New England's 100 Highest Mountains - Numbers or Moments

Submitted by Nancy

"The best way to measure how much you've grown isn't by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average -- though those things are important, to be sure. It's what you've done with your time, how you've chosen to spend your days, and whom you've touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success."
    -R.J. Palacio

Let's get the numbers out of the way so we can get to the important part.

Since 2006, hiking through all 4 seasons, we've climbed:

  • 48 4,000-footers in NH (10,098 people have done this)
  • 67 4,000 footers in NE (2,557 people have done this)
  • 100 Highest mountains in NE (761 people have done this)
  • 28 of the 48 in NH in Winter
  • 3 of the 46 Adirondacks
  • 21 of the 52 With a View
In total we've:
  • Climbed 244 mountains
  • Walked 1,600 miles
  • Gained 487,000 feet in elevation (equivalent to climbing Everest on the Southeast ridge 43 times)
  • Turned around 19 times
Since 2009 we have given:
  • 135 It's Not About the Hike presentations
  • To 6,635 people

Checking off the mountains on the various lists seems to be all about the numbers - how many mountains we've climbed, how close to finishing the list we are, and deciding what list is next. When I think about our hiking journey in terms of the numbers, though, it leaves me feeling empty. I guess if I had climbed more mountains than any other human, or summited Everest, or set some record hiking, like climbing them all backwards, maybe it would mean something. But I'm far from setting any records. Except for maybe in moments...

6 Incredibly Special Moments

The Team of Nancy & Pat
Mt. Whiteface, May 6, 2006 - Our first 4,000-footer
We reach the ledges on Whiteface and immediately I am out of my comfort zone. I am in the open with sky all around me and a massive granite ledge directly in front of me. I can barely reach the top of the ledge. I try to get my foot up to the only place that looks like a foothold, but it's too high up for me to get any purchase. Oh my GOD! What have I gotten myself into? I stand there, facing the ledge, trying to get control of my fear. Pat asks me if I am okay and I say, "I'm scared," which brings tears. She offers to go first. Pat, taller than I, reaches up the ledge with her hand, gets her foot in the foothold and up she goes. She turns around and offers me her hand. It is this moment that is the hardest for me. Greater than my fear of scrambling up the ledge is my fear of letting someone help me. I have lived my life depending on myself. And here I am, faced with the fact that I can't get up this ledge without help. I reach my hand up to hers and in that moment my life changes. As I stand on top of the ledge, shaking with adrenalin, I am more. I am me and I am the team of Nancy and Pat. This hiking journey would be one of interdependence and together we would do more than either one of us could ever do alone.

Blow-Me-Away Beauty
Mts. Lincoln and Lafayette, June 6, 2006, and many times since --
The Franconia Ridge is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Standing on the summit of Little Haystack I can see the trail ribboning its way over to Mount Lincoln in the distance. As we walk along the ridge there is a soft breeze and the sun is full and warm. The surrounding mountainsides are bright hues of green, backed by blue mountains which fade into even more mountains and finally into the light blue sky. I am actively aware that this is a blessing. I feel the beauty around me seeping into me and I try to absorb it. Each step changes the perspective as we get closer to the summit of Mt. Lincoln, until we are on it and I can see the trail continuing beyond to Mt. Lafayette far away. Oh God, I am so lucky to be here. I take my boots and socks off and wiggle my toes as I gaze off at the mountains, feeling small. It is as if the expanse before me provides a different perspective that makes my troubles insignificant. The immense beauty seems to make room for all kinds of possibilities that do not exist in my life at sea level. All I can do is breathe it all in, barely containing my grateful heart.

Even My Fear Can't Block the Awe
Mt. Moosilauke, January 12, 2008 --
We are literally climbing up an ice slide. The trail is very steep, covered with incredibly thick hard ice, and wide open with little to cling onto. If I slip and fall I will careen down the trail with nothing to stop me but trees. I am halfway up when my anxiety gets the better of me. I lean my head on the top of my pole and let the terror in. It envelops me. This is my edge. Right here, right now. I am on it. I am frozen in fear halfway up the ice slide, digging deep to find the strength to take the next step, when I notice that there are snowshoe prints going directly up the ice slide, made when the snow was soft and now frozen into figure eight molds on the trail. They have become reservoirs for icicles that have fallen from the trees and slid down the ice slide until they came to rest in one of the snowshoe prints. They look like puddles of glass crystals. Just then the wind comes up and I hear icicles falling off the trees and tinkling down the trail until they land in a snowshoe print. It is beautiful. Standing on the ice slide, scared to death, I am able to see the awe in the moment.

Child-Like Joy
Old Speck, August 4, 2007
The path is covered with mica -- shiny pieces, big mirror-like flakes, thick hunks, and rocks laced with it. I can't contain myself. I have loved mica since I was a kid. I have never seen anything like this! It is everywhere! Clear, silver, and black fragments, tons of them, like shells on a Sanibel beach.

"Wowsers, Pat, look at this!" I scream ahead to Pat. "Wow, oh, wow! A huge piece! Oh my God, it looks like it is just growing out of the ground! There's tons of it! Pat, did you see this?"

I put piece after piece in my pockets. I stop every few minutes for the next find. I'm collecting treasure, blessed each time I come across another cache of the sparkling trail diamonds.

"Oh my GOD, look at this piece, Pat! Look at this! Pat look!" I say over and over. I am five years old and I want to share my find with my friend.

By the time we get to the summit and back down my pockets are swollen with wealth from the mountain. I am giddy with excitement and my smile is glued to my face. What a joy to experience life as a child again.

Loving Myself
North Kinsman, December 31, 2009
"Pat," I say, as we snowshoe down the mountain. "How about if you tell me all the ways you love yourself, as a way to celebrate your birthday?"

There is complete silence as we walk down the trail. I can hear our snowshoes shuffling through the snow, occasionally grazing a rock or some ice.

"I love that I am loyal," Pat says slowly. Long silence. "I love that...I love adventure. You can join me, Nancy. Tell me what you love about yourself."

I let her invitation sink in. Wow...this is not an easy thing to do.

"I love that I find meaning in everything," I say, slowly. As I say this, the emotion behind the words fills me, tears come to my eyes and I struggle to get the words out through the emotion.

Silence, snowshoes scraping along the trail.

"I love my kindness, my tenderness," Pat says.

"I love that I see the glass half full," I add. "I love the mother in me."

I have never said these words before. And in saying the words, it feels like I actually know, at a very deep level, that they are true.

"I love that in spite of the depression I suffered for most of my life, I never gave up," Pat says.

Time goes by, the trail moves under our snowshoes.

"I love that I lived through a difficult childhood because that has made me who I am today," I say.

We pass a heart drawn in the snow. There is love everywhere. Pat and I found a love for ourselves so deep on Mt. Kinsman we will never forget the experience.

A Standing Ovation
Hancock Public Library, Hancock, NH, July 13, 2009
We've given our INATH presentation many times. We know our words, we have our timing down and the program flows. But each presentation is a new opportunity to share my journey and my heart with others. And each time I give the presentation, something new will hit me and I will feel an experience a bit deeper than I have before. It is a gift to share our stories over and over again. It reminds me each time just how special our journey really is.

The Hancock Library audience is really with us. They oooh and aaah, laugh and cry. And at the end of the program, they erupt in a standing ovation.

A standing ovation!

I feel so seen and so honored. Everyone is standing, clapping, looking at us! It is hard to return eye contact. It is hard to let it in. And it is absolutely glorious! The audience connected with us, they liked the experience and they want us to know. I stand there clapping too. Clapping for them and for what we had created together.

Moments, Not Numbers
If this journey has taught me anything it's that it's not about the numbers, or the lists, or how many mountains I've climbed. It's about the moments I experience that stay with me; the moments that touch me in some special way; the moments that change me. Actually, it's not that they change me. But each new experience awakens a part of me that was buried deep within that I never knew existed. Once discovered, it becomes an ongoing part of who I am. These moments give me more of myself to share. And in the sharing of my journey, I will hopefully inspire others on their journeys that start with numbers and end with memories.