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.
El Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, Buenos Aires by pandrcutts, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
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.
Peakbagger even included an Ascent Trip Report, albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek.
Pico do Roncador
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!
Summit Post provided advice to prospective climbers.
… 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.
Bailiwick of Jersey
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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?
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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.
A trip report on Peakbagger describes the mountaineering equipment used for one particular ascent: a bicycle. Nice!
Bailiwick of Guernsey
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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.
Isle of Man
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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).
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle race follows A-18, by the way. Check out some of the video clips from previous races. The clip of Guy Martin viewed from the air includes a great scene of A-18 and Snaefell in the final scene.
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.
There’s a tendency to wonder about the highest point of land as one examines an area from afar. People make quite a hobby out of of collecting visits to those highpoints even for remarkably small subunits. I’ve been know to do that myself and I’ve featured the results of my efforts on these very pages. However, considerably less attention is given to lowpoints. Where are the web pages devoted to the achievements of state and county lowpointers? Exactly. They don’t receive nearly the same level of respect as their summit climbing brethren.
I recognize that California has the lowest U.S. state lowpoint at Death Valley near the lowest public restroom in North America. I wondered though about the opposite extreme, the state with the highest lowpoint. I found a ready answer from the website of a regular reader, Dale Sanderson of usends.com. The answer is Colorado. It’s lowpoint occurs where the Arikaree River crosses into northwestern Kansas, at an elevation of 1,010 metres (3,315 feet). He can explain it much better than I, so take a look at his writeup and see how he convinced both the State of Colorado and the U.S. Geological Survey to correct a long-standing error.
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I also examined Canadian provinces and territories. That’s a much easier exercise since all but two have coastlines so their lowpoints have to be less than or equal to zero by definition. That leaves Alberta and Saskatchewan in the running. Whichever has the higher lowpoint gets bragging rights for Canada as neither province nestles any pockets below sea level.
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Saskatchewan wins. The highest provincial lowpoint can be found along the shore of Lake Athabasca on the boundary with Alberta. Water then flows from Lake Athabasca on the Alberta side of the border into the Slave River where it exits the province. This puts Saskatchewan "uphill" from Alberta and it has the higher lowpoint: 213 m (699 ft) vs. 152 m (499 ft).
I tried the same exercise with the UK, Ireland, France and others but I could not find reliable lowpoint elevations for their divisions. It seems the Americans and Canadians may be uniquely obsessed with this phenomenon.
Lowpoint information at the national level, however, is readily available so let’s determine champions by continent. Africa wins, hands-down. Lesotho has a lowpoint of 1400 m (4,593 ft) where the Makhaleng River joins the Senqu River at the border with South Africa, where it then becomes known as the Orange River (map).
Europe follows, and again it’s a small mountainous nation that has a natural advantage. Andorra’s Gran Valira River flows into Spain at 840 m (2,756 ft) above sea level (map). The primary route between these two nations runs directly alongside the river. No doubt, many tourists and residents alike get an opportunity to visit Europe’s highest national lowpoint but they probably never realize it.
Next comes Asia at Hoh Nuur in Mongolia (map) at 518 m (1,699 ft). South America follows with the confluence of the Rio Paraguay and Río Negro in Bolivia, on the Bolivian side of the Bolivia-Brazil-Paraguay (BOBRPA) tripoint (map). This highest national lowpoint for South America sits at 90 m (295 ft) above sea level. This will change if Bolivia ever gains it coastline back and frees its landlocked navy.
North America does not have any landlocked nations. There are any number of countries that tie for highest continental lowpoint along their respective seacoasts. Any nation without dry land below sea level would qualify. Finally, Australia trails the pack. It’s unique position as both a continent and a country skews the results. It has only a single national lowpoint that is actually below sea level, -15 m (-49 ft) at Lake Eyre (map). I discussed the the Lake Eyre Yacht Club in a previous article.
And Antarctica is moot in this context.