Hawkeye Point 1,670ft

The whole family on the summit

Highest Point in Iowa

Eric, Matthew, Jacob, Keith, and Mary Kay Gilbertson
Dec 22, 2011*
*Winter Ascent

Hawkeye Point – the roof of Iowa – should be one of the easiest state highpoints to reach: it’s only a few hundred feet from a paved road, is on public property so has no access restrictions, is at low altitude, and is easy to find. But throw in some Christmas holiday travel chaos and it becomes considerably more difficult.

I had just finished my last final exam on December 21 and the plan was to fly to Louisville, KY that night, meet up with Matthew, Dad, Jacob, and Mom, and drive through the night up to some relatives in Minnesota, stopping at Hawkeye Point along the way. The first leg of my flight from Boston to Cleveland went without a hitch, but every flight out of Cleveland seemed to be delayed. My Louisville flight was supposed to leave at 9:00pm, but was posted to leave at 10:45pm. I waited around a few minutes, and then it changed to 11:20pm, then 11:55pm.

Eric on the summit

Apparently there was a snowstorm somewhere and the plane that was supposed to take me to Louisville hadn’t even taken off yet from the other airport it was starting from.

“There’s got to be a way to meet up with my family before midnight tonight,” I thought. The only other flights were going to New York City, San Diego, and Chicago leaving at 10pm. Well, Chicago was kind of between Louisville and Minnesota, so perhaps my Dad could just drive up there and meet me, I thought.

I called to confirm, and Dad was up for it (he was already in Louisville) and driving 4 hours along the route we already planned to follow to meet me was better than losing at least 2 hours waiting around in Louisville.

I went to the counter to see if I could switch flights, but the guy said he couldn’t figure out how to do it since Chicago was nowhere close to Louisville. Apparently the airlines will only reroute you somewhere within 90 miles or so of the original destination if you’re delayed by weather. This did not deter me, however.

I noted the Chicago departure terminal and quickly rushed over there to talk to someone else (it was actually pretty far away and was already 9:30pm by this point). I asked the lady at that counter, and she rudely told me no way, and that only customer service could do anything about my situation. So I rushed over to the customer service desk next (which was also far away). I waited in line an excruciatingly long 3 minutes before finally talking to a customer service person.

“I’m sorry, Chicago is not a ‘sister city’ of Louisville so we can’t route you there.”

Matthew on the summit

“But my family is driving through there anyway and can meet me,” I replied.
“Nope, sorry” was her response.

I was still not deterred. It was 9:40pm and I had one last hope. I went back to the Louisville departure gate and there was a different person there this time. I told her the situation and asked if she could put me on the Chicago flight.

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to talk to the person at the Chicago gate or Customer Service,” she told me.
“I’ve already talked to both of them and they said they couldn’t do it,” I responded. She looked surprised and must have figured I was pretty determined. She whipped out a radio and talked to some official-sounding person, then turned back to me.

“Go to the Chicago terminal”
“I can get on the flight?”
“GO-NOW – the flight’s boarding,” she said urgently.

The rental van at Hawkeye Point

Success! I ran down to the other terminal and met the same rude lady that hadn’t wanted to help me before. I triumphantly gave her my old boarding pass and asked her to print me out a new one. She was extremely skeptical, but everything checked out on her computer and I just got on the plane before it left.


I called Dad to give the OK to drive up to Chicago, then sat back to relish my victory.  Matthew and Dad took turns driving across the fascinating state of Indiana at night. My flight landed at 11pm, but my family still had another three hours of driving, so I had a long time to wander around the O’Hare airport. One nice worker even gave me a food voucher around 1am and I had a big second dinner from Starbucks.

By 2am Dad pulled up in the rental van, I hopped in and we started heading north. That’s probably the best time of day to drive through downtown Chicago because the streets are completely empty.


By 8am we reached our aunt and uncle’s home in Austin, Minnesota and took a few hours break to eat

Visiting Hawkeye Point in 2005

breakfast and visit before hitting the road again. Conveniently Hawkeye Point is only a 10-mile detour on the route from Austin to Montevideo, Minnesota (our final destination), and we all felt prepared for a winter ascent. Matthew, me, and Dad had already ascended Hawkeye Point in August 2005 on our way back from California, but we had forgotten to retrieve a summit rock and figured we’d better stop by since we were so close. We also wanted our Mom and Jacob to have the opportunity to taste Iowa hi-elevation air.

We turned south at Worthington, MN and after a few detours due to construction finally saw the huge “Hawkeye Point” highway sign. We pulled up to the summit at 3pm and had it all to ourselves.  The last time we had been here in 2005 the high point

At the summit in 2005

was just a non-descript patch of grass next to a corn field, but this time there were all kinds of bells and whistles: picnic benches, signs, plaques, monuments, and a dedicated gravel road basically to the top!

We got pictures of the whole family and made sure to pick up a souvenir rock and corn cob. We just have one state highpoint to go – Texas!

Comments are closed.