Last Thanksgiving break, Brendan Laubner ’15 (M.S.) fired up his camping stove to make some tea. He’d spent the night atop the 5,728-foot Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia, and needed something to warm him up.
“I’m sitting there drinking my tea, looking at the view and thinking, Wow, this is really beautiful,” says the assistant director for institutional research in the College’s Office for Institutional Research, Planning and Information Management. “So I took a photo with the mug.”
But this wasn’t just any mug. It was a College of Charleston mug. And thus began a tradition.
As Laubner sets out to hike the highest point in each of the country’s 50 states, he always brings along his CofC mug, his Cougar pride and usually a friend or two.
“I’m really enjoying the experiences I’m collecting, becoming more familiar with how to execute a hike properly and bringing my friends with me,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know how much effort it takes to go up something that’s eight miles long and changes 3–4,000 feet in elevation along the way. It’s grueling. Patience is key.”
And – figuring it will take him 20 years to reach his goal – Laubner definitely has patience. He also has a methodical approach to his plan. Sitting at his computer on the first floor of Randolph Hall, he pulls up a spreadsheet with all 50 locations and their vertical feet and tallies up the number of peaks he’s conquered so far: a total of 11.
“I’ve been to the high points in each state I can drive to in about six or seven hours,” says the tall, lanky Laubner, who got his master’s in math at the College and whose mountain bike leaning against his office wall hints that he can’t be summed up as just a numbers guy: He’s also quite the outdoorsman. “But now it’s turning into this logistical challenge. I’m starting to realize the breadth of actually doing every high point in the country and how to fit it in to my work schedule and my social schedule. Not everyone wants to do a vacation where you’re driving all over the place and then hiking for however many hours.”
No one said it’d be easy, though – and some hikes are more challenging than others. North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell, for example: At just under 7,000 feet, it is the highest point east of the Mississippi and Laubner’s longest hike thus far, given that he started at 2,000 feet.
And then there are the easier ones.
“Jerimoth Hill in Rhode Island is only 811 feet,” he notes. “You park your car, walk about a quarter mile into the woods and there’s a rock that signifies you’ve made it. I crossed that one off while I was on a road trip.”
No matter the effort required, invariably there will be a book for Laubner to sign, date and record what number peak it is for him, just as others have done for years.
No. 12 for Laubner will come this fall, when he travels to Colorado to tackle the highest point in the Rockies, Mount Elbert (14,400 feet). But, with 38 more to go after that – including the most technically difficult and dangerous, Denali in Alaska and Mount Rainier in Washington state – he still has a lot of challenges ahead of him.
Which begs the question: Why? When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there.” Laubner, however, has a more personal explanation.
“I’ve spent time doing other traveling – like cities in Europe, where I was about a month ago – and it was great. But at one point I thought, I need to get outside of this concrete jungle and just be somewhere nice where I can think,” says the Massachusetts native, who grew up hiking and biking the nearby trails in a protected forest. “It just gives me a couple of days to enjoy myself going up, to camp and to enjoy myself coming back down. It’s a good way to just get some release.”
Not to mention some really great photos of his College of Charleston mug.
Featured image: Brendan Laubner. (Photo by Heather Moran)