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 10, 2008

Mike Dickerman's Piece On Us In Sunday's Fosters Daily Democrat

We came home today to find Mike Dickerman has followed up his segment on us in his regular The Beaten Path column in the Littleton Courier with a lengthier piece in his regular Sunday column in Fosters Daily Democrat. Thanks to Mike for some good press in our efforts to raise money for Angell Animal Medical Center. You can access the article here.
Or you can read it here:

Dickerman: The dog days of winter not hounding this hiking duo

Tom Ryan of Lincoln, N.H., and his faithful canine companion, Atticus M. Finch, spent much of last winter getting to know the high peaks of the White Mountains very intimately. During the three-month season, in fact, they reached 80 mountain summits, while at the same time raising money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Boston.

Well, the two are at it again this winter, trying to climb as many 4000-foot White Mountain summits as possible in the course of the fleeting winter hiking season. And this time around they've set their sights even higher with a goal of climbing all 48 of New Hampshire's highest peaks twice during calendar winter. That's 96 peaks in just 90 days, or a little better than one summit a day all winter long.

Unfortunately for Ryan and his well-known miniature schnauzer, Atticus, this has not been the most cooperative of winters, at least from a weather perspective. As Granite Staters know all too well, first there were the unending series of snowstorms in December, followed by a spring-like thaw just after New Year's Day. Next came a week or more of bitter cold weather, followed more recently by a series of messy weather events. As a result, Tom and Atticus are running well behind schedule with the first half of the winter season yielding just 34 peaks, or a little more than a third of the hoped for 96 summit conquests the pair are aiming for.

"We've definitely had a difficult time getting into a groove," said Ryan earlier this week. "Last year there was so little snow before the Valentine's Day storm that all we had to contend with were high winds above treeline and icy trails. We could hike pretty much wherever we wanted."

This year it's been a totally different story. "We've had a lot of snow, then thaw, then rain, then freezing temperatures, then bulletproof ice. No matter what it has been it's been constantly changing. It's been hard to get into a groove because we haven't had a consistent run of just 'normal' winter weather."

The hiking duo, who moved to the Lincoln area last fall from Newburyport, Massachusetts, are again raising money this year for a worthy cause. Funds donated by supporters of their winter mountain quest are going directly to benefit the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and their non-profit Angell Animal Medical Centers in Boston and on Nantucket Island. According to the MSPCA website, the medical centers care for more than 100,000 animals each year, and among their patients last year was Ryan's constant and faithful companion, Atticus.

According to Ryan, just after last winter's Jimmy Fund winter mountain quest was finished, Atticus began having problems with his vision and it appeared that he'd be blind within just a few months. "Then tests showed hyperthyroids, which is equivalent in most canine cases to thyroid cancer," recalled Ryan this past week. "It got so bad I felt I might lose Atticus, and my fear was that [his medical condition] had something to do with all the hiking." Specialists assured Ryan, however, that this was not the case.

After undergoing cataract surgery to repair his failing eyes, Atticus was taken to MSPCA's Angell Animal Medical Center in Jamaica Plain, Mass., where he was cleared of any health problems within just a month or so. "It was as if the thyroid had never been a problem," said Ryan. "There was no real concrete reason for this and it left many of us with a mystery on our hands."

Ryan says were it not for the people at Angell, and the dozens of individuals who helped raise more than $9,000 last spring to assist with Atticus's mounting medical bills, he's not sure how he and his dog would have made it through the crisis period. "I was so moved by the people at Angell that I decided when we were given the clearance to hike again that we would use our next winter quest as a fund raiser to in some way to pay back all those who had helped us out a year ago." That's why the Angell Animal Medical Centers are profiting from this winter's trail adventures.

Despite falling appreciably behind on the peakbagging count, Ryan is anything but discouraged about what he and Atticus have accomplished so far this winter. "Our longest hike to date has been a south-to-north traverse of the Bond Range, with Mount Hale included at the end. That hike was well over 20 miles long. Our second longest was over the four peaks of the Franconia Range, including Mount Lafayette."

Ryan says many of the hikes he has planned for the second half of winter involve multiple summits on each trip, including at least one grueling traverse of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, where he could pick up as many as eight 4000-footers in a single day. "This give me hope," said Ryan. Though it's an admitted long shot, given that he has just seven weeks of winter left to work with, he figures he'll need to be out on the snowy trail a minimum of 26 more times to attain the final 64 peaks. For that to happen, he'll need more cooperation from Mother Nature than he's gotten thus far this winter.

Readers can follow the trail adventures of Tom and Atticus by logging onto their website, , where Ryan's trip reports have become "must reading" for many northern New England hiking enthusiasts and dog lovers. Persons wishing to pledge money in support of their winter mountain quest may also do so by sending a check made out to Angell Animal Medical Center to: Tom & Atticus, P.O. Box 111, North Woodstock, NH 03262.

(Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or coauthor of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton, N.H.)