On the top of his filing cabinet at work, Terry Moyer has 22 rocks.
They aren't especially pretty. In fact they look like the rock collection of a first grader - a bunch of gray and yellowish metamorphic specimens, apparently selected (using no significant criteria) from the backyard.But wait. These rocks are significant. They come from the highest point of each state Terry Moyer has visited. "I just get to the very top of the mountain and grab a rock," he says. Then, picking up a stone about one inch thick, he adds, "California is now shorter by this much."
Seven Americans that he knows of, says Moyer, have climbed to the highest point of every state in the union. Moyer wants to add to that total.
A small map on the side of the file cabinet shows which states he's conquered: Georgia is colored yellow, as is a large block of Western states. In November (after a business trip for the LDS Church, for which he is senior personnel representative in the welfare department) he'll seek the heights of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.
"I've heard none of those mountains are 10 cents tough," he says.
But Moyer will climb them anyway. "Even if they have a highway to the highest point, and a lot of the Eastern states do, I'll put on my hiking boots and walk up the road."
Moyer has had a fascination with high places since he was a boy in the "dark woods of Oregon." He was always clambering up a rock to try to see over the tops of the trees.
But he did a lot of living before he started climbing. First came a degree in geography from Brigham Young University, an LDS mission to Germany ("I was in the flat part where you could stand on a tuna fish can and see everything"), then a master's degree in education and years of teaching in California schools.
He married and had three children. His duties as a father and church leader left him without time to even glance toward the mountains.
Eventually, though, the children grew up. Then the doctor discovered Moyer had heart fibrillations and told him to start exercising. So Terry Moyer took to the trail - starting first with the highest point in Utah, King's Peak.
"I was 47 years old and people told me I was too old to start trying to climb 50 mountains," he says. "That's all I needed to decide I was going to do it."
He began four years ago. Moyer stays in shape by running three days a week and climbing the stairs of the LDS Church Office Building twice a week after work. "I go top to bottom twice. That's 120 flights."
He treks most often with his daughter, Cindie. She's a mother of two and a gutsy woman who, on one tough trail, told her father she was so tired she thought she was going to die - then asked him if she did to please to drag her body to the top.
"She dearly loves mountains," says her father. "We climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest point in California, and stood there together on her 25th birthday."
Moyer also climbs with his son Adrian and, sometimes, with two 68-year-old men from New York, Clark Hall and Jack Parcell.
He discovered Hall and Parcell from their notes in log books at the top of various peaks. "I'd read the comments and see people were writing `This is the 27th!' or `Number 30!' so I knew there were others who were doing what I'm doing. Then I started noticing Clark's and Jack's names together - in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nevada. And once Clark included his address. So I wrote to him."
Hall and Parcell were with him on the most demanding climb Moyer's made. "Granite Peak, Montana, elevation 12,799 feet. It's a long, difficult, boulder-hoping hike."
The last 150 feet are sheer rock. Parcell was in the lead going up a difficult chimney, when he fell, smashing his knee and landing in Terry Moyer's arms.
Moyer's eyes still widen in surprise when he describes it. "So I caught him. That's what you do when someone falls into your arms. You don't even think about it." Luckily Parcell only weighs 140 pounds and Moyer, at 6 feet 3 inches, was big enough to hold him.
After that, the group camped for several nights, waiting for a helicopter to come rescue Parcell. Having come that far, Moyer decided to free-climb to the summit before he left. "I went very slowly." And the next summer Parcell came back and did Montana, too.
The second most difficult state he's done was Washington, says Moyer. As he explains the three-day hike to the top of icy Mt. Rainer, Moyer explains himself as well, and what keeps him climbing:
"The second day begins at 1 a.m. when the rangers wake you up and lead you on a march through the darkness. We wore headlamps. You see the pink-gray ghosts of other mountains on each side, Mt. Hood . . . and the moon is setting while the sun is rising . . . and below you are the lights of Portland and Seattle. You stand with tears in your eyes because it's so incredibly beautiful."
The least-challenging climb was in Kansas. "There the highest point is Mt. Sunflower," says Moyer. "From where you leave your car at the road you gain 28 feet in 2 miles. They had to build a fence around the high-point marker to keep the cows from rubbing on it and knocking it over.
"I did that one solo."
He expects Iowa won't be much better. "I've heard it's just the upper end of a hog trough and the greatest danger is to your shoes."
The toughest climb will be Alaska. A $4,000 conquest, Moyer figures, counting air fare and equipment. He won't be able to afford it until he gets his son through college, mission and medical school. So he'll do the lower states, first.
After talking about the hardest and the easiest, Moyer describes the most beautiful high spot, so far. Which is? "South Dakota," says Moyer. "Harney Peak is not one of the highest or most difficult climbs. But all along the way there is quartz and mica lining the trail. And with the setting sun shining on it, it just glistens. Like something out of Walt Disney. Most charming."
Moyer went last weekend to Arizona to meet with several dozen people who, like he, are busily scaling all 50 heights. They are a club with no name, no rules, no regular meetings. "The best kind of group," says Moyer.
In fact, he says, they are the best kind of people. Which is another thing about his hobby he loves. "I've discovered that if you have enough character and self-discipline to climb high mountains you probably have enough character not to throw gum wrappers on the trail. Or write on rocks.
"Up on the mountain you don't find the creeps and crumbs. You find a great variety of people - men and women, young and old - but all the sweetest, most decent people in the world."