I’ve been to Florida many times and always considered it to be incredibly flat. It was one of the flattest of all states with a mean elevation of only 100 feet (30 metres) — edged out only by much smaller Delaware — and definitely represented the smallest elevation span within its borders, extending from sea level to only 345 ft (105 m). Nonetheless it seemed to display some pride in what little elevation it had, puffing it up like it was much more spectacular that the actual situation deserved.
I’ll begin with that most diminutive state highpoint, Britton Hill (map). I know many Twelve Mile Circle readers have experienced Britton Hill in person although I’ve not been fortunate enough to have that opportunity yet. It was my kind of highpoint though, one that any "climber" could conquer easily by automobile, and accessible from an adjacent parking lot collocated in Lakewood Park. Some states with considerably more remarkable highpoint summits did less to mark their magic spots so congratulations to Florida for making an effort to recognize it puny promontory. The mountaineering website Summit Post did its best to keep a straight face and craft a justification to stop by for a visit.
Some may ask why anyone would want to travel to this remote area and walk in the relatively flat Florida panhandle forest. Britton Hill certainly does not provide the best Florida has to offer, but highpointing takes you places you would never think of going – like a unique tour of America that few get to experience.
In truth, nobody would consider this as a particularly remarkable place, much less stop to visit, if it wasn’t a state highpoint. Nonetheless someday I’ll strap on my crampons, prepare my ropes and tame the mighty summit of Britton Hill. Yes, I’m fairly certain that even I could accomplish that.
Britton Hill didn’t actually start my train of thought on this subject. Rather, it was the ridiculously named Highlands County, Florida. I’d been to the Highlands of Scotland a couple of times and it certainly bore little resemblance to anything in Florida. I felt it was more than a bit presumptuous to attach Highlands to a state know for its flatness, and yet there it appeared. Highlands became a county in 1921 and several sources stated emphatically that it was due to the surrounding terrain. Yet its highest elevation never exceeded 210 ft. (64 m.) in several spots so how much variation could there be?
A fascinating facility known as the the Archbold Biological Station held the several highpoints within its 5,200 acre (21 km2) natural preserve (map) so it was easily accessible to county highpointers. The research institute was created in 1941 by Richard Archbold after his original research in New Guinea had to be curtailed at the outbreak of the second world war. His Florida station was positioned at the headwaters of the Everglades in a distinctive habitat known as the Florida Scrub. They’ve done some great fieldwork there over the years.
Hillsborough County — which includes the city of Tampa — contained an inordinate amount of formally designated Highlands. In fact, fully half of Florida’s populated Highlands listed in the Geographic Names Information System fell within the confines of Hillsborough. I wondered if it might actually be hilly. It was named HILLSborough, after all. It turned out to have nothing to do with the terrain, having been named for the Earl of Hillsborough "who served as British Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1768 to 1772." I found it odd that this happened in 1834, a long time after American independence, adding more to the mystery.
Curiously, not only did Hillsborough lack any meaningful hills, it had an indeterminate highpoint even though the climbing site Peakbagger attempted to affix one (map) at an elevation of approximately 160 ft. (49 m.). The County Highpointers Association basically threw its hands into the air declaring, "This is a mess. The entire area has been strip-mined for phosphates."
Given that, why did Hillsborough have Auburn Highlands, Claonia Highlands, Hiawatha Highlands, Hickory Highlands, Highlands Oaks, Hillsborough Highlands, Mill Highlands, River Highlands, Sidney Highlands, Stephen Foster Highlands, Temple Highlands, Terrace Highlands, Valrico Highlands, West Highlands, and Wilma Highlands? I can only guess that local developers simply had a penchant for using the term independent of its actual meaning. Maybe it simply sounded good.
I once climbed to the top of the not-too-impressive highpoint of the District of Columbia, which in fact is subway accessible. I’m all about easy highpointing. The District highpoint is kind-of equivalent to a state highpoint — some lists include it and others do not — so that was a convenient loophole to add another location to my list. I thought about that recently and wondered whether it might be possible to replicate my feat in another nation with a similar capital district.
That required a mashup of two separate lists. There weren’t very many situations like DC although a few were included in Wikipedia’s List of Federal Capitals. I cross-referenced that to the peak lists available on Peakbagger.com. It was sort-of hit or miss since most nations did not have a separate list of state, provincial and/or territorial highpoints. The lists depended upon the good graces of individual contributors to develop them. For example Abuja, Nigeria was a Federal district although nobody posted a list of individual Nigerian states so I couldn’t feature it. I wouldn’t be able to do that for Russia either unless loyal 12MC reader "January First-of-May" just happened to have the highpoint coordinates available for the Federal City of Moscow. I don’t have the data to determine these places on my own.
I found online information about several places though and I’ll list them from lowest to highest elevation.
The summit of the Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires might be a fair comparison to Washington’s highpoint at a diminutive 38 meters (125 feet) in an urban area. Buenos Aires had a much more impressive water tower, though. The summit was crowned by the impressive Palacio de Aguas Corrientes — the Palace of Flowing Waters — a garish structure that contained a pumping station, water company offices, and even a museum dedicated to water and sanitation. As described by Welcome Argentina,
Down Córdoba Avenue, those who catch a glimpse of this building realize at once that it belongs to another time. Extravagant and ridiculous for some, fascinating for others, the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes… has been a symbol of the pomp of the generation of 1880 and at the same time a key piece for the health of a developing city.
The Distrito Federal in Brazil included Brasília, and of course a highpoint summit which in this instance fell within a rural area of the northwest corner. Various online sources called it Pico do Roncador. Translation software told me that Roncador meant "Snorer." A little digging uncovered a species of fish called Umbrina Roncador or Yellowfin Croaker, and croakers do make a grunting noise that I guess might sound something like snoring (listen).
Was Pico do Roncador named for the fish or was it given the name because it was really boring to the point where it might put someone to sleep? Because I’m thinking the latter. The highpoint fell on a plateau at 1,341 meters (4,400 feet), hardly distinguishable from the surrounding terrain except for the presence of a communications tower visible in the distance on Google Street View.
I felt a little better when I noticed the summit of Bimberi Peak, the highpoint of the Australian Capital Territory. At least it resembled a mountain, and actually a pretty notable one for the area at 1,913 meters (6,276 feet). It’s part of the Brindabella Ranges and straddled the border between ACT and New South Wales in Namadgi National Park. The park’s website claims that the park covered "46 per cent of the Australian Capital Territory" which was an interesting point. Is there any other Federal district covered by national parkland to a greater degree?
Bimberi isn’t supposed to be a particularly technical climb although the peak does extend high enough to make vegetation sparse and it can be covered by snow in the winter.
ajusco en blanco by Señor Lebowski, on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
México won the 12MC award for most extreme federal capital summit, with Cerro Ajusco in the Distrito Federal rising to 3,937 meters (12,917 feet). Like many other mountains nearby, Ajusco had a volcanic origin and was formed as part of a lava dome. One might think the altitude would be daunting however Ajusco may be the most commonly climbed summit in the nation. Why? Because something like 20 million people live within the greater Mexico City metropolitan area, and the heart of the city is only like 40 kilometres away from Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco. Crazy!
… droves of Mexicans flock to its slopes on holidays and on weekends to escape the press of the most populated city on earth… I would suggest the best time to climb Ajusco would be early on a weekday morning so one could enjoy the peak with a degree of tranquility… it should take no more than 2-4 hours (depending on one’s level of fitness) roundtrip to complete.
That’s a little more complicated than the Washington, DC highpoint.
How does one refer to the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, and the Isle of Man collectively? I pondered the British Isles Euler diagram and didn’t see a specific designation. "Outlying British Islands" seemed like a possibility although I didn’t want to diminish their significance. I think "Crown Dependencies" covers the three, and only those three. Perhaps 12MC readers in the UK can provide additional clarification if I missed the mark. While we’re taking a moment to clarify meanings, I’ll also state that I’m using "highpoint" to define the place of maximum elevation in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. That’s where we’re going with this article.
I’m a lazy highpointer. My climb to the Connecticut highpoint drained me. I rather preferred the New Jersey highpoint that involved nothing more than an easy drive up a hillside directly to the monument. That’s my mountaineering style and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Accounts of highpointing in the Crown Dependencies provided abundant optimism for my preferred climbing techniques and methods. I will have to find an excuse to head over to the English Channel and the Irish Sea someday to experience these completely reasonable elevation extremes in person.
Jersey’s highpoint is called Les Platons, reaching an altitude of anywhere between 135-143 metres (443-469 feet). Does it seem odd that it’s not a more exact figure? It seems unusual to me, and yet, I checked in several places and found abundant variation within the range. It’s an area of the world with access to the most advanced, most exact scientific instruments available and nobody has taken a definitive measurement?
Also interesting, notice the proximity of the highpoint to the English Channel. It’s perched practically atop the very farthest edge of the bailiwick, on a hillside dropping quickly to the waters below. Motorists may cut across the width of the island to La Rue des Platons — Google Maps says it should take only 11 minutes from St. Helier — and arrive at the highpoint without any difficulties. How hard could it be if Google covers it with Street View? The summit can be spotted over by the communications towers.
Guernsey includes several islands, principally the isle of Guernsey itself plus Alderney, Herm, Sark and a scattering of over-glorified rocks. The bailiwick highpoint isn’t found on mainland Guernsey however, it’s located on the much smaller isle of Sark. According to trip reports I reviewed, the most difficult feature of a highpoint expedition here may be the ferry ride from Guernsey to Sark over volatile English Channel waters. There can’t be too many highpoints around the world where seasickness would be a greater concern than altitude sickness.
The maximum elevation occurs at Le Moulin ("the windmill") at 114 m (374 ft). There is indeed an old Sixteenth Century windmill atop the summit, accessible easily from Rue de Rade. Peakbagger included trip reports for Le Moulin too. I enjoyed the most recent report (lightly edited for clarity):
In a teeny-weeny shop we ask for tea. The owner Helen told us, she had no license to sell us hot drinks, but anyway she can give us some tea. My answer: if I forget this money here on the table, so it is not necessary to have a license, to take it. We had a wonderful talk in the store and Helen asked Mr. Axton to open the mill. So it was possible for us, to climb the mill to the highest point of Sark and thus Bailiwick of Guernsey.
An expedition to Mt. Everest, this was not. It’s starting to sound better and better.
The most daunting highpoint, if one can call it that, of all the Crown Dependencies can be found at Snaefell on the Isle of Man. It’s a more respectable 620 m (2,036 ft) elevation. One can climb to the top after driving up the A-18 road to a small car park at the base of a small trail (map).
SOURCE: 28Gwyn on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.
I’d rather take the Snaefell Mountain Railway though. How tough can it be to reach the top if this trolley-like vehicle can make it there on a schedule? The railway runs from the village of Laxey to the Snaefell summit during the warmer months, roughly from early April through the beginning of November. As the railway website explains,
There is only one tram at a time going up or coming down. The ride from Laxey to the summit takes thirty minutes and offers amazing views of Laxey Glens and surrounding countryside. At the top is a cafe and ticket station. Paths are located about the summit where walking is permitted. Sheep often roam free on the mountain, so can be easily encountered. From the top on a clear day it is said one can see the six kingdoms. The kingdom of Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Mann and Heaven.
Those are the leisurely highpoints of the Crown Dependencies, accessible by bicycle, stroll or public transportation, where the biggest worry may be where to stop for tea and how to get it heated.