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  • Ednold

No Hill for a Climber 7/2/23


Groucho Marx and I never had much in common, as far as I can tell, except that, as he did, I have an aversion to joining any club that would have me as a member. Or any other club, for that matter. But lately I’ve been contemplating submitting my application for club membership. For just $25 a year I can receive 4 newsletters, updates on member achievements, become eligible for club recognition and awards, and the privilege of voting for the Board of Directors.

The Highpointers is a club for people interested in reaching the highest points in each of our 50 states. The ultimate goal of any Highpointer is to complete all 50 climbs, collecting plaques and patches along the way, and maybe even having their picture posted in the quarterly newsletter. I’m no publicity hound, but belonging to a group of like-minded experts with whom to compare experiences might make things a little more interesting.


I have always been fascinated by the skill and fearlessness of mountain climbers, and have long harbored a curiosity as to whether or not I possessed the necessary physical and mental makeup to become one of them. Having recently come to the affirmative conclusion to that question, it was time to put that theory to the test before deciding whether or not to send in that application. Finally, this summer, I had the opportunity to embark on a journey that I’ve been planning for quite a while, and this is the story of that journey. It may have been most convenient to start with a hike up to the summit of Mt. Hood or Mt. Rainier, since they’re nearby, but highpointing is all about challenging yourself and pushing the limits, so I decided to begin a little farther from home. In the end, the trip was the culmination of much preparation; physically, mentally, and logistically, and I hope it won’t spoil the story if I tell you up front that it was a completely successful endeavor.

When climbers plan their ascent of Mount Everest, they must choose whether to climb the south face via Nepal or take the less-traveled north route through Tibet. Similarly, the Britton Hill summit in western Florida can be approached from either the Alabama or Florida sides; a decision that could well determine the success or failure of the entire expedition. I went back and forth regarding the respective pros and cons of each and, after a comprehensive analysis of the available data, decided that attacking Britton Hill from the south would be most likely to end in success.

Though the trek up would have been much easier had I chosen to make this a solo expedition, once word of my planned trip got out I had several requests from others to join the party. Eventually there would be 2 others in our group, with I the only mountain climbing expert. Yes, it would be an added level of complexity to an already-challenging undertaking, but being able to bring everyone home safely would be a true testament of my management abilities and mountaineering skills.


The following is a reproduction of the text from my expedition notebook, along with a few photographs I was able to take where I was able to find secure footing along the treacherous path.


Day 1


1057

Packed all members of expedition into automobile and began our journey:


Ednold Expedition Captain and Climbing Expert

Mrs. Ednold Guide – The best guides are natives who have all the local knowledge and are already acclimated to the environment

Eddie Navigator


Departed our lodgings in urban oasis of northeastern Florida.


1119

Stopped at the Piggly Wiggly in Graceville to stock up on supplies for the climb. Consists mostly of Slim Jims, Fruit Punch, and a bag of boiled peanuts we bought from a guy in the parking lot.


1214

Reached base camp. Had expected the temperature to drop dramatically as elevation increased, but still sweltering. Will welcome the cold when we reach the summit.

Set up camp in the parking lot of Lakewood Park. As expected, we will not be the only group striking out for the summit today. Met with all members of the expedition to review our plan, then we rested awhile to gather ourselves mentally and physically for the challenge ahead.


1217

Left base camp and set out for the peak of Britton Hill.


1218

Have reached summit!! The entire party has succeeded in reaching the very apex of Britton Hill. There were a few tense moments as we transitioned from the asphalt of the parking lot to the sandy grass of the trail, but persevered and now have a few precious moments to enjoy the view from the top. I dare say there is not one person in the party who would not say the effort has been worth the reward. The grandeur from these heights is simply magnificent and the sense of accomplishment is immense.


1221

Beginning descent after reminding all that more people die on their way down a mountain than on the way up, and that this is no time for complacency.


1222

All have safely returned to base camp.

And just like that, I had completed 1/50 of a Highpointers lifelong quest. Of all the mountains to climb all over the state of Florida, this was the most difficult! Now I’m thinking that if I lived in Florida I could be one of the state’s leading mountain climbers, perhaps THE best. I’ve already climbed the toughest one they’ve got.

Britton Hill isn’t just the lowest high point of any of the fifty states. It’s also lower than the lowest point of 16 of those other states. The “hill” is in the little town of Lakewood, which is actually more of a ghost town now. In the early 1900’s the town’s lumber mill processed 100,000 feet of lumber a day. The floors of New York’s Grand Central Station and Waldorf-Astoria Hotel are made of longleaf yellow pine from Lakewood. It was a big deal. But over-harvesting of the surrounding forests coupled with the depression took their toll and by the end of WWII the town was almost gone. In the mid-50’s the spot on the edge of town edged out several contenders to claim the honor of the state’s highest point, and the few remaining residents were hoping it would signal a change in the town’s fortunes. It was not to be, and even after descendants of the mill’s owners donated the 17 acres for Lakewood Park in 1984, the little crossroads clung to obscurity, where it remains, less than a mile below the Alabama border, with a few homes, one really nice park, and the title of official highest point in the state.

Climbing Britton Hill was a nice experience. The view east from the park across a few miles of rolling hills really is beautiful, and driving around rural Florida there's always a good chance you'll see something you've never seen before. But I think I’ve decided not to send in that application for the Highpointers club. The whole idea is pretty interesting, and I can certainly understand the attraction. Maybe if I’d started this 30 years ago, it would have worked out. Sure, I could still probably get to the tops of Driskill Mountain (Louisiana, elev. 535 feet), Charles Mound (Illinois, elev. 1235 feet), or Ebright Azimuth (Delaware, elev. 450 feet), but at this point, am I ever really going to reach the top of Denali or Mount Whitney? It’s tempting, knowing that only four more summits would earn me my first patch, and I have a soft spot for any mountain climbing club headquartered in Biloxi, Mississippi, but I just have too much Groucho in me to join any club that would have me.

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Gilbert Stewart
Gilbert Stewart
Jul 03, 2023

Such an adventure......so brave and daring. I'm thinking you probably avoided the frostbite.


And I'm guessing that daring runs in your family, eh? I'm told that your old man once took the elevator to the top floor of the 10 story Livesey Building in downtown Salem.


(And congrats to the ones who joined you on your trek.)

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