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50 Highpoints in the winter

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Fun story about Mount Rainier in the News Tribune this weekend. Some of you may have heard about Dave Johnston (super nice guy) from the book Minus 148.



This climber’s in a club all his own

CRAIG HILL; The News Tribune

Last updated: March 19th, 2005 02:35 AM


He survived minus-148-degree temperatures, three broken ribs and Delaware traffic on his way to making history Monday morning when he reached the top of Mount Rainier.


By reaching the 14,411-foot summit, Dave Johnston, a 62-year-old climber from Talkeetna, Alaska, became the first man to climb to the highest point in all 50 states in the winter. He’s also reached the summits in the summer.


Rainier is the fourth-highest of these points, and an even more substantial challenge for climbers in the winter than it is in the summer. Only a handful of the 10,000 people who try for Rainier’s summit each year dare to climb in the winter.


“It’s a completely different mountain in the winter,” said Seattle-based climbing guide Jim Litch, who accompanied Johnston to the summit. “It’s cold throughout the day, not just at night. There is no established route like in the summer. It’s more intense.”


So intense, in fact, that it took Johnston three times to make his first winter ascent. And Litch, who has summited Mount Everest, had never climbed Rainier in the winter despite nearly 100 trips to the summit.


Reaching Rainier’s summit cements Johnston and his family as high-pointing icons. In 2003, Johnston, his wife, Cari Sayre, and son Galen became the first family to reach the high points. That same year, Galen became the youngest person to check off the list at age 12.


Though 135 people have completed the 50 high points – according to the Colorado-based Highpointers Club, which has 2,500 members – the winter club likely will have only one member for a many years.


Reading Art Davidson’s 1969 book “Minus 148” is enough to scare most people away from a winter ascent of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. The book details the first winter trek to the 20,320-foot high point of North America. Johnston was a member of that eight-man 1967 party and one of the three to reach the summit after seven weeks of climbing.


Along the way, one of the climbers died after falling into a crevasse. And during the descent, Johnston and the party spent six days wedged into a tiny ice cave waiting out a windstorm that they estimated dropped the temperature to minus-148 degrees.


Climbing the 50 high points has become a popular goal for adventurers even though few of the high points are as challenging as McKinley and Rainier. In fact, 30 of the high points can be reached either by car or a short hike.


However, Johnston says even the shortest points have their challenges.


For example, Florida’s 345-foot Britton Hill – the lowest high point – was one of the hardest to find.


“It was at the top of this imperceptible rise,” Johnston said of the only high point comprised mostly of sand. “If I didn’t have a guide book, I would have been hard pressed to find it.”


At Delaware‘s 448-foot Tower Hill – the second-lowest high point – Johnston had to pick just the right moment to pose for a picture, because the high point is on Elbright Road. Johnston waited for the cars to pass, then ran out in the road waving his ice axe in the air.


Reaching Rainier’s summit in the winter had more substantial challenges.


During his 2003 attempt, Johnston bunked with Rainier’s lead climbing ranger, Mike Gauthier. One morning, Gauthier woke Johnston up at 6 a.m. so he could help with a rescue attempt.


As Johnston skied below Camp Muir in whiteout conditions looking for the missing climbers, he accidentally skied off a cliff and broke three ribs.


This year’s attempt also looked like it might come up short, too.


He and Litch, 45, made a half-hearted attempt at the summit on March 6, but low clouds and high winds turned them back at 13,400 feet. The previous day they saw high winds blow over skiers below Camp Muir.


“We were just getting exercise,” said Litch, who knew conditions weren’t ideal for a push to the summit. “We probably could have made it, but we would have had to spend the night on the summit.”


But as time approached for Johnston to return home, the weather cleared.


While Johnston, a lean 6-foot-6 climber, typically would have needed about four hours for a summer push from Camp Muir at 10,188 feet to the summit, on March 14 he needed more than six hours.


“It was a good day, but the real work was at the top of the mountain,” Johnston said. “I thought I remembered Rainier being easier. Get in a groove and just walk up.”

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Pretty impressive accomplishment! There are actually a few other lesser known summits that should not be discounted. Katahdin in Maine is no easy feat in winter, not to mention the bureaucratic bullshit you have to go through to get there. Washington in NH can also be a serious undertaking. Kings peak in the Uintas of Utah is fairly remote as well. Hats off to this guy! bigdrink.gifbigdrink.gif


What's the lowest of the highest. I'll guess it's in Delaware or Florida!

oops, should have read the whole story. duh!

Edited by David_Parker

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Mt. Washington (NH) in the winter can be similar to Rainier. It is at the convergence of three frontal systems, and has very tumultuous weather; the wind is said to break 100mph on average every three days. Growing up in the Northeast, it was always about the most rockband.gif thing going thumbs_up.gif

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Dave lives in AK and I actually have been talking to his wife (no it isn't like that) about him talking at UAA. She told me he was trying for the 50 summits nad i'm glad he has succeeded finally.

Good for him.


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Other difficult winter peaks: Granite Peak in Montana and Gannett Peak in Wyoming. I remember reading the -148 book some years back and I salute Dave Johnston for quite an accomplishment.

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