Hecht hits high points
By Debra Carr-Elsing
April 8, 2004
High winds nearly blew her off the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, and a couple of wild turkeys chased her on a hill near the Mississippi River.
Undaunted, Wendy Hecht -- a Madison social worker -- went to Virginia, where she hiked along the Appalachian Trail to reach another destination.
On that particular journey, she traipsed through a field of wild horses, enjoyed the view of miles of rhododendrons in full bloom and convinced a black bear that she meant no harm.
"I've always enjoyed the outdoors and challenging my body physically," Hecht says.
So it seemed like a natural fit for this UW alumna to pick up the hobby of highpointing six years ago. Many consider this activity to be more of a sport, and, indeed, hiking to the highest point of elevation in states and counties can be strenuous, even dangerous.
"Interestingly, I have a fear of heights," Hecht says. "A couple of state highpoint climbs have been somewhat challenging because of the dropoffs and elevations, but the scenery has been breathtaking."
There's an international Highpointers Club (www.highpointers.org) with a quarterly newsletter and 2,500 members. Annual fees are $15 in the United States.
Technical climbers with mountaineering skills tackle the highest summits on the seven continents, but most highpointers use guidebooks and topographical maps that focus on state and county elevations.
For example, Hecht has been to 22 state highpoints -- her highest peak at 14,494 feet is Mount Elbert in Colorado -- and she can claim all 72 county highpoints in Wisconsin.
"You never quite know what you're going to find off the beaten path," she says.
"I've seen beautiful landscapes and tons of wildlife. Along the way, I've also met a lot of interesting people who are real excited about the land and its beauty."
If you've been near the tower in the cornfield behind Brigham Park, then you've been on Dane County's highest point.
Another popular highpoint is near the hilltop field of Blue Mounds State Park. Picnickers who have walked that huge field can probably claim the highpoint of Iowa County.
"Highpointing attracts people who have a fascination for travel and like to read maps," Hecht says. "Listmakers are driven to write about the highest points of our national parks, the highest points of Civil War battlefields or the lowest point of every state.
"But I'm a little more casual about it. I don't have a burning desire to remember every single highpoint I've been on. I keep enough notes, though, to know what I've accomplished."
Hecht says that she keeps highpointing in the right perspective, making it an enjoyable part of the bigger adventure of life.
With more than 25 years of experience working with people with disabilities, Hecht started her own nonprofit agency -- called Teamwork Associates -- last year. She has a small staff that provides case management services to adults with developmental disabilities.
"In my free time, I like having a focus and purpose to my travel," says Hecht, referring to her hobby of highpointing.
"I also enjoy hiking and being quiet in nature -- it's an interest that my father instilled in me at an early age."
Hecht often posts her trip reports online at www.cohp.org to help other county highpointers with their own travel preparations.
"About 25 percent of the county highpoints in Wisconsin are on public land," Hecht says. "Four are ski resorts. One is on the reservation in Menominee County.
"Diversity is one of the exciting things about highpointing -- you never quite know what you'll find until you roll up."
Often a sizable hike is required to claim a highpoint. Other locations may simply require knocking on a farmer's door for permission to stand in a nearby cornfield. State highpoints typically have benchmarks on the spot.
What's tricky -- especially with county highpointing -- is that there can be several highpoints of equal elevation. Monroe County, for example, has 25 spots that need to be visited to claim its highpoint.
So in claiming the 72 counties in Wisconsin, Hecht has stood on 200 highpoints.
"Our highest elevation in Wisconsin is Timms Hill -- at 1,951 feet -- in Price County," Hecht says. "Rib Mountain is the second highest point in the state, even though a plaque mistakenly indicates it's No. 1."
Either location is a far cry from Alaska's highest point -- Mount McKinley, which stands at 20,320 feet.
McKinley isn't on Hecht's "to do" list, but she is planning to claim eight more state highpoints on a trip to the Northeast later this year.
Some of her travels have been with other highpointers, including John Mitchler of Colorado, editor of the Highpointers Club newsletter.
On a Wisconsin trip, Mitchler and Hecht used topographical maps and compasses to negotiate the four highpoints of Rusk County, "which is like an enchanted forest, and we had no bread crumbs," Hecht quips.
For one of the highpoints in Ozaukee County, the owner of a shooting range had people stop practicing for an hour so Hecht could climb the hill.
Last year Hecht traveled to the state highpoint of Iowa, where she helped to scatter ashes of Jack Longacre, founder of the Highpointers Club, who had requested that his ashes be scattered on all 50 state highpoints after his death.
"Every highpoint has its own beauty, and taking the time to enjoy that beauty is important," Hecht says.
"I also enjoy stretching my skills and being really tired after a good climb."