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Climbing NH's Peaks to Fight Cancer

Hiking all 48 of NH's 4Ks: 263 miles of trail and thousands of feet in elevation in just 29 days

In the golden light of sunrise, Brad Taylor at the summit of Mt. Moosilauke with July's full moon still dangling in the sky behind him.

Peak by Peak, Moon to Moon: Brad Taylor began his unusual fundraiser on the day of the Strawberry full Moon, June 13, with a climb up the two Kinsman summits and ended on the full Hay Moon, July 12, at the top of Mt. Moosilauke.

Forty-eight New Hampshire mountains climbed in all, each of them 4,000 feet in elevation or taller, each with its own conditions and landscape unique to itself. Every summit reached in the 29-day span between June's and July's full moons. A total 263 miles of trail covered with a total elevation gain of, well, a lot—tens of thousands of feet, a virtual Himalaya of total climbing.

48 peaks between the Strawberry and Hay full moons

It began on the day of June's full moon, the Strawberry Moon, June 13, with a climb up the two Kinsman summits, North and South, with a gray sky thick as wet wool and 40 mph winds howling over the prows of the peaks. It ended on July 12 on a spectacularly clear, calm morning at the top of Mt. Moosilauke, July's full Hay Moon still bright and dangling above the horizon as the first rays of sunrise shot above the shoulder of Mt. Washington far in the eastern distance.

In between were climbs up Mts. Carrigain, Cannon, and far-flung Cabot; traverses across the Wildcat, Franconia, and Carter ridges; and the long, strenuous 21-mile march over the three Bond peaks and Mt. Zealand. Ascents were made of the daunting Presidential mountains: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, mighty Washington ("the Rockpile," famous for hosting the world's worst weather), Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson. There were hikes up peaks that come in pairs, in trios, in sets. There were the interminable hikes to remote Owl's Head and aptly named Mt. Isolation, where the wind whipped with such anger that snapping a photo in focus was all but impossible. And, finally, the climb in the dark up Moosilauke, "Dartmouth's Mountain," to see the sunrise on a perfect Prouty day.

And it was all accomplished by one man to benefit cancer research and patient services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

"I feel good," said Brad Taylor on Moosilauke's open, rocky summit. The oranges and pinks of the dawn's early light were brightening to gold and then pale yellow as the star of the sun edged above the horizon. Brad sipped a celebratory mimosa. "I might be in the best shape of my life."

Four weeks, more than $1,500 raised for NCCC

Taylor, a veterinarian who lives in Canterbury, NH —"My employer was very generous about giving me four weeks in a row off for this endeavor"— grew up in the Ozark Mountains region of Arkansas and has been walking in the woods, he says, "as long as I can remember." In 2012 he was among the first group to climb 19,341-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to benefit the Cancer Center, under the leadership of Wes Chapman, founder of the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center's "Reach for the Peaks" program.

In fact, it was during a conversation with Chapman on Kilimanjaro "somewhere above 15,000 feet," recalls Taylor, that the idea of hiking all 48 4,000-footers in New Hampshire to benefit the Cancer Center was born. "In truth, the whole thing is probably due to oxygen deprivation," laughed the 55-year-old Taylor on Moosilauke's 4,802-foot summit. In the past, he has participated multiple times in both the Prouty Century (100-mile bike ride) and Prouty Ultimate (a 200-mile bike ride over two days), raising money for the Cancer Center, but this year he wanted to do something extra special. After he got home following the high-altitude chat with Chapman, he checked the calendar and discovered that in 2014 the full moon in July would rise on the day of The Prouty. The "Moon to Moon" plan fell into place naturally.

As he made his way among the peaks Taylor's family and friends often hiked alongside him.  His wife Ann hiked 12 of his ascents, and his sister-in-law Ginger Kandle accompanied him on a couple. His friend Craig Kelleher was with Taylor on eight ascents. Jeff Goodell with his Labrador retriever Maggie came along on some hikes. And Ann and Ginger were with him at the end, snuggled into the rocks on Moosilauke's exposed peak, wrapped in shiny silver space blankets to ward off the early morning chill.

Friends of NCCC events raise funds to fight cancer

"Reach for the Peaks" is the newest addition to The Prouty Challenge Event series, a variety of athletic events that bring people together to take action in the fight against cancer. The 2012 Reach for the Peaks climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro kicked off the hike/climb/mountaineering program with great success, raising thousands of dollars to benefit cancer research and patient services at the Cancer Center. In September 2013, the first "Reach for the Peaks" climb up Mt. Moosilauke to conquer breast cancer was hosted by the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Tapping into the tradition of hiking all 48 4,000-footers in New Hampshire as a New England hiker's rite of passage, "Reach for the Peaks – the White Mountains" was created in the spring of 2014 as a new way to raise money for the Cancer Center and to bring a special experience to those who want to stand up and do something to fight cancer.

Taylor is the first to complete ascents of all 48 4Ks, as they are called, for "Reach for the Peaks." His hiking raised more than $1,500 for Norris Cotton.

Things he'll remember about his remarkable journey over the 29 days, Taylor says, are the "cool, clean air up high in the mountains, watching from the summit of Lafayette as Franconia Ridge materialized out of the fog, learning to identify the mountain birds by their songs because they are invisible in the trees, and all the people I met on the trails." He remembers picking up a hitchhiker on the Mt. Washington base road late one evening who had accidentally come down the wrong side of the mountain and whose car was a 70-mile drive away in Pinkham Notch.

But, he says, "the summit of Moosilauke at sunrise with the full moon up was the best of all." The sunrise was "so spectacular that I'm thinking of doing more hikes and climbs that get me up high for sunset or sunrise."

He pauses. "I think I am paraphrasing John Muir when I say that nothing clears the mind and restores the soul like a walk in the mountains." Muir, the great American naturalist and humanitarian, would himself appreciate that Brad Taylor's soul-restoring walks in these mountains, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, from the full moon in June to the full moon in July, were also made to help restore the health of cancer patients. 

By Steve Bjerklie

Learn more about organized mountaineering events that benefit Norris Cotton Cancer Center at "Reach for the Peaks."

July 29, 2014