July 23, 2011 9:14:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
It started out almost as a joke, this idea that Hagan Walker and Meriweather Bean of Columbus would drive 3,000 miles round-trip, to the San Isabel National Forest in Colorado to scale the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America.
"It was like one of those things where you''re like, ''Let''s do it,'' but it never happens," said Walker, who, like Bean, graduated in the Columbus High School International Baccalaureate class of 2011. But as the days dwindled before the two friends would go separate ways to college, they realized the time was now.
The two were initially inspired by Columbus High math teacher Jonathan DuFour. DuFour was the focus of a May 22 story in The Dispatch chronicling his March climb up Mount Elbert to motivate his students to always "reach for the summit."
Although Bean wasn''t one of DuFour''s students, "she watched the video he put together about his climb and is one of the most adventurous and determined people I know, so naturally she wanted to go," said Walker, the son of Jim and Leigh Walker of Columbus.
On the climb
The ascent was arduous, although less so than when DuFour made the snowy climb in March''s frigid temperatures and high winds.
The 18-year-olds, regular runners, made the trek July 14 with their Colorado host, Rich Smith. Smith and his wife have climbed the high points in all 50 states, as well as Kilimanjaro and Denali.
"Climbing 14,433 feet with almost no time to acclimate was tough," Walker admitted. "Meriweather and I had to stop multiple times near the summit to catch our breath -- usually walking one step for every three breaths. But it was worth it."
Bean, whose parents are Mark and Suzanne Bean, added, "I don''t think I realized how hard it would be altitude-wise, especially once you got up to around 13,000 feet. But the views were spectacular."
It might come as no surprise that the pair posted to Facebook and Twitter, as coverage permitted. And they received a special congratulatory phone call on the way down, from DuFour.
In a few short weeks, Walker will start classes at Mississippi State University, and Bean at Millsaps, in Jackson.
"This was a great way of kind of coming to the end of summer. It represents an accomplishment, something we could conquer together," said Bean, who took a passenger up the mountain, a stuffed Teddy bear an uncle gave her when she was only an infant.
"Making the climb with one of my best friends is a great memory I''ll never forget," Walker said, thankful to his former classmate for her motivation to make the trip a reality.
He continued, "Although I wanted to climb Elbert just to say I had climbed the second highest mountain in the (contiguous) United States, I wouldn''t have even considered it if Mr. DuFour hadn''t committed himself to being the excellent teacher he is. I can only thank him for the inspiration he gave me to complete my own journey -- one of many to come."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.