By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

On top of the world

Right around lunchtime on Saturday, Sept. 28, 1968, I struggled to the top of Mt. Pierce, also known as Mt. Clinton. I was a 12-year-old Boy Scout, out of shape, out of breath, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

At 4,310 feet in elevation, Pierce was the first 4,000-foot mountain I had ever hiked; for that matter, it was the first mountain of any size whose summit I had reached. By the end of the day, I would also hike to the top of Mt. Pleasant (now Mt. Eisenhower). We camped at Lakes of the Clouds, an activity that, because of the fragile alpine vegetation, would become a federal crime within a few years. The next morning, beset by clouds, wind and rime ice, we struggled to the top of Mt. Washington (6,288 feet), the highest peak in New England and home to what is often described as the worst weather in the world.

Once I got over my never-again reaction, I was hooked. I learned that there are 48 peaks in New Hampshire of 4,000 feet or more, and that a few serious hikers set out to reach them all. I plugged away, hitting a lot in the ’70s and a few in the ’80s and ’90s. Starting in 2000, when my son, Tim, was old enough to come with me, I resolved to finish the list before I was too old and decrepit to do it anymore.

This past Saturday, just shy of my 51st birthday, I made it. It took me nearly 39 years, which might be some sort of a record — albeit a very different record from the one set by an ultramarathoner named Tim Seaver a few year ago. Seaver did all 48 mountains in less than four days.

My son and I drove to Lincoln, N.H., on Friday, and set up camp at Big Rock. It rained all night, which made me wonder about the forecast of blue skies for Saturday. As it turned out, the weather was almost perfect — cool and not too sunny, if a bit on the humid side. We started out along the Hancock Notch Trail, from the Kancamagus Highway, at 9:30 a.m. The footing was flat and easy, and by a little after 11 we had reached the split on the Hancock Loop Trail, which would take us to the north and south peaks of Mt. Hancock — summits number 47 and 48.

Which one to take first? The hike up the north peak was a bit longer (0.7 mile as opposed to 0.5), and also steeper, with rougher footing. Tim and I decided to go up the north side so that we wouldn’t have to hike down it and risk our necks. It turned out to be a good decision — there was a lot of loose rock, and there’s no way we would have wanted to try to descend along that route.

The hike to the top was pretty much straight up, and we had to pause frequently to catch our breath. We reached the summit around noon. There was a great view from the nearby outlook, and I wish we’d stayed longer. But I wanted to make it to my final summit as soon as possible.

We hit the summit of the south peak right around 1 p.m. I’d done it. It was also Tim’s 17th 4,000-footer, so he’s well on his way. A guy from Worcester named Steve, who was hiking with his girlfriend and another couple, took our picture. Steve, who’s also 51, has 47 summits under his belt, and is planning to make it to number 48 — Mt. Isolation — next weekend.

We made it back to the car before 4 p.m. and headed off to the Yankee Smokehouse. And thus ended a journey that took in parts of five decades. I’m sending in my application to the Four Thousand Footer Club today.

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  1. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, congratulations! Did do the Long Trail over the course of several summers in the 70s w/ my boy scout troop. Good to see that your love of hiking continued past Scouts.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Heck, I’m still in scouts — I’m helping to lead a 50-miler along the AT in the Berkshires in a couple of weeks. Thanks.

  3. adamg

    As somebody whose only accomplishment is having gotten to the highest natural point in Boston (338-foot high Bellevue Hill in West Roxbury, after a grueling 60-second walk up from Bellevue Street), all I can say is: Wow! That is way cool.

  4. mike_b1

    Congratulations, Dan. Bill Bryson would be proud.

  5. Brett from Brookline

    Congrats, Dan, on your five-decade accomplishment. I say go for six in 2010, and you’ll top Minnie Miñoso, who of course played in five different decades for the White Sox.Nice story.

  6. Paul@01852

    Dan, congratualations! Back in the early ’90’s when I also was a Scout leader, one of my co-leaders as well as his wife and 2 sons were well on their way to climbing all the 4K-plus mountains and I had such a sense of awe and admiration. Great accomplishment!

  7. metallicaMobes

    Congrats!I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a hiking enthusiast… my only real experience involved carrying a 60 lb ALICE pack on my back along with a tent, rifle, and screaming Sergeant Instructors… but nevertheless, I’d like to get into more shall we say, “recreational” hiking. Are there any sites around Boston you might recommend?

  8. Rhea

    That is so great. Congratulations. Now you can do the Appalachian Trail. It will take just 6 months of your life, not 39 years.

  9. Anonymous

    EB3 hereCongrats Dan,BTW, your kids aren’t going to remember you for your blog or great writing or tv appearances.They will rememeber this and thank you for turning them onto hiking. And I am sure they will do the same for their kids.Good job.

  10. Anonymous

    “I’m helping to lead a 50-miler along the AT in the Berkshires in a couple of weeks”EB3 again.I forget to mention. Your insane 🙂

  11. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – Let me know if you’d like a lift up Cadillac Mt., followed by a nice dinner in Bar Harbor.(I was only a Cub Leader…not so much rough stuff)

  12. Aunt Nancy

    Congratulations! We’re all very proud of you!Love,Aunt Nancy

  13. Anonymous

    Dan, what the heck do you have on your head, he asked respectfully?

  14. Bradford

    OK, you’ve shamed me into it. I was with you that foggy day in 1968, so I better hit the trail.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Actually, Brad, you were way ahead of me. 😉

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