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, December 19, 2007

A Fine Obsession

“You’ve got to get obsessed, and stay obsessed.” ~ John Irving

I believe that line came from the wonderful Hotel New Hampshire, back when Irving was still writing wonderful books. Others include A Prayer For Owen Meaney; The World According To Garp; Son Of The Circus; and The Cider House Rules. He used to be my favorite writer along with Tom Robbins but I can’t read him anymore. His last couples of books haven’t been his best work. I couldn’t even finish his last one.

Irving was writing about writing, not hiking. However, his words work for us in this coming mad season. In three days time we’ll be on our quest and we’ll have to get obsessed, and stay obsessed. Ninety peaks in 96 days is not easy. It’s especially not easy when you pick and choose your days in favor of making it safe and enjoyable for a small dog. As far as anyone knows, only one person has ever hiked all 48 twice in one winter and that was Cath Goodwin, the patron saint of winter hiking up here in the Whites.

On Saturday our peakbagging quest will begin. That’s what they call it when you work on a list, peakbagging. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing, collecting peaks as we move through the winter. There are days we’ll collect one, some where we get to as many as five; and days where we won’t have any. On the days we don’t make it to the summit, and there will be plenty of them, it will be for various reasons. Sometimes we’ll have to turn back because the snow is too deep. Other days we won’t even hike for the same reason. There are days we won’t hike because it will be too cold and windy, the combination can be a killer so we try to avoid it. And then there will be days when we are tired and need to rest and recover and get ready for the next hike.

Ask me what our first hike will be and I still can’t tell you for sure. That’s how the winter season is. I make up my mind the night before, sometimes as late as the morning of the hike itself.

Each morning I’ll get up and before I give Atticus his treat or make my breakfast I go on line and check the weather, first the Higher Summits Forecast on Mount Washington, then the regular forecast. If it’s safe (not too cold and not too windy) we head above treeline. These days are few and far between. The next option is to do a hike where we don’t get above treeline but still get peaks. The third option, on a questionable weather days is to do a protected hike where the trees buffer and protect us from the elements. And the third option, well, that’s taking the day off and getting ready for better weather.

Last winter we attempted this same feat and came up four hikes shy with 81 peaks. One of them was a planned Presidential Traverse, an audacious 20+ mile hike, most of it above treeline over the summits of Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson. Another hike that was missed was the one over the three Carters and two Wildcats, a hike we’d done earlier in the winter. And then there were hikes to Isolation and Moriah. By the end of the winter we were in great shape and ready to hike but winter arrived late and dumped feet of snow on us, so much so that we weren’t able to hike for a week at a time on a couple of different occasions.

For us it is an obsession, has to be one. But more importantly it’s about staying safe. People are typically concerned for Atticus’s safety. I can assure you no one is more concerned for his safety than I am and by keeping him safe, and out of elements others would hike in, I actually keep myself a lot safer than most hikers too.

And so our peakbagging starts on Saturday and yours finishes in three days. There are 10 summits left seeking dedications for this first round. Once we start the second round of 48 will fill over the length of the winter and usually takes care of itself. This first round of 48 however, people often need to be reminded about.

The 10 peaks still open for dedication are:
South Carter
Middle Carter
East Osceola
North Tripyramid
South Twin
North Twin

Get your peak today as we would like to have these last 10 claimed before winter starts on Saturday.

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