When Dan Coslic was 8 he discovered the encyclopedia. What most captivated him among alphabetized foreign cities, inventions from near and far, and countries he’d never heard of were maps.
“I was obsessed with maps as a kid, especially out West where there were mountains on them,” said Coslic, who grew up in Pennsylvania. “I discovered this little symbol that meant ‘highest point in the state’ and I wondered what it would be like to climb the mountains with snow on, what kind of training it would take.”
And that’s how Coslic’s goal of standing on the highest point of all 50 states began to take shape.
His first summit was Pennsylvania’s Mount Davis, at 3,213 feet.
“I used to go there with my family,” said Coslic.
Today, at 45, he’s made it to 49, and come June he plans to conquer the last one: Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet located in Denali National Park in Alaska.
This summer’s climb, however, is not just about adding another summit; it’s about raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.
“Most of the climbs I’ve done I’ve done solo,” Coslic said. “It seemed like this time I needed something more. Maybe because it’s the tallest peak in North America, I needed to do it not just for myself.”
Since family members and some friends of Coslic’s have struggled with Alzheimer’s and various types of dementia, it was easy for him to pick a cause.
“I do it in honor of them,” said Coslic.
Seven other climbers will be going with Coslic on the Denali climb, spanning a wide range of mountaineering experience. The youngest member is 17-year-old Bryson Williams, a Lewis and Clark High School student, who has climbed Mount Fuji and Mount Rainier, among seven mountains.
Another member is 49-year-old Ken Billings, a manager of a Dutch-based technical writing and software company, who’s reached the summit of Mount Rainier, Trapper Peak and Mount Borah just to mention a few of the 22 mountains he’s conquered.
There’s also Melissa Nelson, a physician and EMT with extensive training in wilderness and rural medicine, who’s climbed mountains big and small in the United States and Eastern Europe.
“Right now we’re trying to do something together every two weeks, to get to know one another,” said Coslic. “It’s important to know what sets someone else off when the farthest you can get away from them is 150 feet.”
Last weekend the group climbed Mount Hood in Oregon, but didn’t summit.
“We stayed the night at Illumination Saddle and experienced high winds and blowing snow,” Coslic wrote in a post climb e-mail. “Conditions were not right to summit due to the high icefall, but it was a great training experience.”
Last week, a woman died on Mount Hood when she was hit by falling ice.
“It’s a dangerous mountain,” said Coslic. “Just because it’s right outside Portland doesn’t mean that anyone can climb it.”
This is Coslic’s second attempt at Denali. Back in ’89 he was living in Anchorage, Alaska, when he ran into Rick Ford at the local REI store. The two became fast friends because they shared a love for outdoor adventures.
“I was skydiving at the time,” Coslic said. “He loved to hike and climb and invited me along for rock climbing and later introduced me to ice climbing.”
Soon, the two looked around for a bigger challenge and their eyes fell on Denali.
“I was about 25 or 26 at the time, a time where the world is just there for you,” said Coslic. “We were both neophytes at it. I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did.”
The two spent 19 days on Denali in May 1990 without much climbing experience.
“You are on a glacier the whole time,” said Coslic. “It is 20-30 below zero at night and 70-80 degrees during the day. You can easily burn the inside of your nose and ears.”
When a storm hit and Ford developed high-altitude pulmonary edema – a condition that fills a climber’s lungs with fluids – the two turned around at 16,200 feet, a little more than 4,000 feet below the summit.
“Yes, I was disappointed that we had to turn around, but I think we did well,” said Coslic. That first Denali experience honed Coslic’s goal of standing on the highest point of all 50 states.
“I’m the kind of person who needs a goal,” said Coslic, who works as a computer programmer at Avista.
Not all high points are exotic, snow covered peaks.
In Delaware, for instance, Coslic found the highest point was a highway intersection.
“You had to watch out to not be run over by a car,” he said, laughing.
The highest point in Nebraska, Panorama Point at 5,424 feet, looks more like pasture than anything else.
“There you had to be worried about the bison,” Coslic said.
He has also climbed in Ecuador, where he’s reached the 19,327-foot summit of Cotopaxi twice. And there’s always more mountains to climb.
“I constantly have new ideas cued up,” Coslic said. “To me, climbing is church. It’s where the real world is, it’s my escape from everything – I love nature and it’s just beautiful on a mountain.”