Lessons Learned From The White Mountains

I started hiking in the White Mountains my first week living in New Hampshire over three years ago. I was inspired by a close friend and needed something to stay  busy with in grad school. I was new to the area and at first I didn’t know about the forty-eight 4,000 footers, I happened on them almost by accident.  The NH 48. It quickly became a goal of mine to finish “the list”. The incredible physical challenge of each peak followed by awe with the views of crags and ravines and basins and tiny life below. Little did I know that this list would become something much more, and a lesson that had only begun once I finished them in my last week living in New Hampshire.

At first I was full steam ahead. I met some friends who shared my interest in hiking. They took me on many, many adventures and joined me on over half of my list through the 48’s and others. They showed me that smaller hikes had beauty, the history of the Whites is full, as seen by old warplane wreckage, the experience of waking up before the sun and racing it to the treeline. They taught me the grit of trekking to the top at subzero temperatures with nothing but spikes on. I lived and breathed the mountains and wanted to spend my days nowhere else.


Then I got hurt. I ruptured my ACL in the mountains on a 17-mile journey into the Cannon and Kinsman world. Seasons changed and life got busy, but I didn’t forget about them. And I certainly didn’t stop getting injured.

I experienced failures, getting lost, bad weather turn-arounds, and never finding the trailhead. Some hikes you’d find me basically crying in panic on the slides because I chose a rainy day to scramble a cliff. One hike I ran three miles just to avoid massive clouds of mosquitos. Another, completely lost and off of the trail, crawling like a blind ass moose through thick spider webs, bushwhacking to find the trail again. Some days I was just totally sketched out by the dark lonesome woods that I turned around and went home. It was in these really unglamorous hikes I learned that this list wasn’t about just getting to the top to see the crags and ravines and basins and tiny life below. It’s about noticing things; what you see along the way. It’s about accepting the journey and letting it take you. It’s about learning you actually aren’t afraid of the things you thought. The list became less and less of a race and even less of a “list”.


Before the AMC 4,000-Footer Club formed, many of the peaks above 4,000 ft were trail-less. Not many were hiked, and the more popular Presidentials and Franconia Ridge were over-hiked. It’s amazing to see how big the list has gotten, and how many people you see trudging through it.  Each mountain range in the Whites has its own story. The logging trails in Franconia Notch, the avalanche history in Crawford Notch, it’s all fascinating. Each range has its own terrain and its own challenges. The Presidential ridge trails are scattered with beauty, the Carter Moriah Range is gut-wrenchingly unforgiving, and the Pemi Range in Franconia is mesmerizing with peaceful thickness. All are astounding in their own nature. I remember every hike because of this.


Some hikes you can experience a change of seasons. Spring, fall, and winter as you approach the summit, all in one day. When lost in the silence of the woods I love to notice the change in vegetation as you increase elevation. The smell in the woods turns to a sweet, sweet pine and evergreen. When you get to the top it’s a relief, I’ll admit. But on the way back you get to see everything with a new perspective. Your steps are more careful. It’s fun to think about how quickly the brain calculates what path you’re going to take without you being aware. As you think about something else, you’re subconsciously making hundreds and hundreds of math equations in your head to stay standing. As you step from rock to vine your foot folds over the surface to accept the load and create balance.

The mountains are humbling. They work your body, and your mind. They also cleanse your soul. Each one has a story, and though some of them I might not choose to see again, their memory and their lessons remain with me.







2 Comments on “Lessons Learned From The White Mountains

  1. Nicely said Sam. Your well written words should inspire anyone to venture into the great white north.


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