(the side of) Mount Frissell, 2,380ft
Dates Climbed: July 27, 2006 and Feb 11, 2012 1:45pm
Here’s a riddle for you: how is it possible for a state’s highest point to not be located on top of a mountain? To answer to this important question we traveled to Connecticut to visit Mount Frissell.
It was our big summer on the Appalachian Trail. We had started in Georgia in early June and in order to reach Katahdin by the beginning of school in September we had “yellow-blazed” some southern stretches of the A.T. via motorized means. (We finished hiking the remaining sections by Fall 2008.) By late July we had hiked a thousand miles and reached Connecticut.
The Appalachian Trail provides a nice way to knock off a few state high points: it swings by Brasstown Bald (GA), Clingman’s Dome (TN), Mount Rogers (VA), High Point (NJ), Mount Frissell (CT), Mount Greylock (MA), Mount Washington (NH), and Katahdin (ME). So we decided to take advantage of our limited stay in the Constitution State to climb the highest point.
Unfortunately, however, Mount Frissell is not actually on the A.T.—it requires a full four-mile roundtrip hike on a side trail (“a blue blazed trail” in A.T. lingo). We groaned at the prospect of adding an extra four miles to our long journey. Sure, we had already hiked a thousand miles and an extra four shouldn’t be a big deal. But when you’ve hiked that far you don’t want to add any more miles than you have to. Nevertheless we decided to go for it in the name of highpointing.
On the A.T. we passed by a plaque that claimed that we were currently at the highest point in Connecticut. But we—or should I say SummitPost—knew better. We walked a little farther up the trail and found the side trail that pointed to Mount Frissell.
So here’s the answer to our little riddle: Connecticut’s highest point is actually on the side of a mountain called Mount Frissell, whose peak is in Massachusetts. The MA/CT border goes right over the side of the mountain. That means we wouldn’t even have to climb to the top.
Soon we came upon a little clearing in the woods and in the middle stood a big cairn, triumphantly marking the roof of Connecticut. There wasn’t too much of a view but that didn’t matter. It was a high point. We took the requisite shirts-off summit photo then returned to the Appalachian Trail and continued hiking north.
In our quest for the 50 state high points, New Jersey’s highest point (called “High Point”) has proven to be surprisingly elusive. Our first summit of High Point was with our family in June 2003, while driving from KY to Maine. Our dad took a picture at the top but unfortunately the film got exposed and the pictures were ruined.
We tried again on July 18, 2006 while we were hiking through on the Appalachian Trail. Luckily the A.T. goes almost right over the summit. We met a Guatemalan family at the top and they were amazed that we had hiked here all the way from Georgia. The patriarch, Manuel, in particular was incredulous. He gave us each a nice cold bottle of water, and $10 each. We thanked the family immensely for their generosity. (That’s what we refer to as “Trail Magic.”)
That hot July day in 2006 we departed the summit with a sense of relief that we had finally recovered the “lost” photo from 2003. We had finally made this summit “official.” But in a cruel twist of fate, during a brutal rainstorm a few miles up the trail the memory card in Eric’s digital camera, which contained the only photo of both of us on the summit, was corrupted, ruining the photo. Repeated attempts to recover the precious photo months later using advanced software proved fruitless. Although we had been to the summit twice, it felt that something was missing, something was unofficial, because we didn’t have proof that both of us had been there, only a photo of Eric with the Guatemalan family.
Years went by, and our memories and agony from the lost NJ photos slowly faded. But as we climbed higher up the list of high points and realized that we could actually finish them, the anguish was reignited. If we actually ended up climbing the highest point in every state, by gosh, there should be photographic proof of all 50 of them, we thought. So it became an unspoken mission, a mission to someday revisit the New Jersey high point and bring back indisputable proof that we had been there.
The time for that mission came in February 2012. By then, our threshold for the number of miles that you can reasonably drive in a weekend had increased enough to put a day’s trip to High Point, New Jersey within the realm of possibilities. On one trip we had driven 16hrs one-way to Nova Scotia’s White Hill, and 17hrs one-way on another trip to Ontario’s Ishpatina Ridge both in long weekends, so a 5hr drive to High Point seemed no sweat. We were surprised we hadn’t thought of it before. Since the route would take us near to Connecticut’s Mount Frissell we figured we’d add that one on too.
Next it was time to assemble a team. Through earlier adventures we had met fellow Highpointers Adam and Doug, who were working their way up the list of state high points and were fired up to tag Frissell and High Point. We set a date for Feb 11. Shortly before setting out from Boston we welcomed late addition to the team: Amanda. She was going to be in town anyway to check out some med schools and wanted to add some more mountains to her high point résumé. Due to some time constraints we needed to pack everything into a single day. 12hrs of driving and a few hours of hiking in one day would be ambitious but not unreasonable.
As soon as Amanda landed at Logan at 9am we picked her up, packed into Doug’s car, and headed west onto the Mass Pike. First stop would be Connecticut’s Mount Frissell (2,380ft), a rather unique state high point. It’s unique because the high point isn’t actually the top of a hill or even a local maximum, it’s actually on the side of a mountain whose peak is in Massachusetts.
Even though we had visited Frissell five years earlier on the Appalachian Trail, we wanted to visit it again because we had some unfinished business: we needed a small rock from the summit. Somewhere around state highpoint #30 we decided it would be cool to have a little stone from the top of each state high point. So now we’ve got a stone from highpoints #30-#50 but need to revisit some of #1-#29, including Frissell and High Point. It might seem ridiculous to embark on a 12-hr road trip for just one photo and two rocks, but when you get close to high point #50 you want to make things as official as possible.
Even though Connecticut’s highest point isn’t a local maximum that doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk to climb. In summer it involves driving a few miles on dirt roads and hiking a mile or so to the top, but with snow on the ground things become trickier. Earlier that week I had emailed the street department of the nearby city of Mt Washington, MA and learned that even though the roads aren’t plowed the roads are still passable since there’s “no snow in the area.” Today, however, the area had just received an inch or so of snow and the roads were slick. But thanks to Doug’s expert Cleveland-trained snow driving we made it to the trailhead without too much swerving around.
As it turned out, we had chosen to climb Mount Frissell in quite possibly the most treacherous
conditions that the area ever experiences – a thick layer of ice covered everything we stepped on. Without crampons the steep rocks became especially perilous. But after grabbing on to some well-placed tree branches on the uphills and doing the old butt-slide on the downhills we made it to Mt Frissell’s Massachusetts summit without incident. Even though the true Connecticut High Point was still a few hundred feet farther away on a side trail, the peak was marked with summit register which we diligently signed.
Since the previous visit to Mt Frissell we had acquired a long list of high point rituals. By now we had a full-blown high point routine. First, there was the standard photo of me and Eric, then the photo of Eric juggling, then the photo of me jumping, and the collection of a small summit rock. But this day was extra-special: we also captured a shirtless summit photo along with a photo of me holding Amanda up with one hand. Adam’s highpointing carreer was just beginning, but he had already decided that his high point ritual would be to solve a Rubik’s cube on top of every state high point. Accordingly, he whipped out his Rubik’s cube, scrambled it up, then solved it in just a few minutes. Eric and I congratulated him on his skill and creativity.
But now it was time to turn our attention to the day’s primary objective (for me and Eric at least): High Point. After a cautious descent over the steep, icy rocks it was onward to New Jersey. We headed south and after a few hours of driving we exited I-84 at Port Jervis, the northernmost town in NJ and the staging point for High Point summit attempts. We wound our way up the mountain to High Point state park and recognized the spot where we had crossed the highway five years earlier while hiking the Appalachian Trail. We could taste the summit.
The pride that New Jersey has for its highest point makes High Point an interesting place to visit. Christening the 1,803ft summit is a giant 197ft-tall obelisk, making the top of the Garden State exactly 2,000ft. Unfortunately the monument doors are locked, but at least it’s nice to see the Jersey pride. There’s also a really nice little state park in the High Point vicinity. Additionally, there are numerous road signs proclaiming this hill to be the highest point in the state. Contrast that with nearby Delaware’s Ebright Azimuth which, at the time we climbed it, was totally unmarked and tricky to find.
We rounded the corner and soon the huge monument towered into view. We parked the car and walked the final 100 yards to the top. With a sense of relief we climbed the final stairs and we were once again at the familiar spot that had proven elusive to photograph during the previous two visits. This time we weren’t taking any chances – we took photos with three different cameras.
There was just enough snow to remember that it was still winter, but not enough to make things difficult. From the summit platform we had a surprisingly good view of the NY/PA/NJ tristate area. I bet on a clear day you could even see New York City. I remembered the last time we were here, when it was in the mid-90s. According to Garrett, our expert meteorologist, on that particular day in 2006 the low at NYC’s LaGuardia airport was 91F! Today it was a much more refreshing 35F, but still not too cold for the shirts-off summit photo.
Even though this time we had driven almost the whole way to the top, the fact that it would end up taking five hours of driving meant that we had “earned it.” With a big sense of relief we returned to the car for the long drive back to Boston. As soon as we were back at our computers we immediately uploaded the summit photos so that the evidence was safe. Now we can finally feel at peace with New Jersey’s highest point.