On the glorious Bondcliff summit with nary a blip of civilization in sight, a teary-eyed Jan Duprey held a brown paper bag in one hand and pumped her fist in the air with the other.
“We did it,” she said as we hugged in the stillness on the rugged mountaintop, her joy transcending the stunning landscape.
It had taken us 17 years, hundreds of hiking miles, and thousands of steps to complete a meandering journey together across our backyard — New Hampshire’s wild and remote White Mountains.
Last June my hiking honey and I finally finished the time-consuming and oft-grueling Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Four Thousand Footer Club quest. We had climbed the 48 4,000-foot peaks on the list.
In doing so, we learned that patience, facing each other’s fears together, and simple understanding are empowering and sustaining for couples.
Helping us was our simple tenet I call the “three C’s” — communication, compromise, and chocolate, the latter the great equalizer when I messed up the talking, listening, and bargaining parts. Over the years, the third “C” had come to include cognac should I commit a serious gaffe or want an element of surprise.
This all started with a computer search. It turns out I had hiked many of the mountains, some with Jan, for stories. She initially wanted nothing to do with the quest, so I plodded on alone.
Eventually, I tackled more than 30 and told Jan I might finish in the summer of 2011. That’s when she said she wanted in. That meant I would reclimb some peaks with her.
Along the way we supported and encouraged each other in the face of obstacles. We employ the “Uncle Rule,” which basically means say uncle and we turn around. No questions asked. Jan dislikes brook and river crossings, particularly in high water. She called uncle at one during the hike to North Twin. Eventually a fellow hiker advised her to unclasp the chest strap on her backpack, use poles, and always carry water shoes. That’s standard for her now and she hasn’t stopped at water since, not even on a subsequent North Twin climb.
Five-foot-tall Jan always argued she worked harder than I did at six feet. So we counted steps on a measured stretch of the flat Wilderness Trail. I took 79, she 97. She concluded she works 20 percent harder. I bought her a bottle of cognac and took her out to dinner that night.
I learned I hate fixed ladders on the sides of mountains. I simply don’t trust them. Jan scampers up and down. Not me. I’m wary. Jan delights in cajoling me.
As time marched on, we both realized the joys of hiking poles, particularly when descending the steep pitches. It’s easier on the knees.
Over the years we marveled at the joy of hiking across four southern Presidential peaks in one long, joyous day above barren treeline. We cursed ourselves for doing a slippery Carter-Moriah traverse in a deluge with thunder and lightening raging around us.
We anticipated changing moods and comforted one another on days when the mountains manhandled us as they did on the arduous Flume Slide Trail or the tortuous 18-mile round-trip slog up Owl’s Head.
When the weather turned wintry on a fall day at the foggy Zealand summit, we “uncled” together instead of pressing on for a planned 20-plus mile odyssey over the cloaked Bonds.
We also surprised each other. On the 28th peak, East Osceola, Jan took out a brown paper bag with the number 28 etched on it, blew it up and held it in the air, to symbolize peak bagging. On one hike, she had, unknown to me, gin and tonics — complete with ice — waiting in my truck.
Then on the final day, standing atop Bondcliff, Jan unveiled a pair of paper bags with the number 48 on them. We clutched the bags and celebrated together.
And when we reached my truck, we both enjoyed the chocolate and cognac waiting for her there.