Way to Go, Joe!!|
By Ellen Cullen
On October 13, 2007, Joe Comuzzi accomplished a goal that started roughly 20 years ago. He started this pursuit after hearing someone talk about finishing all of New Hampshire ’s four thousand foot mountains in every month of the year. For those who are not familiar with the NH four thousand footers, there are 48 mountains. To hike each of these mountains in each calendar month of the year you multiple the 48 by 12 and get a grand total of 576 peaks bagged! When Joe was asked why he wanted to attempt such a daunting list, he stated that when the person who was the first to complete this feat had said “that is a stunt that will never be repeated”.
Many years later, it has been repeated. At the time of Joe’s hike on Oct. 13, only five people had completed the list and Joe was destined to be the sixth person to accomplish a stunt that was thought to be too challenging to recapture.
Joe started hiking about 30 years ago, he took his first AMC chapter trip in 1984 and he completed the Boston Chapter’s leadership program in 1986. Out of the 576, about 80 percent were AMC trips and roughly 70 percent were while he was leading trips. This is amazing and there is no doubt that many of us were along for the ride as Joe checked off his list. Many a co-leader tagged along in hopes of getting a nod from Joe when it was time to graduate to full-fledged leader status. To say that Joe has been an active leader for the chapter is quite an understatement. It is incredible to think of all the people who enjoyed his trips with him and how many people have been introduced to the Whites because of the numerous trip listings in the Outdoor magazine and the MUD.
Porkchop and Paprika, Too!
One of the things that make Joe’s hikes popular has to do with happy wagging tails … of the dog variety, that is. Both of Joe’s dogs – Paprika and Porkchop – have climbed right along with him, although Porkchop has more peaks bagged then Paprika. Joe guessed that Porkchop has hiked an estimated 150 mountains, mostly in the milder three seasons. Joe’s daughter, Lizzy, has hiked with her ol’ Dad on occasion.
Joe, who has two teenage daughters, has hiked the 576 peaks with the window of one weekend a month devoted to the list. As a Dad, Joe made a commitment to his family to not let the list run his life. Although rumor has it that his wife Kate helped him make that decision a long time ago! Seriously, Joe has done a great job balancing the peak bagging fever with the love for his family.
Every time Joe stepped towards the White Mountains , especially as a leader, he had to make decisions about if he could safely hike the mountain or mountains he wanted on a particular day. He estimates that about 5-10 percent of the time he had to decide to either cancel a hike or choose another peak due to weather/safety concerns.
So on Oct.13, it was no surprise that 22 people and three dogs wanted to hike with Joe, as he made one last check mark onto his grid. His last mountain to complete the 576 list was Mt. Jackson in the Presidential Range. Joe split the large group into three hiking groups with leader support. Just before the summit the groups met up to walk together to the top and celebrate the 576th peak with the man who had hiked them all, over and over again! It was a fairly windy day with temperatures between the high 40s and low 50s. There was a film of melting ice dropping from the trees before breaking above treeline. Many cheers could be heard as folks congratulated Joe. He thanked all for joining him. Once the group found some protection from the wind a party began with two cakes, homemade goodies and sparkling apple cider. Toasts were made and a special survival kit in a Nalgene bottle was presented to Joe, with a poem about Joe’s more famous mountain moments.
Ed Hawkins who completed the 576 not just once but twice was on hand to witness Joe’s journey. John Lisker, Boston Chapter Chair, congratulated Joe and thanked him for his consistent trip leading. It was a fun and joyous occasion, indeed!
Many Stories Shared
One the way down Mt. Jackson , Joe had an opportunity to tell his stories. The two he chose were the two most famous. One a memorable winter Bonds bushwack and the other on a day when a big mechanical bird dropped down to help Joe when he needed it the most. If you don’t know these stories, they are worth asking Joe on a hike in the future. He has no plans of retiring for there are other notable lists to complete.
At the end of the trail, Joe had the opportunity to meet up with the person who first did this, who was at the Highland Center for the Fall Gathering. It appeared to be a full-circle day, it all started with that comment years ago. When Joe was asked what was the best part of finishing the 576 he stated, “the cake at the top with crazy friends.” It has been our pleasure to be crazy friends hiking and getting to celebrate with Joe!