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, February 28, 2007

Round One Finished Today

This morning I dropped my car in Crawford Notch and Rick Caston dropped Atticus and myself off at the Cog parking lot. The Little Bug and I hiked up the Ammo Trail to the Lake of the Clouds hut. It only took us about 90 minutes. I guess we were excited about the big day. From there we hiked up to the summit of Mt. Washington under breezy and cold conditions. After summiting, we were returned the way we came until we got to the hut. Then it was up Monroe and into much stronger winds.

For some reason it all seemed rather easy today. I think I was just very excited. But the trek from Monroe to Eisenhower went by in a flash as did the segment from Ike to Pierce. When we stood on the summit of Pierce we completed our first round of 48 4,000-footers in one winter. Something we fell short of doing last winter, our first of winter hiking.

Tomorrow we will try to take advantage of the mild weather by dropping my car in the Flume lot and having Rick drop us off at the Old Bridal Path trail head. From there we hope to hike over Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty and Flume.

Photos will have to wait as my laptop is down and out for a little bit.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tom & Atticus Have Now Completed All 48 4,000-footers in Winter

After hiking to the summits of Madison, Adams and Jefferson on Monday, we have now finished all 48 of the Winter Fours. Last year we had summited 41 of the 48 and missed out on the three Bonds and Zealand; and Madison, Adams, and Jefferson. We did the Bonds and Zealand in December but had not been able to get above treeline until Monday to finish off these last three.

The three summits also mark the 42-44th peaks climbed in round one of our quest to hike all the 48 4,000-footers this winter and brings our total for the winter to 61 peaks. Photos from this hike can be found here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Twins and Galehead hiked on February 25, 2007

Today we hiked under beautiful blue skies and through a Tim Burton White Winter Wonderland. We hiked up North Twin, over to South Twin and then Galehead. Another fine day on the trail. It was warm enough on the summits with the bright sun for Atticus to do some summit gazing.

Today was our second time on the Twins and Galehead this winter. It was our 56th-58th peaks this winter.

We now stand at 41 peaks in round one; 17 peaks in round two.

Tomorrow (Monday) we may be hiking Madison, Adams and Jefferson if the higher summits forecast holds true. It calls for temps in the teens up to 20 degrees and winds dropping down to 10-20 mph. Great conditions. The significance of these three is that if we summit them I'll become one of the 353 folks who have summited all 48 of 4,000-footers in the Whites since the 4,000-foot club was formed. And more importantly, Atticus will become only the second known dog to have ever done them all in winter, joining Brutus, Kevin Rooney's trail-breaking dog.

If the weather does not hold up as much as we would like, we'll be doing South Carter, Middle Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A and Wildcat D.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rest Day; Saturday, February 24, 2007

Decisions. Decisions.

Today is February 24 and we’re taking the day off. Bit windy and cold up here and Atticus, while okay, doesn’t mind having a second day off in a row after the four peaks of Franconia Ridge on Thursday along with the 4.3 miles of trail-breaking efforts.

Besides, we have some bigger hikes planned for the next two days. Tomorrow is definitely the better day of the weekend. Bright sun and moderate temperatures are planned. The higher summits forecast on Washington calls for 35-45 mph winds and temps from the mid teens to 20.

It will definitely be a day where we could do some above tree line activity. Above tree line hikes we have to finish the 48 this winter are the three Northern Presidential’s and Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce on the other end. That’s it, seven peaks left. The goal is to hike them in two sections at this point. The priority is to do the three northern mountains (Adams, Jefferson and Madison) for that would mean that coupled with what we hiked last winter that we’ll become the 354th person and second dog to ever complete the winter 48.

Of course tomorrow’s forecast is right around the borderline for taking Atticus above tree line. Not sure yet if I’d want to spend an extended amount of time up there with that wind and temperature. I’d much rather it be something like 15-20 mph and the same temps or higher. Such are the thoughts when it comes to doing these mountains in winter with a wonderfully loyal and loving 20-lb hiking partner.

We have climbed 55 peaks this winter since December 21st. Of the round of 48 we’ve done 41 of them. Fourteen have been done a second time. If we are to make a run at doing all 48 twice in one winter we have some long hikes ahead of us in a short amount of time. Winter ends close to 7:00 pm on March 20th. That gives us 24 more days to consider the following agenda to complete all 48 twice:

  • Adams, Jefferson, Madison (Hiked on February 26th)
  • Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce
  • Isolation
  • Moriah
  • North Twin, South Twin, Galehead (Hiked on February 25th)
  • Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty, Flume
  • Owl’s Head
  • Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, Jackson
  • Waumbek; then a second hike the same day to Cabot
  • Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, Bondcliff
  • Moosilauke; then second hike the same day to Cannon
  • North & South Kinsman
  • Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, Wildcat D

That’s 41 peaks in 24 days. And as you can tell, nearly all of them are multiple peak climbs and many of them are higher elevation gains.

With time running down on winter, it will be fun to see just how many of these hikes we can get in and if Atticus and I will be able to keep our strength up and our bodies healthy. And of course there’s the weather to consider too.

With all that being said, if the weather breaks for the better tomorrow, the two choices are either the Northern Pressies or the Southern Pressies (Washington included). Then there’s also the possibility of doing the Twins/Galehead or even the four Franconia Ridge mountains once again.

The plan for Monday, which is not going to be quite as good a day but supposedly comfortable, is to do Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A and Wildcat D.

Tuesday is scheduled as an off day. And we’ll most likely hike Wednesday or Thursday again.

Stay tuned as it’s getting to be crunch time.

Oh yes, and thanks for reading.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Photos from Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty, and Flume; Hike took place on February 22, 2007

Finally, the Weather Gods invited us up to play on Franconia Ridge on Thursday. We had a day with mild temperatures and low winds and were even suprised to find sunshine on three of the four summits.

Atticus and I were joined by Jeff Vino for the day. These were the 52-55 peaks we have summited this winter. We have now climbed 41 of the 48 4,000-footers once. And we've climbed 14 of them twice.

Photos from Lafayette, Lincoln, Flume and Liberty can be found here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

East Osceola & Osceola; February 21, 2007

Finally, we’re back in the saddle again. We haven’t stood on top of a 4,000-footer for eight days but today we climbed East Osceola and Osceola. These were our 50th and 51st summits this winter.

Today we were joined by Aaron Lichtenberg. This was the third winter hike for Aaron this year and his third all together. He has climbed both Tripyramids; Galehead and the two Twins; and now both Osceolas. As usual, Aaron had his camera out taking photo after photo, even on the steeps.

The original plan was to hike Franconia Ridge but an early morning check of the higher summits forecast and the high winds changed our mind. The Osceola's were our back up plan and it’s always good to get these two peaks out of the way. It’s only a 7.6 mile round trip hike but it’s a tough one for me.

We did encounter strong winds on East Osceola but that was countered by bright, warm sun and beautiful views, at least to the east and south. The Presidential’s and Franconia Ridge and many of the other summits were fogged in on the way up but we got some good glimpses on the look outs near East Osceola on the return trip.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Shut Out

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need, ah yes...
~ The Rolling Stones

I try to adhere to the philosophy that things happen for a reason. I contemplated that all weekend long as we were shut out from reaching any peaks this past weekend. Last weekend we had four straight good days of hiking 4,000-footers. Then came Wednesday’s epic snowstorm.

We retreated to Newburyport to wait it out and then ventured back to the Whites on Friday morning. Atticus and I joined Cath, Drew and Mary Ellen for an attempt to climb Cabot. As soon as we exited the vehicles we were met by whipping winds that made the thermometer’s six degrees seem much colder. We gave some thought to pulling the plug on the hike right then and there so as not to put Atticus through those conditions. However, as we walked up the road leading to the trail we were protected from the high winds and once we donned snowshoes and entered into the deep, deep snow we had no trouble keeping warm. At least none of the humans did.

Atticus had his body suit and a set of boots and took either the fourth or fifth position in the conga line of trail breaking. We did our best to flatten out the trail to make it easier for him. But we were going so slow that he wasn’t moving fast enough to keep his core temperature up and he started to shiver. At one point I picked him up to warm him but once we started and then slowed again he was back to shivering and so we turned back. We had made it less than a mile in an hour.

On Saturday we didn’t bother hiking because I knew it would be futile for him. Instead we spent the day scouting various trails. Unfortunately, even those trails with numerous vehicles at them were not always packed out. As a matter of fact, far more folks failed at reaching summits than succeeded on Saturday.

The Pine Bend Brook trailhead had several cars there and it turns out 15 hikers took turns breaking out the trail but only made it the 4 miles to North Tripyramid in 7 hours! Similar stories of futility played out throughout the Whites.

On our 4-hour driving tour of the Whites we stopped in North Conway at For Your Paws Only. I carried Atticus in and let him choose from an assortment of dog treats. He chose several. The woman behind the counter said, “Hey, I know you two. I read about you in the Mountain Ear.”

As plan after plan was dashed upon the rocks I ended up calling it a weekend on Sunday morning and we returned to Newburyport to work on The Undertoad so I can get it to press early and return to the White Mountains early on Tuesday in search at least somewhat broken out for Atticus.

I have no aversion to breaking trail and have even come to enjoy it, but this stuff is deep and the going is slow and Atticus cannot stay warm enough to be comfortable so the strategy is to continue hunting for trails that were broken out.

By the time we get back up there on Tuesday we will have gone a week without a summit and there will only be 29 days left of winter. We have our work cut out for us.

As for the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, I’m hoping to find that somehow, by missing a week’s worth of hiking we got what we needed. Although I have no idea what that may be, other than to learn patience.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Photos of Carrigain and Garfield posted.

Photos have been added from the Monday hike to Carrigain and the Tuesday hike to Garfield. Photos from both hikes can be found here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Garfield; February 13, 2007

On Tuesday we hiked a 4,000-footer for the fourth day in a row. This is a record for us. And I'm happy to say that even though the last four days have been windy and cold we are both doing just fine. On Tuesday we hiked Garfield, one of my favorite mountains. It has breathtaking views of Franconia Ridge, the Twins and down into the Pemi Wilderness. Today's summit temperature was - 15 degrees and was very windy (just check out Atticus' eyebrows in one of the photos). With the storm coming in and predicted to be dumping major snow in the Whites, we've returned to Newburyport for a day or two and then we will be back on our quest.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Carrigain; February 12, 2007

Today we hiked Carrigain. In a trend as of late, it was just myself and Atticus. And while I have gone on record as saying that East Osceola is my least favorite peak for the way it torments me, I'd have to say that Carrigain is a close second. Carrigain is the peak we climbed on the first full day of winter this year. It was a beautiful day and probably the best day of winter so far. Today, as you can tell by the photos looking at the summit and from the summit, it was rather gloomy and dispiriting. The blue skies came out as we reached the flat land. Last year this hike really was tough for me in the winter and I think it took us 11 hours. Today was a different story. We were on the trail at 9:00 am sharp and 14 miles later we were off at 3:40 pm.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Moriah; February 11, 2007

Today, we hiked Moriah. The ledge walk over the last 1.4 miles to the summit offers beautiful and unique views of the Northern Presidentials and Washington. However, the best shot of the day may have been the Pressies at sunset during the car ride home. Photos are here:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tom, Field, Willey: 2/10/07

We had a cold but beautiful day walking along the three mountains that make up the Willey Range. Great snowy corridors to walk through! And we were protected from any wind. Photos posted at Tomorrow is Moriah.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Two Goals this Winter

(Atticus on South Twin earlier this winter.)

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
~ Sir Edmund Hillary

Atticus and I have two goals this winter: to climb mountains and raise money for the Jimmy Fund. You can't help us with the climbing, but you can open up your wallet for a good a good cause. To find out how to donate just click on the donation link to the side.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tripyramids; February 3, 2007

Beyond the steep ravine on the Pine Bend Brook Trail on the way back to the car, Atticus and I bound happily along. It was late Saturday afternoon and while I strode through the naked, brown forest along the beaten path, Atticus padded ahead of me in a jaunty dance, his Muttluks slapping softly against the firm snow. In contrast to the stark white and brown beneath and surrounding us, peach blossom clouds floated easily through a powder blue sky above. We were in good spirits and it was a wonderful way to spend the last mile of our hike to the Tripyramids and back. How could we not feel light and airy under such a sky?

The end of a hike can often be overlooked or even dreaded, considered pedestrian or tedious. But I like the long wind-down from the day’s adventures and there are treasures to be recounted at the end of the day. There are no more worries; there is no more stress. It’s like sitting comfortably in a rocking chair on the porch as evening approaches, sipping something cold and sweet and taking stock of the day.

When it’s just Atticus and myself, I often start our hikes in a completely different mindset and lug with me the baggage of childhood. I once read a broad statement from a mythologist that the American Indians considered the greatest sins to be that of doubt and distraction. Those are the sins I’m most guilty of at the beginning of a hike.

To be perfectly honest, I harbor misgivings about nearly every hike when it’s just the two of us. In my family, we weren’t brought up to believe in ourselves or to flourish or rise to the occasion. Better to not be seen nor heard in this great, big world. Don’t get me wrong, I think my parents did the best they could and gave a lot of things to us that many other children never would be blessed with but confidence wasn’t one of them. And so the beginning of many of my hikes is a journey through the thick and tangled undergrowth of doubt and distraction and the murky shadows of childhood. Talk about bushwhacking.

Hike the Tripyramids? Not so easy, at least not in my mind’s eye. Starting out I wonder if I’ll be able to handle all that awaits us on any given hike, especially in winter. The child in me says, no. And so each hike is a battle with the me I was brought up to be and the man I am.

Once the work starts I struggle with my breath and with moving up the mountain. There are times when I gasp for breath and lean forward, my arms extended to hold onto the trekking poles while my head dangles between. There are times I think it has more to do with doubt and distraction than it does fatigue. I look up at a steep section and I say to myself, “There’s no f---ing way I can do that.”

Slipping and sliding up through the drifting snow in my MSR’s through the ravine on Saturday was one of those moments. I tried to convince myself not to look up, instead keeping my head down and just trudging along. I know I can handle discomfort, but add doubt to the equation and I’m nearly sunk.

Go figure, in the past year I’ve hiked the Tripyramids five times now, twice in the past three weeks and yet still there are moments in the beginning of each hike when I wonder if I’ll be able to do it. Somehow I outlast those doubts and always make it.

I relish in the beauty of my hikes, whether it is in a foggy forest or standing atop a peak looking out on the world from heights I only dreamed of ever doing. And yet each hike is more to me, more than checking another mountain off a list, more than just a communion with nature or with a little black and white dog, it is an exercise in pushing beyond what I was taught to believe about myself. The writer Richard Bach has a wonderful line in Illusions: “Argue for your limitations and surely they are yours.”

Sometimes I think Atticus picks up on my doubt and hesitates. And he likewise picks up on my celebratory mood in having vanquished the ghosts of childhood and the challenges of at least this day. Perhaps that’s why I relish the ease of the end of a hike. It’s a bit of taking stock on what we’ve accomplished throughout the day.

On Saturday we traveled under that beautiful soft sky back to the car and the daylight kept us company. On Thursday we had a later finish and a mile road walk under a brilliant full moon. On Sunday we got a late start for Isolation and were on the trail at noon. Because of that we walked along under the same peach blossom clouds and the same soft blue sky before night fell upon us like a comfortable blanket and by the time we returned to the car at 6:30 we were under the protective gaze of the brave Orion and stars so numerous it made my heart ache.

I find excitement and nervousness within at the journey’s beginning and comfort and reassurance in the return. For me, each hike is more than just a hike. It’s a journey within, and the higher I go, the deeper I go. There is an ancient school of thought that we are born close to perfect and life’s years tears us down. The journey in life, I sometimes think, is the experience of reclaiming, of losing the garden and then finding our way back to it again.

When I hike with others I often enjoy the camaraderie, the storytelling, the shared adventure. But when it’s just Atticus and me, well, there are challenges and along the way it seems I find out more about myself and uncover much of what twenty years of a sedentary life helped me to forget. Walking out under that beautiful painted sky on Saturday or under the stars poking holes in the darkness on the very next night I get to relive the day’s hike, but more than that it seems like I lay claim to a part of myself long lost and in those carefree and bouncing strides it’s like I’m coming home again.

Photos from Isolation Posted

In winter, Isolation is such a treat when there are views. You walk for miles without any views, get a few before the summit, then when you climb the short and steep spur path you're treated to one of the best views in the Whites. Isolation also gives a unique perspective on Washington and the Southern Presidentials. You don't get to see this same angle from another 4,000-footer. Because of the frigid cold we didn't stay on the summit very long and I took the photos in a hurry and literally while walking off the summit. What I enjoyed as much as the view of the mountains was the way the blue sky took over and lent contrast to the mountains. The photos are here:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Isolation; February 4, 2007

A frigid but relatively easy hike to Mt. Isolation brought beautiful views of the Southern Presidentials and Mt. Washington. Up above is Mt. Monroe. We didn't stick around on the summit for very long due to the bitter cold.

Marty Basch's (February 4, 2007) Concord Monitor Article on Tom & Atticus

Dog days of winter
Ryan & 4-legged friend hiking 4,000-footers

By Marty Basch

Tom Ryan was driving to the White Mountains from the North Shore of Massachusetts to do some hiking a few months ago. His radio tuned to a Boston all-sports station, he zipped up I-93 listening to an all-day fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. By the time the station petered out in Plymouth, he knew he had to make a call.

"I've had several friends with cancer and some of them have died," Ryan said over the phone from his Newburyport home.

So Ryan, a 45-year-old newspaper publisher, came up with his own fund raiser: Winter Quest for a Cure. He is trying to tackle all 48 of the White's 4,000-foot peaks this winter, while hiking with his compact, 20-pound miniature schnauzer Atticus M. Finch.

On the day of the winter solstice, Ryan and Atticus joined a small group of hikers in the parking lot of Cannon Mountain for a cold and windy night hike up the Peabody Slope to the summit of the first of what could be all 48 4,000-footers for Ryan and Atticus.

The man and dog story began in May of 2005. That's when Ryan weighed more than 300 pounds. He wasn't a hiker. He wanted to lose that flab and was introduced to hiking. The first year of schlepping up mountains with a willing Atticus, the two climbed the 48 4,000-footers in 11 weeks.

So the tag team set out again last winter, trying to scale those same peaks during the subfreezing, dark, snowy and icy days of winter. They fell seven short. So Tom and Atticus did the 48 again last summer.

The two are going along at a good clip. As of Jan. 31, the pair had already climbed 38 peaks, including three of them twice.

The 250-pound man can fly.

Also, don't tell him he can't do something. That is also part of the inspiration for the winter quest. Plus, Atticus isn't exactly a winter breed.

"I love the idea of endurance and doing things people tell us we can't do," Ryan said. "That drives me."

The two not only hike by themselves, but also with friends. Ryan also chronicles the two- and four-legged adventures on his website

The two have traveled extensively over the region's hiking trails, tackling peaks like the Wildcats and Carter Dome, the secluded Bonds, the long trudge up Carrigain and popular Moosilauke.

"I think I'm compelled by the mountains themselves," Ryan said. "The more I get up there, the more I see a whole mystical world up there, especially if you are there on your own."

Not only does Ryan need his winter gear like snowshoes and crampons, but Atticus has his own equipment, too. He's got boots for his little paws and a body suit that's a bit like what a scuba diver may use. It is fleece-lined apparel with neoprene on the outside. On packed trails, Atticus tends to scamper ahead of Ryan, but the quick-thinking dog let's Ryan break trail when the snow is deeper - deeper than Atticus is tall.

Stream crossings are a challenge for Atticus. He, according to Ryan, doesn't like getting wet, even with his high-tech suit. Ryan will either carry Atticus or sometimes the dog will follow along in Ryan's footsteps, crossing from rock to rock.

But Atticus likes the views. He sits at many summits and appears to be gazing out, enjoying the wide-ranging vistas across the Northeast.

"He obviously gets something out of this," Ryan said.

There has been much joy on the trails, but also trying times. No matter how many times he climbs it, Ryan has no affection for Mount Osceola from the Kancamagus Highway side. It isn't terribly long, but is terribly steep and that always exhausts Ryan. Though winter can be cruel with its tenacious cold and wind, Ryan does have to plan his jaunts so that Atticus isn't put in harm's way. When they head out, they often climb several peaks in one day.

With each step, Ryan and Atticus become familiar with the White Mountains. There is such a love affair, or addiction, to the mountains that if the two make their winter 48, they may press on.

"If we finish, then we'll keep on going," said Ryan.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tripyramids; February 3, 2007

(Atticus on Middle Tripyramid)

Fresh snow, beautiful views, cold, crisp air. Our second trip to the Tripyramids (North and Middle) within a few weeks was a special jounrey. This time, it was just myself and Atticus as we reached the halfway point of winter with our 41st and 42nd peaks.

Photos can be found at: