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Climb every mountain

September 16, 1999

Howe familyBy GREG SIMMONS / Staff Writer




One Boonsboro family is learning about U.S. geography the hard way - together they've climbed nearly half of the highest peaks in the country.

Beth and Ted Howe decided in 1996 to join a national mountaineering club with their three children. Since then, the five have climbed 22 peaks, including the highest mountain in the continental United States.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"It's a hands-on geography lesson," said Beth, 41.

The Highpointers Club has 1,909 members, according to its quarterly newsletter. The club is dedicated to climbing the tallest geographical point in each state - Sears Tower and the like not included.

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The three Howe children, Evan, 17, Ansley, 14, and Alban, 11, have all been home-schooled. That made it much easier for the family to coordinate family vacations, Beth said. The family could pick up and go to a medical conference in Boston with their father or they could go on family vacations in Maine at Ted's brother's place.

Or they could climb mountains whenever they wanted. This year, on Beth and Ted's 20th wedding anniversary, the family packed into their Toyota minivan and drove to California to climb Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States.

Mount Whitney is in eastern California between Yosemite and Death Valley national parks.

Its peak towers 14,494 feet above sea level, second only in U.S. high points to Mount McKinley in Alaska. McKinley stands 20,320 feet tall. In comparison, The Empire State Building in New York City only stands 1,453 feet tall.

U.S. National Park Service requires all Mount Whitney visitors to have permits because it is so busy at the park, and visitors make reservations six months in advance. Because of that and inclement weather, a lot of planning goes into these trips, Ted said.

"You want to be ready for any kind of weather you encounter, but you don't want to bring so much stuff you just die," he said.

Aside from the travel time to their high point of choice, probably the most harrowing part of their journey might be altitude sickness.

Ted, 44, also the medical director at Williamsport Retirement Village, said the high altitudes can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting.

"If you're up at 13,000 feet and you're vomiting, you don't make it to the peak," Ted said. Instead, those ill from altitude sickness have to walk back down the trail to a more oxygen-rich environment.

Safety is a concern on the highpoint trails, Ted said. Some of the trails to the peak are not clear, and other paths are icy.

"If you lost your footing, you could drop a thousand feet pretty quickly," Ted said.

The Howes also have been to less illustrious high points. Included in the family repertoire is Indiana's high point. It is 1,257 feet above sea level, the 44th lowest in the country.

Alban, the youngest Howe, may have summed up his family's club membership best in a report he wrote for school.

"Our family has a hobby of climbing the highest point in every state. This summer we climbed Mount Whitney ...

"It was a long hike but it was worth it to me. It was fun, and now I can say I've climbed it."

If you ask Beth, their next excursion will be to top Mauna Kea in Hawaii, but Ted said he's looking forward to climbing Gannett Peak in Wyoming. But no matter how far they travel, the family seems to grow closer.

"It definitely strengthens our relationship," Beth said.

"I would say we're a close family anyway," she said, but "doing these vacations together has really brought us closer."

On the hike each family member has his or her own task so they can work as a cohesive unit. Ted says he's like the drill sergeant, getting people going in the morning. Beth organizes the trips. Evan carries the water - he hikes faster than everyone so they have to slow him down.

The end result of the club membership, the Howe parents hope, is that their children will carry on the tradition of exercise and appreciation of the outdoors.

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