D.C.'s Puny Peak Enough to Pump Up 'Highpointers'

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

They've huffed up the wind-whipped peaks of Alaska's Mount McKinley and scaled the rocky face of Washington state's Mount Rainier. They've conquered Granite Peak, Boundary Peak and Borah Peak.

And tomorrow, the slightly fanatical mountain climbing sub-genre known as the Highpointers Club -- adventurers who aim to reach the highest natural elevation in each of the 50 states -- are converging on the nation's capital to surmount another towering pinnacle.

It's right off Nebraska Avenue, in Tenleytown. You know, kind of behind the Whole Foods and the CVS.

After five years of paperwork, red tape and technicalities, the highest natural point in the District of Columbia has at long last been established, and it will be officially dedicated in a ceremony tomorrow. It's in Fort Reno Park, atop a grassy hill, at 409 feet.

Though some might say that Washington has the lowest high point in the country, Florida claims that title with its 345-foot knoll, Britton Hill. Certainly, it is a modest crest compared to Maryland's top peak, Backbone Mountain, at 3,360 feet, or Virginia's Mount Rogers, at 5,729 feet.

"Is this the high point?" asked a jubilant Gary Fisher, 45, as he approached the new brass marker with his camera, GPS points and maps in hand one afternoon this week.

"I've been to 49 high points," said the Ashburn geographer, who has been to every acme except Mount McKinley, before going through the Highpointer routine that he has done several times at more perilous altitudes: Touch the marker. Take a picture. Scan the horizon.

Fisher saw cars, front porches, Wilson High School, the city reservoir. A few feet away, a woman cleaned up after her dog with a plastic grocery bag.

For years, Highpointers and less official enthusiasts thought the peak of the nearby Fort Reno reservoir was the city's highest point. "People would walk along the fence, around the reservoir and they thought they'd found it," said Robert Hyman, whose business card simply states: "Photographer. Mountaineer. Explorer."

Hyman, 49, grew up in Chevy Chase and left for his first big adventure in 1990, when he loaded up his convertible and headed across the country to begin scaling peaks. He found the markers all over and racked up the high points.

When he finally returned to his hometown, he realized he wasn't quite sure where he'd do the Highpointer routine in the nation's capital.

There was some talk that it could actually be beneath the National Cathedral, or elsewhere. But Hyman said he knew Fort Reno had to be right.

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