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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Does Atticus Have A Say?

I often hear the question, “Does Atticus have a say when it comes to winter hiking?”

It’s a valid question.

On every hike, each decision along the way is made with Atticus’s safety, well being and enjoyment in mind. For instance, today the rivers are up a bit due to yesterday’s rain and while if hiking by myself I would consider some of those crossings, with Atticus, I’ll avoid them.

A couple of weeks ago we showed up in a very cold and windy Crawford Notch to hike the Willey Range. It felt very much like winter, that’s how cold it was. While standing around getting ready and chatting with a couple of other hikers I know Atticus let out a rare but excited howl. It was his way to say, “I’m so excited to get going!”

A couple of years ago he and I had to turn back on a rough trip in late winter to Mt. Isolation. The snow was deep and we were exhausted by breaking trail. We were behind the 8 ball in trying to reach the goals I had set for us so it was very important for us to get some peaks the next day. The next morning we showed up in Pinkham Notch with the goal of hiking Middle Carter, South Carter and Carter Dome. That was my goal. However, Atticus had other plans. It was clear he didn’t want to go. Typically, when I grab my backpack out of the car he’s ready to go and very excited about it. But on this particular cold winter day he decided he didn’t want to get out of the car. Decision made. I got back in the car and we drove home instead.

On a couple of other occasions we have shown up at trailheads and once we got out of the car it was clear Atticus didn’t want anything to do with the cold and the wind and so we just turned around and left.

But Atticus isn’t the only one who gets to cancel a hike. I also get the option. Each morning we get up in the winter I check the higher summits forecast from the Mt. Washington Observatory. If it doesn’t look good we go to Plan B (Plan A is to get above treeline) which is a more reasonable hike. Plan C holds if the weather is even worse and includes a few well-protected hikes. And Plan D, well, that means we cancel.

There are even times when we’ve started a hike where we turn back. This past winter we were fighting through deeper snow on a hike to Cabot and on another to the three Carters and two Wildcats. In each instance we had others with us and the trail breaking through the fresh snow was going slow but steady. However, when it goes this slow and we are moving slowly on a very cold day Atticus can’t keep his core temperature up, even with his body suit and boots on. In both instances it was difficult to tell the others we were with that we were turning back but it was the right decision to make.

Hiking with Atticus, especially in winter, means putting him first and foremost.

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