I’m so excited to share with you a guest post on a topic we love - hiking the US state high points!
Shortly after our return home from traveling the world last summer, Dylan and I embarked on a road trip back home. Along the way, we planned to hike 4 more state high points - Florida, Alabama, Indiana, and Ohio. Hiking the state high points has been a passion of ours for many years now, and we are always ready to hike another state summit!
While perusing hashtags on Instagram along our road trip, I noticed a post from someone called The Bold Nomad. He was at the high point of Ohio, where we would be heading in a few days’ time.
After commenting back and forth about our high point lists, we noticed we had a lot in common and became friends on Instagram. Shortly after, we connected about hiking, traveling, and of course - the high points!
The Bold Nomad, AKA Chris Denu, is an avid outdoor adventurer and hiker originally from one of our favorite places - Vermont!
Chris lives nomadically and embraces van life, which allows him to travel often and with a minimalist mindset. On his blog, Chris shares hiking tips, incredible photos, and videos to help others take their own bold journeys and adventures.
In 2019, Chris set out with the intention of hiking 49/50 state high points, in a single year!
When I heard about Chris’s hiking goal, I was seriously impressed. It had taken Dylan and I more than seven years to get 22 state high points. Chris was going to attempt all but one of them in one year!
How epic is that?
I thought it would be an excellent addition to the blog to have Chris comment on his adventure - his hiking background, his transition into campervan life, and what happened with his 2019 state high point goal.
What’s it like living in a van?
Did Chris summit all 49 state high points?
Will he continue to chase high points?
Keep reading to learn more about The Bold Nomad, Chris Denu, and his 2019 state high point adventure!
Chris Denu: Hiking The State High Points
Being born and raised in rural, small-town Vermont, I grew up spending a majority of my days outside. Summer, winter, or mud season- it didn’t matter, there was always something to explore! This love of exploring wild places has never left me, and has led me to where I am today.
For the past 10 years, I have been based out of Colorado exploring the Rocky Mountains. I’ve summited many Colorado 14,000’ peaks and hiked countless miles. Back in May of 2017, I set off at the Mexican border to hike the entire Continental Divide Trail (CDT). After 138 days of hiking, I arrived in Canada!
These hiking adventures instilled confidence in my abilities and grew my passion to achieve all sorts of new outdoor adventure goals. In 2019, I set out with the goal to summit all the state high points in 49/50 states!
I began a new chapter of my life in 2018 and decided to embark on a new way of living - “van life”. In September, I purchased a van located outside of Nashville, Tennessee. I bought a one-way ticket and flew to pick it up, then drove it back to Colorado to load up for a long trip back east. During the winter of 2018-2019, I worked and saved money back in Vermont while beginning the process of converting the van into a campervan!
Construction on the van was challenging during the Vermont winter. The cold, snow and the short amount of daylight made it difficult to get much done. The bed wasn’t actually finished until my journey was underway!
Van life is much different than any other type of living. I am still adjusting and learning the best ways to live full time in a camper van. There are many things to consider on a daily basis - deciding where to park and sleep for a night, storing food, water, and fuel are all equally important. I’ve learned to cook a lot of meals, what groceries to buy, and how to get creative in the kitchen.
Prior to beginning this new hiking goal, I had already summited a few state high points. To make things interesting, I decided to try and complete all the high points except Alaska in a calendar year. Trying for forty-nine in a year would push me sufficiently enough, and would provide plenty of driving for the van! Living and traveling the country in a campervan was going to be a great way to accomplish my new goal.
Once I decided that this was going to be a 2019 goal, I couldn’t wait for January to arrive!
The Adventure Begins
At home in Vermont was the perfect place to start on Mount Mansfield. On January 19th I successfully got my 1st high point of the year with a friend who was willing to bear the below zero temperatures!
In February, I convinced my brother to join me on a trip to upstate New York for the Adirondack’s highest peak, Mount Marcy. We were lucky the weather was calm and clear. Just like that, two state high points were done! The next ‘chunk’ of high points came in late April as I headed south from Vermont to knock off a trio of high points in New England with friends.
High Point Count: 5/50
The East Coast
When Memorial Day weekend arrived, I was off!
The first major chunk of my summer high pointing adventure was to make my way to Colorado via several state high points. On the first day, I ventured to New Jersey and Delaware. New Jersey was wet and foggy, and in Delaware, I had to dash out to the high point during a lull in the storm. From Delaware, I got three high points in one day: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.
The driving west continued and the next day I visited the high points of Ohio and Indiana. The timing worked out perfectly for me as I hit the high point of Illinois on one of the few weekends it is open to the public.
High Point Count: 13/50
Go West Young Man
As the states grew in size, so did the driving time between high points.
One day I hit Iowa, and then next I got Nebraska. After, I made my way into Colorado to rest for a few days with friends. The tentative plan from here was to schedule a climb of Mount Rainer in Washington state- the time of year was perfect for it and a friend and I were planning to bring skis. Due to the busy season, our plans fell through. This led us to our backup plan of Borah, Idaho’s highest point!
It was my second attempt at this grueling peak, and on June 15th we made it to the top. After, I followed my buddy back down to Salt Lake City, and then back to Colorado where I’d set off on a long trip back east via a northern route.
High Point Count: 16/50
After a couple of days catching up on chores in Colorado, I set off northbound.
I hit Black Elk Peak in South Dakota, then off to North Dakota. From North Dakota, I headed east and through the upper reaches of Minnesota’s state high point, where I was nearly carried away by mosquitos!
Heading south from the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota and around parts of Lake Superior, I entered Wisconsin and arrived at Timms Hill. I climbed both the wooden tower which had nice easy stairs and the old metal tower, which had a vertical ladder. From Wisconsin, it was up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Instead of heading south and east, I decided I’d make my way back to Vermont via Canada. In a single day, I drove north of the Great Lakes through Canada and dropped back into Vermont.
I used Vermont as a jump-off point to snag two Northeast states I had yet to do, New Hampshire and Maine. These would have proven a bit difficult to do in winter, so I chose to make a trip back east to hike them in summer. Shortly after the 4th of July, I visited New Hampshire and had a beautiful day climbing Mount Washington. Two days later, I was lucky enough to have another gorgeous day as I stood on Katahdin in Maine.
High Point Count: 24/50
Heading Down South
Later in July, it was time to head south and work on those southeast high points!
My first stop was Virginia, and it was hot. Thankfully as I climbed Virginia’s high point I was surrounded by cool clouds and mist! The summit really felt like the Pacific Northwest. From Virginia, it was a quick stop in Kentucky, then onto Tennessee. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park I chose to hike the Appalachian Trail up to Clingmans Dome, Tennessee’s high point and my second time on the summit.
From there it was on to North Carolina and the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell. I had a blast running this mountain! I took advantage of the snack bar at the top and soaked in the river at the bottom once I was done. Sassafras in South Carolina was next, and I enjoyed the brand new observation platform built there. It was cool to the state line running right through the platform. I had one foot in North Carolina and one in South Carolina at the same time.
I continued further south, down to Georgia, where I came way too close to some nasty lightning. After Georgia, it was to Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, and into Florida, the lowest of the high points. I was in Florida for a short time (about thirty minutes), before continuing was back up through Alabama to Mississippi and Louisiana.
From here it was on to Arkansas where I hiked the high point for the second time. Winding out this section of the trip included a lot of driving as I went to Missouri and Kansas on the way back to Colorado to take a short break.
High Point Count: 36/50
Western Peaks & Gulf of Mexico
In early August, I set off with a friend to hike the Uinta mountains from West to East on the Uinta Highline Trail.
On the 3rd morning of this hike, we climbed up onto Anderson Pass. To the south of this pass, only about a half-mile or so was the summit of Kings Peak - the highest point in Utah. The journey continued as I passed back through Salt Lake City, and into Colorado yet again. Though I had passed through Colorado a few times on this quest, I had yet to do its own high point, Mount Elbert.
This was my second time climbing Mt. Elbert, and I made sure to explore a different route than my first trip up this giant, broad mountain. From there, I continued toward the panhandle of Oklahoma. Located in the far west reaches of the Oklahoma panhandle is Black Mesa, the high point. After that, I drove deeper south and into Texas.
After visiting San Padre Island and swimming in the Gulf, I took off from sea level to the desert mountains of far west Texas. Texas’s high point is located in Guadalupe Peaks National Park. I quickly hiked Guadalupe Peak and continued north again to New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak. Humphrey’s Peak in Arizona was next, and in a similar location with proximity to skiing. I’d love to go back and explore more of this area in the future!
High Point Count: 42/50
California & Summer Heat
After a quick stop to see the Grand Canyon, I set off towards the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
It was extremely hot passing through Las Vegas, around 112 degrees! I made it into California and to the town of Bishop. From here it was a relatively short drive to meet up with a friend right near the California/Nevada border. This is where the appropriately named Boundary Peak lies - the highest point in Nevada. We met up, drove up the famously rough 4x4 road as far as we could, and hiked up to a saddle where the true hike to Boundary begins.
After driving around to await my Mount Whitney permits, I finally found a place to escape the southern California heat -Big Bear. At Big Bear, it was nice to set up camp and have a place to run and relax for a few days. The time flew by and soon I picked up my Whitney Permits and Wag Bags and found a camp spot in the Alabama hills.
A friend flew in from Colorado and met me there that night, and the next morning we would tackle the highest peak in the lower 48. Mount Whitney and its surrounding area ended up being amazing. We did the long day hike from Whitney Portal to the top and back. We planned ahead and brought summit beers, and it was a perfect way to celebrate my 44th high point!
High Point Count: 44/50
When September Ends
Mount Whitney would turn out to be my last state high point of the year.
I had missed out on my chances to climb Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood earlier in the year. I had gotten some intel that the bergschrund on Gannet Peak in Wyoming had opened up to the point it was a bit too sketchy, and when chatting and planning with a friend to do Granite Peak in Montana, we found out they had gotten 11” of September snow.
Based on the changing weather and that fall and winter were fast approaching, I decided to end my state high point adventures for 2019. In total, I successfully climbed 44 out of the planned 49 state high points over the course of nine months!
After the completion of my 2019 high pointing season, six state high points remain for me to complete my goal.
If everything goes as planned, I will finish Mount Rainier (Washington), Mount Hood (Oregon), Gannett Peak (Montana), and Granite Peak (Wyoming) in 2020, which will conclude my lower 48 state goal. That leaves Hawaii and Alaska to complete all fifty states. I don’t have any plans to visit Hawaii just yet, but I look forward to that trip!
Denali, Alaska’s high point, is the biggest high point of them all. I am currently in talks with a group planning to climb this mega mountain unguided in 2021. There is still so much to learn in order to tackle a 20,000’ peak. I’ll be starting my training now in order to get myself as ready as possible for Alaska!
It was a real joy to explore our country’s high points, and the memories are sure to stick with me. Some of my favorites include the epic day hike of Mount Whitney in California, the early season climb of Borah Peak, my four-day hike through Utah’s High Uinta Mountains which included Kings Peak, and the many solo ‘summits’ of some of the lesser-known state high points.
While I continue to travel the country in my van, I have started a new hiking journey - visiting and hiking high points in our National Parks. My new challenge is to summit the highest points in each of the now sixty-two National Parks. I have summited 11 so far, and have several more planned for the upcoming year!
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your hiking adventure with us!
To learn more about Chris and his adventures as The Bold Nomad, follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and check out his website The Bold Nomad.
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
- John Muir