Last year I finished hiking the 67 highest peaks of New England. A mighty accomplishment for anyone, but for someone like me – living with Ménière’s disease – a truly spectacular feat. Following is the essay I submitted to the 4000 Footer Committee for admission to the NE67 Club. I’m honored to have received my patch and am now working towards my next… two. LOL
Application Essay for the 4000 Footer Club of New England (NE67) – by Christy Ellingsworth
August 26, 2022
Yesterday I hiked Mount Katahdin, finally finishing the New England 67!!
So, of course, today my husband asked:
- Which body part hurts the worst? and,
- Which list are you going to tackle next?
Ahhhh, the life of a peak bagger.
There’s something about peak bagging that inspires skepticism in those not mountain-addicted. Most folks see the value of tackling a summit once or twice a lifetime, but the idea of spending all one’s free time traveling to or from trails, let alone on them? Bonkers.
Once upon a time, I was a “normal” gal. I walked, mostly looking up. My paths were paved. My scrambling was strictly limited to eggs and dodging uncomfortable conversations. I lived in jeans and cotton tee shirts and the only Tetris-like foot movements I made were avoiding dog poo.
Fast forward to 2020 and 2021. The Pandemic. Stuck at home with my family, happily, but still we were in serious need of something to do. Someplace safe to go. But where? The movies?? They’re all closed. A dine-in restaurant? Are you insane?!? Frankly, the thought of going anywhere or doing anything led to a moral conundrum followed by an inner charge of YOU SELFISH BASTARDS.
The answer? Nature. What’s more natural than that? Safe, beautiful, with ample room to stretch and breathe, we would start hiking as a family! My husband was already an avid hiker chomping at the bit to get out of the house, and he wanted to lead us all, too. Sure, I didn’t have much experience, but I’d done that one hike when I was in third grade with the girl scouts. That was fun. I mean, apart from the twisted ankle and the cast for 3 months. FUN! And I’d hiked Franconia Ridge for my wedding anniversary back in 2014. My only adult hike. Which left me crippling. But this would get us out of the house!
And so we went. Our first family hike to the Osceolas was on a weekend when most of the state of Massachusetts decided they’d also like to take I-93 to this particular section of the White Mountains. We arrived at the trailhead early to find a carnival-like atmosphere already in full effect. The volume of hikers was staggering and after weeks and weeks of isolation, it felt surreal. The gravel road to the trailhead was lined like a parade. We managed to find a single parking spot just big enough to squeeze into until we discovered why it was empty. The enormous ditch beside it! Which swallowed the rear of our car, sending the front shooting skywards like the sinking Titanic! Thankfully, at that very moment, a group of amazing, take-charge female hikers passed by and sensing our desperation, literally CLIMBED UP ON THE HOOD OF OUR CAR, balancing us out. HALLELUJAH!
And thus it all began. One hike morphed into another, and another, and another still, and on September 25, 2021, my 22nd wedding anniversary, I finished the 48 highest peaks of New Hampshire; celebrating my marriage bond on the Bonds, with my husband by my side. What started simply as a safe way to get out of the house in the throes of a global pandemic has evolved into something else altogether; an extraordinary new way of looking at the world and moving through it, feeling completely alive. The passion I now hold for hiking is something I’d never have imagined before. The challenge it offers, the sense of accomplishment it conveys, and the kinship I feel being part of this vibrant new tribe. I feel reborn, at almost 50!
Yesterday I hiked Katahdin. After 13 years of living in Maine, I summited its highest mountain. Monkey-scrambling up Hamlin Ridge Trail, I gazed in wide wonder at the deep blue sky, the mountains around me, and the numerous ant-like specks in the distance. Each one human. All of us, together, hiking our own hike. To climb massive, immovable objects takes commitment. Even the easiest of the 67 highest peaks of New England was hard (so very hard). But to stand awestruck and humbled at the top of a mountain, surrounded by those who love me best and strangers who’ve endured and struggled and now celebrate beside us, and with us, is worth every ounce of sweat and tears.