Chapter Fifteen: The 4,000-Footers

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

One of the benefits derived from the location of Camp was that, within an hour or so, you could be in the mountains, with an almost unlimited assortment of trails to hike and places to enjoy. We did a lot of day hikes, and regularly took longer trips, staying overnight in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts. Shawn was trying to complete all the New Hampshire "4,000 footers," so he and his grandmother often left us on the Hill, and went off by themselves to bag a peak or two.

A little explanation for those not familiar with the New Hampshire mountains: There are 48 "peaks" in New Hampshire whose summits are higher than 4,000 feet above sea level. Some are stand-alone mountains; many are little more than bumps on ridges. (To qualify as a 4,000 footer, the peak has to be at least 200 feet above the nearest point on the ridge line.) None are "tall" by worldwide standards: only one reaches about 6,000 feet (Mt. Washington, at 6,288 feet), with six more over 5,000 feet. It doesn't sound very impressive, I know, but some of the trails are quite rough, the distances are sometimes long, and the weather (even in summer) can be an issue. Besides, it's great country, at any elevation!

One trip that was especially memorable occurred in July 1977, when I, Shawn, Sara, and their grandmother hiked to the top of Mt. Carrigain. It's a lovely trail up a lovely mountain, the weather was perfect, and it was another 4,000 footer to add to Shawn's list of accomplishments. Even more special: at age 75, Grandmother Cal was completing the last of her 4,000 footers.

Oh, I should have mentioned; this was Cal completing all the 4,000 footers after she'd turned 70! She had done them all before, some of them a number of times. It was great to be with her on completion of the next round.

I recently ran across a two-page handwritten narrative by Calista, in which she describes her first climbing of all the New Hampshire 4,000 footers. She did this between 1920 and 1970. It's a nice piece, and details some of the ascents that are mere hikes now, but were without trails and far from access roads when she did them.

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Climbing the 4,000-footers

Calista Crane Harris

"Climbing the 4000 footers has really been a life long joy for me. It all started in 1920 when I went from summer camp for a 4-day trip in the White Mountains. We got off the train at Appalachia. I slept in the old Madison Hut, the Tip Top House bunkroom, and Carter Hut. I began my mountains with Madison and Washington. In 1921 I went with the same camp as councilor and stayed at Lakes for the first time, adding Mt. Monroe to my list.

"It was in 1927 when a friend took a trip with me that I added Moosilauke, Carter Dome, and the Wildcats, and also met at Lakes a nice hutman, Slim Harris, who married me in 1929. Then my climbing began in earnest. By 1933 I had listed 22, and was making my own list of 4000 footers, which of course was slightly different from the present accepted list.

"In September 1933, we took the most memorable of our trips. It was backpack camping with equipment all home made and not as light as present day material. We began with the Sandwich Range, Tripyramid, and the Waterville Mountains. Then, with no trail at all, we followed the Hancock Branch to Lincoln, over the Franconia Ridge, Garfield, the Twins to Zealand, Lakes of the Clouds, and Great Gulf. It took three delightful weeks to do it. My list had climbed to 31.

"The next high spot was 1945. The hut boys were all at war, and Joe Dodge asked Slim and me to run Zealand for the summer. When we asked him what we should do with the children, he said "Bring them!" So Sally, 7, and Kim, 4, were with us all summer. I was very busy, but I managed to add five peaks. We all did Hale and Zealand. Sally did the Willey loop over Willey and Field with me. I left for Carrigain alone about 6:30 one morning and got back about 7 that night. I guess I liked that climb the best of all. The count was now 36.


Calista (with head scarf), Sally and hikers - Zealand 1941

"For 20 years I kept climbing, but not the ten peaks I needed. Then, in 1965 I got busy and added the Carters, Tom, the Kinsmans, and the Bonds. Now Slim and I had done all but the Hancocks and Owls Head. But Slim was always so busy checking on mountain flowers, we did not do the remaining mountains.

"In 1969 Slim died, and it was up to me to finish without him. My climbing companion, Dotty Goldenberg, and I left her Berlin home early and drove through to the Kankamagus Highway. We got to the end of the trail about nine o'clock. I was a little hesitant about the trip because the area was so little known to me. What little I had done there was before the highway was put through.

" The trail sign at the start was missing but we were sure we were in the right place. We knew we had a long trip before us, so we went along as steadily and easily as we could. The trail was lovely. It was late August, pleasant and not too hot. The trail is wide and smooth, and for a long ways almost level. We decided to do the South Peak first. As we turned from the Cedar Brook trail to approach the mountain, we lost our level trail. We kept remembering the Guide Book phrase, "unbelievably steep." It was so true. I like to climb slowly enough so I can keep a steady pace without stops, but on this trail I needed a few breathers, as well. But we didn't really sit down to rest until we ate half our lunch on top of the South peak.

"I enjoyed the mile between the peaks especially. The trees were very dense and the natural beauty less changed than in most places. We met a man climbing alone, doing the loop in the opposite direction. He was about halfway through the 4000 footers. My companion was doing her eleventh and twelfth. After today, I would have only Owl's Head to complete mine.

"This Hancock climb was one I had wanted to do since 1933. Then, it was often done as a bushwhacking trip from Carrigain. The dense foliage between the summits made me glad I waited. We finished our lunch on the second summit. It was hard to tell which trail to take down, but I didn't want to get out on the slide, so I took the more southern one. I knew that the trail was very new, and I thought it might be rough and hard. Many thanks should go to the trail makers. It is well built and nowhere difficult.

"When we were between the peaks, we began to hear little rumblings of distant thunder. I prefer my thunder storms at lower elevations, so we made our stop brief. It was not hard to keep a steady pace down, anyway. Part of the way down, we met a man starting up. He must have had a hard rain before he finished. The clouds were increasing as we got to our car, and the rains began as we drove toward Conway. We were lucky.

"I did Owl's Head a few days later with Miriam Underhill and Louise Baldwin. We left Randolph about 6:30 a.m., and drove to the Wilderness Trail on the Kankamagus Highway. It was Saturday in late August, and the many people along the trail were much amused to see the three white-haired hikers going along at a clip fast enough to do the 16.4 miles in the daylight hours. It was an uneventful and thoroughly delightful trip. I made my 46th summit soon after noon, then down again and back to Randolph in time for dinner at 6:30."

Calista 1977 - Still climbing!

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Sanford Wilbur 2022