The FeverSo no shinola there we were. Finally. After years of delays and false starts, the quest was renewed and taken to the next level. The time had finally come to stop talking about it and do it.
Climbing that is. State high points. After our last multi state highpointing trip, which included the Presidential Traverse, Katahdin with Knife Edge, and Jerimoth Hill (don’t ask for details like if it was legal), I joined this website and started a thread. That was almost six years ago. Since then injuries, college, graduate school, car and budget issues kept us out of the game. Almost every summer we had some kind of plan to climb, but Fate always changed our plans.
A lot of people on this website gave us a lot of great ideas, and after five years we had done diddly.
Finally, last year, I began to worry we would lose momentum. We made a trek from Charlottesville across the border to West Virginia, where we did Spruce Knob the lamest way possible. Then, after spending last Christmas in Pittsburgh, we walked through a little snow to Mount Davis, Pa. That brought us up to a grand total of 12 and kept the idea alive.
This year things at last came together. Before starting a new job Cypress had a week to climb. I got a week off work and picked her up. In years past we had done everything North and East from Virginia. So from Charlottesville we had three possible trips; Southwest to the Southern Appalachians; west to Arkansas and the middle of the country; or northwest to do the Upper Midwest. We also could have flown West to do one or maybe two big hills. Cypress chose the Upper Midwest, so we headed toward Ohio.
Ohio and IndianaThe first day was epic. We drove about 400 miles and ran out of gas in Chillicothe, Ohio. Several Good Samaritans stopped by to help and a guy named Earl, who had lost a leg to diabetes but still stopped to help, took me to the nearest station, where the owners lent me a gas can and refused a deposit. We loved Chillicothe!
Before we go on, let me say a word about highpoint names. Some of these peaks are not that impressive. Some just happen to be a hill in some farmer’s field. Thus some have really lame names. While climbing Charles Mound in Illinois, my roommate and I marveled that the nearest town promoted itself as the high point of the state but the high point name was so uninspired. A ski hill was nearby, and it seemed reasonable to call a summit like this something a little cooler, like Snowy Peak. As an area that wants tourists to visit, which would you rather promote, Charles Mound or Snowy Peak? Which would you rather climb?
Thus began my personal campaign to rename the lamest state high points. The lamer the high point, the more it could use a better name. And Campbell Hill in Ohio is a prime example. As we passed Columbus, we saw two signs for a business called “Glacier Ridge.” I don’t know what they make but it sounded like a cool name for a high point. So Campbell Hill was rechristened as Glacier Ridge. After all, it was a ridge of some kind, and who is to say there will never be a glacier upon it?
As we approached the lower slopes of Glacier Ridge, our hearts beat faster- not from the excitement of our first big trip in six years, but from the extreme elevation as we neared the Death Zone. As we parked on the campus of High Point vocational school (who are very friendly for mountain people), we dodged rockslides and avalanches. Once the ascent began in earnest, the cliffs and crevasses dominated our moment to moment thinking. When the Yetis attacked, we defended ourselves with ice axes. But we couldn’t save our food from the ravenous wolves who came at us in waves. Finally, in a fit of summit fever, Cypress took off her shoes and ran up the final slopes to the summit. Retreating from the near whiteout conditions of Ohio in June, we were forced to take every risk as we fought for our lives. At last, a half hour after we parked, it was all over.
Part of our quest in these trips is to see and meet the real America. Running out of gas was an excellent start to meeting the locals. And in that spirit we visited the closest town of Bellefontaine. Bellefontaine just happens to have the oldest paved street in the United States. It was an eight foot strip in front of the courthouse where horses were tethered as their owners pled their cases.
On our way to Indiana we saw a sign for the Piatt Castles, which Cypress wanted to see. Two brothers in the late 1800’s built large ornate houses about a mile from each other. We did not want to pay to take the tour, so we walked around a little. The “castle” we visited was also the site of an Indian massacre. Some military guy in short order went to eight peaceful Shawnee villages and killed every person in every village, which paved the way for white settlement of the area. Piatt Castle was not much fun.
On a recommendation we visited an old-timey burger joint, where the girls roller-skated the food to your car. The place is called Jim’s in Greenville Ohio but we don’t recommend it. The food was horrible! I asked for the most popular thing on the menu, I think it was called the Aztec dog. The Midwest is huge on hot dogs, but what I don’t understand is they are almost all the cheapest hot dogs and buns you can buy. This dog was flavorless and the bun was limp. On top was some cheese that, on a 90 degree day, had not even started to melt. I was hungry but only ate half of it. Cypress’ food was just as bad. If you want the old-timey burger experience, we saw many other vintage spots all over the Midwest.
In very late afternoon we crossed into Indiana, where we met my roommate Margo on the state highpoint. In keeping with our policy of renaming state high points, honestly this high point was the lamest yet. It is basically totally flat! And the slope right across the cornfield looks higher than where you are standing. So naturally we renamed this high point Avalanche Spire. In an area of lame highpoints, Avalanche Spire really needs something. At least there is a nice little piece of woods around it, and Cypress, Margo and I managed to play the world’s highest game of paddleball- in Indiana.
This was still our first day, but on our way to a campsite we happened to pass through Berne, Indiana. It seems to be half an Amish town and half Little Switzerland. It’s also the “furniture capital of Indiana.” All hand made. We want to go back and visit Berne.
MichiganThe next day was spent driving north, into Michigan and all the way to the Upper Peninsula. Everybody, native and visitor alike, treats UP’ers as a special breed. After three misses we found an unbelievable campsite, on sand dunes 50 feet above Lake Michigan.
Day Three was another epic. We woke to waves crashing at the bottom of our dune, then drove along the U.P to a peninsula where we cut south to Fayette. This is the best preserved old town I have ever seen, better than Williamsburg. The town last 20 years, and when the ore ran out everybody left. Each kind of building in the old town has fantastic room-sized displays of authentic life from the 1800s.
In midafternoon we arrived in L’Anse on the shore of Lake Superior and took a right. Sixteen miles of pavement and about eight of dirt and the road got steep. Driving to the top seemed lame; so did hiking a dirt road. So we pulled out the mountain bikes and had an awesome ride! It was steep enough to really challenge Cypress’ skills and my knee. In about four miles we climbed maybe 1000’, and the road went right up to the top. So we pedaled all the way to the summit of Mount Arvon. It was very satisfying as a bike ride- much better than either hiking or driving we think.
This is an actual climb with a real mountain name, so we did not try to improve it. I wanted to camp there but Cypress didn’t, so we went back down and found a secluded spot right on an inlet on Lake Superior. Later I heard there was a viewpoint 100 yards from the summit, but we saw no indication of this and had absolutely no views.
Wisconsin, part oneThe next day we entered what is without a doubt the worst state in the Union. Ten minutes into Wisconsin, on a paved road no less, a truck came by and spat a piece of gravel into my windshield, putting a crater into it. Now, I have had this car 14 years and driven it on many dirt roads and this has never happened. Then, an hour or so later, we pull into the first town, right on the Minnesota border, and I get a speeding ticket when every other car is going our speed. Were they looking for a tourist? This is my first ticket in at least five years. To top it off, the polite cop explains that the fine is over $200 and I have to pay right there or else go to jail until I can see the judge the next day. Worst. State. Ever.
We left that horrible state ASAP and soon sped along the North Shore of Lake Superior toward the Minnesota high point, the well-named Eagle Mountain. As luck would have it, the Badger State reached its claws across the state line, because as we drove down a freshly graveled road, ANOTHER truck came by and put ANOTHER crater in my windshield. Fourteen years with this car, and the same thing happens twice in one day. Thanks a lot, Pissconsin!
MinnesotaAs we headed up the trail to Eagle Mountain, we can confirm that the bugs are horrendous! But, if you have ever hiked in the East, the rocks on the trail are not nearly as bad as advertised. After the lake you gain all your elevation in about a quarter mile, then look around on a sort of plateau until you find the high point way in the back. This was the biggest test of my knee in over a year- the bike ride the day before and now this 7 mile hike. And even though we practically ran back to escape the bugs, my knee held up fine.
Cypress needless to say, was only tested by the technical bike riding. Everything else was a breeze for her.
By the time we got back to the pavement it started to rain, and we found an excellent hotel call the Cliff Dweller that was reasonably priced. We wanted to see the Accordion Museum in Duluth on the way back but it is open like two hours a day and we missed our window. We consoled ourselves by checking out Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors at the suggestion of mlandau3. This place was awesome! We each had a pastie (local version of a beef turnover) and some pie. I got a pie to go- half Great Lakes Berry Crunch, half Bumbleberry, I think And it was great! Their most popular pies are the cream pies but I like the fruit pies.
Wisconsin, part twoUnfortunately, our itinerary included climbing Wisconsin’s Timm’s Hill, so we had to go back to that Land of Evil. It was early evening by the time we approached Timm’s, which is in a lovely area of pretty hills and woodlands. At the bottom is a monument to the people of the local towns and their pioneer spirit. The hike was less than a half mile, a reasonable slope but much too quick. At the top is a tower that goes way up to the tops of the trees, where the wind was so strong Cypress climbed down after less than a minute.
Three lakes surround the mountain, and across one of them was a quaint resort that looked like a fairy tale. On the way in we saw a sign for the Hill of Beans coffee shop, and it turned out to be that place. Unfortunately, the place closes at something like 2 PM and we could not stay overnight to check it out the next morning.
As much as I hate Wisconsin, I have to try to help it by suggesting it change the name of Timm’s Hill. At the very least called it Mount Timm or Timm’s Mountain. Better yet, the monument at the base is dedicated to the people of the nearest settlements, one of which is called Spirit. So call it Spirit Mountain! Again, even if it is the same hill, wouldn’t you rather go to Spirit Mountain? And the whole area around Spirit Mountain could become a really nice outdoors destination with a little bit of promotion and a few more trails. That coffee shop is in a magical spot, and could either become a hotel, campground, and/or full time restaurant.
So...So that was the last high point. The next morning, at the bottom of Wisconsin, we happened across another mini Swiss village, this one called New Glarus near the Illinois border. Nearby we toured a cheese factory, where our guide just happened to be a Swiss immigrant, with the giant mustache and everything. One of the cheese brands was even named Cypress.
Thanks so mlandau3, jdzaharia, and Florida Frank for your suggestions. This brings us to 17 high points so far, one third of the way! And hopefully more next year…