In the middle of nowhere in the Oklahoma panhandle, I’m standing before a barbed-wire fence, arms crossed, wondering what has possessed my boyfriend.
“This can’t be it,” I say to my boyfriend as he toys with ways to avoid the barbs as he crosses the fence. “Yeah, go, walk through the cows.”
He’s dragged me out here to tag the highest point in Oklahoma, Black Mesa. But now he’s not sure he’s found it. The fence doesn’t fit the description. Neither do the cows. And every landmark is a dark mesa.
He hops the fence. I stay put and caustically tell him not to step in cow shit on the way to the glorious summit of what probably isn’t Black Mesa.
He’s back 10 minutes later.
Despite the scene that unfolded near (maybe near) Oklahoma’s high point years ago, I don’t hold anything against high pointers — just ex-boyfriends who don’t research well.
I’ve never been one to tick lists of peaks. But I’m fascinated by those who are, because it takes a lot of effort to run around to the high points in each state, or to all of Colorado’s fourteeners (or thirteeners or more), and they might not all be a loads of fun, like my maybe Black Mesa.
So I talked to some local highpointers to see why they love it.
Mark Grylicki says his family got into 50-states highpointing six or seven years ago. It was a natural extension of the family’s frequent road trips and camping outings, and he wanted his kids to see the country.
“A lot of people just fly places and don’t get off the beaten path,” Grylicki says. “I wanted my kids to get to all 50 states, regardless of this high point thing.”
Getting way off the interstate has made for interesting memories for his family. But in the past couple of years, he told me with a chuckle, he started doing all of Colorado’s fourteeners on his own, too.
“It’s something to do,” Grylicki says. “You get the bug.”
After the fourteeners, he says he’s back to the high points. He planned to summit three fourteeners in the Elk Mountains over the long weekend, which would put him at 49 total. (There are 53 or 58 in Colorado, depending on how you count them.)
Perhaps I haven’t appreciated the journey enough to immerse myself in a ticklist. But I might also be missing “the bug.”
John Preston, of Boulder, has it. He completed his 50-in-50 goal last year by finishing the state high points a couple of months before his 50th birthday.
He unknowingly started the list at age 16 with Wyoming’s high point and climbed the hardest high point, Alaska’s Denali, in his 20s. But Preston didn’t think of doing all 50 until his mid-40s, when he found a highpointing guidebook in a ranger station in the Sierras, near Mount Whitney (California’s high point).
Preston is also close to finishing riding a bike across the U.S. in sections; he’s done five of the Seven Summits, though he’s not trying for all seven; and he’s chipping away at the Appalachian Trail. (“It’s not really a goal, but it’s something fun to do,” he says. “You feel like you’re working through pieces of it.”)
“The bug” can burrow deep. My friend Adam occasionally serves as an unofficial climbing guide for Colorado highpointers who don’t have technical rock-climbing skills. He’s been the leader for thirteeners in the San Juans and unnamed county high points in the South Platte. He took three trips up The Castle, Jefferson County’s eighth highest point, in one month due to popular demand by non-technical climbers.
Chasing these high points might seem like an arbitrary task to impose on oneself, especially when, bug free, you’re staring down barbed wire and cows in the Oklahoma panhandle. But Preston confirmed what I was starting to suspect: These lists aren’t arbitrary if they’re a convenient reason to keep doing something you love.
“I’m just a goal-oriented person,” he says. “And I guess it gives me an excuse to do the things I want to do anyway.”
Jenn Fields’ “Field Notes” runs in the Colorado Daily every Monday.