Standing at the highest point in North America, Fred Pomeroy relished the view, as memories of the beginning of the quest that brought him to the top of Mount McKinley come to mind.
It was 1997, and Pomeroy and his son, Mike, were standing on the highest point in New Mexico. That was when the idea that has taken Fred around the country was hatched.
“Mike and I were backpacking Wheeler Peak, near Taos, on Aug. 14, 1997. We had gotten to the top and were camping when he said, ‘It might be fun to do the highest points in all of the states,'” Pomeroy recalls of the beginning of a quest that has taken him five years to accomplish.
He has visited 43 of the 50 states since Mike sparked the idea. Pomeroy plans to complete the final seven this summer and have the grand finale in Hawaii at Christmas when he hikes to the top of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea.
“This has been a great way to see the good old U.S. of A.,” Pomeroy said. “It has given me a renewed pride in our country.”
The journey along the way has been one of joy and sorrow for Pomeroy. Various family members have joined in the adventure.
Mike completed four high points with his father before a car accident on US 60 took the younger man’s life in 1999.
“We did Colorado’s Mountain Elbert, Texas’ Guadalupe Peak and Oklahoma’s Black Mesa,” Pomeroy said. “And we got to 10,000 feet on Mount Reiner in Washington before high winds caused us to turn back.”
Pomery’s daughter, Pam, and Joel Burns were also on the Mount Reiner trip.
“Joel planned to propose to Pam at the peak,” Pomeroy said of the aborted trip. “He had to settle for proposing at 10,000 feet.”
When Pomeroy returned to Mount Reiner and reached the summit in July, 1990, no family members were with him physically, but they were there in spirit.
Pomeroy’s bother, Ron, was with him on the “drive-by trip” to Kansas when they took a weekend trip on their Honda Gold Wing motorcycles.
“Some of the highest points are actually easy to get to. Kansas’ Mount Sunflower is on an old boy’s ranch. There’s a huge sunflower created out of wrought iron to mark the spot,” he said.
Not all of the spots are easy to find. When Pomeroy decided to become a “Highpointer” he turned to two books for information about each state’s acme — “Highpoints in the United States” by Don W. Holmes and “50 State Summits” by Paul L. Zunwalt.
“Directions to each of the sites or trailheads are given along with the difficulty of the hike,” he said.
Even with this book in hand, Michigan’s high point was the most difficult to locate. “It was hard to find, and then, when we got there, there was nothing marking it,” he said. “At Nebraska’s Panorama Point, there was nothing to take a picture of except my car.
“But, all in all, the states have pride in their high points. Thirty-seven were clearly marked with signs or monuments. In New Mexico, a cannon sits on top of Wheeler Peak. A few states had nothing. Most of the high points are pretty litter-free. And most of the trails are being taken care of by people.”
While the former superintendent of the Los Lunas Schools was the executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators, he combined business and family trips with outings to high points in the states he visited.
One trip allowed him to take his grandchildren, Joel and Jeremy, to Illinois’ Charles Mound.
After retirement in July, 2001, Pomeroy and his wife, Sandra, loaded up their camper and headed off on a two-and-a-half-month, 23-state trip that circled through the south and up along the east coast and across the northern states before heading back to Los Lunas.
“Sandra has done 19 high points. It was a lot of fun to see our country. The country I’ve seen is fantastic. I had always had an image of Alabama as cotton fields and poverty, but the northern part is forest and very scenic,” he said.
“We were in the upper peninsula of Michigan on Sept. 9. It was very moving to see the American flags flying everywhere, as we wrapped up our trip.”
When Pomeroy began the quest to become one of 110 people to reach all of the 50 high points, he knew he would have to return to his former home in Alaska and take on the highest point in North America.
The difference between the 197 members of the 48 Club and the members of the 50 Club is the summiting of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. It is a true mountain ascent that has eluded many mountaineers.
“A hundred-plus people have died trying to reach Mount McKinley’s summit. It was by far the most challenging for me.
“Between the snow and ice and the lack of oxygen, it is a formidable expedition,” he said of the ascent, which is done without the aid of oxygen respirators. “When you are reaching the summit you take a step then stop and take a breath or two. Then you take another step.”
Nine climbers started with Pomeroy’s group, which was led by three guides. Only four made it to the summit on June 9, 2001.
“I was twice the age of the other three guys, but I made it. They were 26, 29 and 35,” said Pomeroy, who was 61 at the time of the climb.
To be physically ready for all of the trips not just Mount McKinley, Pomeroy runs three to five miles every day and does a light weight routine three times a week.
“When I’m getting ready for a hike, I run bleachers three days a week,” he said. “It also helps living at 5,000 feet. It gives me a step up, compared to people living at sea level.”
Summiting Mount McKinley was a one-shot deal at the end of an 18-day trek that included hauling gear and food — 24 20-pound bags of food and 21 gallons of fuel — from the base camp to the high camp, at 17,000 feet.
“You climb the mountain twice, in actuality, after you pack all of the gear and food up the mountain,” he said.
“You basically have only one shot at it because you are so spent,” Pomeroy said.
“Weather is a big part of it. The team before us was weathered in at high camp for five days and had to go down without trying for the summit.”
With seven states remaining, Pomeroy is beginning to see the end of his long trek.
“I tried to do Utah’s 13,538-foot King’s Peak the last week of April, but, on the way to the trailhead, I got into snow. I was riding my Gold Wing. Snow and two wheels do not mix, so I came home,” he said.
Remaining on his list besides Utah are California’s 14,494-foot Mount Whitney, Montana’s 12,799-foot Granite Peak, South Dakota’s 7,242-foot Harney Peak, North Dakota’s 3,506-foot White Butte, and Hawaii’s 13,796-foot Mauna Kea.
The finale of the quest is going to be a family event, as the Pomeroys gather to celebrate his becoming a member of the Highpointer 50 Club.