If the 7 summits are classified as a global challenge, the 50 state highpoints of the U.S. classify as a monumental continental challenge.
While the exact data is sketchy on number of summits and is sliced up a number of ways, through 2016, about 148 people had completed the 7 summits including Carstenz and Kosciusko, and just over 300 people have finished the 50 highpoints through 2017. On Everest alone, by year end 2017, there were 4,833 individual ascents of Everest, and perhaps 16,000 have climbed Denali.
The motivation for many Highpointers, the self appointed title for those pursuing the tallest point in each state, must be similar to the 7 summits. And there is the added bonus of they can mostly be done as part of a good old fashioned American road trip.
Nearly 20 of the state summits can be done without hardly leaving your car, but in the western states: with Rainier in Washington State, Gannett Peak in Wyoming and Granite Peak in Montana there are a good mix of challenges, from the 40 mile round trip approach hike on Gannett to the glaciers and crevasses on Rainier.
None of those really prepare you for the scale and challenges of Denali however. The long approach, the sleds, the crevasses and the cold are all at a level far above what any climber will have faced in the lower 48.
More interesting is the psychological leap though, whether it be capping off your 50 states with Denali or finishing up the7 summits with Everest.
With both peaks, it is climbing up into the myths, following in the footsteps of legends, that creates the real challenge. A mix of awe, of meeting the standards to summit, of daring to set foot on the mountains of 1,000 stories. And then there are the variables of weather, earthquakes, avalanches and just plain luck.
At the same time, that is much of the appeal of iconic mountains like Everest and Denali: becoming part of the story, placing yourself in the midst of the mountains we have all read and talked so much about. And in climbing circles, from nights at the pub, a dinner party, a gathering of friends when the topic of that mountain comes up and someone volunteers the information, “oh yes, did you know they have been there.”