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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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Carrie Sears Bell Taps Family Expertise to Become 15th Woman To Finish 48 States (on Gannett)

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

Carrie Bell on top of Gannett and “on top of the world” by finishing the 48 states.
“The biggest drawback [on Denali] is leaving my husband and two children for three weeks.”

I am writing to let you know that I reached the top of my 49th state high point, Wyoming’s Gannett Peak, on July 19, 2000. My husband, Moe Bell, who achieved his 50th on Denali in June 1999, accompanied me. At first, he wasn’t thrilled about doing Gannett a second time, but it turned out to be a wonderful trip.

We paid Ramona O’Neal to drive us across the Wind River Indian Reservation from Crowheart to Cold Springs (and actually her daughter, Emi, did the driving). Roads don’t get much bumpier than that one. From there, we backpacked 14 miles along the Ink Wells Trail and the Glacier Trail to the end of Floyd Wilson Meadow. On the first day, we saw a huge herd of elk at Scenic Pass (~11,000 feet) and spent the night at Echo Lake, where our bug netting came in handy.

The next day, we made some very difficult crossings at Klondike Creek and another creek near the end of the meadow. On sunny summer days, heavy runoff from the melting glaciers makes these creeks swollen and treacherous by afternoon. That night, we camped near the end of the Glacier Trail in a beautiful high meadow laced with little pools and streams. We saw marmots and deer nearby, but they obviously weren’t used to people and did not approach us.

Though we could have used a rest day, the clear weather convinced us to go for the summit on day three. We were off by 4:30 a.m. and had crossed the long boulder field and reached the bottom of the glacier by 6. We put on crampons, set up our rope, grabbed our ice axes and headed up the glacier. Fortunately, the snow was firm in the early morning, and the snow bridge was still intact. We moved upward at a steady pace and made the summit at 10:05 a.m.

We were the only group approaching from the north that day, but we encountered three parties that had come over the pass from Titcomb Basin. We spent little time at the summit because the snow was getting soft and sloppy under the warm sun. It was slippery going down, especially on the steepest slopes. We each lost our footing at least once, but self-arrest was pretty easy in the wet, heavy snow. We were back at camp by 2 p.m., tired but satisfied. I’d made an unsuccessful attempt on Gannett from Titcomb Basin in ‘98 (the snow bridge was gone), so our accomplishment was especially sweet for me.

We spent the fourth day resting and enjoying the scenery. We noticed microcosms of miniature wildflowers in nooks and crannies all around us. We took many photographs, but they couldn’t quite capture the beauty of the place. The next two days we hiked out, camping once more at Echo Lake, where an enormous bull moose came within 30 feet of our tent.
Now I have to decide whether to attempt Denali. The biggest drawback is leaving my husband and two children for three weeks. We’ll see.

[Ed. – By our records, Carrie is the 15th woman to visit the 48 state highpoints, and Carrie & Moe are the 10th couple to achieve that.]

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Steve Packer’s Ordeal Ends in Success With His 50th Highpoint on Wheeler Peak

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

New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak caps Steve Packer’s quest. Left to right: Steve Packer, Andy Brolin, and Steve’s wife, Karen.
“…it cost me nine of my fingers and toes, 12 surgeries, and 15 months out of work”

We got up at 4 AM. After hot coffee and a fortifying breakfast, we got an early start under a nearly full moon and a sky filled with stars. I love climbing at that time of morning. When all you can hear is the sound of your breathing and your heart beating strong in your chest, and you’re hiking with two of your closest climbing companions, along a mountain stream through a thick forest of aspens and pines, you realize that life just doesn’t get much better.

So it was, on September 16, 2000, as we started up the Bull-of-the-Woods route toward the summit of Wheeler Peak near Taos, New Mexico. With me were my wife Karen, and my climbing companion from many past adventures, Andy Brolin. I can’t imagine having a better climb for my 50th and final Highpoint: not too difficult… but not a drive-up, either.

As we reached the ridge near the abandoned mines on Frazer Mountain, we were greeted to a glorious blood-red sunrise. A little further along, we passed very close alongside ten bighorn sheep on our way toward La Cal Basin. As we approached the summit I felt like a horse headed for the barn: it was hard to hold me back as I neared the completion of my six-year and six-day odyssey. It was a wonderful feeling to finally reach my 50th summit at 13,661 feet above sea level, and realize that my quest was at last complete.

Highpointing has been an interesting process. A silly undertaking; some would say. The organization required, the countless hours flown, the thousands of miles driven. The greasy hamburgers, the stale trail mix, the gallons of coffee, the endless scenery, the heavenly sunsets. All of these are but components of this odd pursuit we call highpointing.

I chose it as a disciplined method of getting around to all the nooks and crannies of this beautiful country that we are so blessed to live in. And, oh, what glorious sights I did see! And the people I met along the way were so fascinating! Some became lifelong friends. One became my wife.

Where does one begin to describe the awesome majesty of these United States? The yellow aspens shimmering in the breeze along the way to King’s Peak; the vista of endless lakes and tarns as I belayed fellow climbers up the wall to Granite Peak; the exhausted tremor of my leg and arm muscles as I soloed that icy couloir toward Gannett Peak; the pyramid shaped shadow of Mount Hood, cast by a rising sun on the haze layer below; the spectacular panorama from Rainier’s summit after three attempts to scale that behemoth; Katahdin and Mt. Marcy in the rainbow colors of autumn in New England; the stark desolation of Mount Whitney, contrast against the verdant splendor of Sequoia National Forest below and to the west.

And then, of course, there was Denali. So awesome. So powerful. So majestic. The Weathermaker. So large that it creates its own micrometeorology of high and low-pressure systems, hurricane force winds, cap clouds and bitter cold temperatures. It would change my life.

After summiting on a bright, beautiful, sunny afternoon in 1997 with warm temperatures, and a light breeze out of the north, the wind suddenly swung 180 degrees to the south, increased to gale force within minutes, and the temperature plummeted.

Visibility went to zip. Later we started getting blown off our feet. Before the end of that fateful day, we would be in a desperate fight for our lives; one that not every climber would survive. The night that followed in the igloo we constructed at 19,200 feet was the longest one that I ever hope to suffer through. To everyone’s surprise, we got ourselves down to High Camp the next afternoon, and the bottom line is, we survived—albeit with frostbite.

But it cost me nine of my fingers and toes, 12 surgeries, and 15 months out of work, trying to fight off the fear that I would never be able to fly jets again. As one of my guides wrote on a card that he sent to me in the hospital, “the hardest climbs are out of the mountains.”

So it turned out to be. My favorite climbing quotation has always been Hillary’s comment that “it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” One of the happiest moments of my life was when the FAA certified me to climb back into the cockpit and fly 737’s again.

It has been a long, difficult, painful struggle, but not without its rewards. Every cloud really does have a silver lining. On the afternoon before I had my fingers and toes amputated, I was wheeled down to the hospital’s therapy department, and met with the lady who was to become, as James Brady used to say, my “Physical Terrorist.”

Despite the less than cheery circumstances, I was instantly attracted by her charm, humor and grace (not to mention she was really cute!). I flirted with her through weeks and months of painful therapy, but she kept insisting that she could not, and would not, date one of her patients. So I did the only logical thing: I fired her.

She thought I was joking, but I told her I was dead serious about seeing her socially. Six months later, she finally agreed to go out with me. We later built a house together and got married, and are living happily ever after, hiking and climbing (and scuba diving) whenever we can.

It was absolutely the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. She is now a member of the Highpointers Club, and has climbed five significant peaks with me (NV, HI, ID, CO, NM). {You should have seen her scramble, without hesitation, across Chicken-Out Ridge, and then lead to the top of Borah!}

What’s next? We’d love to climb the Matterhorn, and perhaps some other juicy peaks, and then hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada. To my Denali climbing bud-dies, Andy Brolin, Chuck Bonning, & Don Mercer, you have my everlasting thanks, respect and admiration.

A guy couldn’t ask for any better mountaineers to be tied into a rope with, when the proverbial stuff hits the fan. To my wife Karen, who got my stiff stubs to move again, got me back into the cockpit, and melted my frozen heart, you will always have my never-ending love and limitless gratitude. To my fellow Club Members, I urge you to use caution, because even with the best of preparation, equipment, guides, training, planning and conditioning, things still can, and occasionally do, go wrong. I wish you all only the finest of climbing adventures and memorable mountaineering experiences.


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Greg Griffith Returns to Rhode Island for #50

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

On top of Rainier (L to R) Kurt Mitchler, Greg Griffith with ice ax high, Tom Thomas, Jim Retemeyer, John Mitchler, Jim Sartain, Richard Dare.
“It all started after having received Don Holmes book as “recuperative reading” material following a May 1994 paragliding accident that resulted in a broken back.”

I began my highpointing quest on Guadalupe Peak in October 1994 and completed on the most elusive of summits (Jerimoth!) on September 3, 2000.

It all started after having received Don Holmes book as “recuperative reading” material following a May 1994 paragliding accident that resulted in a broken back.

I almost immediately seized upon the idea of utilizing High-pointing as a method of incrementally rehabilitating, starting out with shorter approaches/minimal elevation gains etc. and then eventually progressing onward and upward to higher and harder highpoints.

I felt then that the clearly defined goal of the “50” in combination with the escalating degree of difficulty would be rewards in them-selves – little did I realize that the value and rewards of actually standing on the highpoint pale in comparison to the experience of having gotten there amidst the myriad and diverse periphery of the journey. After all — as a wise man once said, “It is better to journey than to arrive.”

Now that this journey is “complete” and the last highpoint has been checked off this list I would like to continue a tradition in completion summaries by listing a few superlatives and personal favorites etc. from along the way.

DENALI – challenge, scenery, conti-nental summit, “expedition feel”
RAINIER – super team, great weather, 1:00 a.m. start, star/meteor views
SUNFLOWER – expansive views, solitude, well maintained site/log
GRANITE – wilderness, mtn. goats in camp, summit topography, route
MARCY – fall foliage, cobalt blue sky, nice approach hike, views

BLACK / WOODALL – heard that they were better now, but were quite littered when I was there/picked up trash

BORAH – don’t understand division of opinion on the relative difficulty of “Chicken-out Ridge”?

KATAHDIN – weather & conditions of a much higher peak at times

I had near perfect weather (within reason) except DENALI – 5 days stuck at 17,200’ camp prior to summit day – almost 2 days after summit day
MT. ROGERS – super intense hail, lightning, and thunderstorm
JERIMOTH – light drizzle

DENALI – Talkeetna Roadhouse cin-namon rolls – mmmm
MANSFIELID – obligatory stop at Ben & Jerry factory, maple syrup
GRANITE – steaks at the Grizzly Bar

Brooke Bullinger – best buddy & hik-ing partner, originally gave me the Holmes book, 41 highpoints together
Jack Longacre – for starting it all
Stefan Schlett – from Germany, very strong & experienced partner on Denali, 19 World Highpoints
John & Kurt Mitchler, Tom Thomas, Richard Dare, Jim Retemeyer, Jim Sartain, Dave Wickersham – for letting me join their team at the last minute for a picture perfect 2 days on Mt.Rainier
All The Private Landowners – for allowing access to their property!

“What’s next?” is the logical question that you most often hear from the intelligent, inquisitive, goal ori-ented, demographic known as “Highpointers.”

I will probably try to add to my international (7) & continental (3) lists while simultaneously trying not to neglect my other (too many!) hobbies.

Last but certainly not least I will endeavor to continue inching my way up the master list under the heading “Most fun had by individual in lifetime!”

[Ed. – Of Greg’s final highpoint on Jerimoth Hill, Open Access Date Host Bill Stempek writes, “By Club standards, Greg had 50 HPs in the bag. The Jackson Hole resident (formerly from NC) had volunteered to assist smoke eaters out West when a lull in the forest fires came. He decided that the highway sign solution wasn’t quite fulfilling his gut 50. Solution? Plane to Boston, night in Providence, and on hand at Jerimoth Hill Rock for the Labor Day 2000 festivities. And festive it was with a true 50 hosting (hey, I mostly just introduced him and stepped aside). He fielded questions from everyone and was gracious and accommodating (even when the same question came up 15 times in a row!). Greg spent hours with the young and old alike, but it was really great to see the kids oogling the “guy that touched them all!”]

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Richard White Saw ‘Em and Did ‘Em All 50!

[Published in Apex to Zenith #50 – Third Quarter 2000]

Richard White on Elbert.
Number done solo: 47, all but Denali, Rainier, and Hood.

Multiple Attempts: Driskill (2) scary lightning storm…Boundary (2) couldn’t find trail head

Ever since I was young, I have wanted to explore the United States. I can’t think of a better way to do that than to see each state from its highest point. Many thanks to my climbing partners. Glenn “Blaze” “Gumby” Van Viler on Denali. Third time’s a charm! It was great to witness your 50th HP. And Scott Hylm (not a HPer) on Rainier for their companionship on the climbs that I think are too risky to climb solo. I want to thank my friends and family for their support and encouragement. Also, thanks to Paul Zumwalt for his informative guidebook.

Richard’s Highpoint Index:

  • Age: 34
  • Residence: Portland, OR
  • Occupations: Attorney, College Instructor, Ski Coach, and Photographer
  • Climbing Club: Mazamas
  • First HP: Mount Hood, May 21, 1995
  • 50th HP: Mount Rainier, July 21, 2000
  • Most difficult (in order): Denali, Gannett, Granite, Rainier and Borah
  • Easiest: Florida, Delaware, and New Jersey
  • Most ascents: Mt Hood (4), and multilple ski descents on Mt Washington (Tuckerman’s Ravine) although only one summit
  • Multiple attempts: Rainier (3) multiple difficulties, Boundary (2) couldn’t find the trailhead, Wheeler (2) bad weather, Driskell (2) scary lightning storm, Rhode Island (2) unfriendly locals, and Katahdin (2) not open early season
  • Number done solo: 47, all but DenaIi, Rainier, and Hood
  • Winter ascents (excluding walk-ups): Wheeler and Mauna Kea
  • Most beautiful: Gannett, Whitney, Denali, Katahdin, and Hamey
  • Most Disappointing: Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Kentucky
  • Most pleasant walk-ups: Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas
  • Future goals: Finish visiting all the US National Parks and Monuments, continue exploring the US and other countries of the world.
  • Mottos to highpoint by: “the summit is optional, getting down is manda­tory” (credit Ed Viesturs) and “always leave the place cleaner than when you found it” (my parents and others)
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Dennis Stewart Finishes at the Hawaii Convention

[Published in Apex to Zenith #50 – Third Quarter 2000]

Dennis Stewart on Mount Hood.
I am only 4 states away from doing them [48 states] a third time!
I would scan the horizon from my Rand-McNally Road Atlas in an attempt to locate that tiny red square labeled “State High Point” on the map


…like all highpointers I have many lists and goals to complete. I am continually amazed at this characteristic found in all members of the Club.

I climbed my first state highpoint as a child on a family vacation in the early 1960’s. It would not be until nearly 30 years later, when I was actively seeking state highpoints, that I would realize I had climbed Clingman’s Dome unforgettable spiral summit tower before.

By this time, I was 3 years into my highpointing pursuit, which began in 1986.

The birth of my highpointing goal grew from several western U.S. vacations as I would scan the horizon from my Rand-McNally Road Atlas in an attempt to locate that tiny red square labeled “State High Point” on the map. I never heard of the Highpointers Club, but I developed an obsession to conquer all of these points, even though my level of experience had only been day hikes and non-technical climbs in various national parks.

I naively thought that my idea was original, so I did research for a future book to be titled “48 Places to Get High.” I was half finished with this project when I discovered the Highpointers Club and both Paul Zumwalt’s and Don Holmes’s excellent guide books. Discouraged that my idea was far from unique and predicting the market would be overly flooded with 3 guidebooks on the same topic, I placed my unfinished manuscript in a box in a closet where it still sits to this day.

My enthusiasm to reach my highpointing goal was unaffected, however, and I soon found myself on the slopes of Gannett Peak. My alpine climbing inexperience soon found me hiking the 20 miles back to my car as wisdom prevailed and my ill-preparation lead me to join the Kansas City Climbing Club to learn basic technical climbing skills.

Within 2 years I was standing on the summit ot; Gannett Peak on July 14, 1990 (my 48th state highpoint!) wondering why this mountain caused me so much difficulty the first time.

I placed Alaska and Hawaii on hold waiting for the right opportunity, but I continued to revisit many state highpoints on trips with friends and family. In July of 1991, Pete Aliard, Jim Grace, ShaUn Lacer, David Sandwar and I set the speed record for doing all the 48 contiguous state highpoints (30 days, 10 hrs, 52 mins.). This allowed me to become only the second person to do ail 48 state highpoints twice. Presently, I am only 4 states away from doing them a third time!

The summer of 2000 found me busy with the final two. I was fortunate to be asked to join a very competent 4 man team which successfully conquered Denali on June 23 and my 50th was at the Highpointer Convention with the Sea to Summit Climb of Mauna Kea.

My future plans are too numerous to mention, but like all highpointers I have many lists and goals to complete. I am continually amazed at this characteristic found in all members of the Club. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the basic raw material that has sent early explorers across uncharted waters and launched ships into space.

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D. Kahan Klimbs Them All

[Published in Apex to Zenith #50 – Third Quarter 2000]

First was Denali in April of ’88 (training for Everest). Did not know of the high points at that time. Later next year someone asked me about the HP’s. I bought a couple of books and began the next year with OK & KS. Was in no hurry to complete the points – – – I drove to every high point or trailhead except Alaska, Hawaii, & Oregon using mostly back roads. My intent was to see the country from a different point. It took two tries on Washington and Montana but all others the first time. I love the freedom of the hills.

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Steve and Liz Fellstrom Finish 50 Together

[Published in Apex to Zenith #50 – Third Quarter 2000]

Liz and Steve Fellstrom walk hand in hand to the Mauna Kea Summit
Liz and I, grandparents of four with a fifth due shortly, started our highpointing adventure in 1994.

Liz and I, grandparents of four with a fifth due shortly, started our highpointing adventure in 1994, when, as members of the Seattle Mountaineers, I convinced her to take the Seattle Mountaineers basic climbing course.
Continue reading Steve and Liz Fellstrom Finish 50 Together

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Dale Stutsman is First of Five to Finish During Hawaii Convention

[Published in Apex to Zenith #50 – Third Quarter 2000]

Dale Stutesman and son Jeremy join friends Debbie & John Lindermuth on Brasstown Bald.
It took me just over 17 years to complete all 50 highpoints, and over 18 years to find my soul mate.

Highlight: Going on a 14,000-mile, 53-day, 17-state highpoint road trip.

What a long wonderful journey it has been. When I reached the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, with my wife to be on July 20, 2000, at 9:50 a.m., I completed my quest to stand on the highest point in all 50 states. This could only be surpassed by my 51st high-point. The next evening I married my soul mate, Marilyn at the Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast. I stood again on the summit of Manna Kea on July 28, 2000, with the Highpointers Convention folks.
Continue reading Dale Stutsman is First of Five to Finish During Hawaii Convention

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Henri Butler Endures A Rollercoaster Journey for 50

[Published in Apex to Zenith #50 – Third Quarter 2000]

Henri Butler on Mauna Kea
Chris & I decided it would be a respectful gesture to summit [Jerimoth] on 9-26-97, the day our dad passed away.  We sat on the rocks talking and remembering.


The joy of the accomplishment [of McKinley] mixed with the harsh tragedy of seeing the dead bodies of acquaintances flown off the mountain was an emotional roller coaster.

I completed the 48 contiguous states on 7-17-00 atop Granite Peak. Ten days later at the convention, with a lot of support (thanks everyone) I became a completer.
Continue reading Henri Butler Endures A Rollercoaster Journey for 50