In a chaotic pile of arms grasping, feet slipping and general limbs flailing about Monday, Naval Academy midshipmen clocked their climb at the Herndon Monument at 1 hour and 5 minutes -- finishing out their first year.
At the sound of the superintendent informing them to go "full speed ahead" nearly 1,000 plebes charged the monument greased down with vegetable shortening as other midshipmen roamed the area to spray the with water.
"It's really tremendous, it is this long line of tradition going back since the '40s larding up the monument," Midshipman 2nd Class Joe McGraw said. "It symbolizes the end of plebe year, a long hard year."
As the commander in charge of the Herndon Climb, McGraw and other upperclassmen layered the monument with grease and carved messages like "never gonna make it" on the sides.
Before the event took place, people milled about to maybe grab funnel cake from a food truck or lay out in the early afternoon sun with blankets.
Renita Moore from Tennessee had set up a couple of chairs to view the climb with a little more comfort. Her son, Midshipman 4th Class Max Klischies, told her beforehand that it wasn't just going to be difficult but also dirty.
"They're not going to be anywhere close and he is not all that upset about it because he doesn't want to get gross," Moore said with a laugh. "I heard it is long and hard, and hot and sweaty."
Another Navy mom from Florida, Tracie Norris, talked about her son and what he had hoped to do while helping others climb to the top. She guessed Midshipman 4th Class Gabe Stevens at 6-feet-1 would be at the bottom of the pile.
"He said he doesn't want to climb the top because he won't know how stable it'll be," she said.
Despite the slippery challenges, the students officially finished the plebe year by scaling the 21-foot tall monument to replace the plebe's "dixie cup" hat with the midshipmen's "cover."
But not every year had the additional grease added to the monument.
The Class of 1972 had the fastest climb with 1 minute and 30 seconds, according to the academy.
"The year before they had a fair amount of injuries, and I understand there was some damage to the foundation of the monument," said Gary Coyle, coordinator for the Class of 1972 in the Naval Academy Alumni Association's Another Link in the Chain program. It connects each new class with its counterpart from 50 years earlier.
"We don't tell anyone that it wasn't greased -- but that we were all on steroids," he said with a chuckle.
During the climb, students attempted multiple techniques to try and build a foundation at the base of the monument for others to have a steadier time to scale up further.
Shirts were ripped up and used as rags to wipe down Herndon to get rid of as much grease as possible. At times, the students were able to build layer after layer of students standing on shoulders, backs and sometimes heads of others.
Still, a hand could lose the grip or a foot could slip and cause what was once a slightly sturdy formation to go tumbling back down.
One midshipman helped out at the bottom of the monument and encountered struggles of being the foundation for others to use.
"I was at the base and almost blacked out," said Midshipman 4th Class Adina Samloff from Georgia.
"But it was really cool to see how on I-Day none of us knew each other and a year later we are literally pushing each other up on such a high monument."
At one point a crumpled wet shirt was balled up and aimed at the top and knocked off the first hat to loud cheers of excitement.
Soon enough a rhythm fell into place to climb and wipe down what they could but with an inevitable fall.
"I had two shots at the top, both of them were unsuccessful, but I like to think I helped other people get up there," said Midshipman 4th Class Caroline Johnston from New York. "A lot of people tried to plan how we would do it but it just kind of happened."
An hour and a couple of minutes in, one midshipman began to climb on the top of others.
His lanky build became an advantage as Midshipman 4th Class Christian Schwien attempted to toss the hat onto the top of the pointed monument.
The first time it fell and the crowd collectively groaned. Schwien tried again but the cover came tumbling into his outstretched hand.
But on the third toss, the cover landed to a roaring crowd beneath him as the students cheered finally leaving the plebe freshman year behind.
"It was crazy, I even at one point fell and hurt my knee a little bit so I took a little breather," said Schwien, a Fairfax, Virginia resident.
"I saw an opening and people were throwing me up there because I am tall and I am skinny."
Two years before his parents, Sue and Fred Schwien, watched the Herndon Climb for his older sister.
After seeing what it looked like, Sue Schwien predicted her son would be the perfect candidate to get the hat to the top.
"He is very tall but he doesn't weigh a lot," said Sue Schwien. "He didn't give up and that was what the key is and the last time he waited and went up and even with that hat he was careful and he was patient."
The Schwiens discussed how their son's patience and also approach was something they've known for a while.
"He's been known from taking flying lessons that he is patient and got a light touch," Sue Schwien said.
This article is written by Naomi Harris from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.