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2005 Northeast Highpoint Binge

(Click on the links for more detail about each highpoint, including pictures.)

On 2 July 2005, I set out solo from Austin for an extended state highpoint binge.  My first day was just driving, in good weather (which was not to last).  I also managed to avoid any Kansas travel centers which were prone to report me to the police as suspicious, thankfully.  (Hint:  Avoid the first gas stop on I-35, just north of the Oklahoma/Kansas border.)  The next day I reached within striking distance of the Iowa highpoint, and visited Ocheyedan Mound, once thought to be the Iowa highpoint.  Surprisingly, the lowest octane gasoline was not the cheapest around these parts of the Midwest.  The mid-grade, which was spiked with ethanol, was the lowest priced.  On Day 3, I finally pulled off my first highpoint of the trip, visiting Hawkeye Point in Iowa in the morning, in the rain.  After driving through more rain, I made my way to Scales Mound, Illinois in the afternoon, and took advantage of the open date to hike to the highpoint of Illinois.  I had a tough time finding the right 'trailhead' (a.k.a. driveway) here.  Afterwards, I stopped at an observation tower on US 20, near Elisabeth, that offered fine views of the area.  This is definitely worth a stop.  That night, I had a reservation to stay at the Motel 6 in Davenport, but they were not able to provide me a room.  Fortunately, I could get a room at the same price right across the street at the Exel Inn.  The delay did cause me to miss most of the USA-Costa Rica world cup qualifier, which I had been hurrying along to try and watch.  Argh.

Day 4 saw me continuing to drive east, stopping at the Indiana highpoint in late afternoon.  This site had been much improved from the descriptions I had read, there seemed to have been a Scout project of some kind to spiff it up. Later that day, I stopped at the Hi-Point Career Center, where the gate had been left open for me (by arrangement), and I tagged the Ohio highpoint.  I didn't stay long, since nasty thunderstorms threatened, and I escaped to Columbus for the night.  Day 5 was a blur of crossing state boundaries, I went from Ohio, to West Virginia, to Pennsylvania, to West Virginia again, to Maryland, then to Pennsylvania, where I hiked to the highpoint in a thunderstorm.  (I also saw some Amish people.)  I wasn't done, I then returned to Maryland, continued to West Virginia, hiked to the Maryland highpoint, then finally returned to West Virginia.  I managed to get behind schedule for the day (imagine that) but did get the highpoints that I had planned.  The drive through West Virginia, lots of green rolling hills, was very pretty, by the way.

I took a break from the hectic border crossing on Day 6, instead starting an overnight backpack with Spruce Knob as the destination.  I didn't reach the summit that day, but did see some interesting birds, some kind of grouse probably, and a nifty orange salamander.  The next morning I did tag the Knob, the highpoint of West Virginia.  It was a little unfortunate that the sky conditions were hazy when I reached the top, this took some of the luster off of the nice views from the summit.  I returned to the car, and continued east to Harrisonburg, VA, with a brief stop at Seneca Rocks to take some pictures of the sheer cliffs.  Day 8 continued to the east, where I hiked to Hawksbill Mountain, the highpoint of Shenandoah National Park just before thunderstorms pounded the area, and continued on to Washington DC.

Now I got a little break from the hectic traveling, as I spent a couple of days exploring Washington, DC, the nation's capital, but this of course included a visit to the District of Columbia highpoint, Fort Reno.  (At least, as close as you can get.)  I got to see some nice element samples in the natural history museum while I was there.  Although I was looking for a break from the hot weather back home in Austin, while I was away, I didn't get it here.  It was plenty hot and humid in DC.

On Day 11, I started back on the highpoint binge.  The first stop was Ebright Azimuth in Delaware.  The exact location of the natural highpoint (the one that counts) is kind of ambiguous, as there has been a lot of landscaping in that area, which is pretty well urbanized.  I stopped at the official sign, and took some photos of some possibly higher (and probably landscaped) ground, but that area was posted as No Trespassing, so I could not explore it in detail.  Later that day, I hiked a small portion of the Appalachian Trail to the highpoint of New Jersey.  Along the way, I passed several other highpointers, and talked a bit to three of them. Specifically, they were Maine highpointers, a.k.a. Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.  These guys had walked around 1300 miles already, and still had many hundreds to go.  The monument on the summit is now open, you can walk up the steps (a lot of steps!) to the top, for a so-so view through some small cloudy windows.  After this hike, I drove on to Albany for the night.

The next morning, I headed to northwest Massachusetts, for another stint of hiking on the Appalachian Trail, this time to the Massachusetts highpoint.  The trail was easy to follow, very well marked with white blazes, and free of intersections with other trails at the beginning.  It might seem impossible to get lost under these conditions, the only conceivable way would be to get turned around.  I managed to do this, and hiked backwards (and steeply downhill) for a good distance, not noticing that I was retracing my steps.  Argh.  Eventually, I got pointed in the correct direction, and found the tower on the summit of Mount Greylock, which I also climbed.  (Not nearly as many steps as the New Jersey tower.)  After returning to my car, I continued south to Connecticut.  It was getting a little late by the time I set out on the trail for the Connecticut highpoint, so I was trying to hurry along.  The trail is fairly steep, but I was zipping along, just past the summit of Round Mountain when I heard an unmistakable sound...  a rattlesnake!  This creature was letting me know that snakes have the right-of-way, not hikers!  It was a Timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, around 3 feet long, maybe a bit more.  By the looks of it, it had eaten fairly recently, and the snake was certainly slow to get off the trail and let me pass by.  Eventually, I was able to continue, and I soon reached the highest point in Connecticut.  This is the only highpoint that is not an actual local maximum (i.e. the top of some bump), but rather is where the state line slices through the side of a peak whose summit is in Massachusetts.  The highest point is marked with an unassuming green stake.

On Day 13, I drove east towards Boston, stopping on the road near Jerimoth Hill, the highpoint of Rhode Island.  Unfortunately, the actual highpoint is usually inaccessible due to restrictions crossing private property (as it was on this day), so I couldn't get any closer than the sign on the road.  The property which has restricted access is being sold, this may or may not improve the situation. 

I continued on to Boston. Here, I met up with a supplier of various metals, and acquired some small samples of the elements potassium, rubidium and cesium.  (I couldn't have these shipped since they are somewhat dangerous.)  Cesium is a particularly lovely substance, with a golden yellow color.  It melts very easily, and had in fact melted by the time I made it back to Austin.  It looks like liquid gold then, as it swirls around in the glass ampule in which it is stored.  It must be stored in an ampule like this, as it would react violently, catching fire, if exposed to air.  With these three samples, I have now practically completed my chemical element collection.  One list down!  I say 'practically' complete since some elements are not realistically obtainable, at least by an individual.  For example, I doubt that I could get a piece of plutonium.  (And I'd get in a whole lot of trouble if I really tried to!)  There are also artificially made, very short-lived, radioactive elements that only exist in particle accelerators or nuclear reactor cores.  I have to settle for not having any of those.  After finishing the element list, I drove on to Portsmouth, NH for the night.

The next day, I hoped to hike to the summit of Mount Washington.  After the 3 hour or so drive from Portsmouth, plus spending time talking to the various authorities about conditions, I ended up with a late and slow start.  By 1:30 pm, I was still an hour from the top, and thunderstorm paranoia began to set in.  I decided to scrub that day's attempt, and go again the next, with a much earlier start.  So, on Day 15, after staying in Conway, much closer, I started with breakfast at the AMC hut in Pinkham Notch, and then hiked all the way to the summit, the highpoint of New Hampshire.  During these two days, I had only brief views of anything besides grey, but it was never that cold or windy so I can't complain about the weather.  After finally bagging the summit, I drove north for a bit, then turned west towards Vermont.

The next morning, I drove on to Stowe, VT, and up the $18 toll road towards Mount Mansfield.  From the top of the road, a short hike along nifty green rock, northward on the Long Trail, lead to the summit, the highpoint of Vermont.  This hike was entirely in the fog and rain, and some of it was more wading than anything else.  I had originally planned to take the Long Trail in the other direction, which was considerably more elevation gain and (supposedly) somewhat exposed.  Due to the wet, slick, conditions, I decided to take the easy way instead.  It was, however, lots of fun.  A longer and more difficult hike wouldn't have been so much fun, under the conditions.  I guess I'll have to go back.  After this moderate hike, I continued west to Burlington, VT, then by ferry across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks in New York.  I looked for my distant relative Champy (cousin of my closer relative Nessie) during the boat ride, but I saw nothing.  After reaching the shores of New York, I drove on to Lake Placid, and settled in at the Jack Rabbit Inn.

By this point, I was getting a little tired of being rained on.  The weather forecast did call for drier conditions, but I had to wait a day for that.  With a 15 mile hike ahead of me, this sounded good, so I spent Day 17 lounging around Lake Placid, getting in some quick web browsing at the public library, which is in the midst of the shops on the main street.  On Day 18, I set out on the hike to Mount Marcy, the highpoint of New York, with a forecast of mostly sunny.  The weather stayed cloudy at first, but didn't rain, and it finally started to clear as I reached the summit, where I got my best views of the trip.  After the hike back to the trailhead, I returned to the Jack Rabbit Inn. 

The next morning, I continued west to Buffalo.  In the evening, I made the short jaunt to Niagara Falls, on the New York / Ontario border.  I walked across the border into Canada, on a mission to find some Kinder Eggs, a kind of chocolate covered toy beloved by many around the world, but forbidden in the USA for ridiculous reasons.  Eventually, after weaving through the maze of tourist traps that is Niagara Falls, Ontario (at least near the border), I found some of the eggs, and snuck them back across the border.  On the way back, I watched the falls in the evening twilight.

On Day 20, I headed back to Niagara Falls, this time to check out the falls from the US side and in daylight.  After getting some pictures, and then getting soaked on the 'Cave of the Winds' tour, I started the long drive back to Austin.  On 23 June, Day 22 of my trip, I made it back home, just in time to watch the Spurs win Game 7 over the Detroit Pistons to claim the NBA championship.  Go Spurs!!

With all said and done, I drove 6221 miles, just over 1 billion centimeters, plus a little further by foot and by ship.  I added 14 new state highpoints, plus the DC highpoint, a National Park highpoint, completed my element collection, and even smuggled some chocolate.