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Peak Experiences

Danger, Death, and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast

Edited by Carol Stone White

Publication Year: 2012

An anthology of adventure and life-threatening dangers atop the peaks of the Northeast In the mountains, the difference between a pleasant day of hiking and a life-threatening disaster is as simple as a loose rock, a turned ankle, or a misjudged patch of ice. In an instant, even the most experienced and prepared of outdoorspersons can find themselves at the mercy of the elements (and their own choices) — and suddenly, sometimes tragically, the situation slips out their control. In this collection of over fifty tales of day hikes and long treks gone awry, the seasoned climber and writer Carol Stone White brings together some of her favorite tales of outdoor misadventure written by colleagues and fellow enthusiasts who have experienced the harsher side of climbing the peaks of New England and the Adirondacks. From freak falls to outrunning storms, from life-threatening hypothermia to the excitement of unlikely rescues, these tales inform as much as they entertain, teaching even the experienced climber that accidents can happen to anyone and that preparation and the ability to make split-second decisions can often mean the difference between life and death. Like sitting around the campfire sharing tales of terror and near death with your hiking buddies, this collection will appeal to the true outdoorsperson as well as the armchair adventurer.

Published by: University Press of New England

Title Page Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

The stories in this volume describe peril, triumph, wonder, terror, and exhilaration. In spite of the risks of life-threatening conditions, injuries, and myriad difficulties, why do we keep going back to the mountains? Not long before he disappeared on Everest, George Mallory was asked why he climbed mountains. “Because ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am indebted to the talented writers who have shared parts of their lives with us—along with the lessons they have learned on the great mountains of the northeast United States. Their stories will increase awareness about the hazards of this activity we all love and become a fine addition to the hiking ...

Part I: Weatherwise or Otherwise?: Presidential Range Perils and Other Tales above Tree Line

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Nature Is Unforgiving: Case Studies

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pp. 3-5

Hikers in the Granite State have been exposed to a new motto that’s simple and to the point: hikeSafe. The hikeSafe program is the first of its kind in the country and its keystone is the Hiker Responsibility Code, which distills much knowledge into critical advice to foster responsible hiker behavior. Jointly established by the ...

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Winter above Tree Line

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pp. 6-16

November 1968’s snowfall, as measured on the summit of Mount Washington, was already 87 inches. December added another whopping 104 inches to the pile. . . . That amazing winter, the total snow accumulation very nearly reached 50 feet! On the trails that led to and connected the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts, a ...

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Poking the Dragon

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pp. 17-22

I have climbed in wonderful places all over the world, but the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont are my home, their views and challenges take my breath away just as well as the Dolomites, the Swiss Alps, or the Sierras. I’m strictly a hobbyist mountaineer, no pro by any means, and I idolize those hardened men and ...

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Porky Gulch and Above

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pp. 23-27

During the midterm break in February of my senior year at Dartmouth College, four of us planned to visit the Mount Washington Observatory on the peak’s summit. We would spend three or four days up there, helping with chores, and maybe make a tour over the Northern Peaks to Mount Madison and back. At the last ...

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Skiing Mount Washington

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pp. 28-32

Bill Lingley, a close friend and classmate, and I experienced some rough Mount Washington weather one March day. We skied up the auto road, reaching the summit just before dark. The entire summit of Mount Washington had become a gigantic, elegant wedding cake. All of the structures on the summit—of which there are far ...

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A Wild Day in the Presidentials

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pp. 33-35

My first trip to New Hampshire was a memorable one. The second weekend in September, five of us drove to Pinkham from Albany and decided to sample New England hiking by staying at Mizpah Spring Hut, Lakes of the Clouds Hut, and Madison Hut. Wanting to eke out every ounce of views, we began with the Webster ...

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pp. 36-38

The Lakes of the Clouds Hut is the most exposed and, in my opinion, the most impressive of the Appalachian Mountain Club huts in the White Mountains. It is located at a pair of alpine lakes, just a mile down the trail from the peak of Mount Washington. The only vegetation is small alpine flowers and grasses, some of ...

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The Great Gulf

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pp. 39-45

Two of us talked about leading a moderate-paced but challenging July hike into the Great Gulf to the summit of Mount Washington. We would start early enough to reach the summit by early afternoon, then descend the better-known and relatively easy Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Soon we had a group of ten interested ...

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Tragedy among the Clouds

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pp. 46-53

Among the Clouds was the “only newspaper printed on the summit of any mountain in the world,” according to its masthead. In addition to announcing “Printed Twice Daily on the Summit of Mount Washington: 6300 feet,” the July 7, 1900, special edition reported: “Frightful Storm on ...

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Green in the Whites

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pp. 54-61

Some colors just don’t go together, like green in the White Mountains. On that frigid winter weekend in late December 2001, when the cloudwhite snow measured waist-deep and the temperatures sunk below zero, Branden and I were as green as it gets. At the beginning of our intended full traverse over the ...

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Extremes at the Top of Maine

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pp. 62-65

A permit, a sizeable fee, and a group of at least four people are prerequisites to spending a night in Baxter State Park in winter. My dad and I needed to climb Baxter and Hamlin Peaks, so we recruited Phil Hazen to join the group. I had met Phil the year before in the Adirondacks, and he had proven to be a suitable ...

Part II: Rescues in the Mountains

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A Leg Up: Challenges of a Self-Rescue

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pp. 69-75

If you enjoy hiking and mountain climbing enough, you try to do a lot of it. And, should you manage to find enough time to get up into the mountains for more than one or two trips a season, you begin to throw new twists into the process. You may start climbing in the winter. You may begin to feel comfortable going ...

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Sub-Zero Weather Incapacitates

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pp. 76-77

In mid-February 2003, a man started out from the Nancy Pond Trail on Route 302, planning to complete a 15-mile hiking/snowshoeing/crosscountry ski trip through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. He lost his way on the trail around Norcross Pond. He did find his way back to the Carrigain Notch Trail, but eventually ...

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Fall from Saddleback Cliff

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pp. 79-84

Bob Zayhowski and I decided to hike three peaks in the Great Range of the Adirondack High Peaks—4,960-foot Mount Haystack, 4,827-foot Basin Mountain, and 4,515-foot Saddleback Mountain. We were unable to get up to the Garden parking area due to ice, so we parked in town and climbed the extra 1.6 miles to the ...

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Injury Miles from Nowhere

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pp. 85-94

My sister Doreen and I were looking forward to this hike on St. Patrick’s Day. It would bring our count of winter peaks to twenty-two, and we were going to hike with our friends Tom and Jane Haskins. The alarm at the Keene Valley Hostel went off at 4:30 a.m. At the last minute I grabbed a garbage bag to line my pack, and so did ...

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A Mount Marcy Helicopter Rescue

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pp. 95-98

August 8, 2009, started out perfectly: a great, sunny, warm day. I was at the Adirondack Mountain Club’s campground on my annual hiking trip with the Tramp and Trail Club of Utica. For the previous four years, it had rained on this trip weekend, so I was looking forward to my hike more than ever. I was also ...

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A Fall from Grace

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pp. 99-102

At 1:00 p.m. on a late December day, my friend Lynne and I stepped out on an outcrop on Crane Mountain. It was mild for this time of year, mostly cloudy, but the clouds parted and a brilliant sun shone through as we selected an open, rocky place and sat down to enjoy the view. We pulled out snacks and congratulated ...

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Midnight Rescue

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pp. 103-106

It was Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend, 1985. Four young men had backpacked over the Baldfaces in eastern New Hampshire and set up camp partway down, near Eagle Cascade. The hike leader went to the top of the falls to take a sunset photograph and slipped, tumbling down the falls and landing unconscious ...

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Two Lives Saved by Search and Rescue Teams

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pp. 107-110

The lives of two middle-aged hikers who became disoriented while descending 5,774-foot Mount Adams in whiteout conditions above tree line were saved on January 10, 2007, by the combined efforts of two volunteers from the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR), and four ...

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Life-Threatening Conditions Cause Fatality

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pp. 111-112

On a Sunday morning in the third week of March, two hikers planned to do a day hike in the White Mountains, then return home that evening. They selected 5,260-foot Mount Lafayette, the sixth-highest peak in the Whites. After they were reported overdue, I coordinated a search and rescue effort involving staff and ...

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One Man Dead, One Rescued on Blackhead Mountain

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pp. 113-115

Two men lost on Blackhead Mountain during a snowstorm since leaving on a hiking trip Friday evening were found by rescuers. R. was located Sunday night alive and under a blanket12 near the mountain’s summit, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Maureen ...

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Break on Panther Mountain

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pp. 116-118

December 26 started out like many other early winter days, the temperature below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but not bitterly cold. My friend, Nan Giblin, was leading a group of seven hikers up Panther Mountain. After a brief introduction and gear check, we headed up the trail at a steady pace. There wasn’t enough snow to ...

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A Case of the Umbles

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pp. 119-121

Our eclectic group met on occasion to share adventures, chief among them hiking. Carl was a strong hiker, to put it mildly, someone who, for fun, might hike 50 contiguous trail miles—covering Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Crawford Path to Mount Washington, out via the ...

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Katahdin Ice Climber Meets Lady Luck

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pp. 122-126

Frostbite danger in winter is very real, especially if camping or spending time outside for extended periods, or if your feet get and stay wet. Before I talk about a frostbite emergency while I was camped at Chimney Pond, I’ll mention my work experience with frostbitten extremities. As a registered ...

Part III: A Treacherous Place in the Peaks

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The Day “Hal’s Slide” Got Its Name

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pp. 129-138

As we started up the Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail on January 11, 1998, it looked to be a good day to tackle the Wildcat Ridge. The skies were slightly overcast; the wind was calm and the temperature was considerably warmer than an average January day in the White Mountains. However, one factor ...

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Rescue on Hal’s Slide

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pp. 139-140

On January 8, 2005, a group of friends met to hike the Wildcat Ridge. Although this trip was not an official Appalachian Mountain Club hike, three of the participants—Mike Woesnner, Doug Hunt, and I—were AMC trip leaders. Others on the hike were Joe Courcy, Jean Williamson, and Bill ...

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Hiker and Dog Fall on Wildcat Slide

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pp. 141-142

We’d planned a traverse of the Wildcats on this cool and icy January. Our trip was not a scheduled Appalachian Mountain Club hike but a bootleg hike among friends, organized by AMC leader Marjorie LaPan Drake. At the Wildcat Ridge Trail, we put our crampons on; there was some new snow ...

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Wild Days on the Wildcats

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pp. 143-144

On the day that Carl fell down Hal’s Slide—January 8, 2005—Carol and I were approaching the Wildcat Range from the ski area, because Carol considered the slide on Wildcat A potentially dangerous. Conditions were incredibly icy that day and we finally turned back between Wildcat D and ...

Part IV: Dangers of Water in the Mountains

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Waterfilled: In Which We Nearly Drown

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pp. 147-152

There might be nothing more dreaded by winter hikers than heavy rain. Certainly there is nothing more potentially dangerous. Hypothermia weather, we called it. Streams that were easily stomped across on snowshoes become impassable. Keeping gear dry is essential—and nearly ...

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Broken Compass

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pp. 153-167

“Diane, I don’t think we should try to cross,” I said, feeling sick. Amy nodded in agreement. “I don’t want to cross here, either,” she said quietly. “No, no. We cannot cross here,” Diane agreed. We stood in the wilderness with a raging river on one side, miles of dense forest surrounding us, and one ...

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A Bridge to Safety?

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pp. 168-169

After a full week of mild weather and rain in February, our long-scheduled hike involved crossing a significant river. Ordinarily, midwinter is the best time to schedule this hike, because the river is frozen enough to find good crossings. Today, though, we decided to attempt the crossing a mile ...

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Icy Passage through Iroquois Pass

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pp. 170-174

During an extended January thaw, we decided to climb our first remote, trailless peak: 4,360-foot Mount Marshall, named after Wilderness Society co-founder Bob Marshall. It seemed like a good idea to do this long bushwhack trip in relatively warm weather, and we checked out what the ...

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A Nice Day Becomes an Ice Day

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pp. 175-178

After hiking 7.5 miles to Uphill Lean-to, we split up with two of the guys; they want to climb Cliff Mountain. Our bushwhack with snowshoes up 4,606-foot Mount Redfield, the second-highest trailless peak in the Adirondacks, is difficult, through thick trees, so we opt to ascend via frozen ...

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pp. 179-183

We had one more weekend to complete our climbs of the Winter 46. This would require hiking three peaks in the Santanoni Range and two mountains in the Dix Range. Whether we finished or not would depend on the weather—we thought. On March 15 we hauled our gear-laden sleds along ...

Part V: Animal and Avian Behavior

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On the Horns of a Dilemma

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pp. 187-189

Marcia and I had been planning to climb the Bonds, but the forecast for the higher summits predicted an approaching warm front, with winds increasing to the 75–90 mph range. Since the Bonds have substantial exposure above tree line, we decided on 4,260-foot Zealand Mountain, which is ...

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Beware Bear Appetites

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pp. 190-194

Before bear canisters were invented, an experienced backpacker was camping in a lean-to near a trash dump. Unaccountably, he had neglected to bring a rope to hang his food bag. This might have been a good reason to make it a day trip but, having backpacked a long way in, he just hung ...

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Dog Days in the High Peaks

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pp. 195-197

I take my dog Nigel, a shepherd-lab-chow mix, on some of my hikes. He is a big dog, weighing about 80 pounds, with long, black, bushy fur. He looks intimidating, but he has a good disposition and is very gentle. He loves to be outdoors in the winter. I select the hikes I take him on carefully ...

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The Ravens of Bondcliff

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p. 198-198

When the Northeast 111 included only 111 peaks (it now lists 115), Bondcliff had not yet been promoted to the required 4,000-foot level, or perhaps it appeared too close to Mount Bond to qualify as a separate peak. Still, looking at it on a map and viewing its crags from the Bonds, I knew I had ...

Part VI: Odysseys: In Pursuit of the Possible

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Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Tuba

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pp. 201-205

My bass tuba, named Charisma, took up 30 pounds of my 70-pound load. To save weight I didn’t bring a tent or underwear, and carried only half of my music book. I wouldn’t hike any other way; there’s something about combining the arts and nature that inspires me. My trail name was “Super ...

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Curses, Excursus: Hut-to-Hut Musings

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pp. 206-226

For a largely lazy White Mountain lifer like me, the hardest part of beginning a monster hike at communal Lafayette Place is that there are picnic tables everywhere, and half the time I want to sit down at one of them, eat my woefully meager sandwich, listen idly for random birdsong, wait for ...

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Descending into the Maelstrom

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pp. 227-238

The night was hot. It was humid. Everything was wet—the leaves, the blades of grass, the blackberries, the ground, our bodies, our feet, everything. The night was black and our headlamps lit up the suspended water vapor in the air, rendering them useless. We had to take our lights off and hold ...

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Never Underestimate the Power of Pudding

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pp. 239-247

October 2000 Autumn trees shed their leaves. A crisp leafy rainbow crunches underfoot on a trail that runs all the way from Georgia to Maine. I climb the last steep pitch before Zeacliff, putting one foot in front of the other, knowing the rock staircase will soon end atop a flat ledge overlooking ...

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Going Long with Fat Packs

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pp. 248-256

When Mats asked me to join him on his 2009 White Mountain Direttissima, I thought, You’ve got to be kidding. Me, hiking 25 miles a day for ten days with an enormously heavy pack? I hike a lot but never entertained the thought of torturing myself with such an epic adventure. Yes, I can do ...

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The White Mountain 4,000-Footers Direttissima

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pp. 257-266

The “Four Thousand Footers Direttissima”—that’s what Henry T. Folsom, aka The Good Reverend, called this project in his December 1971 Appalachia article. His idea was to “start at one end of the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers and walk all the way to the other end in the fewest possible ...

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Enjoying a Frozen World

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pp. 267-272

Tom Sawyer, always a fellow with restless feet, is never happy unless he has a list on which he is working; Tom was the first and perhaps only person to have completed all the 3,000-footers in New England in winter. I go along for exercise, camaraderie, because I don’t want Tom to go alone, and ...

Part VII: Lost, Unprepared, Leader Lapses, and Bushwhacked

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Bivouac at Twenty Below

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pp. 275-277

From the beginning, everything was going wrong that day. After getting up late we lost a precious hour trying to thaw the frozen car doors. That morning I kept going into our daughters’ bedroom to kiss them and to tell them that I loved them. I packed an extra sandwich, put more clothes in my pack, ...

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Whiteout and Bivouac on Algonquin Peak

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pp. 278-280

Ralph, Joan, and I had a chance to use survival techniques when we got disoriented on the open summit of 5,114-foot Algonquin Peak in early March. We had backpacked up to the Wright Peak junction at 4,000 feet, where we set up camp. The next day we climbed Algonquin with our daypacks and, in ...

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Most Difficult of the Winter 111

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pp. 281-284

Seven of us did all three Bond Mountains, 21 miles in 18 hours, in January 1984. We started our trek at 6:00 a.m., snowshoeing along the Wilderness Trail and then following the Franconia Trail north until we reached the Hellgate Brook crossing. Our leader had selected this approach to West ...

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Well, Hale Fellow Not Met

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pp. 285-287

We started up the Hale Brook Trail from Zealand Road at 2:40 p.m., later than I’d hoped. Alex and Chris are somewhat faster hikers than I, but this was the first time we’d hiked with Karl, a youngster of twenty! I dillydallied behind, slowing them down, and when I arrived at Mount Hale at 4:30, ...

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A Chocorua Curse?

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pp. 288-293

A group of us would annually celebrate New Year’s by spending a few days in Meredith, New Hampshire, on Lake Winnipesaukee. One activity was the annual New Year’s Hike, where we’d bare-boot a peak in the Whites, such as Willard, Sandwich, South Carter, Pierce/Clinton, or the trailless ...

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Democracy in Action

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pp. 294-297

While plotting the approach for my final New England 4,000-footer, Mount Abraham, I thought I would also bag Middle Abraham, one of New England’s 100 highest peaks. The Abraham mountain mass consists of eight peaks on a 4.5-mile ridge northwest of Kingfield, Maine, ranging in elevation ...

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Don’t Shoot!

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pp. 298-300

The day was November 3, 2007, the first day of deer hunting season in Vermont. You might think this would be a poor time to go gallivanting in the woods of Vermont, and you’d be right. I was with my friends Kyle and Melissa. Our goal was to summit two 3,000-foot peaks along the primary ...

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A Well-Guarded Fort—Escape Not Guaranteed

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pp. 301-310

Arctic air swirling with snow flurries blasted us as we loaded the car in the early morning darkness. Brrr. While I optimistically concluded it was a temporary, localized snow squall, Rhonda donned another warm layer. Winter had started to take hold in this remote region of northern Maine. Snow glistening on the ...

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Coming Home

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pp. 311-315

I’m of average height, weight, and age, but when I hike I feel tall, svelte, and young. Some of my friends are getting facelifts. Some are starting second or third careers. Some are doing both. Instead, I come to the woods, alone. Gliding through them at a brisk pace restores me to a self when the world ...

Appendix A: Clubs and Organizations

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p. 317-317

Appendix B: Safety Guidelines

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p. 318-318


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pp. 319-321


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pp. 323-324

Suggestions for Further Reading

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p. 325-325


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pp. 327-330

About the Editor

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p. 331-331


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pp. 333-334

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683684
E-ISBN-10: 1611683688
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611682540
Print-ISBN-10: 1611682541

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 22 illus.
Publication Year: 2012


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Subject Headings

  • Hiking -- Northeastern States.
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