Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Highpointing: A Futile Exercise in Political Geography

So, why climb the state high points?

Let's try a little thought experiment. Take the land area of the United States, and partition it into 50 chunks of roughly regular size. Now consider the high points of your new regions. Assuming you didn't learn district-drawing from the Maryland State Assembly, you should have several notable peaks among them.

Maryland Congressional Districts
Yeah, I'd say those congressional districts are "compact and contiguous."

Denali, high point of the country at 20,310 feet, would by definition be included, as would Hawaii's Mauna Kea (13,796') and California's Mt. Whitney (high point of the lower 48 at 14,505') provided your boundaries don't cross the Pacific. You'd be almost certain to include 14,417-foot Mt. Rainier (visible, I'm told, 54 miles away in Seattle on a clear day), 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert (the highest of Colorado's 53 "fourteeners"), and Wyoming's intimidatingly remote Gannett Peak (13,809'). Even North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell (6,684') and New Hampshire's Mt. Washington (6,288'), small though they seem compared to the Western peaks, are isolated from the nearest points of equal altitude by 1,189 and 820 miles, respectively. They'd stick out as high points in any reasonable redrawing of state lines.

But what about Mount Sunflower (Kansas, 4,041')? Hoosier Hill (Indiana, 1,257')? The Ebright Azimuth (447', Delaware)? Or that point 2,379 feet up the south side of Massachusetts' Mt. Frissell that happens to be the highest ground in Connecticut?

Odds are, none of these "high points" would make the grade in your hypothetical re-state-ment. They'd be knocked out of significance by some greater hill in their new "state," possibly a point just a few miles away (or a few feet, in the case of Connecticut and Maryland's high points--both spots on mountains that peak in another state). Shift the borders of the Plains states a few miles west and you'll have a whole new set of slight rises to celebrate. Even Montana's Granite Peak (12,807'), whose unpredictable weather conditions and frightening final stretch (as you recall) make it one of the hardest state high points to summit, would likely lose out to 13,153-foot Franc's Peak just across the Wyoming border.

On the other hand, you'd likely add another peak or two in Alaska (perhaps the volcanic Mt. Shishaldin (9,373') in the Aleutian Islands?), and maybe give some glory to California's Mt. Shasta (14,179') or Colorado's Blanca Peak (14,351'). Who knows what this country would look like if the states were drawn with highpointing in mind?

As it is, there's really nothing special about the state high points as a group. They're not all ultraprominent, or remote (there's road access to at least 20 of them), or challenging climbs, or even all mountains, technically speaking. The Ebright Azimuth is a USGS plaque across the street from a Wilmington trailer park. You're probably higher than Florida's Britton Hill (345') right now.

Mt. Mitchell Summit Sign '15
Don't be fooled by the "activewear"--95% of those folks drove up here.

But, to paraphrase the serial Everest attempter George Mallory, they're there. And for an elevation junkie with a hankering for cross-country travel, that's enough.

How did I get turned on to highpointing in the first place? That's another story...
 <--prev | next-->

No comments:

Post a Comment