Sue Johnston spent most of last year walking up 4,000-foot peaks in the East Coast’s White Mountains. Hikers who can hit all 48 4,000-foot peaks each month of the year earn bragging rights (and a patch) for completing what’s known as “The Grid.”
Hiking them all in one year isn’t required, and it has taken anyone crazy enough to attempt The Grid — affectionately known as “Gridiots” — years to check the challenge off their bucket list.
Johnston, 51, of New Hampshire, is believed to be the first person to accomplish the feat in a single calendar year, finishing on Dec. 26, 2016, at Mount Isolation in her home state’s Presidential Range. Do the math: That’s 576 mountain hikes, which means many days required multiple peak bags.
She climbed more than a million vertical feet in 3,181 miles. In July alone, Johnston spent 119 hours hiking over one 10-day period.
Official rules require that hikers going for The Grid must get to each summit (and back) under their own power, meaning you can’t count a cog railway or gondola ride as part of your trek.
What’s most interesting is that those going for The Grid seem totally off the grid. The first person to do it requested he remain anonymous. The second is the guy you mail your application to for official review: Ed Hawkins.
The first woman to complete The Grid — she earned her first badge in November 2003 — and the first person ever to do it all in a calendar year, Johnston doesn’t exactly want to be found.
“I am happiest in the mountains — as unplugged as possible!” wrote Johnston, who has 25 years of fastpacking experience and 100 ultra-race finishes to her name, in her blog about her attempt at The Grid. She also previously hiked the Appalachian Trail and has hit the highest point in nearly every state.
After online forum smack-talk suggested finishing The Grid in one year was impossible, Johnston — who, without a job and kids, has some time on her hands — took up the challenge for 2016. She moved closer to the White Mountains and her husband provided transportation, meals and moral support.
Winter and spring brought “treacherous ice” and summer was “blessed warmth, long days, light packs,” Johnston reported in her blog. “The entire year was a JOY. I never got tired of hiking, it never ever felt like a job, and except for a couple of rainy hikes, I was always excited to spend the day walking in the woods and climbing mountains.”
Now that’s one helluva year.