My Turn: The shrinking 4,000 footers

  • View from the top of Osceola Courtesy

  • Gage and her friends on Mount Moosilauke. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 5/11/2021 8:00:06 AM

For our independent senior project during the last month of our senior year at Derryfield High School, two friends and I are hiking New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers.

As avid athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, we’re so excited to take on this project to test our limits and explore the amazing mountains in our state. I’ve always enjoyed hiking but have not been able to go very frequently, so this is a great chance to fully experience the White Mountains before we go off to college.

There are currently 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers, and while our graduation is not on the line based on whether we finish all 48 by the end of May or not, we are determined to make our best attempt at doing so (if the conditions allow). We got started with our first nine peaks over the past couple of months, leaving 39 for May. 

We sat at the top of Osceola recently, looking out over the horizon and chatting about the other mountains we had hiked and were planning to hike in the coming weeks.

We contemplated the 17-mile trek to the wooded summit of Owl’s Head, and once again joked about digging up the top of the 4,025-foot mountain to kick it off the 4,000 footers list.

But then it hit me that elevation is measured from sea level, and we realized that this joke is much closer to reality than we thought. The sea level is rising due to climate change, so the elevation of every mountain is shrinking. After the hike, I did some research to determine the extent of this problem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects we will see between two and six feet of sea-level rise this century. This is a conservative estimate because it does not account for the contribution from Antarctica melting. When accounting for all factors, climate scientist Dr. James Hansen writes that the possibility of twenty feet of sea-level rise this century cannot be ruled out.

So what does this mean for the NH 4,000 footers?

The future does not look bright for Tecumseh (4,003 feet), Isolation (4,004 feet), and Waumbeck (4,006 feet). The next couple might last a few decades longer, but Whiteface (4,020 feet) and Galehead (4,024) feet will be the next to go, followed by — you guessed it — Owl’s Head.

So, if you aspire to hike the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers, you should do so while they last. If you instead aspire to hike “all” the New Hampshire 4,000 footers, but dread the 17-mile trek to the wooded summit of Owl’s Head, then just wait a while and your problem may be solved.

But most importantly, if you wish to help protect our planet and the life on it from the worst-case scenario of sea-level rise and other devastating effects of climate change, please join Citizens’ Climate Lobby and ask your congressmen to take immediate and effective action.

(Katharine Gage lives in Windham. Follow the group’s progress on Instagram @nh48isp2021.)

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