New hiking challenge crosses state lines

A new hiking challenge that can be worked on anywhere in the country asks hikers to document U.S. benchmarks, like the one seen here at the summit of Loon Lake Mountain. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Hiking challenges have grown in popularity in recent years, but for the most part, the ones locals tackle keep them confined within the Blue Line. But Operation Alaska — a blog about hiking and climbing in the Adirondacks, Alaska and beyond — has started a new challenge that can be tackled outside the Adirondacks, and even across state lines.

The “Benchmark Challenge” encourages hikers to document federal U.S. Geodetic Survey discs that can be found in all 50 states. The small brass markers are often associated with mountain summits, but they can be found in thousands of locations around the country.

“The beauty of the benchmark challenge is that it can be completed by casual explorers, weekend warriors, and hardcore peakbaggers,” the Operation Alaska website says. “The challenge has three levels of difficulty so you can pick the one that works for you. You can also choose to make it as hard or as easy as you like based on the benchmarks you try to locate. It is truly a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of experience.”

Participants can earn bronze, silver or gold levels of accomplishment by locating 25, 50 or 75 benchmarks, respectively. All benchmarks must have been visited since 2012, and markers within an eighth of a mile of each other only count as one. Many summits in the Adirondacks have more than one marker.

“There is no requirement on which benchmarks will satisfy the requirements of the challenge,” the site says, “Which means anyone, anywhere in the USA, at any elevation, can complete the challenge.”

People who complete the challenge will be assigned a number and a patch corresponding to the level of completion. Registration costs $10.

The Geodetic Survey — housed within the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — was founded by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 and was the nation’s first civilian scientific agency.

“Its mission was, and still is, to survey the U.S. coastline and create nautical charts of the coast to help increase maritime safety,” NOAA says on its website. “As the nation grew westward, surveys of the U.S. interior began.

“In September 2006, retired NOAA Corps Commander George E. Leigh recovered the survey mark designated BUTTERMILK that was set by Hassler in 1833, just north of New York City. It is the oldest existing first-order (high accuracy) survey point in the country.”

For more information on the Benchmark Challenge, go to