Share this page on facebook
Up, up he goes PDF Print E-mail
Written by JOHN MORTON   
Wednesday, 20 September 2017 19:24

Jim Peterson of Port Washington has climbed the highest peak in 41 states; nine more, including daunting Denali, await

It started as a little getaway for a newly single guy who wanted to be alone with his thoughts.
It was 2001, and Port Washington’s Jim Peterson found his way up to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Hoping to soak in the area with a bird’s-eye view, he climbed to the top of Eagle Mound, which was a modest 2,301 feet in height. He’d learn shortly thereafter that it just happened to be the state’s highest peak.
That didn’t seem like a big deal, but he’d discover that for many people it was just that.
“When I went online to learn about the area and discovered that information, I came across something called the Highclimbers Club,” Peterson said. “They have a website and a loosely organized membership of about 2,800. They also have a quarterly newsletter.”
The mission of its members, he read, was to climb to the highest peak in all 50 United States.
“I thought to myself, ‘These are some goofy people,’” Peterson said.
But when he soon went out east he kept thinking about the club. Suddenly, a goofy concept quickly became not only bucket-list material for Peterson, it became a crusade.
“The states are so close together out east, it made it easy to check off a bunch of them,” he said. “I did 15 states in 10 days, driving 5,000 miles.
“I realized it’s a great way to see the country. I’m a tourist who doesn’t like to do the touristy things. I like to meet the locals and see things from their perspective. I loved it right away, and it just snowballed from there.”
Fast forward to today, and you’ll find the 58-year-old Peterson this week in Idaho, taking on his 42nd state in the form of Borah Peak, near Sun Valley, at 12,662 feet.
Utah’s Kings Peak was the original plan, but recent wildfires there made it too risky.
“We have a wedding to go to in Utah next year, so I’ll take it on then,” Peterson said.
Indeed, what was once a whirlwind of climbs has now slowed to more of a crawl, with Peterson averaging less than two trips per year. He is remarried and has a busy schedule as the head of catering with Larry’s Market in Brown Deer, so the scaling of the tallest peaks of the remaining states needed to reach his goal will come down to logistics and the stockpiling of vacation days.
“Next year we’re planning our 15th wedding anniversary in Hawaii,” he said of himself and wife Brenda, “so we’ll have it on the Big Island. That’s where Mauna Kea is. It’s the state’s highest peak at 13,796 (feet).”
Peterson has done 40 of his 41 climbs by himself, which worries Brenda.
“My wife doesn’t like that, but I love the solitary experience of it – I deal with so many people at work all day,” he said.
But what lies ahead is daunting and requires some assistance. Peterson has yet to use ropes or harnesses, carrying only a backpack holding a tent and basic supplies, but that will now change.
“Montana and Wyoming are still ahead, and for those it will be best to do it with a buddy and use the ropes,” he said. “As for Oregon and Washington, I’ll need a guide.”
Then there’s Alaska, home to Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), the country’s tallest peak. It stands at 20,320 feet.
“That’s a three-week commitment, and you can only do it during the June hiking season,” Peterson said of Alaska. “The glaciers are still frozen then, but it’s not too cold.”
He does, however, have some tough ones behind him.
That includes California’s Mt. Whitney in the High Sierra. At 14,474 it’s the continental United States’ tallest point. It’s also breathtaking, Peterson said.
“It’s where they filmed “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” in 1948 – you know, the Bogart movie,” Peterson said. “Everyone should see the place.”
Another challenging one he conquered was Nevada’s Boundary Peak, at 13,143 feet, which Peterson said was the toughest so far.
“There’s thick sand there, so it’s two steps forward and one step back,” he said. “It was demoralizing. I wondered what the hell I was doing during that one. The trails are not well defined. You can’t tell where you’re going.”
New Mexico’s 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak was also rough, and not just because of the height. He traveled to the state two years ago on his Harley motorcycle with a friend, it being the first climb he didn’t take solo. He logged 3,000 miles round trip on the road for a climb that totaled just 12 miles in length, up and down.
“I was saddle sore before I even began,” he said.
But it was sweet redemption. Earlier, an attempt in New Mexico was thwarted by a foot injury that led to a bout with blood poisoning.
“Live to hike another day – that’s what I had to do,” Peterson said.
Another bump in the road came in upstate New York, where a sudden build-up of ice cut short Peterson’s effort.
“I was only a half-mile from the top when I had to turn around,” he said. “Because of that, New York remains the only state east of the Mississippi that’s left for me.”
Some climbs were like a walk in the park for Peterson. The lowest state-highest peak is in Florida’s panhandle, at 345 feet. Next lowest is in Rhode Island at 812.
Wisconsin, of course, was also an easy check-off in terms of height and geographic proximity. The state’s highest peak is Timms Hill, which is west of Wausau’s Rib Mountain, at 1,951 feet.
Taking things slowly and in an orderly fashion will be how the remaining eight states will have to play out, said Peterson, who in hindsight said he wishes he came upon the idea when he was a bit younger.
“I would have started sooner if only I’d known I would be committed to doing this. Some of this may have to wait until I’m retired,” he said. “But I know of people who still do this in their 70s and 80s.”
One man he met while climbing Mt. Whitney in California is proof positive of that, and he was quite an inspiration for Peterson.
“He was in his mid-60s and he was a beast. He climbed like a jack rabbit,” Peterson said. “The climb is 20-plus miles round trip and he had done it 100 times. I was in my 40s at the time and he made me look pretty bad.”
Furthermore, Peterson has come to appreciate the beauty and peace his task has offered him.
“It truly gives you a feeling you’re making the most of life, living each day to the fullest,” he said. “I know of people who were so moved by this they became Buddhists after their completion. It can be that powerful, the connection with nature.”
At a minimum for Peterson, it keeps him feeling young.
“It’s a great way to stay in shape, especially when you know you’re close,” he said. “It keeps you going and going.”

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.