Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

North and South Hancock, January 3, 2007

Whenever I find myself climbing the last half mile up to the summit of North Hancock I offer to repent for all my Ben & Jerry sins to whichever god resides in these mountains. And much like any desperate man I make promises I’m ill prepared to keep…if only the pain would go away. Then once the steepest part of the climb is over and I can breath again without gasping, I tend to forget all those sacrificial promises offered in exchange of my deliverance from pain.

Today was no different. While Atticus, who climbs like Gollum but is as loyal as Samwise, seemed to be having little trouble making it up the steeps, I counted my footsteps in order to give myself a break every hundred steps or so. But even as I sputtered and sweared at my own lack of fitness and dietary discipline I could not help but take note of this grand and glorious day in the mountains under a bright sun and a sky so blue you’d be tempted to go swimming in it.

On Wednesday of last week my Lyme Disease was raging and I had to spend the better part of the day in bed. On Thursday we climbed Tom, Field, and Willey. On Friday we climbed Garfield. On Saturday we undertook a 15 hour Bonds Traverse. Since then we’ve rested. But how could I pass up a day like this one? So we left Newburyport early this morning and drove north to hike through a wonderful woodsy setting splashed with warm sunlight. It was windy on the upper summits so we avoided those and chose North and South Hancock. This was our fourth visit to the Hancocks but the first one where we enjoyed views both through the trees and unobstructed.

As we neared the summit of North Kinsman we passed through a grove of dead and living trees glazed with thick ice and when the wind blew they rattled like bones on a skeleton. It was such a wonderful clicking and clacking that I stopped on this nearly flat spot to enjoy the windplay and we were there so long I lost track of time.

The lookout to the left of the summit was glorious and we soaked in the sun and cold wind and the views to the Osceolas and Moosilauke and then over to the Tripyramids, Whiteface, Passaconaway and Chocurua. While Atticus ate snow I did my own clicking…with a camera, knowing I would never quite capture how blue this sky was. After a while it was across the tree covered ridge to South Hancock and the sharp, steep descent through the trees.

This hike goes for about 9.6 miles but the only difficult parts are the steep half mile up North Hancock that attacks my lungs and the steep descent down South Hancock that attacks my quads. Then it’s about 3.5 miles of easy walking back to the car. So today was a day for daydreaming through a sunny forest dreamscape, especially on the easy and pleasurable return trip.

In my thoughts I carried with me many of the people I have known through the years that have had cancer, some who beat it, some who lost their lives to it; and they all made for good company. Memories of friends and loved ones are always good company, especially when Atticus and I are up here alone. They help us through the difficult and not so difficult portions of each hike by either entering into my thoughts in a way that makes me say, “For all that they endured, I can endure this a little while longer.” Or “While this may seem like a very long walk in the woods without much excitement, I’m so lucky to be able to walk, to breath this air and to see and hear and smell the things I do in these woods because there are those who cannot."

It is my hope that you will consider contributing to our cause to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Cancer Institute to aid their fight against cancer in both children and adults. To do so click on our main website at
Our pictures from this hike can be found at:

1 comment:

Dawn Middlestead said...

The reference to the name "Samwise"in this Blog gave me chills (good ones)...and put a smile on my face.