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.

Monday, November 12, 2007

40 Days Until the Quest Begins

Winter is inching closer, as is the start of our winter quest. Winter starts on December 22. The “rules” for winter peakbagging state that in order for a peak to be counted as a winter peak it cannot be done before the calendar winter starts, no matter the conditions at the time. These “rules” were set by Miriam and Robert Underhill, the first couple to ever hike each of the 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains. Since the Underhill’s became the first to complete the winter list in the early 1960s, more than 350 known hikers have been recognized by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s 4,000-Footer Committee. (In that same span only one known person (Cath Goodwin) has hiked each of the 48 twice in one winter as Atticus and I am attempting to do this winter.)

Last year winter started at 7:21 pm on December 22nd. At about 7:25 a large group of us started our ascent of Cannon Mountain. This year winter starts at 1:08 am and we’ll let it pass without getting out of bed for a hike until later that morning.

What will we hike on that first day? Don’t know. In winter it’s all very different and it’s best if you don’t plan too far ahead. During the 90 days of winter, each day we get out of bed and have four options for a hike:

1) Above treeline on the best of days. These are rare in winter. We start the day by checking the Higher Summits Forecast at the Mountain Washington Observatory. If the temperatures are okay and the winds mild we’ll head for the higher peaks. This did not happen until the third weekend of February last winter.
2) Not above treeline, at least for most of the hike but still higher peaks such as the Twins or the Carters. On these hikes there may be some exposure, just not miles of it as there is on Franconia Ridge or the Presidential Range. Most of our hikes fall in this category.
3) Hike something shorter and protected from the elements on colder, stormier or windier days. This list includes hikes to mountains like Tecumseh, Hale, Waumbek or Cabot.
4) Sleep in if all is not good. This is an important option for Atticus and me. No peak is worth dying for.

In short the rule of thumb is easy: hike what the Mountain Gods invite you to hike.

Each winter hikers are rescued for a variety of reasons but one way to minimize the chance of having to be rescued it by paying attention to the weather. Mt. Washington may claim to have the worst weather in the world, but if you wait until the right day to hike this potentially dangerous peak it can be a wonderful and safe experience. The key to this is not being married to plans. They are subject to change each morning we set out. This is particularly true when hiking with Atticus. Why put a dog who weighs around 25 lbs at risk and in discomfort? Besides, keeping him safe also keeps me safe.

Between now and then the goal is to hike three to five days a week, lose some weight (me, not him), get in better shape and build up our endurance.

And, of course, there is the other goal. This winter we’re raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center. As you read along and follow our adventures this winter, please keep in mind that Atticus and I are raising money for this amazing non-profit animal hospital in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. There are various ways to pledge but one of the neatest is to dedicate one of the 48 peaks we’ll be climbing to a favorite pet in your life, or one you’ve lost. If you choose this way of contributing please send a photo of the pet we’re hiking for and as we do the peak we’ll post a trip report, photos of the hike and a photo of your pet on the website. It’s a great tribute to one you’ve lost but still love or one that is still romping along with you.

Every year Angell Animal Medical Center brings hope to thousands of animals and, more specifically, their human families and friends. They gave us hope when we had none earlier this year and this winter we’re using our Winter Quest to say thank you to Angell.

With winter approaching there will be more posts so please follow along with us as we gear up and get ready to go. Also, it would be appreciated if you would forward our blog address to all your friends and family. So read it and pass it on.

1 comment:

Dawn Middlestead said...

Great Blog as always, lots of information and detail about the journey you and Atticus planned to take that Winter. Had I known of you and Atticus back then, I would have dedicated a peak, contributed for sure.