Yesterday, while hiking up one of NH’s 4,000 Footers, I stopped to have a snack and grab some water. My two winter hiking companions were behind me on the trail, but not in sight. I knew they were within a few minutes of me, which is always a comforting thought while winter hiking. As I stood peacefully viewing my surroundings, I heard a woodpecker tapping on a tree. He was close, but I couldn’t see him. I looked around the base of trees nearby, but also couldn’t see any fresh pieces of a dead tree in the snow. I stood until it was time to move on, because in winter, standing still for too long can lead to a very cold body core! It would have been cool, though, to see that little black, white and blue bird working his magic in the tree!
When my hiking buddies reached me, I asked if they had heard the woodpecker. They hadn’t, but in their defense, they had on snow shoes, which were noisy on the crunchy snow. They looked around, and listened, but nothing could be heard except the peace of the mountain in winter. We moved up the trail, enjoying the workout, the cold temperatures, and happy to be on our first 4,000 of the season. We were talking about how many times we’ve climbed this mountain in winter. For me, it was my 2nd time, but first time up the Appalachian Trail (AT). For them, trip #4 in winter. The next part of the conversation was how many 4,000’s I have left on my winter list.
I have 17 of NH’s 4,000 winter mountains on “the list” to climb. My companions finished their winter list in six seasons. I am on my 10th year. Why? Because for me, it’s not about “the list.” It is about the adventure, the fun, the camaraderie, the challenge, and, sometimes, the pain of getting to the summit! Hiking is a journey for me that I hope to be able to continue well into my senior years. It’s a way to stay in shape, to clear my head, and it’s my spiritual peace and complete “unplugging” from everything in our world as we know it. It’s my connection to the earth, and it gives me joy to be in nature.
For those of you scratching your heads about why I haven’t finished, be assured, I would like to complete this list in winter. My “first” time around of the 4,000s in other seasons took me 8 years. I still have “a handful” of New England’s 4,000’s to finish in Maine and Vermont. One day I hope I finish that list, too. Climbing a mountain more than once has been the perfect training ground for my husband and I to climb bigger and more challenging peaks throughout the U.S. and beyond. We are both grateful that we have encountered so many different climates, cultures and adventures because of “a list” we started all those years ago.
When I look back on all the years I have hiked, I think about my first true hike. It was the 7-mile loop up Mt. Hale, to Zealand Hut and out. I couldn’t walk for three days after that trip, but fell in love with hiking that day. As a native of Concord, NH, I had never hiked up north. I grew up skiing in the Whites, and summered on the shores of Cape Cod, because of a summer family business. I knew people who camped, and some who hiked, but it never occurred to me that there was a whole world out there I didn’t know about!
Sometime around 1991, my hiking “career” began. What it really was then and truly is now is not a way to peak bag as many mountains as I can, it’s a life journey with my husband and a wonderful group of friends. Don’t get me wrong, I admire all those people out there who have accomplished great lists. I love their enthusiasm, and, perhaps, their obsession. We often comment that if we had jobs that allowed us the freedom to hike more than once or twice a week, we might just be among them. For now, for us, this works, and here is the reason why it works.
In the first paragraph of this blog, I mentioned that having hiking companions gives me comfort. To me, without someone at my side, ahead of me, or behind me, I’m all alone out there. I started hiking in my late 20’s. I had no experience, no idea what was in store for me, and no clue about what I would encounter. It was scary, even to someone with my sense of adventure. What I did have, and still have today, is the one person who believed in me, and still believes I can do anything I set my mind to. This person is my husband, Bob. Our life adventure began at a cookout, and then walking the beach, and then in the woods. the woods were new to me, but I knew I was safe if he was with me. His sense of direction, his keen connection with nature and earth, and his love of the outdoors gave me the confidence to know I could handle this whole “hiking thing.”
Although it took years of my getting used to gear, weather, tough climbs and more, he’s been with me through it all. One of our first major adventures was in the Grand Canyon. We’d known each other about 2 years. My “grand” idea was to see this natural wonder. I threw it out there, and Bob said, “Great, then we’ll have to hike before we go.” That was the trip up Mt. Hale described earlier. Six months later, and a lot of training in the mountains, on bicycles, with weights and walking, I was on what I didn’t know was a very long hike from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch, and back up. Almost 12 hours from our start, I was 5 minutes from the top and my legs froze. Call it exhaustion, I couldn’t move. Bob quietly, and confidently urged me to walk. Nothing happened. He told me to look up and see how close we were. He told me I could do it. Something worked. My legs moved, and I made it. What he didn’t tell me until I got to the Rim and was eating an ice cream was that I had hiked 20 miles. Prior to finishing, we had done many shorter hikes in and around the canyon to get ready for our “12-mile day.” Bob knew if I thought I was going to hike 20 miles, I would have probably declined. He knew me well!
Fast forward to 2005, we were on a 16-mile day to summit Long’s Peak in CO, a 14,200+/- footer. We had started at 2 AM with headlamps, and were 8 hours into the hike. I could see the summit. The Long’s Peak “final stretch” is a 45 or more degree slab of rock that people were coming down on their butts, hand to foot, very slowly. I sat down on a rock and told Bob I was “good” and didn’t have to climb anymore. He looked at me and said, “But…we can see the summit.” I said I was good. He didn’t know what to say. Then a man came down the slab walking (not on his rear end), and showed us where to find hand holds in a fissure in the rock. Bob picked up on his cue and calmly said if I stopped every 20 feet or so and took deep breaths, I would make it. Altitude-wise, it was really difficult to breathe, but because of his words, I made it up. Bob played Frisbee on the summit, I rested and enjoyed watching him, and the rest of the story tells it all in the pictures!
There have been countless summits at home and abroad, countless times in our hiking adventures, that Bob has been there as my coach. He’s my rock, no pun intended, in NH’s granite mountains, and on every adventure we take. His friend who hikes with us in the winter is another support for me, pulling me out of snowbanks, or off ice slides. Our friends we hike in the summer are my supports, too. Yet, it all goes back to Bob. He makes me want to do more, and to get that winter list done.
Yesterday, I was struggling going up Mt. Moosilauke up the AT. It’s been 9 weeks since I had surgery that literally kicked me in the butt. This mountain was also kicking me in the butt, between the cold temperature and constant slogging uphill. I lost 10 pounds in one minute, when Bob asked me what he could carry for me. I didn’t argue, this time! I usually do. Bob always, calmly, asks and then carries my heavier water bottles and other gear without complaint. I am always grateful that he does this, but don’t always tell him.
So, let’s get back to the title of this blog. Goals are important to me. Hiking is a passion. I have a few hiking lists I want to do. However, I don’t mind hiking the same summits over and over. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone except myself. I do, however, want to complete the NH Winter list and New England Highest list with Bob. I want them because it will be the completion of another adventure in my beloved mountains with my beloved husband. I am a stronger person today physically and mentally because we started hiking together. Bob gave me a gift I never knew existed, right here at home.
I love that we’ve been able to share such great adventures in NH and far away because of what we started back in the 90’s. What I believe is that it’s not about the list, but about the life we have created because of the list. It’s a great life, one with love, adventure, support, struggle, and finally, accomplishment. All of these things are because of that first list Bob accomplished and then encouraged me to go for. I’m a lucky girl, because of that list!