Climb complete: Herndon Monument scaled in 1 hour, 38 minutes, 36 seconds

Tim Prudente
Contact Reportertprudente@capgaznews.com

She clung to the monument drenched with sweat and grease.

Hoses sprayed her face. Midshipman Tara Siefert of Annapolis shook her fist and howled.

Plebes strained beneath her, raising her toward the top of Herndon.

The crowd, cheering; Siefert reaching, higher, higher —

A foot slipped.

She fell.

The next barefoot plebe was already climbing up her back. And stepping on her face.

One hour, 38 minutes, 36 seconds passed before members of the Naval Academy's Class of 2018 successfully scaled the monument.

They replaced the plebe hat, a "Dixie cup," with a midshipman's hat, a "cover." It's the symbolic end of plebe year.

"That was a long hour and a half," said Midshipman Javarri Beachum, breathless.

The 19-year-old from Port St. Joe, Florida, gently tossed the "cover" on the monument just after 3 p.m. Monday, which concluded the climb.

"I was thinking, I better get it up there before I fall."

Academy lore predicts the plebe who tops Herndon will be first of the class to make admiral.

That has yet to prove true, Superintendent Vice Adm. Walter Carter Jr. said.

He climbed Herndon as a plebe in 1978. The time that year: one hour, 21 minutes.

"I was near the top early," Carter said, "then I fell off and was nowhere close."

He challenged the Class of 2018 to beat his class' time. They were 17 minutes late.

The monument is named after Cmdr. William Lewis Herndon, who went down with his ship in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras in 1857. Nearly a century later, in 1940, plebes began climbing the monument.

Around 1949, upperclassmen began greasing the 21-foot obelisk. The academy began recording times in 1959, when the climb took only 12 minutes.

A plebe in 1962 scaled Herndon in only three minutes — using a cargo net.

Now, nets are banned.

Most classes take more than 90 minutes to reach the top. Plebes in 2010, however, finished in record time.

That year, administrators worried about injuries and decided to try a dry monument.

The grease returned after plebes scaled Herndon in just over two minutes.

The longest climb — four hours, five minutes, 17 seconds — came in 1995.

Upperclassmen slathered about 50 pounds of vegetable shortening on the monument for Monday's climb.

Plebes ripped off their shirts to wipe clean the slippery surface. They locked arms and lifted classmates, the pyramid of midshipmen straining, swaying and toppling onto wet grass.

"I'm going to try and pickup as many people as I can on my shoulders," said Michael Raiford of Atlanta, Georgia.

He's 6 foot 8, 295 pounds.

"Hopefully, I'm on the top," said Katie Kinard of Panama City, Florida.

She's 5 foot 4, 108 pounds.

Midshipman Beachum was hoisted up. He wobbled on another plebe's shoulders.

One, two, three, four, five times, then more he tried to toss the hat on top.

The crowd gasped.

Finally, it stuck.

Afterward, the cheering, the howls.

His Annapolis sponsor mother, Audrey Baran-McGuire, wrapped him in a hug.

"I'm so proud," she said.

There was still grass on his face.

Past times

2015 — 1:38:36

2014 — 2:19:35

2013 — 1:32:43

2012 — 2:10:13

2011 — 2:41:32

2010 — 0:02:02*

2009 — 1:43:38

2008 — 2:35:59

2007 — 1:32:42

2006 — 1:14:15

2005 — 1:16:13

2004 — 2:19:24

2003 — 1:19:00

2002 — 2:07:41

2001 — 2:15:52

2000 — 1:19:44

* Year the monument was not greased

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