Courtesy of John Hogg
Courtesy of John Hogg
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) – Sometimes overcoming the deepest pain can make a person achieve his highest dreams.
That’s true for John Hogg, who vowed for nine years he would climb the highest points in all 50 states.
And nine years later, he’s at 49.
Hogg, a 55-year-old scout executive with the Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America, will put a team together in 2014 to climb Mount McKinley, elevation 20,328 feet, in Alaska.
So far, he’s the first person in Kansas to climb all the highest points in the lower 48 states, according to the Highpointers Club, which tracks and records climbers who achieve climbing the highest points in the U.S.
It’s been a journey of healing for Hogg.
His son, Ezra, 17, died in a car accident Dec. 10, 2001. He was on his way to school. Ezra was an Eagle Scout.
“It was five days before my birthday, 11 days before he turned 18 and 15 days before Christmas,” Hogg said.
“It completely emotionally, physically and spiritually devastated me. It was the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life,” he said.
And it stays with him.
But now, instead of focusing on the tragedy, Hogg focuses on the memory of his son to go forward and climb the highest of mountaintops.
“I decided to climb to the highest peaks in his memory,” he said.
Hogg said he was surprised to learn he’s the first person in Kansas to climb to the highest peak in each of the lower 48 states.
“I sent off for the award. I had to document every date I did each state. Then I asked them, by chance, if I was the person from Kansas. They said I was,” he said.
Some of the highest points have been a simple walk from the parking lot.
“The easiest high point was probably in Florida. You just get out of your car. It’s 345 feet above sea level. It’s the lowest high point in the U.S.,” he said.
In less than 48 hours, Hogg went from the actual lowest point in the contiguous 48 states to the highest point.
“I visited Death Valley in California, and less than 48 hours later, I was at the summit of Mount Whitney,” he said.
The elevation of California’s Mount Whitney is 14,505 feet.
Hogg does all the climbs in memory of his son. During the ascent, Hogg focuses on that goal alone.
“My son, he just never had a down day. That’s the kind of person he was,” he said.
Hogg recalls a fond memory of Ezra.
Ezra was a lifeguard for his high school and jumped in during an incident and saved a person’s life. The school wanted to give him an award.
“And he said, ‘I don’t need an award. That’s what I get paid to do. I was just doing my job,’” Hogg said.
At the summit of Mount Elbert in Colorado, elevation 14,439 feet, Hogg took a picture of a young man proposing to his girlfriend.
“I cried the whole way back down. ... Because I knew my son would never get to do that. I was happy for that guy, but it was really hard on me,” he said.
Hogg’s other sons, Matthew, 34, and Daniel, 30, who are both Eagle Scouts, also are married.
Through his journeys, Hogg hopes to inspire others, scouts and beyond.
“That’s my goal. I want to inspire young people to push and go beyond what they could ever imagine they can accomplish in their lives,” he said.
Hogg also wants to publish a book about his climbs to help other parents who have lost children.
He said at times, his mission has been difficult, but he’s stayed focused.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. I’m so glad I’m doing it. I am, with God’s help,” he said.