Venturing to the Top

September 26, 2017Katherine RivardNPF Blog
— Rodney Westlake
A 13-year-old mountaineer shares her story and a few secrets to success

Lucy Westlake, a 13-year-old mountaineer, began her “highpointing" journey at the age of seven. She has climbed mountains in all 50 states, as well as Canada and Mexico, and she has stood on the highest point in Africa—Mount  Kilimanjaro. As of today, Lucy also holds the record as the youngest female to climb the lower 48 state highpoints.

But what is “highpointing?”

Lucy bundled up in winter coat standing on top of mountain, snow on the ground, and blue orange red sky in background

Lucy on Mount Kilimanjaro

Rodney Westlake

Put simply, highpointing is reaching the highest elevation in a specific area. This could be the highest point in each U.S. state, continent, or national park, etc. The sport began in 1986, when a highpointer by the name of Jack Longacre read one of the registration books at the top of a state highpoint. He realized that there must be other people like him, climbing to the highpoint. Thus inspired, Jack placed an ad in Outside Magazine. The Highpointers Club was formed the following year and for 30 years, it has continued to connect people that share a common interest in climbing to the highest point in each of the fifty U.S. states.

Lucy and her father began highpointing after driving to the top of Black Mountain, Kentucky, in 2011. Reaching Black Mountain’s peak and looking at the U.S. Geological Survey marker, Lucy and her parents began to wonder where other state highpoints were located. They spent the four-hour drive home reading about state highpoints and the following summer, Lucy’s family took a road trip out west, mapping all the high points along the way. At the age of eight, Lucy and her father spent the summer summiting seven high points (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota). During that trip, the dream to do all 50 was born.

Close up of Lucy bundled up in winter coat and wearing sunglasses, smiling, snow covers the mountain in the background

Lucy on her highpointing adventure at Denali National Park and Preserve

Zak Klein

This past June, Lucy and her father attempted to climb Denali in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve—their  50th highpoint together. Lucy not only aspires to set a world record as the youngest female to climb the 50 state highpoints, she also hopes to inspire other young people to follow in her footsteps. Although Lucy and her team did not make it to the top of Denali that trip due to poor weather, she raised over $20,000 while on the mountain to help other young people get outdoors through the nonprofit organization Outdoors Empowered Network.

In addition to climbing to the highest elevations, Lucy is also a huge fan of the junior ranger program at national parks.

Lucy shakes hands with a National Park Service Ranger as she receives her Junior Ranger badge from Wind Cave National Park, standing inside the visitor center

Lucy celebrates earning her Wind Cave National Park Junior Ranger badge

Rodney Westlake

“Every summer since I was eight years old, my parents would pick a different region of the country and map out a route based on highpointing and visiting national parks. I have now stood on the top of every state, except Alaska, and become a junior ranger at over 40 national parks and monuments,” says Lucy.

Lucy smiles wearing Junior Ranger hat, sporting several Junior Ranger badges, stone arch in background reads "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people"

Lucy, sporting her Junior Ranger hat with lots of Junior Ranger badges, and her brother in front of the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone National Park

Rodney Westlake

Below are some tips from Lucy on how to become a “highpointer” while visiting our beautiful national parks.  

  1. Plan a vacation to a specific region of the U.S. It’s best to start in a region like the Southeast, where the mountains are not very high. Research online where the high points and national parks are located in the states you will be driving through. Then map out your route based on these locations. 
  2. Buy an annual national park pass before your trip. 
  3. Go to summitpost.org to research each highpoint you will be climbing. This website has information about each state highpoint.

Where to Begin

Lucy at the top of a wooden ladder, looks down at the camera
Rodney Westlake

To begin your highpointing journey, all you need is a small backpack to carry some water, snacks, and a few layers of clothes for the simple day hikes. Start with easier climbs to get accustomed to planning out trips and researching the routes on summitpost.org. Once you have a few trips under your belt, you’ll be ready for the more challenging climbs.

Physical and Mental Preparation

Lucy, her brother, and parents standing together, smiling at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

 Lucy and her family at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Rodney Westlake

Climbing highpoints that have trails with a significant mileage and elevation gain requires training. Lucy’s lifestyle and everyday habits provide her the training she needs for endurance climbs. As a triathlete and distance runner, Lucy trains 2-3 hours six days a week throughout the year. Although climbing non-technical mountains does not require this level of training, some type of cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis is important. Running, swimming, biking or playing soccer are great ways for young kids to build their endurance and to stay fit. 

Mental preparation is also key to tackling the challenges of the bigger mountains; this only comes with experience, so get outdoors and give yourself the opportunity to be in different climates and environments. If this is something you have never done before, go on a trip with a local outdoors club in your area. Once you connect with other people who love the outdoors, your outdoor opportunities will be endless. Climbs provided by a guide service are a particularly great way to share the experience with other people. 

Moderate to experienced hikers will be prepared to climb most of the U.S. state highpoints. Technical mountaineering skills are only necessary when climbing the highpoints in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming or Alaska. Until then, enjoy the non-technical adventures! When you are ready to enter the mountaineering world, climbing Mt. Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park with a guide service is a great “gateway climb,” perfect for your first BIG adventure.

“There Is No Bad Weather, Just Bad Clothing”

Lucy and her dad standing on completely snow-covered ground at Mount Rainier, giving the thumbs up

Lucy and her dad on their Mount Rainier National Park highpointing adventure

Rodney Westlake

A successful highpoint adventure that is longer than a simple day hike requires the proper gear. Lucy and her father have spent countless hours figuring out the gear that works best for them in different environments. Each trip provides greater experience and knowledge. Thankfully, there are many resources to help you prepare. Speak with people in your local outdoor club or with knowledgeable staff at a reputable outdoor store near you. The outdoor clubs throughout the United States offer their members extensive help with buying, renting or borrowing gear. Some simple research online to find your local outdoor club and store will get you started in the right direction. Proper gear, including clothing, shoes, backpack, camping equipment, and food is vital to the success of your trip. Staying dry, warm, and blister-free is necessary for a fun highpointing adventure!

Hiking and mountaineering have long been popular adventures for park-goers. For an added level of excitement or a new personal goal, why not try highpointing? Whether you’re 13 years old or 5 times that age, highpointing is another exciting way to #FindYourPark. Plan, train, gear up, and then start towards the peak!

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