Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why We Love to Hike...

As you hike the trails in this Granite State, I'm sure you cross paths with many different people, from all over. Do you ever wonder what their goal for the day is? As I meet more and more people who hike, I find that everyone is driven by different objectives. Sure, everyone is going to get a bit of exercise and presumably, will clear their minds and reduce a bit of stress. But what I mean is, what makes that person choose that trail, that day? What's at the end of the road for them? I find myself asking that question a lot about myself these days.

Me, on my greatest peakbagging adventure so far, at the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

I've found that there are many people, especially in New Hampshire, that enjoy peakbagging. Peakbaggers, as I understand them, have the primary objective of summiting a mountain. Now, I certainly don't mean to imply that they don't enjoy nature and all the things surrounding it. It just means that, that peak...that beautiful high point, is their primary objective for the day. My friends, Matt and Steph, who have been active peakbaggers for the last few years, had a set of peaks that they were driven to tackle and did just that. In doing so, their list of peaks allowed them to hike on many, many trails in New Hampshire and brought them to the most remote wilderness areas in the State. They crossed really cool suspension bridges, encountered moose and embraced the beauty of lady slippers, all on the way to their primary objective...the summits!

Good friends, Matt and Steph, on the summit of Owl's Head. The peakbagger's nemesis.

New Hampshire is a fabulous place to be a peakbagger because there are many lists to cross peaks off from. The most popular being AMC's list of 48, 4,000 footers. In New Hampshire, there are actually 72 peaks which rise over 4,000 feet. However, they only make the AMC's 48 list if there is at least a 200 foot elevation gain from an adjoining peak. If there is not, only the higher of the two peaks will count. There is also the New England Top 100, which, you guessed it, are the top 100 peaks in the six states that make up New England (needless to say, only Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont help make up the list). I believe, but I am not positive, that the same 200 foot elevation gain rule holds true for these NE 100 peaks. Maybe one of the most difficult lists in New Hampshire is the Trailwrights list. This list incorporates all 72 over 4,000 foot peaks in New Hampshire, but restricts you from claiming more than one peak per hike. This encourages a peakbagger to explore more trails to complete his or her goal. Also included with the Trailwrights requirement is that you must perform 72 hours of trail work, to ensure you give back a little. Another list that I have seen more recently is the 52 With a View list. This list has 52 peaks within New Hampshire, which are under 4,000 feet and are said to be less strenuous than the AMC's 48, but still offer spectacular views.

Jill and I on the peak of Mt. Kearsarge

Along with the peakbaggers, I'm sure that a large majority of hikers out there are, what I consider, true nature lovers. Nature lovers, and this is my own definition, love every aspect of nature. It's not so much about the high point on the mountain, but rather everything that makes up that mountain. The trees, the flowers, the wildlife and the landscape as a whole, all play into this. My buddy, Jim Salge (who is a professional nature photographer and former meteorologist for the Mount Washington Observatory) is what I consider to be, a true nature lover. He strives to find the beauty in nature, capture it with his camera and share it with us. He notices the little things that others on the trail may not see. It is not uncommon for him to hit the trail and hike for miles to find a simple, beautiful wildflower, covered in dew, under an orange sunrise. He's never in search of the peak. He is only in search of the many faces of nature. Speaking with him recently, he admitted to me that he has been on each of the 48's at one time or another, sometimes only a few feet from the summit, but has only summited the peaks of a handful. As a nature lover, he has the same drive as a peakbagger, but not the same primary objective. (Please visit Jim Salges Photography page here or his Photography Blog here. Jim Salge Photography can also be found on Facebook here.)

Courtesy of Jim Salge Photography, view from below Black Cap, on the Green Hills Range

Photo I took of Hepatica on the trail, Pawtuckaway (North), West slope

Obviously, there are many other objectives to why people hike. Some people are just checking out what the mountains have to offer (such as first time hikers and vacationers). More recently, I have noticed that trail running is becoming quite popular, where the primary objective is time. This past week, someone posted on the MWO forum that they completed the Pemi-Loop in just over 9 hours. This loop is over 30 miles long, traverses multiple peaks and has a huge elevation gain. Some people hike for creativity or inspiration for art or writing. The list of objectives can go on and on.

So why do I hike? I hike because, simply said, I love it! As do the people I describe above, regardless of their primary objective. Without a doubt, I have peakbagger blood in me. I have an extremely difficult time starting up a mountain that I can't summit. And if inclimate weather or other obstacles hinder me from placing my Vibram sole on that peak, I get very upset and disappointed. Based on this, I will gladly take a partial title of a peakbagger. However, this year, more than last, I am noticing the little things in nature and truly appreciating them. I find it hard to pass by a wildflower, mushroom, cool looking tree or any other scene within the landscape that I find inspiring, without trying to take a nice picture. I will gladly go out of my way on the trail to check out a view point, prior to or after summiting. So in these respects, I think I am a little bit of both, a peakbagger and a nature lover.

Photo I took of Hobblebush leaves, early in the season on Mount Moosilauke.

Jill, doing what she enjoys on the trail, relaxing in the sun, in front of a beautiful view!

The truth is, it doesn't matter why you hike. It only matters that you love doing it. That is certainly a common bond between hikers. Whether you're peakbagging or nature searching or trail running, you know you love it. As hikers, we understand how precious the mountains and wilderness in New Hampshire are and that we need to embrace what we have in our backyard. The next time you start on a trailhead, just take John Muir's advise as I always do..."Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows in trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves"...



  1. Nicely expressed Karl, thanks for this!

  2. I guess I fall into the nature lover's camp. I seem to like to climb the same mountains over again, to see what they and I are like each time.

    I just wrote about peak-bagging (and bagging a peak) http://lainesotherblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/peak-bagging-bagging-peak.html

  3. Great post and experiences. This is a good reason to hike. I love hiking too.