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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

We Want You!

Don't look now but the beginning of winter is only three weeks away from tomorrow. Some time after 1:08 am on December 22nd Atticus and I will be starting our Winter Quest to do the improbable: hike each of the 48 4,000-footers twice in the 90 days of winter and use it as a fundraiser for Angell Animal Medical Center. It is my experience that many of you who plan to donate by dedicating a peak have a tendency to wait to do so. However, this is our most popular fundraising mechanism but once a mountain is hiked we cannot collect money for it later. To clarify, it is our goal to have someone dedicate each of the 96 peaks so I'm hoping to get to people to make their dedications on the first round before winter starts. Then the second round will be filled in as more people find out about the quest as it goes on throughout the winter and press coverage picks up. Therefore, if you are planning on dedicating a mountain for us to hike in your pet's honor, or in the memory of a pet that has passed, please don't hesitate. We don't need the money until the end of the winter. However, we do need to fill in the available mountains on the first list. So please consider making your dedication now before we start. And if you cannot afford to make this donation to benefit the Angell Animal Medical Center (or even if you can) please forward information on this site to as many animal lovers as you possibly can on your email list. Thank you in advance. And for an idea of what Angell does, you can check out this video. And you may want to check out this link on "Why Angell?".

My Editor

It's the last day of the month and my injured calf has flared. I really wanted to hike today with tomorrow's temperature slated to be below zero with the wind chill factor and with up to a foot of snow coming between Sunday night and Monday. Instead I'm relegated to doing work at my desk. For those of you who want to know if Atticus has anything to do with my writing, the above photo shows that he keeps an eye on things in his regular perch while I'm writing. For your viewing pleasure, the hairy little editor as seen in the above photo has instructed me to link to each of our slide shows put to music. You will find them on the sidebar lower down on the page.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Snowing

It's noon and I've stopped what I was doing to make some cocoa. This is what it looks like outside my kitchen window. (Once you click on it, that is.) The background noise is the sound of the Pemigewasset River, which is hiding behind the cabin you see, and eventually flows down into the Merrimack and out to the Atlantic right by those of you in Newburyport.

Weather Or Not To Go

I cannot stress this enough. So much depends upon the weather while up in these mountains, especially above treeline. On a previous post (Dying On Mt. Washington) you get to see the results of accidents, but more often than not bad choices being made. Typically, what happens when someone runs into bad weather up above treeline is that they set a date, circle it on their calendar and decide that's the day they're going to do a big hike. I can understand this course of thinking because most people have fixed schedules and can only hike on certain days due to their jobs, family or other commitments. However, there still needs to be a back up plan.

The first thing we check every morning when hiking is Mt. Washington's Higher Summit Forecast. It's even more important when hiking with a small dog whose breed is not typically made for winter hiking. Now mind you, it's not even winter yet and this is what this morning's forecast calls for:

In the clouds w/ snow developing. Wind chills 5 to 15 below zero.
Highs: around 20°F
Wind: S shifting W 60-80 mph w/ higher gusts

In the clouds w/ a chance of snow showers. Wind chills 25-35 below zero.
Lows: around 0°F
Wind: WNW 60-80 mph w/ higher gusts

In the clouds with a chance of snow showers. Wind chills 15-25 below zero.
Highs: upper single digits°F
Wind: WNW 60-80 mph decreasing 45-60 mph

What this translates to? We're not going above treeline for the next couple of days at least.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Perfect Holiday Gift

This holiday season you could buy your dog a rawhide chew toy or your cat some catnip as a gift. Or you can give a meaningful gift that could make a difference and help save the lives of other animals. By dedicating a mountain your donation goes in full to Angell Animal Medical Center and towards the treatment of animals in need. On the right is a picture of Jacob. He's Donna M. Gagnon's dog and she has dedicated Mt. Lafayette to him this winter. When Atticus and I hike Lafayette for the first time this winter we'll do it in Jacob's name and the money Donna contributed will go to a good cause. Sounds better than a rawhide chew toy, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's With The Clouds?

It was a very gloomy day weatherwise for a hike in the Whites. Each summit was draped in heavy clouds and that's one of the reasons I chose Tecumseh for our afternoon hike. However, on the way down the clouds lifted, just as we got to the viewpoint that abuts the Waterville Valley ski slopes and we were treated to a wonderful light show on and over the Tripyramid's. The slide show may beg the question, just how many photos can one man take of the Tripyramid's? Actually, I found myself sitting down on the slope to watch and see just what the clouds would do and I found myself paying more attention to the clouds than the mountains. Our timing was impeccable for as soon as we left and re-entered the woods a small but furious snow squall blew down upon us until we reached the car. The slide show can be found here.

What's With The Trees?

Today we hiked Mt. Tecumseh. (That's the summit above in the video.) It is the shortest of the 4,000-footers, sharing that distinction with Isolation, with a height of 4,003 feet. However, the hike to the summit of Tecumseh is only 2.2 miles while the hike to aptly named Isolation is more than 7 miles. For most, being the shortest in height and trip distance, Tecumseh can be an afterthought. But for me, well, I've always enjoyed this summit. There's something special about this mountain. Tecumseh was my first winter hike ever and I had an unforgettable summit experience on that day. And that is why these trees on the summit mean something to me. It goes to show you that each of these great mountains, no matter how "small" they are compared to the others, have the ability to touch us.

Does Atticus Have A Say?

I often hear the question, “Does Atticus have a say when it comes to winter hiking?”

It’s a valid question.

On every hike, each decision along the way is made with Atticus’s safety, well being and enjoyment in mind. For instance, today the rivers are up a bit due to yesterday’s rain and while if hiking by myself I would consider some of those crossings, with Atticus, I’ll avoid them.

A couple of weeks ago we showed up in a very cold and windy Crawford Notch to hike the Willey Range. It felt very much like winter, that’s how cold it was. While standing around getting ready and chatting with a couple of other hikers I know Atticus let out a rare but excited howl. It was his way to say, “I’m so excited to get going!”

A couple of years ago he and I had to turn back on a rough trip in late winter to Mt. Isolation. The snow was deep and we were exhausted by breaking trail. We were behind the 8 ball in trying to reach the goals I had set for us so it was very important for us to get some peaks the next day. The next morning we showed up in Pinkham Notch with the goal of hiking Middle Carter, South Carter and Carter Dome. That was my goal. However, Atticus had other plans. It was clear he didn’t want to go. Typically, when I grab my backpack out of the car he’s ready to go and very excited about it. But on this particular cold winter day he decided he didn’t want to get out of the car. Decision made. I got back in the car and we drove home instead.

On a couple of other occasions we have shown up at trailheads and once we got out of the car it was clear Atticus didn’t want anything to do with the cold and the wind and so we just turned around and left.

But Atticus isn’t the only one who gets to cancel a hike. I also get the option. Each morning we get up in the winter I check the higher summits forecast from the Mt. Washington Observatory. If it doesn’t look good we go to Plan B (Plan A is to get above treeline) which is a more reasonable hike. Plan C holds if the weather is even worse and includes a few well-protected hikes. And Plan D, well, that means we cancel.

There are even times when we’ve started a hike where we turn back. This past winter we were fighting through deeper snow on a hike to Cabot and on another to the three Carters and two Wildcats. In each instance we had others with us and the trail breaking through the fresh snow was going slow but steady. However, when it goes this slow and we are moving slowly on a very cold day Atticus can’t keep his core temperature up, even with his body suit and boots on. In both instances it was difficult to tell the others we were with that we were turning back but it was the right decision to make.

Hiking with Atticus, especially in winter, means putting him first and foremost.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dying on Mt. Washington

Today was supposed to rain so Atticus and I sat it out. I have another reason not to hike today since I've been dealing with a balky calf muscle and I'd rather take the time to heal it up before winter starts. Once winter starts the pace and the schedule will be quite hectic. One doesn't hope to get through 96 peaks in 90 days without such a schedule. It is especially so when you consider all the days that will be lost to inclement weather or deep snow. So while I stretch out my calf until Sarah George and Tom McFadden have a chance to work on it when we are back in Newburyport a week from this Friday, I'll share with you and interesting link to the Mountain Washington website. They have a page dedicated to the numerous deaths that have taken place on the mountain. To view this fascinating page click here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's Official

I guess it's true...we do live here. My new license plates came in the mail this weekend. And yes, like many of those who reside in the "Live Free Or Die" state, I have chosen vanity plates for the very first time in my life. And for those of you who are not hikers or simply are slow on the uptake, the "48" refers to the number of 4,000 peaks in the White Mountains. (I think you know who "Atti" refers to.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What A Face!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! This fine face and soulful look belongs to Domino. This winter Atticus and I will be heading out to Owl's Head, an epic 18 mile round trip in what promises to be one of our more challenging hikes. However, something tells me Domino will be there in spirit to help us on our way.

We are hiking Owl's Head in memory of Domino. Her owner, Kathy Patchen has donated to Angell in her memory and it will be our pleasure to log these miles for this great little dog.

On the dedication page Kathy writes: "Domino, I'm sorry for what I had to do. My heart will always be with you. You are my best friend, I'll see you someday."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This Is Buford And We Are Climbing Mt. Tecumseh For Angell Animal Medical Center In His Honor

This is Buford, a five and a half year old English Bulldog, and his friend and owner Susan Taylor Randall has dedicated Mt. Tecumseh to him. When Atticus and I hike Tecumseh the first time this winter, it will be in honor of Buford. Susan donated this peak in Buford's name. All the money raised through this donation goes to the not-for-profit Angell Animal Medical Center. Winter starts December 22nd and our dedication list is just starting to get filled. However, there are still plenty of peaks left to dedicate to the special member of your family. This Thanksgiving, wouldn't it be great to give thanks to the "friend" in your life by dedicating a mountain in his or her honor? Read all about it in the sidebar to the right.

Our Afternoon on Franconia Ridge

From the window in front of my desk I’m watching the snow softly falling. It was snowing heavier this morning and the pine trees outside are covered with a Christmas card-coating. The roads are a mess, even for up here, so it’s just as well we’re inside. I’ve been taking care of business while Atticus is curled up on the comforter snoring blissfully. Perhaps he is dreaming of yesterday.

Yesterday was a Blue Sky day. We started late and took our time crossing the icy rocks on the stream crossings, then with the dangerously iced ledges near the waterfalls on the Falling Waters Trail. There was a point where I had to hoist myself up on a rock using a fallen log that is wedged securely in place. We almost turned back here. However, by that point I had my Stabilicers on and they did the trick.

Once beyond the waterfalls we fell into our regular routine, with Atticus 20 to 30 feet ahead. It’s a constant. He moves easily while I plod upward. Sometimes, like yesterday, when I’m tired and feel like I’m moving even more slowly than I normally do, I count footsteps. “Just make 100,” I tell myself, “then take a five second break.” The trail was broken but not packed out and I found the other supportive muscles that usually just play a silent and accessorizing role came into play. There was the ache in the side of my gluteus, the twinge in my lower hamstring, the dull throb in my low back. It is in these painful moments that I find myself wondering just what I’m doing up here.

There are times in the midst of the struggle where I become toxic. My thoughts are littered with doubts and distractions and I feel like giving up hiking altogether. Mired in similar thoughts on the ascent of Hale a week ago I found myself taking numerous short breaks. However, on one break I stopped longer than usual. Fatigue got me to stop; but it was the silence of the November woods that kept me there. It was incredible. Sweet silence. Not the rustle of the wind or a bird song to be heard. Nothing. How often in life do you get to hear nothing? I fell into a peaceful appreciation of the woods, the kind I often forget in my uphill struggles but am constantly reminded of at times like this.

The same thing happened yesterday. A particularly steep uphill, loose snow underneath, and labored breathing got me to stop. It was the silence, the lack of anything whatsoever in my ears other than my own breath, that kept me there.

It is in these uphill struggles that I lose the pettiness of life and become centered squarely within myself. As if there is a choice. My breathing, my heartbeat, how I’m feeling, they all take center stage. Everything else evaporates. This occurrence itself, in the darkest part of every hike, is reason enough to leave the comfort of home and get out into the woods.

As morning follows night, there is always hope after struggle. The trail grew steeper but the trees werre shorter, foretelling of what is to come. Atop one large rock I stopped to gasp for breath, turned around to look down at the steep section we had just climbed and I gasped again, this time at the view of Cannon Mountain which dominated the scene like some huge hibernating beast curled up under a layer of snow.

After the pain of the climb came the awe. We popped out of the short, bedraggled trees and come face-to-face with even more awesome views. In light of the struggle to get there, the view is starkly emotional. It’s that beautiful.

There’s not another person in sight (and leaving the parking lot at 11:00 there was not another car in sight either so I figured we’d have the ridge to ourselves). Is there a more exciting and at the same time frightening moment? Here the world, the world that most will never see, is revealed as mountain after mountain stretches out before my eyes and I’m standing up here nearly shaking with excitement. There’s beauty and awe and the thought of being alone on the ridge with no one around for miles.

Part of me wishes I had another person to share this with but if someone were here we would ruin it all with words. Instead it is just Atticus and me. Without words there is silence even up here on the ridge. Not much wind at all. No birdsong nor whine of an 18-wheeler on the highway below.

I’ve brought my winter pack but only put on my windbreaker, light hat and gloves. I don’t even bother with Atti’s body suit or his Muttluks. It’s that kind of day.

I revisit the wonderful and familiar feeling of having a mountain to myself. I’m like a child in a candy store, not wanting to miss anything or leave anything behind. My eyes search the views hungrily; I’m snapping away with my camera and hoping this is not some dream but that we are really here.

Centuries ago Milton wrote: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” That’s exactly what I’m feeling…gratitude. This may well be another peak to check off a list, but it is so much more. It is, more than anything, a gift. Moments such as these help me get through the rest of my days when there are not such moments.

It was Emerson who pointed out that “Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual.” I need these moments of inspiration to help me overcome the rest of life, to make me remember the magic of life that often gets coated over and dulled by the grime of the mundane. For me that is what it is all about.

Struggles that existed on the climb up evaporate on the ridge. I looked at the time and realized we weren’t as slow as I thought and the climb to come up Little Haystack, Lincoln, Truman and Lafayette will be short-lived strife in comparison. I knew that even with all the “gasping for my breath” breaks I would have this incredible landscape to look out upon. No hurry. Just walk and enjoy.

Atticus and I set off towards Little Haystack. In front of us Owl’s Head slumbered, stretched out as if in a cocoon, and beyond are the Bonds, sunning themselves in the afternoon glow. Washington and the other Presidential’s are in the distance, shining brightly against the blue sky. To our left Moosilauke, the Kinsman’s and Cannon are dulled by the afternoon sun shining in our eyes but they are beautiful nonetheless.

This is one of the few places where Atticus gets ahead of me by more than 10 yards. He does especially well on the descent off of Lincoln (while I struggle), heading towards Lafayette. On this straight path I see him off in the distance, no need to call him back for he knows where he is going. He’s not running, just moving easily and freely. In the photos he appears as a black speck, his diminutive size made all the smaller by the contrast of Lafayette, glowing white with snow and afternoon glory, looming above him.

Recently, a trip report on the Views from the Top website talked about a steep climb up Mt. Washington. There was discussion on whether it was 4,000 feet of elevation gain (or something of the sort) when one hiker talked of the dog that was with them, “The dog did 8,000 feet” he deadpanned. I think that's the case with most dogs. But for some reason with Atticus is not an “out-and-backer”. He is a constant distance in front of me. I stop, he stops. If I sit or fall, he’ll come running back to check on me. But that’s it. Other than that he’s on his hike, I’m on mine. I get to a summit and he's waiting for me. He’s always within sight. It’s just up here on the ridge above treeline that he increases the distance between us, as if he is as intoxicated by the rare air and rare views as I am.

Our late start turned into a late afternoon treat. The glow of the sinking sun turned the snow to a soft golden white and while the temperature fell it appeared warmer because of the glow around us.

On Lafayette’s summit I sat down on the snow, my back against a large rock. Atticus climbed up on my lap and sat down and together we gazed for some 20 minutes out into the Pemi: no buildings, no roads, and no people to be seen. It was just us and the mountains. Atticus enjoyed some cheese while I had my second Stonyfield Smoothie of the day. Talk of a perfect way to end an afternoon: two friends enjoying the best that life has to offer.

After such an afternoon it was hard to say goodbye but begrudgingly we did. The descent from the summit cone came easily with enough snow to buffer the ice and rocks. We hopped into the western sun and were eventually greeted by an incredible corridor of conifers coated in thick white coats, made golden by the waning light: more gifts to take with us in our memories.
Halfway down the ridge known as the Three Agonies I donned my headlamp and snow glistened up at me like tiny diamonds as we walked on. But soon the moon climbed high enough and the stars grew bright enough for me to turn off the headlamp and we walked through the silent woods on the soft blue snow casting our own moon shadows. Through the naked woods there was Cannon again, this time above us, looking bigger than ever, that hibernating beast slightly pulsing so close to us my imagination saw its body rise and fall with each breath.

Our arrival back at the car came all too soon and so we lingered longer than normal. I picked up Atticus and together we looked up at Cannon and then back at the moon and the stars. A perfect afternoon had given way to a perfect night.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hello Mr. Blue Sky: An Afternoon on Franconia Ridge

Somethings are worth waiting for. As I've posted before, you take what the Weather Gods give you. Today it's snowing up here in the Whites and the next few days don't look all the promising. But yesterday...yesterday was a day worth waiting for. We went up above treeline following the popular hike up the Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack, then crossed Franconia Ridge over Lincoln, Truman and Lafayette. It was simply stunning. And although it was winter conditions, we still had the best day to be up here. The wind wasn't all that strong and the cold, well, it wasn't all that cold either. It was cold enough for me to wear a hat and gloves but not cold enough for Atticus's boots or his body suit. We saw not a soul all day. There's something great about having this ridge to yourself, even in winter conditions. Enjoy the photos by clicking here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Panoramic Shots from the Fire Tower in Hemenway State Forest

There is a short slide show of this hike here.

Elmer Fudds

It's hunting season up here which makes for an entirely different kind of danger on the trail, especially for Atticus, and we ran into a couple of hunters over in Hemenway State Park on our walk up to the fire tower. That is why Atticus has that yellow ribbon around his neck. It's a make-shift visibility "vest". As I said to our friend Christine, "He looks like a Thanksgiving Day present." (The top photo is funny in that it looks like Atticus is sneaking up on and hunting the hunters.)

Little Buddha

Thanks to Hailey Klein of Newburyport, Atticus has another snappy nickname.

I told a friend about Hailey's response to the "Why Angell?" slideshow (which can be found in the sidebar to the right) in which she wrote: "He is Buddha on the mountain, meditating for the world." His response: "He's Little Buddha."

"Little Buddha" is one of the more interesting things said about Atticus. Last winter, a hiker who goes by the moniker "7 Summits", referred to Atticus as the "Little Giant".

Through the last couple of years Atticus has been called a few interesting things. All of them positive. (I’ve also been called many interesting things, but most should not be printed in this forum.)

Yesterday we took a leisurely walk of a few miles (distance unknown) in Hemenway State Park over in the Tamworth area. Our friend Christine showed us around and up to a fire tower with great views of the Sandwich Range and especially Mt. Israel, Sandwich Dome, Whiteface, Passaconaway, and Chocurua. It was more of a walk than a hike but was still very pleasant and good to be out in the woods on a November day when the 4,000-footers were all draped in snow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Meet Trail

Yesterday was a rest day after three hikes in four days. Today is a rain day. No hiking, just laundry, shopping and other errands. As we wait out the weather, I wanted you to meet "Trail". That's her on the right. She belongs to Kim Dunham (or vice-versa, or maybe the best way to put it is to say they belong together). No matter how you put it, Kim is the Postmaster of the North Woodstock, New Hampshire Post Office and she has dedicated North Kinsman to Trail during our Winter Quest. What that means is that when we hike North Kinsman for the first time this winter, we'll be doing it in honor of Trail, Kim's hiking partner. Then, when the hike is done and it is reported on this website, Trail's photo will appear on this site since the peak was done in her honor. You too can dedicate a mountain to a pet you love, as Kim has done, or to pet you have lost, as others have done. Your pets photo will go on this website once that peak is completed, along with photos from the hike itself. And it's all for a good cause because every cent that's raised on these hikes is going to Angell Animal Medical Center. To follow Kim's lead and make a donation to this wonderful not-for-profit organization that helps thousands of animals each year, click here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Get Rid Of The Wagging Tail & The Smile And That's Him

This Harry Bliss cartoon was sent in by newly-elected Newbury-port Ward 4 City Councilor Ed Cameron. (Thanks, Ed, and congratulations on a stunning victory!) Let's just say I can relate to this cartoon. That's us in a nutshell. Although I would point out that Atticus is a stoic when he's up above me and waiting (and he has no tail). He stands or sits above or ahead of me, a usual 20 feet, with a stern look on his face, only returning to my side is if I sit down or fall down.

Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they are yours." ~ Richard Bach

We were only climbing these mountains for seven months before we started winter hiking. That was two winters ago. In that first winter we attempted to hike all 48 of the 4,000 foot peaks, nearly all of them by ourselves, leaving friends and family concerned and bewildered. This was new territory for us and no one expected us to finish them all and we didn’t, falling seven peaks shy. I could read it in their faces, seeing this 20 lb dog and this middle aged and overweight fellow, both novices, pitting ourselves against the bitter winter of the White Mountains.
Last winter we set a new goal: hike the 48 in one winter, but this time around we tried to do it twice. Again friends and family shook their heads. I can't really blame them. Who were we dto attempt such an audacious adventure? Some thought us brave, most thought us a couple of fools. We fell short of the goal of 96 peaks in 90 days by four hikes ending up with 81 peaks.
I'm not sure what compelled Atticus and I to get out there and up there. I went into those winters trying to push myself beyond where I'd ever been but also went loaded up with several fears, not the least of which is a fear of heights.

Now here we are again, giving it another shot---two rounds.

Some would say we don’t fit the description of what they expect out of a couple of winter peakbaggers. That's okay. In 46 years of living I have come to realize it’s not my job to fit someone else’s opinion of me and as long as Atticus is healthy and safe I don’t really care all that much what people think he should and shouldn’t be allowed to do up in these mountains. If you ever hike with us you'll see that he loves this and appears to be made for it.

The quote at the top of the page says it all. Like most of you I've struggled my entire life with limitations both self-imposed and those put on me by others. And more often than not I've allowed my path to be directed by those nagging doubts and distractions. But occasionally something comes along and you feel compelled to follow that dream or forever pay the price for not chasing it.

I can't say for sure what compelled us to be up here hiking, to change our lives so much so that we now live up here. I just know it was a passion that called to me and put me on a more genuine and pure path and my life was changed because of it. These mountains, they call to me and it appears they have a song the little guy responds to also. We may not fit the bill for what some would consider winter adventurers, but that's okay. As far as the quote on the top of this post goes, I’ll let others worry about limiting us. I to do my best to ignore those limitations. Being a dog, Atticus was light years ahead of me on this. He has never really worried about what others think. I’m just a bit slower on the uptake but I've come around.

With that said, I’d like to share something with you. It comes from my friend, Manford. In his email it states: This is a story about a guy, a guy like most of us, common, questioning his existences, measuring himself to others, never believing in his abilities or his worth. Then one day, his passion outgrew his fears as he stepped onto a stage, a stage that took him to a place beyond his self imposed prison. Watch the faces of the judges as this guy walks out on the stage. You can almost see what they're thinking as they pre-judge this guy based on his looks and the fact that he's a cell phone salesman. Maybe this guy stopped believing in what people told him for so many years and ultimately started listening to his passion.

This is not hiking related and I’m sure some of you may have seen this, but I cannot get enough of it and thought you might like it too. It's a good lesson in ignoring the constraints we allow others to put on us. Get ready to be inspired by clicking

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Some Days, It's Not That Pretty

Today we were on North and South Kinsman and we never escaped the clouds. On days like this, when it is raw and a bit windy you have to hold onto yourself. It's not that it's dangerous, it can be desolate and it can play with your head. The gray skies, the ghostly mists, the cold wind, they can lead you to believe you are alone in the world and while in reality you may be miles away from the next closest person it can seem even farther away. Two years ago, when we first started hiking in the winter this was one of the biggest challenges for me. It didn't seem to bother Atticus at all, but it played with me and on occasion it still does. This is one of the challenges of hiking alone so much of the time. Winter hiking can be beautiful, but it can also be a little lonely and has the ability to challenge the spirit just as much as it challenges the body. This video was taken today on the summit of South Kinsman and it gives you an idea of what it was like.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hail Hale

A late start today got us out of the door at 1:30 so the choice was to hike the short but relatively steep (relatively, I said) Mt. Hale (4,054 ft). It's not the most photogenic of all the peaks but today it was simply beautiful as we reached the summit clearing where the old fire tower used to stand (you can see blocks and rods in some of the photos). The sun was punching out, having worked a full day, and was kicking back, it's feet up and a beer in his hand, slowly lowering himself down behind North Twin. The sky gave us a great light show and it put Atticus in a playful mood. We took our time on the summit, playing, taking photos, and then just sitting together watching the colors brush across the sky. The slide show for this hike can be found here. (Any guesses on where the music comes from?)

40 Days Until the Quest Begins

Winter is inching closer, as is the start of our winter quest. Winter starts on December 22. The “rules” for winter peakbagging state that in order for a peak to be counted as a winter peak it cannot be done before the calendar winter starts, no matter the conditions at the time. These “rules” were set by Miriam and Robert Underhill, the first couple to ever hike each of the 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains. Since the Underhill’s became the first to complete the winter list in the early 1960s, more than 350 known hikers have been recognized by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s 4,000-Footer Committee. (In that same span only one known person (Cath Goodwin) has hiked each of the 48 twice in one winter as Atticus and I am attempting to do this winter.)

Last year winter started at 7:21 pm on December 22nd. At about 7:25 a large group of us started our ascent of Cannon Mountain. This year winter starts at 1:08 am and we’ll let it pass without getting out of bed for a hike until later that morning.

What will we hike on that first day? Don’t know. In winter it’s all very different and it’s best if you don’t plan too far ahead. During the 90 days of winter, each day we get out of bed and have four options for a hike:

1) Above treeline on the best of days. These are rare in winter. We start the day by checking the Higher Summits Forecast at the Mountain Washington Observatory. If the temperatures are okay and the winds mild we’ll head for the higher peaks. This did not happen until the third weekend of February last winter.
2) Not above treeline, at least for most of the hike but still higher peaks such as the Twins or the Carters. On these hikes there may be some exposure, just not miles of it as there is on Franconia Ridge or the Presidential Range. Most of our hikes fall in this category.
3) Hike something shorter and protected from the elements on colder, stormier or windier days. This list includes hikes to mountains like Tecumseh, Hale, Waumbek or Cabot.
4) Sleep in if all is not good. This is an important option for Atticus and me. No peak is worth dying for.

In short the rule of thumb is easy: hike what the Mountain Gods invite you to hike.

Each winter hikers are rescued for a variety of reasons but one way to minimize the chance of having to be rescued it by paying attention to the weather. Mt. Washington may claim to have the worst weather in the world, but if you wait until the right day to hike this potentially dangerous peak it can be a wonderful and safe experience. The key to this is not being married to plans. They are subject to change each morning we set out. This is particularly true when hiking with Atticus. Why put a dog who weighs around 25 lbs at risk and in discomfort? Besides, keeping him safe also keeps me safe.

Between now and then the goal is to hike three to five days a week, lose some weight (me, not him), get in better shape and build up our endurance.

And, of course, there is the other goal. This winter we’re raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center. As you read along and follow our adventures this winter, please keep in mind that Atticus and I are raising money for this amazing non-profit animal hospital in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. There are various ways to pledge but one of the neatest is to dedicate one of the 48 peaks we’ll be climbing to a favorite pet in your life, or one you’ve lost. If you choose this way of contributing please send a photo of the pet we’re hiking for and as we do the peak we’ll post a trip report, photos of the hike and a photo of your pet on the website. It’s a great tribute to one you’ve lost but still love or one that is still romping along with you.

Every year Angell Animal Medical Center brings hope to thousands of animals and, more specifically, their human families and friends. They gave us hope when we had none earlier this year and this winter we’re using our Winter Quest to say thank you to Angell.

With winter approaching there will be more posts so please follow along with us as we gear up and get ready to go. Also, it would be appreciated if you would forward our blog address to all your friends and family. So read it and pass it on.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Winter Up High

Winter doesn't start until December 22nd, but we were given a glimpse of it on Saturday atop Mt. Jackson. Atticus and I were joined by our friend Christine for this hike under blue bird skies. And speaking of birds...we ran into a Gray Jay down low and then three bold Gray Jays up high on the summit. Always good to run into them as they are a treat to be around. Here are the shots from our day.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Three 4,000-Footers and Our Tribute to Papelbon and the Sox

We felt an early nip of winter on the Willey Range today as Atticus and I hiked three 4,000-footers: Tom, Field and Willey on a 10-mile hike. A fine day with good company as we ran into two hikers we know, John and June, and did two of the three peaks with them. We ran into a Gray Jay on Field, as we always seem to do, and then on Tom, as we always seem to. A fine day all-in-all. Here is the slide show from our latest hike (which has a little tribute through the music to the Sox and Papelbon).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Cannon Mountain: November 2, 2007

That's Atticus sitting on top of Cannon Cliffs gazing over at Lafayette and Lincoln on Franconia Ridge. The slope leading up from the right is the top portion of the Three Agonies. Cannon Cliffs is the only reason we ascend Cannon Mountain on the steep and horribly eroded Kinsman Ridge Trail. It is one of my favorite places in these mountains. It sits atop of what used to be The Old Man of the Mountain. The lighting was strange today. Not a cloud in the sky but plenty of glare, as you will notice in the photos. Instead of descending the same trail Atti and I walked down the steep ski slopes, something we've only done in winter. It proved to be a good choice as it gave us different views over at the craggy mountains across the way. The slide show from this hike can be found here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Tale of Two Videos

"Oh, the wild joys of living!
The leaping from rock to rock..."

Robert Browning had it right. I've posted a little video above from our recent hike up Tecumseh. This is on the Sosman Trail that runs from just below the summit over to the ski area. It's nothing special, but it does give you and idea of how well Atticus maneuvers over and around the rockier trails. The second video is not ours but from MSPCA-Angell. "A Day in the Life of the MSPCA-Angell" appears on their website and gives you an idea of the organization Atticus and I are raising money for this winter (in case you don't know much about them). You can view their video by clicking here.