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4,000 feet once - why not aim for 48?

Exclusive club demands good boots and rewards peak experiences

A hiker descends Wildcat Mountain along a ski trail. (Marty Basch for The Boston Globe) A hiker descends Wildcat Mountain along a ski trail.
By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / April 25, 2010

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NORTH CONWAY — I didn’t know in 1996 when a buddy asked me to join him and his young son on a hike up cloudy Mount Isolation that as they completed their five-year White Mountain journey, I was starting mine.

Steve Finch’s words to 10-year-old Brian as they climbed the last of the state’s forty-eight 4,000-foot mountains, and gained entrance into the Four Thousand Footer Club, still ring true: “That’s what you do, Bri. You set some goals and plug away.’’

Nearly 14 years later I’ve climbed 28.

I’m an accidental Four Thousand Footer Club wannabe. Instead of keeping a journal from the start, like many of the approximately 300 people admitted into the club annually, I searched my computer in 2008 and discovered I had hiked 18 of the 48 in pursuit of stories. Might as well finish up, I figured.

Administered by Appalachian Mountain Club volunteers called the Four Thousand Footer Committee, the club was formed in 1957 to encourage hikers to venture away from familiar peaks in the Franconia and Presidential ranges and explore other White Mountain climbs from outside Sandwich to the North Country. Today the club has more than 9,400 members.

While working on my list, I’ve come face-to-face with a moose up remote Mount Cabot near Berlin and been passed numerous times by energetic ax-wielding trail crews doing maintenance. In 2002, I hiked Mount Moosilauke with Mike Myers, an electrician from Marshfield, Mass. That was his second 4,000-footer and he has since added 43 more. He plans to make the club this summer.

Following are some of the hikes I’ve completed.

1. Mount Washington, 6,288 feet, Pinkham Notch. The highest peak in the Northeast is an enigma with all kinds of tourists and, at the summit, a cafeteria for them and the hikers. The well-trodden Tuckerman Ravine Trail is a strenuous and scenic 8.4 mile round-trip trek up the mountain’s east side from the AMC Pinkham Notch visitors center on Route 16. I’ve tackled the Rockpile many times. Stay and eat: Joe Dodge Lodge, Route 16, Pinkham Notch, 603-466-2727, www.outdoors.org. Nonmember lodging, seasonal, per person with dinner and breakfast, $62-$96; dinner only, $22.

2. Mount Tom, 4,051 feet, Crawford Notch. The moderate 5.8 mile round-trip hike on the Avalon, A-Z, and Mount Tom Spur trails is on the harder edge of easy. Leaving from Route 302 near the AMC’s Highland Center, Mount Tom provides some outstanding Crawford Notch and Mount Washington vistas. Highland Center, Route 302, Crawford Notch, 603-278-4453, www.outdoors.org. Nonmember lodging, seasonal, double occupancy per person with dinner and breakfast, $80-$174; dinner only $27.

3. Mount Osceola, 4,340 feet, Waterville Valley. One of the best hikes for Alpine drama, the summit ledges form a stunning southern White Mountain stage. The Mount Osceola Trail is a 6.4 mile round-trip to the top from rugged Tripoli Road. Many hikers make this an 8.4 mile trip to include another 4,000-footer, East Osceola. Black Bear Lodge, Waterville Valley, 800-349-BEAR, www.blackbearlodgenh.com. Seasonal rates per room $89-$225. Wild Coyote Grill, Route 49, Waterville Valley, 603-236-4919, www.wildcoyotegrill.com, $16-$23.50.

4. Mount Cabot, 4,170 feet, near Berlin. The most northern peak on the 4,000-footer list is in remote moose country. Near the Berlin Fish Hatchery, dirt York Pond Road is the ticket to the up-and-back, 9.6-mile moderately difficult hike on the York Pond, Bunnell Notch, Kilkenny Ridge, and Mount Cabot trails with a small cabin and views into Maine. I met a moose sitting trailside in the spring snow. Hikers Paradise, 370 Main St., Gorham, 603-466-2732, www.hikersparadise.com, $20 per person in hostel. Saladino’s, 152 Main St., Gorham, 603-466-2520, www.saladinositalianmarket.com, $6.95-$12.95.

5. Mount Moosilauke, 4,802 feet, near North Woodstock. The rugged Beaver Brook Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) from Route 112 is steep and follows a lovely cascade at times to the exposed summit and astounding views. That is, if there isn’t a foggy curtain like when I climbed it with Myers. Woodstock Inn, Station and Brewery, 135 Main St., North Woodstock, 800-321-3985, www.woodstockinnnh.com. Seasonal rates per couple from $78. Woodstock Station, $7.89-$21.95.

6. and 7. North Hancock, 4,420 feet and South Hancock, 4,319 feet, near Lincoln. Peak-baggers can notch two in one nearly 10-mile loop hike into the Pemigewasset Wilderness off the Kancamagus Highway. A flat march along the benign Hancock Notch Trail turns into a steep and rocky assault on the Cedar Brook and Hancock Loop trails with many fine ledge outlooks along the way tackling North first and South second. Kancamagus Motor Lodge, Route 112, Lincoln, 800-346-4205, www.kancmotorlodge.com. Seasonal rates per room $69-$159. Gordi’s, 260 Main St., Lincoln, 603-745-6635, www.gordisfishandsteak.com, $6.99-$33.99.

8. and 9. Wildcat Mountain (A Peak), 4,422 feet and Wildcat D, 4,062 feet, Pinkham Notch. Bumpy Wildcat ridge has several peaks along it, two of them on the list. The ridge comes out on the Wildcat ski area with its incredible Rockpile vistas. My sweetheart, Jan Duprey, and I took a creative approach here, using two vehicles for a roughly 9-mile point-to-point from Route 16 on the sublime Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail to the testy Wildcat Ridge Trail and down the easy-on-the-knees Polecat Ski Trail to the ski lodge by the other car. Stay and eat: see No. 1.

10. Mount Isolation, 4,003 feet, near Jackson. One of the lowest peaks on the list is also one of the most isolated. It’s a long 14.6-mile round trip on the Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, and Davis Path to the summit. There are several stream crossings on this moderate undertaking, which started the journey for me with the Finches. Brian’s now a pilot in Alaska. Hopefully I’ll finish the list before he retires. Carter Notch Inn, Carter Notch Road, Jackson, 603-383-9630, www.carternotchinn.com. $99-$250. Shannon Door, junction of Routes 16 and 16A, Jackson, 603-383-4211, www.shannondoor.com, $5.95-$15.95.

Marty Basch can be reached at www.onetankaway.com.