Highs and Lows

A version of this story appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Uncommon Path

Reaching the high point in every state makes you a legend. Some states are easier than others.

Illustration of Britton Hill in Florida

Though some say Kansas is flatter than a pancake, Dorothy’s home state isn’t even among the five lowest high points in the U.S. Florida has the lowest natural high point: Britton Hill rises just 345 feet above sea level, but dozens of buildings in the state soar much higher. The tallest, Miami’s Panorama Tower, is 85 stories.

Illustration of Colorado mountain

Colorado has the highest low point: At 3,315 feet, its lowest elevation tops the apex of 18 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

Illustration of Mount Frissell

Which state’s high point is not even found on the summit of the mountain it’s located on? That would be Connecticut’s side-of-the-hill apex on Mount Frissell. It’s set at 2,380 feet in the southern Berkshires, near the state boundary Connecticut shares with Massachusetts.

Illustration of Mount Whitney

One county in California, Inyo, has bragging rights to both the highest point and the lowest low point in the lower 48. (They are, respectively, 14,494-foot Mount Whitney and Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, 282 feet below sea level.) You can go from the depths of desert salt flats to snowcapped peaks without ever crossing the county line.

Illustration of high point in Delaware

For years, Delaware didn’t have a defined high point, just a sign near Ebright Azimuth saying that it was “in the vicinity of the highest natural elevation.” People decided that a speed bump in the middle of the road must be the highest point in the state. “Summiting” it required rushing out into traffic, making it possibly the most dangerous high point of all.

Illustration of Denali

With an elevation of 20,310 feet, Alaska’s Denali is the highest peak in the United States. But if you measure from base to summit instead of from sea level, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano becomes the tallest mountain in the world, beginning nearly 20,000 feet underwater and rising more than 33,000 feet, 13,000 feet above it.

Up There

In 1986, Jack Longacre founded the Highpointers Club, a group of people interested in reaching the highest point in each of the 50 states and whose membership has since swelled to 2,357. Since Jack’s death in 2002 near his home at Taum Sauk (the highest point in Missouri), highpointers have carried a small amount of his ashes to all the highest elevations in the U.S. and to mountain-tops around the world. Only about 317 people have reached all 50 U.S. high points. Vin Hoeman was the first in 1966. Matt Moniz, 12, was the youngest, and Cal Dunwoody was the oldest at 77. Colin O’Brady did it the fastest, in 21 days.

Illustrations by Aleesha Nandhra