8 jaw-dropping photos of Naval Academy freshmen climbing a monument covered with 50 pounds of grease

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesThe last challenge for Naval Academy freshmen is climbing an obelisk slathered with 50 pounds of vegetable shortening.
  • The Naval Academy’s freshmen class scaled the slippery Herndon monument in just over an hour on Monday.
  • Their accomplishment sheds their status as “plebes” and marks the culmination of plebe year. They will be promoted to midshipmen third class when the seniors graduate later this week.
  • It may have only taken an hour, but the struggle to climb the grease-slathered obelisk is epic and arduous.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

One final challenge stands in the way of US Naval Academy freshman shedding their status as lowly “plebes”: A 21-foot-tall granite monument with a round, “Dixie” hat on top.

Scaling it and replacing the sailor hat with a midshipmen’s officer-like hat would be pretty straightforward if upperclassmen didn’t slather the Herndon monument with vegetable shortening.

Annapolis’ freshmen this year scaled the slimed monument at a fast pace. Christian Schwien, Class of 2022, replaced the hat at the top in an hour, 5 minutes, and 5 seconds.

That’s not record pace, but it is nearly four times faster than the slowest effort on record: 4 hours and 5 minutes. Looking at you, Class of 1998.

Here’s a look at this tough, memorable, and, yes, disgusting rite of passage.


Scaling the slippery monument takes a lot of teamwork.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesPlebes help each set up a human pyramid to reach the top of the monument. Typically, lots of these efforts collapse thanks to the slippery monument and the mud beneath the mids’ feet.

The tradition began decades ago when plebes returning from their last military parade would peel off and scale the memorial. They could do it very quickly, until upperclassmen got tricky and started to grease the monument’s sides in the 1970s.


The monument is greased with as much as 50 pounds of vegetable shortening. To get a grip, the plebes climb up on the shoulders of their classmates and hold on as long as they can as others step onto their shoulders.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesPlebes form a human pyramid at the base of the monument.

Upperclassmen leave taunts in the vegetable shortening that can demoralize the plebes.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesThe monument is slathered with about 50 pounds of vegetable shortening.

The plebes have a lot of motivation to get to the top of Herndon and end their challenging plebe year.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Plebe year begins with Induction Day in late June or early July. Plebe Summer is the Naval Academy’s basic training phase, where incoming plebes are taught the basics of discipline and military knowledge and are exercised starting at the first morning light.

Once the academic year begins, plebes must balance the demands of their coursework with the continuing fitness and disciplinary challenges.


The students form around the base of the monument to provide as solid a foundation as they can, while their feet sink into the grass and mud beneath.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesClimbing Herndon is basically as tough as it looks.

Scaling the monument requires teamwork and fortitude. Mids frequently fall off the greased obelisk and onto classmates below.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Injuries to students falling on each other nearly ended the rite of passage.

Herndon is the second culminating event for plebes. The Academy also holds Sea Trials, which challenges their marksmanship, fitness, and endurance over a 14-hour day.


After an hour and five minutes, freshman Christian Schwien put the new hat atop the monument.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesNice work, Christian!

The class typically chants “Plebes no more!” once the hat has been replaced.


The plebes place a midshipmen’s hat at the top of the monument, ending the rite of passage.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesWith this sight, the class of 2022 are plebes no more.

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