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.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Marty Basch's (February 4, 2007) Concord Monitor Article on Tom & Atticus


Dog days of winter
Ryan & 4-legged friend hiking 4,000-footers

By Marty Basch


Tom Ryan was driving to the White Mountains from the North Shore of Massachusetts to do some hiking a few months ago. His radio tuned to a Boston all-sports station, he zipped up I-93 listening to an all-day fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. By the time the station petered out in Plymouth, he knew he had to make a call.

"I've had several friends with cancer and some of them have died," Ryan said over the phone from his Newburyport home.

So Ryan, a 45-year-old newspaper publisher, came up with his own fund raiser: Winter Quest for a Cure. He is trying to tackle all 48 of the White's 4,000-foot peaks this winter, while hiking with his compact, 20-pound miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch.

On the day of the winter solstice, Ryan and Atticus joined a small group of hikers in the parking lot of Cannon Mountain for a cold and windy night hike up the Peabody Slope to the summit of the first of what could be all 48 4,000-footers for Ryan and Atticus.

The man and dog story began in May of 2005. That's when Ryan weighed more than 300 pounds. He wasn't a hiker. He wanted to lose that flab and was introduced to hiking. The first year of schlepping up mountains with a willing Atticus, the two climbed the 48 4,000-footers in 11 weeks.

So the tag team set out again last winter, trying to scale those same peaks during the subfreezing, dark, snowy and icy days of winter. They fell seven short. So Tom and Atticus did the 48 again last summer.

The two are going along at a good clip. As of Jan. 31, the pair had already climbed 38 peaks, including three of them twice.

The 250-pound man can fly.

Also, don't tell him he can't do something. That is also part of the inspiration for the winter quest. Plus, Atticus isn't exactly a winter breed.

"I love the idea of endurance and doing things people tell us we can't do," Ryan said. "That drives me."

The two not only hike by themselves, but also with friends. Ryan also chronicles the two- and four-legged adventures on his website tomandatticus.com.

The two have traveled extensively over the region's hiking trails, tackling peaks like the Wildcats and Carter Dome, the secluded Bonds, the long trudge up Carrigain and popular Moosilauke.

"I think I'm compelled by the mountains themselves," Ryan said. "The more I get up there, the more I see a whole mystical world up there, especially if you are there on your own."

Not only does Ryan need his winter gear like snowshoes and crampons, but Atticus has his own equipment, too. He's got boots for his little paws and a body suit that's a bit like what a scuba diver may use. It is fleece-lined apparel with neoprene on the outside. On packed trails, Atticus tends to scamper ahead of Ryan, but the quick-thinking dog let's Ryan break trail when the snow is deeper - deeper than Atticus is tall.

Stream crossings are a challenge for Atticus. He, according to Ryan, doesn't like getting wet, even with his high-tech suit. Ryan will either carry Atticus or sometimes the dog will follow along in Ryan's footsteps, crossing from rock to rock.

But Atticus likes the views. He sits at many summits and appears to be gazing out, enjoying the wide-ranging vistas across the Northeast.

"He obviously gets something out of this," Ryan said.

There has been much joy on the trails, but also trying times. No matter how many times he climbs it, Ryan has no affection for Mount Osceola from the Kancamagus Highway side. It isn't terribly long, but is terribly steep and that always exhausts Ryan. Though winter can be cruel with its tenacious cold and wind, Ryan does have to plan his jaunts so that Atticus isn't put in harm's way. When they head out, they often climb several peaks in one day.

With each step, Ryan and Atticus become familiar with the White Mountains. There is such a love affair, or addiction, to the mountains that if the two make their winter 48, they may press on.


"If we finish, then we'll keep on going," said Ryan.

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