So Close, and Yet So Far

Thru-hikers are lazy, or so we like to say. Non-hikers often suspect that people who are willing to spend six months of their lives walking from Georgia to Maine will readily walk a few miles into towns along the way, but that is just not the case. We regularly hitchhike a mile or two into town, avoid the shelters that are more than 0.2 miles off the trail, and don’t bother taking the blue-blazed side trails that lead to interesting places. Thru-hikers are often wary of miles that “don’t count” toward the 2100+ miles toward Katahdin.

Familiar with this tendency of ours, I’d made a pact early on in my hiking that I would take blue-blazed routes that were 0.2 miles or less. And, for most of the trail, I adhered to this rule; however, when the footway grew more difficult in the White Mountains, where most of the highlights of the trip were on the AT rather than on side trails, I refrained from taking any blue blazes and just enjoyed the white-blazed journey.

The summit of Mount Moriah is 0.1 mi off the AT.

As a result, though I’d begun working toward hiking all of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers* in 2010 and though the trail passes near the summits of a great many of them, during my 2012 thru-hike, I only hiked the 4000-footers that the trail goes directly over.

Fast-forward two years.

It’s 2014, my AmeriCorps term of service has ended, my Lyme Disease is in remission, and I have two months until my next (short-term) job begins. I decide that there’s no better way to spend two months than hiking and backpacking, so I put my belongings in storage, create my own “Walden on Wheels,” and drive around to trailheads all over northern New England. Of course, during this adventure, I decide to finish hiking New Hampshire’s 4000-footers and realize my folly of two years prior.

Hiking multiple neighboring peaks in one day is easy. Or, at least, as easy as hiking high peaks can be. Neighboring peaks are adjacent prominences on one ridgeline; once a hiker climbs up to a peak, any neighboring summits can generally be reached by ridgewalking, which involves little elevation gain or loss.

While the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains does ascend many ridges, it often skirts neighboring peaks rather than going directly over their summits. For example, while it climbs the Presidential Range, the trail skirts Eisenhower, Monroe, Jefferson, and Adams, running over only Pierce, Washington, and Madison.

In some cases, the AT stays a half-mile or so away from a summit; in other cases, as with Mount Moriah, the AT comes within 0.1 mile of the peak. Because I didn’t take that 0.1-mile side trip during my thru-hike, I hiked 10 miles up and down Mount Moriah this summer.

Not that I’m about to complain about the past couple months. It was one of the greatest summers of my life and probably the most fun. And, that hike up Moriah? It ranks among my very favorite.

View of Presidentials from Moriah

The view of the Presidentials from the summit of Moriah.

*The 4000-footers are the mountains whose summits rise over 4000 feet in elevation. In New Hampshire, there are 48 of them, and many New England hikers engage in “peak-bagging”—that is, hiking all 48. To learn more, click here.

3 Replies to “So Close, and Yet So Far”

  1. […] As I’ve written before, most Appalachian Trail thru-hikers walk right past even short blue-blazed trails.  Exploring some of these side trails is a great way to see more of the eastern woods, get off the beaten path, and enjoy some time alone. […]


  2. […] AT, when I intended to hike from Harpers Ferry to Katahdin in 2011, I had hiked my fair share of 4000-footers but had never backpacked.  Not […]


  3. […] regardless of their opinion about the Huts, for convenience’s sake (because no hiker wants to hike a mile off the trail to get below treeline), most hikers end up staying at one or more Huts during their […]


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