At 17 years old, Fallon Rowe is like most other girls her age; getting ready to graduate high school, recently attending prom, and doing the normal teenage thing. However, Fallon’s teenage years have included more than the typical high school experience. The youngest of four sisters, Fallon is the subject of an upcoming documentary covering her recent quest to highpoint each state in the United States (with the exception of Denali). Highpointing is the term used by climbers who visit the highest point of elevation in each state, and Fallon has reached all of them but one.
For the past 11 years she has also had a love of rock climbing, which began when she learned to climb at a YMCA Christmas Camp when she was 6. She instantly fell in
love with the sport and has been climbing ever since, progressing on to competitions, and even competing in Nationals. As both a competitor and a coach, she is now passing on her love of climbing to the younger kids, and loving every minute of it.
In July Fallon will be setting off to attempt the final summit of her highpointing goal, and one that has eluded her before. Fallon’s determination, strength, and confidence have convinced us that this girl has no where to go but up, and we wish her a ton of luck on this next climb.
SBM: Climbing is clearly a passion of yours; what is it about climbing that you love so much?
Fallon: Climbing has been the one consistent thing throughout my life. No matter what happened growing up, I knew I would always be able to funnel all my energy into climbing. It’s the perfect outlet for focus and fitness, and I love the mentality required to stay calm during a run-out climb. The people are also an amazing thing about climbing—I know the climbing community is always friendly and helpful, and meeting new people is interesting and fun.
SBM: Do you prefer to climb rock or mountains, and why?
Fallon: I prefer rock climbing, probably because I am better at it than mountain climbing! Even though I’ve done lots of hiking and some mountaineering, my body seems to do better with rock climbing. The altitude affects me a lot on mountains, but it’s still great because of the amazing views and higher sense of accomplishment. There are pros and cons to both!
SBM: Who are your normal climbing partners?
Fallon: I climb with friends from my team at the Urban Ascent climbing gym in Boise. My boyfriend Jonas and I have been climbing together for as long as I can remember, and my best friend Mikki is my main adventure-girl!
SBM: Explain high pointing.
Fallon: High pointing is reaching the highest point or mountain summit in each of the 50 states. Usually highpointers will check off states throughout their lifetime, but my mom and I have done 48 states in 3 summers. Anything is fair game in terms of reaching the high point: hiking, climbing, driving, even helicopter (if you have enough money!). Most high points are moderate hikes, and the entire quest is an amazing experience because of traveling around the country!
SBM: You have been on a quest to high point all the states in the continental United States. This is not only a time consuming goal but likely expensive as well. What was the inspiration behind this goal?
Fallon: The inspiration for my mom’s and my high-pointing came from a Google search. My mom saw the word “highpointing” written in a summit register and looked it up when she got home. Soon, she discovered the national organization and called me to see if I was interested in it! I had never hiked more than 6 miles before, so climbing mountains was a huge learning experience since I had mainly rock climbed my whole life. By the end of the first summer in 2011, we already had 35 highpoints completed. In the beginning, I don’t think either of us anticipated finishing the continental 48 states.
SBM: Your mom has been your climbing partner throughout this journey. What is it like to spend so much time in the mountains with her?
Fallon: Being with my mom in the mountains is truly a great experience. Seeing how happy she is when all the hard work, time, and money have paid off always
feels amazing for both of us. We are both different people in the mountains—more focused, determined, and strong. Trying to become the first mother-daughter team to highpoint the Lower 48 states has only strengthened the bond that we have, and our teamwork has turned out perfectly since we both like to hike slowly.
SBM: During the girls teenage years it can be challenging to see eye to eye with your mother, what is it about your relationship that has given you guys such a great bond?
Fallon: It has certainly been difficult to get along during all of the traveling we have done. Everyone is irritable at times, and since I’m a teenager, I’ll admit that I am usually the problem! Despite this, we both know that we strive for the same goals and have always worked out any disagreements. Sometimes you just have to let the little things go in order to accomplish something that takes such careful planning but can go wrong quickly.
SBM: Last year you were very close to accomplishing your goal of reaching all the high points in the United States with the exception of Denali, but were met with some weather challenges on Gannett Peak in Wyoming. What happened?
Fallon: In the summer of 2013, we attempted Gannett Peak (13,809′) in Wyoming. It would have been our 48th highpoint to finish off the continental US, making us the first mother-daughter team to do so. I also would have become the youngest female to complete the Lower 48! We spent about a week altogether on the 50 mile backpack trip on the Glacier Trail, and on one of the days we encountered a glacial flood caused by a broken ice dam. We had to cross a large “lake” of freezing, silty glacial water littered with broken trees and a destroyed bridge. Other than that, it was mostly uneventful until summit day. We got up long before sunrise, and the weather was beautiful with no clouds in the sky. We made it all the way to the first glacier on the mountain, and realized we were too late in the season. All of the new snow had melted off the glacier, leaving rock-solid ice that was melting every minute and bringing large rockfall with it. Two of our team members were injured, one with a broken thumb. We considered other routes up the mountain, and after much deliberation, we decided we were too late in the season. We made it about 2000 feet below the summit. It was a bummer since we had a great weather-window, but we are going back this summer earlier in the season to ensure better conditions. We will be more prepared now, and we might still become the first mother-daughter team!
SBM: Such a large goal must be filled with both high and low emotions; what has this journey been like for you?
Fallon: Highpointing has been a wild ride! I was an inexperienced hiker and a lowly gym-rat of rock climbing, but highpointing has changed both of those for the better. I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into. I’ve learned that my mind is always the strongest part of me in the mountains when physically I feel as if I can’t continue (which is often). Every failure and success has contributed to my knowledge, and I am much more confident in the wilderness and rock climbing since I have more experience. The journey has been mostly about learning for me—I feel prepared to deal with a wide variety of people and go on adventures of my own since I leave for college in Utah this year.
SBM: What was your favorite climb so far?
Fallon: My favorite highpoint was Mount Rainier (14,409′) in Washington. It was physically the most difficult for me, and the altitude made me feel terrible. I only ate Clif “Shot Bloks” for three days because I couldn’t stomach anything else. I was colder than I could ever imagine as the temperatures dipped below 0°F with wind chill and I lost the feeling in both feet and both hands. I collapsed near the summit and had to let the guide put an extra layer of clothing on me. It was the most embarrassing and humbling moment of my life. They didn’t want me to continue to the actual highpoint because of my exhaustion, but there was no way I was going to come that far and not summit in such great weather. All of those things didn’t matter after the trip, because of the accomplishment that came with reaching Columbia Crest, the highest point on the crater rim of the mountain. It was the clearest day possible with blue skies and views of other peaks in the Cascades. I’ve never seen a more beautiful place, and Rainier remains my proudest accomplishment. A close second is New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak because of big horned sheep and a lovely hike.
SBM: Which climb did you like the least?
Fallon: I didn’t dislike any of the highpoints! Even the ugly ones, like Kentucky’s Black Mountain on top of a coal mine, still felt good to check off the list. I promise! I always feel lucky to travel to another highpoint.
SBM: Who do you look to as your inspiration?
Fallon: I am inspired by my mom, of course, for being a meticulous planner and following through with all of our trips and goals. I look up to Emily Harrington, a female rock climber and mountaineer, for her incredible accomplishments in the mountains as a woman pushing the limits. I am a rock climbing coach, and seeing a child’s face light up when they climb at a new level or learn something new is a truly wonderful feeling that inspires me to maintain my young enthusiasm about life.
SBM: You are heading back to Gannett Peak in June. What anxieties do have about going back, and what are you looking forward to about re-visiting this mountain?
Fallon: I am anxious about the different conditions on the mountain—the glacier should have more snow, which will be great, but there are unknowns. There are always changing variables in the mountains, like the safety of river crossings, weather, etc. I have a better idea of what to expect, especially in terms of difficulty, since we made it within 2000 feet of the summit last time. No matter what happens, I am excited to go back to the Wind River Range because it is breathtaking and challenging!
SBM: What was your most intimidating summit?
Fallon: My most intimidating summit was Granite Peak (12,808′) in Montana, our 45th highpoint. It was one of my very first backpacking trips, and my mom and I went alone. It was incredible up in the high country of the area with dramatic, steep peaks and crystal clear lakes. The summit day was unnerving because we were so isolated and saw very few people throughout the trip. We climbed the “Southwest Ramp” route on the more dangerous side of the mountain because it doesn’t require ropes. It was a lot worse than Idaho’s Mount Borah even though they are both rated Class 3. The scree was intense and every step caused lots of rockfall. There was rarely a stable hold to grab onto the steep face, and my mom really struggled with that. We worked together and used my rock climbing skills to make it to the summit. Even though we were both shaken and nervous about being so far from help, we managed to pull it together and get down safely!
To follow Fallon or to read more about her experience high pointing you can check out her blog at summitsofthestates.wordpress.com