At the academy, slipping, sliding to top

The Baltimore Sun

After two hours watching her son vie with other Naval Academy plebes to scale a greased, 21-foot obelisk in yesterday's Herndon Monument Climb, Lindi Reichel figured she still had time to visit the gift shop.

When she returned from her expedition with a new umbrella, the crowd of several hundred was clearing the area, and her husband delivered the news: Their son, Greg Reichel, had won the competition in her absence.

"I could throw up," Reichel's mother said in frustration at missing her son's feat.

It took two hours, 35 minutes and 59 seconds, and more than a few slips and falls, for the 19-year-old midshipman to become the latest plebe to conquer Herndon, an annual rite of passage for academy freshmen, or plebes, that folklorists date to 1907.

Legend has it that the first midshipman to reach the top and replace a plebe's "Dixie cup" cap with an upperclassman's hat will be his class' first admiral.

This year's tradition had added meaning: The cap at the top belonged to 19-year-old plebe Kristen Dickmann, who was found dead in her dormitory room May 5 of yet-to-be-determined causes.

Greg Reichel said he was a close friend with Dickmann. Both grew up in Pennsylvania, albeit in different towns, and both played volleyball at the academy. "It was important for our class to do it together" in honor of Dickmann, said Reichel, who lives in Hummelstown, near Harrisburg.

The academy's first-year superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, caused a stir this year when he ordered a review of the climb because of injury concerns. After considering a restriction on the number of participants, academy leaders instead assigned about 30 midshipmen as safety monitors.

There was at least one scare: A female midshipman was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center as a precaution after "she walked out of the crowd complaining of neck and back pain," said Judy Campbell, an academy spokeswoman.

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