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 18, 2007

Shut Out

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need, ah yes...
~ The Rolling Stones

I try to adhere to the philosophy that things happen for a reason. I contemplated that all weekend long as we were shut out from reaching any peaks this past weekend. Last weekend we had four straight good days of hiking 4,000-footers. Then came Wednesday’s epic snowstorm.

We retreated to Newburyport to wait it out and then ventured back to the Whites on Friday morning. Atticus and I joined Cath, Drew and Mary Ellen for an attempt to climb Cabot. As soon as we exited the vehicles we were met by whipping winds that made the thermometer’s six degrees seem much colder. We gave some thought to pulling the plug on the hike right then and there so as not to put Atticus through those conditions. However, as we walked up the road leading to the trail we were protected from the high winds and once we donned snowshoes and entered into the deep, deep snow we had no trouble keeping warm. At least none of the humans did.

Atticus had his body suit and a set of boots and took either the fourth or fifth position in the conga line of trail breaking. We did our best to flatten out the trail to make it easier for him. But we were going so slow that he wasn’t moving fast enough to keep his core temperature up and he started to shiver. At one point I picked him up to warm him but once we started and then slowed again he was back to shivering and so we turned back. We had made it less than a mile in an hour.

On Saturday we didn’t bother hiking because I knew it would be futile for him. Instead we spent the day scouting various trails. Unfortunately, even those trails with numerous vehicles at them were not always packed out. As a matter of fact, far more folks failed at reaching summits than succeeded on Saturday.

The Pine Bend Brook trailhead had several cars there and it turns out 15 hikers took turns breaking out the trail but only made it the 4 miles to North Tripyramid in 7 hours! Similar stories of futility played out throughout the Whites.

On our 4-hour driving tour of the Whites we stopped in North Conway at For Your Paws Only. I carried Atticus in and let him choose from an assortment of dog treats. He chose several. The woman behind the counter said, “Hey, I know you two. I read about you in the Mountain Ear.”

As plan after plan was dashed upon the rocks I ended up calling it a weekend on Sunday morning and we returned to Newburyport to work on The Undertoad so I can get it to press early and return to the White Mountains early on Tuesday in search at least somewhat broken out for Atticus.

I have no aversion to breaking trail and have even come to enjoy it, but this stuff is deep and the going is slow and Atticus cannot stay warm enough to be comfortable so the strategy is to continue hunting for trails that were broken out.

By the time we get back up there on Tuesday we will have gone a week without a summit and there will only be 29 days left of winter. We have our work cut out for us.

As for the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, I’m hoping to find that somehow, by missing a week’s worth of hiking we got what we needed. Although I have no idea what that may be, other than to learn patience.


Dawn Middlestead said...

One of the many things I truly like about you is how much Atticus meant to you. He was your hiking partner, your best friend, your family. You always looked out for him, did what was best for him, put him first. Thank you.

Dawn Middlestead said...

So happy you and Atticus could move forward on your journey.