Kristen Kelliher, 17, has just become the youngest female ever to summit 48 peaks in 48 states, braving both bad weather and dangerous conditions. The Vermont teen has been working towards her record-breaking goal since she was 9 years old.
“The easiest mountain was Mount Greylock in Massachusetts and I climbed that when I was 7…the scariest was Granite Peak in Montana. It was the difficult, a class 3, there is lots of exposure…I was terrified but I managed to get through it,” said Kelliher, a student a Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H.
It all started as a way for some family bonding time in the outdoors, but soon Kelliher’s hobby became a quest. ”I got the idea the summer I turned 10 that I wanted to try “highpointing” which means summiting the highest point in each state,” said Kelliher. Soon, she was on her way to Florida, South Dakota and every other state in the continental United States.
The climb that vaulted Kelliher into the record books was hiking to the top of the 4,393 foot summit of Mount Mansfield in Vermont. Some 30 family members, friends and neighbors climbed with her and another group of 20 well-wishers met them at the top. In addition to taking plenty of photographs Kelliher has one summit ritual – eating a freshly opened package of red gummy bears.
Somewhere along the way during her years-long quest, reaching the summit of every mountain became a bit of an after-thought. “It became less about getting to the top than the process of getting there. The steady steps, breathing and the journey was almost more fun than standing at the top,” said Kelliher. “But I am competitive, so I do like the bragging rights [of a record].”
This summer, Kelliher faced three of her biggest challenges: Mt. Rainier in Washington, Granite Peak in Montana and Mount Hood in Oregon. Those three peaks tested the teen’s determination.
“It’s kind of like two errors and then you die so we have a one-error rule and there were times when I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I was absolutely very scared,” said Kelliher. Nevertheless, she managed to summit all three mountains.
Next up for Kelliher are Mauna Kea in Hawaii and Mt. McKinley in Alaska. If she reaches the top of both of those peaks she will have accomplished something even rarer than becoming one of only 15 females to have climbed to the top of the highest peak in all 50 states.