Monday, November 12, 2012

Inside The Moments: Episode 8 - My Favorite Peaks

Through my adventures, I've climbed over 100 different peaks, and have climbed 165 times to a peak at least 4000 feet. So sometimes I am asked which is my favorite peak? It is impossible to have just one. When I was hiking the White Mountain 48 for the first time, I remember each week it would change. "This is my new favorite peak," I would say. Really though, that is just because all 48 were awesome. This week, I'm going to give a quick rundown of my top 5 favorite peaks, and what makes it my favorite. We all have different reasons that make us enjoy a mountain, but hopefully you find mine interesting.

Mt. Katahdin (5,268')
Mt. Katahdin is the tallest peak in Maine. I was lucky enough to get there this year and traverse the Knife Edge to reach it. Although smaller than Washington, its dramatic drop-offs make it a thrilling experience. The adventure was a climb and not a hike, which makes this one stand out as being different in many ways, particularly the challenge. This adventure required a lot of attention to detail and careful steps, and being able to stand on its summit is greatly dependent on good weather. To look over at Mt. Katahdin and the Knife Edge from Hamlin Peak and to think that we just traversed that is out of this world.
Mt. Katahdin summit  
Posing with the Knife Edge near Hamlin summit
Mt. Monroe (5,384')
Mt. Monroe is the fourth highest peak of the 48 4000 footers list. It sits next to Mt. Washington to the south, and was the peak on which I first completed the 48. That morning, we had traversed the Presidential Range in the full moonlight, and just after sunrise, a morning glow, created by the shadow of Washington, capped the top of Mt. Monroe as I approached my last peak. It was like a golden sign or something, ta-daaaaa! It was a really beautiful morning. Lake of the Clouds never looked better. I climbed to the top, and ended my journey. 

Lake of the Clouds
Bill captures the final steps of my first round of the 48
Secondly, from the summit of Mt. Washington, Mt. Monroe sits in the foreground of one of my favorite views in the White Mountains - looking over the Southern Presidentials. It always makes me remember the first finish. I've been to the summit four times now.

Leaning into the wind on Mt. Monroe
Mt. Washington (6,288')
Sometimes I can't believe myself that I've reached the summit of Mt. Washington ten times in eight different months. I've climbed it many different ways, and the cool part is that there are still dozens of ways I can reach the summit again. Of course this is a favorite of mine. I've stood on the summit in a variety of different conditions too, including a full moon and sunrise at the same time and pouring rain with a 40lb pack on a day where dozens needed assistance. I've been there in low visibility and snow on New Year's Eve, and also on beautiful summer days, and also with my brother and 8-year old niece.

Out of all of the ways I've climbed this peak, I cannot forget my solo Tuckerman Ravine climb in winter. I watch the video back often and try to re-live it, but nothing will compare to what it was like in the moment. As I neared the top of the Sluice, the slope was nearly vertical as the hard snow covered small shrubs. My single axe got stuck once, and I remember needing to keep my body as close to the mountain as possible as I wiggled it loose so to continue. While the whole idea may be foolish to some, I wouldn't trade for a moment that experience of having no margin for error on the side of a mountain.
Tuckerman Ravine - MLK Day 2012 
Taking a moment to scout the area below me

Mt. Lafayette (5,260')
Mt. Lafayette is my favorite the White Mountains. I think that has always stood since my first ascent in February 2011. It was my 7th 4000 footer, and I had just started my quest for the 48. It was snowing really hard as I started up the Old Bridle Path that time. I remember it was so cold. My camera was frozen for some time as I neared the hut, so only I will remember how deep the snow was as I hiked along the trail that was exposed on the right with Walker ravine below, and how scary it was trying to stay left on the trail as much as possible so to not fall off into the abyss as the wind howled just above me. When I left the trees after passing the Greenleaf Hut, the wind was steady, with gusts near 70. It was blowing at my back, which forced me to my knees as I climbed to the summit. It got nicer in the hours shortly after I reached the summit and crossed the ridge, however I don't regret for one bit starting any later than I did that day. 

My favorite peak in the White Mountain is also my brother's favorite in the same. The day after Christmas last year, the spirits of Mt. Lafayette rewarded us with one of our most spectacular adventures ever, and best of all it was brother's 48 finish also in less than a year. While I enjoyed it all the way, I wanted nothing more than for this to be his hike, and his finish. It was extremely cold and we battled thigh deep snow. We traversed Franconia Ridge above the clouds and ended on Mt. Lafayette; it was the most unreal display of under-cast clouds I'd seen. On the summit, we watched the sun go down behind the horizon as planets rose in the dark blue sky.
Lafayette is difficult in deep snow 
Near North Lincoln, on the way to Mt. Lafayette 
Mt. Lafayette 
As Bill closes in, I moved over to capture his final aproach
My brother finishes his 48
Despite these two amazing remembrances, I will too always remember the early December night where I went the wrong direction down off the summit on a Pemi Loop attempt, and realized it way too late. It was cold, I was thirsty, my water frozen, and it could have been much worse. Because of this, I have tremendous respect for Lafayette. Despite it being so awesome, it can be an unforgiving place to be at the wrong time.

Mt. Whitney (14,505')
Until I reach greater elevations, and if, Mt. Whitney is going to be my favorite peak. Nothing will beat camping at Trail Camp, watching the sunrise as we reached Trail Crest at 13,000 feet, and then reaching the summit, which is the highest point in the lower United States. No further words are necessary. I would return in a heartbeat.

My Honorable Mentions

Mt. Isolation (4,004')

Moosilauke (4,802')


  1. Those are some great peaks and great memories! I know one of my son's favorite peaks is Monroe, too. He's been twice and I've been four times. I'm not sure what my favorite peak is, I'd have to say the Bonds are quite an experience, but so are Lafayette and Adams. A winter trip to Moosilauke is not to be missed, either!

    1. Awesome! Thank you for sharing, Summerset. Monroe's an easily bagged peak on the way to Washington. It always pulls me off the Crawford Path when I go by! I probably could have put the Bonds in here somewhere for sure. Ending my Pemi Loop this summer on Bondcliff was really nice, but I guess I could say there's still moments to be had on the Bonds. I climbed the Moose on the last day of winter 2011 - I certainly agree!

  2. Great report, Dan. I always enjoy reading tales of your adventures. I have a special love for Moosilauke for a few reasons - it was my first, this past May 5 on the day of the super moon, it always welcomes me to the Whites as I come up I-91 from Connecticut, and it's huge and beautiful with amazing views. Love Lafayette an awful lot, too, and have great respect and appreciation for Washington.

    I just had a fun adventure yesterday with a few fellow peakbaggers at Mt. Garfield (#5 for me). Really enjoyed its views, though it was windy and cold enough that we only lingered about 10 minutes. Will return some warmer, less windy day when I can take in the views for a longer time.

    Keep up the great adventures and fun reports - and thank you for sharing them!

    1. Hi Arkie - Thanks for following-much appreciated, and also for sharing your thoughts on Moosilauke. It sounds like you look at the peaks in a similar light as I. Mt. Garfield is also really cool to me too, because its like sitting at the head of the table (of the Pemi Wilderness).