This week I’ve been reflecting on my long-term relationship with the NH48. When I started hiking these mountains in 2009 I didn’t know anything about this list. When I first heard about the list, I wasn’t interested. I was apprehensive and cautious about getting caught up in the mentality of “peak-bagging”. I didn’t want the magic of simply being out there to get thwarted by an arbitrary list. I also worried about the way a list like this could affect my decision making in a risky way while hiking. But I also couldn’t even fathom the idea because it seemed too lofty a goal. 48 mountains is a lot of mountains. From Boston, the closest trail head is a 2 hour drive and the farthest is a 3.5 hour drive. The hikes themselves range from 4 hours to 10 hours as an “out and back” with a long drive on either end, unless you turn some of them into multi-day backpacking trips or base camp nearby. There is also the option of staying in high huts which are expensive and have a very strict cancellation policy and also involve dining and bunking in close quarters with a slew of strangers where you can almost guarantee there will be either some gear or trail or food or mile comparison happening at the table…or maybe some kind of mansplaining or competitive bro blabbering…or at least some posturing.
Hiking the NH48 is an investment of money and time. Its also hard and dangerous. The trails are old and steep and rocky and rooty and there is tons of exposure where weather can change on a dime. There are signs in the alpine zone warning of death and advising you to turn back if the weather changes. Many people are rescued every year and many people have died on these mountains from falls, avalanches, exposure, and other things. And if this list of 48 mountains isn’t enough of a risky adventure for ya, you can also do all 48 mountains in the winter thus earning yourself a an even more elite badge. Then you have the record setters, the ones who trail run them all setting the fastest times, the ones who do them all in a season, or all in 1 month, or the woman who did each and every mountain on the list every month for an entire calendar year. That means she made 576 summits that year on some of the toughest terrain in the northeast in all weather and in all conditions.
Hiking the NH48 is a pure privilege on so many levels. When I decided I wanted to set this list as a personal goal, I decided on a 5 year timeline which I knew would be more than enough time so not to rush through it or get too caught up in my head about it. The White Mountains are a sacred place and my intention as I set out on each and every hike is to hike these trails with respect for the land, the beings, the ancestors and my able body. This goal has encouraged me to not only hike more often but also to branch out and explore other areas of the Whites that I had never considered before. Its a way to connect with other hikers who will often ask at a trail head what number is this for me in which I reply “I don’t know” because while, I do keep track on this blog, I honestly don’t keep track in my head that way. I’ve hiked some of these mountains more than once and I’ve passed by some of these peaks without sumitting before I set the goal and then of course returned later once I had a reason to summit.
My relationship with these mountains is more than a check box on a list. I’m in a long term relationship with with the White Mountains and I’m very aware of how much more there is to explore beyond this list. I do enjoy meeting hikers who have been chipping away at this list for over 20 years. This past fall I was honored to be able to witness and clap for a hiker as he completed his 48th and final summit on Owls Head with his friend, both of whom were in their fifties and had been hiking these mountains together for years.
For me, having a solid hiking adventure companion is everything and that’s why I asked Stud to do this list with me. Half the fun for us is the car ride. It gives us time to catch up and process our lives. I also trust Stud 100% to make sound decisions. I don’t have to worry about trying convince Stud to turn around less than a quarter mile from a summit if something weird happens. We are compatible in this way. Our partners, family, and friends sometimes think we are these wild risk takers. Maybe we are comparatively, but in the world of outdoor adventure, we play it pretty safe.
This past week we had big plans to traverse the presidential range which is a stretch of 20ish miles of exposed high peaks. Its a long hard rocky scramble with long stretches of exposure and its also a breathtakingly beautiful ridge with wild flowers and views for days. Its a place you definitely do not want to be in a fog or a storm or very high winds. We were planning on hiking up to the Madison hut on a Monday, crossing the ridge on Tuesday, staying at Lake of The Clouds Hut on Tuesday night, and hiking down on Wednesday. We were waiting to book the huts until the last possible moment. We kept checking the hut website online to see if the green circle that symbolizes “availability” would turn to the yellow circles symbolizing “limited availability” and since it remained green, we figured we’d book the day before just in case the weather changed because once you book, you don’t get your money back if you don’t go no matter what the weather is doing. And its a good thing we waited because the next thing we knew, the temperatures on the high peaks plummeted and a foot of snow was being predicted to dump.
We were in denial. We had been planning this trip for months. We were really treating ourselves to two hut stays on the high peaks in early June before school would get out thus avoiding the summer crowds. We had cleared our schedules and set 3 days aside for this. We were really excited and also we hadn’t scene each other in a while and had a lot of catching up to do! We went over and over the plans trying to decipher if we could still do it and move things around and choose the “better” day. We knew the trip was a bust. I mean, maybe we could do it. But why? Why spend all the money and time trying to survive an icy freezing crossing with poor visibility on slick rocks with cliffs everywhere. Just to check off a few more peaks on the NH48 list? Nope. Not worth it.
The same weather that brought this snow to the White Mountains in June also brought waves to the beaches of Massachusetts so we make a plan B to go surfing one day. That morning my alarm goes off at 6 and I am about to put on my wet-suit when I discover I am sick…like sore throat and a head cold. What?! I text Stud and I’m in denial but I’m pretty sure I don’t even have the energy to lift my surfboard right now. Part of me thinks the ocean is the perfect neti pot but a smarter part of me says submerging my body in very cold water when my immune system isn’t up to par is not a good idea.
A few days later and I think I’m mostly recovered from this passing spring head cold when bam it hits me harder and instead of heading down to Ptown for my annual work-cation at my friends house I find myself exhausted and unable to do anything and I’m suddenly sicker than I was before. So I just lay low and drink gallons of home brewed ginger lemon tea while suffering over the shift in plans, the lost income, the missed adventure. Three days later I am welcoming this invitation to rest my body and mind. I’ve been going hard lately. Some might say I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. But this concept is a slippery slope because I can go straight to blaming myself and thinking I made myself sick and that I deserve to be sick and that it is like a punishment for living too fast. But I like my fast full life. I do a lot of things. I admit it. While I am grateful for the unexpected time for restoration, I will not slow down just because some pollen got caught up in my nose and infected my sinuses. I will keep laying the best plans ever but I do want to learn to work on my disappointment when things don’t go as planned and I do want to keep learning how to surrender to the uncontrollable and I do want to keep learning how to neutrally accept what is…AND I’m super excited for plans C, D, and E! Coming soon:)