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, November 16, 2009

Following Atticus Across the Winter Wilderness for a Great Cause

This is one of my favorite places in the Winter Whites – Mount Guyot.

There’s no easy way to get there. We’ve passed over it three times in winter, always on a Bonds Traverse. Guyot sits between West Bond and Zealand. And the only way you can reach it is by walking 23 miles across the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Some consider this hike more audacious than a Presidential Traverse because there are no bail out points on this hike. Once you’ve come so far, you’re committed to going all the way.

The first time we did this traverse we walked from the Route 302 in the north down to Lincoln Woods along the Kancamagus Highway. We were caught in surprising blizzard-like conditions and a blinding snow drifted knee and hip deep. It was the only time I ever thought we might die on a mountain.

The next time we did it was later the same winter. It was the same route, but instead of hiking just Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff we also threw in Hale. Unfortunately, upon approaching the summit of Hale, I felt weak and sick to my stomach. I dropped my pack below the summit, realizing I would not be able to go on, and when I tagged the summit I got very sick. I stumbled down Hale that day and was getting ready to go back to the car I’d dropped in the parking area off of Route 302.

I got down to the bottom of the mountain and I sat for a while and thought about why we were attempting to hike the 48 twice that winter. It was because my friend Vicki Pearson died of cancer and this was our tribute to her. We were raising funds for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in her name.

Sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, I realized in the end there wasn’t a day that went by when Vicki didn’t feel like vomiting. That was enough to make me continue on my way. Strangely enough we finished the traverse in a very good time and after a few miles I no longer felt sick.

The third time we did the traverse we walked in the opposite direction, from the Kancamagus up to Route 302. Once again we added in Hale. It was a long day and we didn’t see another soul the entire time. It was an eerily calm before the storm kind of day. You can see it in the photo above. The clouds grew thick and beheaded some of the higher peaks and yet there’s Atticus, plodding along without caring about the gathering storm.

One of the reasons I love this photo so is because of the way it shows the scope of Atticus among the mountains. Here he is in the middle of a 25 mile hike over five 4,000-foot peaks. It’s clear he’s focused, but also comfortable, and right at home.

He’s the little dog who would and could.

When I’m tired and I see his little body moving forward like this I remind myself I can do nearly anything with him by my side.

So now that you see some of the lengths this little dog is willing to go to help animals in need at Angell Animal Medical Center, just how far are you willing to go?

You have it easy. You can sit home and watch Atticus’ progress from the comfort of your warm home this winter. All you have to do is pick a peak, make a donation and sit back and watch Atticus lead you through an unforgettable winter. And when he’s doing this, remember he was once a patient at Angell, relying on the kindness of strangers when he was battling what we thought was cancer. I was so moved by the way this non-profit organization fill everyone with hope – especially when it is most needed – I knew then and there I’d do my best to support them whenever I could. It’s one of the reasons we’ll be donating a portion of the author’s royalties from book sales of ‘Following Atticus’ to Angell Animal Medical Center.

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