On September 25, 2021, I finished my last three peaks of the 48 4000-footers in New Hampshire. It took me 7 years to complete the NH48, but apart from Lincoln and Lafayette, the remaining summits (46 of them!) were completed in 15 months during the pandemic, from July 2020 to September 2021.
Most were done in the fleeting summer months of the two years. As a minimalist day hiker, I prefer carrying as little as possible with me beyond water and snacks. My only true winter hike was Mts. Whiteface and Passaconaway; the mashed potato conditions of that hike forestalled others.
I left reviews on AllTrails for every completed hike, but didn’t otherwise blog about it. Blogging is fun when I want to share, but it can take over if I let it. And, as much as I’ve written over the years, I’m a pretty private person. Hiking can be taxing at the best of times, and for someone with Ménière’s disease, it’s other level sh*t. Thankfully, I didn’t have a single episode until one of my very last hikes (Madison, Adams, and Jefferson, OH MY). But I managed to keep going, and I finished peaks #43, 44, and 45, despite the dizziness and fear.
For 20 years, I’ve lived with a chronic condition that comes and goes without warning. Ménière’s may take my hearing and my balance, but it’s never stopped me from doing what I set my mind to, even if I have to crawl.
Below is the essay that I wrote when I finished the NH48, to the 4000 Footer Club, to earn my precious patch. All the sweat and tears, were 100% worth it.
Application for the Four Thousand Footer Club of the White Mountains —
An Essay by Christy Ellingsworth
Seven years ago, on September 14, 2014, I hiked my very first 4000 footers, Lincoln and Lafayette. I could have started small, but my husband, John, and I were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary and thought, WHAT BETTER WAY TO MARK THE OCCASION?!? John (a seasoned hiker) believed I was up to the challenge, and I (a complete novice who’d not climbed a peak since sleep-away camp at age 15) didn’t know any better.
Marriage and hiking have much in common. Both require dedication, determination, discomfort, sometimes even suffering, in order to stay the course. There’s sweat involved and occasionally tears. Grand rewards await those who stay committed, but the hard work may ultimately prove too much. Some decide to go it alone or give it up altogether. If, however, you’re able and willing to adapt your pace to a partner, you’ve got support on your journey and (if you’re really lucky) a friend for life.
I navigated my first 4000 footer hike with the clumsiness of a newlywed, jelly-legged and grinning. My husband was a great guide, but I lacked experience, especially in finding my own way. Now, 46 peaks later—and more! I’ve done others in Vermont and Maine, too!—how very far, both literally and figuratively, I have come. Where once my steps were hesitant, there’s now a Tetris-like fluidity. Granted, I still fall. The ruggedness of the Whites in combination with having Meniere’s Disease means I’ll never be a human spider-monkey, but I feel more at ease on the trails and more confident in my abilities than ever before in my life, even while hiking solo. And I have never, ever felt this strong.
One of my husband’s favorite sayings is, “Hike your own hike.” Which I often translate to: OWN YOUR OWN JOURNEY. Be it hiking, marriage, or life in general, really show up. Forget about your A game—that’s for professional athletes. You need only be present and prepare accordingly—read trail reviews, weather reports, bring a map and/or GPS. Each hiker brings his or her own baggage along for the ride, and hiking has afforded me hours of contemplative meditation, fully immersed in nature, challenging myself physically and mentally, while forest bathing. It’s taught me not to overpack and, better yet, to simply let go. All that I truly need for one day can comfortably fit on my back.
I started this journey seven years ago and now—48 of the 4000 footers done—I happily continue on. Life is just a procession of trailheads and forks in the woods. And if you’re brave and resilient enough, you will see the summits. Hiking is a way of looking at life, and living it, fully engaged. A series of footsteps and moments owned. Each of us on the trail because we choose to be. All hiking our own hike. Exposed to the elements, awestruck and windblown, hauling ass up and down mountains. Hopefully with joy.
My last three peaks were finished much like the first, on the trail with my husband, celebrating our wedding anniversary. We marked 22 years of marriage on September 25, 2021 as we summited the Bonds. It seemed a fitting choice for the occasion. Strengthening our bond with a mile for each year and a little bit *extra* for the next one.