Emotional highs, lows mark hikers record-setting project

CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) — While setting a speed record for New Hampshire hiking, Philip Carcia was sometimes struck with a sort of reverse déjà vu. Halfway through a hike, he’d question whether he had completed an earlier one on his list.

“I’d get fanatical about checking that I had been to peaks,” he recalled. “I’d think, ‘I can’t really remember, was I on Cannon in February? I don’t have a vivid memory of Cannon in February’. And I’d start to kind of panic a little bit. As soon as I’d get home, I’d look at my data and see the notes and think, ‘Phew, OK, cool, I was there. OK, we’re good’.”

Given Carcia’s goal, it’s no wonder the days blurred together. While more than 10,000 people have climbed all 48 New Hampshire mountains with summits over 1,219 metres, fewer than 100 hikers have completed ‘The Grid’ — reaching every summit in each of the 12 months. That adds up to 576 climbs and 4,345 kilometres, and it often takes years, if not decades, to achieve.

On July 7, Carcia became the second hiker ever to cram the Grid into a single year, beating the previous record by five weeks. It was 319 days of extreme highs and lows, in both elevation and emotions.

“This trip was punctuated by so many days that were just sheer glory or sheer madness,” he said in a recent interview. “This is a really, long epic project that took me to both ends of the spectrum — both heaven and hell.”

Philip Carcia atop Mount Jackson as he completed his ninth consecutive month of hiking each of New Hampshire’s mountains taller than 1,219 metres on April 30. PHOTO: AP

Carcia, 35, bookended his quest with the White Mountain Direttissima — a 386-kilometre route connecting all 48 of the peaks. The initial push in late August 2018 took eight days, while the final sprint took six and a half. But it wasn’t quite the joyous victory lap he’d envisioned.

As he covered about 64 kilometres a day on mangled feet and two hours of sleep, hallucinations popped up along the trail — a cluster of rocks became a car or refrigerator, a tangle of trees an ironing board. As night fell, the images grew darker.

“My brain would identify the textures on the ground, the textures on the rocks, and the roots as faces,” he said. “I started to be convinced that these faces, these eyes on the rocks, could kind of see through me and see into my struggle.”

But those last punishing days also were rewarding, he said, because they reinforced his core belief in being a pioneer, not a conqueror. It wasn’t about dominating the mountains, it was about submitting to them.

“I had climbed all 48 4,000-footers in 11 consecutive months leading up to that last round, I had climbed almost a million feet of vertical, I had thrown down every single day in one of the gnarliest winters on record, and I was still being humbled,” he said. “I was still paying dues. I was still walking on those trails not feeling like I should be puffing my chest out, but feeling genuinely small.”