The Single-Year Grid: 576 mountains in 12 months

By: Philip Carcia @FindingPhilip

I’ve hiked 2,158 miles, and summited 444 White Mountain 4,000-footers over the last 260 days to be able to write these three words: SINGLE. YEAR. GRID.

In Northeast hiking culture, the “Grid” refers to a peak-bagging project that requires a hiker to climb all 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains in each calendar month.

Summit of Mount Height, with the Presidential Range looming in the distance.

Completing the Grid demands a total of 576 summits, 3,000 miles of hiking, and nearly 1,000,000 feet of vertical gain, a good portion of which is hiked in the winter. Because of the massive effort required to accomplish this, the project is generally pieced together over the course of several years.

Early morning light from the summit tower on Cannon Mountain.

In January 2016, Sue Johnston, an endurance pioneer in the White Mountains, set out to complete the first ever “Calendar Grid.” Starting on January 1st, and ending on December 26th, Sue climbed all 48 4,000 footers in every month for 12 months in a row, effectively re-framing what was once thought possible with the Grid.

Of the 83 people who are officially recognized as “Grid Finishers,” Sue (who already hiked one full Grid prior to 2016, and is currently closing in on her third) is the only person to have completed the project in under a year. Consequently, she has earned the title of the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the effort as well.  

Incredible undercast from the summit of Mount Jefferson on the last night of my Direttissima in August.

In August 2018, after three years of dreaming and seven months of dedicated training, I pulled the trigger on an attempt to push the Grid even further. I set out to both complete the White Mountain Grid in under a year, and also lower Sue’s “FKT” by nearly five weeks. I use quotation marks here because Sue has been very open about her intentions with her Calendar Year Grid: setting the FKT was not her goal or priority, but merely an additional superlative in her already impressive quest.

Looking into the White Mountain National Forest from the summit of Mount Osceola.

From August 24th to 31st, 2018, I hiked all 48 4,000-footers, primarily unsupported, along a 240-mile continuous route known as the White Mountain Direttissima. After nearly a week of recovery, I restarted and completed the entire 48 list again in September, October, November, December, January, February, March, and April. I am now a third of the way through May, my 10th consecutive month.

Approaching Mount Washington on my ninth traverse of the Presidential Range in as many months.

Fast forward to July 2019: My plan as of now is to complete a second Direttissima in under six days. With an eight-day traverse of the 48 at the end of August, a six-day traverse of the 48 at the beginning of July, and hiking all 48 4,000-footers in every month in between, I aim to complete the Grid in a total elapsed time of 10 months and 15 days.

I’ll give you some time to let that process.

Sunrise and the start of my September “round” on the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

The question that I’ve been asked most frequently since starting this project is also the most complex: “Why?”

In my mind, the Single Year Grid and the Grid FKT are on the fringe edge of what is being done in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. To complete a project like this in the Whites, a person must have the capacity to sustain 50-80 miles and 20,000-30,000 feet of vertical per week, every week, for nearly a year. He/she must also navigate a myriad of variables that could potentially derail the project on any given day: weather, health, trail conditions, finances, motivation, employment, and personal relationships, among others.

An early morning alpine-glow kisses the Presidential Range on the last day of Winter, 2019.

You see, this isn’t a one, two, or three-week push through the White Mountains. This is a year’s worth of commitment. This is unapologetically eliminating every distraction from your life in order to put yourself in the best possible position to reach your goal. This is very, very lightly carving your name into the history books, and earning every mile.

Looking into the Southern Presidential Range on one of the coldest mornings of the year.

I’ve always said that my overarching goal out here is to give myself fully to the mountains that have played such a large role in shaping my life. I want the person that I see in my mind’s eye and the person that I am on the trail to come to a meeting point, to be the same entity.

For the first time in the 15 years I’ve been coming to the White Mountains, I feel like that’s finally what’s happening. I’m coming into my own – and man, what a gift that is.

Taking in the views on the summit of Mount Liberty, Franconia Notch State Park.

As always, I deeply, deeply appreciate your support and positivity. With close to 750 miles left in this project, NOTHING is a sure thing. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you along the way.

I hope you’re all working on something that keeps you awake at night.

No grit, no Grid.

Galehead Mountain, one of the most underrated 4,000-footers in the Whites.