Not counting to 48

The thought creeps into my head every now and then: Madison, Lafayette, Lincoln… then I have to stop myself. I don’t want to count the 4,000-foot peaks I’ve climbed in the White Mountains. I don’t want to join that group.

Yet I spend time among the group — those out to summit each of the 48, 4,000-foot peaks in the Whites — and I don’t dislike their company, mostly. In fact it was pretty cool to be “partying” (I use that term lightly) this summer on the summit of West Bond in the Pemigewasset Wilderness when one woman in our group finished her 48th peak. We had cheese and crackers, passed around a couple flasks of whisky and of course talked about who’s next to finish their 48.

It turns out that if you join this group of peak baggers you never really finish. Once you’ve logged the 48 in New Hampshire, you might move on to those in Vermont.. or, as someone told me, people repeat the list but only in winter — and the really crazy hikers do grids where they hike all 48 in each month of the year or some such madness.

on the trail between Guyot and Bondcliff

on the trail between Guyot and Bondcliff

My most recent foray above 4,000 feet was up Zealand (including Zeacliff) over Guyot to Bondcliff and West Bond. It was about 15 miles roundtrip (so I was told), with the hike out in the pouring rain. We camped at Guyot, an Appalachian Mountain Club maintained site between Guyot and the Bonds where everyone leaves a tip (on Sunday morning it’s usually their unwanted booze) for the staff member on site (whose primary responsibility, it seems, is maintenance of the only outhouse you’ll find way out there).

Along the way a woman in the group made an interesting observation: “trails” in the White Mountains are all rocks — and none of them are flat. There is nothing more true. By the end of the weekend that was painfully evident to me as I lost two toenails afterward. I guess I should be grateful that we changed our intended route on the rainy Sunday when we left: we were supposed to bag “the Twins” that day, two more 4,000 foot peaks, but our leader decided the vertical ascent/descent might be dangerously slippery in the rain. I don’t know about anybody else but I wasn’t disappointed. Mostly. Somewhere deep inside I wanted to say I’d hit 5 peaks above 4,000 feet that weekend, but my rational side says I have the rest of my life to do that because it’s not a race or anything. Right?

me on Bondcliff, trying not to look down

me on Bondcliff, trying not to look down

The race question would be a good one for some of the people we met along the way. Of course we were hauling food, tents, sleeping bags and other comfort items.. but we kept seeing small groups of people with just hydration packs on, and they weren’t interested in chatting. Turns out some of them were attempting the Pemi Loop, a 31-mile route with 9,000 feet of elevation gain — and because we were out there on the solstice they were trying to do it in a day. Seriously? That’s brutal.

It makes me wonder why one would even start counting their peaks. It seems to be the route to removing all enjoyment from the process. The hikes that have brought me the most pleasure are those I’ve done with people close to me, when there was plenty of laughter and commiseration about the obstacles. I remember taking my daughters up Jackson and over to Pierce one weekend, their first 4k footers. The highlight was the noisy campground that annoyed us when we needed to sleep that night and the frost on the ground the next morning (Labor Day weekend!). We did Carter Dome and descended into Carter Notch to the hut on shaky sore legs one summer — and that was all before the hours-long hike back out of the woods!

Hiking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I’m glad I was able to accomplish some with my girls while they were growing up. I believe the non-material reward of summiting under one’s own power teaches some powerful lessons in endurance, accessing stamina and goal attainment.

I’ve learned some lessons of my own through hiking, especially the part about not being infallible. If you’ve read my post about trying to bag the Kinsmans you’d know I learned some humility that day.

I was a sweaty mess but so happy the day's hike was over..

I was a sweaty mess but so happy the day’s hike was over..

This weekend I was supposed to go bag some more peaks. Of course it’s been maybe the second rainy weekend all summer, just like the deluge we got when I was out there carrying 30 pounds of gear over rocks to summit Zealand and the Bonds. Instead I’m lugging boxes and crates from my daughter’s old apartment to her new one. It’s not a bad trade off. The mountains will still be there when the sun comes out again.

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