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Trip Report – Of fifty, my top two North American Climbs

By: Nigel Roberts

Source: Vertigo (Wellington Section) Newsletter (Feb 2018)

On a gloriously sunny Sunday last year – on Sunday, 10 September, to be precise – I reached the summit of Mt Marcy. At 1,629m above sea-level, Marcy is the highest mountain in New York state, and it was my second attempt to climb the peak. The first time I tried to climb Marcy was in late October 2016, but a combination of thick snow and poor visibility made me abandon my solo attempt to reach the summit when I was only an estimated 70 or so vertical metres short of my goal.

Nigel Roberts retuns to Camp Four (5,243m) after his successful July 1997 ascent of Denali / Mt McKinley (6,194m). Photo by Aidan Brennan

I was particularly thrilled finally to have climbed Mt Marcy, because – by doing so – I became one of only about 300 people who have stood on top of all 50 US state highpoints. (By way of contrast, more than 4,800 people have climbed Mt Everest.) I also became the first-ever resident of the southern hemisphere to have ascended all fifty of the United States’ state highpoints.

Reaching the top of all fifty was not something I set out to do when I climbed my first US state highpoint. I was on an altogether different trajectory: in July 1997 I climbed Denali / Mt McKinley, 6,194m, while I was on a “Three-and-a-Half Summits” quest – namely, an attempt to climb at least three of the six highest of the continental Seven Summits plus Australia’s Mt Kosciuszko, which is only 2,228m above sea-level and, as a Kiwi, I can’t therefore think of it as anything other than a half-summit.

Denali was probably my best-ever climb. Nine of the eleven members of our party reached the summit on the sixteenth day of our attempt. Not even the fact that collapsed snow-bridges over crevasses in the lower icefall on the Kahiltna glacier later saw us marooned on the mountain for eight days can take the gloss off the pride I feel as a result of my successful ascent of North America’s highest mountain. Of all the fifty US state highpoints, Alaska’s Denali is my firm favourite.

Second favourite – and the peak I’d most like to go back to and climb again – is Gannett Peak, which at 4,207m above sea-level is the highest mountain in Wyoming. It is the fifth highest of the US state highpoints, and is nearly 500 metres higher than Mt Cook. Gannett Peak is in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and can be approached either from the east or the west. Whichever route one takes to reach the mountain, climbing Gannett Peak usually takes five or six days.

In July 2006, I was part of a five person expedition, and we approached the mountain from the western side of the range. Both before and after our snow-and-ice climb to reach the summit on the fourth day of our six-day trip, we passed through some of the most magnificent scenery it’s ever been my privilege to see.

Huge U-shaped glacial valleys filled with lakes and fields of stunning wild flowers were breath-takingly beautiful.

The remaining 48 US state highpoints were all interesting, many were beautiful, and more than a handful – including, in my case, New York’s Mt Marcy – were challenging. However, Denali / Mt McKinley and Gannett Peak are clearly my top two. I commend them to fellow Alpine Club members as highly worthwhile goals

Posted: 20/03/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland