Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

An obsessive Pa. odyssey to the top of every state

Plus, Potter County's lost ski resort may ride again.

Something big is happening.

Pennsylvanians from all corners are stepping up to take advantage of our special TRIPLE match this #GivingTuesday week to support Spotlight PA's vital local journalism that uplifts the truth and strengthens Democracy.

There are just two days left of our #GivingTuesday TRIPLE match and we need your support of Spotlight PA now more than ever. 

Give now and lock in this limited-time matching offer.

If you look forward to PA Local each week, and you know it's unlike any other newsletter you can find across Pennsylvania, we need you now. We can't afford to leave these matching dollars on the table. 

Join the hundreds of people who gave this week to keep Spotlight PA strong and make a tax-deductible gift now to lock in your matching dollars.

Thank you!!

—Colin Deppen, PA Local editor
Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

December 2, 2022
Inside this edition: Coast-to-coast, 30-year marathon, 2022 in photos, ski hope, river of the year, bird watchers, and living the high life.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The first coast-to-coast highway built in the U.S. runs through Pennsylvania. Which highway is it?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth reading: Decades after an assault derailed her New York City Marathon dreams, 68-year-old Passle Helminski of Erie conquered the race in just over eight hours last month.

» One thing worth sharing: An aerial shot of Pittsburgh's collapsed Fern Hollow Bridge on Time's list of the 100 best photos of the year. TribLIVE reports the bridge's replacement should be done by year's end

» One thing worth knowing: Shuttered since 2014, Potter County's super steep Denton Hill ski spot is eyeing a comeback, per The Inquirer (paywall). The state owns the property and has a plan.

» One thing worth doing: Voting is now open for Pennsylvania's 2023 River of the Year. We wrote about the last winner, French Creek, and its starring role in one of the greatest athletic competitions on earth.

» One thing worth trying: Join a long-running tradition by telling the Audubon Society what birds you see outside this December.

Spotlight PA's top original news stories of the week.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Counties see unprecedented number of recount requests
» Donors tapped to help Josh Shapiro prepare to be governor
» How Democrat Josh Shapiro won the race for governor
» Why Dem control of Pa. House is set for a shaky start
» More mail ballots rejected in communities of color
» Pa.'s risk-limiting election audit, explained
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be TRIPLED.
A photo looking down into Canyon Vista in Worlds End State Park, Sullivan County.
(Nicholas_T / Flickr)

It's been a decade since Mark Burd got bit by the climbing bug. 

It happened on a trip to the highest point in Pennsylvania — 3,213 feet atop Mount Davis in Somerset County — and snowballed from there.

As St. Louis-based travel writer Jim Winnerman reported this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a plan was quickly hatched for an annual Burd family trek to the highest point in every U.S. state. 

Ten years later, they're well over halfway there. 

Burd, a freelance communications consultant from Butler County, and his sons have covered thousands of miles, climbed thousands of feet, found a community of like-minded humans — the Highpointers Club, and successfully reached the summits of 35 states.

Their hardest hikes are yet to come. 

We spoke to Mark about the draw of higher ground, gazing down on creation, and the western peaks looming large on his to-do list.

Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length

PA Local: Hi Mark. Where are you now? 

Burd: I'm in my office at home, overlooking the backyard.

PA Local: How high is that? 

Burd: I'm on the first floor of my house and we live in Saxonburg, so roughly 1,200 feet above sea level.

PA Local: Not a towering height then.

Burd: Oh no, not at all. 

PA Local: But you know a thing or two about those, having climbed to the pinnacle of most U.S. states. Tell me: Is it lonely at the top? 

Burd: No! There's lots of people who do this. If you went and hung out at a state high point, you'd be surprised how many people you'd run into. 

PA Local: Which is worse: The walk up or the walk down?

Burd: That's interesting. I think the walk down. 

PA Local: Really? 

Burd: Yeah. You always have a certain degree of anticipation and adrenaline on the way up. Not to mention you're using different muscles. 

PA Local: What do you do when you reach the top? 

Burd: We always take a selfie and do a toast.

A large crowd of people in matching shirts pose for a photo at this year's Highpointers Club Convention at Mount Davis in Somerset County.
This year's Highpointers Club Convention in Somerset County. (Courtesy of Mark Burd)

PA Local: Can you describe the feeling? What am I missing as a lowlander? Is there a natural high, no pun intended?

Burd: Definitely. Even if it's Mount Davis, which is basically a 100 yard, mostly level walk from a parking area, there's this notion of conquest. And every one gets a little sweeter because you're closer to that goal of 50. At a certain point you realize just how massive this country is. 

PA Local: What was the last mountain you climbed? 

Burd: Black Elk Peak in South Dakota, not far from Mount Rushmore.

PA Local: Which was the hardest climb so far? 

Burd: Mount Katahdin in Maine. It's like a 10-hour roundtrip journey and by far the most difficult climb east of the Mississippi River. You don't have to use crampons and ropes, but you have to climb some large rocks. 

PA Local: What about the easiest? 

Burd: Britton Hill in Florida is 345 feet of elevation. You park and walk over to it. Delaware's is very easy. It's actually a marker on a sidewalk.

PA Local: Now we're talking. What's your favorite one so far? 

Burd: Georgia. They have a beautiful visitor's center at the high point. Just fantastic views. State and local governments have gotten wise to this trend since we started. South Carolina was the first we visited and it was just an old gravel road. Now they have a visitor's center and have paved things because they obviously realize this is a tourist attraction. 

PA Local: How do the accommodations at Pennsylvania's high point rank? 

Burd: Mount Davis has a fire tower with a beautiful view. They also have interpretive exhibits at the high point there.

PA Local: The high points get much higher out west, where the rest of your list is. Any of them worry you? Denali? Mount Rainier?

Burd: Denali is a major mountain and would require us to hire guides. There's a whole list of things you have to have to make that happen. 

PA Local: Does that mean you won't do it?

Burd: We know our limits. We're gonna go visit and we will get to the mountain and go as far as we can. It's as much about the travel for us. 

PA Local: Journey over destination?

Burd: There's nothing at the top that you didn't bring with you.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be TRIPLED.
A notable quote about Pennsylvania or one made by a notable Pennsylvanian.
"I have arthritis and can't knit anymore, but it was always awful nice to have something to pick up and do."

Mickey Worthington of Laporte who darned 1,873 Christmas socks for family, friends, and acquaintances between 1943 and 2001, via WNEP's archive
Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

Sachs Covered Bridge in Adams County, via Don N. Pennsylvania's official tourism agency says the commonwealth has nearly 200 covered bridges left, the most of any state. Lancaster County has nearly 30Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A covered bridge above running water.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Lincoln Highway was America's first coast-to-coast highway, running from Times Square in New York City to San Fransisco in California. 

The 3,000-mile journey included a long run across Pennsylvania, from Morrisville through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Beaver.

The road has inspired photo essaysnovels, and efforts to preserve or replace its rapidly vanishing memorial markers.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
228 Walnut St., #11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, which has combined with Spotlight PA to create Pennsylvania's largest statewide newsroom dedicated to accountability journalism.

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.