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The 48 Summits

The 48 Summits - The Four Thousand Foot Peaks of The White Mountains of New Hampshire

We seem to be a country of ‘lists’ and that trend made its way to the hiking community of the northeast as well. The White Mountains of New Hampshire have 48 peaks above 4000’ of elevation as compiled by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Four Thousand Footer Committee (FTFC), a group formed in 1957 to establish the official criteria and maintain the list of peaks. In addition to the 4000’ of elevation requirement, each official peak must be at least 200’ above the low point of a connecting ridge leading to a higher neighbor. A hiker must climb all the peaks on the official list to request membership in the ‘club’. There are many other lists and clubs associated with the mountains of the northeast: the New England 4000 footers and the Northeast 111 to name two. The Northeast 111 includes the 4000 foot peaks of New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, as well as the 46 peaks over 4000’ in the Adirondacks and the 2 peaks over 4000’ in the Catskills (there are 115 peaks in this list but they have kept the original name).
My personal history of hiking in New Hampshire covered eighteen years, from 1972 through 1990, and it took me the first fifteen of those years to climb all of the 48 peaks over 4000’ in the White Mountains. At the end of that period, Mt Moosilauke stood as the one 4000’ peak most visited by me, having climbed that peak 20 times. I mentioned that fact in a post on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) online message board when I responded to a comment in the ‘Hiker Journal’.
Later, a Forum member started a thread where he asked people to respond with their most visited peaks. A variety of answers came in, each with a favorite peak or peaks and a number to quantify how many times the individual had reached the summit, and every one of the replies said much about the people and their experiences in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Popular destinations, mountains with the names Lafayette, Washington, Adams, and Moosilauke appeared in replies, with numbers in the low digits to several dozen. Some listed peaks that were not 4000 footers while others listed New Hampshire peaks out of the White Mountain region such as Cardigan and Monadnock.
One reply was particularly impressive. A Forum member named Kevin Rooney replied with a post that said, “I keep a log of my hikes, but I track only a few specific peaks. My favorites include Lafayette (80+), Moosilauke (50+), followed closely by Washington, and Adams (25+). In VT, my favorite is Camels Hump (25). Obviously, I've done more than a few rounds of the NH 4's.”
Standing on the summit of Lafayette more than 80 times was impressive indeed, but it was that last sentence caught my interest and I found myself thinking about it often during the days that followed, the sentence where Kevin said he had climbed all 48 of the 4000’ peaks more than a few times. It was apparent how important the White Mountains had become in the lives of so many people. I saw the desire and determination that played such a part in those numbers, as well as the love and commitment required of an individual to live such a life. I could understand it easily enough; even it was out of the realm of my experience. I knew firsthand the effort required to make one successful circuit of all 4000’ peaks. I thought of the preparation time, the travel, the sacrifice required of a person to make it all a reality. I also knew about the personal satisfaction and contentment that one could gain from such a commitment and sacrifice. Guy Waterman came to mind, and I remembered reading that he had climbed every 4000’ peak from every compass point in winter. The commitment and sacrifice required to accomplish that feat was something I could not understand; not only was such an undertaking not in my realm of experience, but I also found it very hard to fathom.
These ruminations led me to revisit my own history in the mountains of New Hampshire and my thoughts turned to lists, dates, and mountain peaks. Most important to me though, was the way I viewed my own history with the 48 peaks over 4000’. Yes, I had attained every summit, but it took years of hiking before I began to think that I might actually climb them all; the fact that it took me 15 years to accomplish the feat speaks volumes about that. Other than an occasional winter trip to a hut at Carter or Zealand Notch, I was a three-season hiker and never lived in the White Mountain region proper. Yet in that period, I made numerous ascents of peaks I had already climbed and this realization struck a chord with me.
Anyone lucky enough to have climbed every 4000’ peak carries with them a myriad of special memories, yet every individual in this group shares two events with every person fortunate and persistent enough to achieve this goal; they can point to a first peak climbed and at a final summit attained. In between these two events lies the journey over the remaining peaks that each hiker follows and completes in their own unique order according to the dictates of their heart, constrained only by opportunity and desire.
Something else belongs to each individual's singular journey over the peaks, and that is all the trails and summits that a hiker revisits before the journey is complete. Many reasons can account for this: the weather, proximity, exceptional beauty, or the will of the group. I could not imagine it being any other way; doing them one at a time with no repeats is something I could never do, yet to each their own.
Over the years, I began many camping trips planning to climb and explore new areas in the Whites. Yet I was a creature given to spontaneity and if the breaking dawn revealed a perfect day, I often headed for those summits and trails that gave me such pleasure each time I experienced them. I believed in the thought expressed by Heraclitus, that no man crosses the same river twice for at the next crossing the river has changed and so has the man. I felt this way about all the great summits and trails, and I never tired of revisiting them.
For me, it all began in the late spring of 1972 when a friend, Ed Asikainen, brought me to the White Mountains from Connecticut for my first visit. I had recently left the Army and had no real plans for the future. We spent a fine week camped down on the eastern side of the Kancamaugus Highway. On that trip, I made my first ascent of a 4000’ peak, Mt Washington. We parked at Pinkham and followed the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the junction with the Lions Head Trail, and followed that trail up to the summit. On the descent, we traveled through Tuckerman Ravine on our way back to Pinkham. For the first time I saw the great summits and ravines of the Mt Washington area. Later in the week, we climbed Mt Chocorua down in the southern part of the mountains.
In 1973, I climbed Mt Washington again via the same route Ed and I had followed the year before. Steve Barton and his wife Linda, as well as his brother, Dick, were my companions on the trail. As we walked along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine on the way to the summit, I saw the gray clouds scudding by directly above us. I looked across to the Boott Spur and saw the silhouette of a lone figure standing erect there on the rocks, the clouds seemingly inches above his head. It was a spectacular sight. At the top, we enjoyed a rest in the old wooden summit building as the clouds broke and distant mountains became visible. Returning to Pinkham, I purchased my first AMC White Mountain Guide, the 1972 edition bound in orange leather.
Later that year I spent a week camping on the Kancamaugus with Ronnie Michaud. We climbed Passaconaway early that week and a few days later we followed the Greeley Pond Trail from the Kancamaugus and, after reaching the ponds, we climbed Osceola East Peak and Osceola before returning along the same route. The trail up East Peak in those days went straight up a scar on the middle of the peak direct from the pond to the summit. The trail was very steep and it was rough going, especially on the descent to the ponds after returning from Osceola. Towards the end of the summer, I hiked over the Tripyramids from Waterville Valley.
In 1974, I made my now annual camping trip to the eastern Kancamaugus and climbed Whiteface and Chocorua. I was married that August and on our honeymoon, we drove up the New England coast and made stops at Gloucester, Boothbay Harbor, and Bar Harbor before swinging west to stay in the White Mountains for a few days. One fine sunny day Loretta left me off at Pinkham while she went shopping and exploring around North Conway. I climbed the Boott Spur that morning and stood upon the rock where I had seen the lone hiker standing beneath the clouds the year before. I finished the day by hiking south on the Davis Path for a short distance and made my descent on the Glen Boulder Trail before returning to Pinkham.
The next three years were the best of times. Loretta and I had friends, Mary Ellen Casey and Steven Cooney, who now lived in the White Mountains. They had rented rooms in a fine old house over on the West Side Road near the Saco River and Loretta and I would often visit them and sleep on the floor of their apartment. A friend of theirs, Jim Emerson, took the five of us on a hike to Moosilauke, my first ascent of the venerable peak. We made our ascent up the steep but scenic Beaver Brook Trail from Kinsman Notch on the perfect kind of summer day that seemed cut from a diamond. Steven and I did many other hikes together as the girls did their own thing. We climbed Tom, Field, and Willey on a crisp late summer day, and a few days later climbed Mt Jackson and Webster Cliff. We climbed Clinton and Eisenhower, and made a freezing May trip in deep snow over the Hancocks. I made several other ascents of Moosilauke to show friends from Connecticut a peak that was both incredible to climb and conveniently located in the southern part of the mountains. My dog, Niz, and I camped at the summit of Carrigain, a memorable trip indeed. I camped at Dolly Copp for the first time and climbed Madison via the Webster Scout Trail with Ed Mainville. I will always remember that first view of the summit of Madison from Osgood Junction as the trail arced up ever higher over rocky ledges. Steve Barton and I made the climb up the Greenleaf Trail to the hut and from there continued up to Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty before descending the Liberty Spring Trail and hitchhiking back to our van at the top of the notch. Dan Quigley and I climbed Moosilauke and later partied with two harmonica players in Lafayette Campground.
I made more than one ascent of all the peaks in the Presidential Range, Bondcliff and the Bonds, the Twins, Zealand, Garfield, and Hale. There was one memorable hike to the summit of North Kinsman made with my close friend Don Doughty on a long daytrip from Connecticut. I also explored the Great Gulf, King Ravine, and made memorable visits to Carrigain and the Franconia Range. I also made one harrowing (for me) ascent on the Huntington Ravine Trail.
I was a regular visitor to Dolly Copp Campground during the 1980s, and by this time, I was well equipped. There was a memorable traverse of the Carter Moriah Range that started on rte 2 and we followed the trail south to Zeta Pass where we dropped down to a second car at the Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead. We also used the Stony Brook Trail as a way to experience a loop over the Carters and hike down from Zeta Pass. I stood atop Cannon Mt and Galehead, the Owls Head, the two summits of Wildcat and Mt Flume. I visited the summits of Carrigan, the Franconia Range, and the Presidentials as well.
I gained the summits of South Kinsman, Tecumseh, and Carter Dome. I had a pick-up truck with a camper top during these years and I used the ability to sleep near trailheads as a way to explore the North Country and finally ascend the main peaks of Cabot and Waumbek, as well as their almost 4000’ neighbor Starr King. In 1986, I climbed Moosilauke five times. Finally, in the summer of 1987, I found myself with one summit to go, Isolation. I celebrated that fact by climbing Isolation twice that year.
That completes the saga of my 48 summits, a journey completed in a totally unplanned and haphazard manner. Because of this story, and for the first time in my life, I listed the peaks that, for no particular reason, I had only climbed once during the journey: Wildcat ‘D’ (the official peak was Wildcat ‘E’ when I climbed it), South Kinsman, Cabot, Waumbek, Moriah, Tom, Owl’s Head, and Tecumseh. I spent a lot of time south of the Kancamaugus Highway, in the Pemigewasset, in the Presidentials, on the Franconia Ridge, and on the Twins and Bonds. I did not spend much time exploring the Rocky Branch, the Dry River, or the Davis Path. I began my White Mountain experiences by spending a week camping on the eastern side of the Kancamaugus every May, and spent my last decade camping at Dolly Copp every year before Memorial Day. I met a family there, I believe their names were (if memory serves) Cliff and Laura Leupold, and they were from Fitchburg Massachusetts, or some place nearby. Every year I met them at Dolly Copp and over the passage of time watched the kids grow up and the new additions enter the picture. Other friends would come to Dolly Copp and camp during that week. We made day hikes together and partied by the campfire at night; good times all.
I climbed Mt Washington for the last time in 1989, hiking to the summit from Lakes of the Clouds after spending the night at the hut. After a few contemplative and personal moments, I returned by way of the Crawford Path to where the Davis Path diverged to the left. I followed the Davis Path south and stood atop the Boott Spur one more time. I recalled the hike across the Lion’s Head in 1973 and remembered looking across at the solitary figure standing here on this rock as the clouds streamed by directly above his head; an image I have never forgotten. I was divorced now, but I revisited my ascent of the Boott Spur on my honeymoon in 1974, and wistfully remembered the hopes and dreams I carried with me during that hike. Moving on, I continued down the Davis Path and enjoyed the view from the summit of Mt Isolation before continuing down to rte 16 and hitchhiking back to Pinkham. This was a fitting tribute, to visit the summit of my first 4000’ peak, as well as the summit of number 48, climbing them both on a long summer day hike. These two peaks are fitting bookends for the list of the 48 peaks, as Mt Washington is the highest peak and Mt Isolation is almost the lowest save for one. I knew that change was on the horizon of my life; there was an element of closure in this hike, and I both recognized and accepted it, the melancholy of all things completed. Life is indeed grand and manifold.
I left the State of New Hampshire in December of 1990. I departed with a treasure trove of great experiences, yet there were a few sad memories as well. I recalled the names of five friends who were no longer alive: Don Doughty, Ron Michaud, Dan Quigley, Steven Cooney, and Ed Mainville. Those five individuals shared trails and adventures with me over the years, and we shared passages through the eras of our lives as well. I was grateful for my life and for everything I had experienced in the mountains of the Granite State; I lived a richer and fuller life because of those years in the mountains and the people who were my friends.
Everyone hikes according to their own dictates, including those that climb all of the 48 peaks over 4000’ in New Hampshire and beyond. I contacted Kevin Rooney, the person I mentioned earlier who had climbed Lafayette more than eighty times, and asked him to answer two questions, what 4000’ peak was his first and what was the final peak that completed his initial circuit of the 48 peaks over 4000’ in New Hampshire. His first peak was Mt Moosilauke and the last was Mt Carrigain.
In the past two years, I found and followed an interesting website authored by Dennis Paul Himes ( Dennis is an avid hiker, his trail name is Cumulus, and he maintains a unique and intellectual website that includes numerous trail logs and pictures. I followed his logs as he neared the goal of completing the 48 summits. His first climb was Mt Washington, the peak he climbed most often over the years was North Kinsman, and the ascent that completed his quest was Moosilauke.
I could not suppress a smile after thinking about Kevin and Dennis, and their first, last, and most climbed peaks when compared to mine. Dennis and I both claimed Mt Washington as our initial summit, something that I imagine is quite common among travelers who first come to the White Mountains. Kevin’s first peak was Moosilauke, a mountain that was the final peak for Dennis in his quest for the 48 and my most climbed summit. Kevin’s final summit of his first 48 was Mt Carrigain, a summit I had climbed six times before finishing the 48, and three of those ascents included an overnight on the summit. Dennis named North Kinsman as his most visited summit and the only reason that North Kinsman is not on my list of peaks ascended but once, is that I traveled over the summit again when I climbed South Kinsman. These comparisons illuminate one important point; the only correct way to accomplish the feat is to ascend the 48 peaks in whatever order, or disorder, seems right for you.  
Over those eighteen years when I hiked in the White Mountains, I stood on the summit of Mt Moosilauke twenty times. Since I no longer hike, it will remain as my most visited peak in the White Mountains for the rest of my days.

Laudizen King