Remember Mike Haugen, the intrepid eighth-grade science teacher from Denver who likes to spend his summers scaling great heights?

Two years ago, he was the one who encouraged the kids of America to climb Mount Everest with him, in a virtual kind of way.

As he climbed the actual Mount Everest, schoolkids could follow his progress on his Web site and commit to getting outside and climbing something real when they logged off.

That worked so well that Haugen, assisted by his sponsor, the Coleman Co. (eighth-grade science teachers can only do so much on their own dime) came up with an encore this summer.

He would climb to the highest point in all 50 states in 50 days or less.

He started this past June in Alaska by climbing Mount McKinleyat an elevation of 20,320 feet — it only made sense to climb the hardest one first — and kept going from there.

Next came Britton Hill in Florida at 345 feet, the lowest high point of the 50 states.

Nothing was too high, or too low.

In 16 states you can drive to the highest point, so Mike and his climbing partner, Zach Price, knocked those off in a hurry. They did Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee on a Tuesday. They did Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia on a Friday.

Other states were more daunting, including, ahem, Utah. At 13,528 feet, King's Peak is not only Utah's tallest mountain but one of the hardest-to-get-to high points among the states — a 28-mile round-trip hike.

Haugen and Price knocked off King's Peak on July 8, and the main thing Haugen remembers about that trip is that the third member of their high-strung traveling party, Lindsay Danner, the van driver, "just blew our legs off."

Lindsay ended up hiking to 40 of the highest points, but she had skipped Gannett Peak, Wyoming's high point and a 21-mile round-tripper, before driving the van to Utah, so she had fresher legs. Or at least that's what the guys contend.

The whole adventure came to a halt 45 days, 19 hours, two minutes and 20 seconds after it started — atop the Manua Kea volcano in Hawaii, at 13,796 feet the sixth-highest high point (Utah was No. 7) of the whole trip. And in Hawaii. Who'd have thought?

Mike and Zach can now lay claim to the high-point record, such as it is, breaking the old mark of 50 days, seven hours and five minutes set by Ben Jones of Lynnwood, Wash., in 2005.

But as Haugen explained while attending the annual Outdoor Recreation show at the Salt Palace this weekend, setting the record wasn't

the point.

The point was the same as climbing Mount Everest, namely "To get kids away from the video game and out the door."

"We want America's kids outside," says Haugen, using the royal "we" to speak for himself and Coleman. "The object of 50 in 50 was to focus on the country and show kids where they can go."

As opposed to telling them where they can go.

Unlike the Mount Everest adventure, which schoolkids followed in real time, Haugen's latest feat will be followed after the fact. Schools and schoolchildren from across America are invited to register on Aug. 21 for a 50-in-50 themed challenge that will begin Sept. 1. Check out coleman.com for more details.

In the meantime, Haugen plans to not do much of anything between now and next Wednesday, when he has to report to Kepner Middle School in Denver for teacher meetings prior to the start of the 2008-2009 school year.

"I'll tell you what I feel like doing," he said. "I feel like just sitting around a campfire and that's it. That's something I never really got to do this summer. I thought I would. We always talked about it. But we were going so fast we never really did it."

And for the record, he says if he had to compare the two — climbing Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain — or climbing to the highest point in every state in America in 45 days, he'd have to say Everest was less taxing.

"Logistically and sleepwise, the 50 in 50 turned out to be far harder than Everest," he said. "We just didn't sleep.

"And we really didn't enjoy the views," he added. "And there were lots of spectacular views. There's a lot of spots we'd like to go back to."

Maybe next summer.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.