Hiking the NH48
I could have taken a number of different approaches with this essay. I was tempted to write it as a series of trip reports, which is a genre I benefitted from as I planned many of my own hikes (using sites like this, this, or the collective wisdom of the 4000-footers FB page), but there are many excellent trip reports out there—and I’m not sure how helpful my reviews would be for hikes from a couple of years ago. I could have ranked my trips, or the peaks, but I think my buddy Byrne did an excellent job of that in his recent power ranking. I was maybe most tempted by the emotive allure of a summative (lol) reflection on what the pursuit of this list meant to me, but I’ve dabbled in this style elsewhere and anything I attempted to write just felt maudlin.
Instead, I wrote a series of mini essays, reflections inspired by each of my 31 trips and 290-ish miles* in pursuit of the NH48 4,000 footers. Some of these pieces are more thoughtful than others; all are at least somewhat self-indulgent. It has been a pleasure revisiting some of my memories from the past three years—I hope this is moderately entertaining.
Starting a List
Pierce and Eisenhower (Crawford Path/Edmands Path/Mt. Clinton Rd; 10 miles with road walk)
I didn’t grow up athletic. I was a reader, an artist, an indoor person. I only had a handful of experiences with organized sports—a season of softball here, an attempt at track there. Something that I’m not sure was a full season of basketball. I started hiking in college because it occurred to me that I should get in shape, so at the beginning hiking was a utilitarian venture.
Until it was more than that.
Over time, first in Arizona and then in California, hiking became less a thing I was doing to exercise my body and more a thing I did to experience nature in a physically demanding, wholly immersive way. It became something I did for me, not for external reasons.
I was familiar with peak lists, as my aunt had completed the ADK46 in the 1990s. When she suggested we hike Pierce and Eisenhower Memorial Day weekend of 2017, I wasn’t thinking about lists. A hike simply seemed like a good idea—a nice change of pace from all the distance running I’d been doing. It was only after we finished the hike that I sat down with my copy of the White Mountain Guide and actually thought about what it would mean to work towards The List. It seemed fairly unobtainable at the time—or maybe it’s more appropriate to say it seemed like a long-term goal.
I like lists. They help me feel organized, and I have at least 4-5 different kinds of lists—to-do lists, plans of different sorts—going at a given time. What I really like are checking things off lists. Despite my excitement to learn there was a list involved in NH hiking, to start a list of 48 summits that would realistically take me years to complete contradicted my desire to move through lists efficiently and quickly. Plus, I was deeply ambivalent about taking this activity I was doing for personal reasons and gamifying it. It felt like a return, of sorts, to hiking as a utilitarian activity.
I don’t have a nice resolution to this part of the story. I didn’t commit to the list right away—though when I did commit, I went all in. I suppose I still feel a little conflicted about the idea of hiking towards a list, and yet I’m glad this list exists, because it took me to places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. On more than one occasion it inspired me to get out of the house and into nature. I learned more about the state I’ve lived in for the past 9 years, and I feel more connected to this place as a result. Because of the list, I reconnected with hiking.
Communing with Nature and 1,924,846 Other People
Lincoln and Lafayette (Falling Waters/Franconia Ridge/Greenleaf/Old Bridle Path; 8.5 miles)
The AMC started the list to provide hikers with a reason “to explore new areas, and in turn lessen the concentrated use” of the Presidential Range and Franconia Ridge. Creating a list helps diffuse hikers across a larger area, but the popularity of the list—and the extent to which gamification motivates people in our culture—perhaps means some people are hiking who otherwise would not hike at all. The stated AMC goal of keeping members “working for the preservation and wise use of wild country” though the creation of the list is perhaps a bit of the solution contributing to the problem.
To be clear, though, I’m not yelling at the kids to stay off my lawn. I imagine the personal and collective value achieved by introducing new people to the mountains offsets the wear this traffic places on our natural resources. Just as I don’t have a nice resolution for my relationship to the list, so too do I not have a strong position on this question.
I do have a strong position on hiking the Franconia Ridge on Labor Day, and my position is that it is a grave mistake. The Franconia Ridge was my second NH48 hike, again with my aunt, and again in 2017. It was the most crowded hiking experience I have ever had, and I have hiked the Grand Canyon multiple times on corridor trails in the summer.
But it was also incredibly beautiful. Despite the drone. And listening to someone else’s hiking soundtrack on the summit. Ok, I’ll stop now.
East Coast Ski Slopes are Steeeeeep!
Tecumseh (Mt. Tecumseh/Sosman/Waterville Valley ski slopes; 5-ish miles with ski slope descent)
I grew up skiing in the West, where the snow is light and fluffy, and the ski slopes (at least in my experience, as a child) are never too steep. Unless you are my friend Amanda, skiing down a black diamond in Telluride—and then taking off your skis and walking down a black diamond in Telluride.
My first inkling that Eastern skiing was of a different breed came not in the winter but in June of 2018, when my friend Megan and I hiked up to Tecumseh and then decided to hike down the ski slope. Steep is an understatement. It’s fair to say that experience should have warned me, and when I tried out the whole “Ski the East” thing on a particularly icy day in January, I had no one to blame by myself. So now Amanda and I can bond over taking off our skis and walking down a ski trail.
On Trail Rating Systems
Liberty and Flume (Pemi/Liberty Springs/Franconia Ridge and return; 10.2 miles)
My hiking buddy Megan hates slides, so we did not take the Flume Slide Trail up to Flume. I didn’t know what “slides” really were at that point in my hikes, but they sounded unpleasant. When I later hiked a few—Owl’s Head and the Hancocks (twice)—I discovered didn’t mind them. (I also don’t mind long hikes, likely because I’m used to distance running. But give me a scramble up anything approximating a rock face and I’ll start sweating bullets.)
While I don’t mind ladders, I found these steps up the exposed rock face on the Wildcat Ridge trail to be challenging
All of this is to say something quite obvious: each person is going to find some trail conditions harder than others, and thus any difficulty rating system is going to be subjective. And all difficulty rating systems will attempt to be objective. The AMC guide, for instance, explains that their easy/moderate/strenuous designation is primarily based on hiking time estimate, while other guidebooks and websites don’t publish the criteria informing their rating systems.
I think the most helpful kind of trail condition rating system is a comparative one—which is not helpful if someone is new to hiking. If you were reading this short essay looking for a solution to trail rating systems, sorry.
When to Fall
Jackson (Webster-Jackson/Webster Cliff/Webster-Jackson; 6.1 miles)
My aunt fell into the river in the middle of a crossing on the way up to Jackson. It was alarming—she fell straight backwards into the water. Luckily nothing was broken and she didn’t hit her head.
This incident made me think about falling: how to avoid it, mostly, but also when to let yourself fall so as to avoid worse injury. It’s pretty clear that most of the time when one is hiking a mountain, one should avoid falling. As adults, the kinds of falls we endured as children can hurt more and cause far more damage. Sometimes, though, taking a small fall can help avoid a strain brought about by fighting the fall. Most of the time, we don’t have a choice—but when we do, the split-second calculation becomes one of probable pain assessment.
How do we know when to fall and when to resist? What will it mean for me to resist? Is resistance worth it?
Tom and Field (Avalon/A-Z/Willey Range/Avalon; 7 miles)
I hiked Tom and Field with my friends Lau and Shawn when I did not yet have a completely firm grasp on the routes I wanted to take to complete my hikes. I was pretty dedicated to the list at this point, but it still felt fairly far away and thus I was opportunistically joining others on hikes without worrying about efficiency.
This is a long way of saying we didn’t peak bag Willey.
The hike itself was beautiful, and I enjoyed the trip down past Avalon. But almost as soon as we finished it occurred to me how close we were to that third peak. This makes me think about route efficiency and the aims of hiking, particularly as they are complicated by the pursuit of a list. I’ve made a number of route decisions that take me pretty far afield of the most efficient route—an extended Pemi Loop, for instance, is the most efficient way of tackling 12-13 peaks in a single hike. I like efficiency, but I decided I wanted to complete these hikes without an overnight (I don’t sleep well when I camp), and particularly early on, I was nervous about my ability to complete 18+ mile hikes in a day.
For me, efficiency is engaged in an elaborate dance with things like difficulty, duration, and whatever it is I need from my hike on a given day.
Garfield (GarfieldàGarfield Ridge and return; 10 miles)
Despite hiking Garfield in 2018, I still remember my fairly banal conversation about the seedy underbelly of the international rental car industry and port wine with Megan. Some conversations stick with you long after they’re over. This hike was objectively pleasant—never too difficult underfoot (up to the AT section near the top), moderate grade, lovely forest—but also subjectively so, thanks to the company.
The Summit Payoff
Moosilauke (Gorge Brook and return; 6.5 miles)
When my aunt and I hiked Moosilauke in 2018, the sun was shining when we reached the top. There was also a sea of clouds below us, effacing all the other peaks in the area—prompting me to wonder what we summit for. Most likely, some combination of achievement and, ideally, rewarding view. But is a hike still rewarding without the view? What about a view that is not as expected—due to time of day or weather? Taking this one step further, now that we all have access to so many gorgeous photographs of these mountains, what happens when our summit view just doesn’t match the dazzling sunrise photograph we recently saw on Facebook?
The Summit Payoff, Part 2
Hale (Hale Brook and return; 4.4 miles)
Some summits have no view. Some NH48 hikes are also relentless staircases. I don’t know where to place Hale in my thinking about these hikes. Would I have hiked this mountain without a list telling me to do so? Maybe not. It was my first hike with Jeff, and we had a good time, but it was short and steep and obviously there’s no view. I hiked it for the list. If I returned, it would likely be for the efficient cardio.
Sometimes the Bushwhack Isn’t Worth It
Osceola and East Osceola (Mt Osceola and return; 8.2 miles)
I was nervous about the chimney, not knowing what to expect from something called a “chimney,” and I did a bunch of reading about the bushwhack work-around. So when Megan and I made the traverse from Osceola to East, we attempted the bushwhack. Except the bushwhack was so close to the actual trail, we thought we surely had to go further afield. We ended up in an area of terrifying spongy, definitely NOT terra firma. On the return we identified the work-around section and went up it. It…was not easy. It…had more of an exposed edge than I was comfortable with. I think the chimney itself would have been easier than either of the alternatives we selected. Sometimes you can’t game the system.
Bugs; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the DEET
The Kinsmans (Mt. Kinsman/Kinsman Ridge and return;10 miles)
I should start by saying I feel strongly that North and South Kinsman should be collectively referred to as “the Kinsmen.”
Once upon a time, I had very virtuous views about natural products as solutions to insect problems. One summer in California we had a major ant infestation. I rolled out all the natural solutions: vinegar, baking soda, dish detergent, cinnamon, etc. None of these things helped. The ants were in my breakfast cereal. They were in my sugar bowl. They were inexplicably inside my closed bottle of liqueur. I bought Raid. The ants went away.
I had a similar attitude evolution when it came to DEET. I didn’t want to use DEET—I didn’t want that chemical on me at all. So I tried all the natural bug repellants. I mean ALL of them.
It was the hike to the Kinsmans that finally swayed me, because after approximately 479 mosquito and/or black fly bites, I just couldn’t take it anymore.
DEET is now my 11th essential.
Forecasts and Luck
The Hancocks (Hancock Notch/Cedar Brook/Hancock Loop and return; 9 miles)
The impending weather doom from the top of North Hancock
When my friend Brooke and I hiked the Hancocks together in 2019, we narrowly missed a truly gnarly rainstorm. A pull-your-car-over-because-you-can’t-see-to-drive kind of rainstorm. The sky opened and the rain started maybe 2 minutes after we got in the car at the end of the hike. Excellent timing for sure.
We had, of course, checked the weather before heading up to the mountains that morning. I am the daughter of a pilot—I grew up learning the names of different types of clouds and I am no stranger to different weather tracking resources. I am no stranger to NOAA. I fit right in in New England, where the people discuss the weather like it’s a pastime (they don’t do this to the same degree in other parts of the country). When I’m planning a hike I check Mountain Forecasts, Trails NH, NOAA, the NOAA forecast discussion, and the Higher Summits forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory. I have four weather apps on my phone. I am really into weather.
Alas, the forecast can only go so far, and the weather can be particularly volatile in the mountains. Lesson learned, Hancocks!
Trail Etiquette, Or How to Be a Considerate Walker
Cannon (Kinsman Ridge and return; 4 miles)
Cannon was my first solo hike in the Whites, and I was excited. I used to hike solo all the time in California, but that was years ago and a ten-minute drive from my house. I was looking forward to setting my own pace and doing my own thing on this hike, and the hike itself did not disappoint. At the summit, I decided to take the flat loop around the observation tower, and that is where I encountered a great many people who did not seem to be aware of their surroundings or the other people with whom they were sharing the trail. One group was shocked–shocked!–to be asked to let a hiker pass them by.
I’m sure there’s a point in here about the more general decay of empathy–or at the very least, self-awareness–in our culture.
All the Hype
Monroe and Washington (Ammonoosuc Ravine/Crawford Path/Gulfside/Jewell; 9.10 miles)
There were plenty of people on Washington too, of course, and I hiked this peak (with Monroe) four days later. Perhaps because I had just hiked Cannon, I was prepared for the difference between the vibe on the trail and the vibe on Washington’s summit. This was my first experience with the boulder field that characterizes Washington’s summit cone and the northern Presis, and I found that particular trail feature to be quite challenging. It was a good, challenging hike and it felt like a major accomplishment.
The summit itself felt simultaneously overwhelming, because of all the people, and underwhelming, because of all the people—but that didn’t diminish my experience on this hike overall. Which suggests that sometimes experiences can be monumental despite the hype.
The Passage of Time
Carrigain (Signal Ridge and return; 10.4 miles)
Have you ever noticed how your perception of the passage of time can fluctuate? This is my experience hiking Carrigain both times I have hiked it. The hike is not short at over 10 miles and it picks up about 3,000 feet of elevation, so it’s not flat. It took me five and a half hours to hike it with some trail running, and six and a half without.
For some reason, though, this hike feels short to me. Or more precisely, it feels like a moderately difficult, 10-mile hike while it’s happening, but amnesia sets in immediately after and it feels much shorter than it actually was.
Watch Your Head
Jefferson (Caps Ridge and return; 4.5 miles)
I was anxious about hiking Jefferson because of the caps and my general discomfort with exposed scrambling. Before Jeff and I got to the caps, however, I managed to brain myself on a blowdown that was hanging low across the trail. I have played roller derby for years, but it figures that the first time I see stars from a head injury it is while hiking a relatively flat section of trail.
Because I was preoccupied with my head (and trying to self-diagnose a possible concussion),** the caps no longer seemed so intimidating. Maybe my decision to continue on was itself a sign of concussion. It was obviously unwise to continue hiking after hitting my head—and particularly unwise to scramble up the caps in that state. As a literal insult to injury, most of the higher summits were in the clouds by the time we got to the top of Jefferson. Maybe that was the mountain’s way of punishing my bullheaded decision making.
Finishing What We Started
Willey (Ethan Pond/Willey Range and return; 5 miles)
Because our aforementioned trip to Tom and Field did not include Willey, of course we had to return as a group to finish the set. This trip also included a couple of Lau and Shawn’s friends—and, since we had hiked Tom and Field from the Highland Center, of course we had to try a different route with the Ethan Pond Trail. This route was challenging. A lot of people make a big to-do about the ladders, but the ladders were far easier than the steep rocky sections without ladders. This trail was slow going and it made me regret not peak bagging Willey with Tom and Field. But sometimes you have to finish what you start.
The Tripyramids (Pine Bend Brook/Scaur Ridge/Mt. Tripyramid and return; 9 miles)
Along with the Osceola chimney, this could be classified under “how avoiding something difficult does not pay off.” Sure, hiking the Tripyramids via Pine Bend Brook Trail meant avoiding the slides—but as a result the hike felt like it was missing something (like a slide or two!). I will revisit this hike to try the slides, because sometimes the trip is about the whole experience.
On Not Picking Fights
Wildcat D and Wildcat (Wildcat Ridge/Polecat ski descent; 9.5-ish miles with a road jog)
This was one of the hardest hikes I encountered in pursuit of the 48, but it was an enjoyable day hiking with Jeff. We even got to trail run down the Polecat ski trail (because hiking one direction up Wildcat Ridge trail was plenty, thanks). During this hike we encountered an individual whose apparel loudly proclaimed their political views—views we did not share. But we had a nice long chat with this gentleman about hiking.
This begs the question of whether one should always articulate their beliefs when given the chance—whether it is more important to say what one believes or to keep the peace. Is silence the easy way out—is it acquiescence? Our discussion did not turn to political or politicized topics. Would it have made sense to bring up an opposition to this person’s clear, nonverbal yet yelling (and one might even say, insulting) views? Or would that have been unnecessarily hostile? When is important to say something—and when is it important not to?
I’d like to think our decision to be civil and friendly that day was the right choice.
Sometimes You’re Not in a Made-for-TV Movie
Moriah (Stony Brook/Carter-Moriah; 9 miles)
I consume a lot of true crime podcasts and books. Extrapolating from that interest as well as general awareness of the world, I have a good grasp of the dangers—particularly for a woman without a dog—of hiking solo. But I have appreciated solitary hikes, and I missed them. I decided to hike Moriah solo.
It was a very quiet, midweek day at the end of August in 2019. It’s fair to say it was mildly creepy–it was an overcast day, and I suppose I freaked myself out on Stony Brook Trail a little bit. I was honestly expecting a few people on the trail but saw no one all the way up to the summit. I did see some more serious weather starting to move in and I was feeling apprehensive about my descent back along the exposed ridge. Then I met the only other person on the mountain that day. We chatted on the summit. He had come up a different trail and he offered to drive me from the trailhead for the Carter-Moriah Trail back to my car. I hesitated because the mountain was soooo empty, but as we chatted further, I learned we had a close friend in common—in fact, I had likely met this person before, through that friend.
Sometimes the narrative doesn’t follow conventions, or worst-case scenario predictions. Sometimes you’re not in a made-for-TV movie.
Galehead (Gale River/Garfield Ridge/Frost and return; 10 miles)
Probably because I started hiking these mountains with my aunt, who has a deadly peanut allergy, I was not in the habit of bringing PB&J sandwiches on my hikes. My Galehead hiking partner Meg, though, reintroduced me to the culinary delight that is the PB&J.
Oh, PB&J, you are so delicious. You remind me of college days when we would construct mini PB&J “sandwiches” on saltines because we were out of funds at the dining hall. Your many forms are so varied and interesting–like the PB&J&B&F wrap served at my school dining hall freshman year: that’s peanut butter, jelly, banana, and marshmallow fluff on a wrap, because two pieces of bread cannot contain all the goo. I’m not quite sure that version counts as food.
Zealand (Zealand/Twinway and return; 11-ish miles)
A lot of people hike with their dogs, of course—and many of them have their pups complete NH48 lists of their own. I don’t have a dog and have not had much cause to pay close attention to dogs on trail, since most of them are quite well behaved and we all just mind our own business.
When I hiked Zealand I got a different perspective. I went with two friends and one brought her dog, Rocco. Now, Rocco is exceptionally well behaved with people, but I think it’s fair to say he is not a fan of other dogs. Accordingly, Rocco was on-leash the entire time and his owner, my friend Helix, would pick him up to go by other dogs on the trail. It was incredible to see how careful my friend was to communicate the situation to other people with dogs on the trail—and frustrating to see how some other dog owners did not help keep their own dogs out of our way as we passed.
The Summit Is the Trail
The Carters (Nineteen-Mile Brook/Carter Dome/Carter-Moriah/North Carter/Imp/Camp Dodge Cutoff; 12-ish miles with a road walk)
While the Carter Dome summit is a nice open space, The summits of South and Middle Carter appear to be just alongside the trail. Which gives you the distinct impression that the summits are not the point of this hike. There is no single, culminating moment when you feel you have “arrived.” But I think that’s pretty representative of much in life, actually: sometimes you don’t know you’ve reached “it,” whatever “it” may be, until after the fact. At least on this trip I had Naturalist Priss to help point out the summits.
The Twins (North Twin/North Twin Spur and return; 11 miles)
As we were descending from North Twin back to our car, my friend Meg realized she no longer had her fleece. She had stashed it in a pocket of her pack, but it seemed to have fallen out along the descent. We were far enough down—and daylight was fading quickly enough—that a return to retrieve the fleece did not seem feasible.
Cue the kind trail maintenance workers. We soon encountered a group of 3 workers making their way up the trail, touching up the blaze paint and clearing rubble from the trail. They asked how our hike had been and my friend mentioned it had been great except for the loss of her fleece. One worker offered to retrieve said fleece and return it to my friend—and they quickly discovered we all lived in the same southern NH town, making a meetup the easiest solution.
Sometimes it’s really nice to live in a small state. And it’s always nice to encounter kind people.
Cabot (York Pond/Bunnell Notch/Kilkenny Ridge/Unknown Pond; 10.3 miles)
My friend Eric hikes Monadnock. Repeatedly. I mean, each time he goes there he hikes it multiple times in a row. I had been trying to get him to hike a 4000-footer with me, and we decided on Cabot, a hike that worried me only because of the infamous gate that is locked in the late afternoon (or sometimes not locked in the late afternoon). I think Cabot was way easier for him than hiking Monadnock three times in a row, but we had a nice trip—though I was disappointed we saw moose droppings but no actual moose.
This is typical. I lived in Santa Barbara for five years and during that time I saw zero celebrities out in the wild. Or rather, I probably saw them but didn’t recognize them. By that logic, maybe there were moose near the trail that day, which I somehow overlooked (though I doubt it).
Mysterious Ice Cream
Whiteface and Passaconaway (Blueberry Ledge/Rollins/Dicey’s Mill/East Loop/Walden/Dicey’s Mill; 11-ish miles)
The Whiteface/Passaconaway double loop was a wonderful, varied, interesting hike and I had two excellent hiking companions in Ira and Wasp to keep me company that day in late September, 2019. A particularly memorable part of the trip was our quest afterwards to locate local ice cream. For the uninitiated, local road-stand ice cream is one of the true summertime delights of life in New England. Surely there were ice cream stands in abundance on our drive back south from the hike.
Or…not. We had spotty reception and were thwarted at seemingly every turn as we tried to find our post-hiking treat. Then, like a fabled pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, we found ourselves traveling down a series of twisty dirt roads I’m confident we would never be able to retrace. The ice cream “stand” was a shed, with an honor system pay slot inside and a freezer so that you could just take your selected flavor. It felt like this place had out-New Englanded New England.
Owl’s Head (Lincoln Woods/Black Pond/Black Pond Bushwhack/Lincoln Brook/Owl’s Head Path/Slide Bushwhack/Lincoln Brook/Black Pond Bushwhack/Black Pond/Lincoln Woods; 17 miles or thereabouts)
In the summer of 2019, a bear was hanging out at the bottom of the Owl’s Head slide. It had learned people liked to leave their packs at the base of the slide to more easily scramble up to the summit and back.
Fantastic, thought the bear. The humans keep bringing me lunch in these backpacks. Though sometimes they forget and try to keep the backpacks, and then I have to chase them down until they drop off my lunch.
Trip reports online were full of stories about the bear. I was not excited about the possibility of encountering it—I had recently read the book Death in Yellowstone, and although I am well aware that the New England black bear and the Western grisly bear are very different animals, the death by bear chapter was haunting my hiking dreams.
I already had a bear bell. I purchased some bear spray (the cashier at the store thought I was nuts). I brought along Jeff, who (alas) I don’t think I would have been able to outrun. We didn’t see the Owl’s Head Bear.
But now I have this bear spray, which I suppose means I’m all set for a future trip to Yellowstone.
We also got lost taking the Black Pond bushwhack and saw our political friend again, but those are different stories.
A Quintessential Hike
The Bonds (Lincoln Woods/Wilderness/Bondcliff/West Bond Spur/Twinway/Zealand; 21-ish miles with Zealand road run at the end)
The Bonds were epic. We started off trail run/jogging the first 5 miles until the elevation gain begins, and we made excellent time to Bondcliff, a summit so beautiful I went back and hiked it again a month later, just for funsies.
Our pace and the conversation made the miles go by quickly, and before I realized it, we had covered Mount Bond and West Bond and were navigating residual ice monorails (in mid-June!) over to Guyot and then Zealand. We split up at the hut so that Byrne could tag Hale, and I hiked out to the road and then jogged down the road where we met up again.
I didn’t think I would be doing any traverses on these hikes—it seemed like a lot to coordinate, and I was favoring trips that could be accomplished in one day. It turns out a Bonds traverse is easily doable in 9 hours including road miles, as long as one runs part of the way.
The distance, the remote peaks, and the traverse—all of these things made this trip feel quintessential.
Going Up to Go Down
Isolation (Glen Boulder/Davis Path/Isolation/Rocky Branch; 13 miles)
People frequently remark that hiking to Isolation via Glen Boulder Trail is idiosyncratic in that you hike up to about 5,000 feet to near Boott Spur and then head down to Isolation, which is at just over 4,000 feet. Indeed, the Davis Path intersection truly feels like the culminating point on this hike in many ways, and the views are great. Maybe it was the black flies (unimpressed with my DEET!) or the low trees blocking a bit of the view of the horizon on Isolation, but for me the high point of this hike was literally the high point of the hike.
Facing Your Fears (Unless Facing Your Fears is Unwise, in Which Case Don’t)
Adams and Madison (Valley Way/Gulfside/Airline/Gulfside/Osgood/Valley Way; 10-ish miles)
I read Where You’ll Find Me and had a fair amount of anxiety going into my penultimate NH48 hike up Adams and Madison, despite the fact that I was not hiking these mountains in the winter. It can be disorienting to read about a place, think about it for many months, and then go there. That’s a bit how I felt hiking Adams and Madison—disoriented. The fact that we were in a cloud until we reached the summit of Adams no doubt contributed to the disorientation.
We made it up and back without incident, and the experience made me reflect on what it means to go into a potentially dangerous situation—and how you know (or don’t) that a given situation will be dangerous. I think of other books in the hiking/climbing disaster genre, such as Into Thin Air, and how there’s a distancing effect there. Most people will never get to the base camp of Everest, let alone attempt the summit, so reading a book about the 1996 disaster feels remote.
A book like Where You’ll Find Me, on the other hand, hits a lot closer to home. This disaster took place 3-4 miles up a popular trail, in an area visited by hundreds if not thousands of hikers every year. And that’s the point: disaster isn’t reserved for the tallest peaks in the world.
So for me, hiking Adams and Madison had a quality of facing my fears. But facing one’s fears doesn’t necessarily mean conquering them—there are some fears worth leaving unconquered. Facing one’s fears needn’t mean neutralizing them entirely, and it can be valuable to preserve a little heightened awareness.
Finishing the List
Waumbek (Starr King and return; 7.2)
Finishing the 48 with Waumbek
I finished my NH48 list on weekday in early August of 2020 with my aunt. We had coordinated the trip carefully: I knew since the beginning that I wanted her with me when I finished the list, as she had been there at the start. But the previous summer she broke her femur in a biking accident and had to have her hip replaced. I wasn’t going to be dragging her up something like Adams and Madison, so I saved Waumbek for my 48th.
The trip required even more coordination in 2020 because of the COVID outbreak. My aunt is 69 and I didn’t want to put her in unnecessary danger by joining me for the completion of my list. Because there have been so many people hiking this summer, that meant planning the hike for a weekday, which was a challenge due to my work schedule and the uncooperative weather. We rescheduled about 4 times before finally finding a Thursday that would work for the final hike.
Objectively speaking, Waumbek isn’t the most spectacular peak of the 48—in fact, it’s wooded, though the views from the nearby lookout and the top of Starr King provide an interesting perspective of the Presidentials from the north. The trail is not difficult—it was one of the easiest hikes I completed in 31 trips. But the trip was obviously personally significant as the culmination of my list and as an experience I shared with my aunt.
It’s been quite a journey. Thanks for reading.
The boots that carried me on 31 hikes and 48 4,000 footers
Thanks go out to all my hiking companions on this journey: Thea, Megan, Lau, Shawn, Jeff, Brooke, Vanessa, Shawn #2, Sawyer, Wasp, Rich, Meg, Ira, Helix, Priss, Eric, and Byrne. Thanks also to the people who patiently answered my questions on FB.
* The mileage I list is approximate, and is generally a best guess based on my maps cross-checked against my GPS record from Gaia and the mileage listed in Eli Burkakian’s Climbing New Hampshire’s 48 4,000 Footers.
**Priss rightly observed that I initially forgot the closed parentheses here. Which is ironic (or apt) considering it’s the concussion section. Whomp whomp.