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

Monday, March 31, 2008

More On The Wildcats

By he way, speaking of the slide going up Wildcat A and the group who did it yesterday. Here’s what the group posted for trail conditions in and on-line hiking site concerning that route:

Conditions: Lower Portions had 8-10” powder atop firm crust. Deep snow under crust. Upper part had 2-3’ powder with deeper drifts.Equipment: Snowshoes, Poles, Rope
Comments: Extreme care needed crossing slide. Unable to break through crust at times making footing dangerous. Beyond slide trail was hard to follow in places due to deep drifts and low branches.

You read that right…“rope”.

Crossing the slide on the way up to Wildcat A can be hazardous to your health. Atticus and I have been hiking for three winters. In the winter before we started a fellow was hiking this route with his dog. When they came to the slide the dog had trouble on the ice and started to fall. In his attempt to help the dog the man also fell. Both dog and man tumbled down the perilous slide. The dog was reportedly unharmed. The same couldn’t be the same for the man. A rescue crew was needed to retrieve him and carry him out.

The first winter we did the Wildcats Atticus and I climbed the ski slope at Wildcat Ski area and then crossed over the bumpy Wildcat Ridge Trail to Wildcat A, then returned the way we came and exited by the ski slope, too.

The second winter we hiked the Wildcats in early January, before there was much snow or ice. I dropped my car in the ski area; we got a ride down the road, climbed the Imp Trail, and then traversed over Middle Carter, South Carter and Carter Dome before dumping down into Carter Notch. From there Atticus and I continued on up across the slide, which was not an issue, then carried on over the Wildcats until we got to the ski slope and then made our way down in the dark of night.

This winter, our third, we never made it. The goal was to replicate last year’s winter hike over the five 4,000-footers, twice. But due to the constant snow there was never a time when the Wildcats and the Carters were not broken out at the same time. It’s been so bad that until yesterday the trail from Carter Hut to Wildcat A hadn’t been broken out in at least six weeks, perhaps longer.

Remember, while our goal was to hike two rounds of the 48, it was also to hike the two rounds safely. In a winter with record snowfall this was not going to a safe winter to hike Wildcat A. It’s spring and it’s still not acceptable for little Atticus’ safety. We’ll just have to wait for the spring to stretch on and much of the several feet of snow and ice to melt away.


It’s snowing. It’s snowing ‘cats and dogs’ and Atticus is sleeping on one of my fleece jackets on my desk, with one of my heavy hiking shirts draped over him like a horse blanket. I settled in at my desk to write and he was on the bed behind me but wanted to get closer. He came over, stood up on his hind legs, and put his front paws on the back of my chair, using his nose to nudge the back of my head. This is his way of letting me know he wants to get up on the desk.

For a little while, after I moved him to the desk, he sat looking out the window, hoping, I’m sure, for a glimpse of a squirrel. But then the snow came and I think he’s bored by it because he is now sleeping heavily, little snores emanating from behind my lap top’s screen.

Yesterday was a bluebird day but Atticus and I didn’t hike. I’m just very tired. I’m sure it has everything to do with the passing and funeral of my father and the subsequent visit with my family. Don’t get me wrong, the mingling with siblings went very well and I was sorry to say goodbye to nearly every one of them. But let’s face it, it’s an emotional situation.

Instead of hiking, he and I camped out on the couch. He napped while I took turns reading Eat, Pray, Love (a gift from a friend last week), and napping. It was a good way to spend the day and was just what the doctor ordered. Alas, we still have more peaks to hike but the weather doesn’t look all that great for the rest of the week. We have most likely missed the best day of the week.

Some trails were broken out this weekend but many peaks remain impossible, or nearly impossible and unsafe for a little dog to get to. As for above treeline travel, it’s definitely not conducive to Atticus’ safety since the ice is boilerplate and there is no snow to soften it. I don’t want him slip-sliding off a ridge. Last week, one of the more prolific hikers in the northeast canceled his Presidential Traverse over the eight mountains of that range due to the icy conditions.

The loop over North Twin, South Twin and Galehead remains incomplete. Galehead was broken out, as had been North Twin, but then it snowed again and another veteran hiker couldn’t find her way along the North Twin Trail this weekend and had to turn back. The trail between North Twin, South Twin and Galehead has gone about six weeks without having been broken out.

The Wildcat Ridge Trail remains impossibly impassible. The snow is so deep up there that the trees block the way like some menacing beasts from a sci-fi movie. This weekend, hikers reached Wildcat D by hiking up the ski area and then turning around and heading down. They then drove down to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail where they hiked into Carter Notch and the hut, picked up three other hikers, then made their way up to Wildcat A, which hadn’t been broken out in more than six weeks, I do believe. This was a strong group heading up from the hut and a stretch of 0.7 miles took them two hours!

As for snow depth up here in the last day of March, the “backcountry weather and trail conditions” on the Mt. Washington Observatory website reports the following snow depth for Lonesome Lake Hut, which stands at 2,760 feet of elevation, just a few miles up the road from us: 83 inches. That’s six feet and nine inches of old snow!

What a winter it has been.

Catching Up

For the past weeks I've been preoccupied by family issues, namely the death and burial of my father and I haven't been writing much; haven't felt like it. But here it is a new week and it's time to get back on track. We still have mountains to climb, money to raise for Angell Animal Medical Center. One of my first pieces of business will be to get caught up on some of the tributes that fell behind during the intensity of the winter months.

In that vein, here are two wonderful photos. The first is Stripert. When we hiked Whiteface for the first time this winter it was in memory of Striper. Keith Cunningham's donation to Angell through our efforts led to this dedication.

The second time we hiked Whiteface it was done for Minnie Mouse. I'll let Cheryl Dean, Minnie's owner, take it from here:
"I would like to dedicate a mountain to my cat, Minnie Mouse, who has been my inspiration for many years. I found her in a cage, hidden behind an open door, in a shelter in Maine 13 years ago. Though I was not taken with her looks, she seemed to have the sweetest disposition of all the cats I held that day, so I brought her home with me. (She reminded me of a white mouse, hence her name). Since that day, we've had lots of good times and many painful times together. She's been the one constant in my life - always at my side, always comforting, always unflappable, always amusing, and never fails to make me smile. In keeping with her namesake, she has chosen Whiteface. Minnie has been to Angell and has the utmost respect for those who have succeeded in making her the healthy, happy girl she is today."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tell Me Where It Hurts: Another Reason To Pay Attention To Angell Animal Medical Center

Dr. Nick Trout of Angell Animal Medical Center has a wonderful new book out: "Tell Me Where It Hurts". For those of you in Newburyport, he will be at Jabberwocky to discuss his book on Friday night. And Atticus and I will be making the trip there to listen to him. Recently there was a blurb on his book in USA Today and here is his recent interview on NPR's "Fresh Air". As always, check out your local independent bookstore. If they don't have it the big boys do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taking It All In

Special thanks to Ken Stampfer for this photo of Atticus and myself on the ledges on the Boulder Loop Trail from our Easter Sunday hike. I'm reminded of yet another Saint-Exupery quote: “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” In the next couple of days we'll be negotiating something that may be at times more difficult than a climb up Lafayette in winter as we head to Medway for the burial of my father.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Jack Ryan: June 3, 1920 - March 23, 2008

Today my father passed away. He was 87 years old. It was not really expected, at least not this soon, since he was doing rather well yesterday when I visited him in the hospital. He smiled at my jokes, flirted with the nurse, was more lucid than he had been when I'd last seen him. He has wanted to die for some time now and I think his soul must finally be at peace, a place he never seemed to be in the years I knew him, other than when he was up here in the mountains so long ago, or watching the Red Sox or Patriots. I will have more on our last visit together later. Now I think Atticus and I will just go for a walk in the night air.

Boulder Loop Trail

Atticus stands before 4,000-footers Whiteface, Passaconaway, Middle Tripyrmaid and North Tripyramid on our hike along the Boulder Loop Trail today. Earlier in the week we climbed Washington and the Southern Presidentials. But today was not a day of 4,000-footers but of a gentle hike and climb on this beautiful day with our friends Ken & Ann Stampfer. More on this later, but for now here are our photos from this delightful day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Newburyport Bank President Contributes Towards Corporate Sponsorship of Tom & Atticus

Spring is here. Okay, so maybe it’s not in the mountains yet, other than on the calendar. With the end of calendar winter comes the end of our Winter Quest. Our last hike was on Tuesday up Washington and across Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce, bringing our winter total to 66 peaks. The goal was to hike 96 peaks in the 90 days of winter. We didn’t even come close. We fell 30 peaks, or 10 hikes, shy.

During the hopeful days of a beautiful October I welcomed Newburyport friends Peter and Julie McClelland to Lincoln for short visit. We had lunch together then went for a short walk along the nature trail beside the Flume parking lot. Peter pointed out that we would most assuredly make all our peaks this year since Atticus and I had moved north to the mountains. Last year we hit 81 summits while splitting our time between Newburyport and Lincoln. But I wasn’t quite so ready to accept his prediction. I told him it all depended upon our good health and the weather.

Hiking to the top of 96 4,000-footers in the three months of winter is not an easy challenge. Only one known person has accomplished this, the storied Cath Goodwin. When winter began I had some trouble with my knee that kept us from hiking two days in a row, but I soon learned to deal with it. But that wasn’t the reason we fell short this winter. The reason is the snow. We had twice as much snow as we did in the “typical” year.

But don’t mistake that for a complaint or even an excuse. Part of the challenge of hiking in winter is the conditions you face. Aside from snow there is ice and wind and, at times, extreme cold. This year we just couldn’t get to certain summits.

I would say that while it is easy to get fatigued on such a quest, the fatigue is not just physical. There is a mental strain of pushing to get the peaks done, waiting on the weather, trying to be patient.

The mental fatigue is what drove us from the mountains yesterday. I packed up my dirty laundry, my dirty car, and my dirty little dog and we drove down to Newburyport for a visit. And why not since yesterday’s winds on Mt. Washington reached higher than 140 mph and there was snow and ice all around as we drove out of Lincoln.

Once here Atticus and I stopped at the Plum Island Coffee Roasters for a latte and a visit with Joyce and Samantha; a quick visit with Richie Eaton at the Newburyport Bank to talk of the Red Sox and Celtics and other things; a massage from Sarah George (who for the second time this winter overlooked my financial limitations); lunch with Terry Carter; a quick visit with Paul Abruzzi at Jabberwocky (our host for the night---Paul, not Jabberwocky); tea with Mary Eaton at Licorice and Sloe (with a quick side visit with Bil Silliker---owner; a quick visit with Linda Garcia at Abraham’s Bagels; then with John & Linda Allison at John Farley Clothiers; a walk in Moseley Pines with Atticus; dinner with Tom Jones and Terry Berns; and finally a late night conversation with Paul before heading to bed.

All this was packed in after 11:00 in the morning and quite resembled our typical Newburyport day when I lived in this city and wrote about it. It’s good to be here, if only for a 24 hour tour of friendly and familiar faces, away from the winds and the snow and ice.

This morning Atticus and I got up before the sun, took a walk through the tightly knit South End, and then met with Tom O’Brien for breakfast. (Supper with a city councilor; breakfast with another. These are hints of my old life in the political arena.)

Now my dirty little dog is at Wagging Tails, getting washed and cut by Mary Erlandson and her wonderful crew and my dirty clothes are spinning in the washing machine next to me at Paul’s apartment as I type this. When I pick up Atticus he will be neatly trimmed and will look as though he has lost weight. Why does this not happen when I get a hair cut?

Mary Eaton is an accomplished painter, has grown into a dear friend, and is the author of the Newburyport Blog. We have spent much time on the phone together since I have left, and not always talking about politics. Her father died the week before mine went to the hospital and then the nursing home. She is also one of the select advisers I am using in proofreading my book proposal. Yesterday she gave me the wonderful gift of her copy of the book “the Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”. It’s a great book with a wealth of wonderful quotes in it. One that caught my eye was from Jung: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

As my father shuffles towards the end of his life, I have thought much in the same terms, but knew nothing of Jung’s words. When both my clothes and Atticus are dry we will make one last visit in Newburyport to Moseley Pines for a walk and then drive south to Milford Hospital. My father has been moved from the nursing home he was in to the hospital. It is not known how long he will be there for. I imagine we’ll head back north tonight, away from the warm and friendly faces of Newburyport and a short visit with my father. We’ll head back to the mountains and to the writer’s life, struggling at times for words, and definitely for funds.

While winter is officially over you cannot tell by the way the snow is up north right now (although there is none here in Newburyport). We will continue on our quest, to summit the peaks we missed and fulfilling our obligation for those pledged peaks and in raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center.

As those of you who have followed this blog through the winter know, we lost our corporate sponsorship and this has put me in a financial hole. We are out $3,000 I was really counting on. However, I’m happy to report that Mark Welch, president of the Institution for Savings Bank in Newburyport, made a donation of $500 towards sponsorship of our cause. It is greatly appreciated. What makes Mr. Welch’s donation all the more impressive is that I don’t even have my account with the Institution for Savings, but with Provident Bank.

I will continue to shake the money tree in hopes that it will allow Atticus and me the ability to continue fundraising and completing our peaks.

In closing I will share with you this great quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mt. Washington Was Hiked In Memory Of Red

When Atticus and I hiked Mt. Washington the other day, it was our first visit there this winter and it was done in memory of Terry Berns' horse Red. Because of the donation Terry and her husband Tom Jones made to Angell Animal Medical Center through our efforts, Washington was dedicated to Red.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Day in the Mountains

My face is still warm from the sunburn from the warm sun and the glare off the snow and ice. And yet outside it is snowing. The forecast calls for mixed precipitation, which translates in my mind to a fine mess.

In looking out the window at the fine flakes traveling by I am reminded of how remarkable yesterday was weather-wise, and otherwise. After a good night’s sleep I see it more clearly now.

I still have no idea why I felt so sick on the climb. It is not the first time I’ve felt like that this winter, but it was perhaps the worst I felt. I’m feeling fine now so it is nothing lasting. As much as I didn’t like losing my breakfast on the trail, I find comedy that at the moment I was doing that the gray jays discovered me and watched intently and then continued to follow me and Atti through the woods.

Yesterday Mt. Jefferson was a popular destination. The group of six Atticus and I couldn’t keep up, headed off to Jefferson. Then a group of somewhere between 12-14 people followed them up there, too, as well as a few others we encountered at the trail junction where the split took place and they headed off to Jefferson and Atticus and I headed off to Washington.

Just below that junction Atticus and I ran into a man hiking with a German Sheppard. The dog was playful, loud and rambunctious and quite puppy-like at two years of age. She couldn’t get enough of Atticus, running up to catch up to him then batting him with a paw to try to get him to play or chase after her. He wouldn’t. I think if we were on flat ground he would have, but in the mountains he’s even more serious than he is in the day-to-day. He was intent on marching on.

The German Sheppard belonged to a fellow who’d spent 20 years as a salesman and was now minister. Our talk spent together was too brief but the conversation was delicious as we walked we talked of spirituality and Christianity. He was from somewhere in the middle of the State of New Hampshire. At one point during our conversation he came out and said that he’d read a column of mine in the Northcountry News about our Bonds traverse and enjoyed it. He recognized us from the start. I should say he recognized Atticus.

At one point during our conversation we moved off the trail to let the large group go by and it was funny to be above treeline, on a winter day, in our new life, and have more than half of the people, all strangers to me, stop and call Atticus by name. We were sitting on a rock and several of them stopped as the passed by to greet him.

I wonder what this is like for Atticus. But then again because of The Undertoad and our life in Newburyport, it is but par for the course. People have always known him so it doesn’t appear to surprise him that when we are out and about that people we don’t know, seem to know him and call him by name.

At the trail junction I said my goodbyes to the minister and his dog and waited for Rolly, a friend from an on-line hiking site. He was coming up the trail behind us, and he and his hiking companion were headed for Jefferson, too. Then came another hiker from one of the on-line hiking sites who recognized us as we recognized him.

Again, how strange to be out there so high up in this otherworldly place and have so many people knowing us. I guess this is home.

The climb to Washington was difficult. I tried to go with my microspikes but when I hit one snowfield I started to slide and envisioned an untimely death so I switched to my crampons. I don’t like walking in crampons and don’t find them comfortable. You have to be careful with every step as the teeth are long and sharp and many an unwitting wearer has gashed his or her own leg.

While we were on the last climb to the summit, 100 steps, rest, 100 steps, rest, we encountered another hiker who knew of us. He was on his way off the summit and happy to hear about the conditions of the Jewell Trail, the one we’d started up on.

On the summit we were by ourselves until we were gathered by four rather obnoxious college-aged students, three males, one female. They pulled out their cell phones to call their friends but when they didn’t get reception one of them pulled out a satellite phone and they all made calls to people they knew saying, “You’ll never guess where I am right now.”

It is a strange experience to struggle to the top of a mountain, to find yourself in a place so out of the ordinary and in a state of mind so out of the ordinary and yet find obnoxious shopping mall like behavior. Our company hastened our departure.

The climb down to Monroe went easily enough. It’s a nice 1.5 mile stretch but yesterday was rather icy. Atticus had to pay attention to his footing. I much rather would have been wearing my snowshoes but they wouldn’t have gripped as much as the crampons did.

At the closed Lake of the Clouds hut there was a man sitting with his back to us, the hood of his jacket pulled up, and he was holding a newspaper and pencil. Atticus startled him when he walked by and the man looked up. He was thin and weathered, wearing glasses with a tanned face. I guessed him to be in his sixties. His coat was a mess. A faded orange winter coat with large slices of gray duct tape covering a great deal of it, placed where rips and worn fabric had been.

He was working on a newspaper word puzzle and deep in thought.

Imagine that, coming off of Washington, standing at the base of Mt. Monroe, the fourth highest peak in New England, encountering a man in such worn clothing that if he were in downtown Boston would pass easily for a street person, and here he was sitting on a rock working on a word puzzle in a newspaper as if he were waiting for a bus.

He wasn’t in the mood to talk much so I didn’t bother him as I readjusted my crampons, took off my pack and fed Atticus and swallowed the contents of a GU energy packet. When we were getting ready to set off he asked about Atticus. A few conservative questions turned into a wonderful conversation.

The man was Richard, 78 years of age, and he climbed Washington because he and his wife had climbed Washington every year. I asked where his wife was and he told me she had died a year earlier. He told me she was the first woman to ever hike all the Adirondack 4,000-footers in winter and did them three times during the years they lived in New York. She was originally from Switzerland. He was a physicist. She also did something of the sort. They shared their love of the mountains together and got married so long ago. They had two children, the son lives in Switzerland, the daughter in Boston.

Richard and his wife had made the move from New York to Glen, New Hampshire 15 years ago. Even though he is alone he likes where he lives and would never leave. He loves the mountains, climbs them whenever he can but doesn’t bother with lists anymore. He also appreciates snowmobilers.

“Most people don’t like them,” he said. “I like them because I can use my mountain bike on the groomed trails.”

As for his coat, he told me it was at least 50 years old and his wife always wanted him to get rid of it but he refused. His crampons were just as old, if not older, he told me. They had leather straps but the spikes he kept sharp. His ice ax was equally old, most of it wood.

He proudly showed me his mittens when he took them out of his backpack. They were oversized and looked like the wool from a sheep and were liberally patched with duct tape, too. His wife wanted him to get rid of those, too, but he reminded her they once saved her nose so she suggested he keep them.

“We were up on Mt. Marcy in the winter and I was having a conversation with a man when he pointed out that my wife’s nose was turning white,” Richard said. “So I just held one of my big mitts up over her nose and continued my conversation. She got to keep her nose.”

My conversation with Richard was enlivening and just the opposite of what I had experienced with the college students on Washington. It left me warm, gave me more energy and we then pushed on from that moment with more energy than I’d had all day.

The sky had turned a leaden gray and my camera was of no use now. I have grown in my photography just to the level of wanting to be able to take nice photos. I have no use; it seems, for a photo for photo’s sake. I mourned the loss of the deep blue sky as we made our way over Monroe and Franklin, one of my favorite passages in the Whites. On the climb to Eisenhower, after dropping off of Franklin, I tried to not let my head get the best of me and instead thought of Richard, who I found to be quite remarkable. As Atticus and I made our way up to the round summit I felt like I was sleepwalking through the last of it.

After Eisenhower it was easy. The climb down was easy enough as was the path over to Pierce with a slight detour to the summit, then back to the Crawford Path. Finally I took off my crampons and was able to walk the last few miles without incident, shuffling along, tired, sore, and yet filled with the events of the day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Washington Slide Show Is Up

Okay, before you get to the slide show, a few things you should know. Today was a beautiful, windless weather day, well worth the wait to get to the highest point in New England. But this was a strange hike for me. I dropped my car in Crawford Notch and Ed Hawkins picked me up and drove me to the Cog Railroad parking lot. Atticus and I joined their group for the first part of the hike. They were off to Jefferson. Once above treeline they would turn left, Atti and I would turn right. For whatever reason I just couldn't keep up with the group. I felt lethargic and a bit achy. A mile into the hike two gray jays were above watching me vomit up my breakfast. They followed Atti and me up the trail and saw me vomit a second time. We did get above treeline to say goodbye to Ed's group. Then we moved slowly up the edge of Mt. Clay towards Washington. It took me forever to get to the summit. I had no energy. Once on the far side of Clay and on the final 1.1 mile climb to Washington we encountered an incredible amount of ice. I had on crampons, Atti chose his footing carefully. When we reached the summit we sat for a while and rested. The made our way down the Crawford Path, over Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce and then out to my car. It was slow going and I was tired the entire way. The sky turned a bruised gray and that's pretty much how I felt along the way. Notice, if you will, the change in the color of the sky from the beginning of the slide show to the end. That, along with the way I was feeling, is the reason this slide show focuses on Mt. Washington. After that long wind-up, here is the slide show.

Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce: March 18, 2008

Well, we waited for the perfect day to do the big one and we got it. Although records from the Mt. Washington Observatory reported mild winds today, I didn't even feel a hint of a breeze. From the moment on the Jewell Trail I took of my windbreaker I never had anything on other than my hiking bibs and a shirt. No need for gloves or hat. What a remarkable day! I used sunscreen but obviously not enough since I now look like a lobster fresh out of the pot. This was a tough one for both of us. Above treeline there was lots of ice. I wore crampons nearly the entire hike after popping out above treeline. Atticus had to pick his spots carefully where there was sheets of ice so as not to slide right off the mountainside into one of the ravines or into the Great Gulf. Slide show will be up soon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mt Washington Conditions

One of the neat things about Mt. Washington is that there is a weather station on the summit and you can check in at any time to get real-time weather conditions. Tomorrow (Tuesday), you will be able to see what kind of conditions we are in as we approach the summit, reach it, and then continue on along the Southern Presidentials. And if you check at just the right time you may even see us on one of their summit cameras which are live. To check the conditions throughout the day click here. You can check out the webcams live, too, at any time throughout the day. There are various views but they can all be found here. We'll be on the Jewell Trail starting at 8:00 am and will be on the summit somewhere between 11:30 and 12:00 I'd say. It should take another hour to go the 1.8 miles from Washington to Monroe, and then it depends upon the conditions on the way to Eisenhower and then Pierce. We'll be out long before the sun goes down. And tomorrow should be a perfect photo day so I will be taking my camera along and not spend so much time writing in my head as I've done lately. In other words, expect a great set of photos and a slide show tomorrow night.

Today, Carrigain; Tomorrow, Washington

Sorry, haven't been on for a while, as you can tell. Been working on staying afloat up here in New Hampshire, doing a lot of writing. I have a book proposal to send in soon. But today we got to the summit of Carrigain, our 62nd peak of the winter. Tomorrow, and I've been waiting to say this for a long time this winter, we are climbing Washington. I'll park my car in Crawford Notch, have another hiker drive me to the Cog Railroad. We'll join a group for the first part of the hike but once above treeline the group will head for Jefferson and Atticus and I will head in the other direction towards Mt. Washington. Once there we will then head down the Crawford Path over Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. (I've posted tomorrow's summit forecast below.)
In the clear under mostly clear skies. Wind chills 10-20 below rising to 0-10 below.
Highs: upper teens°F
Wind: N shifting S 15-25 mph decreasing to 5-25 mph

Friday, March 14, 2008

Oh, To Be on Washington This Afternoon

Just how far off was the forecast for today, or at least my interpretation of it? Here are the summit conditions on Mt. Washington at about 3:30 this afternoon. Sorry to have missed being above treeline. Then again, had we started out we would have been on the trail somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 am and would have made the summit by 11:00 at the latest when, according to the blue chart on the right, the winds would have been higher than I would like, especially for little Atticus. It seems the winds really died down somewhere just after 1:00 pm. We'll get up early tomorrow morning and check out the forecast again. If the updated higher summits forecast gets rid of the "w/snow showers" aspect we'll do our best to climb Washington tomorrow.

Mist on the Mountains

We woke up this morning to mists on the mountains. Not a good hiking day: a chance of rain, a chance of snow. I often think of the foggy days in winter as a chance for hypothermia. We will not be hiking today.

We have quite a few peaks left as winter winds down. Who would have known we would have the winter we did? Long traverses over multiple peaks have been few and far between. As a matter of fact, there have only been four of them for us this winter. Blame it on the snow.

The other day I saw a photo of the summit of Zealand. It’s a treed summit with the most unique summit sign in the Whites. In summer the sign is above my head. In the photo, taken just the other day, the sign is literally only inches above the snow level!

The walk along the Wildcat Ridge Trail from Wildcat A* to Wildcat D* is an up and down ramble. While I do not consider this a particularly difficult trail, with all the ups and downs I have termed it the “Bi-Polar Trail”. That trail is now impossible to get through, or so I’m told. The trees usually form a nice corridor over the trail in places when you aren’t peaking out over at the Northern Presidentials. However, with all this snow, the depth is so that you cannot even crawl under some of the branches that used to look down upon hikers below. (The * signifies peaks we need to get twice.)

Because of the snow conditions, and the river conditions (most are still open), our Winter Quest will spread into our Spring Quest as we continue bagging peaks in our attempt to raise money for Angell Animal Medical Center.

This weekend, the weather doesn’t look optimal, but I’m hoping to get something done. The good news is that a group is out to break out Isolation*, which can be a tough place to get to in winter. If they succeed we shall follow and then turn around and follow again.

We are still waiting for optimal above treeline conditions for the Northern Presidentials and for Washington* the Southern Presidentials*. Owls Head and the Twins* and Galehead* have deep, deep snow and lose river crossings. The Carters* look do-able in the coming week as does perhaps Carrigain, too. And then there are the Bonds, Zealand and Hale. In some places the snow depth is magnificent, in others the ice is like a skating rink. We shall see.
Winter ends the middle of next week and while we are going to fall far short of my intended goal of 96 peaks I can say we gave it our best shot but the breaks were not with us. But it has still been, and will continue to be, a great adventure with a great little hiking partner by my side.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Whiteface & Passaconaway...and an Elusive Sentence

Forgive me for not posting sooner today but my head is else- where. As the winter winds down and our peak-bagging goals are far out of reach I find myself thinking less as a hiker and more as a writer. Today Atticus and I hiked Whiteface and Passaconaway under beautiful blue skies and moderate temperatures.

All-in-all a most pleasant day other than the jumble of words bouncing around in my head. I’ve been working on a book proposal and while the opening chapter is going well, the opening paragraph is proving to be difficult for me.

I’ve always been a fan of a good opening sentence, knitted with other good sentences to create a great opening. I’ve been known to spend an hour or so in a bookstore scanning opening sentences to books in a hunt for a good read.

Some examples:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“I am an invisible man.” Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head." - John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Someone's Celebrating A Birthday Today!

Okay, let's pick up the mood around here a notch! In all that's been going on today I nearly forgot Atticus turned six years old today. Happy Birthday, Bug! We were in Half Baked, Fully Brewed in Lincoln today and Cathy told us it was her birthday. It wasn't until I stepped outside that I realized it was March 12th, and Atti's B-day, too. Cathy and Chris were then nice enough to give Atticus one of their delicious strawberry shortcakes. He had no trouble polishing it off, even after eating all the chicken they gave him. It's hard to believe he is only six because of all that he's experienced, all that he's been through, and the fact that he's climbed more than 350 4,000-footers in less than three years. So here's a little slide show, including some photos from his first year on this earth. Enjoy...

Faith in a Cloud on Mt. Jackson: March 12, 2008

This morning Atticus and I got up before the sun, ate breakfast before dark gave birth to light, left our apartment and drove to Crawford Notch before the sun could even reach for the snooze button. We were on the trail to Mt. Jackson early enough for me to wear my headlamp and for Atticus to disappear beyond its beam of light into the blackness beyond its reach.

My Microspikes cut into the crisp trail and gave me all the traction I needed. There was a time when such a walk would unnerve me but today I welcomed being enveloped in the dark; feeling much like a secret that is well kept.

Once beyond the first jutting climb up out of Crawford Notch my breath caught up with me before falling behind time and again. I continued to stop to wait up for it. In the last two weeks I have lost any semblance of a hiking rhythm. Before the last major band of weather came upon us we had hiked eight of the previous 10 days but that seems like ages ago. We’ve hiked since then in the last two weeks, but nothing other than the three Northern Presidentials in a day. I could tell I had no rhythm this morning, my breathing and my stride were off, I stopped more often and when I moved I moved to quickly; no rhythm.

In winter, under deep snow, the trail (any trail) can be almost unrecognizable compared to the way it looks in the fairer months. Before dawn breaks it looks even more so. But it is easy to follow in the snow, at least this one is since it is well broken out and my headlamp showed the way.

Somewhere along the way a gray morning broke and slowly and lazily drifted through the trees, first dark ones then the iced ones. In some ways night was more tolerable. At least in the darkness the light from the headlamp cuts through the unknown and is definitive. In the gray morning it looked like we were walking into mourning. The higher we climbed the icier the trees became; somber beasts looking down upon us eyeing us with suspicion.

I envy Atticus, he is beyond the moods brought on by the type and time of day it is, and he appeared to be just as happily bouncing along the trail as he would be if it were a bright sunny morning.

Just below the summit, where the climb becomes steep once again, we stopped and I took off my backpack, gave Atticus some treats, shoved some more in my bib, took off my Microspikes and replaced them with crampons. I then put on my heavier jacket, put on my hat and my gloves and left my pack behind as we started the last climb of the day.

I don’t enjoy crampons and have not missed using them much through all the deep snow for the past few months, but they were a comfort today on the steep and icy pitch to the summit.

We had come to hike Jackson yesterday, not to this point; but we turned around under a stunning blue sky, under the brilliant sun. Outside it was a perfect day for hiking; inside…inside I turned back, tired, weak, empty. I made for the car, then retreated to my bed.

It’s ironic that we climbed more eagerly this morning, through the darkness, then the gray morning, then into the thick descending clouds. There were no views to be had, even as we emerged from the trees and clambered up the steep ice, Atticus dropping his center of gravity, digging in with his nails, me relying on the teeth of my crampons.

Atticus first made for the sign and sat as he usually does, then when he didn’t see me take out my camera he made for the summit cairn. How otherworldly to lurch about on high in the blindness of a cloud, in still and comfortable air. At the cairn he nudged my leg so I offered him a treat but he didn’t want it and nudged me again. This meant he wanted me to pick him up and so I did and together we looked off into the gray abyss towards where Washington would normally be.

We stood there for a while, in the middle of a cloud, looking into a cloud. We have the same view my father now has. Last week one of my sisters walked into the house and found him laying face down on the carpet, furniture strewn about; the signs of a fall. Heart attack. The ambulance brought him to the hospital. He was in Intensive Care then moved to Pulmonary Care and last weekend was moved to a nursing home. He will not be returning home. Atticus and I stayed visited him on Monday.

When we walked into the room it was difficult to recognize him, this once strong man, a giant sometimes benign, more often than not angry, had a leg and arm flung over the side rail of his bed. He was confused, tormented; he looked to me with terror and pleading and recognized the face but didn’t know where he knew me from. His voice was fragile and filled with fear, “Get me out of here.”

Atticus and I spent five hours with him on Monday. For all but maybe 30 minutes he didn’t know who I was. It seems like my brothers and sisters have been aware this day’s been coming for a long time. He gave up trying a couple of years ago, stopped taking his medication, stopped eating right, kept smoking and yet he lived on rather independently.

He never allowed us in, kept us at arms distance as we were growing up and into adulthood. To see a man who built a wall around himself to keep people out, to keep himself in, one who had always been larger than life to his children like this is daunting. Life had not been kind to him so instead of admitting to all the pain and loneliness he kept it in and passed it on, it was the only way he knew.

And yet with all the pain, all the sadness, he also passed on the parts of him too, the part that was a dreamer. He let his dreams die, let them be suffocated by others, I think. In return he did his best to do the same to ours. I try to tell myself he did this to keep us from feeling the same pain he did for no one is as hopeless as a man robbed of his dreams.

Jack Ryan never learned that a father is never a failure so long as his children continue on, even if it is but with one or two lessons or traits once carried by the father. So when he looks out at into the belly of a cloud, the same kind I saw this morning, the same kind he sees around him now we see two different things he sees nothing. For him the world is closing in on him, it’s empty, cold, a dead end. For me…well, I like to think differently. I like to think that clouds, no matter how dense, how seemingly immovable, are all the more reason for faith.

Unlike the great writer and good friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, I’m not a Christian, but I do agree with something he wrote: “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

A decade ago, when he was facing heart surgery, my father and I talked about death. He believes that death is merely the end. I told him that while I couldn’t say what is out there beyond the known, I’d like to think that something more waits. I’d like to believe that the cloud will eventually lift and show us more.

Nothing quite defines us as loss does. It takes huge chunks from us and it is up to us to be fill in those holes and grow strong where we were weak. We cannot control what has happened to us but can decide what we will do in response. I firmly believe this.

I’d like to think I’m doing some service to my father, to the son he helped create and mostly raised on his own, to continue to move forward, to believe that life has soul to it, even though we differ on this point.

There is much I don’t know, but I do know that these mountains are mystical in the power that is found here. It’s healing and so much more. They bring us closer to death, and hence bring us closer to life. They are fierce and wild but life affirming at the same time.

Looking off into the gray mist with tears rolling down my cheeks I feel Atticus licking my face. A smile is born out of the sadness. Love is near, even in the darkness.

If only…if only there was some way to bring this mountaintop home to a man who is at the doorstep and ready to step through, some way to ease his pain, bring him to the mountains, and give him something to hold onto.

Atticus and I eventually left the summit behind and made our way down, trying my best to bring the mountaintop home with me to ease my own pain and to have something to hold onto. In thinking of all this, I find myself counting this as our 59th peak of the winter, far below what I had hoped for when it all started. And yet while the numbers may not be here, the experiences are.

Man of the Hour (Pearl Jam)

Tidal waves don’t beg forgiveness
'CRASHED' and on their way
Father he enjoyed collisions; others walked away
A snowflake falls in May.
And the doors are open now as the
bells are ringing out
Cause the man of the hour is taking his final bow
Goodbye for now.

Nature has its own religion; gospel from the land
Father ruled by long division, young men they pretend
Old men comprehend.
And the 'SKY BREAKS' at dawn; shedding light upon this town
They’ll all come ‘round
Cause the man of the hour is taking his final bow.
Goodbye for now.

And the road
The old man paved
The broken seams along the way
The rusted signs, left just for me
He was guiding me, love, his own way
Now the man of the hour is taking his final bow
As the curtain comes down
I feel that this is just goodbye for now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Off To Jackson

A little hungover still from yesterday's trip down to Medway. (No, I'm not a drinker.) Got up late and it has changed my plans today to a shorter hike. Problem is there aren't any shorter hikes left on our list. Hence, I'm separating Jackson from the Southern Pressie traverse and doing it on it's own. We'll get a late start but the sky is blue and I need to hike and the sun will stay up late now that Day Light Savings time is upon us. Report to follow tonight.

A Different Kind Of Mountain

Atticus and I spent five hours with my father today. For several of those hours he had no idea who I was. He made the move from the hospital to the nursing home and actually seems to be doing worse. It is so strange to see this powerful man, alone, broken and bitter.

I asked him a lot of questions today to see where his mind was, or if it was there at all. He didn’t remember that he had children, never mind nine of us. But slowly he remembered as I went down the list of names with him.

It was sad, sometimes comical, sometimes insightful. He had some nice things to say, but mostly not so nice things. I did not take them seriously and instead stayed longer than I thought I would.

While reviewing the names of his children I told him the name of one of his sons or daughters and asked him about that person. Again, it was sad, sometimes comical, sometimes insightful. There were glimpses of his true feelings mixed in with dementia. He was convinced that his youngest son, Tom, was married and had a child.

“What is his wife’s name?” I asked him.

He paused and puzzled and his thoughts took him elsewhere.

“What is his wife’s name?” I asked again.


“Tom’s wife. You said he had a wife, what is her name?”

“I don’t remember…”

“He has a child?”

“Yes, a little dark-haired boy; a good boy.”

“Really? What’s his name?”

Again a pause as he searched through what I imagined to be cobwebs much like one would find in his house. (I often equated his house, the house I grew up in, in the nearly 40 years since my mother died, to be much like Miss Haversham’s from Great Expectations after she was left at the altar.)

“You said Tom had a boy, ‘a good boy’…what’s the boy’s name?”

“I can’t remember his full name but Tom calls him Atti…”

Upon hearing his name Atticus looked up at him. My father returned Atticus’ curious look and settled back into his thoughts and then disappeared into those cobwebs again. After a while he looked at me and said, “Who are you?”

It is disarming to see your father, for decades so powerful, intimidating, even bully-like, now helpless. It is disarming to see him fumble with a spoon and then relent and allow me to feed him his pureed macaroni and cheese with a side of stewed tomatoes.

It is disarming to have your father look at you with a blank but worried look and tell you he has just soiled himself. And we have come full circle now in that I toileted him and wiped him just as he used to toilet and wipe me. And later in our visit when he was back in bed and soiled himself once more I changed his diaper just as he had once changed mine.

The most heavy-hearted moments came when I first walked in his room and he was attempting to crawl over the side rail of his bed. He recognized my face but didn’t know who I was as he looked on with pleading and horror, “Please…please help me get out of here.”

Soon after, once I had him up in a chair and a bit more comfortable he asked me, “Is my mother still alive?”

And finally, at one point he said to me, “I feel badly for Jeff…I feel badly for Stephen…I feel badly for Tom.” He spoke like that…halting…searching…exhausted…

“Why do you feel bad for them, Jack?”

“Because they don’t know their father…and because he doesn’t know them.” But there were no tears. There was no time for that. There are times when we are weak, when we may want to weep, but it’s our turn to be strong, time for the son to be the father.

After I got him out of bed with the help of a nursing assistant, he was disoriented, in pain, and confused. I know he likes ice cream. No, he loves ice cream. The nurse came in to check on him and I asked her, “Do you have ice cream here?”


“Can you get some for my father please?”

“No. We don’t let them have ice cream until after they have dinner.”

I surveyed this woman with an incredulous look on my face. She was somewhere in her early 50s I guessed, not a very happy woman. I asked her, “Tell me, when you are 87, how will you like it when someone forty years younger than you tells you when you can and can’t have ice cream?”

She looked at me blankly, not sure what to say.

“My father would like some ice cream. Thank you.”

She left the room without a word and came back with a victorious look on her face. “Mr. Ryan isn’t allowed ice cream, he’s on a pureed diet.”

I held my cool. “I’ll tell you what, where do you keep the ice cream, I’ll get him some.”

She left and came back with something that wasn’t ice cream. It looked like sherbet and she told me it was allowed. My father couldn’t operate the spoon too well so I did it for him. After a couple of spoonfuls I asked him, “How is it?” He looked at me with disgust, “Tastes like sh**.”

Atticus and I then left for a little while and drove to the local grocery store. When I returned my father was delighted to see I had chocolate and vanilla ice cream for him. It was only after he had a bowl that he seemed to regain his composure and seemed to recognize me from time to time.

At one point dad looked at Atticus and said, “Atticus is a good dog.”

My father was more adept with the belt than he was with hugs and then added, “He’s better than you deserve.”

At a younger time in my life I would have left the room wounded. However, tonight I looked at him and said, “You’re right, he’s pretty special.”

When I left, not too long after that, I kissed him on the forehead as he fought with increasingly heavy eyelids.

Sometimes in life, it is clear; the mountains we have to climb are not outside nor covered with snow or ice and there are no maps to show us the easiest way to get where we are going.

After a long ride back in the dark, it feels good to be home with my ‘dark-haired son’ squeezed up against my side as I lay in bed writing this.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Greeting Cards

Looking for another way to support Angell? Buying our greeting cards not only supports us, it also gives money to Angell Animal Medical Center since we are donating a portion of our profits. This photo at Atticus sitting atop the rock, was taken on a hike up the Mt. Kinsman Trail in summer. Here he sits and ponders Moosilauke off in the distance. To find out more about our greeting cards check here.

What's Going On?

Winter peakbagging is very much like putting together a puzzle. There is a strong cause and effect component to the season when trying to get one or two full rounds of the 48 in winter.

You may remember that in the beginning of winter Atticus and I took it slow. I’d hurt my knee in early November slipping on some ice. It ended up being a severe problem with my I-T band. I couldn’t hike the six or seven weeks leading up to the beginning of winter and therefore lost whatever conditioning I had built up. The knee was still troublesome in the first few weeks and I didn’t push my limits and only hiked every other day when winter started in an attempt to rest my leg. Because of that many of those first several hikes were easier hikes and those easier hikes take place more often than not in protected conditions (not above treeline and coincidentally not over most water crossings).

We got many of those hikes out of the way early and now as the stream crossings are ruptured by the heavy rains and mild temperatures, we are limited in the remaining hikes we have. I’m listing what is left…

Whiteface & Passaconaway: We’ve already done it once and will most likely be headed there tomorrow, depending upon a report expected later today on the ice conditions on the Blueberry Ledges.

North Twin, South Twin & Galehead: We still have to do this wonderful hike twice. When we haven’t been put off by the incredible snow depths and unbroken trail there’s been the problem of the Little River not looking so little. Right now it is roaring and while the first two stream crossings are easily bypassed, the third is not and it needs to be frozen. Throughout the winter, when it hasn’t been snowing, there have been rain storms and thaws and that opens up the stream crossings. On the other end of this loop there is also a place we have to cross the Gale River and right now that is open, too.

Isolation: While it is unusual not to have the Twins done by this time, it is not at all unusual having trouble getting to Isolation in the winter. The trail has rarely been broken out this winter and when it has it has snowed soon after. We still need Isolation twice. On the day we are able to do it, don’t be surprised to see us turn right around and do it again before the way is ‘sealed’ once again. Isolation is always one of the more difficult winter peaks to ‘bag’.

Owls Head: Also another difficult peak to get in winter, especially now that the stream crossings are open and roaring. That being said, we’ve got it done once already and will be headed back there again when we can. But this is another peak that is out of the way: an 18 mile round trip in the summer, maybe 16 with the winter bushwhacks included.

Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond & Bondcliff: This is one of the more challenging hikes, but more so due to the 24.5 miles than the 6,000-plus feet of elevation gain. We’ve done it once and only have to do it one more time. But because of the Bonds’ isolated nature, it’s not always easy to get out there.

Adams, Jefferson & Madison: Done once with one more trip to go. Conditions above treeline now are not so bad. Not much snow, lots of ice. We’ll be able to get back there when the winds die down and the temperatures are mild once again.

Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce & Jackson: Any hike that includes Washington is a weather challenge. That has been the hindrance to this point but this is March it I imagine we’ll get a window of opportunity soon enough. We need to do this hike twice but only need to hit Jackson once. Although this may seem worse than Adams, Jefferson & Madison, it’s not. You get Washington out of the way and then it is mostly just a gentle walk down the ridge with an occasional climb up each peak on the ever descending Crawford Path.

Carrigain: Once done and one to go. Carrigain will probably be done later in the week. It’s not doable today because of the few stream crossings after the two mile road walk ends and the trail begins. It is a 14 mile hike in winter with little challenge other than climbing a mountain, which too me is always a challenge.

Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A & Wildcat D: This has always been planned as a five peak hike but we’ve put off doing it because in this winter of constant storms there has rarely been days when the Carters and the Wildcats have both been broken out. It is not a hike that typically calls to be done all in one. More often than not people do the two Wildcats on their own. Others do the three Carters together, but more often than not even the Carters are broken into two hikes with Carter Dome being a single hike to the more conservative. The Wildcats, due to the slide conditions on Wildcat A, have been impassable. This means, unless times change and the slide becomes less of an avalanche potential, or the potential to fall down the icy slide while crossing it, this one big hike may very well be broken into two hikes: three Carters on one day; two Wildcats on another. These peaks have to be done twice.

The plan today is to spend time with my father, who had a serious heart attack last week. He’s been moved to a nursing home, but as you can imagine at 87, he’s not really with it. He lives in Medway, Massachusetts so we’ll spend our day driving down, visiting and then driving back. It is undecided at this time whether or not he will be able to make it back to his house.

Most likely Atticus and I will be hiking Whiteface & Passaconaway tomorrow.

Madison Was Hiked For Magnum

Madison (5367 ft): Dedicated to "Ruger, who along with Magnum (our other dog) are our best friends!" Donated by Kevin & Mary Dunham.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Writing, Not Hiking

Today was a writing day, not a hiking day. The original plan was to do Washington through Pierce or Jackson but I decided on yesterday that today's high winds would make this a writing day, instead. Tonight, the following was posted as a trail condition by someone who was part of a group that tried to go up the Ammo Trail, as we would have on the way to Washington. This person's group may have been going to Washington, too, or maybe Monroe. But they got no further than the closed Monroe Hut. Here's what was posted by an anonymous poster:
Talk about extreme conditions! This was as far as we'd like to experience but we were prepared for them. Near the hut temperature was about 2 degrees with winds at about 55 mph; visibility was about 50 feet. We figure it was 25 below zero with windchill. It was essential not to have any exposed skin. We had trouble finding the hut due to poor visiblity and route finding was a challenge. It was only when we were almost on top of the hut did we find it. The door to the dungeon had about 1-2 feet of ice build up on the opening so it was impossible to open. There are no steps on the steep ascent after Gem Pool so you are basically walking right up an ice chute. Most of us glissaded down Ammo using our ice axes as a brake.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

While On The Subject Of Great Writers...

Thomas Starr King is famous for his writings about the White Moun- tains, but there are others who penned beautiful essays and poems about these magical mountains. Here's one by John Greenleaf Whittier called "Agiochook" (Agiochook was the Indian name for Mt. Washington and the Great Spirit who resided there):

GRAY searcher of the upper air,
There's sunshine on thy ancient walls,
A crown upon thy forehead bare,
A flash upon thy waterfalls.
A rainbow glory in the cloud
Upon thine awful summit bowed,
The radiant ghost of a dead storm!
And music from the leafy shroud
Which swathes in green thy giant form,
Mellowed and softened from above
Steals downward to the lowland ear,
Sweet as the first, fond dream of love
That melts upon the maiden's ear.

The time has been, white giant, when
Thy shadows veiled the red man'shome,
And over crag and serpent den,
And wild gorge where the steps of men
In chase or battle might not come,
The mountain eagle bore on high
The emblem of the free of soul,
And, midway in the fearful sky,
Sent back the Indian battle cry,
And answered to the thunder's roll.

The wigwam fires have all burned out,
The moccasin has left no track;
Nor wolf nor panther roam about
The Saco and the Merrimac.
And thou, that liftest up on high
Thy mighty barriers to the sky,
Art not the haunted mount of old,
Where on each crag of blasted stone
Some dreadful spirit found his throne,
And hid within the thick cloud fold,
Heard only in the thunder's crash,
Seen only in the lightning's flash,
When crumbled rock and riven branch
Went down before the avalanche!

No more that spirit moveth there;
The dwellers of the vale are dead;
No hunter's arrow cleaves the air;
No dry leaf rustles to his tread.
The pale-face climbs thy tallest rock,
His hands thy crystal gates unlock;
From steep to steep his maidens call,
Light laughing, like the streams that fall
In music down thy rocky wall,
And only when their careless tread
Lays bare an Indian arrow-head,
Spent and forgetful of the deer,
Think of the race that perished here.

Oh, sacred to the Indian seer,
Gray altar of the men of old!
Not vainly to the listening ear
The legends of thy past are told,
--Tales of the downward sweeping flood,
When bowed like reeds thy ancient wood;
Of armèd hands, and spectral forms;
Of giants in their leafy shroud,
And voices calling long and loud
In the dread pauses of thy storms.
For still within their caverned home
Dwell the strange gods of heathendom!

Tomorrow's Plan Changed

We had hoped to meet up with some friends from the popular on-line hiking website Views From The Top for a hike up the Ammo Trail tomorrow morning. They would head right, towards the summit of Mt. Monroe then over Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson. Atticus and I would have turned left, towards Washington then after summiting Atti and I would return the way we came and then follow the trail left by the others over Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce & Jackson. However, tomorrow's Mount Washington Observatory Higher Summits Forecast has forced a change in the plans for Atticus and me.

In the clouds w/ a chance of snow and snow showers. Wind chills 35
- 45 below.
Highs: falling to middle singles below 0°F
Wind: W shifting NW at 65-85 mph w/ higher gusts

I'm not sure what we will do tomorrow now, perhaps Whiteface/ Passaconawy or Carrigain or if the weather does not cooperate more writing.

Today, while doing some research for my writing I came upon the following by Thomas Starr King, written back in the 1800's. I liked it and thought I would share it with you. It describes the area just a five minute drive from where we live:

[S]ee the great hills assume a deeper blue or purple; see the burly Cannon Mountain stand, a dark abutment, at the gate of the Notch, unlighted except by its own pallor; and, as the sun goes down, watch his last beams of crimson or orange cover with devastating fire the pyramidal peaks of the three great Haystacks, and then decide whether language can recall or report the pomp of the spectacle.

A Rainy Day

It's 39 degrees and it's raining heavily. Atti and I just returned from a visit to Ken & Ann Stampfer's place. Always nice to check in with them. In many ways they have been a salvation for us up here. They come up from Belmont nearly every weekend. One of my goals is to some day be half the photographer Ken is. That being said, it was Ken's suggestion I continue to show my cards every now and then by adding a fresh post so here's the latest post. Now you'll excuse me as Atticus is already on his Woolrich on the couch and I need to go get my spot and do some writing on this most cozy day.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Success On The Northern Pressies

Today, we hiked Jefferson, Madison Adams on a beautiful day to be above treeline for as long as we were. It was a great but a tough day and we're both extremely tired right now. Lots of miles, lots of elevation, lots of sun screen, lots of lactic acid (at least for me). I'll write it up tomorrow during our very healthy rain storm. I'll just say it's good to have this one done for the first time and while it is tough, saving a hike such as this for a day such as this makes it one of my favorite winter hikes now. Can hardly wait to get back up there!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Haiku For Two

My creative friend Sarah sent this to me last night....

Haiku For Two
two souls free on peaks
graceful mountain pas de deux
on two legs and four

Tomorrow's Plans (Weather Allowing): The Northern Presidentials

What’s this, tomorrow’s plans include hiking? Finally. And what a day we might have according to the Mount Washington Observatory Higher Summits Forecast. It is supposed to be a gentle day leading into Friday night’s storms so we’re headed for the Northern Presidentials of Madison, Adams and Jefferson. The forecast is as follows:

In the clear under mostly cloudy skies. Wind chills
will range from 5-15 above zero.
Highs: mid 20s°F
Wind: W shifting S at 15-30 mph

We’ll head up Valley Way and hit Madison. That was done today. Then we’ll see what we can do above treeline, heading first for Adams and then ultimately to the difficult to reach Jefferson. Once there, if we make it, we’ll return the way we came. I hope to get an early start on the trail with boots on Valley Way by 7:00 if possible. It will be a long day with lots of elevation but it has the potential to be a great day.

Friday night’s and Saturday’s forecast calls for rain, rain and more rain. Not sure yet whether this will simply pack down the trail or create the difficult to deal with bulletproof ice we tend to avoid. If the weather is mild and the winds gentle we will head to Crawford Notch where we will meet up with an increasingly growing group who will leave some cars in the Notch and then drive to Marshfield Station (Cog Railroad) for a climb up the Ammonousac Ravine Trail. The group then will head to Monroe then continue on to Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson. If all is right, we’ll head the other way, Atticus and I will head the other way, up to Washington, then double back and follow the group out to our waiting car near the Highland Center.

If we get the breaks we need for weather both tomorrow and Sunday, which will mean we’ve hit all the great mountains of the Presidential Range, which includes the five highest mountains in New England. Tomorrow’s hike up Valley Way would bring us to Madison (5th highest), Adams (2nd), and Jefferson (3rd). On the other hike, if it happens (it’s too soon to know what the weather will yield), we’ll reach Washington (1st) and Monroe (4th) then follow up with the three smaller peaks of the range.

I’ll get up early in the morning and check the higher summits forecast. If it looks good we’ll head towards the Northern Pressies. Gosh, it seems so long ago since we have last hiked! A week ago Monday. It will be tiring but good to get back on the trail.

Lincoln Was Hiked In Memory Of Tooey

In memory of Toohey. "Toohey was my first pet, a parakeet. He became very hand-tame and would "kiss" me on the nose. And he liked to share my meals. He was with me for 10 years--a good lifespan for a little bird. He's been gone 8 years, but anytime I make spaghetti I still half-expect him to land on the edge of my plate and help himself!" Given by Sarah Hubner.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We May Be Hikeless This Week...

...but there's been some movement on the greeting card front, espcially today! (This is great news for us as it helps to supplement what we have lost in sponsorship money.) Just to keep things interesting, after a busy day of card sales, I'm listing the three most popular in order above from top to bottom.

Greeting Card Displays

In response to the readers who wanted a better look at the greeting cards we are selling, I will highlight a different one every now and then. (I have purposefully scanned the cards in at a lower quality than they actually are.) The most popular card so far is "Liberty Sunrise". This was taken two summers ago. Atticus and I started our hike at 1:00 in the morning and were up on Mt. Flume while it was still under the stars, then reached Liberty just as the sun rose casting its light on an undercast in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Before I had the ability to print these photos myself, I used to get them developed at CVS. When I had this one developed, the photo tech asked, "What beach are you guys in the picture? The ocean is just beautiful!"
For more information on these unique cards click here.

Greeting Card Response

Woke up this morning to high winds and falling ice. It later grew into a stronger ice storm. While waiting out yet another day we're taking care of other business. Will work on the book proposal and the greeting cards. One blog reader who ordered the cards and then received them sent in the following:

Beautiful ! Individually wrapped, too !

Okay...I love them all...but my top three favorites are:
"Liberty Sunrise" (wonderful !!!!!!!!!!!!! A+++++++++++++)
"Happy on Truman"
"Moat Profile"
(All pictured above.)

It's been FUN looking at the views...trying to pick out the spots!

To learn how to order your cards click here.

Lafayette Was Hiked For Troubles & Rusty

When we hiked Lafayette last week we did so in memory of Troubles (pictured) and Rusty. The following is what the donors (who wished to remain anonymous) wrote about Rusty and Troubles:

My wife and I would like to dedicate this mountain to our two favorite dogs from our childhoods.

My wife's family's dog was named Rusty. Rusty was a daschund who was just full of life. She loved my wife's brother in particular so much that my wife's parents would have to lock Rusty up if they ever wanted to discipline my wife's brother. Rusty was always a loyal and friendly companion.

The other dog we'd like to dedicate this mountain to is Troubles, my favorite dog from my childhood. Troubles was one of the most intelligent dogs that I ever met, great with kids and still a great watch dog. I wasn't into hiking when Troubles was alive but I know that he would have been a great hiker.

One of my favorite stories about Troubles was the time that three loud miscreants were wandering by our house at 2am. The moon was out a bit that night, so we could clearly see their silhouettes. We saw the miscreants trespass onto our neighbor's property and begin checking doors to try to break in. Our neighbor was an elderly widow. Nothing good could come of this. Troubles was going nuts inside our house, so my father let Troubles out.

Wow, you have never heard such a racket. It was a dark night, and Troubles was all black, so all the miscreants saw were teeth. We heard a lot of growling and screaming and branches snapping as Troubles chased the miscreants through the woods behind our neighbor's house. After a while my father called Troubles, and he came out of the woods, wagging his tail. The police arrived a few minutes later. We never found out who the miscreants were, but I assume they never forgot the experience.