The hard-core hikers call it the grid, the big list.
Perhaps you know someone who has walked up all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks. It’s a lot less likely, but maybe you’ve even met someone who has hiked them in the winter. But for the most resolute hikers, even that’s not enough. They strive to hike every 4,000-footer in every month of the year...that’s 576 hikes.
It took more than a decade, but on Wednesday New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley got to check off the 576th box in his grid.
The last peaks were Madison and Adams: at the Northern end of Presidential Range. And it’s taken him a few tries because he had to do it in January – one of the toughest months weather-wise. Weather thwarted last year’s attempt, and Bradley has had to wait a whole year to finish it off.
“The day that looked good, turned out to be a little too cold, a little too windy, and a storm coming in,” he remembers.
And this past Sunday when I joined Bradley and some of his hiking companions, he pulled the plug again. On that day, the car thermometer read 1 degree in the parking lot: the kind of cold that makes the snow beneath your feet screech with every step.
“The Mount Washington Observatory forecast 80 mile an hour gusts,” says Bradley. Extensive sections of the hike over Adams and Madison are above treeline, “It just might be ok, but not a good idea.”
So, instead we walked up North and South Twin and Galehead, which are sheltered in the trees for all but the knobby summits of the Twins.
Bradley’s campaign in the Whites really got underway in the early 2000s. He finished his 4,000 footers in 2004, “The Red Sox won the World Series and I finished the 48,” he says. While the urge to head to the hills is clearly all his own, the quest for the grid perhaps would never have started earnest if it weren’t for someone else: Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.
“After I lost in 2006, I wanted a new challenge, so I started winter hiking.” He met other hikers, and in 2009 got into grid-hiking, though by that time he says he had already documented 120 of the 576 necessary hikes.
“If you ask most people who are doing the grid or have heard about, it gets to be more fun, just because the more you visit these hills, the greater the appreciation for them,” Bradley says.
When he hikes, Bradley is very much the captain of his crew. He prepares meticulously, and makes sure his group is ready too. Before he cleared me to come along he called me up to go through a packing list of gear, and to ask if I had been up any of the White Mountains in the winter before.
“It almost feels like I can cheat a little, because he’s so careful and he’s so smart about everything he does in his research for every hike,” says Michellin Dufort, an energy lobbyist and regular member of Bradley’s hiking crews.
She remembers one winter day when he got her through high winds on Lincoln and Lafayette. “All I kept doing, he would take three steps and I would take three steps and then I would pat his back, so he would know I was still back there.” She says until they made their way into the lee of the ridge, all she remembers seeing was the orange of his parka.
At the top of North Twin, the thermometer reads one degree, and wind meter shows a steady 15 to 20 mph. Clouds start to roll in, South to North, carrying spitting snow flurries along with them. Bradley doesn’t second guess his decision to wait to finish his grid.
“It’s a damn good thing we didn’t do the other ones,” he says, eyeing the clouds.
After a short walk along the saddle between the two peaks, Bradley snaps a photo of the group in the gusting winds atop South Twin. This attracts the ribbing of his hiking buddy John Gutowski.
“Twitter! Twitterman! Twitterverse!” he calls from next to the summit sign-post.
— Jeb Bradley (@SenJeb) January 11, 2015
As a former US Congressman, and one of the state’s higher profile Republicans some look to Bradley as a potential candidate for statewide office, but if Bradley uses these hikes to contemplate another campaign, he’s not giving any clues.
He laughs when the question comes up, and rattles off a few responses. “I don’t know. Not thinking about it too much. Enjoy what I do today,” he pauses and then adds, “And probably would not be able to hike as much!”
That much is certainly true. Bradley took the day off from hearings and briefings in Concord to finish off his grid.
He says he has around 20 percent of his second grid already in the bag.