Interview with John Mitchler and Dave Covill

[Published in Apex to Zenith #55 – Fourth Quarter 2001]
By: Roger Rowlett

It’s hard to imagine what the Club would be like without the efforts of John Mitchler and Dave Covill. Just take a look at their contributions:

  • Since the 4th quarter of 1998 they have been editing, publishing and distributing the newsletter.
  • They have written a Guidebook to the Highest Points of Colorado Counties.
  • The Club phone numbers and mail are referred to John’s home in Golden.
  • Dave turned lemons into lemonade by negotiating a deal to permit sanctioned visits to the actual highpoint on Jerimoth Hill. These visits have proven popular to both highpointers and the owners and have become a defacto club convention.
  • Dave and his wife Beckie organized the hugely popular 2000 convention on Mauna Kea.
  • Both John and Dave are quite active on the Club’s Board of Directors often filling in voids and always shaping the future of the Club.

It’s little wonder that John and Dave were voted to receive the Club’s Vin Hoeman which was presented at the Maryland Convention.

The story of how John and Dave wound up being so active is quite compelling and an inspiration for the old adage that you get out of something what you put into it.

John grew up in the Midwest where his dad (who attended the Maryland convention) was a state senator and one of his high school teachers is now House Speaker —– Hasert. He studied geology, got an MBA and wound up in Colorado.

Dave grew up near the ocean on Cape Cod in New Bedford, Massachusetts (where his family still lives “within 10 miles of each other”), studied a geology, got an MBA and wound up in Colorado.

Neither had much publishing experience (although John did co-author “Blasting Practices to Improve Dragline Efficiency”).

Then came that eventful potluck that John threw in 1994. He didn’t know other highpointers and took the Highpointers Club roster and invited everybody in the Denver metro area. Dave showed up and the rest is highpointing history.

I had a telephone conference in late November. My original story was 18 pages long and it still only scratched the surface. Here’s the “abbreviated” Q&A:

How did you get started highpointing?

John Mitchler:

Back in Champaign, Illinois, in the 1970s I found a copy of Frank Ashley’s guidebook. It seemed like a lot of interesting places. I had no intentions of completing the list because the monster peaks out West just seemed so far out of reach for my skill. I just wanted to see how many I could visit.

My first highpoint was Harney Peak. I was going west to geology camp and it was on the route. I didn’t climb any other big mountains then though. When I was at the Geology Camp I had a choice between going to a rodeo or climbing Cloud Peak [Wyoming] (?). I chose the rodeo. However, when the group that climbed Cloud Peak came back, it sounded like they had a lot of fun. One of the women didn’t have sunglasses and was snowblind for two days, but it still sounded like a good time. Several years later I went back.

If I was going somewhere in the U.S. I would look to see if there were highpoints nearby. As I got more and more numbers I would actually tailor my vacation around the idea.

Dave Covill:

That’s a defining moment in every highpointers life when they go from picking up the highpoint to going to a highpoint. It’s a fine line because you are going because you are highpointing.

My first highpoint was Mount Washington. When I was a child we went up on a train. Later I hiked up. I also did Katahdin my senior year. That was 1980. I started buy tube maps and put them on my bedroom wall.

I moved out West to Liberal, Kansas in the Summer of 1981. I spent all my free dollars mailing away topo maps. I had this enormous tube of about 40 states worth.

I started with Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri when I was living with my good friend Steve Doppler. I soon picked up 20 or so in the first couple years.

I started picking it up when my son [Chris] was old enough to do it with me when he was six or seven. And of course I was hiking with Beckie. I’m at 45 now. It’s over been 20 years and I know it will take a few years to finish them.

How did you find out about the Highpointers Club?

Dave Covill:

I found about it in 1989 or 1990. My friend met somebody who was a Club member and gave him Jack’s address in Arkansas and this fellow was kind enough to photocopy his seven or eight newsletters for us..

John Mitchler:

I remember it very clear I was at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. I was looking in the Travel Section and came across Don Holmes’ book. I was pretty excited about. I was going to immediately buy it of course. I looked on the back of it and it talked about a Club. and I got very excited. That night I wrote a letter to Jack Longacre and he kindly sent me a copy of the newsletters I missed. That Saturday when they arrived I spent the whole day reading them.

Dave Covill:

I did not hear of the Zumwalt or Holmes books until I joined the club in 1991. I had Ashley’s book for 10 years before that.

What’s your day job?

John Mitchler:

I attended the University of Illinois. I worked in the fossil fuel industry doing coal property valuation.

I work for Mactec. It’s a consulting firm so there’s a lot of time when I’m working my butt off but it also gives me some flexibility to take time off to plan big road trips.

Dave Covill:

I attended Bath College, got an MBA in finance at University of Colorado. Worked in oil fields. I now do acquisition work for a Colorado company Ergoresources.

How did you two get together?

John Mitchler:

When I started doing the highpoints. I didn’t know in any other highpointers. I decided to take the membership and invited everybody in the greater Denver for a potluck in the April of 1994. Ken Ackerman had done that in Utah. We designed an invitation and I mailed it out. About 35 people came over.

I remember Dave calling in and saying he had a softball game and that he would like to bring over his girlfriend Beckie who he had known for only a month. It was sort of a highpointong blind date. Believe me everybody that came in the door I hadn’t seen before.

Dave and I started doing some hiking after that. We joined the Colorado Mountain Club. All of us. It was pretty amazing that out of that one potluck dinner, I’ve made lifelong friends.

Dave Covill:

John made it a really special time. He photocopied a map of the states with the highpoints on each one and told everybody to post the ones they had visited on the wall. There were 35 sheets taped to the wall. Most of the people stood by the wall yakking.

John Mitchler:

I did it the next year. It was just as success.ful. I knew a lot of people then. We were going to shift it around to different people’s houses but it never quite happened.

It’s pretty easy to do. There’s not a lot you have to do. The subject of highpointing is so interesting and there’s so many interesting goofy highpointers that things take shape naturally.

How did you decide to write the “County Highpoints of Colorado“?

John Mitchler:

In January 1995 we were looking though the county highpoint list created by Andy Martin.

Dave Covill:

I had about a dozen and John had a half a dozen. We had fortuitously hiked Colorado 14’ers. We never hiked them just because they were county highpoint but because they were 14’ers.

I thought “wow,” I’ve been to more of them than John. A month letter we went out in the eastern in the dead of winter climbing them. The next thing I know, John was way ahead of me.

John Mitchler:

Even though we were goofing around, tight from the beginning we took pictures and wrote access information. Then we thought we ought to write a guidebook. We approached five publishers. Four of them laughed at us and the fifth (Falcon Press) ate it up. They gave us a contract where we could do a lot of work for very little — a conversation piece. But it took.

Dave Covill:

John in the Fall of 1996 became the first to complete all county highpoints. I was the fifth. There have been ten others. We published the book in the May of 1999.

John Mitchler:

There have been articles about us in the Denver newspaper. It gives them something to write besides hunting. We’ve given two dozen slide shows at the Colorado Mountain, REI and other places including the 1999 Missouri Convention. Of course we have never achieved the status of George Vandersluis when he completed the 50 state. There was a huge write up in the Denver Post and he was on radio.

How did you get interested in doing the newsletter?

John Mitchler:

When I first joined I would find articles in the newspaper and mail them to Jack.

At the Colorado convention. Jack came up to me. He said I’m burned out.

Dave Covill:

He wanted his life back

He had a lot of things he wanted to do. He wanted to write books and travel. While the newsletter was fun, it was overwhelming him. He did everything. He typed the newsletter, did the labels, kept the money. He said there were a lot of active of people in the Denver area and that perhaps they could help if the Club moved its operations to Colorado.

John Mitchler:

I thought it would be interesting. I knew it would be a big chore.

The 98-4 was our first issue. Much like writing our guidebook. We had no experience at what we were doing.

We hired a lady who knew how to use Adobe Frameworker and taught us the basics. How do you do publishing? How do you mail newsletters? It’s a big effort. It’s not like there are 300 newsletters and you have a labeling party. When you are mailing out 1300 every quarter you need to do it it semi professionally.

How could people help with the newsletter?

John Mitchler:

Them main thing with the help is the content of the newsletter.

Dave and I don’t want to write. We want a lot of people to supply photos, articles and columns. That was my main goal. Dave and I want to be editors editors. I’m amazed at the content get. We litterally have stacks of information that could go into a newsletter. We could have a 60-page newsletter all the time.

Just being part of it part something that is a lasting piece of.that is permanent is rewarding.

We have fun with newsletter. We try to follow Jack’s advice to include a lot of names and personal information.

IIn the compelter articles we’ll put something in there that 2500 people won’t know what it means but that one person. “There you’ve got me.”

Dave Covill:

As you know the phone calls, the email, the post offfice box come to John’s

house in Golden. John is involved with this 365 days a year. John eats, sleeps and drinks highpointers. He’s got it like Jack’s got it. I’m lucky because I get two off months. But for 3-4 weeks we put in a heck of lot of hours. First 3 or 4 issues we spent 3 or 4 weekends and two or three nights until 2 a.m. We’ gotten the system down now where we’re wiping out only one full week end a quarter.

We do a lot of stuff up front now. The newsletter is much easier when you can drop things into a template.

What are the mechanics of the newsletter?

John Mitchler:

We use Adobe Frameworker. It’s a souped up version of Word.

Convert any about any file that is sent to us.

Generally the best is text files or rtf file or hard copy photos. If somebody sends us a .jpg photo we can manipulate for the newsletter. If we scan it we can do what.

When we put together. It’s about 25 megs for a 20-30 page file.

Dave Covill:

Once that’s a completed. It takes about a week . Meantime we receive the label database from Craig Noland. After we take the newsletter to the post office we still have about two or three weeks of work.

We mail photos back. We have to specially handle the newsletters to foreign countries. We send out special packages to Board members.

John Mitchler:

It takes about two or three weeks for the newsletters to be received. People and Swizerland get their newsletters before Roger gets it in New York.

Is there anything unrewarding about newsletter?

John Mitchler:

Facing the deadline knowing that you’re going to lose hiking or family time I get kind of jealous knowing about the big trips people are taking. When you’re locked up in a room sorting through mail, sorting and news items there are moments when it gets hard but then you get into it and it’s worthwhile

Do you have an overall philosophy about the newsletter?

John Mitchler:

The newsletter is a record of the hobby we are trying to record the pulse of the hobby. We can’t be as real time as a website or newspaper. We don’t try to do that.

Dave Covill:

We try hard not to interject our opinions.

What direction would you like to see the Club take?

Dave Covill:

I would like to see the Foundation get off the ground. I really think we could do some neat things if we could get that going.

Our club is mostly social. I think wee need to be partly have an education and conservation mission. You’re lying to yourself if you think the central premise is anything but social,. We are 2500 like mind souls.

John Mitchler:

The act of highponting is a pretty personal one. It’s something that you do. We’re really a social organization. It think there is some concern about the highpoint accessibility. The best thing is to try to help the owners. I don’t think we need neon signs pointing the way. There’s some adventure in finding the highpoint.

Has the newsletter changed?

John Mitchler:

We are basically only doing what Jack did — except that we’re high tech by doing it on a computer.

Dave, how did you get involved in the Rhode Island situation?

Dave Covill:

As you know I grew up near there. I was home of February of 1999 and the situation had deteriorated. It seemed like the next time we picked up the phone we were going to hear about about somebody getting hurt — Mr. Richardson or a visitor. Or somebody was going to jail or there would be a lawsuit.. My dad went to Brown. So I had a connection.

Motion detectors had been installed in the woods and there were complaints that everyday somebody was crossing the yard and as many as a dozen were visiting on weekends.

I picked up the phone and fortuitously got Ed and we talked for about two hours that morning.

I convince him if he would allow visitation half a dozen times a years that the the random visitation would drop to zero. It has worked out very well. The random and stealth visitation has dropped to nearly zero. There are still the people who don’t know about the Club or the web site. They see on the Rand McNally Atlas and want to visit.

He has agreed to keep the same dates in 2002. We’re going to try something new. We’re going to have a Saturday visitation on Saturday, July 8 because the Fourth of July is on a Thursday. We’ve always had them on Sundays of three-day holidays so people could have a day to drive to it.


Here are comments about John and Dave

George Vandersluis

I am in awe of the amount of time and effort that John Mitchler and Dave Covill contribute to the Highpointers Club. They spend long hours in preparing and assembling the Quarterly Newsletter. The quality of their work is evident in the product. In addition to the Newsletter, each of these individuals has donated hundreds of hours to other Highpointer Club projects.

Dave and Becky Covill did an outstanding job as hosts for the Hawaii Convention. Not an easy task from here on the mainland. John, before becoming an editor of the Newsletter, was one of the major contributors of information and articles for Jack Longacre.

John has compiled historic information on state highpoints and has accumulated files of material for future archives.

Dave has also been a significant contributor in obtaining open access dates for the Rhode Island Highpoint. They have each taken very active roles in the Club and have made the Club an integral part of their lives.

We only see a fraction of their efforts in the Newsletter; the rest is done behind the scenes. The Highpointers Club is extremely fortunate to have John and Dave as members who are willing to do whatever is necessary for the good of the Club.

Jean Trousdale aka Mother Merc

As I sat down this morning to compose my articles for the 4th Quarter 2001 Newsletter, I was looking over my most recent issue and a couple of things stuck me. The first, of course, is the great and timely colored photo of the U.S flag over Mt. Liberty on the front–really neat, guys! Kinda makes me puddle up. I will see to it you get a picture of my new flag over the Black Mesa before the August 31st deadline.

Let me know if there are adjacent states you need pictures of and I’ll go there and do it. The second thing I am aware of as I page through this really well put together and complete Newsletter, is how glad I am that you always remind me when my stuff is due! You are incredibly diligent about this, and I am here to tell you I appreciate it. You make me feel important to be “on the staff” of our newsletter.

And to get my columns in on time. Taking over the Newsletter from Jack means an incredible amount of work, but it also means stepping into the HEART of the organization. Do you need to be reminded that everyone knows that? We all appreciate your hard work. Even though you make it look easy…

There’s another thing about you guys that I have come to know and appreciate. Both of you have a great blend of thoughtfulness and humor, and you know when each is called for. I love it! And I see it all the time, in the Newsletters, in your e-mails and at the conventions. Keep on keepin’ on, and I’ll hug you both at OK-2002!

Oh yeah, and I’m really glad you got the Vin Hoeman Award. Even though you made that look easy, too.

Andy Martin

John appears to be a pretty happy go lucky guy, but once he gets started on something you would be surprised at the dogged determination and steadfastness he applies to the task at hand. You may know that he has a special interest in former state high points, such as Rib Mountain in Wisconsin. This led to a memorable debate after he noticed that Rib Mountain was listed in third place on the Wisconsin county high point list. In fact, John has probably taken his copy of the list, cut it to pieces, and physically moved Rib Mountain to its proper place. Luckily for us, John applies this same determination to promoting and participating in the State High Pointing hobby. John is also a loyal individual. He has lived outside of his home state of Illinois for many years, but is a a fervent Illinois University booster, and maintains an active interest Illinois. John collects post cards of high point locations and is fond of visiting state HP, county HP, lighthouses, and vineyards.

On Dave Covill – Don’t know him as well, but he’s always been veryhelpful with county HP stuff, and have enjoyed talking with him on our few meetings. Have found him to be a very generous individual, and as with John, believe the State HP club is lucky to have him (and his family as well – wife Beckie and son) contributing to the sucess of the organization. He has been active with John in the Colorado Mountain Club, and they have led CMC hikes to several county highpoints. Imagine some of these folks caught the state HPing bug by way of Dave and John.

Gene & Lillian Elliott

It is overwhelming to us when we look at what Dave and John have done. Not only did they take over the newsletter and have been doing a fantastic job but have had the pleasure of doing all of the fourteeners in their beloved State of Colorado.

Then they were able from these experiences write their first book of their accomplishment. Then to add to that other county highpoints at conventions and others throughout their travels. It is amazing to watch how Dave has worked and spent hours upon hours in negotiating with Mr. Richardson, now passed away, and still continuing this role for open dates in the future.

To John, not only putting in long and hard hours with Dave doing the quarterly newsletter but getting himself involved for the convention in IL in 2003. What dedication Dave and John have given to the club.

They are both truly an absolute asset and we thank them for their continued work with the newsletter and wait to see what else they put onto their plate. No matter what it might be no doubt they will succeed.

Mary Mauer

I am glad we are honoring John Mitchler and Dave Covill because , while we gave them the Vin Hoeman award, there are probably a lot of members who aren’t aware of the heroic efforts these two put forth to make the newsletter and the Club a success. If you haven’t seen these two at work, drop by John’s house sometime and see the various Highpointers’ projects under ‘construction’. Without the efforts of John & Dave, our Klub wouldn’t be what it is today.

Diane Winger

Of course, everyone is aware of the awesome job John and Dave do on the club newsletter. I suspect that many of our members renew each year BECAUSE of the newsletter. However, they both do so much “behind the scenes” that Ioften wonder how our club would function without them.

From working with owners of private highpoints (example: Dave’s work on Rhode Island open visitation dates) to working on annual conventions (example: John’s work to build a team for the 2003 Illinois convention; Dave & Becky’s work on the 2000 Hawaii convention); to managing the “completer lists” (John); to coordinating board elections (Dave); to coordinating updates to the club’s bylaws (John); and so much more: these are the guys who are always there to make things happen.

Jack Longacre

They do a spectacular job. I am grateful that they took it over. I just couldn’t do it. I never did understand any technology. I don’t understand computers and I have a hard time with phones. When I did the newsletter I had to retype the mailing list each time. When they started they computerized the whole thing and the Club membership took off.

When they started I gave them a three page guidebook.

Page One, it said “Have Fun.”

Page Two, “Put in as many names as you can.”

Page Three. “See page one.”