This is the account of my winter high pointing trip in January 2013. The itinerary will take me through 17 states and to the top of 10 state high points. I'd already tagged the other 7 high points, including the one in my home state of Indiana. Completion of this trip will bring me to 40 state high points leaving only a cluster in the Northeast and a few leftovers along the Great Plains. The trip finale will be a 100 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail.
I started high pointing roughly the same time when I started hiking on the AT - during college. In fact I spent Spring Break on the AT three times. From 2000-2004 I made 12 separate trips logging from 26 up to 270 miles. I've done overnight hikes on the trail in every month except February, June and October. And now, 13 years after I started I've hiked from Springer Mountain to Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, one thousand miles. But it's a really long trail and for all that effort I'm only halfway finished. Worse, I haven't even been on the trail since '04.
Another college Spring Break was spent scratching my way up the icy cone of Orizaba in central Mexico. I started high pointing in autumn of 1999 when I made a road trip to Mount Marcy in New York and another to Mount Rogers in Virginia. Both were brilliant hikes in very beautiful areas. I would have enjoyed both trips without their distinction as state high points. After those first 2 hikes I went on to climb Elbert, Humphreys, Whitney, Rainier, Hood and Granite in quick order. So by 2001 I was already looking abroad for bigger peaks to bag so it was inevitable that I would eventually end up in the Mexican boondocks, staring gape jawed at a 18000' icy summit dome in the middle of an otherwise parched and forlorn Pueblano desert.
Within the next few years I climbed some big mountains in far off places: Denali, Huascaran, Fuji, Ruapehu, Blanc, Ararat. They are all high points in some regard but also noted for their prominence and generally good mountaineering objectives nonetheless. My main obsession drifted more and more towards technical rock climbing but in the meantime I racked up 31 state high points without really trying. In fact, I made only one trip with the deliberate purpose of high pointing - a loop thru Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois in 2001. As a result, that year happened to be my most prolific year in terms of HPing with 7. Since then I've slowed, maybe even stalled. From 2005-2007 I managed only 3. From 2008-2012 I was off the map until I finally climbed Guadalupe in west Texas last winter.
For me, I still like long distance hiking and peak bagging. Long hikes always have some therapeutic value for me; clean air and mountain scenery are an added bonus. Peak bagging always beats baseball (sorry dad), and with an alpine element it tops football, American or European. Neither happen to be my passion at this point but I respect anybody with dedication to complete a big objective.
Of course high pointing, not unlike a woman enjoying her first pregnancy, glorifies bumps and deservedly takes some flak. But that is the nature of high pointing. The goal cannot be completed without visiting the obscure destinations. So I'll try to have some fun along the way and entertain anyone inclined to follow me...on the road...through field and stream...we might even stop at Grandma's house.
To summarize, I've been nibbling away at 2 challenging but less than macho alpinismo goals for 10+ years. I'm in the doldrums. If I were an actuary calculating my probability to ever complete the 50 state high points or the entire AT, I'd be hedging my bets. If it is ever going to happen, I need to make some progress. I can no longer obfuscate or wait speciously for an opportune time to swing by the Ozarks or the Bama highlands.
So let me do it and do it right. This trip will glorify bumps. There is no other objective. My best planning estimates 57 hours of driving and 3200 miles added to the odometer. I haven't even bothered to calculate the elevation gain during the hikes. In the best conditions, these high points would require little mileage by foot. However, I share a mind with Robert Frost and in dead of winter, I think I'll have my chance to take the road less traveled.
I leave tomorrow.
Benighted on a Drive-up: Taum Sauk (IN, IL, MO)
Jan 7 - I was originally planning to start east bound and knock off the AT bit first. But I realized that I can save about 2 road hours if I start west bound. I was initially planning to complete the loop back to my parent's pad but I figure I can stop in Indianapolis and fly directly back to Los Angeles and on wards to Asia. I just need to pack a few gift-wrapped presents that I need to haul back to Asia. It isn't much, just some clothes, chocolates and a bottle of Maker's Mark. Weather outlook is favorable so the roads should be free and clear.
I left a bit late but managed to arrive to Taum Sauk just before sundown. (En route, I found 3 of my favorite rock albums that I had lost in 2009.) I climbed up the look-out tower. The metal gate to the upper platform was latched so I climbed up and over the outer railing to get to the top. Then while driving to the trail head for the high point, I slid off the road and landed on the shoulder. With night falling, the conditions were getting worse and it was hopeless to drive out.
I went ahead and hiked to the high point and added on the 3 miles to Mina Sauk Falls. I finished the hike in total darkness. Then I hunkered down in my car. What could have been a very miserable night turned out to be not so bad. The only casualties were the Notre Dame defense who got slaughtered by Alabama in the BCS Championship, 42-13.
Double Dose of Americana: Mt Magazine & Driskill Mtn (MO, AR, LA, MS)
Jan 8 - I got a lucky break on Tuesday morning. While I was sleeping in my car, waiting for the sunshine to thaw the road I heard a bobcat. It was moving slowly along the road right towards me with its unmistakable growl. I quickly got out of my sleeping bag, put on pants and shoes and went out to meet it.
I should say that it was a Bobcat and behind it was a pick up truck. The drivers were very nice to help push me back up onto the road. Then I was rolling south to Arkansas.
During the trip, I felt myself reconnecting with the Midwest. I was listening to Bob Dylan's greatest hits as I passed an old gas station that had been converted into a church. The advertisements on the radio called out phone numbers without bothering to include the area codes. I haven't really spent any time over here since I graduated college in 2004.
I got to Mount Magazine around 2pm and really enjoyed the area. I hiked from the visitor center to the summit via the North Rim trail then came back along the Mossback Ridge trail. When I was still about 2 miles from my car, it started to rain. It started off light and I didn't get soaked but the rain wouldn't stop until this morning, Wednesday.
I drove straight down to Driskill Mountain in Louisiana and got there around 10pm. I made the short hike to the summit and back in about 30 minutes. I was actually surprised by how nice it was. Granted I couldn't see much in the rain in the middle of the night but I was half expecting to park on the summit or something. The area is heavily wooded with a well maintained trail. Though I didn't bother to check out the Overlook.
Now I have only 2 more HPs west of the Mississippi (North Dakota, Oklahoma).
On Delta - Woodall Mtn (MS, AL)
Jan 9 - I spent another rainy night in my car. It's not cold but the weather could certainly be better. Somehow the whole day got wasted and I only managed to climb one HP. Just like Driskill, it was after dark so I didn't hang around a long time. I got most of the way to FL before setting up camp in a church parking lot.
Sweet Home Alabama - Britton Hill, Mt Cheaha (AL, FL, AL, GA, SC)
Jan 10 - I parked in AL and hiked to the FL high point. It was only about 1/2 mile. I did the nature trails in Lakewood Park. I made good time to Cheaha and saw a bunch of deer around the campground area.
Sassafrass Mtn and Mt Mitchell (SC, NC, TN, VA)
Jan 11 - I was planning to start the morning hike at Chimneytop Gap and make a 5 mile loop. But then I drove all the way to the upper parking area.
I decided that I'd still hike the Sassafrass trail from Chimneytop Gap. But since I was already at the top, I hiked down to the gap and then back up to the summit.
Somewhere between SC and NC, I picked up a hitch hiker who was keen to join me on Mount Mitchell. We got up to Mt Mitchell State Park around 4:30pm and got started up the Old Mitchell trail, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and I was finally, after a week of peak bagging in crap weather, able to get a view further than quarter mile. We got about halfway up before it got completely dark. I played around climbing on the summit tower.
It turned out that the park closes at 5pm and my car was locked behind the gate. We found the ranger, who implied and threatened about issuing us a $250 ticket but in the end he just let us out. I guess it was my lucky day.
Spruce Knob and Backbone Mtn (VA, WV, MD)
Jan 12 - I really enjoyed Spruce Knob. It does have a sort of alpine feeling. It was not possible to drive all the way to the top due to snow cover on the roadway so hiked the rest of the way and then did the Whispering Pines Trail. I saw Seneca Rocks and was blown away. Afterwards got up route 219 to the base of Backbone Mountain. Hiked straight up the mountain to catch the sunset.
Appalachian Trail - Harper's Ferry to Duncannon
Jan 13 - 7.0 Afternoon start up to Ed Garvey
Jan 14 - 25.8
Jan 15 - 16.9
Jan 16 - 13.4 resupply at South Mountain, very icy
Jan 17 - 24.5
Jan 18 - 22.5 recharge in Boiling Springs
Jan 19 - 17.2 cross Susquehanna
Appalachian Trail - Duncannon north to Wind Gap
Jan 20 - 16.0 flip flop from Clark's Valley Road back
Jan 21 - 26.5
Jan 22 - 1.9 Late start, stop at 501 shelter
Jan 23 - 23.7 very cold, Port Clinton pavilion (new backpack)
Jan 24 - 22.6 very cold, Allentown shelter
Jan 25 - 17.7 resupply at Lehigh Gap, snow storm
Jan 26 - 20.5 day hike to Wind Gap
Appalachian Trail - Wind Gap to New York
Planning to reach Delaware Water Gap tonight then Culvers Gap on Monday. Hoping warm weather sticks around and keeps the PA rocks dry.
Jan 27 - 16.7 Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap
Jan 28 - 22.2 Culver's Gap to Unionville Road
Jan 29 - 24.3 Seven Lakes Dr (Northern) to Wildcat Shelter
Jan 30 - 24.2 Wildcat to Wallkill Lake Rd
Jan 31 - 5.7 Back to Unionville Rd
This section carried me over NJ 's High Point State Park. A small detour from the AT had me on the top.
I hitch hiked back to my car in Harper's Ferry. I actually took a detour to set foot at Ebright Azimuth, aka Delaware's state high point. Then another full day hitch hiking from Ebright to Harper's Ferry finished the adventure. All I had left was to drive thru a winter storm and cross WV, MD, PA, WV, OH and finally...back home again in IN.
12 State High Points
MO AR LA MS
FL AL SC NC
WV MD NJ DE
348.3 miles on the AT
Harper's Ferry to Bear Mountain
5 states, WV MD PA NJ NY
One gap: 27.2 miles from Delaware Water Gap to Culver's Gap
Totals since 1999
High points 43/50 = 86%
AT 1361.1/2178.3 = 62%