For my 40th birthday, I treated myself to the Appalachian Mountain Club New Hampshire Chapter’s Winter Hiking Series. I had felt a pull towards snow-covered peaks for years, and I wondered—could I do it? Did I have what it takes to hike high peaks in the winter? Was I brave enough to stretch my comfort zone? Humble enough to know my limits? Strong enough to carry the gear? I decided to find out.
It changed my life. It quickly led me to adventures I never imagined were possible, and to friends who are now more like family. And it set me on a path towards summiting all 48 peaks on the AMC NH 4000 Footer List – in winter.
Since I took that class five years ago, each winter has brought me closer to this goal. I closed out the 2020/2021 season with a hike to Jefferson, my 44th winter ascent. Four peaks remained – Washington, Monroe, Adams, and Eisenhower. I knew it was a long shot (very weather-dependent), but I hoped I could summit my 45th peak on my 45th birthday, which would fall shortly after the next winter solstice.
It worked out. Two good friends – Molly and Chris – joined me for this Christmas Eve hike into the windy Presidential Range. Conditions weren’t quite ideal, but we were able to grab Monroe and quickly retreat back to the Lake of the Clouds hut, protected from the wind. It was a beautiful day and a very memorable birthday! Then there were three.
The Presidential Range offered up two more weather windows in the week between Christmas and New Years. My friend Denise and I hiked up Airline to Adams, over to Madison, and down Valley Way on Monday. Winds were light and the undercast was stunning.
Two days later, Denise and I were joined by our friend Marielle and together we got Washington and Monroe. The visibility deteriorated as we headed up Washington, but it made for a magical day. The rime ice was particularly spectacular. As I stood on Monroe for the second time in a week, I felt so grateful. These mountains are miraculous; each visit is different and each one is a gift.
And then there was one: Eisenhower. It took a couple of weeks to find the right weather window, but the forecast on Sunday, January 16th looked good enough. It turned out to be better than good, actually. It was cold, but not very windy at all, and perfectly clear. On winter days like this, the views are longer. The sky is bluer. It was a terrific day spent with Molly, Chris, Katie, Denise, and Frank. I’m so grateful for everything this 5-year journey has taught me, and for everyone who has made it possible.