Climbing United States State High Points | A Comprehensive Guide for Couples (Part 1)
Interesting Facts About 50 Highpoints
“As of the spring of 2014, there are 253 recorded completers of all 50 highpoints. There are 10 couples who have done it together (but we could not find much documentations, pictures or trip records from them. We don’t even know their names.) If we successfully complete it, we will be the first international couple to successfully climb and summit to all 50 state highpoints. That’s our goal.”
– Salil Jha and Neha Rizal
U.S. 50 States High Points (The Tall Great West)
We are dividing the hikes and climb based on the geographical regions. This way, we will be able to plan our road-trips better (with, little to no flying during most of our trips).
1. Mount Denali, Alaska
Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska is the highest summit of the United States and North American Continent. This Alaskan peak, one of the seven summit, is considered one of the steepest and an extremely challenging climb for anyone. Severe weather conditions make this mountain dangerous for all climbers.
Mount Denali is 20,320 feet tall. You start the ascent around 7,500 ft. Most climbers fly in from Talkeetna, a small town almost completely centered around the climbing of Denali. The standard route up the mountain is the West Buttress, and from May until July the route is a crowded series of camps from 7,800 feet until the high camp at just over 17,000 feet.
The 14,000 foot camp on Denali is the largest on the mountain. Over 100 tents are typically set uphere including the National Park Service.
Climbing Mount Denali
Denali involves a high level of preparation: carrying 3 weeks of food, equipment, clothing, and shelter. These sleds can easily weigh in between 40-80 lbs plus the backpack.
We are going to keep our backpack and sleds as light as possible. We believe in“light is right”. To achieve this, we will be packing completely dried food, lightweight tents, sleep with our clothes inside the tent, and high quality lightweight hardware. Well, this will cost money but we have to pay the price for the safety and increasing our chances to reach the summit and return safely and successfully.
For up to 14,000 feet, Mount Denali requires nothing more than glacier travel. The real test of our strength would be climbing to 17,000 ft from 14,000 camp and climbing to the summit from the 17,000 ft high camp. High winds and extreme cold can pin down parties between 17,000 ft and the summit for days on end.
The challenges on Mount Denali are numerous, for example, rigging of sleds, the use of cramp-ons and ice-axe, the proficiency in a rope rescue system, the use of a mechanical ascender, the unexpected weather conditions, the effects of altitude on the body and brain, and cooperation among the teammates and between the guides and the team.
Mt. Whitney, California
Mount Whitney in California is the highest summit of the Sierra Nevada and the contiguous United States. It is 14,505 ft. The most popular route up the high point of California is the 22-mile round trip Whitney Trail. We’ll be doing the hike within a day during the summer month.
Mt. Elbert, Colorado
The 2nd highest peak in the lower 48 states, Mount Elbert in Colorado is the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains.
It’s 9.2 mile round trip hike to the summit is an attainable goal for a single day hike. We’ll be hiking Mt. Elbert during the summer months.
Mt. Rainier, Washington
Mount Rainier in Washington is the highest summit of the Cascade Range and the most prominent summit of the contiguous United States. With collapsing snow bridges, avalanches, route finding problem, and sudden severe weather during peak-climbing season, Mt. Rainier is a serious mountain that has deaths, injuries, and rescues each year.
Rainier is a huge mountain with 20 plus routes and sees a large number of climbers each year. It is considered by many to be the best training ground in the lower 48 for Mt. Denali and other larger mountains with glacier travel and steep snow. We’ll be taking the Disappointment Clever Route, a common route.
Winter time conditions (snowy storms and sub-freezing weather) is expected year round. For perspective, In 2010, 10,643 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier and only 4,920 of them actually reached the summit. This is the second hardest climb in the 50 state highpoints.
Gannett Peak, Wyoming
Mount Gannett in Wyoming is the highest summit of the Central Rocky Mountains and the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains outside of Colorado. The most remote state high point requires a long (40-50 miles) round-trip hike and climb to reach its summit. The entire trip is beautiful, if not more so, than the summit.
The standard route from the Pole Creek Trailhead involves a potential camp at the north end of the glacially carved Titcomb Basin and a snow climb up and over Dinwoody Pass (Bonney Pass) at 13,000 feet, before the true summit is climbed up via the Gooseneck Ridge. On the descent, a 1,200 foot climb back up and over Bonney Pass is required.
Along with good conditioning, Gannett typically requires proficient usage of ice-axe, cramp-ons, and a rope. It’s of the hardest state high point, probably No. #3 after Denali and Rainier.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Mauna Kea means “white mountain” in Hawaiian. The name white mountain is due to the fact that snow falls on the top of this 33,000 ft giant volcano. From the depths of the ocean floor to the summit, Mt. Kea is 33,000 feet, making Mt. Kea the highest summit in the Pacific Ocean and the tallest mountain on Earth as measured from base to summit.
From sea surface level to the summit, Mt Kea is 13,796 ft tall, making it the 6th tallest peak in the USA. A road leads to the top, and the summit is filled with large, white domed observatories: the largest collection of astronomical telescopes on the planet.
Sunset over four telescopes of the Mauna Kea Observatories. From left to right: the Subaru Telescope, the twin Keck I and II telescopes, and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility.
The Mauna Kea trail starts at the visitor center, climbs 4,576 feet in 6 miles, and provides a good way to the summit. We’ll be using mountain bike for a portion of the hike to make our time more fun.
Kings Peak, Utah
The 7th highest State High Point is situated in the High Uinta Wilderness Area of north-central Utah. Moose are often seen along the approach and altitude sickness is a common complaint.
The Henry’s Fork approach is the standard route. We’ll be doing this in two days.
Wheeler Peak, New Mexico
The highest peak in New Mexico lies in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range of New Mexico and Colorado. The most common hiking options include the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail which goes 16 miles round trip and is quite scenic, or the Williams Lake Trail which is just 6 miles round trip but less scenic.
Wheeler Peak is a good candidate for a Fall ascent, as the days are often warm and clear with the nights cold.
Boundary Peak, Nevada
At the northern end of the White Mountains, lies Boundary Peak, the highest point in Nevada at 13,140 feet. Within this range, which spans Nevada and California, are some higher peaks.
White Mountain is the highest in this range and the third highest in California. Nearby Montgomery Peak (13,441 ft) is taller and craggier than Boundary peak. We plan to do Boundary peak and some of these other peaks in one outing.
The nature of the climb up the Trail Canyon Route is scree with some minor scrambling near the top. Solitude can be easily found here as the general climbing season is long with year-round climbing being possible. Like most other taller peaks, Boundary peak receives snow and frequent high winds.
Granite Peak, Montana
Granite peak has the distinction of being the only U.S. State Highpoint that requires climbing vertical rock to reach the summit.
Granite is known for a little of everything: rock climbing, long hiking, scrambling, snow climbing, route finding, exposed camping, sudden severe thunderstorms, deep August snow, and most often a truly rewarding summit.
Granite is typically done in two days. It involves hiking on a rolling, very rocky plateau, with no defined trail. The best navigational method involves following large, easily sighted cairns, across the terrain. Camp spots are typically in rock built shelters and water sources could be hit and miss. Summit day involves mostly class 2-3 scrambling, crossing a snow bridge and 4th class to easy 5th Class climbing.
Borah Peak, Idaho
Idaho’s tallest peak at 12,662 feet is situated at the northern part of the Lost River Range. The range is host to 7 of the 9 tallest peaks in the state of Idaho. The Lost River Range is known for its large, hulking, non-technical summits. This sparsely populated valley is a paradise for those seeking solitude.
Borah’s Chicken-Out-Ridge Route gains 5,260 feet of elevation in just 3.6 miles. At about 7,200 feet, the route starts out as an old Jeep road, then becomes a feint climber’s trail, then crosses an exposed ridge of rock, followed by a seasonal snow bridge crossing, until the summit is finally reached.
The route is typically done in 6-10 hours, round trip.
Humphreys Peak, Arizona
At 12,633 feet, Humphreys Peak defies the typical Arizona stereotype that the state is mostly a warm desert region.
From the depths of the nearby Grand Canyon to the often snowy and windy summit ridge, this region is one of the most diverse in the nation. The lower west slopes of Humphreys contain some beautiful Aspen groves, while the east side of the peak is in a rain shadow and contains Sunset Crater.
The standard route heads up the Humphreys Peak Trail from the Snow Bowl ski area. Nearby Agassiz Peak appears as the tallest peak from the Flagstaff area.
Mount Hood, Oregon
The sulphuric and steamy vents near the Devils Kitchen is a reminder that Mount Hood is a dormant volcano. Like most of the Cascade Volcanoes, this peak strikes up and away from its surrounding terrain with much prominence.
The mountain is well used, given its proximity to the Willamette Valley, the ski area, and the resort lodge.The popular south side approach starts at Timberline Lodge and climbs Class 2 terrain to the summit. Conditions may vary and crampons, ice-axe, and helmet are often times required.
At just 8 miles round-trip and 5,300 feet of vertical gain, this approach provides a straight-forward route to the summit. It is best climbed early morning, given the chance of collapsing snow bridges on the glacier and the hazard of rock fall.
Note: Of the fifty highpoints, probably only thirty-two of them could be considered actual mountains. Nine of these highpoints are actually hills and another nine of them are essential flat plateaus with noticeable gradual slope or no rise at all.
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If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment and I would love to read it. If you have already climbed some of these mountains, please share about your experiences. If you want to climb some of these peaks with us, shoot me a message. We are game.