In the summer of 2009, when I was working for the Green Mountain Club in Vermont, I was helping out as a summit caretaker on Camel’s Hump on a beautiful, bluebird day with views down to my house in Waterbury Center, the jagged peaks of the Adirondacks over Lake Champlain, the distant rolling White Mountains of New Hampshire, and green, green forest all around. That wasn’t the spectacular part of the day, though. What really got me was when a couple of older men reached the summit, smiling profusely and overjoyed with life, pulled out a pair of mini wine bottles and lexan wine glasses from their pack, and made a toast. “You did it,” one of them said, and the other smiled so widely that I thought his head might split.
|Classic peakbagging in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.|
I’d heard people get all excited about having climbed the mountain from time to time, but these two guys looked like they were in good shape, and like the hike to the top couldn’t have been a major accomplishment for them. Camel’s Hump certainly isn’t one of the harder hikes in Vermont. What I didn’t realize at first, but found out quickly as they celebrated, was that one of the men had just finished his New England 4000 Footers list, which he’d been working on for over a decade. Even more astonishing to me was that he lived only a half-hour drive from the trailhead to Camel’s Hump, which meant he had somehow resisted the temptation to hike this most popular mountain until he had climbed every other high peak in New England, including some real pain in the butt peaks and others that are a heck of a long drive from Northern Vermont.
|Climbing Vermont’s highest peak on New Year’s Day, 2009.|
For me, the idea of peakbagging is just an extra bit of fun in the otherwise demented and delightful hobby of hiking. It’s like a scavenger hunt, checking off all the peaks as you hike them and getting even more excited when you happen to bag two or three in one trip. For some people, peakbagging is an obsession, like the Gridders, who try to hike each of the 4000 Footers in each month of the year, or the Red-Liners, who try to hike every inch of hiking trail in the White Mountains. For me, though, I’m more drawn in by through-hiking– it started with the Appalachian Trail, and became an addiction in the years after. But after seeing that man finish his 4000 Footers on Camel’s Hump, I decided I should start my peakbagging journey.
|From my first serious peakbagging trip to the Bonds in the middle of the White Mountains.|
I looked back at which peaks I’d hit when I hiked the Appalachian Trail, and then which I’d hit while working in Vermont. And I started planning trips to get to the other 4000 Footers that I’d missed. I got the bug just like I’d got the bug for through-hiking. Before I got much of the way through the 4000 Footers, though, I added another 33 peaks to my list by deciding to do the New England Hundred Highest as well. A few years later, as I write this now, I’ve made a pretty good dent in the list. For the 4000 Footers, I’ve got one more in Vermont, four in New Hampshire, and three in Maine to go. The hundred highest are another story, and I doubt I’ll finish either list in the next year or two, but it makes for a fun goal to help me plan trips. Peakbagging hasn’t reached quite the same level of obsession for me as through-hiking, but maybe it will eventually.
|One of Maine’s most spectacular 4000 Footers, Avery Peak of Bigelow Mountain.|
Whether it’s peakbagging or through-hiking, though, I consider each to be extra motivation to get out and hike in new places. I certainly don’t need any more motivation than the joy I find from hiking in the mountains, but the goals propel me to do more and go further than I might otherwise. Every time I plan a long-distance backpacking trip, the goal of getting from one place to another– with a very long distance in between– propels me to hike harder and see more than I might on a casual weekend backpacking trip. Part of the enjoyment comes from the sense of accomplishment at the end of the journey– the guy on Camel’s Hump had dedicated so much of his time and effort over several years, and the sense of accomplishment was palpable to those around him.
My list of through-hiking and peakbagging goals gets longer faster than I can possibly check things off of it, but that’s kind of the point. As I said about my idea for the North Woods Wilderness Loop, some of the goals sit on the back burner for a long time, but sometimes they come to the front and must be finished. Right now, I’ve got one peakbagging list I need to complete (yes, NEED!) and no fewer than seven long-distance backpacking goals that would take me at least four years even if I had no other obligations in life and an unlimited budget. There is so much to keep me dreaming.
What are your hiking goals, no matter how big or small or how many? As far as I’m concerned, you can dream as big as your heart desires.