such an attempt. Feeling defeated, we descended the mountain.

A month later, I was climbing up Rainier with RMI. When we arrived at the south rim of the summit crater, one of the guides pronounced, “Congratulations, you made it!” As I looked over my shoulder, it was clear there was a higher point to the northwest. I told my guide there was no way I was going down without the true summit. Surprisingly, out of the 20 climbers only three elected to make the final journey across the crater to the summit. Without a doubt, I was hooked. Highpoint two, or so I thought.

In 1993, 1 went on a three day backpack along the PCT in the south Sierra. Along the way, I scrambled off trail to the summit of an obscure mountain, Skinner Peak. Rummaging through the coffee can register, I found the business card of Don Holmes, Highpointers Club member.

I had no idea such a club existed. Without hesitation and with much enthusiasm, I joined the Club. When Don’s book arrived, I immediately turned to Driskill to confirm my first highpoint. Shocked, I realized I had stood on a false summit. Suddenly, Rainier was my first and only. But now, I was on a clear mission to climb the 50 state highpoints.

Later that summer, I backpacked the 225 mile John Muir Trail, from Yosemite Valley to Whitney. Redemption felt sweet atop highpoint two. Feeling possessed, I jumped across Owens Valley and climbed Boundary the following day for number three. The next week, just prior to the South Dakota convention, I climbed seven more along the high plains, including Elbert and Wheeler.

Prior to JMT, I received my first highpointer newsletter and discovered the Fifty Peaks Project. The organizer and I met at the convention and discussed the possibility of my joining the team. This would be a perfect opportunity to combine my interest in climbing the 50 highpoints, particularly in record time, with such a fantastic cause. Thanks to years of backpacking and wilderness experience, I was offered a guide position on the Fifty Peaks Project, scheduled to depart April, 1994.

When April arrived, the trip was a go, but the scenario had changed. The Fifty Peaks Project never materialized, so a breakaway group emerged, dubbed the Summit America Expedition.

Three weeks and 33 eastern highpoints later, we were on the flanks of North America’s highest. A decision was made to restart the clock on the summit of Denali. Therefore. all 33 states were retraced enroute to the 50th highpoint, Hawaii. The record was set 67 days after standing at 20,320′. The bigger picture showed 83 state highpoints in 104 days. Add 5 more for 88 in less than two years.

1995 proved to be a busy year. Adrian Crane and I climbed Denali again, this time with Rick Moore for state highpoint 89.

I abandoned thoughts of a twopeat for my new obsession with adventure racing. I competed in the inaugural EcoChallenge in Utah, ESPN Extreme Gaines EcoChallenge in New England, and Raid Gauloises in Argentina. After running 14 marathons, including Boston and Pikes Peak, I competed in the 150 mile Badwater footrace from Death Valley to Whitney. Highpointing had clearly taken a back seat and would continue to do so for the next three years.

In 1998, my wife, Darcey, and I climbed Shasta and Lassen. Spontaneously, we zipped up to Hood for highpoint 90. I again became captivated with the twopeat notion, but it was not to be that year.

I decided I would finally complete the 100 state highpoints quest in 1999. In July, I spent three days in Hawaii, virtually all above 9,000′ with freezing temperatures and winds. I hiked Mauna Kea from the visitor’s center twice, then went across the saddle to hike Mauna Loa. A few days later, Darcey and I hiked 5 New England highpoints in 5 days, including Katahdin, Washington Mansfield, and Marcy. Highpoint 96

Then came the final chapter. I met Rick Moore and Chris Chalifoux in Salt Lake City. On our way to Borah, we were almost sucked into monstrous dust devils the size of mature Kansas tornadoes. With success on Borah, we made our way to! Montana.

On the approach to Granite, we were hammered by a thunderstorm around Dewdrop Lakes and were forced to make camp. With a predawn start, the day proved to be a spectacular, but long, 17 hour jaunt. After inhaling pizza after pizza at a smoky bar in Red Lodge, we made our way south through Yellowstone, past the Tetons, to Wyoming and Gannett.

We were just a few miles shy of our basecamp at Upper Titcomb Lake, when we were slammed by yet another thunderstorm. The following day, we made our way to Dinwoody Pass for a summit bid, but the foul weather got the best of us ‘ and we retreated back to camp. Day three included a predawn start. The weather appeared favorable, so we briskly made our way toward Gannett on a long and challenging day.

The fourth day, we hiked out and immediately headed for Utah. Kings was to be our fourth and final peak of the journey. Once again, a predawn start was in order, this time under stormy skies. Approaching the upper flanks of the mountain, I felt as though we were on Washington, with gale-force winds roaring like a freight train, and threatening clouds sailing over the summit peak with amazing power and velocity. After four challenging mountains in only eight days, I was a happy camper.

At 10: 10 a.m., August 31, 1999, I stood upon the summit of Kings Peak. State Highpoint 100. Indeed, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

I dedicate my efforts to the memory of Frank Wells, Seven Summits pioneer, and Alex Lowe, perhaps the greatest climber ever.

Rick Moore adds: “On Denali summit day, Whit went on to solo the North Peak (may be a first), and on Granite I forgot the fuel so we had to eat instant potatoes mixed with cold water, Whit’s Concoction. On his final peak, Kings, we got separated and Whit went the whole 18 hour day without food. But of course if you are an animal like Whit, these are minor details.”

[Ed: Whit and Todd Huston still hold the record time for standing on all 50 state highpoints; 66 days, 21 hours, and 47 minutes. See Apex to Zenith #27 – Fourth Quarter 1994 for the original writeup and a map showing his route. Whit & Rick invite HP’ers to a Vinson expedition in 2001.]

David Pomeroy – 47th person to complete the 50 state highpoints

[Ed: The information provided below is a reprint of an article that appeared in Apex to Zenith #31 – Fourth Quarter 1995.]

I am an average guy with two jobs and a family who committed to the unlikely task of reaching all 50 state summits, plus Washington, D.C., within two years from the start. Later I decided it sounded catchier to restate my goal as Fifty peaks in a hundred weeks! (and it was only 4 weeks less) I reached the summit of Mt. Rainier, my 50th highpoint, on September 3, 1995. It took me two tries to make this one. All in all, I completed my 50 state goal in 92 weeks, 1 day, 23 hours, and 45 minutes.

Why did I become a highpointer? I have always loved to travel and explore. In college, I spent summers hitchhiking, solo, across the U.S. and later, Europe. Although I traveled on my own, I was seldom alone, and I got to know the people in the places I went. I like this, and highpointing gives me a reason to travel and meet people. Now add to this the rugged granite beauty of the Rocky Mountains; or the hazy green-blue ridges fading to the horizon in the Great Smoky Mountains; and the crisp thin air, chilled by windswept glaciers atop Gannett Peak, and you have the rest of the reason I love highpointing.

Why a hundred weeks? I admit this seems puzzling when you consider that I don t have a lot of free time. I work 40-50 hours a week as a full time economist in Alexandria VA. I teach two economics courses in the evenings at Marymount University. Problems getting time off of work? Yes, Sometimes facing the boss was tougher than climbing the peaks! Using every scrap of vacation time, weekends, and planning climbs before and after business trips, I often had to drive hundreds of miles to reach different states. Problems at home? At first, my wife Caren didn’t understand why I wanted to make trips away from home, later my staunchest supporter, she now jokes her goal is to reach the top floor in the highest shopping mall in each of the 50 United States. My daughters, Erin (10) and Robin (7), whose combined weight is less than my winter backpack, each have rock collections retrieved from the highest peaks, but they, too, missed Daddy when business trips got extended by a few days. I don t fool myself for one minute; without support of my team at basecamp, none of my highpoints would have been possible.

I loved the planning, days and weeks spent getting ready, reading guidebooks, phoning ahead for road and trail conditions, and studying the USGS topo maps. All those travel arrangements, trying to dovetail highpoint excursions with business trips and family vacations, airline and rental car reservations, estimating distances and times. Then there s the driving, always the driving, often hundreds of miles, often over a thousand miles in a single multi-state trip, spanning distances that would define whole countries in other continents!

Most Difficult: Winter attempt of Mt. Rainier, WA (Mar 95). Most Beautiful: glacier blue icefalls on Mt. McKinley, AK (May 95) & yellow aspens shimmering against blue sky at Henry’s Fork Basin, Kings Peak, UT (Sep 94). Furthest drive: 1,718 miles in 50 hours, starting and ending in Atlanta, I made AL, MS, AR, LA, & FL (Oct 94). Most frustrating: roaming dead end logging roads at dusk, tramping in red Louisiana mud looking for Driskill Mt. (Oct 94) Ones that took 2 tries (MA, PA, CT, VT, AZ, WA–all winter attempts on 1st try). I climbed NH’s Mt. Washington, 3 times, including two climbs in February to celebrate Washington s birthday! Most jet lag: I flew from my home in Virginia to Portland, Oregon, climbed Mt Hood and flew home in less than 36 hours! (Jul 95) Naughtiest highpoint: narrowly escaped irate landowner in RI’s Jeromoth Hill (Jul 94). Greatest fear of falling: ID’s Borah Peak and WY’s Gannett Peak (Jul 95). Lifelong highpointer friends met along the way: Don Mercer, Steve Packer, Andy Brolin, Chuck and Bill Bonning, Tom Krebsbach.

Elmer F. Michaud – 2nd completer of the 50 state highpoints

[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.

John Vincent Hoeman – 1st 50 state highpoint completer

[Ed: The information provided below is a reprint of an article that appeared in Apex to Zenith #18 – Third Quarter 1992. 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 Vin Hoeman among others.]

One of America’s foremost mountaineers, Anchorage, Alaska’s Vin Hoeman was born on September 2, 1936. He was killed in an avalanche on the slopes of Nepal’s Dhaulagiri (at 26,795 feet it is the world’s sixth highest peak) on April 28, 1969 at age 32. See Mountain of Storms by Andrew Havard and Todd Thompson. His widow, Dr. Grace J. Hoeman, also an outstanding mountaineer, was herself killed in an avalanche in Alaska in 1971. It is widely conceded that Vin was the first person to stand atop the highpoint of each of the fifty states. However, because of their deaths, it is difficult to confirm all the details of the accomplishment.

According to a 1970 list compiled by Rowland Stebbins, Hoeman was the eighth person to climb the 48, the second to climb 49, and of course the first to climb fifty. Stebbins thought Hoeman finished the 48 in 1966 and fifty on July 1, 1966; he did not indicate if Vin finished the fifty on one of the lower 48, but we know from other sources that he did not finish in Alaska on that date. In 1970 Stebbins wrote to Grace Hoeman that Vin was the second person to reach “all 49 state summits”. This might imply that Hoeman climbed all but Hawaii before its admission as the the fiftieth state 8 1/2 months after Alaska in 1959. This might further imply that his fiftieth, climbed in 1956 was Hawaii. Such implications are uncertain. However, we know that he did not climb McKinley as early as 1959.

Hoeman led the first east-west traverse of Mount McKinley reaching the summit on July 19, 1963. He climbed it again via the West Buttress on August 27, 1967. This information comes from Bradford Washburn’s booklet, A Tourist Guide to Mount McKinley, which, among other useful information, lists the first hundred ascents of Denali from 1913 to 1972.

Since Hoeman’s death, Iowa and Michigan have been resurveyed and their highpoints redesignated by USGS. This illustrates one of the conceptual issues to be addressed by any definition of the feat of attaining the fifty highpoints. By current reckoning, Hoeman missed two of the points now thought to be highpoints. But when he was climbing he had no reason to visit the points now thought to be highpoints. In the case of Hoeman, who was young and skilled, and these states, the highpoints of which are not difficult, there can be no doubt that he could have and would have reached them if he had known enough to try. Accordingly, some have suggested that the definition of a highpointer should be someone who has stood on the fifty highpoints as defined by USGS as of the date that he or she has reached his or her fiftieth.