First to Climb All 200 Highest Peaks of the Contiguous 48 States
In 2017 Michael A. Bromberg (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1970) became the first person on record to climb all of the 200 highest peaks of the contiguous (lower 48 states), a list comprising all peaks above 13,684’ elevation. Bromberg was third to finish the 100 highest in 2015, and second to finish the 150 highest in 2016.1 He celebrated the completion with six Beta Nu Chapter alumni and three friends on 13,745’ Fremont Peak in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. They celebrated on August 21 during the total eclipse which was visible for about two minutes on the summit.
The chapter brothers who accompanied Bromberg had hiked with him many times both on New England hikes and out west. Their group of hikers and climbers became known as the Vulgarian Ramblers. Chris "Schmed" Schneider (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1983) established www.vulgarianramblers.org to post-peak completions. “I was overjoyed that six of my climbing brothers were able to accompany me on this trip,” said Bromberg.
Bromberg started climbing high peaks in 1983 with his first Colorado fourteener. He completed that list in 1988 and went on to complete the California fourteeners (1992) and the Colorado 100 highest (1997). He has only one peak to go on the Colorado 200 highest list. Along the way, he climbed 48 of the 50 high points of the United States.
He started peakbagging (the sport of climbing peaks grouped on a list) in 1971 in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He completed the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers in 1973 and continued with the 4,000-footers of New England in 1980, the 100 highest of New England in 1981, the Adirondack 46 high peaks in 1982, and the Catskill 3,500-footers in 1988. He has also completed all those lists in calendar winter. In 2005, he became the fifth person to complete the New Hampshire 4,000-footers in every month of the year (a pursuit known as “The Grid”) and is the only one on record to summit each New Hampshire 4,000-footer at midnight (1992), and again at midnight in winter (1999).
He is a semi-retired electronic design engineer who holds four patents, designs stage lighting and makes trail maps. His popular pocket-sized Tyvek Monadnock map describes every trail on the mountain and shows all the trailheads.
Learn more about Bromberg’s climbing journey and his path to Delta Tau Delta.
What inspired you to start climbing?
Several brothers enjoyed going on weekend hiking and camping trips in the White Mountains, and I tagged along. I was an Eagle Scout and comfortable with camping; not very athletic at all, so the hiking part was a challenge, but I did it often enough to get pretty good at it and build leg muscles. Our trips were usually to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, particularly the 4,000-footers, which had the most trails and the best views.
How did you get started cataloging your climbs and setting goals?
New Hampshire climbers have a list of 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains (it was 46 at the time until the publication of new maps). It's traditional to attempt climbing all of them, and that's what we started doing. My first 4,000-footer climb was Mt. Lafayette in 1971, and we climbed many of the listed peaks over the next year or two.
Was there a turning point where you became more determined in your goals?
By 1973, I realized that I was close to completing the list, and set out to climb the missing peaks on my own, or choosing a missing peak as the goal for a group trip. By the end of 1973, I had completed that list and had been bitten by the bug. I continued peakbagging out East, completing the 4,000-footers of New England, and the Adirondack High Peaks (also 46 at the time), then the 100 highest of New England, and so forth. And I started winter hiking, and eventually completed all those lists in the calendar winter (considered separate goals by peakbaggers).
In 1984 Brother Jim "JC" Campbell (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1980) gave me a guidebook to the Colorado peaks, which have their peakbagger list of 54 14,000-footers. We started that summer with two climbs, and I fell in love with high above-treeline peaks. I acquired a Jeep and a complete set of duplicate climbing equipment that I stored in a locker in Denver. I travel there each summer to hike and climb; the Jeep meant that I didn't have to bring the gear back and forth, so I was able to fly easily to Denver, and eventually ride my motorcycle back and forth. I finished the fourteeners in 1988 and continued to complete the Colorado 100 highest list, and branched out to California fourteeners and state high points.
How has the sport changed since you began?
Peakbagging in New Hampshire has become far more popular over the years, and trailheads to most of the popular 4,000-footers are jammed all summer these days. Apparently the same is true out West since many of the fourteeners now have newly-built trails or well-established footpaths. As for technology, I used to keep my lists with pencil and paper. When personal computers became popular, I started keeping lists in Excel. The rise of the internet meant that climbers started posting reports of their climbs, which was quite helpful in planning my climbs. The availability of GPS apps on the smartphone was the major technological change to the sport; it is now possible to see where I am on the map (or even on the aerial photograph), rather than having to assume my location using compass and altimeter. This isn't as important out West where you can see where you're going, but back East where the trees are thick; it's a real timesaver.
How did you balance your career with your pursuit of the peakbagging record?
I became a self-employed electrical engineer in 1975, which gave me great flexibility in my schedule. I was often able to take three-day weekends or do a midweek climb, so I could deal better with the weather, then go back to the schematics on rainy days. I usually tried to finish a schematic design in May or June so that the circuit board could be fabricated, parts purchased, and the board assembled while I was climbing out West. When I returned in late August, the board would be ready for me to apply power.
What is your next goal?
I have one more peak to go (Coxcomb Peak) to finish the Colorado 200-highest list, the last major high-elevation list that I'm seriously pursuing. Schmed intends to accompany me there next summer. I have two peaks remaining on my 50 state highpoints, but I don't have the lungs for Denali so I will be ending that list at 49 with a Connecticut celebratory climb in the near future.
I'm beginning to have my fill of difficult, dangerous climbs. I have eleven peaks to go to be first to finish the contiguous U.S. 250 highest list, but many of those are quite difficult and dangerous so I'm not committed to finishing that. I'm currently going after 3,000-footers in New Hampshire and Vermont, much mellower climbs (and avoiding the 4,000-footer crowds) although many include bushwhacking, and I expect to be finishing both of those lists in the next couple of years.
Why did you join Delta Tau Delta?
I was a short, unathletic, and non-socially-adept guy (nerd) and was summarily rejected by the five Jewish fraternities. It was generally known that Jews (and nerds) would have a hard time getting into any of the other 16 non-Jewish fraternities at MIT, so I moved into the dorm. I became quite active in extracurricular activities at MIT, including my first fraternity experience with Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity. While working for VooDoo, the college humor magazine, I met Ed Jakush (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1967) who liked my style and started bringing me over to the Delt house.
I hung out extensively there for several years, getting to know all the brothers and even building a room-to-room telephone system out of parts found in the basement. I enjoyed the companionship of the brothers far more than my nerdy dorm mates and unwittingly became socialized (de-nerded). I was considered a social affiliate, didn't live in the house but ate meals there, and hung out with the guys in the evening before returning to the dorm.
I didn't know that over that period, my name had been suggested for membership several times and rejected, ostensibly because of my religion. By the time I was a senior, the brothers who had blackballed me for being Jewish had graduated. I was invited to pledge as a second-term senior, one of the shortest pledge periods in chapter history, and initiated that semester. I lived in the house for one term after I graduated.