50 State Summits

I can vividly remember the exhilaration of climbing my first mountain summit. The moment of pure exhilaration flooding the body, adrenaline surging through tired muscles as feet and hands scramble over the last couple rocks to the peak. The uncontainable triumph involuntarily forcing my arms out skyward in victory, and a smile that jettisoned itself from the soul, captured proudly on my face.

My first real mountains were the Dawson Peaks. On the edge of Teslin Lake, 20 miles south of the small village of Teslin, the Dawson Peaks confidently tower above the landscape. The mountains rest on the British Columbia side of the Yukon border and are only accessible by boat. Despite their official name of Dawson Peaks on a map, locally they are called The Three Aces, due to the pyramid shapes of the peaks offering three “A” shapes.

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These majestic towers of rock and stone serve as barometers of the seasons. Seeing the first dusting of snow on the Aces signals a warning to collect firewood and to prepare for the fast approaching winter. Witnessing the last of the snow disappear from the highest peak a confirmation that summer has expressed itself fully.

These mountains where always present in my childhood. I grew up in their shadows; their confident and enduring peaks inescapable. The deep rugged rocky faces held deep mystical mysteries. So when at thirteen, given the chance to meet up close the beast that had lumbered above my childhood, I was filled with great excitement. But also fear. The mountain was steep and dangerous. I wondered about my own strength. I did not want to fail in the attempt to climb the mountain, or my Dad to be disappointed.

Yet the excitement of the climb and the prospect of conquering the summit won out over my fears, and I found myself scrambling up the rocky edges of the Aces. The climb was tough, and my lungs and muscles burned in the effort. Yet that feeling I felt when reaching the summit was overpowering. It was a moment that now in my late 30s I can still recall and remember vividly. And when I do I feel my heart quicken and my lungs yearn to be filled with the thin icy mountain air.

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It is undoubtedly the experiences of my youth, climbing mountains and hearing stories of the summits my father and grandfather so heroically conquered, that left an imprint on my mind. A subconscious gnawing of emotional weight calling for attention. Despite the many years of ignoring it and being distracted by other life events, it could only be ignored for a short time before flaring up with a zealous need to be explored.

And with this inspiration, influence and hunger for the mountains I have set out to climb the highest peak in every state. And while this includes the heroic conquering of Britton Hill in the state of Florida, a staggering 312-foot summit that I will drive over in my car, it also includes the tallest mountain in North America, Mount Denali. Only 5 mountains in this ambition will involve actual mountaineering. The rest are hikes and backpacking trips ranging in intensity.

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The most difficult part of summiting the majority of these peaks will be actually getting to all the states in my limited vacation time each year. I have not set a time limit on my goal, and suspect it will take a few years to complete. But like a great book, or a fancy dinner, allowing yourself to slowly absorb the experience and savor the details is ultimately more rewarding.

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