Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Our New Poster: Soon To Be Seen In Locations Around The White Mountains, Boston & Newburyport

To help us feel free to click on this image to make it full-size and then print it out and place it in public places around your work or community.

Only 29 Peaks Open For Dedication

This is Natasha, beautiful Natasha. When we hike Middle Tripyramid for the second time she'll be one of the dogs we'll be hiking in memory of. In order to make a donation to our cause, and remember, every cent goes to Angell Animal Medical Center, just check out the border to the right on how to make a donation. If you would like to dedicate one of the remaining 29 peaks to the pet you love or one you have loved in the past, check out our Mountain Dedication page. And for you checking in from work, if you own the business consider making a corporate donation. If you don't own it, tell your boss about us. And if you work in a big corporation, let the suits know all about us.


I’m taking physical inventory this morning and I’m happy to report I am all here. Other than a couple of skin issues (blister, chafing) I have recovered nicely from the Bonds Traverse. As a matter of fact, if it had been a blue bird day yesterday---it wasn’t, it rained---we probably would have hiked. Atticus is doing extremely well showing no signs whatsoever of the long hike.

The blister is my own fault. When I ran marathons a lifetime ago I used to put a thin layer of Vaseline all over my feet. I typically do the same before a long hike. For whatever reason, I didn’t do this the other day and ended up with the blister on my left fore foot. It shouldn’t be a problem.

Today’s forecast looks good, tomorrow looks a bit stormy. So I’m thinking the Kinsmans today, but don’t hold me to that because you can already tell I make up my mind on the way to the trailhead quite often, and an off day tomorrow before a run of good days for hiking. Sunday we’ll do something that gets us back to the couch and the television before the Super Bowl but other than that I’m open for most anything, depending on the weather and conditions.

Yesterday’s rain iced up leaving the snow with a good crust. I will bring my crampons for the next few days, just in case, but will most likely try to get by as I nearly always do with my snowshoes and microspikes. It will be interesting to see what the conditions are.

As far as the Bonds Traverse goes, one down and one to go; in trying to do all 48 twice we’ll have another go at this. I’m just not sure when as of yet. The Bonds is always a true test in winter and one of those hikes considered one of the biggest challenges. Here are the others:

Owls Head- An 18 mile round trip over several stream crossings with a climb up an icy slide in the last mile. It is in the Pemi Wilderness so doesn’t get broken out all that often.

Southern Presidentials- I include Washington in this group and on the day we do Washington we’ll also do Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce. As always, this is a challenge due to weather above tree line.

Northern Presidentials- This tough hike includes Madison, Adams and Jefferson and is one of the most dramatic in the Whites. It is more taxing the Southern Pressies because of the elevation gain and terrain. (On the rare occasion I felt up to it, I would possibly consider a Presidential Traverse that would knit together all the Presidentials but that would be in round two.)

Franconia Ridge- Yes, we already did Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty and Flume, but we have to do them again in round two.

Bonds Traverse- Round two; you already know what this entails.

Isolation- It is aptly named. Several stream crossings, unless you get lucky and follow a well stamped out bushwhack. This is just south of Mt. Washington. Not a lot of elevation gain but again, it is isolated.

Carters & Cats- These peaks are on the fare side of Pinkham Notch. I don’t have the mileage in front of me but I’m thinking about 17 miles to cover Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A & Wildcat D. The true challenge in this one is climbing all the way down into Carter Notch after Carter Dome and then willing myself to climb all the way back up the steep trail to Wildcat A.

Twins & Galehead- Three peaks but to get to them you need to do some water crossings that have to be frozen. That hasn’t always been the case this winter. This route is about 15 miles, I do believe.

And there you have it. Those are the more difficult hikes we have left and they all have to be done twice except for Franconia Ridge and the Bonds Traverse. That’s the bad news. The good news is two-fold. Typically, with most of these hikes, we get several peaks. Secondly, now that we have 31 peaks under our belts we are better physically equipped to handle these hikes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Music & Lyrics: Our Current Music Contest Is Afoot

For those of you who have contributed any amount of money whatsoever this winter to Angell Animal Medical Center through our efforts, the current music/slideshow game is ongoing. If you're new to this, the winner is the first person to correctly guess the name of seven song titles and artists (or composers if noted) from the music used for our hiking slide shows. The first winner was Joyce Coady, who won our first set of 10 Tom & Atticus greeting cards. The current game started when that one ended and is now five songs old. Once you get seven correct titles and artists (they don't have to be consecutive, meaning you can miss one or two and still have a chance) email me right away. The first person to get seven correct this time gets a generous gift basket from the Natural Dog (it will be suited to either a dog or cat per your wish). It will be sent to you if you are not near Newburyport. The Natural Dog is owned and operated by Jeff & Dawn Price and for the second winter in a row they are sponsoring Atticus' nutritional needs. The current game started with our second Tecumseh slide show on January 16th. Here are the current slide shows for this game, the list of course will grow until there is a winner:
  1. Coming soon...

Hale Was Hiked For Boomer

Zealand Was Hiked In Memory Of Abigail, Marty & Hannah

West Bond Was Hiked In Memory Of Rufus

Bond Was Hiked For Baxter

Bondcliff Was Hiked In Memory Of Benjamin

Bonds, Zealand, Hale Slide Show Is Up

Here's the slide show from our Bonds, Zealand & Hale traverse. More to follow on this hike later. A quick synopsis, however: long day...24.5 miles, some deep drifted snow from Bond through Guyot made for slow going. Relatively comfortable day. Started just after 6 am and finished about 8 pm. We will sleep well tonight and into tomorrow. The little guy handled this hike much better than the big guy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bonds, Zealand,Hale Completed

We started at about 6:10 am and finished at about 7:50 pm, approximately 24.5 miles later. Slide show will be up in a little while and tomorrow I'll catch up on the website with everything else. (Above photo is of Atticus on West Bond with Bondcliff in the background.)

Bonds Traverse A Go

We're leaving in 15 minutes. Freezing rain starts approximately between nine and 10 tonight so hope to be done by then. We're off. I'll check in when we are back.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bonds Traverse: Take Three

This morning, while talking to a friend on the phone, he referred to me as hiking's version of Mitt Romney for changing my tune and cancelling this trip once again (due to high winds). Ouch. I am happy to report my priorities are in place, however, and they start and finish with a little dog who shouldn't end up in Belmont because some gust of wind carries him off of Bondcliff. So tomorrow we are set to try again. The Mt. Washington Observatory calls for warm temperatures and mild winds for above treeline. Kim Caston will be dropping Atticus and myself off at the trail head in Lincoln Woods sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning. Atticus and I hope to be back at our waiting Honda Fit sometime before 9:00 tomorrow night, beating the incoming storm by a couple of hours. Stay tuned. Yours truly, Mitt. (By the way, both photos are from the second Bonds traverse we did last winter. Both are of Atticus on top of Bond. First shot is of him looking at Bondcliff. Second, looking at West Bond and Franconia Ridge behind that.)

Nature: Finding My Religion

I am selective about my reading. The writers I enjoy are varied. I’m not a follower; have a hard time reading a book because others say it is great or because it is on a list.

People often tell me, “You’ll love this book!” More often than not I don’t.

The books I enjoy, often by stumbling over them, are those that give wings to my own thoughts and act as a bridge to the world of new experiences. Perhaps I read about them or find an excerpt or maybe it is by perusing a bookstore leisurely, reading an opening sentence that sometimes (bur rarely) gets me to read the opening paragraph. If I get through that and am still interested there’s a possibility I’ll invest myself in that book by reading the entire thing.

When The DaVinci Code exploded on the scene it took me three tries to get through it. The concept fascinated me but the words; they were not orchestrated as a symphony would be. The book was written without the passion it deserved. Or maybe it was and the author simply lacked the emotional depth to convey it. The writing was made for the Wal-Mart mind, or so it seemed.

I find great pleasure in writing that is passionate and clean. A great phrase in a great sentence in a great paragraph ignites something within me.

This does not come from some high educational standards I set for myself for I was a poor to average student and very lazy. There were things that excited me, however, but I didn’t find them in a classroom or in a book my father made me read as a child. My father has been a voracious reader through the decades, although his age and eyes now limit the number of books he reads. He loves Robert Parker, especially the way dialogue moves the story quickly along.

He urged all of us to read. No, he forced us to read. I rebelled. He would make us sit down in front of him with a book and read it to ourselves. I hated this. I hated it so much I would sit there with an open book and pretend to read it, going as far as turning the page every couple of minutes.

What I did find interesting were great words. When my father was out of the house and I was alone as all my brothers and sisters had moved on, I would steal to the shelf above the doorway to his bedroom and reach up for the thick book in the blue jacket, “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”, pull it down and read through some of those great words with one eye on the page and one eye on our little dead end street. My willful side did not want him to catch me reading, and so I stole moments and stole words learning and feeling remarkable things.

My father was powerful, he was controlling, it took me years to realize what I hated was not the written word, as I always thought, but being forced to read. Or being forced to do anything for that matter.

The books I love are those that move me and lift and sink me. I want to feel the words as they enter me and when words can touch me like this I am more alive and more likely to carry that into my own life.

In a letter to Oskar Pollak, Kafka wrote the following: "I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us….We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”


I would only add that I also want books that raise us up, that help us to ascend.

If something is being written without passion I have no need to read it. I have no desire for it. To me words and stories are too beautiful to be wasted. They are art and soul and the spirit with which they were written should still be tangible when reading them.

My books...I rarely loan them out because the pages are dog-eared and sentences and paragraphs are often underlined. I live in a book, work with it, extract what touches me. My book collection would be considered by some to be abused, but I disagree. I think of the books I love and read as was well-used.

The other night, while close to the borders of sleep, I came upon a paragraph that stirred me enough to get me out of bed to find a pen to underline it with:

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time---the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes---when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever---there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” (John Irving, A Prayer For Owen Meany)

Through this “feeling” I get when reading something beautiful I discovered a bridge that connects my reading to my spirituality. Just as I do not want to be told what to read I reject being told what to believe in. In my spirituality, just as in my reading, I need to be moved. I need to feel it.

I love Emerson, whom I first encountered in my father’s Bartlett’s through my stolen glances. His words sing to me, touching me within and compelling me to reach out. Of all of his quotes the one that resonates with me the most is the one that gave me insight into my religion: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?”

Roddy Doyle once said that reading Irving’s The World According To Garp gave him the permission to write the way he wanted to, to break the rules he was taught about storytelling. With that quote, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave me permission to leave behind the church…all churches and all religions, and experience things the way Jesus and Buddha and Mohammad experienced them and to build my faith in much the same way they did, through “an original personal relation to the universe”.

Recently a friend asked me about religion. He wanted to know why I would write of God but not go to church or be religious. I told him simply that it is my belief that religion is man made, man’s interpretation of what God intended, of what God created. It is my belief that to live the life I wish to lead I have chosen to forego someone telling me what to believe or how to live.

What does this have to do with hiking and the mountains and Atticus?


Whenever I leave behind the paved road and dissolve into the woods I cannot help it, I am finding my religion. The slow march up a mountain towards the sky and the wind and sometimes the stars is to me a meditation unlike any other I have known. The kinship with the trees and rocks, the earth or snow is enough to move me. To make me feel one with what I was supposed to believe in when going to church or Sunday school.

Emerson captured this perfectly: “Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

And what of Atticus? Where does he come in? Who better to guide one in the natural world than one more attuned to it than my very human self? But there’s so much more to the role that Atticus plays but I think I shall save this for another time. Perhaps later tonight.

Friends We Have Never Met

When we hiked the Willey Range the other day we ran into several individuals and groups who recognized Atticus. Perhaps the most pleasant on that day was Dave Ehringer of Rochester, New Hampshire, a regular reader of this blog. It was nice of him to introduce himself and equally nice to chat with him. Last night he sent along an email with the above photos he took. That's Dave with the beard. I find it interesting that thoughts and words and a common love of the mountains can bring warmth even on a chance meeting with a stranger on a cold mountain range in the middle of January. Even the fictitious Garp noted that a writer does not crave other writers, but readers. It's nice to be read. Dave probably doesn't understand how much his greeting meant to us but I can assure you it is nice to see friendly faces out there, even those of friends who we have never met. I thank him for his email and his photos and hope we run into him again. Thanks for reading along, Dave.

Bonds Off For Today; Rescheduled For Tomorrow

I pulled the plug on the Bonds Traverse again this morning. In peakbagging circles I'm not as aggressive as some would like but those others don't understand I hike with a little dog I will not endanger if at all possible. Got up this morning to see the winds were higher and than we want for the exposed part of the Bonds traverse. It was cold and windy when I took Atti out this morning for his constitutional although it is a day where we could hike something less exposed. However, my car is parked some 20-something miles away and I don't want to bother our friends to go get it with me only to have them help me out again tomorrow. So the plan is to leave it there and then do the traverse tomorrow when the winds and temperatures on the higher summits will be downright balmy (relatively speaking).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Federico Garcia Lorca

Give me back the soul I had
Of old, when I was a child,
Ripened with legends,
With a feathered cap
And a wooden sword
~Federico Garcia Lorca

These words are taken from within a Lorca poem. I think they are beautiful and they have something to do with our Bonds traverse planned for tomorrow. The thought arose in me when I received a private message from a thoughtful couple on one of the on-line hiking sites. Just figured I would share them with you before heading off to sleep and then to hike. But more about this in the coming days as it is already past my bedtime and Atticus is already snoring and taking up the better part of the bed.

The Numbers Game

Today’s off day is as good as any to check out how we are doing so far when it comes to the challenge of reaching all 48 4,000-footers twice in the 90 days of winter.

This coming Thursday marks the end of January. Last year at that date we had 38 peaks done. If tomorrow’s hike goes well we’ll have 31 peaks done with three days left in January. After our long traverse it makes sense that we won’t be hiking on Tuesday, but Wednesday and Thursday are possibilities. If we can hike either of those days, we’ll be doing okay considering the strange conditions we’ve had this year with all the snow, then with the melt and then the ice.

I have set a conservative pace due to my leg, which is feeling much better than it was, the weather and snow conditions, and the flu-like feelings of the past week.

If I went into winter knowing we’d only hike on back-to-back days on two occasions and one where we hiked three days in a row and knew that my leg would be better and we hadn’t taken any unreasonable chances I’d be okay. Believe me, I’d much rather have 48 peaks right now, but we’re doing okay; we’re in the game.

Last winter we didn’t have the snow we have had this winter. It wasn’t until Valentine’s Day that we had snow of any consequence. And when checking on last winter’s calendar, after that storm we only were able to hike five more days in the month of February. In all we were able to hike 12 days in February. However, mild weather at the end of the month helped add to our totals as we ended up with 27 peaks during the month.

There is no way of knowing what will or will not come in the way of snow accumulation this coming month, but it’s clear that we’ve already been slammed this winter and it’s good to know we are not too far behind where we were last year. If we are able to hike Wednesday and or Thursday of this week the numbers could be very promising compared to last year.

As a reminder, we ended up with 81 peaks last winter, but that was only four hikes shy of completing our goal and we went into the last eight days with only four hikes to do. We ended up being turned back by the weather and weren’t able to hike on any of those last eight days.

The important thing for me in chasing after this improbable goal is to be safe, smart and to put us in a position where our goal is reachable if the weather cooperates. So much depends upon health; so much depends upon weather and conditions as you’ve already seen if you’ve been following along this far.

Knowing what I know now, it’s fair to say that I’m not unhappy with our total if all goes well tomorrow with our hike and we pick up those five peaks.

This Is Benjamin & Bondlciff Is His Mountain; Which Mountain Will You Donate To Your Friend?

As we shoot to do the Bonds Traverse tomorrow, the first peak we’ll reach is the beautiful Bondcliff. In this first round it is dedicated to the memory of Benjamin. That’s him up above there. He was Madeleine “Maddy” Monat’s dog. This is what she wrote about him:

In memory of "Benjamin, my very first dog, and the strongest hiker I have ever known. He weighed about 33 lbs and was a Beagle/Schnauzer mix (so they thought). He is also the reason why I started hiking and camping way back when. Ben was one incredible mountaineer. Although he needed a boost now and then on the steeps, there wasn't anything he couldn't handle. He always hiked (ran) off leash and there was no holding him back. If I hiked 10 miles, he surely did 20+. On arriving at our destination, he would leap out the car window and get moving. He wore a bell because I was so worried that he would get lost. Never happened. In fact he led me out of the woods when I got lost on several occasions. He lived to almost 15 years of age and hiked 6 miles on the Lincoln Woods trail the week he died. He could no longer climb but still loved to walk. He lives forever in my heart and is sadly missed."
And that reminds me to remind you that this Winter Quest of ours may be a marathon-like effort to get 96 peaks done, but it’s also a fund-raising event for Angell Animal Medical Center. There are various ways to donate but the most popular is dedicating one of the peaks that has not been dedicated to a loved animal yet. To find out more about our fundraising check here. To find out which peaks have not been sponsored click here.

And remember, even if a peak has been hiked and it hasn’t been sponsored yet, we still need a sponsor for it. We need a sponsor for all the peaks.

In doing this, you will not only be contributing to a great cause, you will also be forming a connection between you, your pet (alive or passed on) and one of the incredible 4,000-footers of the White Mountains. It will be connection that will last forever.

Bonds Traverse: Take Two

A rest day today; not for resting up from yesterday but for resting up for tomorrow's Bonds Traverse, Take 2. Still feeling a bit fluey so I thought it best to relax today, replenish fluids, eat well, and get to bed early. I've already dropped my car at Zealand Road and Atticus and I will be dropped off at Lincoln Woods somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 tomorrow morning where we will start our long walk back to our car 24.5 miles away. In the course of the hike we plan on traversing Bondcliff, Bond, West Bond, Zealand and finally, Hale. Not sure how long it will take. Probably anywhere between 12 and 15 hours. The maps and the path we will follow is described here, only in the opposite direction. We were going to go from north to south, now we'll go just the opposite.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Little Bug & I Hike Tom, Field & Willey Today

Along the way to hiking three 4,000-footers today, we ran into several parties who recognized Atticus. One woman exclaimed, “He’s remarkable!”

Isn’t it funny how we don’t always recognize the ‘remarkable’ because it’s in our life on a daily basis?I love my four legged friend and always will try my best not to take him for granted and yet today and recently I was doing just that. After that comment I looked at him anew again. This woman’s comment refreshed my view of him.

It’s easy to forget he was going blind this past spring. It’s easy to forget he tested positive for hyperthyroidism twice and I was told this was a sign of thyroid cancer and the prognosis didn’t look good. It’s easy to forget while watching him on the trails today that he was laying on his side in Dr. Grillo’s office while a specialist shaved strips of hair off his chest and belly so he could ultrasound him, looking for tumors he expected to be there.

I was told to be ready for the worst. It was all foreign territory for us.

Luckily we have friends; friends who were there to support us with love and friendship and even money to help pay his vast medical bills.

Today, I hiked the second part of our hike thinking of those dark days and contrasting them with this wonderful day we reached our 24th, 25th and 26th peaks of the winter.

I should never forget what the Little Bug has gone through and what he’s capable of. When I consider all that he is, all that he’s been through and what he helps me to do, I think I’m but one-tenth the creature he is. And aren’t we both so lucky to have this time, this winter to go on this great adventure? Aren’t we lucky to have this life to share when we were lead to believe it would be over?

The slide show from today’s hike can be found by
clicking here.

Wind Postpones Bonds

These are the conditions on Mt. Washington at 8:00 this morning. This is the reason I put off the Bonds Traverse for a least one of the reasons. The wind is a little bit strong for me to be taking Atticus along the highly exposed Bondcliff, Bond, West Bond and Guyot. I had expected the wind to be a bit lower today from earlier forecasts. As you can see from the bottom of the diagram, tomorrow's forecast looks much more promising when it comes to the wind.
Another reason to put off this long hike is due to strategy. The next few days are not going to be perfect but they are good hiking days. Hiking the 24.5 miles today would assure that Atticus and I would not be hiking for a day or two after due to recovery. By putting off the Bonds today I can do something like Tom, Field and Willey and get more peaks without losing a good hiking day.
I got up at 5:00 to check the Higher Summits forecast on Washington, saw it was not looking like I had hoped, went back to bed and slept some more. Now it's time for me and the Little Bug to get going. Have a good day.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Route For The Bonds Traverse

Using the finest White Mountain map there is (, I've scanned the route of our proposed Bonds Traverse hike. It wouldn't fit in one image so I had to use two images. Both run from north to south. The upper image shows the starting point in the upper right hand corner where the red 'P' is showing near Zealand Campground. As I stated, the road is closed in the winter. Then follow the road to the Hale Brook Trail to the summit of Hale. Then follow along the Lend-a-Hand Trail to Zealand Hut. Then it's up Twinway to Zeacliff and eventually Zealand summit. From there it is up to Guyot where the Twinway intersects with the Bondcliff Trail. From there it's over to the spur that leads to West Bond and back, then up to Bond and down to Bondcliff. Then the Bondcliff Trail descends off of the peaks and into the valley where it hits the Wilderness Trail for 1.8 miles before coming into the Lincoln Woods Trail that leads down to the Kancamagus Highway. (The later part of this description can be picked up on the second map, which is but a continuation of the first.) Keep in mind that we may reverse this route and go south to north, starting in Lincoln Woods and finishing on Zealand Road. Please note that mileage is listed in red ink along each trail. You may have to click on each map to enlarge it enough to see the numbers.

Coming Tomorrow: The Bonds Traverse

(The photos are of two of the Bonds. The top photo is on the summit of West Bond. The second photo is on Bondcliff.)

I have decided to attempt a Bonds Traverse tomorrow. The Bonds Traverse is one of those longer hikes known as “death marches” by some who write about these mountains.

In the summer this hike leaves the Zealand trailhead up north and bisects the Pemigewasset Wilderness ending in Lincoln Woods on the Kancamagus Highway just east of Lincoln. It is 18.5 miles. In the winter, however, Zealand Road is closed to traffic so this becomes a 23.5 mile hike. (For those of you who don’t know the trails, the starting point is not too far away from Bretton Woods.)

We’ll be making an additional stop along the way, heading up Hale Brook Trail to Mt. Hale, then taking the Lend-a-Hand Trail to Zealand Hut. There I will refill water and double check the higher summits forecast before heading up Zealand, over Guyot (not considered a 4,000-footer) and onto West Bond, Bond and then finally Bondcliff. From Bondcliff we are home-free; but this is this is where the true death march comes in. It’s a relatively downhill and then flat walk in the woods for a little more than nine miles.

With Hale thrown in there is an additional mile added to the hike and an additional 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

The Bonds Traverse is one of our most challenging hikes and we’ve waited for this particular day to do it as the weather looks storm free with bright sunshine, light winds and weather between the teens and mid-twenties.

It will just be Atticus and me tomorrow. Although we will have some help by the way of Ed Hawkins and his group of hikers. They will also be doing the traverse but will be parking some of their cars at the Zealand lot tomorrow before driving back down to Lincoln Woods and starting at about 6:30 in the morning and coming the other way. I’ll meet Ed and his group at 5:30 in the morning where I will give him my keys and car to Ed to drive down to Lincoln Woods where it will be waiting for me and the Little Bug.

Yesterday I did not feel well and I decided not to push it because of the prospect of the Bonds Traverse on Saturday. Instead I slept in, took flu medicine, then drove down to Concord to visit our friends at the EMS where I picked up a few needed supplies. When we returned to Lincoln we just hung out for a little while before getting to bed early, again with plenty of flu medicine in my system. When I awoke this morning I checked tomorrow’s forecast and then contacted Ed Hawkins and made arrangements.

Just how long this hike will take I cannot say. Last year it took Tom Jones, Atticus and me about 15 hours (without adding in Hale), but after getting above the hut we were caught in a snowstorm that left us out there in the middle of the Pemi Wilderness with hip and waist deep drifts of snow and the wind blinded us and made for slow going. It was by far the most difficult hike I had ever done. Later in the winter, on a perfect day with the trails well broken out, it was just Atticus and myself and we added in Hale and another two miles (long story) and it took us somewhere between 10-11 hours.

Tomorrow’s higher summits forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory is:

In the clear under mostly clear skies. Wind chills 35 below early, improving to 15 below.
Highs: Rising to mid single digits°F
Wind: NW at 30-45 mph, decreasing to 15-30 mph

Washington’s summit is about 1,500 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Bond, the highest peak we’ll be on tomorrow. Therefore the temperatures will be more comfortable than that and the winds will be a little less than what is being predicted.
Once on the Bonds there are no bail out options other than heading back to Zealand Hut, but the hut doesn’t allow dogs. This is one of the reasons I have to be careful about which day to hike this. Once we are out “there” there is no escape.

As far as trail-breaking goes, I’m told Hale Brook Trail is broken out up to Mt. Hale and that the Lend-a-Hand Trail is also broken out to the hut. From the hut up to Zeacliff it is well broken out but not as well broken out to Zealand itself. Then from Zealand across the Bonds will not be broken out most likely. However, we will encounter Ed Hawkins’ group somewhere along the Bonds coming from the other direction and there is a chance that there may be some others staying at the hut over the weekend who will also be trying to get to the Bonds so this could help us by making the trails even smoother.

I think we will take one more day of rest today to get ready for Hale, Zealand and the Bonds. Wish us well. (Of course, as always, this is all subject to change.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sylvia Plath Got It Right

"Winter dawn is the color of metal,
The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves."

~ Sylvia Plath, Waking in Winter

Sylvia’s got it. That’s the way it was yesterday and the way it is again today.

Up here there are days too beautiful for words, the brightest of bright blue skies, the whitest of white snow landscapes. But then there are days like yesterday and again like today. The sky is indifferent, unyielding, a bruise that has lasted for a long time.

I have grown to understand that what challenges most up here is not so much the physical test nor the snow conditions but the mind and the spirit within. Looking up at this dull gray sky this morning that “is the color of metal” there is little incentive to get outside and climb a mountain or two or three.

But I must remember that’s what happens up here in winter, especially in the Notch where we live. It can be gray and forbidden here but bright and blue and sunny just a few miles out of the Notch.

This weather affects me, as it affects all, all but the animals I think. For Atticus seems upbeat and ready to march uphill. Yesterday he had escaped the malaise I brought uphill with me and ended each of our hikes with a bouncy jaunt as happy as if the first balmy day of spring had hatched.

Yesterday was indeed mournful out there. Towards the end of my first hike, coming off the Mt. Cabot Trail, there were men with big trucks loaded with logs. The beginning of the trail has been scraped clean of most trees and looks like a scar on the earth, especially during a gray January day. The men had finished and were leaving as we approached. The only trees that remain standing are birches and in the winter wind they swayed and sang to me their dirge. I could not make out the words but the sentiment was clear to me and I felt it through and through. Even in the cold and the wind and my own ache and tiredness I felt compelled to stop and listen to their song. It went through me and I shall remember it for as long as my mind is sharp with memories.

In winter the battle is not only with the weather, it is also within. The goal is to motivate myself out the door and up a peak when I’d rather sit inside sipping tea and stay warm in a sweater listening to Mozart or Beethoven. Even when it is not in the head but also in the body. I continue to way whether or not we will hike today but think we probably won't and will instead get ready for a better weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two Different Hikes; Two Different Peaks: Cabot & Cannon

When we finally made it out the door this afternoon I was feeling a bit weak and spiritually torpid. By the time we reached the trailhead for the Mt. Cabot Trail the day matched my mood and the way my body felt as dark clouds swallowed all the sunshine, swirling winds kicked up snow in miniature tornadoes and an occasional snow squall. We had the pleasure of running into Ed Hawkins on the trail, the third time that has happened this winter. Atticus and I eventually made the summit by simply putting one foot in front of the other. On the summit the sun did come out but to be honest, it did nothing to raise my spirits. (No inspiration today, so no slide shows either.)

We were driving back to Lincoln and I was feeling just as unmotivated as I have been the last few days and the sun had now set leaving us in the dark. What to do when you're not feeling quite right? I walked into the fire and parked in the parking lot for the Peabody Slopes at Cannon Mountain. We started up the peak by way of the slopes, once again, one foot in front of another, me moving slowly, Atticus looking at me like I was lacking for wits. Then the snow started, a strong squall parked right overhead and unleashed large flakes on us.

Like I said, it was just one of those days. I wasn't about to let my aching body stop us on Cabot and I wasn't about to let the snow stop us on the steep climb up the slopes to the summit of Cannon either. It wasn't pretty but we made it without being run over by any of the groomers and the snow did eventually stop.

I'm glad to be home, glad now to be getting ready for bowl of soup, a cup of tea from Licorice & Sloe and an early trip to bed. Two more peaks down. Total for the winter is now 23. (Top photo is of walking through the lower woods on Cabot Trail. Second photo is a deplorable self-portrait atop Cannon. You can tell my mood by the tint of the photos.) By the way, Cannon was hiked for Kim & Rick Caston's cat 'Cannon', named for the peak.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Not Today

Today I just didn’t have it. Got a late start and headed out to hike but realized my heart just wasn’t in it. I’ve felt out of it the last 48 hours. Last night we didn’t go to Cannon and instead I was in bed earlier than normal feeling a little flu-like.

This morning we got up with every intention of hiking but as the day wore on I just couldn’t bring myself to it, even after packing up my gear, getting dressed in my hiking garb, and starting the drive for the trailhead. Instead we returned to the apartment and crawled between the sheets and fell asleep again.

It’s clear I’m fighting something. I’m loading up on the vitamins and fluids and sleep. I got up for dinner and will be back in bed soon enough. I’m not sick yet, don’t have the flu; I just don’t want to get it.

Tomorrow I do plan to hike.

4,000-Footers Of The White Mountains

Here's a location map for those of you not familiar with the 4,000-footers of the White Mountains. This will give you and idea of where each of these peaks are. Our home base is in Lincoln on the western portion of the map, just a hop, skip and a jump down the road from Liberty and Flume and North & South Kinsman. (Thanks to Steve Smith for the permission to use it as it came from within the pages of he and Mike Dickerman's 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains book.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Four Peaks & A Dead Poet: Our Franconia Ridge Trip Report (My Latest Submission To The Northcountry News)

For the first two hours of our hike on Thursday, Atticus and I moved through the undulating ups and downs of the lower woods and then the steep hills climbing up over what is known as the Three Agonies on our way to Greenleaf Hut, a mile beneath the summit of Mt. Lafayette. For me the Agonies are aptly named as I sweat and swear and pray my way up and over each of them.

I understand why they are called the Agonies, but little Atticus, well, it makes no difference to him as he stopped and looked down at me with patience, and perhaps a little pity, as I leaned forward on my trekking poles and gulped air.

Once we reached the hut, which is closed in the winter months, we were met by an icy wind. We sought shelter from winter’s bite on the north side of the building. There I added a layer of clothing on my upper body and for the first time this winter put Atticus in his body suit.

The mile from the hut to the summit is difficult for me. I take it easy, move slowly, stop often to breath and swear and pray again. Once the trail popped out of the brush I stopped and removed my snowshoes, replacing them with Kahtoola Microspikes, for the trail was no longer snow-laden but a bony bed of rock and ice and small patches of snow.

Here, in this remarkable section of desolation, where the rock is ages old, I was battered by the wind. It kicked flecks of snow and ice up like breaking waves and they flew at my face as the wave curled and then broke. For his part Atticus is small enough to walk “below” the wind, taking shelter on occasion behind the large rock cairns marking the trail.

I thought about turning back but buoyed myself with, of all things, a poem by Tennyson. Each time the wind kicked up small waves of ice and snow and bared its teeth I thought of the opening stanza of the poem "Break, break, break":

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.”

For that is exactly what I was feeling. The wind and ice and snow were like waves battering the rocky edifice of the mountain. There was not another person in sight, no sign of life at all other than Atticus, and the sky was a muted gray with a dull sun that appeared to turn its back on us.

Inside I felt a marriage of fear and of excitement. The first thought was, “My goodness, what are we doing up here?” The second was, “I’ve never felt so alive!”

My words don’t do it justice, but Tennyson’s do, “And I would that my tongue could utter the thoughts that arise in me.”

To be left without words, rendered speechless in this mysterious place, in these powerful conditions…just how often do any of us feel so overwhelmed, so out of breath with excitement? When we are younger it happens all the time. Not so much when we are middle aged, however. When faced with such a moment I try to take a moment to look around and say, “This is my life!” And I say it just like that, with an exclamation point. That in itself makes the adventure worth having.

I find such moments and challenges in life are all too fleeting, too rare. The alternative may be to be safe, but it is also numb. I choose instead the adventure.

I relished my fear and the excitement with each step, carefully placing my feet between rocks, testing the bite of the small spikes on occasional plates of ice. Before too long we had gained the summit and while tired from the climb there was exhilaration. Here the universe stretches out all around. There are higher places in the world, even higher in these White Mountains, but from the summit of Lafayette, it doesn’t seem that way, not with the Pemigewasset Wilderness dropping off to the east, Franconia Notch to the west, and the fading ridge that runs to the south.

On this day, with this little dog, under a frowning sky with no other sign of life around it felt as if we were the last people alive on this world. That’s part of the thrill of being up here. It’s testing myself not just physically, but leaving the safety of home, leaving behind a good book, the comfort of a good friend, the safety of my warm bed, or the delight in a hot cup of cocoa. In its own way it is leaving the Garden and experiencing life on the edge.

I will forever be inspired by the gumption and spirit of this little dog. Here in the face of winter, while I harbored my human doubts and fears and challenges, Atticus did as he would do in summer, he reached the summit, looked around, and then took a seat at the summit sign to have his picture taken.

Another of my favorite poets, Whitman, had it right when writing about animals in “Leaves of Grass”: “I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self contain'd, I stand and look at them long and long. They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.”

I swear that Atticus gives me strength. Here on this lonely and desolate peak (at least on this January day), he gave me courage. By watching his calmness, his sense of belonging, even in the wildest of conditions, I gathered myself up, steeled myself and took photos and then moved on.

And so the decision was made, not to turn back. Instead we moved into the wind and south along Franconia Ridge. Climbing over the little bump in the trail known as Mt. Truman, we set out for Lincoln but beyond Lincoln the sky was changing. High above flat clouds were forming, but below a wonderful undercast made it appear as though we were about to take a walk on the clouds. In the distance a fine line of blue between both layers of clouds mocked the dismal gray above and below.

I am happy to report that the Microspikes preformed admirably and I felt safe with them. I carried my crampons and my snowshoes on my pack but needed neither one, even as we climbed to the icy top of Lincoln. Once here the sky grew even more dramatic, the undercast was creeping beneath us like a long, bloated beast. Oh, it looked so thick and real I felt as if we could step right off the ridge and walk across to the Kinsmans upon its back. To watch it move through Franconia Notch like that was breathtaking. It had stolen some of our views but offered up others just as amazing.

After descending off of Lincoln we ran into the only four people we would see on this day. They were coming from the other direction.

When we reached Little Haystack I decided to do stick to our original plan and we moved forward towards Liberty, descending into the woods for the nearly two mile stretch of down, down, down, before a short but steep up. On Liberty it was just as icy and the sky even more forlorn while the wind jeered us for our impertinence. Then it was down off of Liberty, down again and then a mile later up again to the summit of Flume. Here we were stuck in a cloud and neither Atticus nor I took much joy in being there. Perhaps it was just our physical tiredness that left us feeling flat and uninspired. Or perhaps it was the prospect of returning to Liberty, with 550 feet of elevation gain along the way.

Once off of Liberty we made for the Liberty Springs Trail and descended easily on a well-packed bed of old snow. Almost four miles later we were at our waiting car, happy to have four more peaks under my belt.

I thought of Tennyson’s poem again on the last stretch of the bike path before getting to the Flume parking lot. His poem is about appreciating what’s around us today, about living in the moment.

The rest of the poem goes like this:
O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill:
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags,
O Sea!But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

To me, a man of limited abilities and a limited lifespan, there is value in his words and they remind me why I am up here, why I go where I used to be afraid to go when I was more afraid of heights, of cold and wind, of being alone. Life is temporary, it’s important to gather these treasures as we may.

I’m 46 years of age; just how many chances for adventure do I have left even if I chase after them for all the rest of my days? And these days of adventure, they make the other days, the more peaceful ones, even more soulful.

After almost losing Atticus last spring I look at things even more richly than I did before. I consider myself lucky to be able to enjoy both the adventure and the peace and to have a courageous friend to share them with through our wordless bond. Some day I think I shall look back on these days and all these peaks and all these miles and this little dog and I will think of the way A.A. Milne ended “The House On Pooh Corner”: “Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

A Nice Surprise

What a nice surprise. Today, in her blog, Beth Maddaus writes about how she and her husband Charlie stumbled upon Atticus and me on Carter Dome and Mt. Hight a year and a half ago.

Beth’s blog is one of my pleasures each day. I love the homey feel and all the links to various websites, especially the Writers Almanac. But you can check out all that stuff for yourself by
clicking here.

A Death On Mt. Washington

Sad story today on about a fellow who died on Mt. Washington this weekend. Here it is:

Experienced climber dies on Mount Washington
Hiking alone, caught in ravine avalanche

By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / January 21, 2008

Peter Roux spent his work days in an office at the Memphis headquarters of International Paper and found his escape in hiking, his wife said yesterday.

The 39-year-old Lewiston, Maine, native and University of Maine graduate, who had twice scaled Mount Washington with his wife, Ann, came to New England on Friday to meet friends. He had been hiking alone in the mountain's Huntington Ravine when he failed to contact his companions as expected that evening, authorities said.

Authorities say the experienced climber's body was found atop a debris pile Saturday morning, the result of an avalanche, in the first hiking death on the famously treacherous mountain since 2004.

"He loved nature," said Ann Roux, 39, also a Lewiston, Maine, native who met her future husband when they were freshmen at the University of Maine. "He just liked the views, and he started [hiking] to get a workout."

In a telephone interview from her home in Memphis, she said her husband did not take excessive risks."He was not a thrill-seeker," she said.

New Hampshire's Mount Washington is famous for its extreme weather, with hurri cane-force winds coupled with sub-zero temperatures regularly recorded at its iconic observatory. It also is a popular hiking destination, where the US Forest Service maintains an avalanche center, which issues daily updates on snow conditions. According to the US Forest Service, the posted avalanche rating for the gullies in Huntington Ravine on the mountain's east side was "high" on Friday, meaning natural or human-triggered avalanches were likely.

On Friday morning, Roux left Pinkham Notch, the starting point of several hiking trails, with plans to climb Odell's Gully about 3 miles away in Huntington Ravine, his companions told investigators. A storm with wind speeds of 60 to 70 miles per hour and gusts at Mount Washington's summit of 86 miles per hour pounded the mountain throughout the day, packing unstable snow onto Odell's Gully, according to a report of the accident posted yesterday on the avalanche center's website. After friends reported Roux overdue, Forest Service snow rangers began a search about 10 p.m. Because of concerns about the snowy terrain's stability, search teams did not enter the ravine until Saturday morning. Roux's body was discovered at 7:15 a.m., 400 feet below Odell's Gully.

The Mount Washington Observatory provided a snowcat, a vehicle used for travel on snowy terrain in blistery conditions, to transport rescuers. Investigators determined that during Roux's climb, a snow slope fractured, causing an avalanche that carried him amid its debris.The avalanche center's accident report suggests Roux may have triggered the avalanche by encountering a pocket of unstable snow.

"He was a very good hiker," Ann Roux said. "This was a freak accident." The couple had been married for 15 years, and had previously lived in Jay, Maine, and Erie, Pa., before moving to Memphis. They had no children.He worked for International Paper for 18 years, most recently as manager of finance, Ann Roux said.

She said she worried for his safety, but not any more than when he traveled on an airplane."It's natural to worry," she said. "But it's not any different than a business trip."

Funeral plans were pending, she said. Services will be in Lewiston, Maine, on either Friday or Saturday, she said.

More than 130 people have died on the 6,288-foot-tall Mount Washington since 1849 for numerous reasons, including falls, avalanches, hypothermia, and natural causes, according to records of the Mount Washington Observatory. Most recently, a 28-year-old man from Southbridge died in a fall in Huntington Ravine's Yale Gully in January 2004, and a Vermont man died in a fall at adjacent Mount Clay in March of that year. A Canadian man died of a heart attack on Mount Washington in August 2006.

John C. Drake can be reached at
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

What A Little Moonlight Will Do

The moon is nearly full. I saw it last night, in the cold, cold midnight hour when I took Atticus outside before we went to bed.

We had spent the morning and an hour and a half of the afternoon on the 12.4 mile hike to Garfield’s summit and back through frigid temperatures and fresh powder up high. We spent the afternoon and the evening getting the chill out of our bones.

Last night, when I looked up at that moon, it could have been minus 50 degrees and I wouldn’t have felt it. It was that beautiful, that warming. It was then I knew we wouldn’t be hiking during the day today. It is cold again, in the single digits again. But that’s not why we are not hiking under the uplifting bright sunshine and the blue, blue sky of this winter day. Instead we are hiking tonight…under the full moon.

We’ll take the short but steep hike up the ski slopes of Cannon Mountain after the skiing is done and the slopes are closed. At Wildcat they allow hikers to use the side of a trail or two. At Cannon they don’t. Even in the summer they have the slopes roped off to hikers. But when they close and the only company to be found will be the large grooming machines and the snow making guns, it’s a don’t ask/don’t tell proposition where they don’t seem to mind…so long as you avoid the machines.

It will be a relatively quick but painful hike. Steep is always painful for me. But it just goes up, up, up until we reach the top in less than two miles. It will be frigid again tonight, but it’s frigid right now anyway. But tonight, tonight he and me will have the brilliant company of a nearly full moon and the magic of the night.

There is another reason we’ll take the short but steep hike to the top of Cannon Mountain tonight instead of hiking today. Yesterday it was very cold. Very, very cold. Poor Atticus is so small that I believe by waiting an extra 12 hours to hike it will give him a little extra time to regenerate whatever the cold took out of him.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Garfield Slide Show Is Now On-Line

You can check out the extremely cold hike we made to the summit of Mt. Garfield today by clicking here.

Garfield Was Hiked For Dazy Dog

Garfield: January 20, 2008

Yes, I know I changed my mind. No Tom, Field & Willey today. Blame it on the Patriots.

Atticus and I left the apartment a wee bit later than I had hoped and on the way to T, F & W, I passed the Garfield parking lot. It's so much closer than T, F & W and with our semi-late start I decided to go with the 12.4 mile hike to one summit instead of the 10 mile hike to three summits.

We started the hike at 7:30 and were done six hours later. I'm no speed demon and never will be but this was a good, fast hike for us today and a good sign that my leg is coming along nicely.

I have to tell you, this was one cold day! It was the first time I hiked this winter with two layers on for all of the hike and three on for at least half of it. Also the first time I wore gloves and hat the entire hike. I cannot tell you the temperature we experienced on this one but another hike reported that it was minus 7 degrees on the top of Pierce with + 15 mile winds.

Someone had hiked this trail yesterday but due to last night's snow there was anywhere between two to eight inches on the trail. The higher we went the deeper it was. However, the higher we went the bluer the skies became, too. In the beginning we walked through a dreary early morning gray and snow flurries. Up high the sky was incredible, as were the snowy trees.

As it turned out we were off the trail 90 minutes before kick-off. Go Pats!

An Early Start

When it is early and cold and dark like it is right now there is little incentive to get out that door. At an hour like this even Atticus is not excited about getting out the door to whatever awaits. Instead he lays on the bed Sphinx-like, watching me, wondering just what I'm doing in the dark. It's as if he is saying, "Shouldn't we be sleeping still?" Ah, but Tom, Field and Willey are waiting and so is the Patriots game (3:00 pm). My plan is to be on the trail at 7:00 am and home by 2:30 at the latest. Heck, didn't we just start the Tecumseh hike the other day at 2:30 pm?

When it is like this, it's hard to imagine life outside in the dark and the cold. These are the times when my imagination takes me to being the only life around. I've always said that hiking in the sunshine makes all the difference in the world. On a cloudy, snowy winter day you can feel bereft of all joy. It's a Dementor thing. But break out the sunshine and my spirit soars. Ain't no sunshine today so it's time to make myself get out that door.

See you this afternoon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Excuse The Heavy Breathing

This is a little video I did on the last bit of the approach to the summit of Lincoln. I post it for the person who recently emailed me and said, "You make it look so easy." Believe me, it's not easy. At least not for me. Part of what makes this good entertainment I think is that if I can do it pretty much anyone can do it. Think about it: I'm middle aged, have a double chin, am not an athlete; he's a small dog, one-tenth my size and about one-seventh of Brutus, the Newfoundland who was the first dog to climb them in winter. I play this video in the interest of letting you know that no matter how many of these peaks I climb I still feel like I'm going to die. But that all goes away once we get to the top and find the treasure awaiting us. My weak point is climbing but I do have staying power. I can usually keep going for quite a while, as you are about to see in the coming weeks as we get into the longer hikes, commonly known up here as "Death Marches". Enjoy the video and please excuse the heavy breathing.

This Is One Of The Reasons I Don't Hike With Others

I believe it is not always wise to hike with a dog, especially in winter. What makes it possible is when you put your dog first and foremost and I don't think a lot of people do that. Don't get me wrong, there are some, but most people go and plan a hike and then figure they'll do it no matter what no matter what the conditions are.

Today the conditions are good, especially for a hike below tree line to a 4,000-footer like Moriah, as we had planned to do. However, after getting ready to go Atticus looked a little tired to me. Nothing horrible, just a little tired. I'm sure he would have handled today's hike just fine, better than me, most likely. But I have to be concerned with the long run. Because of that I canceled today's hike.

It makes sense. This fall we didn't hike as much as I had hoped due to my knee injury and problems with my calves. Because of that we couldn't hike as much when winter first started and our hike along Franconia Ridge was our most difficult to date and finished a run of four hikes in five days. Considering all this, I figure it's not such a bad thing to give the little guy another day's rest.

Tomorrow's plan, which is subject to possible change as always when it comes to me and the Little Bug, is Tom, Field and Willey. We'll get an unusually early start for the 10-mile hike over the three 4,000-footers with the intent on getting back in time to watch the Patriots game.

Believe me, I am more optimistic and hungry for these two rounds than I have been all winter. But that doesn't mean I will do it all costs. I want the little guy to be happy and healthy and well rested. The next couple of days will be cold so I'd prefer him to be well-rested for them.

Tennyson, Anyone?

We really must get going, the Little Bug and I, as it is getting late in the morning, but first I wanted to leave you with one of my favorite Tennyson poems "Break, Break, Break". I share this with you now because it has something to do with something I'm writing and it has been in my head for the last 48 hours.

(And by the way, when I say "I'm writing", it's hardly ever on paper or on the computer but in my head. That's how I do all my writing, in my head, and it feels as if I'm composing music when it goes write. Perhaps that is why I when I write with pen or computer I do so to music, typically classical, sometimes movie soundtracks.)

Without further adieu, I give you Lord Alfred...

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill:
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

It's Moriah Today, I Do Believe

Good morning. Interesting weather days ahead. No snow to really worry about and this morning the sun is shining happily through the windows of my apartment while Atticus is softly snoring. (Is there a more peaceful or innocent sound than that of a baby or a dog snoring away in deep slumber?) Today is supposed to be comfortably in the mid-twenties. Comfortable for winter that is, especially when one is sweating on his way up a mountain with a large pack on his back. Tomorrow and Tuesday, now that's a different kettle of fish altogether. calls for a high of 11 degrees tomorrow and minus 16 tomorrow night. That, and the Patriots game time start of 3:oo may limit our hiking choices. Monday the forecast calls for 11 degrees again, but a "real feel" of minus 6. Then it begins to become more normal again. This cold will help with the stream crossings and that's a good thing. Now we just have to decided where to go in the next couple of days, if anywhere.

Two years ago Atticus and I started winter hiking. On one morning we drove up from Newburyport to hike Lafayette and Lincoln. I cannot remember the exact temperature but it was very cold. We pulled into the parking lot at the trail head. I hopped out, as Atticus did, and in about five seconds he hopped right back into the car. It's safe to say my little friend is a good barometer of what we should and shouldn't be doing and I trust him to make most of those decisions. So that's what we will do tomorrow and Monday. I'll let the Weather Dog make up his mind.

This morning, however, I think we are heading off to Moriah, which is much more pleasant than the Mines of Moria that come to the mind of some of you when you read that name. We'll head up the Stony Brook Trail so that we can enjoy the ledge walk over the last 1.3 miles. It's a 10-mile round trip so I think we won't be starting until 10:30 or 11:00. It takes about an hour to drive there so we best get going.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hello Mr Blue Sky

The morning started off with snow, wet, sticky, heavier than what we’ve had up here this winter. I’d say five inches. It’s not quite noon yet and that fresh new snow looks bright and cheery as the sun has broken through and the sky is a beautiful tapestry of bright blue with large fluffs of white clouds floating happily along. Hello Mr. Blue Sky.

It’s interesting what a difference a day can make. Yesterday’s hike along Franconia Ridge got us back in the game. We needed a longer hike with multiple peaks to make up for all those single peaks we have been bagging. The mountains invited us to play above tree line and I’m glad we didn’t pass it up. We were down about three hours before the snow started but from the views up on the Ridge yesterday you could see the storm clouds encroaching.

The timing couldn’t have been better for this storm. We’ve hiked four of the last five days, six of the last eight. It’s a good day to take a rest. Friday snowstorms are also welcome for a different reason. The weekend sees an influx of hikers in the mountains and they are of great aid to Atticus without even knowing it. I seek out trails and conditions that are easier for him so we often go to trails where there isn’t much snow, or where the snow has been broken out. People will do that over the next three days of the long weekend.

The new wet snow will attach to the bullet proof ice that has been so dangerous and the reason we avoided some peaks and had to turn back on the Osceolas.

Bitter cold is about to hit, too. I’m not unhappy about this. It will freeze up the streams and rivers again and once the trails are broken out by other snowshoers the snow pack will become firm and fast.

In the coming days there are Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) trips scheduled that will break out some of the more difficult places to get to. One such trip has hikers heading over the Twins and the Bonds in a two day backpack trip. We may just have to follow them in a one-day hike. Actually, we’ll do the Twins and Galehead together and then if the conditions are right we’ll do the Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff traverse. It runs about 24.5 miles and goes from near Bretton Woods up north down to the Kancamagus Highway. Like Franconia Ridge there is a lot of exposure. Unlike Franconia Ridge, there aren’t many exit points so it is important to pick the right day with good conditions and little wind.

The new snow will also fill in the “bony” trail above tree line. Check out the photos of the Franconia Ridge hike and you will see what I mean by “bony”; too many rocks jutting up from the ice. Not enough snow to smooth it all out.

On the eastern side of the Whites, about an hour away in Pinkham Notch, there is the annual gathering of hikers from the popular on-line hiking site Views From The Top (VFTT). Aside from all the drinking and merriment they’ll enjoy, they’ll find time to hike and break out trails over there too.

This confluence of new snow, weekend hikers, a cold spell following, and various organized hikes in the area should set us up well for the coming days. We’ll hike tomorrow, just not sure what we’ll be hiking yet, though. Sunday may be too cold, we shall see. But from Monday on, things should be looking good for a string of hikes to mountains we haven’t gotten to yet.

Today is the 28th day of winter and we now have 20 peaks done. But things are looking up for some multiple peak days. Here’s what to possibly look for from us in the coming week: Twins & Galehead (3 peaks); Carters & Cats (5 peaks); Bonds Traverse (5 peaks); Willey Range for the second time this winter (3 peaks); the dreaded (at least by me) Osceolas (2); Tripyramids (2); Whiteface & Passaconaway (2).

Yes, things are looking up. Yesterday’s four-peak day put me in a good place and put us back in the game. If you just consider the first four hikes of the prior paragraph there are 16 peaks in those hikes alone. Just for kicks say we got those done; that would give us 36 peaks total within the next week. As a reminder, we need to average a peak a day (or just above) to get all 96 peaks in one winter. This feat has only been done by one known person, the storied White Mountain winter hiker Cath Goodwin. (Cath was one of the three person team to become the first to hike all 48 in one winter and she holds the winter speed record for women in getting them all done in the quickest amount of time.)

This does not mean we will make this improbable goal. After all, we are behind where we want to be. But at least now it looks as though we are back in the game.

Now you know why I’m walking with a little skip in my step even after yesterday’s long hike and this morning’s snow. It’s all about breaks and strategy when it comes to winter. Well, that and hiking your butt off, too.