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.]