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Omaha Magazine

Rise Above: Entrepreneur Discovers Highpointing

Jul 29, 2021 04:23PM ● By Kara Schweiss
erik Lilla hikes with backpack on trail

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

"Highpointing” sounds like a term Erik Lilla might use when training athletes at Metro Stars Gymnastics, the business he co-owns with his wife, Liz. But it’s actually a pursuit he began in summer 2020. 

“In all 50 states there is a natural high point somewhere, so the goal of highpointing is to visit all 50 of these high points,” said Lilla, who is also the owner of, and a licensed broker for, ERK Realty. “Some of these are where you think they’d be, like Colorado’s is on top of a mountain, but when you get to other states it can take you to very interesting places.”

Nebraska’s Panorama Point, for instance, is a low rise on a plain in the midst of a buffalo ranch in the far western part of the state, but it “takes you off the beaten path,” Lilla said. “And that’s part of the charm of this kind of challenge.”

His first highpointing conquest was a Father’s Day 2020 trek with his family to easily accessible Hawkeye Point in northeast Iowa, which is surrounded by farmland.

“On the way back, we visited the Blue Bunny ice cream factory [in Le Mars] and had lunch in Sioux City before heading home,” he said. “We did all these other fun things we wouldn’t otherwise have done.”

After that first family trip, Lilla has been to the high points of Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, and Minnesota on day or weekend trips with one or more of his four children, whose ages range from 8 to 14. 

Lilla first heard about this pastime by fellow highpointer Brent Rising, an Omaha dentist who’s been pursuing the pastime for over a decade.

“It’s so fun because everything is so diverse. If you’ve seen one—you’ve seen one,” Rising said with a laugh. “There’s always something to be learned and always something to be explored.”

Rising has reached the peak of nearly half the states, including some challenging sites such as California’s Mount Whitney. Alaska’s Denali, also the highest mountain in North America, is considered by American highpointers to be the pinnacle of achievement. Because it’s best left to experienced climbers, many highpointers take it off their checklist or limit their adventures to the 48 contiguous states. 

“I’m absolutely doing all 50 states,” Rising said, explaining that when he saw Denali in the distance on a recent trip to Alaska, he said, “You and I, we’ve got a date someday.”

Highpointing has influenced where Rising travels for professional development opportunities, such as the time he chose a conference in Connecticut knowing he could connect to several New England states afterward. “We bagged four high points in just a couple of days.” 

Some of the high points are near other appealing destinations, too, he added. 

“When Erik and I went to climb Humphreys Peak [in northern Arizona], the next two days after that we hiked the Grand Canyon from the south rim to the north rim, and we camped overnight at the bottom,” he said. 

Highpointers gather good stories to tell. Rising has one about a rattlesnake wrapped around the metal box where the sign-in book was kept at White Butte, North Dakota. “I got a really cool picture, but I never did get to sign in,” Rising said. 

Lilla said one thing he loves most about highpointing is that it’s not a contest, but an adventure.  In one adventure, Lilla planned a trip to three southern states—Arkansas, Mississippi, and Missouri—specifically to highpoint.

“Maybe you don’t do all 50 states, but it takes you to places unknown,” he said.  “It’s an illustration of life. Life’s not always about the destination; most of the time it’s about the journey.”

Visit highpointers.org for more information.

This article originally appeared in the August/September  issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann