It was December of 2014, and it started as a New Year's Resolution. I remember exactly what I said to my friend. "I want to go on an alpine hike." I'm not sure why the word 'alpine' got in there, or what it even meant at the time. I think it was my way of differentiating a hike to a mountain peak from a hike in the woods. My good friend has hiked all over the globe, most of the Appalachian Trail, and plenty of times in the White Mountains. "I want to go on an alpine hike next year, and I want you to take me."
Fast forward to the fall of 2015. I bought a cheap hiking backpack from Walmart the night before we left. I didn't need anything else. I already owned 'hiking boots' (so I thought), and warm clothes (so I thought). We made our plans to spend a few days in "The Whites" (a new term for me), and do some warm up hikes before hiking someplace called The Franconia Ridge, and hiking to the summit of Mt. Lafayette. My friend said it was one of the best hikes up there, who was I to argue. I had never heard of it before.
October 6th, 2015. We drove up that morning and headed straight to Arethusa Falls. A short walk through the woods to a magnificent waterfall. Both of us enjoy photography, and waterfalls during autumn in New England are just something you have to take pictures of. The water level was a little low, but the weather was beautiful, and the colors were stunning.
We also took a little side trail to the lower falls, a much less popular spot but worth the steep hike.
Next, my friend said there was a quick hike to a great outlook that we should do. A short ride up the street from Arethusa Falls is a hike to the summit of Mt Willard. As you approach the outlook, you walk through a small tunnel of trees and you can see the light up ahead, and then it completely opens up to an amazing view facing south.
I had successfully hiked 1-1/2 miles to a summit of about 2800 ft. I was a hiker!
We stayed overnight in Lincoln and woke up the next morning, October 7th, 2015, and headed to the large parking area off Rt. 93 to the trailhead of the Falling Waters Trail. I ate a banana, did some meaningless, quick leg stretches... because you should stretch your legs before hiking I thought, and headed down the trail. I distinctly remember passing a sign that was all-but begging me to turn around and go back. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it warned me of the dangers of the trail, the severity of the conditions, potential unpredictable weather changes, asked me if I had heart issues and a bunch of other warnings. I also remember seeing this sign multiple times in the early going. What the hell was I doing!?!?!
Well, what I was doing was hiking in one of the most beautiful, unbelievable places I had ever set foot on. I was also busting my ass! This trail was steep! And, the word "trail" is not what I expected at all. This is a pile of freakin rocks!
It didn't take long to learn why the trail is called the Falling Waters trail. It spends much of the time following below, over and certainly right alongside of a large waterfall and stream.
I didn't know it then, as the peak called 'Lafayette' was our goal that day, but I had hiked over Little Haystack (not an official 4000 footer), and Mt. Lincoln prior to reaching the summit of Mt. Lafayette. I knew I was there because there were these old, beaten wooden signs on the top letting you know the elevation and what peak you were on and also some trail names that I paid little-to-no attention to. Upon reaching the summit, and the entire way since we broke through the tree line, the wind was howling, there was fog everywhere, and visibility was very, very low. I felt like I was on top of a mountain, but I couldn't visually prove it. After spending some time eating, and taking a few summit photos near the sign, and hoping the fog would clear, we decided that it was time to head down. We just weren't going to have any views that day. My friend warned me that morning, views are not guaranteed in The Whites. We walked about 50 steps, and a big gust of wind blew and I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Even as the last of the fog was being blown off the peaks, the views opened up, and I could see forever back in the direction in which we had hiked.
I remember having my friend snap this quick cell phone picture below.
There I was. Hunting hat, painting pants, 'hiking boots', and my crappy backpack on the ground out of view. I was standing on top of one the most iconic peaks in all The White Mountains. I had just reached my second New Hampshire 4000 footer. Mt. Lincoln was my first, the large peak in background to the right, with Mt. Flume in the distant background just to the right of my head. At the time, I didn't know any of this. I didn't know about any list, or even how many 4000 footers there were or that I was even standing on one that qualified. What I did know, is that I had accomplished my resolution. I had done an alpine hike, and I was 100% completely hooked!
We stopped at the AMC Green Leaf Hut on the way down the trail back to the truck. I always loved this picture from inside the hut looking back to the ridge we had just hiked. This was first time, but would not be the last, that I would look back to where I had just hiked in total disbelief that I had actually done it.
The next day, I woke up and felt as though I fell off the mountain and not just climbed it. I couldn't believe how sore I was! And yet, after a huge breakfast at a local diner, we headed south and hiked Mt. Moosilauke. We experienced almost zero wind, blue skies and views that can't be described, and I still had no idea how special or rare that can be. We headed home that night with three official New Hampshire 4000 footers to my credit, and still no clue.
Once I got home, it was hunting season, and my hiking focus would have to wait till Spring. After all, no one hikes in winter anyway (so I thought). Around March, I started to get the itch to go hiking again. My same friend suggested waiting at least another month, and he also suggested we do some backpacking this time. Backpacking? Isn't that what we did last time? I had a backpack on. No, actual backpacking. Hiking, and camping. Sure, lets do it. He suggested we go to the summit of Mt. Bond Cliff. He said just like Mt. Lafayette, it was another one of the most amazing places in The Whites, with unparalleled views and seclusion. Once again, I didn't know any different, and had never heard of the place.
A place called "Bond Cliff" sounds amazing. It only took about 2 seconds and one Google search of Bond Cliff to see thousands of photos of hikers literally standing on a cliff. A very big cliff. It was also during those Google searches that I learned about the list. A list of New Hampshire mountains that are at least 4000' above sea level. There were 48 of them, and if you hike them all, you get a patch! I had already hiked three, and was about to embark on hiking three more (Bond Cliff, Mt. Bond and West Bond was the backpacking plan).
It was the third week of April 2016, and we set off for the Lincoln Woods trailhead to begin our two days of backpacking.
Well, I got my iconic Bond Cliff picture, but due to camping at too high an elevation and dealing with incredibly cold temps and high winds overnight, we literally didn't sleep at all and didn't have the energy, or daylight, to make it out to West Bond the next day. I had done very little research about these peaks, but I had done enough to know that leaving without summiting West Bond would make it very challenging to reach that peak again as it is one of the most remote peaks on the list. However, what I didn't know then was how much of a blessing it would be to have to hike to it again someday.
My Bond Cliff picture... with West Bond right behind me.
When I got back from this trip, I remember printing out 'the list' and crossing off five peaks. I also remember really liking some of the photos I created from these hikes. I thought to myself, hiking would be a great way to visit amazing locations and challenge myself to capture and share some interesting photos. Using hiking as a means to capture compelling images became my main focus and drive for wanting to hike more and more. While I'm at it, I'll just complete this list and get my patch, too. Oh, and I'm going to reach all these peaks before the age of 50 in March of 2019. Piece of cake!
I was absolutely enjoying every hike. I took my full-sized DSLR camera and sometimes up to three lenses with me, on every single hike. However, I could feel myself becoming more focused on getting one more peak done, and not solely focused on just enjoying hiking.
When I completed my NH48 a few weeks ago, I looked back to past blog posts and photos and it reminded me what my original purpose was. It was only at that moment that the entire journey really started to set in, and I immediately had some great memories just by looking back. The act of looking back would be a theme for my entire journey. I made it a point to always look behind me on my hikes as some of the best views on a hike are behind you. Or, looking back to the summit or the ridge you had just climbed. And in the end, looking back at the past stories and photos to really help put the entire journey in perspective. In addition to the images in the beginning of this blog, the following images are some of my favorite photos, and memories, of my entire journey leading up to the final peak.
It took me 29 hikes to complete all 48 peaks. That includes one failed attempt to Mt Hale. Of those 29 hikes, I did 16 of them as solo hikes. My first solo hike would be my first hike following my backpacking trip to the Bonds. I hiked to the summit of North and South Kinsman. There are not many trails I hiked that I wouldn't love to do again someday, except the Fishin Jimmy Trail. I vowed to not hike that one ever again, but I did get one of my favorite water pictures along a small stream next to the trail that day.
It was also the same hike that I first experienced Lonesome Lake. I visited Lonesome Lake on one other hike, but this was one of my best pictures from just below the hut, near the footbridge.
After taking these pictures, and especially after visiting Lonesome Lake, I made it a point to try to visit as many mountain ponds and waterfalls as I could even if it meant adding some extra miles to the hikes.
On a solo hike to Mt Willey, Field and Tom, I would have my first gray jay experience. I took this with the camera sitting on the log next to me, and a wireless remote trigger in my right hand.
In keeping with my goal to visit as many waterfalls and mountain ponds as I could, on my way down from Mt Tom, I visited Beecher Cascade.
Another solo hike to Mt. Pierce, Eisenhower and Jackson took me past Gibbs Falls...
I took this next picture on my way to Mt. Jackson. This picture was actually featured as a full two-page spread in the AMC Outdoors magazine.
On a solo hike to both Osceola peaks, I choose to go by way of the Greeley Pond Trail and hike past the trail that leads to the peaks, and first hike down to the ponds. It was well worth the extra miles.
When anyone has asked me what my favorite hike or hikes were, that is like telling someone who your favorite child is. I can honestly say, I thoroughly enjoyed every hike. They all had something unique, special and memorable. Having said that, there's a few that do stand out for me. My solo hike to Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison would be one of those hikes. I drove up the night before, slept in my tent, and got up the next morning and hiked the King Ravine Trail to Mt. Adams. Along that trail, you pass by Mossy Falls, and this is one of two pictures I've captured of that location.
The King Ravine Trail was one of my favorite trails, and locations, of all my hikes. I particularly liked this picture I captured in an attempt to try to illustrate the steepness of the trail.
After summiting Mt. Adams, I took a route to Mt. Madison that would take me past Star Lake, and got another favorite picture of mine with Mt. Madison in the background.
On the hike down the Valley Way trail, a small detour to Duck Falls. I always loved the beam of sunlight shining right down the middle of the image.
On my hike to Mt. Garfield, I would finally have the chance to pay it forward. I would be joined by five friends who, after listening to me go on and on about how awesome these hikes were, decided to come along with me and experience it for themselves. We were blessed with perfect views on a perfect early fall day in October. At the time I took this picture, I hadn't yet decided, or even started to think about, which peak I might finish on someday. This is far from one of my better pictures or even very interesting given the incredible setting. But this photo would become quite meaningful.
This hike would also be my first time taking an unmarked, 'bushwhack' trail to visit Garfield Pond.
In March of 2018, I did a solo hike to Mt. Waumbek, peak #24 for me. Now that I had reached the official half way mark, I started to think about which peak I wanted to finish on. For the longest time, I thought I should finish on Mt. Washington. It was the tallest and most well-known, it should be the last. However, the more of thought about it, I decided I wanted my last peak to be on the summit of one where I had a great view of my first peak. From this point forward, I started to get very strategic about each and every remaining hike.
As I mentioned earlier, while it didn't seem lucky at the time, I was very lucky to only have one failed summit attempt. It was late April of 2018. Less than 48 hours after a dumping of snow, I had attempted to hike Mt. Hale via the Fire Wardens Trail. Another unmarked trail, yet one that many people do hike. I did my research and had a very good idea of the route. I didn't reach the summit that day. I was never able to locate it and had to turn back due to time. What I did get that day was some of my best winter photos, even though it was already officially Spring.
The only trail I hiked more than once along this journey was the King Ravine Trail. I love this trail, and when two of those five friends from the Garfield hike wanted to hike Mt. Adams, I was more than happy to take them up there. I did make sure we also hiked Mt. Jefferson on the same day, so I could cross another peak off. Another trip past Mossy Falls produced this image for me. This one is taken from below the main falls and I've always loved the small little peaks of sunlight in an otherwise shady scene.
My enjoyment of visiting these mountain ponds was greatly rewarded on my solo hike of the Wildcats. I took the Lost Pond trail past Lost Pond and I was fortunate enough to be there with great morning light and completely calm waters.
I descended the Wildcat hike that day down the Polecat Ski Trail. The day I hiked it, the trails were full of monarch butterflies. One of them was cooperative enough to pose for me in the foreground with the northern presidential range in the background.
Remember that Bond hike, and failing to summit Mt. West Bond? And that failed attempt to Mt. Hale? Well, my next hike would be an ambitious attempt to not only summit both of those peaks, but also North and South Twin and Mt. Zealand as well. A two day, solo backpacking trip of about 21 miles, with five peaks. This is another one of those hikes that absolutely goes down as one of my most memorial. I had seen photos and heard of undercast before, but never experienced it. Undercast is when the clouds are below you, and the peaks are rising above the clouds. I had also seen photos and always wanted to experience a sunset or sunrise from a peak, but never had the opportunity. On this hike, I had planned to hike over North and South Twin, set up my tent on a platform at the Guyot Shelter where I would spend the night, and make the short hike to Mt. West Bond for sunset. The entire plan worked to perfection, and I witnessed the most beautiful sunset, with undercast, from the summit.
Mt. Garfield rising through the undercast
In this picture, I caught the sun just as it was setting behind Mt. Lincoln, my first 4000 footer, and the Franconia Ridge, all above the undercast.
Mt. Garfield again, after the sun had set, with the undercast fading, and the colors getting even more vibrant. Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette (my first hike) and Garfield to the right, with the undercast just about completely dispersed.
The next day, I would summit Mt. Zealand, and finally Mt. Hale before returning to the truck. Along the way, I would also make a visit to another falls and mountain pond. Zealand Falls and Zeacliff pond.
Mt. Hale, was my 35th peak. It was actually starting to become realistic that I might reach all 48 peaks. I needed to stay aggressive and keep hiking any chance I had with favorable conditions. If I was going to reach my goal, there were certain peaks I needed to complete before the heart of winter arrived. Mt Washington was certainly one of those hikes. I didn't have the experience, gear or desire to hike the tallest peak, with some of the harshest weather on earth, during the most dangerous time of year. I pushed it out as far as possible to when it wasn't true winter yet, and the crowds would also be way down. Oct 13th of 2018, myself and three friends would tackle Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington via the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. Pictures do not do the beauty of this trail any justice. This hike was fantastic, and proves that October is most definitely winter-like on Mt. Washington.
I hiked the Tripyramids in December, but I didn't hike at all in January, and figured that I would certainly not reach my goal. I still needed 8 peaks that would take a minimum of 5 hikes with less than 8 weeks to go. This past winter provided virtually perfect hiking conditions for both the trails and especially the weather. Fresh, untouched powdery snow, cloudless blue skies, and virtually zero wind. With the first opportunity to go, myself and two friends that would join me on six of my final eight hikes, took on Mt. Moriah. I really liked this picture from that hike.
Less than a week later, we would successfully hike all three Carters in even better conditions. We had two gray jays around us on the windless summit the entire time we were there. This would be one of my favorite gray jay pictures of the entire journey.
I then captured this image of the sunset behind Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison.
I would solo hike Mt. Cabot on Saturday, March 9th, after driving up the night before. I took this image from inside the Cabot Cabin.
The three of us hiked Mt. Isolation on St. Patricks Day for my 46th peak, and just two days later, with a weather window that was just too good to pass up, we made the trip back up for a Tuesday hike to reach my final two peaks. Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume.
That's me, sitting on the well-known rocks of Mt. Liberty, peak #47. One more to go!
At last, the final peak! Mt. Flume. The peak to the far left, is Liberty, from the previous photo. And, just as I had hoped, I completed my NH48 on a summit in which I could look back at my first peak. Those two peaks to the right, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette.
Here again, is that boring summit photo taken from the peak of Mt. Garfield. At that time, I hadn't yet decided on where I might want to finish, but you can see (from left to right) Flume, Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette - all the peaks from my first hike, and my last.
When I started to think how to approach the story about completing my NH48, it was very difficult. Since finishing, I've had weeks of mixed feelings. I honestly felt much more emotional on Mt. Liberty, #47, than I did on Mt. Flume. Being so close to completion, and knowing I was going to reach my goal, was much more satisfying than actually standing on that last peak. I thought I would and should feel overwhelming joy and pride. But I honestly didn't. After all, close to 14,000 others are registered to have completed the NH48, and there's no telling how many people have done it and not registered. I just didn't feel that special. I thought I would be incredibly happy it was finally over and that I did it within my self-imposed deadline, and with 7 days to spare. But I just felt weird, because at the time, it felt more like an ending.
I will only speak for myself, but the list, and most certainly my self-imposed deadline, provided the necessary motivation to drive an average of three hours one-way to most of these trailheads, as well as the satisfaction of crossing another one, or two or three peaks off the list. The list is the common question that almost everyone asks you, and you to them, on the trails. "You doing the list? What number is this for you?" Words I repeated, and had spoken to me, countless times throughout the journey. However, the list, and my deadline, also caused too many moments of stress for me.
It took me three years, five months and 12 days to complete the list. I went on 29 individual hikes, 98 different trails, slightly over 300 miles of hiking, and approximately 10,190 miles in a vehicle. After all that, I can honestly say that I still feel like a total rookie on the trails. And, that's the great thing about this journey. While I did successfully complete the list, there is no end to hiking for me. Long ago, standing on Mt Lafayette when those clouds finally cleared, provided me with an amazing feeling. These forests, ridges, peaks and mountains have a way of always making you feel very small. These mountains do not care how experienced you think you might be. The sense of awe I felt on the peak of Lafayette was exactly how I felt on every single peak. Mount Flume represented the completion of the list, and a monumental milestone for me, but by no means does it represent an ending or completion to my hiking.