KSTEWART.NET Peakbagging page 2


Peakbagging continued...

A little more about the benefits of peak-bagging:  I don't think I ever would have gone bushwacking without pursuing the New England 100 highest.  I certainly never would have bushwacked the second time! Bushwacking is a skill and a discipline, an opportunity to seriously practice compass skills.

Peakbagging the NH 4000 footers in Winter almost forces me to learn how to backpack in winter. It just doesn't seem practical to hike the Bonds (Cliff, Bond, and West Bond) as a day hike. Garfield and Galehead were my first over-nighter in Winter, and I look forward to a few more overnight winter trips.

Some Links and Lessons learned:


Views From The Top for trail conditions

MountWashington.org for weather (higher summits forecast and trail conditions)

Weather.gov (Berlin, NH, etc.) and conditions usually turn out to be something in between the higher summits forecast and the nearest town in the valley.

Search forums at VFTT, and AMC for specific topics.

Mohamed Ellozy's site is da bomb!  with round trip book times for so many combination of peaks, i planned my life from this dude's site.

Bob and Geri's site has maps, photos and trail descriptions.

Winter resources - Boston chapter of the AMC is excellent.

Summitpost.org is awesome too! I've heard it's the most-read mountaineering website.

Strategies which have worked well so far:

Keep in mind that this is for peakbagging: I give myself the best chance of reaching the top and returning safely, every trip.  Peakbagging eventually becomes logistics, so one trip where I don't reach the top feels like it costs a valuable day.  On the other hand, losing fingers to frostbite, or worse sequelae of "Summit Lust" could cost a lot more.

I started small, and worked my way up.  I hiked almost all of the NH 4Ks in warm weather before doing any winter hikes.   And in winter, I started on shorter peaks protected from high winds by tree cover.  Then I tried exposed routes with company, usually people with more experience.

I read quite a bit, Freedom of the Hills (by The Mountaineers) stands out as the basic text of climbing.  (it covers way more than I've been able to practice yet!)  I hiked a few mountains.  Then I read some info on those internet forums.  Then I hiked some more.  I climbed with more experienced hikers and asked plenty of questions.  Now I basically repeat reading, hiking, reflecting, asking and more hiking.  There's always more to learn!

There are various factors that can be added on to a simple walk in the woods which make it more and more challenging:

longer hikes,





hiking alone,


wet rocks,

icy rocks,




blazes and cairns obliterated by snow,

ski-goggles fogging up (when your skin must be covered!),



When enough hazards accumulate, problems can compound each other, and they're no longer just a nuisance or a challenge, but perhaps enough danger to stop and turn around.

In winter I saved exposed routes (e.g. Lincoln-Lafeyette, Moosilauke, Presidentials) for days with better weather.  I slowly pushed my "envelope" of wind chill down.  I kept track of what clothing worked to keep me warm and dry, and continued to improve my layers.

Let other people do the work

For peakbagging, I do not break trail.  I learned this lesson on the skookumchuck trail, with about 12 to 18 inches fresh powder, on top of a base of snow which few people had tread.  Uphill was unbelievably difficult.  We had about 6 people to take turns at leading but we only got about 2/3 to the summit before running out of steam. So... I read VFTT, wait for someone else to be first to break trail, and post the conditions. Then that trail becomes a candidate for my to-do list (until the next big snow storm). This is one point where the peakbagger diverges from those free of this affliction.

Combine trips

Combine multiple peaks into a single trip.  I mentioned peakbagging is a game of logistics.  During the work week, in between hikes, planning the next trip is another part of the fun of peakbaggging. Early on during my NH48, I started to see that I would eventually go for the NE100, so combining peaks really makes sense. One long weekend car trip to remote North West Maine can bag a lot of peaks.

Obsession-Compulsion, tunnel vision, Summit Lust

I try tovaoid the infamous combination of accumulating poor decisions and factors.  a.k.a. Summit Lust.  For example, when I hiked Waumbek in winter, I decided to add South and North Weeks because they're part of the NE100 - kill two birds with one stone. But I sort of forgot that this was a little more ambitious than the average hike (#1 long hike).

And it was raining - it's harder to stay dry and warm in the rain than it is in the snow (#2 rain in February). The trail had a lot of  melted snow whose consistency made progress slower (#3 soupy snow).  After I passed the summit of Waumbek, I started breaking trail towards South Weeks, violating my own rules about not breaking trail (#4 breaking trail).  I frequently lost the trail because there are fewer blazes along the Kilkenny trail, no prior tracks to trace, and some trees with blazes had blown down (#5 following trail bordered bushwacking). 

A 6 hour wet and cold day turned into 8 hours and began to look like 10 hours. And it was getting dark (#6 dark). I finally stopped and asked myself: "do I really want to do this? If you walk 5 hours into the woods, you have to walk 5 hours back..." So I did turn around, but with a much longer return trip than if I had stopped at Waumbek.

GPS is awesome! 

Of course, the most important navigational tool is your brain.  Common sense, humility, and orienteering skills are necessary (humility = honestly accepting your weaknesses as well as strengths).  I do practice using a map and compass and carry them on every hike. (Hike safe responsibility code and gear list for every hike).

And still, GPS is awesome!  I have topographical maps loaded into my GPS with plenty of waypoints thrown in for each hike and it's like having the hand of God point to your next step.  (just like the Monty Python animations).  Often the hardest part is finding the trailhead to get started e.g. in pre-dawn darkness, with blowing snow, where multiple trails around some campsite make paths ambiguous...

The reason I got GPS was mostly for whiteouts above treeline.  Coincedentally, turn-by-turn directions in the city are handy too.  (mine's a Garmin GPSmap 60CS which I load with topos of the mountains plus maps of Eastern MA).

And then there's this game called geocaching.  I had no idea there were so many local town parks within a few minutes drive of my house.  In fact, geocachers have an acronym for this in their forums: YAPIDKA = "yet another park i didn't know about."

So that's probably more about peakbagging than you needed to know. But if you want to know more, or have wisdom and hiking photos to share - Contact me!