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Sunday, July 21, 2019

The White Mountains and their 48 4,000 Footers

I may not have it all, but I'm thankful everyday for knowing what my passions are and wholeheartedly pursuing them any chance I get. From an early age, I developed a true love for the outdoors while living in southern New Hampshire. My family and I lived on the boarder of woodlands and a drive in any direction yielded mouth-dropping vista views. Some of my earliest memories are of my father pointing out the old man in the mountain (since collapsed) from the car window on route 93. I sure never lost my love of nature, nor nostalgia for the granite state. Fast forward a quarter century and you'd find me daydreaming of a way to recharge after a long week of School in Ohio. That's where my quest for completing the 48 4,000 footers began. Always with a camera in hand and an eye for the ecology, I set out to bag peaks one by one solo or with anyone who would join.

On a weekend in mid-October 2016, one of my closest adventure friends, Kaitlin Lipka, and I convinced ourselves that it would be worth it to drive from Ohio to New Hampshire non-stop to complete the presidential traverse for our first taste of the White Mountains. Although we only made it halfway to Mount Washington, it was more than we could've imagined! Looking back through social media, Kaitlyn wrote this of the trip: "A spontaneous weekend trip out to the White Mountains NH with Michael Whittemore consisting of 28 hrs drive time, 12 miles of hiking, 10,000' elevation gain and 5 summits... New Hampshire has won my heart, what a beautiful place!" I couldn't have said it better. After a food stop at the Mount Washington visitor center, we were off.

Only a few months later, my father and I took a trip to Lincoln, NH to do Mount Lafayette during winter. At this point, the white mountains were still very intimidating to us, especially during winter. Dad had a huge bag filled with equipment like knives, a stove and warm clothes, and I carried up a down sleeping bag. Along the way, we met up with two Japanese woman who were clearly seasoned hikers. They snickered at us the whole way up. With poor visibility at the top, we turned back before reaching summit but had a great time nonetheless. The old growth birch forest along the bridal trail was a site to see.

Nearly one year later, I was getting antsy in grad school and needed a trip to recharge. I was due back to Massachusetts for the holidays so I brought my winter hiking gear. One day in early January, I spontaneously checked the weather and saw that the windchill was only -4; it's closer to -50+ some days in January, so I took advantage. I did a solo hike from Pinkham Notch on Lions Head trail. At one point, I was less than a mile from the top when I began losing my tracks. The visibility was terrible and the temperature was dropping. I sat in the same spot for 10 minutes contemplating whether to turn back- an eternity above treeline on Mount Washington during winter. I was ready to turn back when two french Canadian's were hiking up the path. We ended up pushing through to reach the summit for one of my most memorable experiences. We slid on our butts all the way down the trail.

By the time I'd make it back to the mountains, I would be living in my home state of Massachusetts having recently accepted a research position with Woods Hole Research Center and living with my then girlfriend, Ashley. She and I set out on the 4th of July 2017 to hike Mount Washington. Little did we know, we'd be walking into a peak display of alpine flora along the great gulf wilderness. Pin cushion plant, Bigelow's sedge and alpine azalea are just a few of the plants we saw. As we got closer to Mount Washington, we heard loud cars. It turned out that Jay Leno had a vintage car race up there so we got to hangout around him in the visitor's center. We ended the trip with a ride on the Cog railroad where the last piece of snow in the eastern US was hanging by a thread on Tuckerman's Ravine.

Like every early October in recent memory,  I turned my sights to an annual autumn trek. This time around, I set out to do Mount Carrigan alone. The fall colors were extraordinary below 3,500ft with snow above. The tamaracks were yellow, and the Kancamangus highway was ablaze. I stayed at the White Mountains Hostel before heading back.

A year later in 2018, my friend Kristen were looking for some color on Mount Tom, Field and Willey. We found dozens of mushrooms for dinner - chanterelles, oysters, and angel wings. Along the way, I saw my first gray jay and fed them (and red squirrels) by hand. The colors were gorgeous beneatht eh low overcast of fall.

The following day, I picked my friend Mimi up at t south station; she took a bus from Brooklyn, NY to help me hike the Hancocks and Oseolas. What we thought would be an easy fall hike turned into a trek through a foot of snow, which was the first winter storm of the year. International Mountain Equipment had all the snow gear we needed to finish the trip. Between hiking out in the dark, waiting hours for a plow truck to bail us out of a multi-car pile-up on the Kancamangus, and the many miles we put in, the chicken alfredo meal we prepared at the hostel hit the spot!

By this point, winter hiking had really grown on me. I took a trip out a month later to meet my friend Dane to do Carter Dome. Dane had some faulty gloves, which made the hike slow in the friged weather, but we got it done. Near the top, I saw my first snow-shoe hare! I was surprised how big they are. We passed through Carter Notch Hut to refuel and on we went. The next day, I met up with my friend Julia - an employee at a high school in my hometown, to tackle Passaconway and Whiteface. I noticed large balsam firs along the ridge and realized one of the only virgin forests lay beneath us in The Bowl Research Center, which I would later explore on another trip seen here.


During the holidays, I got away for a few days before Christmas to tackle the rest of the presidential range with Julia. The temperature was -35 with gusts of winds around -75 - hurricane level. We suited up, parked our cars in separate places, and started early. The views of this trip were second to none with bluebird skies and wispy clouds from the heavy winds. It was a day we knew we couldn't make any mistakes, and we left no skin exposed. As we approached her car on the way down, she realized she left her keys in her car forcing us to hitch-hike back. But nothing could dampen our spirits after such a beautiful, arduous hike!

March 1, I met up with my friend Hallie and a group of hikers to do the Bond-Zealand traverse. Having never looked up the specs of the hike, I didn't know what to expect. All I knew is that I would be helping to break trail. In retrospect, I now know that this is one of the toughest hikes in the range, especially in winter. The terrain, spruce traps (weaks spots in deep snow where spruce saplings lay, and sheer distance (25 miles) made it a doozy, but it was a blast and I got to meet new faces. Yes, the middle picture shows the snow near the blaze on the tree! Along the way, we bumped into the Herr family, a mom and her two daughters, who are well known for their experiences in the white mountains. There is a book about them, in fact. Hallie and I booked it and got out of the woods by 9pm. What made it more difficult for me was the fact that I did the Tripyramids the day before - ouch!

By this point, I saw the end in sight so I took a vacation to tackle the remaining 15 peaks in 8 days rain or shine. I met multiple people up there and stayed in either The Notch Hostel in Lincoln or The White Mountains Hostel in North Conway. I started out meeting Emily at the trail head to Cabot. We had some juice left and hit Waumbek in the rain. Big miles meant a big takeout meal from an Italian restaurant in Lincoln.

The next day, I did the Franconia Ridge Traverse to snag Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty and Flume. All in all, it was an 18 mile hike since I wasn't brave enough to take flume slide trail down. The views were amazing along the Appalachian Trail, with a vibrant lenticuluar cloud perched above the hut.

By this time, Mel - my former classmate from Ohio - flew out from Atlanta to get in on the action. Mel was always a great friend in Ohio and I always enjoy her company and laid back/positive attitude. We hit up North Twin together but hked 5 miles extra because Haystack Road was gated off. So, she hung out at North Twin while I ran to South Twin. The views couldn't have been better and met some new faces from Massachusetts along the way. With the exception of Mel losing her water bottle on the water crossing, and the rocky and strenuous hike, it was a great day!

The next day, My friend Dane drove up from Concord to crush Owl's Head. I've heard that it would be a tough hike and now I can see why. It's situated in the heart of the Pemigawessett Wilderness. The trail is basically miles of flat ground and they very steep climbs at the end. However, we were rewarded near the top with Rhodora blooming alongside round leaved sundew. A cold beer made the trip down easier but by that point, my feet were feeling it. I finished most of the trip back barefoot! 

 For me, the toughest hike of them all came on my second to last day doing the Kinsman-Cannon loop. Wow, what a wet hike! My feet were raw and muscles tight by this point. Elyse drove in from Manchester to get these under her belt as she would be finishing her 48 a few weeks later. Although the vista views never appeared, this was a challenging and fun hike!

 Last but not least, my good friend Dan came in from East Kingston with his dog Abby to do Mount Isolation via Glen Boulder trail. We started the trail with 100% cloud cover but were rewarded at the top with a break in overcast. I can now see why everybody finishes on Isolation! Mount Washington behind you and mountains for as long as the eyes can see in front! Poor Dan thought it would only be a few miles each way but I pulled a Dan Cline and didn't give him details beforehand. 12 miles later, we were back in the parking area sipping beers. On my way back, I was detoured around route 2 as the infamous motorcycle crash that killed 7 happened a couple hours ahead of me.

I've never been one to set out to complete lists like this but, to me, there wasn't one mountain that wasn't enjoyable. From the abundant wildlife, northern plants, forest communities to the great people and memories along the way - this ranks as one of my most memorable experiences. I'm already thinking of the 111 New England 4,000 footers! Above all else, I'm so thankful to have these passions passed down from my parents and grandparents.