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Pointing the way to the stars
Highpointers Club visits Red Lodge
A club founded by one person’s passion to seek out all 50 high points across the USA has culminated in a worldwide fraternity of which 279 members visited Red Lodge over the course of last week.
The Highpointers Club was the brainchild of Jack Longacre who placed an ad in the October 1985 edition Outside Magazine seeking others with a similar interest. Within two years the first convention took place in Mt Arvon, Michigan. At the time Longacre had already climbed all 50 points in all 50 states. Today the club carries on that mission to promote climbing these high points and provide a forum for education about these areas and aid in their preservation.
The MT-16 Convention in Red Lodge fortified the legacy laid down as people from all walks of life and opinions shared a common interest and a common goal.
In charge of the convention were director John Mitchler and his wife Kathy from Golden, Colorado.
The couple has each completed the 50.
“The driving force is one, you must love to travel, and two, physical exercise. Only 280 people have done this (the 50). You have to be a mountaineer to do the hardest ones,” said Mitchler.
The toughest climb for Mitchler is Granite Peak.
“It’s nasty. It’s hands on rock climbing. There are two routes, the one from the north is very smooth, but from the south it is loose rock and a real challenge. Most of these (highpoints) are hikes with backpacks, so Granite is more of a snow climb,” he said.
In many cases Highpointers on completing the 50 target start to sub categorize, much like people do with a hobby.
One Highpointer likened it to stamp collecting.
The Mitchlers’ have traveled the world climbing the highpoints from Kilimanjaro to Fuji, and even cities like London, Manchester and Cardiff.
“I’ve gone to all 32 boroughs of London and climbed the highest point in every one. It’s very cool. When would you ever go to (places like) Barking or Hounslow normally?” said Mitchler, referring to some suburbs.
Kent Groninger, Colorado, has also joined the 50 state club, while his wife Cathleen finished the list last week with a trip up Granite Peak. It wasn’t without some risk.
Cathleen carried a few “battle wounds.”
“The rock was slippery and he (Kent) fell backwards and I went to help but slid on a rock, smashed my hip and cut my eye,” she said. “It looked like we’d killed a pig up there.”
In years past she’s also broken an ankle.
Cathleen’s first highpoint was in Colorado; Kent’s was Granite some years ago.
In the mean time, like the Mitchlers’, they’ve looked for other challenges, and have subcategorized by climbing all 54 peaks that Colorado has to offer including the Fourteeners, those peaks over 14,000 feet.
They too have also traveled the world to explore the highpoints and reiterate comments heard a lot this day about traveling the world, and how this venture “gets you to places you’d never go to and meeting people.”
However the Groningers’ are thinking of slowing down as Kent suggests checking out the lowpoints from now on and Cathleen thinking a series of beaches might be next on the agenda.
Another Highpointer Diane Boss has just made it to number 45 but isn’t planning to try for more.
“I’m not doing McKinley, Rainier or Hood and probably not this one, Granite again. We just left from there, and we didn’t make it. It was raining, we got to the high camp and the next day we turned back,” she said. “The first day we hiked 9 hours, and on the second day we got lost for 2 hours. And I almost fell off a log and into a river and then I fell down three times.”
Another of the group recalls standing on a rock, spinning around and falling into the water.
“And I had all this on my go pro. I lost it but I wanted to post it as ‘Crash and Splash,’” he laughed.
Another climber lost a head lamp.
Despite the seemingly chaotic nature of these climbs, nothing deters these adventurers as Bell adds, “But I’ve seen things I never would have. It’s beautiful.”
At the other end of the climbing spectrum there is Mark Wollbrink of Illinois who has made it to 8 climbs. Now in his 50s he wishes he started 20 years ago.
“I didn’t think of it back then, I didn’t realize there where high points,” he said.
Although more climbs beckon, he has no desire to try Granite Peak but instead wants to spend his time fishing and hiking and enjoying the Beartooth Highway.
“It’s what drew me here,” he said.
Climber Rick Hartman who writes the Safety on Summit Column for the Highpointers organization is one shy of the target.
“And I shall remain so. I’m forever 49,” he joked.
Hailing from New Hampshire Mick Dunn, board secretary, had 49.76+2 emblazoned on his t-shirt to mark how close he came to conquering the total if it hadn’t been for the stubbornness of Denali, Mt, Rainier and one other.
An interesting challenge for some Highpointers was Mt. McKinley in Alaska, since being renamed Denali, has apparently shrunk by 10 feet from 1,415 to 1,405 feet.
“I’ve climbed McKinney and it’s ten feet higher than Denali,” one person joked.
The club is full to brimming with people who enjoy what life throws at them and whose camaraderie is unbounded.
“In the beginning it's all about doing the 50 but as the club grew, clearly not many of these can do the 50, but instead they come back and encourage others and talk about their experiences,” said Mitchler. “When people write in and tell me they’ve done 1 or 2 climbs, I think they have such an adventure in front of them.”
For more information on the Highpointers Club go to www.highpointers.org