At the same time, fall and winter… (and summiting a mountain)

I am a day late posting – yesterday I was busy climbing a mountain…

About a month ago I went on my first ever backpacking trip – it was to the White Mountains (New Hampshire) and the goal was to summit Mt Madison and Mt Adams. I was so excited! I had wanted to go backpacking for as long as could remember. But I guess life had gotten in the way and now finally, in my third decade of life, I was doing it! However, I was disappointed when 1/4 of the way up the mountain we were forced to turn back because we couldn’t stand up to the high (50mph+) winds. I enjoy being outdoors in any capacity but all that hard work, sweat, and sore muscles and I couldn’t even complete my goal…

This past weekend my partner-in-crime and I decided to make another attempt at Mt Madison – I was a bit dubious since the summit forecast predicted clouds, wind, and snow! On Sunday we hiked up the Valley Way Trail (accessible from the Appalachia parking area) to a tent site about 0.5 miles from the alpine zone – the hike was strenuous but the mild weather, beautiful fall foliage, and a very large turkey club sandwich kept us going. The next morning we awoke just before 8:00 am and found about 3 inches of snow had fallen overnight! After a hot oatmeal breakfast we packed up some food and water and headed up to summit the peaks.

The freshly fallen snow made for some of the prettiest views I have ever seen – a mix of two seasons – winter above 4,000 feet and fall just below…

Fall and Winter!

As we continued to climb up Mt Madison the winds picked up, passing clouds obstructed our views, little ice pellets fell from the sky, and the temperature dropped below freezing… but this time we made it – we made it to the top of Mt Madison!

Almost to the top! The second cairn in the background is the summit!

Once we descended the cone we made a decision to head back to the tent site, pack up, and head home – leaving Mt Adams for another day… On this trip I had two firsts; my first snow camping/hiking experience and my first mountain summit.

There are officially 48 4,000+ footers in New Hampshire and I have set a goal to climb them all – 1 down, 47 to go!

I am at the start of my fourth year as a PhD student and the end, the dissertation (all 48 peaks), seems to be no-where in sight. This semester I have so many deadlines and so many things I want to accomplish that if I think about them all at once I feel a bit of panic. I have to remind myself these smaller goals are important and that they will get me to the finished project. Sometimes you don’t finish them exactly when you want to and sometimes you have to try and try again before completing these smaller goals – but they do get done and it is something to be proud of…

Today I am submitting an abstract for a conference and tomorrow I will finalize an analysis (that I’ve done like a million times already!) and the materials and results section of a manuscript. In about a month I hope to be presenting at that conference and submitting the completed manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal. The final dissertation is merely a collection of all these “smaller” accomplishments and goals – each of which can, at times, seem almost impossible to complete.

Graduate students can be so focused on the end goal that we forget to enjoy these smaller victories along the way. Science is about curiosity and discovery – neither of which is satisfied by triumph alone – there are a lot of false starts, failures, and changes in direction. These can obscure the small accomplishments along the path to dissertation. Maybe if we remember to enjoy these accomplishments we’d enjoy the view along the path a bit more…

So what did you do for the Columbus Day weekend? My colleague and dear friend, Hollie, “summited all 48 peaks” – completed her dissertation at UH and I hope she enjoyed the path – all the ups and downs. Thanks to the miracle of technology, I even got to watch her defense on a smart phone on the car ride home from the White Mountains. Congrats Dr. Putnam! You did awesome!

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2 thoughts on “At the same time, fall and winter… (and summiting a mountain)

  1. Congrats on the summit and the submit 🙂 The hike must have been amazing. Loved this post – you are right on about enjoying the journey. Maybe I can join you on a trip next summer!

  2. Wow awesome post, way to capture life as a grad student with a terrific analogy, while also making me want to go backpacking more than ever!

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