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, March 10, 2008

What's Going On?

Winter peakbagging is very much like putting together a puzzle. There is a strong cause and effect component to the season when trying to get one or two full rounds of the 48 in winter.

You may remember that in the beginning of winter Atticus and I took it slow. I’d hurt my knee in early November slipping on some ice. It ended up being a severe problem with my I-T band. I couldn’t hike the six or seven weeks leading up to the beginning of winter and therefore lost whatever conditioning I had built up. The knee was still troublesome in the first few weeks and I didn’t push my limits and only hiked every other day when winter started in an attempt to rest my leg. Because of that many of those first several hikes were easier hikes and those easier hikes take place more often than not in protected conditions (not above treeline and coincidentally not over most water crossings).

We got many of those hikes out of the way early and now as the stream crossings are ruptured by the heavy rains and mild temperatures, we are limited in the remaining hikes we have. I’m listing what is left…

Whiteface & Passaconaway: We’ve already done it once and will most likely be headed there tomorrow, depending upon a report expected later today on the ice conditions on the Blueberry Ledges.

North Twin, South Twin & Galehead: We still have to do this wonderful hike twice. When we haven’t been put off by the incredible snow depths and unbroken trail there’s been the problem of the Little River not looking so little. Right now it is roaring and while the first two stream crossings are easily bypassed, the third is not and it needs to be frozen. Throughout the winter, when it hasn’t been snowing, there have been rain storms and thaws and that opens up the stream crossings. On the other end of this loop there is also a place we have to cross the Gale River and right now that is open, too.

Isolation: While it is unusual not to have the Twins done by this time, it is not at all unusual having trouble getting to Isolation in the winter. The trail has rarely been broken out this winter and when it has it has snowed soon after. We still need Isolation twice. On the day we are able to do it, don’t be surprised to see us turn right around and do it again before the way is ‘sealed’ once again. Isolation is always one of the more difficult winter peaks to ‘bag’.

Owls Head: Also another difficult peak to get in winter, especially now that the stream crossings are open and roaring. That being said, we’ve got it done once already and will be headed back there again when we can. But this is another peak that is out of the way: an 18 mile round trip in the summer, maybe 16 with the winter bushwhacks included.

Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond & Bondcliff: This is one of the more challenging hikes, but more so due to the 24.5 miles than the 6,000-plus feet of elevation gain. We’ve done it once and only have to do it one more time. But because of the Bonds’ isolated nature, it’s not always easy to get out there.

Adams, Jefferson & Madison: Done once with one more trip to go. Conditions above treeline now are not so bad. Not much snow, lots of ice. We’ll be able to get back there when the winds die down and the temperatures are mild once again.

Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce & Jackson: Any hike that includes Washington is a weather challenge. That has been the hindrance to this point but this is March it I imagine we’ll get a window of opportunity soon enough. We need to do this hike twice but only need to hit Jackson once. Although this may seem worse than Adams, Jefferson & Madison, it’s not. You get Washington out of the way and then it is mostly just a gentle walk down the ridge with an occasional climb up each peak on the ever descending Crawford Path.

Carrigain: Once done and one to go. Carrigain will probably be done later in the week. It’s not doable today because of the few stream crossings after the two mile road walk ends and the trail begins. It is a 14 mile hike in winter with little challenge other than climbing a mountain, which too me is always a challenge.

Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A & Wildcat D: This has always been planned as a five peak hike but we’ve put off doing it because in this winter of constant storms there has rarely been days when the Carters and the Wildcats have both been broken out. It is not a hike that typically calls to be done all in one. More often than not people do the two Wildcats on their own. Others do the three Carters together, but more often than not even the Carters are broken into two hikes with Carter Dome being a single hike to the more conservative. The Wildcats, due to the slide conditions on Wildcat A, have been impassable. This means, unless times change and the slide becomes less of an avalanche potential, or the potential to fall down the icy slide while crossing it, this one big hike may very well be broken into two hikes: three Carters on one day; two Wildcats on another. These peaks have to be done twice.

The plan today is to spend time with my father, who had a serious heart attack last week. He’s been moved to a nursing home, but as you can imagine at 87, he’s not really with it. He lives in Medway, Massachusetts so we’ll spend our day driving down, visiting and then driving back. It is undecided at this time whether or not he will be able to make it back to his house.

Most likely Atticus and I will be hiking Whiteface & Passaconaway tomorrow.