A Tale of Two Summits

By Skye Marthaler



On a warm, sunny July morning I trudged up to the top of my first “14-er.” Mount Elbert rises above Leadville, Colo. to touch the sky at 14,440 feet. It calls to you to climb it, standing tall and bold against the skyline, filling your spirit with the urge to take your shot and test your limits. It is magnificent.

Two weeks prior, I strolled into a grove next to a cornfield to stand on top of Indiana. My breathing was significantly less labored in the thick air of 1,257 feet.  Hoosier Hill hides in the woods, innocuous, easily passed by the unaware. It too is magnificent.

Frankly, these two state highpoints could not be more different if they tried. A photo of Mt. Elbert could be stuck in the dictionary under the definition of mountain and it would never be questioned. It lies in the San Isabel National forest bracketed on three sides by other peaks. It is the third highest state highpoint in the United States.

On the day I summited there was a never-ending line of people heading up and down on the trails to the summit, with a raucous party ready to greet you when you arrived at the top, easily over fifty people milling about area, all in a festive mood, snapping photographs, celebrating their accomplishment of reaching the rooftop of Colorado. The views from the top revealed the glory of the Rocky Mountains.

On the other end is Hoosier Hill. It stretches the definition of what a hill is, being a very gradual incline on a rolling plain. The summit can be found in a verdant, mosquito-infested grove, adjacent to a cornfield. It is in the heart of rural America. There are really no scenic views to be had here; the summit area is enclosed in a comforting green bubble of trees and undergrowth. It is the sixth lowest highpoint in the country.

It is serene, the quiet broken by the occasional birdsong or the sounds of nearby farmers working their fields. On the day I visited I was a bit taken aback when somebody actually pulled in before me. They stayed for a few minutes and we had an enjoyable conversation, but once they departed I was alone for the remainder of my time.

While these two highpoints are drastically different they still share some similarities. They can be found in areas that are rich in history and as state highpoints they count the same for those seeking to reach all 50 in the USA. Both require you to get off the beaten path, whether in the national forest or country back roads, and they both offer their own rewards; you just have to be open to receiving them. One provided me a chance to challenge myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. The other afforded a rare opportunity to pause, to enjoy the stillness and solitude, and reflect on the journey.

I would not trade either experience, both had the same sense of adventure, the thrill of exploring something new, going to someplace that not everyone does. This is the true joy of highpointing, a chance to explore the full gamut of your country, to get a chance to revel in nature’s diversity because it is not just the highpoints themselves but also the journey to reach them.

There is an argument to be had that highpointing makes you a better person by providing you opportunities to uncover new and exciting areas, to take you places that you may never have went to just to reach the top of a hill or mountain. It breaks you out of your comfort zone, and allows you the chance to realize the smallest adventures are just as rewarding as the big ones.

As people, we need the Mount Elberts and Hoosier Hills in our lives. The Mount Elberts of the world let us test our limits, challenge us to strive for something bigger, to discover new things about ourselves through a bit of adversity and struggle. When we finally get to the top we are rewarded with a stunning view and a chance to see the big picture.

But the Hoosier Hills of the world are just as important; the starting points or rest areas that allow us to take a pause from the hustle and bustle of life. Without the little adventures we may not fully appreciate the big ones. They provide a lens to put the journey into focus and perspective.

So get out there and have an adventure whether big or small. Both will reward you if you are willing to go and experience something new. You will thank yourself for it. I hope to see you out there.