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The Grid

By: Cara Baskin

7.5 years, 3030 miles, 250 hikes, 78 friends, 576 peaks. Let me explain…

In December 2015, I took my road shoes and high school cross country sweatshirt up Camel’s Hump with my new friend Lydia. It was much colder at the top than I ever expected and my lack of traction on ice quickly put me in my place. She and her partner bundled me in all their extra layers and I vowed never to winter hike again. Holt’s Ledge and Cardigan in the summer provided minimal hiking experience going into my first 4000’er, and I definitely never hiked prior to moving up north from suburbia. 

Fast forward to summer 2016, I joined Lydia once again for my next 4000’er, the first in NH, at the Mt. Washington Road Race. Maybe it was the sunshine or maybe it was Lydia’s confidence and stoke in the mountains, but I kept saying yes. We did a presidential traverse the following weekend and a pemi loop later that summer, getting me one third of the way through the 48 peaks in NH. My unfounded confidence led me to hike alone, then in the winter, wracking up mishaps along the way. I lost the trail in a whiteout on Moosilauke, couldn’t reach the top of Cannon due to ice, bailed on South Kinsman after both feet went completely numb in my frozen sneakers. Yet I started hiking on both weekend days, sometimes twice in one day. Two days before moving to CA, in the summer of 2017, I woke up at 5am in Canada after an Ironman training weekend, drove across the border to hike Cabot, then Whiteface and Passaconaway, reaching the final summit in the dark, promptly getting lost, and finding the car at 1am after a 5 mile road walk in exhausted and frustrated silence. But, I finished my 4000’er list. I’d call it a win. 

I finished the 5 VT 4000’ers on trips back over the course of my year in CA, though it took me about a day to realize I wanted to move back. The White Mountains (and all 14 ME 4000’ers) were a challenging and exciting training ground for a 2019 ultra, and by the end of that year, I heard about this list called “the grid”. Someone I followed on instagram and had never met was completing all 48 NH 4000’ers twelve times over, experiencing every peak in every month over the course of years. It seemed crazy. He happened to pass me on trail the day he finished his grid, hammering up Wildcat. We met shortly after and eventually shared 192 miles and 41 peaks. My intrigue started to build.

When the pandemic shrunk our lives to local adventures with minimal contact, I made my spreadsheet of peaks and months, discovering 25% of the 576 spaces in my spreadsheet were already filled. Go time. Lydia and I went insane in the mountains that month. I hiked 330 miles with 89,000’ of vert in March 2020, excluding road runs and a running trip in CA before COVID hit the news. We even snuck in a 30,000’ week we deemed “vertfest,” summiting Whiteface and Passaconaway Friday evening, the Tripyramids Saturday morning, with an afternoon on the Hancocks and Osceolas, and Sunday on Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette and Garfield. My sweet pursuit was underway. I had a purpose, goal, outlet for my love of lists, and free accountability coach named “Grid <3” in Google Sheets.

The rest of 2020 and 2021 I leaned into my new obsession and welcomed the grid into my ultra training and lifestyle. It took first priority and friends unlearned asking me to hang out on the weekends. A fresh dose of cortisol dropped on the first of each month as I asked myself, “how many peaks could fit into my free time if I eliminated all regards for my body and health?”  

In 2022 I lost steam, losing motivation to run or hike. I DNFed at mile 76 of the VT 100 mile race and threw myself a pity party. What am I without a finish? My focus lasered in sharply to the grid. Let me prove to myself I’m an athlete. Let me try to finish this thing. I dove in deep trying to finish that year, clocking 20-30 peak months for 8 months straight, including several other 50 mi runs and races, topping out in October with 37 peaks.

This is a tedious reflection, but it is also 20% of my whole life. A few roses and thorns incoming:


  • The lightbulb moment on Hale in 2017 when I realized running down the mountain is an option (and it’s a lot quicker than walking). 
  • The warm fuzzies from taking my Dad up Pierce, Jackson, Franconia ridge and Moosilauke, including a 7000’ vert weekend. He wanted me to let you know he was 68 at the time! 
  • Making and deepening friendships on trail. I made another spreadsheet of every hike and the friends new and old who joined me, piecing together strava data with the “before times” data from excel. (I’ve kept a record of all exercise I’ve done since 6th grade). I’m grateful for friends agreeing to spend hours and hours adventuring on less than ideal days. 
  • Seeing sunrise and sunset in the alpine with Lydia on our double presidential traverse. Our first presi (23mi and 8000’ including Jackson) took 12 hrs 45min. Our double presi (37mi and 16000’ excluding Jackson) took 15 hrs 6 min. 

Memorable, wouldn’t trade the scars, thorns:

  • “Cabot Waumbek Day,” the bane of my existence, which I did 5 times over. It’s a totally silent experience putting in a full 9hr door to door workday in solitude for 2 measly spots on the spreadsheet and 0 summit views. (I never perfected my sales pitch and always went alone). The day includes a 2hr drive to Cabot for a 9mi out and back, driving 50min. around the mountain range to hike 7mi out and back to Waumbek from the other side, then drive 1hr 40min. home. On those days I usually lulled myself to sleep by whispering “WTF am I doing” and “was that worth a tank of gas?” 
  • Summiting Moosilauke solo in a frigid whiteout, taking my jacket off my back and putting it under a rock as a makeshift cairn, because I couldn’t see the summit from the last cairn. 
  • Starting up Isolation alone after fresh snowfall. The last hiker on the mountain (another gridder) turned early and said I’d be all alone out there and his footprints would end soon. I broke trail in my sneakers, submerging them in ice water too many times to count. I hopped across snowy boulders on the 10 river crossings, summiting in a whiteout with the sun setting (I didn’t bring a headlamp). I faceplanted on the way back and involuntarily muttered “I’m so tired” as I hit the ground, then laughed/cried to myself from exhaustion. Just after dark I reached the car with a solid 2 inches of ice sealing the laces on my shoes. I couldn’t take them off for the whole drive until they melted. 
  • Postholing up to my butt in sneakers on Owl’s Head with Lucy. I did learn to invest in gore-tex, but it turns out 3 feet of snow can find a way into your gator-less shoes. A stranger asked me “what’s with the sneaker shit?” I hate snowshoes. 
  • Bonking on the first step of a pemi with Chris and dreaming of salty cheese on the initial summits. By the time we reached Bondcliff, an angel approached asking “cheddar or havarti?” He gifted us both kinds of cheese with crackers to fuel the Lincoln Woods slog. 
  • Summiting the Carters alone at sunset in single digit weather with frozen water, a pocketful of cheese, a phone that was about to die and debilitating foot pain.
  • Anxiously biting all my fingernails off on a late afternoon drive to the Osceolas, reaching the summit at sunset and returning alone in the dark. I’m terrified of the dark. 
  • Seeing a bear about 10 feet away while on Cabot alone. Summiting anyway because I already invested in the drive. 
  • Spending my 30th birthday (Christmas) alone on Carrigain. In retrospect this was really emo. 
  • Traversing Garfield and Owl’s Head in pouring rain and shin deep mud with Emily. 
  • Losing a toenail on the Tripyramids with Leah. Getting a thorn between my eyeball and tear duct on the Hancocks. Losing feeling in my fingers and toes on most, if not all, winter hikes. Bonking, bruising, bleeding, scraping and chafing. Running my forehead and legs straight into branches and downed logs. Wading waist deep rivers. Faceplanting over rocks and into postholes.

I swear I did learn a lot about safety out there. I’m more aware of what can go wrong, though I’m lucky not more did. My “last” hike was exciting and anticlimactic at the same time. I hope nothing changes. I hope the drive continues. I hope I can now be more creative about how I adventure in the Whites and more selective about the weather. Lydia and two others joined for my final romp, in a complete whiteout over Jefferson, Washington and Monroe. It was the worst visibility I’d had in a while with -10 to 0F windchill and 35-50mph winds. We even lost the cog a few times, which we had to follow because we couldn’t see the cairns! 

Now that it’s over I feel the weight lifted that was personally placed on my shoulders. I chose to chase something that added difficulty to my otherwise privileged life, but the stress I opted into felt heavy and real. Towards the end, I constantly worried about the forecast, rain, ice luges, fresh fallen snow, arctic temperatures, the sun setting, gale force winds, heat and humidity. I weighed the risks of snow bridges breaking and wading through raging rivers. Of going out alone, hours from other people without cell service. Being in the alpine when it was below zero and wondering if my judgment was clouded. How many hours was I willing to have numb feet? Or a dehydration hiking hangover the next day? Was that new pain serious or would it go away after the first hour? With two years to go, each month presented a frantic puzzle, trying to fit my remaining list into free time, finding the perfect combination of motivation, weather, trail conditions, and possibly a hiking buddy who was available and willing to spend hours on my antics. It took almost all 7.5 years to learn the puzzle could be configured in infinite ways and the rules demanded release of any sense of control. Just as the ink dried on a plan, a new puzzle piece shaped like a snowstorm would fall into the mix and teach a lesson on adaptability. The point of the game was in navigating where to fit that piece, and the only input necessary was willingness to play. I’m proud of myself for being the 169th person to open the box and piece it together in my own way. In some ways I’m a completely different person than at the start, and in others just the same, swirling in my little world of obsession. Still, I feel lucky to have found something that gives me purpose. 

I’m now operating without a spreadsheet, which comes with its own stress, but more freedom. Once the snow melts, I’ll have time to explore the less direct routes, less than 4000’ peaks, and less traveled trails. I hope to finish my last sixteen 4000’ers in the ADK and find a meaningful experience in the Whites this summer, but for now, stoke sleeps and waits for the next spark. 

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