On June 25, Janet Sanguedolce joined the Appalachian Mountain Club’s 4,000-Footer Club by climbing to the summit of Bond Cliff (4,265 feet), her 48th 4,000-foot mountain in New Hampshire.

When Janet hoisted herself onto the cairn, marking the summit, shouts of joy rang out from her hiking comrades, Gordon (this writer), Phil, Janet’s husband, and Tom and Karen Barker. After 25 years of chasing this goal, Janet beamed with elation.

Most of Janet’s time over the 25 years has been occupied by children, grandchildren, teaching art at Inter-Lakes High School and Plymouth State University, creating beautiful works of art, and singing with her husband, Phil, in the popular musical duo, The Sweetbloods.

We celebrated Janet’s achievement with cheers, a few nips of infused whiskey, and the congratulatory high-five. As we hiked off the Bondcliff summit, Janet turned to me and asked, “So what’s next?” I thought about the question and replied, “Whatever list you want to tackle, and there are many.”

After I said that, I’m sure Janet began to mull over her next hiking adventure. She’ll continue to find new paths to travel, whether it be in music, art or on mountain trails.

“In the mountains of truth, you never climb in vain. Either you already reach a higher point today, or you exercise your strength in order to be able to climb higher tomorrow." (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900).

I think Janet will be climbing higher tomorrow.

Janet is now a proud member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s 4,000-Footer Club. It formed in 1957 to introduced hikers to the lesser-known peaks of the White Mountains, such as the Hancocks, Owl’s Head and West Bond. Since then, more than 14,000 trekkers have scaled the 48 highest summits in New Hampshire. The first official finisher was Robert Gould, May 26, 1957, followed by Thomas Lamb in September. The eminent mountaineers Miriam and Robert Underhill joined the elite club in the same month and, by year’s end, 19 other trampers had hiked all of the 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire. On Dec. 23, 1960, the Underhills became the first to summit the 48 in winter by climbing to the ice-covered summit of Mount Jefferson, with temperatures hovering below zero and winds topping 70 mph. Miriam was 62 and Robert 71 at the time.

The number of New Hampshire 4,000-Footer Club members continues to grow each year. From 1960 to 1980, only 141 hikers had summited all 48 in winter. Now the number stands at 843. Unusual feats of peak-bagging (the goal of reaching a number of peaks on a list, and the lists are numerous) all 48 4,000-footers include topping out on all the summits at midnight. Mike Bromberg made ascents from all four compass points in winter; Guy Waterman scaled each peak in every month of the year; Gene Daniell made 576 climbs. Peak bagging has become somewhat of a rage in the hiking community and the number of trekkers stomping to summits has, in some cases, created overuse of many trails, especially the 48.

It’s ironic that the AMC 4,000-Footer Club was formed to inspire hikers to climb new peaks, not just those in the Presidential Range. Now there is the dilemma of overuse of the trails that have become eroded, alpine vegetation threatened and the solitude of a mountain hike is being drowned by the cackle from hordes of peak baggers.

On June 23, Janet, Phil, Tom, Karen, and I joined those hordes of peak baggers. Our path would take us along the Zealand Trail, to Zeacliff (3,854 feet) over Zealand (4,265 feet) and Guyot (4,850 feet) mountains and down into the Guyot campsite. For two days, shouldering our packs, we would trek 22 miles over five summits, with a total elevation gain of more than 6,000 feet.

When we arrived at Guyot campsite, I was amazed to find new tent platforms nestled along the mountainside. We thought we would find only a few other trekkers, given it was a weekday. However, within a few hours, waves of mountain wanderers came swarming into the area, eager to find an open tent platform — enthusiastic hikers from Canada and many points south. We shared our platform with an Appalachian Trail through-hiker from Germany.

That evening, after supper, we hiked out to West Bond Mountain (4,540 feet), an arm of the Bond Range that stretches west into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We arrived at the end of the West Bond Trail and sat watching the sun beginning to sink behind Franconia Ridge. The setting was idyllic.

The next morning, the campsite was abuzz with activity, trekkers preparing for the day’s journey just as we were organizing ourselves for Janet’s finish. We gathered ourselves together, made breakfast (me with my instant oatmeal, Karen and Tom with their usual fancy-wholesome meal) and packed up to begin the big push to mounts Bond and Bond Cliff. We were exhilarated to be on the trail in anticipation of Janet’s finish, looking forward to the celebration.

When we reached the summit of Mount Bond, we gasped at the mountain panorama before us. The sky was crystal clear, the mountain peaks were uncountable, and Pemigewasset Wilderness below was a blanket of green. The slides off West Bond and Bond Cliff caught my imagination. Could I climb those slides and find a new, isolated route to the summits?

Many years ago, I was on Bond Ridge with my teenage daughter, Meghan. She’s now 40 and a mother of two children. I remember her elation when she reached the summit of Mount Bond, arms raised and a huge smile on her face. How time flies! Now I’m on the same trail 25 years later, still drawn by the lure of the White Mountain’s highest peaks.

We moved on after this brief respite, following the path to Bond Cliff where we would celebrate Janet’s long-sought-after goal. I lagged behind the group, taking in the views and the serenity of the mountain ridge. I caught sight of a raven soaring overhead, cackling to his mate. I listened to the breeze gently whistling through the stunted trees. My thoughts turned to Reuben, my dog and faithful hiking partner for 10 years. Reuben and I made this same hike two years ago. Now his age, arthritis and muscle loss has limited his ability to climb big mountains and hike long distances. He still waits by my pack each evening before a hike, hoping he can come along. Reluctantly, I must say to him, “Stay, Reuben; I’ll be home later.” With a sad look on his face, he heads to the couch, nestles in among the pillows and awaits for my return.

I’m startled from my inner thoughts by a dog with his hiking companion, a young woman loaded with a 40-pound pack. I relished her experience with her beautiful hiking companion and long for the days when Reuben would take on big mountains with me. Old age has a way of altering our paths in life.

I reluctantly leave my place of tranquility and reflection to catch up to the group. I hear my comrades’ voices ahead, joyfully chatting as they near the summit of Bond Cliff. Soon the celebration will begin when Janet climbs onto the cairn and proclaims, ”I did it.”

As Julius Caesar stated, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

••• 

For questions and comments, contact Gordon at forestps@metrocast.net. 

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