When climber Mike Haugen returned to his "real job" (teaching 8th grade science) last August, his pupils were psyched. In years past, he's arrived with stories of climbing Mt. Everest and exploring remote Alaska. This year, he and his climbing partner, Zack Price, topped each of the America's 50 state highpoints in a record 45 days, beating the previous record by five days. We caught up with him during study hall.
Fifty state highpoints in less than 50 days!?
We did it in 45 days and 19 hours. Our first summit was 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley. Then we flew to Florida, hopped in a hybrid SUV, and drove 15,000 miles from highpoint to highpoint in the Lower 48. Then we flew to Hawaii and finished on 13,796-faoot Mauna Kea.
What was your biggest surprise?
How tough the East Coast was. Our schedule was so hectic that we only got about three hours of sleep per night. So many winding roads, and Mt. Marcy was really tough with its muddy and rutted trail. We had an absolute blast in Maine on Katahdin, though. So beautiful.
Which highpoint was your favorite?
Every state was so cool, but I'd have to say Denali. This was my fifth expedition to Alaska, and that mountain never gets old.
Did your students follow your progress?
Yep. In fact, anyone could follow us on Coleman's website (coleman.com/coleman/5050). We had a SPOT satellite messenger with us, so you could see our location practically up to the minute. But our main goal was to inspire students to get outside through our 50/50 Challenge initiative. Students and teachers log in each day after doing an hour's worth of physical activity–it could be Frisbee golf, bike riding, whatever–and for each hour they do, they can virtually highpoint one of the 50 states and unlock cool web content like videos.
What was harder, summiting Everest or completing all 50 highpoints?
The logistical challenge of the 50 highpoints was way more difficult than getting to Everest. And there are some really tough sections that rival Everest in terms of the endurance required. In one six-day stretch, we did Borah Peak (ID), Granite Peak (MT), Gannet Peak (WY), and Kings Peak (UT). That's 100 miles of hiking and 40,000 feet of elevation gain.
What's on tap for next summer? Seven Summits in seven weeks?
Ha! No. We're going to do something in the states to continue highlighting the beauty in our own backyard.