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.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tomorrow's Forecast: Pefect for Summit Sitting

Tomorrow's forecast calls for perfect weather - even above treeline.

There’s still plenty of snow to be found on most of the bigger mountains, especially under the shade of trees, however, the Old Bridle Path going up Mt. Lafayette is in pretty good shape and what snow there is easily skirted. With that in mind we’ll head up there tomorrow and take our time. Normally we would continue from Lafayette over to Lincoln, then Little Haystack, and either down the Falling Waters Trail or across Franconia Ridge, reaching both Liberty and Flume. But tomorrow is not a peak-bagging day. We may just be happy with Lafayette. We shall see.

I know the Falling Waters Trail still has snow and ice on it. We could climb it and work our way across to Lincoln and Lafayette and down the Old Bridle Path but I’m not sure I want to go near much snow at all. I just feel like getting a workout in and doing some summit sitting on a beautiful day where the views could very well be endless, and either bring a book or a notebook, depending on whether I feel like reading or writing.

I find myself in a new space these days. Other than reaching the peaks that were sponsored this past winter, and not yet hiked, I have no real set plans for what we will do. More than anything I want to continue just enjoying the mountains and avoiding the power play and politics of peak-bagging, as it’s grown to become up here. I came here because I love the mountains. Finishing the list of 48 4,000-foot peaks that first summer was a great thing to do as it took me all over the Whites and had me explore mountains I never would have made it to otherwise. The list of 48 was a guideline to follow.

During the last two winters I’ve attempted to push my limits to see what Atticus and I could do and at the same time we raised money for two wonderful non-profit agencies. But these days I’m finding more peace of mind reading the likes of Lucy Crawford and Thomas Starr King, two old-time White Mountain scribes, than the two popular websites devoted to the hiking community. The difference is clear: Crawford, Starr King, and others of their kind wrote lovingly and reverentially about these great mountains, while the websites, while informative, are littered with some needing to be noticed for their “accomplishments”. For some time I even got tied up in this mess myself, but now it feels healthy to be free of such things.

I came here not to pay attention to those singing their solipsistic rants of how great they are, how many mountains they’ve knocked off and how fast they’ve climbed them, but to pay attention to the mountains and learn what they have to teach me. I’m sure it’s possible to do both, although more complicated and filled with pitfalls, but for me the crossover is no longer necessary. (And while I’m jumping that ship, I have no problem with others riding it for as long as they can. It’s just isn’t what moves me.) I’d rather enjoy the mountains. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop doing long hikes or cease pushing myself with new challenges; I just won’t do it for some list or the notoriety for having accomplished something so others can see what I’ve done.

These mountains offer great soul and body work and it is clear over the past couple of months that I’m finally where I want to be. The mountains, and nature herself, are inclusive. We are all equal in our right to be awed by their breathtaking beauty. Hiking from mountain to mountain for the simple joy of it seems to fall more in line with what I need these days and more of what I‘ve always wanted.

Thoreau once wrote: “It’s a fine art to saunter.” Last weekend was a sauntering weekend for Atticus and me. We climbed Mt. Pemigewasset (less than 3,000-feet) on Saturday and then on Sunday took a lovely eight mile hike in and out of Zealand Notch with very little elevation gain. Atticus and I were invited along with Ken and Ann Stampfer (our weekly hiking double date these past two months) for the second hike.

I’ve often stood atop Zeacliff and looked down on the rock-strewn floor of the Notch and the scarred side of Whitewall Mountain, but I’d never been down there looking up. Our original plan was to hike up to Zealand Falls and perhaps Zeacliff but being the holiday weekend it was crowded and we smartly avoided the crowd. Instead we reached the boulders where the mountain had fallen down long ago and plunked ourselves down for a leisurely lunch and conversation. Under the expansive blue sky it we encountered relatively few people. We were in no hurry to get anywhere and simply enjoyed views Atticus and I had never seen. At the end of the day our souls were as filled as if we’d climbed any 4,000-footer.

It’s taken me three years but I think I’ve finally caught up to Atticus in this regard.


Beth said...

It sounds like you are in a good space, Tom. The mountains aren't going anywhere and by living with them now you can hike into them and enjoy them from all perspectives. Enjoy the rock naps and the waterfalls along the way.

Thomas F. Ryan said...

Thanks Beth. I went to bed excited about today's hike and woke up the same way. It looks to be a great day to just take our time. By the way, I've decided the book of choice will be a small book of Thomas Merton passages that fits nicely into my backpack and doesn't take up too much space. Small enough to carry, big enough to move me as much as the mountains do.