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Two men set new winter speed record for hiking all 48 4,000-plus-foot N.H. peaks

“I wanted to be a part of the club. I wanted to have my name on that,” said Philip Carcia, who completed the hike with Andrew Soares.

Andrew Soares (left) and Philip Carcia (right) at the Hancock Trailhead in Lincoln, N.H., established a new speed record for climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-plus foot mountain peaks, completing the journey in five days.Jim Davis for The Boston Globe

Hiking all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-plus foot peaks is a goal some people hope to accomplish in a lifetime.

But Philip Carcia and Andrew Soares were on a very different schedule. They wanted to hike the 48 mountains as fast as humanly possible, and this past December they set a new winter speed record, completing over 80,000 feet of elevation in just five days, 18 hours and 58 minutes, according to fastestknowntime.com, a website that tracks and verifies speed records from around the world.

That’s the fastest known time the peaks have been completed in the winter months, when hikers have to contend with snow, ice, freezing temperatures, and the shortest days of the year.

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The accomplishment entailed hiking between 30 and 40 miles per day, climbing as much as 10,000 to 14,400 feet in days that could stretch on for up to 18 hours before catching a few hours of sleep and then repeating it all again the following day.

The pair set out on Dec. 22, and completed the hike on Dec. 27, linking together several peaks each day.

“You come out the other side and there’s a little bit of everything, but you’re mostly feeling small, in addition to that strange mixture of pride and also just intimidation because you know exactly what you went through out there,” said Carcia, a photographer and filmmaker who lives and works at The Notch Hostel in North Woodstock, N.H.

Contrary to what onlookers might imagine, Carcia said it wasn’t a chest-beating moment, but one of deep humility. “You realize you are just a small, somewhat insignificant human being when measured up against the power of nature because those mountains are so big.”

Philip Carcia (left), with Andrew Soares, pictured with the Pemigewasset River at right at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, said some of the moments on the trail were “heinous.” Jim Davis for The Boston Globe

Both hikers went into the trip as accomplished endurance athletes with years of experience hiking in the White Mountains, already having logged thousands of miles. Soares held the previous winter record, which he had originally set in 2019. With that knowledge, Carcia said Soares proposed a new route he believed could shave about a day off the prior record of six days, 21 hours. Carcia was eager to give it a try, especially with a proven partner at his side.

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“I wanted to be a part of the club. I wanted to have my name on that,” he said.

Carcia, 39, originally from Worcester, said he started hiking in Massachusetts at 16, and quickly set his sights on bigger mountains in the Northeast.

“All roads kind of pointed north to the White Mountains, and that’s really where I’ve spent many years cutting my teeth,” he said. From the beginning, he said, he remembered being inspired and moved by the experience of being in the mountains.

Carcia said some of the moments on the trail were “heinous.” Setting the speed record meant moving at an uncomfortable and ambitious pace, a feat that demanded near total control of both body and mind, he said.

While conditions seemed promising leading up to the hike, a major rainstorm transformed a perfectly packed trail covered in snow into a mess of glare ice and snow.

“They’re the kind of trail conditions where you literally can’t take your eyes off the trail. You have to be fully engaged out there or you’re gonna bust your ass,” Carcia said. In a Facebook post about the accomplishment, he said both men fell multiple times per day. “I’m genuinely surprised one of us didn’t end up paralyzed.”

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“When we finished that, we were pretty rocked,” he said. “It was a tedious, choppy, cold, slow-going experience with the conditions that we had, and there was very little sleep.”

Pictured at the Hancock Trailhead are Andrew Soares (left) and Philip Carcia (right), who together established a new speed record for climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountain peaks.Jim Davis for The Boston Globe

As brutal as it sounds, Carcia had been drawn to attempting more and more ambitious routes for years. There was something magnetic about hiking that kept motivating him. He spent his 20s working “any and every type of job” he could get in the fall, winter, and early spring, so he could spend the late spring and summer on massive hikes.

He grew his resume, completing the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, taking on tens of thousands of miles in some of the most remote parts of the country.

Then, in 2014, his father died suddenly, succumbing to a brief battle with lung cancer. He was only 63, and Carcia said it made him take a close look at his own lifestyle.

“You take a look at your life and your own mortality, and you either feel like there’s a bunch of things I want to change or I don’t want to change anything at all, and you double down on what you’re already doing,” he said.

For him, it was the latter, and he drew from his grief to start focusing his time and energy on the White Mountains.

He and Soares had been eyeing the winter 48 speed record for several years, and in 2023, they decided it was time to tackle it. Carcia, who has just shy of 10,000 Instagram followers, posted on social media along the way, where their journey resonated with onlookers.

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“Unimaginable,” one follower commented. “You guys have re-defined what’s possible.”

“You’re amazing!” another wrote. “I’m glad you came back in one piece, more or less.”

Others asked logistical questions about how much outside support the duo had and how much sleep they had gotten.

While Soares and Carcia’s accomplishment has been celebrated, there’s also a dark shadow cast over the White Mountain hiking community, given the recent death of Christopher Roma, an experienced local hiker who died in January while attempting to hike the Pemigewasset loop after he was caught by a snowstorm.

It’s been on Carcia’s mind, too. He knew Roma, who had lived in the same town, and hiked many if not all of the same trails. He said the death has been haunting him since it happened, in part because he sees so many similarities between himself and Roma.

The Whites are dangerous, and multiple hikers perish there every year. But Carcia said some deaths were easier to understand: novice hikers, those unprepared, or less familiar with the Whites. But none of that was true of Roma.

Ultimately, Carcia said, the snow and the cold were working against Roma from the beginning, and Carcia believes he should have turned around, rather than pushing on. For his own peace of mind, Carcia wants to believe he wouldn’t have undertaken the hike Roma did given the snow and brutal cold.

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But, he said, hiking always entails risk. For Carcia, Roma’s death is another moment like the death of his father, a moment to reflect and reevaluate his extreme hiking objectives that come with risks of their own.

“Much like the death of my father,” he said, “it’s making me feel like I just want to double down.”

A view of part of the White Mountains from Route 93 northbound.Jim Davis for The Boston Globe

Amanda Gokee can be reached at amanda.gokee@globe.com. Follow her @amanda_gokee.