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, January 31, 2007

January Comes to an End

Here on the last day of January we are back home in Newburyport tending to business and running errands. The Undertoad was published last week and will not come out again until next week so we will be heading north again tomorrow morning. Not sure yet what we’ll be hiking. As always, it will depend upon the weather.

One of the challenges we have in winter hiking is hiking around Atticus’ comfort level. We’ve done well in keeping him out of the harsher elements to this point. That’s one of the reasons we haven’t been above tree line all that much. Those who watch weather tell us that it’s been a mild winter. Not above tree line. There’s only been a couple of days so far when we could go above tree line and one of those was the first day of winter and on that day we had previous plans to hike Carrigain. Had I known the mild days would be few and far between we would have changed our plans.

What we have left to finish all 48 in one winter are the following hikes:
- Moriah
- Isolation
- Franconia Ridge (Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty, & Flume)
- All the Presidentials other than Jackson (Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce)

When the weather gives us the opportunity we’ll either break the Pressies into the three Northerns (Madison, Adams, Jefferson) on one hike and the rest on another, or else we’ll give a Presidential traverse a try (excluding Jackson). I’ve been intrigued by a Pressie Traverse since last winter. And while we are not the fastest hikers, we are constant. My weakness, due to my size I’m sure, is the up hills. And yet my strength also has to do with my size. I don’t get cold very easily and once up high I have the ability to keep going without losing too much energy.

Earlier this month when we did the Carters and Cats I was happy with the way I felt throughout the hike. Again, not fast, just constant. And while I’m sure a Pressie traverse would be utterly exhausting, it would also be a great experience. As for the distance, Atticus and I planned a lot for longer distances this summer. With winter in mind and with the understanding that we wouldn’t be able to hike as often as others might be able to because of the weather and Atticus’ lack of size and ability to hold up to the winter, we started doing longer and longer hikes, often times doing a 16-21 mile hike every week or two.

We were planning to hike Isolation yesterday but it was extremely cold and at 4,000 ft and above the winds were strong so we canceled the hike. We also canceled the Isolation hike the day before, too…and on the previous Friday. On Friday we didn’t bother hiking. On Monday we were on Tecumseh.

Our total for the month of January was 24 peaks. We the 14 we did in December our total for winter is 38 peaks, with 35 of them going towards a round of 48 and the two Hancocks and Tecumseh as repeats.

Monday, January 29, 2007

North & South Hancock; January 28, 2007

Today we hit the 40 day mark of winter and hiked Mt. Tecumseh for the second time bringing our total to 38 peaks. We are both doing relatively well and my Lyme Disease seems to have giving us some breathing room.

Sitting here with Atticus by my side tonight, I realize just how lucky I am to have found such a wonderful companion. In the middle of this odyssey I sometimes forget just what we've undertaken. But perhaps that is for the best. Twenty years ago I ran the Boston Marathon. I was smart enough to keep my mind numb until I reached the 20 mile mark. This winter we are on a marathon of a different sort. And while I am doing my best to keep my mind numb to the big goal, and take it literally day by day and hike by hike, I also try to peek out on occasion to take note of this wondrous journey.

Each day brings new tests, wears us down a bit. The winds can be vengeful, sometimes the temperatures cruel. And yet I have the size to withstand much of what January has thrown at us. But then I look to my side to see this marvelous little creature and remind myself that he is but 20 lbs.

It's humbling to have such company and humbling to have such a friend.

After the 18 mile hike to and from Owl's Head on Saturday we got a late start on the 9.8 mile round trip to North and South Hancock. We were on the trail at 12:40 in the afternoon and within the first few miles we encountered others who were finishing for the day. Some looked at the two of us and suggested we may want to turn back because it was too late to start a hike in winter. A fellow we encountered posted on an internet site: "Ran into Tom & Atticus getting a late start. I hope his headlamp battery holds out."

It didn't take long to have the mountains to ourselves. While hiking along and alone in the glow of the afternoon sun I would occasionally look at my hiking partner and realize that he is game for nearly anything. He inspires me. When we got to the summit outlook he sat and soaked in the sun and the views while I took photo after photo. Then we were on our way down into the shadowy and cold col between North and South and then up the climb to South Hancock and glimpses of the sun again. The steep descent from South Hancock was easier with crampons on and before too long we were off the steeper portion of the hike and we started moving right along back towards our car and the Kancamagus and the setting sun.
Lately we’ve had good company for many of our hikes but Sunday’s hike was important to us because it was just Atticus and I again. There comes a time to bond again, just by ourselves. It felt wonderful to be out there with him.

A couple of days ago, while reading a speech made by Thomas Merton in Calcutta in 1968, I was moved by his words: “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

I know many people who are married or live together but few who seem to share the genuine experience of what Merton was talking about. When we hike as we did on the Hancocks yesterday, that’s exactly what this man and dog share. It’s a communion between man and beast, but more importantly between two friends. It’s far from the marriage I once pictured myself in but who am I to argue with a gift of such a splendid companion?

In our journeys with others this winter we have found some new friends and comfort in their company. Yet in the end it’s still about the two of us and on days like Sunday I remind myself to take note of these authentic experiences because they are the threads the fabric of a special odyssey are held together by.

We started out as two tired hikers and as always the mountains and the woods renewed us. During the last few miles of our hike we bounced along the trail in high spirits and playful interchanges. With the day waning I looked up to see the bruise colored Osceola’s and realized we were going to make it out before the sun set and this enlivened me even more.

I truly believe each mountain has lessons to teach, stories to tell, and on this one simple Sunday I was reminded again of the good company I keep. I was reminded of how grand it feels to be swallowed whole in these woods. And while “the deepest level of communication is not communication but communion,” I was reminded once again that communion isn’t just between two people. It is also found in the bonds between man an mountains, or better yet between man and dog and mountains.

Body Warmers

Last winter, during their speed record for hiking all 48 4,000-footers in one winter, Tim Seaver and Cath Goodwin had a great deal of help along their 9-plus days of epic tramping through the Whites in the form of Jeff Vino and Andy Hawley. Tim is not only one of the two fastest White Mountain hikers on two feet, he’s also a very gifted photographer and their record was made all the more special by his witty trip reports and the photos that accompanied them. Tim picked out one as his favorite. It was of Cath, Jeff and Andy atop Moriah. This is a link to Tim's website:

This winter, Atticus and I have been doing our best to hike a few peaks and raise some money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We’ve had company on half of the peaks we’ve climbed. And lately we’ve had the good company of Tim’s three companions. Today, atop the summit of Mt. Tecumseh, there was a moment when the warmth of these three really emerged. It’s in the top photo above.

I truly appreciate the assistance these three have given in making sure Atticus is safe and warm on the hikes they’ve been apart of. Whether it’s been Cath ceaselessly sharing her encyclopedic knowledge of trails and weather and condition or Jeff and Cath scooping up Atticus to keep him warm during various breaks along the trail or Andy and the others breaking trail so he could follow behind. And today, Andy softened enough to actually be photographed holding Atticus on top of the summit.

Earlier in the winter Atticus has also been kept company and warm by Steve Martin, who is a co-conspirator in caring for hiking dogs in the Whites. And I have to also thank two friends from home, Tom Jones and Aaron Lichtenberg, who have kept Atticus warm and safe on their hikes with us this winter.

Hikers are often advised to bring along hand and feet warmers. On some of the hikes we’ve done this winter, we’ve been lucky enough to have some valuable body warmers along for the journey.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

North & South Hancock; January 28, 2007

After hiking Owl's Head yesterday both Atticus and I had a difficult time getting started this weekend. The plan was to drive the hour over to Moriah. Instead we stayed close to Lincoln and hiked the Hancocks. Beautiful day with beautiful views. The photos of today's hike can be found here:

Owl's Head; January 27, 2008

The round trip to Owl's Head is 18 miles. However, after throwing in the Black Pond Bushwhack and a modified Brutie Bushwhack up the southwest side of Owl's Head we had a shorter, but no less tiring hike to the summit. The hike was made somewhat easier by the group size which made for a flattened trail with all the snowshoeing for Atticus to walk along.
Nevertheless, even with the bushwhacks thrown in, it was a long day, about 10 and a half hours.
Today, Sunday, we're getting a late start but that's okay since we're only off to do the Hancocks and that's close by and goes a bit quicker than most of the other hikes in the 10-mile range.
Tomorrow: Isolation

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Photos up for Galehead and North & South Twin

Wednesday turned out to be a very long day for us as we enountered plenty of deep, unbroken snow from Galehead over the two Twins. Snowshoes were needed for the majority of the hike, especially between the Twins where it was more than a foot deep. Luckily for Atticus and myself, our friend Aaron came along and helped a great deal with the trailbreaking.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jackson, January 20, 2007

With today's high winds and low temperatures there weren't many photos taken. Just these two on the summit of Jackson where we were hiding behind the large cairn from the biting Northwest wind.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Moosilauke, January 19, 2007

Today we journeyed above treeline with Cath Goodwin, Andy Hawley and Jeff Vino. It was cold and once we broke out above the treeline the visibility was low and the winds were high. This was our 30th peak of the winter season. The rest of the photos can be found on our webshots site:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Meeting Old Man Winter on the Tripyramids

In my limited experience in these mountains I find that each hike...each mountain has a story to tell, lessons to teach, gifts to be unwrapped. On Tuesday we hiked the Tripyramids for the fifth time in 20 months but this time we had the opportunity to see them through the fresh eyes of one new to winter hiking. Another Newburyport friend joined Atticus and me. Aaron is new to winter hiking but has long loved the outdoors. Much like TJ, who’d done the Bonds Traverse with us, Aaron was invited along for similar reasons. He’s a good soul, mentally and physically tough, and doesn’t have an agenda other than just experiencing winter in the mountains and he knows that my hikes are centered on Atticus’ safety and comfort.

It didn’t take long to know it was a great fit. For Aaron it was love at first sight as we entered the woods and left the Kancamagus behind. He’d brought his camera with him and couldn’t stop taking photos. What a pleasure to take someone who loves the woods as much as we do and peel him away from his restaurant and downtown Newburyport. He hardly gets to escape and here he was immersed in the wildness of this cold January morning.

Working our way along the Pine Bend Brook Trail we came to the various stream crossings that were not yet frozen and Atticus dropped behind me to watch my foot placement and then emulated me. Since he is a small dog stream crossings are one of the more challenging aspects of hiking in the winter. On a couple of occasions when he stopped to question his ability to get across a stream or to assess the best route, Aaron would scoop him up and carry him across without a squirm of resistance.

Funny thing about Atticus, he never lets anyone pick him up out in the “real world”. I’d never have to worry about anyone stealing him. But on a hike, no matter the time of the year, he understands there is a different set of rules and that those along are here to help him and so he lets them without resistance. He gets it.

As other dog owners know, one of the pleasures of hiking with a four-legged friend is watching them interact with nature and watching them solve problems. There are times on a trail when I’ll stop to help him get up a steep pitch but by the time I’m ready to help he’s already up above me and moving along like it’s no big deal. I am fond of saying that he climbs like Gollum but is as loyal as Samwise. For some reason Atticus understands that we climb until we get to the top, then we head back down. He likes to take the lead. And I’m often surprised by how well he knows these trails and his strong sense of place. A couple of weeks ago, when we did the Carters and Cats there was a moment on the Carter-Moriah trail where he was above me and then just stopped and hung out. He never does this. It turns out he knew we were at the summit so he stayed there and waited because he knows we stop at summits. But how did he know? Then he was off again, down off of Middle Carter and on our way to South Carter where once again he halted at the sign. Amazing.

Not too long ago a stranger contacted me by email. She proclaimed herself an expert in training dogs and she wanted to know what technique I used in training Atticus. She mentioned a few techniques but I had no idea what she was talking about so instead of faking it I responded honestly that Atticus’ training came about simply by us hanging out together. I also mentioned that it is always good to have a dog who is smarter than his owner. I’m sure she cringed at this. (And I'm sure she would cringe even more knowing that this dog who is less than one-twelth my size gets four-fifths of the bed and sits with me at restaurants and eats of his plate while I eat off mine.)

When we entered the Sandwich Range Wilderness and started our climb, Atticus had no trouble. I wish I could say the same. He’s a much better climber than I. Aaron seemed to be doing fine too. But once we reached the height of the ravine after passing through that glorious cathedral of birch trees Aaron started to slow on the up hills a bit and I had some company at my pace. But it’s not like Atticus left us behind. He never does. He simply takes his lead and keeps it. If I stop, he stops. If I take two steps forward, he takes two steps forward. Nearly the only time he comes back is if I fall down, or if I call him back.

In his tiredness Aaron soon grew to understand the joys of stopping often---it gives you the opportunity to look around and appreciate the immediate views and there are always photos to be taken when you take the time to appreciate the beauty around. (This is something I didn’t do during my first time through the 48.)

The ridge walk below the summit of North Tripyramid is my favorite section of this hike and it wasn’t long before Aaron fell in love with this area too as we walked through the narrow corridor of trees that drop off quickly on either side to reveal the blue sky. Walking across the snow with the sky on either side just through the trees was like walking across a crisp, white cloud. Talk of heaven!

It was cold but we were protected from the wind. And I was impressed with the fact that Atticus did not need his Muttluks or his body suit. He seems to be adapting to the cold much more so than he did last winter. Nevertheless I watched him closely but there was only one time he started to shiver and then as soon as we started to move it was over with and he warmed again.

There were many times when I had to stop and wait for Aaron, who is 80 lbs less than me, much healthier, and 15 years younger. It wasn’t because he was tired (although he was), it was due to the fact that he was falling in love with the frosted conifers and the various views through the trees, obscured as they were by the light fog on occasion, and he had to take photo after photo with his camera.

One of the more fulfilling feelings I get during the holidays is when I give someone a gift he or she truly loves. On this hike I got to see the innocence one new to winter hiking grow into enchantment. I got to see our friend’s eyes light up with excitement and wonder with every turn in the trail, with every partial view point, under the thickly iced trees backed by the deep blue sky above. Had we had unobstructed views I’m sure his heart would have burst in unfettered joy. As it was, it was wonderful to see him leave the day-to-day behind as we gained North Tripyramid and then Middle and worked our way back again.

The temperatures were falling and it was hard to imagine that the day could get any better…but it did. While on that magical ridge walk again on our return trip and feeling the cold bite of the season we came face to face with Old Man Winter as he would look like if he stepped out of the pages of a children’s book. There before us on the trail stood a tall man with a thick beard covered in ice with eyes filled with the rapture of the day. I thought it was a mirage at first but it turned out to be our friend Steve Smith. I’m used to seeing Steve behind the counter at his Mountain Wanderer bookstore and I’ve never had the pleasure of hiking with him before but what a joy it was to look into his eyes on this day and see the freedom and love he has for these mountains.

Steve has been very much a mentor to us this past year and a half but this was the first time we got to see him in his true element and I felt like I had suddenly received as much a gift as Aaron had throughout the day. I have seen this part of Steve Smith at times through the words of his books but to it reflected in his eyes, the flush in his cheeks, the total involvement in his surroundings, it gave me more of an understanding of this remarkable man than I’ve had since we first met him in May of 2005. He has tromped through these woods for a quarter of a century and yet his was the face of one who is totally in love with what he is doing. His was the face of a child, fresh and excited and in that short encounter on the trail I felt like I’d met a timeless character so genuine you only meet them in books or dreams.

Each hike I’m fulfilled by watching Atticus, who is very much at ease in these woods and I am equally fulfilled by the joy I feel while up here. On Tuesday I was blessed to introduce a friend to these mountains and then to see yet another friend so happy doing what he loves doing. I often encounter people on my hikes but few seem to have the fresh feeling of unbridled excitement shared by Aaron, the newcomer, and Steve, the old-timer.

No wonder I never felt the cold throughout the day. There were enough things on this day to keep me warm from within.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Photos from the Tripyramids; January 16, 2007

Today, Atticus and I were joined by Aaron Lichtenberg, who owns Fowle's Restaurant with his wife Liz. (Liz is the artist who created our logo.) This was Aaron's first official winter hike and his first NH 4,000-footers. A cold but nice day.

We had the pleasure of bumping into Steve Smith, owner of the Mountain Wanderer book and map store and co-author of the "4,000-Footers of the White Mountains" (along with other books) and is also the co-editor of the AMC's White Mountain Guide. Steve was out on a bushwhack when we ran into him.
Pictured above are Steve Smith, a view of Passaconaway, and walking towards the light on the way to Middle Tripyramid. The remaining photos from the day can be found at the following link:

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hiking with Tom Bombadil on Hale

(Photo courtesy of Ken Stampfer.)

This winter our hikes are decided by various factors, the two most important being the weather and my Lyme Disease. On Saturday I was not feeling all that well and the day didn’t look as though it was going to be a great one so the choice was Hale. Even with the road closure it is a relatively easy hike and takes us less than five hours. While we waited in hopes of being joined by friends at the Zealand Road parking area various groups were gearing up. After realizing that they probably weren’t going to show I decided to beat the rush and we made our way down the road towards the gate barring Zealand Road.

Most folks don’t like these gated winter roads but I have come to accept them for what they are. For me, where there is a gate, there may be more miles but there is also the promise of entering another world and leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Mythology is rife with meaningful gates. They represent transition from one world to the next and signify new beginnings and entering a special, magical and mysterious place. The Romans even had a god for gates: Janus, whom the month of January was named after. A new year; a new beginning. Leaving behind one world and entering the next.

And so we left behind Rt. 302 and crossed beyond the barrier to Zealand Road and before long we were striding along a road, much of it was simply frozen mud, dotted with puddles. A road walk eases me into a hike and lets my mind wander. Even over the barren road and through trees both bare and gray and with little sign of snow it was easy to find my mind drifting into a dream world of pure pleasure and simplicity. As always I took inventory of my body and my breathing, an exercise that turns into a meditation for me. I know of no more simple pleasure than man and beast walking in harmony no matter the day or the weather or the season, accompanied on occasion by a birdsong or the wind overhead.

On days such as this one it is easy to relate to Tolkien, who believed there was magic in the woods and mountains. I could feel my imagination melding with what must have been his thoughts as he walked in woods a century earlier. I emptied myself of all my worries and let my thoughts come and go as they pleased and as always we turned from a man and dog to a boy and dog and soon even my Lyme aches and pains were forgotten as we were swallowed whole by the day.

When walking among trees I often think of Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil, who hosted the hobbits in “The Fellowship of the Ring”:

He then told them many remarkable stories, sometimes half as if speaking to himself, sometimes looking at them suddenly with a bright blue eye under his deep brows. Often his voice would turn to song, and he would get out of his chair and dance about. He told them tales of bees and flowers, the ways of trees, the strange creatures of the Forest, about the evil things and good things, things friendly and things unfriendly, cruel things and kind things, and secrets hidden under brambles.

The magic settled in around us and we could feel the woods pulsing, almost see the cloud-shrouded Hale exhaling and inhaling. But no sooner had my imagination allowed me to enter into the world of hobbits, elves, dwarfs and wizards than we were accosted by the sound of a loud and aggressive beast. It was no troll, no army of orcs, but a manmade beast. A huge lumber truck was racing up the road with two large, rattling trailers. We stood off by the side as the truck raced by. The day had changed.

I could tell we were getting closer to where they were stripping the land of trees because of the noise of machinery and falling trees and the noxious smell of engines in the clean mountain air. Off to the side of the road there is place where trees once stood and it is now rutted and raped and open, the remnants of trees are strewn about and it was as sad a sight as I have ever seen in these mountains or in any woods I have ever traveled through. And Tom Bombadil came back to mind as I stood side-by-side with Atticus looking at this huge scar left in the woods:
As they listened, they began to understand the lives of the Forest, apart from themselves, indeed to feel themselves as the strangers where all other things were at home. Moving constantly in and out of his talk was Old Man Willow, and Frodo learned now enough to content him, indeed more than enough, for it was not comfortable lore. Tom's words laid bare the hearts of trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers. It was not called the Old Forest without reason, for it was indeed ancient, a survivor of vast forgotten woods; and in it there lived yet, ageing no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords. The countless years had filled them with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice. But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green; and he was cunning, and a master of winds, and his song and thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge to the Downs. [pp.127-128]

“…gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers…” The words echoed in my head and wouldn’t rest until I repeated them out loud. And even then the chorus repeated on occasion.

We moved down the road towards the Hale Brook Trail only to realize they were now clearing out trees right next to the trail. I was stunned to see how close to the trail they were and once again saddened.

I’m no fool, I know the lumbering goes on in these forests but I also know that it’s done with permission granted by the Forest Service, the same Forest Service that preaches “Leave no trace”. And the same Forest Service that has gone to war with hikers concerning the Owl’s Head trail. And yet this is the same government agency that has spray-painted so many of these trees with a bright blue mark to show what should be taken down.

But why so close to the trail? And as we climbed up the trail it was easy to see that the carnage paralleled the trail for a good long ways.

Leave no trace.

Yes, cutting trees is allowed here, but here in the White Mountains National Forest the main industry is supposed to be tourism. And here these fellows were with their heavy and loud machines romping over the land, showing no care or concern for what they trampled, even if it wasn’t marked in blue, and on a holiday weekend when hikers would be going in large groups to and from Zealand Hut by way of the road.

The climb up and down the Hale Brook Trail took a backseat to what I had seen and it was still going on as we returned to Zealand Road. We walked past the active machinery and tried to figure out the rhyme and reason of the Forest Service. We soon came to a father and his young son and daughter walking hand-in-hand up Zealand Road. The children were probably between six and eight and they were delighted to be headed to the hut, not for an overnight but for “tea time”. It instantly brought back memories of my own childhood and the seeds sewn by father and the way his love of the mountains and the woods were handed down to his children. After chatting we parted ways but before too long the father and his children were forced off to the side of the road by another logging truck moving rapidly down the road splashing through the mud puddles.

“…gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers…”

On the suddenly long walk out along Zealand Road I thought of those two small children and the memories they would carry with them into adulthood of this walk with their father. Would they think of the magical woods or of the overbearing machinery?

Before too long I came upon a birch tree with an incriminating blue mark spray painted on it. And yet it wasn’t deep in the woods and wasn’t even on the same side of the road where they were cutting tress and was just above the shores of the river and I felt badly for this tree and its fate and wondered why it too was chosen. I had plenty to think about on the way back to the car and in the ride back to the cabins.

A main theme to Tolkien’s writing was about how the industrial movement was ruining the environment. He understood its importance, but also understood that it had a place and he wanted to protect the special places he knew of. It’s too bad the Forest Service doesn’t approach its job with the same sensitivity towards the environment. Perhaps Tolkien should be required reading.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hale and Lyme

(On top of Hale on Saturday.)

The Lyme Disease flared up on Thursday and I struggled through Whiteface and Passaconaway with achy joints and the feeling that the flu was coming on. With Lyme the flu never comes on, you just feel like it is. The Lyme symptoms did not improve on Friday. When it was time to decide whether or not to hike on Saturday I almost didn't because of the way I was feeling but I chose Hale because it is a quick winter hike and I thought that it wouldn't be too burdensome.

I was hoping a good night's sleep would help. It didn't. So today, with either Jackson, Moriah or the Tripyramids on the agenda I decided to cancel the hike because I'm feeling very sick.

So today is a day for reading by the fire and getting ready for the Patriots. Tomorrow will be a new day and I'm hoping the spirochetes will have worn themselves out by then.

Now we just have to see what the weather will bring us. It's going to be colder, which will help with stream crossings so I don't mind. Still waiting, however, for the wind to slow so we can get above treeline. At least the colder weather will make doing Owl's Head, Twins & Galehead, and Isolation much easier and safer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Write up in Littleton Courier by Mike Dickerman about our Winter Quest for a Cure

Mike Dickerman gave some press to our Winter Quest for a Cure in his January 10th hiking column in the Littleton Courier (Littleton, NH). Mr. Dickerman has written his well known and well read column "The Beaten Path" for more than two decades now. In this past Wednesday's column he wrote about three subjects, one of them was our Quest for a Cure. The title of the column this week was, “Record warmth heats up summit, melts meager snow cover”. The rest comes directly from the column with permission from Mike Dickerman.

Winter Quest for a Cure

Count Tom Ryan of Newburyport, Mass., and his miniature Schnauzer, Atticus M. Finch, among the many outdoor recreationists taking full advantage of this year’s mild winter weather.

Ryan and his faithful canine companion are tackling the region’s 4,000-foot mountains this winter with one eye on the trails and the other on helping to find a cure for cancer. “Tom and Atticus: Winter Quest for a Cure” is in its third week with Ryan and his dog hoping to climb all 48 of the White Mountains’ 4,000-footers this winter, while at the same time raising money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

In this, just Ryan’s second year of winter hiking, he had already reached half of the 4,000-footers on just the 17th day of official winter. His travels thus far had taken him across the remote Bond Range in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, over the Carters and Wildcats near Pinkham Notch, and over the three peaks of the Willey Range near Crawford Notch. Atticus has joined him on most, if not all of the treks, including the 23-mile traverse of the Zealand-Bond Ranges.

For every peak the two reach this winter, Quest for a Cure sponsors are being asked to donate a predesignated amount per summit. There is no minimum or maximum amount, so sponsors may pledge anything from a penny a peak to $100 a summit. Sponsors may also choose to donate a flat fee for the entire winter quest, or sponsor a single mountain.

According to the official website of Quest for a Cure, all proceeds and pledges will go directly to the Jimmy Fund. Travel, lodging and equipment costs for both Tom and Atticus are being picked up by several major corporate sponsors, (including Eastern Mountain Sports and Muttluks of Toronto, Ontario). Hiking enthusiasts and anyone interested in sponsoring the pair are encouraged to visit for more complete information and for daily updates on their winter adventures in the Whites.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Whiteface and Passaconaway pictures added.

Today we hiked Whiteface and Passaconaway. While it was not a good Lyme Disease day, it was still wonderful to get out into the mountains after I dropped my journal off at the printers this morning. We'll be heading north again this weekend and hopefully find good weather to hike in, although the forecast is iffy at best right now.
There are only a few photos of today's hike and they can be found here:
Here are some shots from the day.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Carters & Wildcats photos now on our photo site

Our photos from the Carters and Wildcats hike on Sunday are now up on our webshots website. To reach them simply click this link:

Windy Winter

The well-intentioned point out that we are blessed to have such a mild winter and hope that it will stay that way for us. I couldn't disagree more. We want snow, snow, snow. Snow, a reasonable amount of it, makes hiking easier for both Atticus and myself. In this current weather there is a lot of ice on the trails and I'd rather walk across snow than ice. Snow also makes for a more beautiful hike and more comfortable and faster trip from the summit to the trailhead.

And weather just isn't precipitation. We're having a difficult time getting above treeline. With Atticus along for the journey I'm picky about when I'll bring him above to the elements. This winter there have been very few low wind days. I know that the first day of winter was mild but other than that we haven't chosen to be above treeline. The Mount Washington Observatory pointed out this morning that each day in January has seen winds gusting to at least 80 mph. So while people are saying we're having a mild winter, they're talking about the temperature and precipitation, not the wind.

Here's today's Mount Washington Higher Summit Forecast:

Tuesday, January 9, 2007
4:46 AM
The low pressure system that passed yesterday is continuing to pull away to the northeast today. Low level moisture mixed with upslope flow will allow for fog to remain on the summits with a few snow showers mixed in. Winds will remain high this morning as the gradient behind the low remains tight but as the day progresses, winds will slacken slightly. Overnight, a cold front will pass allowing the summits to remain in the fog with enough instability to spur on more snow showers. Tomorrow, an upper level trough mixed with a low level shortwave will continue the foggy conditions and bring a continued chance of snow showers to the summits. As the shortwave moves through tomorrow, winds will be on the increase through the day. So far this month, every day we have had a wind gust above 80 mph and this trend looks to continue through this forecast period. Wind chills will be as low as 25 below today, 30 below overnight, and 40 below for tomorrow.
Ryan Knapp

Monday, January 08, 2007

Walking with friends

(Stopping at Middle Carter with thoughts of Christine V.)

"Sunny days and starry nights, and lazy afternoons
You're counting castles in the clouds, and humming little tunes
But somehow right before your eyes the sun fades away
Everything is different, and everything has changed"

~ By Kenny Loggins

How strange we must have looked to Agiochook last night while walking down the Polecat Ski Trail down off of the Wildcat Ridge following the narrow beam of a headlamp. Off in the darkness and across Pinkham Notch the great Agiochook could be seen as a dark outline against the night sky scratching his/her head at our curious sight.

We first came face to face with Agiochook last winter while walking down this same path in the glow of a late afternoon and after they closed the ski slope down and we had the mountain to ourselves we made fools of ourselves by playing on the slopes under the watchful giant and in fun I taunted Agiochook that we were coming to get her and would be upon her summit in the not so distant future. My playful arrogance was repaid by strong winds and flying snow and ice on more than one occasion while above tree line in subsequent weeks.

Last night Agiochook saw a more humble man walking down the slopes while anyone with more sanity was off the mountain and home and warm. Yet there we strode slowly down Wildcat, the unlikeliest of peakbaggers, a little lap dog and a middle aged fat guy. We had come up over the three Carters, descended into Carter Notch, climbed up the Wildcat Ridge Trail and darkness swallowed us up in the trees somewhere between Wildcat B and C. By the time we peaked out on Wildcat D we were happy to leave the ice bulges behind and walk on the thin and crispy snow even if it had stubbles of brown grass sticking up through it.

And yet there is something humbling about being out in the bare naked open night without stars and only the faint outline of the behemoth Agiochook towering over us across the way. On occasion I turned off my headlamp and looked at the profile of the rugged peak and shuddered with the return of my childhood fear of the dark and the monsters that come with the darkness. I simply didn’t have the courage to walk too far in the dark without aid of the light so I kept turning it back on as if its beam would keep Agiochook at a safe distance, or at least make it so that my eyes could not look beyond the narrow beam to make out the frighteningly awesome profile.

Oh for some good companionship, warm conversation, silly jokes. Instead I kept myself company with thoughts of days long gone, of women loved and women lost and the simple days of my childhood. These are the thoughts that enter ones mind while hiking with a companion like Atticus who does not waste time talking the miles away. These and so many more thoughts.

I took inventory of the day and the winter to this point and to battle against my loneliness on this cold, black night I recounted the simple pleasures of hiking alone with my most faithful companion. And then it hit me…we’re not hiking alone this winter at all. (And I don’t mean the good company we have found in Atticus’ new dog-parents, Cath Goodwin and Steve Martin either.) I’m talking about the other company we are keeping on the majority of our peaks.

As you know, Atticus and I are dedicating our winter hikes to those who have been lost to cancer and those who are fighting it. Most of the mountains have been dedicated by others but on the rare occasion they haven’t I’ve dedicated them myself to those I’ve known or I know who have done battle with cancer.

And so man and dog trekked on down the mountain under the watchful gaze of Agiochook with the good company of people we are walking with this winter. I thought of the tiny light on my head and the way it cuts through the darkness as the cause we are hiking for and the hope it brings. In the face of the great spirit I offered up the names, not just for my own company but in thinking that it meant a little more to say their names aloud with the hopes it would give me the courage I needed to face the darkness which is nothing compared to what they have faced.

Since winter started we’ve hiked to 24 summits and on nearly every one of them I’ve carried a person in my head and heart, most of whom I never knew and yet a strange bond has developed between us.

On Cannon, that night of the Winter Solstice, we hiked with a small fun-loving crowd but more importantly we hiked for John Giacolone, who was diagnose seven years ago but continues to fight on.

On Carrigain we hiked for the memory of Barrie Briggs, whose friend Mary Baker holds her in her heart.

Tecumseh was for Hailey Klein’s mother, Leonora Daniels Klein, who died of breast cancer in 1988. Hailey wrote to me that Leonora was “a huge animal person and gathered strays or supported them always. I think she would worry about Atticus but be happy to know he is so well outfitted and loved.”

That afternoon we hiked Waumbek and carried the memory of Martha Jennings with us. And much like Martha, Waumbek greeted us with gray skies and threatening winds but as the day drained away it gave us the most beautiful glimpses of gold and a peaceful night sky that was still and wondrous. It was an end that matched her end.

On Christmas Day we had one of our most emotional hikes while on the Kinsmans where one was in memory of Lucy Grogan, who died in her teens, and the other was in memory of Isabella
DeBethancourt who never made it to her teens.

Tom was in memory Katie Kozin’s mother, while Field was for a fellow I know here in Newburyport by the name of Ray Clarkson who is fighting cancer as I type this. Willey was for Connie Fletcher, whose daughter I was once in love with.

On the day we did the Bonds traverse I thought of Michael Cray who I’m told was found of saying, “And you too will be tested.” And we were as we passed Guyot and went on to West Bond, which was done in memory of Jamie Valente Richards. Bond was for Gert Jones’ nephew, Richard, who is fighting cancer and Bondcliff was done for a woman I never met but feel like I know something of by how much I’ve read about her in the words of her loving sister---Mary Lou Vallerand Powers.

On the day we did the Hancocks we did them in memory of Charlie Stramielo who is still remembered by his friend Bruce Menin.

The following day we did East Osceola, which was dedicated to Dave McFarlane’s daughter Laura Lippert, a survivor, and Osceola was done in memory of Kathy Miller’s mother who passed away this past summer.

On Cabot, when the wind and clouds swept over the summit I was warmed the by the thought of Carol Buckley who beat breast cancer.

On South Carter I thought of Billy Lemmler, who was lost too long ago, on Middle Carter my heart went to Christine Vallerand, who beat it and on Carter Dome I thought of Margaret Forney who also survived. On Wildcat A Atticus and I stood looking down upon Carter Notch thinking of Ray Dodge who survived and on Wildcat D I said a prayer for Christine and Mary Lou Vallerand’s father who is now dying from cancer.

The hike over the Carters and 'Cats was more than 15 miles and 6,000 feet in elevation gain. In the end, however, that seemed to be of little importance in considering all of these people, the people who loved and love them, the battles fought, lost and won, and what they’ve been through, the night didn’t seem as dark, didn’t scare me anymore. We had such wonderful company with us as we marched onward towards our waiting car.

When I decided to undertake this cause of raising money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute this winter through our hikes I never realized the ramifications. Never realized we wouldn’t be hiking alone anymore, that we would have company every step of the way and there would be stars above us even on the darkest of nights.

I thank them for keeping us company on our journey.

"If you feel lost, and on your own
And far from home
You're never alone you know
Just think of your friends, the ones who care
They all will be waiting there
With love to share
And your heart will lead you home"

~ Kenny Loggins

Sunday, January 07, 2007

And then there were 24

It's good to be home...if only for a few days.

On Sunday Atticus and I hiked Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, and Wildcat D. It was a long hike with more elevation gain than we've ever done. I don't have the exact numbers but will have them up later on Monday.

These five peaks gave us 24 4,000-footers during the first 17 days of winter.

Here's thanking all of you who have donated to our Winter Quest for a Cure and feel free to pass the word on. Now, bed is calling and since I'm tired after our hike I'm going to respond.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hiking with Atticus

(Originally posted on the Views From The Top hiking website last March.)

I recently wrote to my father that one of my favorite childhood memories was of standing with him and my brothers Stephen, Jeff and David on the cool pool of lawn in front of Lafayette Place campground in the creeping shade of a summer eve looking up at the monstrous spine of Mt. Lafayette. It is a moment etched permanently in my memory and one of those childhood moments where you look back upon some 35 years later and remember how safe and secure you felt. It was also one of those moments when I first realized just how beautiful the world was.
On Tuesday of last week I found myself standing on top of that spine. The temperature was in the teens but the wind drove it lower. It was noon but had I not had a watch on my altimeter I wouldn’t have known for it was dark and dreary and we were all alone. We had reached Little Haystack and were going towards Mt. Lincoln and beyond to Lafayette before heading back down via the Three Agonies. Gusts of wind toyed with us and pelted us with snow and ice and I had to put my goggles and balaclava on. The elements were such that there was not much to be seen at times. It is just shy of 2 miles of unprotected ridge. On a sunny day there are not many more beautiful places to be.
On a day such as last Tuesday it was simply desolate looking; a wasteland along a narrow path. As discomfort grew I kept thinking about simple pleasures: a cup of cocoa; a hot bath; a good book; a thick sweater; some sunshine. It’s a habit I’ve fallen into this winter. But reality came at us gust after gust and not for the first time this winter I questioned my ability and our adventurous path. There are moments I have come across where I am all alone up there, no sign of human life about, and I feel as weak as anyone ever has. I reached for strength I didn’t seem to have and found myself thinking about Guy Waterman who chose this ridge to lay down on to end his life. While I’m not saddled with the depression he was, this is the second time this winter I’ve been on this ridge in similar conditions (the other was on Christmas Day between Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume) and I thought about how such weather can strip a man of hope and his good senses. It would be so easy to just sit down up there and stop moving through the wind and gloom, but to sit would make it harder for me to get up.

The mists make me tired and wreaks havoc with my motivation so I move ever onward. I was tired and dragging and in need of inspiration. Sometimes I find it difficult to be alone in these mountains, but I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m doing it—to challenge myself and make myself stronger; to come face to face with myself in these elements and an environment I’ve always feared and I will hopefully come out a little bit different than when I went into it. Like many of you I’m asked by folks back home why I’m doing what I’m doing and while I can come up with many answers—all true—I’m not sure any of them are the answer. All I can say is that I feel like this is where I belong this winter.

Not for the first or last time that day I looked ahead at the shrouded path and could see very little. On either side, not too far away, the ridge dropped off into a mist and that was it. There was nothing. My fear of heights heckled me. I told myself that with a few wrong steps across the ice I would be sorry. I was careful as I stepped with my crampons and deliberate with each step, waiting to feel the bite of metal in ice before taking my next step. And while feeling all alone, the view of the landscape varying from 50 feet to a few hundred depending on the gusts and clouds, I was even more in need of inspiration.

Where’s the sun when you need it? I ask that question of myself a lot on stormy days up here. But just as I asked it all I had to do was let my gaze travel through the mist some 50 feet in front of me towards the cairn just revealed by a receding cloud, and there in front of me was my inspiration---a 20 lb. dog. Little Atticus had taken the lead, as he does most of the time, strong gusts be damned, ducking his head and flopping ears into them and marching forward with a sideways catch—John Wayne-like—thanks to the force of the wind. He is my ineluctable hero. He’s always there to lift my spirits and astonish me and even at times make me laugh. He’s not actually made for these kind of conditions, or so I’m told, and yet there he was, not only up there but leading the way. He marched on inexorably towards the two peaks. How could I not follow? How could I not be lifted by his persistence?

On Wednesday he led on again, this time on Carrigain, in much more favorable conditions on a 14-mile hike. Then on Saturday we climbed Moriah up the Stony Brook Trail. It was my first time on this trail since we had approached Moriah differently this summer. It was easy in the beginning, a film of snow over a sheet of ice. The higher we climbed, the more snow there was. At about 3,000 feet the trail got a lot steeper and at 3,500 the snow a lot deeper. But it was soft powder and snowshoes seemed to be worthless. Reaching the ridge we had to walk the 1.4 miles to the summit, the powder was often knee-deep. In some instances Atticus will wait for me to break trail for him when the snow is deep. Not on Saturday. The ice was slick underneath and the snow hadn’t fastened to it yet. There was lots of plunging with my feet and would have been slip-sliding so I switched from my Stablicers to crampons and they did the trick. On the ridge the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped to 14 degrees but Atticus never whimpered, never cowered in the cold. Instead he marched on in snow and sunk up to his armpits (is that what they are called on dogs?) time and time again.

He’s quite the Sherpa this winter and this little dog who is made more for sitting on laps or in a bicycle basket or car seats next to open windows, continues to remind me that limitations are something we put on ourselves. When I told friends of our winter goals they looked from my double chin to my large belly and down towards little Atticus and scratched their heads like they were appraising two fools. With this little dog in mind, I too was dubious about our chances. I wasn’t sure I would be up to the challenge and wasn’t sure I would be there to help him if he needed assistance too. So I made a contingency plan that at the first sign of duress I would leave Atticus with friends when I went off to hike. I figured maybe he’d be able to do a few of them but either way I would give him the choice to come along if he wanted and if he seemed adept at it. And sure enough, he has done well. He is simply amazing. I can honestly say that there is only one hike where I felt badly for him—East Osceola and Osceola—where there was deep powder over slick ice and I wore crampons instead of snowshoes and didn’t break the trail for him and he needed a lot of boosts, yet he never once acted like he wanted to turn back that day we hiked with Earl and Steve.

Over the next 10 days I am hoping we complete the goals I set. But as many a wise person has said, it’s all about the journey. And on this journey I’ve found out a lot about myself and a great deal about my traveling companion. This summer I returned to Newburyport with a love interest I met in the mountains. She came from a different culture—a less dog-friendly culture, and as we walked through the downtown she was troubled by the fact that when folks came upon us, more often than not they greeted Atticus first, and by name. “They treat him like he’s a person,” she said. Then added, “And he acts like he’s one too.”

I knew the relationship was in trouble when she asked me, “What would happen if I ever came to you and said it is either Atticus or me and you can choose only one?” Of course you know my answer. At least all the dog lovers do. Then again, he is more than just a dog. He’s my hiking partner and together we have faced challenges these past eight months I never could have imagined a year ago. I don’t suppose I could have come as far without him.

Recently, our hostess at the Pemi Motor Court, our home away from home last summer and this winter echoed my ex-lover’s phrase: “He’s not really a dog you know. I think he’s really a person.” My response was to simply say, “I’ve never known a person as wonderful as he.”

Tonight, with five big hikes stretched before us, I went out and spent $300 for a digital camera to replace the one I left on the roof of my car when we drove away from the Kinsmans long ago. When I bought the same camera in December it was for the purpose of taking video to show my dad the mountains he would never see the top off. But now another reason has surfaced. I could care less about putting myself in the video, but I wanted to capture this little dog on film for all of time so that some day when I’m old and gray I can look back on the videos and say, “I once knew the most amazing dog . . .”

Forgive me for prattling on, but you dog lovers know about what I speak.

Cabot: January 5, 2006

Interesting weather today. The forecast was for showers, with a high probability of rain between noon and 3:00 pm. Nothing. A few sprinkles on at the trailhead but that was it. As we climbed up past the Cabot cabin a half mile from the summit we could see ominous clouds coming in from west. By the time we reached the summit tree clouds were invading the wooded summit and the return to the cabin was a bit windwhipped and made us think that rain may just fall. But soon after we started the descent we dropped below the flat bottom of the clouds and it was clear we were going to remain dry for the return trip.

Today was summit number 19 on the winter and it was great to get back to the cabin early enough in the afternoon to stretch out and relax. This was our third day of hiking in a row and that would have been nearly impossible last winter with my troubled foot. But even with the Lyme Disease it's not a problem. Last week we hiked the Willey Range, Garfield and then the 23.3 mile Zealand/Bonds traverse in consecutive days. This week it's been the Hancocks, Osceolas and now Cabot. Cabot is nowhere near as challenging as the Bonds but it is still wonderful to be able to hike three days in a row.

Tomorrow's plans are unsure since the weather is uncertain. It looks like a rainy day. If it is we'll take it off and get ready for a long hike of some sort on Sunday. As always, weather will dictate what we are going to do.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

North and South Hancock, January 3, 2007

Whenever I find myself climbing the last half mile up to the summit of North Hancock I offer to repent for all my Ben & Jerry sins to whichever god resides in these mountains. And much like any desperate man I make promises I’m ill prepared to keep…if only the pain would go away. Then once the steepest part of the climb is over and I can breath again without gasping, I tend to forget all those sacrificial promises offered in exchange of my deliverance from pain.

Today was no different. While Atticus, who climbs like Gollum but is as loyal as Samwise, seemed to be having little trouble making it up the steeps, I counted my footsteps in order to give myself a break every hundred steps or so. But even as I sputtered and sweared at my own lack of fitness and dietary discipline I could not help but take note of this grand and glorious day in the mountains under a bright sun and a sky so blue you’d be tempted to go swimming in it.

On Wednesday of last week my Lyme Disease was raging and I had to spend the better part of the day in bed. On Thursday we climbed Tom, Field, and Willey. On Friday we climbed Garfield. On Saturday we undertook a 15 hour Bonds Traverse. Since then we’ve rested. But how could I pass up a day like this one? So we left Newburyport early this morning and drove north to hike through a wonderful woodsy setting splashed with warm sunlight. It was windy on the upper summits so we avoided those and chose North and South Hancock. This was our fourth visit to the Hancocks but the first one where we enjoyed views both through the trees and unobstructed.

As we neared the summit of North Kinsman we passed through a grove of dead and living trees glazed with thick ice and when the wind blew they rattled like bones on a skeleton. It was such a wonderful clicking and clacking that I stopped on this nearly flat spot to enjoy the windplay and we were there so long I lost track of time.

The lookout to the left of the summit was glorious and we soaked in the sun and cold wind and the views to the Osceolas and Moosilauke and then over to the Tripyramids, Whiteface, Passaconaway and Chocurua. While Atticus ate snow I did my own clicking…with a camera, knowing I would never quite capture how blue this sky was. After a while it was across the tree covered ridge to South Hancock and the sharp, steep descent through the trees.

This hike goes for about 9.6 miles but the only difficult parts are the steep half mile up North Hancock that attacks my lungs and the steep descent down South Hancock that attacks my quads. Then it’s about 3.5 miles of easy walking back to the car. So today was a day for daydreaming through a sunny forest dreamscape, especially on the easy and pleasurable return trip.

In my thoughts I carried with me many of the people I have known through the years that have had cancer, some who beat it, some who lost their lives to it; and they all made for good company. Memories of friends and loved ones are always good company, especially when Atticus and I are up here alone. They help us through the difficult and not so difficult portions of each hike by either entering into my thoughts in a way that makes me say, “For all that they endured, I can endure this a little while longer.” Or “While this may seem like a very long walk in the woods without much excitement, I’m so lucky to be able to walk, to breath this air and to see and hear and smell the things I do in these woods because there are those who cannot."

It is my hope that you will consider contributing to our cause to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Cancer Institute to aid their fight against cancer in both children and adults. To do so click on our main website at
Our pictures from this hike can be found at: