A confession, I’m a recovering peak bagger. Defined as an attempt to reach the summit of a list of mountains, peak bagging is a great sport…if you can handle it responsibly. In New England, there are several popular mountain lists. Probably the most coveted goals are four thousand footers and the New England One Hundred Highest Peaks. An even more challenging variation is to climb them during the winter.
When I got hooked in the early 1990s, climbing the One Hundred Highest Peaks in New England in the Winter was the granddaddy of all New England peak bagging accomplishments. Since then, new more imaginative lists have been contrived. In recovery and resisting their habit-forming qualities, I avoid even thinking about them. Peak bagging is a global ailment. The high point in each state is the big enchilada domestically. Yep, I started that one. Some intrepid alpinists aspire to climb the highest summits on each continent. Supposedly the affliction began in Scotland with a list called the Munro Mountains. I climbed the highest, Ben Nevis. Was sorely enticed, but the cost of transportation was prohibitive and the shuttle time-consuming.
How I allowed myself to fall into this alpine conundrum is a fair question. Like most people who get hooked on something, I was young, impressionable and thought it would make me appear cool. Since I’m seventy, if you do the math, you’ll note that I wasn’t that young but I was very impressionable. Climbing mountains in the winter was literally and figuratively an irresistibly cool attraction.
One of the benefits of peak bagging is that it takes climbers to mountains and localities they probably wouldn’t visit otherwise. In the throes of that onerous compulsion, I spent winter vacations in Vermont, New Hampshire and Baxter State Park. My mountaineering friends and I bushwhacked to the summit of obscure peaks like Dorset and Mendon in Vermont and Peak above the Nubble and Vose Spur in New Hampshire. The most notorious of all bushwhacks was Scar Ridge near Lincoln, New Hampshire which entailed fording Hancock Stream in frigid waist deep water. We stayed in little motels in towns like Bennington and Twin Mountain, tented in Baxter State Park and spent two infamous nights in the now demolished Cascade Inn in Woodstock, New Hampshire. What happened in the Cascade, stayed in the Cascade.
Adventures aside, the most compelling attraction were the friendships. Some of my mountaineering companions are the closest friends I’ve ever had. During the darkest days of my dependency, about a dozen of us were out in the mountains every weekend during the winter. A group of friends pursuing the same goal is a powerful motivator.
I finished my list in February of 1997. A good friend encouraged me to start climbing the Adirondack four thousand footers. Avoiding temptation, I entered a 12 step program instead. No more lists. I would join friends on climbs that appealed and skip the others. If I wanted to ski, I would. I’ve been clean for twenty years.
Some of my mountaineering playmates are still out bagging peaks. I can be around them without weakening. Recently, friends Gary & Suzanne Cole announced a hike on Mount Waumbek scheduled for the last weekend of winter. One of the easiest New Hampshire four thousand footers, there are excellent views part way to the top on Starr King Mountain. None of us “needed” it for a list, so it would be an addiction free climb.
Wikipedia indicates Waumbek probably means ‘snowing mountains’ in Indian dialect. My Native American ancestors were all over this. We had tons of snow.
Beginning at a parking area on the south side of Route 2 in Jefferson, we crossed the highway and walked up Starr King Road to the trailhead. Northwest winds were gusting just shy of brutal. Confident the mountain would shield us, we pressed on. Wind speeds increased. The snow was very deep but earlier hikers had broken trail. Snowshoes were a necessity. Hikers who post-holed made it more difficult for themselves and everyone else.
After steady uphill in a hardwood and conifer forest for 2.6 miles, we arrived at Starr King Overlook expecting spectacular vistas. Socked in, cold blustery gales were our only reward. Persisting in a winter wonderland for another mile, we arrived at a summit engulfed in snow. Just beyond, another overlook was in the clouds.
A few days shy of spring, it turned out to be my coldest hike of the winter. Years ago, I read a book about addiction. My encapsulated version, a sure cure for an addiction is to live long enough to tire of it. Think there is merit to that. I forgot to mention, this was my fourth winter summit of Waumbek. Who’s counting?