McQuilkin family of Hollis scales 67 New England peaks

HOLLIS – Many families have hobbies or sports that they engage in, but few earn national recognition for each member, including the children, for having fun and achieving goals of climbing tall mountains together.

The McQuilkin family, of Hollis, has been climbing mountains for almost a decade, and all four have earned a place in the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Four Thousand Footer Club, as well as the New England Four Thousand Footer Club, in the all-season category.

Parents Chris and Christine McQuilkin met in college and occasionally went hiking, but didn’t begin to take it seriously until after their children were born and they began checking off the AMC list of peaks.

“I like lists and goals,” Christine said, “so it seemed like a natural progression.”

Carrying Rosie before she could climb, the first mountain they summitted as a family was Mount Moosilaukee, which stands at 4,802 feet, in 2004, when Adam was about 5. Rosie was still an infant and did not go along, but soon grew old enough to carry on hikes. As Rosie got skilled enough to climb on her own, the family redid the mountains that they had carried her on. It seems fitting that Mount Moosilaukee was the 48th peak on Rosie’s list to earn her place in the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footer Club a few months ago.

They celebrated Rosie’s ninth birthday last November, by completing the goal of climbing all 67 mountains with an elevation of 4,000 feet or more in New England.

“On my birthday (Nov.10), we were on Mount Abraham in Maine,” Rosie recalled. “We were coming down and my Dad warned me about mud. I didn’t see much mud, but I stepped in it. My shoe got stuck in a mud hole. I pulled my foot out and stepped into another huge black hole of mud. Both boots came off and my mom had to reach in to get the boots back. I had to rinse my foot off in ice cold water at a river crossing then sat on a rock while Dad washed out my boots. He carried me back to the car, which was about 30 steps away.”

They laugh about her getting stuck in the mud, but both parents agree that they’ve been fortunate not to have any serious injuries or accidents while climbing, beyond the usual scrapes, cuts, blisters and occasional twisted ankle.

Sudden storm

Christine then told their one bad weather story, which happened while climbing the West Peak, of Bond, in June 2010.

“In the summer you can have pop-up thunderstorms. We were on West Bond, and a front was coming cross from Franconia Ridge right at us. We sought shelter under some trees.”

She later discovered just how close the storm was to them. While reviewing photos they had taken just prior to seeking shelter, she noticed one with a large bug in the frame.

“I zoomed in to see the bug in the photo, and could see my hair standing up,” she said.

Mount Washington winds

Rosie said her scariest moment was hiking Mount Washington in the winter, where they encountered 70 miles per hour winds with gusts up to 90 mph, based on data from their handheld monitor. It was also her first time wearing crampons.

“It was really windy and we had to take off our packs and crawl through part of the trail,” Rosie said. “It was very steep and open, and easy to get blown over.”

They had to go up the Lion’s Head Trail, which is only used in winter. It avoids avalanche danger, but climbers have to use ropes. Adam was in front of the others when they reached the Rocky Knoll.

“I wasn’t expecting the wind to be so strong,” he said, “and I literally got blown off the top of the rock.”

Adam said he likes hiking regardless of the season. He enjoys seeing the flowers in summer, and leaves in the fall, and it’s easier to invite a friend along if they don’t need special winter gear.

“In the summer, it’s warmer and you have less gear to carry,” he said, “but I like winter because you have better footing and it’s fun to sled. And if it’s a snow day at school, we’ll go hiking.”

Among their favorite mountains with significant snow cover for sledding are Mount Washington, Garfield and Osceola.

Knife’s Edge and grey jays

Adam said one of his favorite hikes is Mount Katahdin, the northern terminal of the Appalachian Trail. The family slept in the car overnight so they would be certain to gain entrance. They hiked the first three miles together before splitting up. Rosie and Christine went on the Cathedral Trail, while Adam and Chris took on the Knife Edge.

“It’s a nice place to be in the clouds, but pretty scary to be on a five-foot wide platform a thousand feet up,” Adam said. “There’s a really nice view. You could see the whole bowl, the valley, once you are out of the clouds.”

“It’s very exciting to see people finish the Appalachian Trail,” Chris said. “It’s harder than any hike in New England and they only let a certain number of cars in.”

Another favorite moment for Adam occurred on Mount Field. They had set the timer on the camera to take a group photograph at the peak, and in the few seconds of delay, a grey jay came and landed on his hand. The jays are found on only a handful of mountains, and known as camp robbers for swooping down and stealing belongings.

Preferences and preparations

Chris said he also prefers to hike in the winter.

“There are fewer people, fewer bugs and the views are nicer with the leaves down,” he explained. “It seems counterintuitive but it’s more enjoyable.”

Christine, however, said she really enjoys it when the family goes backpacking and stays overnight.

“We’re not as rushed and don’t have to worry about losing sunlight,” she explained. “Most people are gone by 5 or 6 p.m. but if we stay overnight we get to spend more time on the ridges. The only detriment is the pack weighs more.”

Chris and Christine both make sure that everyone is properly equipped for the trek. Neither child is allowed to carry more than 25 percent of their body weight, in accordance with standard guidelines.

They dress in layers and bring along extra food. They don’t have to carry much water, since they have a special reverse osmosis water filter that enables them to refill their bottles with stream water without contracting giardia.

Chris wears special custom-made boots that fit his feet, and says he has gone through three or four pairs. Christine just wore out her first pair of L.L. Bean boots after eight years of hiking, and got a new pair for Christmas. They each have various backpacks for different purposes, all adorned with AMC patches they have earned.

And, most importantly, they prepare for weather and for the unexpected.

“We always have a bailout plan,” she said. “You have to study the maps, plan your trip, and know the safe turnarounds.”

Fun traditions

Like a home-run trot or touchdown dance, the family has certain rituals they engage in on their hikes.

“Everyone has to eat their sandwiches first,” Christine explained. “We each get a gallon-sized bag of food and snacks. We bring protein bars, but the kids like that I let them bring candy.”

The children are allowed to proceed at their own pace, as long as they stop at all intersections and remain within shouting distance. To help keep track of one another, they often resort to playing Marco Polo, a call and response game.

A favorite treat on hikes is Bunny Gummy Tummies from Trader Joe’s, which they savor when they reach the summit of a mountain.

“Adam touches the top first,” she continued. “He’s a force and we can’t keep up with him.”

Future goals

Adam has now completed the 48 New Hampshire peaks twice, and Rosie has submitted her application for recognition of her first time completing the set. They will get patches at the AMC awards dinner held each year in April.

Since its founding in 1957, the AMC has categorized hikes and kept records of accomplishments.

There are currently 10,098 members of the White Mountain 4000 Footers Club (548 in winter), 2,557 members in the New England 4,000 Footers Club (148 in winter), and 761 in the New England Hundred Highest (94 in winter). According to Eric Savage. chair of the AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee, Rosie is tied as one of the youngest people to accomplish joining the 48 and 67 peak clubs.

Since they already belong to the first two clubs, the McQuilkin family has set their goal to complete the 100 highest peaks. Having scaled the 67 Four Thousand Footers of New England, they are more than two-thirds of the way there.

They are also working on joining the more elite winter club, which means retracing their steps on peaks they climbed in other seasons. So far they have completed 16 of the 48 New Hampshire peaks in the winter.