Sunday, December 16, 2012


A great friend recently had asked me if I could imagine if Cullen ended up in the hands of someone else and had become a lap dog. I didn’t answer at that moment in time but the truth is I can’t. Cullen is a dog meant for great things and no matter who he went with he would have made a change in their life for the better; just as he has done for me. I truly believe I am not the main reason why Cull is hiking the highest summits in New England or even why he does half the amazing things he does. The fact of the matter is if it weren’t for him I most likely would have never even considered hiking all of the 4,000 footers or even started hiking at all. Cullen shines a light too bright to look past. A light that has helped me see the beauty in life, even in the darkest of times.

Cullen was always a dog with a lot of energy. Nothing could get his active personality to simmer. Not even three mile runs at age three months (probably a 10 mile run for his little legs). He constantly was pushing me for more, and as time took its course Cullen and I started going for longer runs, kayaking, mountain biking, four-wheeler trips, and eventually mountain hiking. Which leads us to our 8 mile trek up the 5th highest mountain in NH, Mount Madison (Dec. 14th 2012).

That morning started off more special than usual. On my way up to the mountains I witnessed two shooting stars, and at the time I just thought it was a great way to kick off our adventure up Madison. We ascended up Valley Way, which is a fairly moderate route that can be a rocky trail at times. The air at the trail head was already cooler than most of the temperatures we had experienced at any of the mountain tops so far. Cullen didn’t look as if to mind. As soon as his paws graced the trail and we were off.  The hike, for the most part, was surprisingly going better than anticipated based on the memory of our last icy hike up Wildcat. Not to say there was no ice at all, but when we did encounter ice Cullen was easily able to show me ways around the hoarfrost.

Ever since he was a pup he hated the ice, always trying to find the routes that avoided it. Now-a-days he is able to navigate the trails effectively enough where if I just follow him I don’t really have to worry too much about slipping. About an hour and half later we reached the junction with Watson Path, which is the shortest way to reach the summit, but it is an extremely rugged trail for 1.5 miles to the top, and of course we decided to take this route. As we made our way forward the tree line started to thin and the wind started to scream. The temperature was dropping fast, so I decided to take Cullen out of his jacket and into his snowsuit. As we were about to exit into the exposed mountain side I saw a sign giving way to a warning. This sign cautioned us that we were about be enter a place that experiences some of the worst weather in America and if you were not confident and prepared then should turn back, because many people have died; we kept moving forward.

The exposed mountain top was more intense than I had originally thought. The winds were so strong it felt like a grown man was pushing me over and the air so cold my water was freezing within minutes. However, Cullen was still moving forward. As we struggled our way to the top I tried taking a few photos and  to gaze upon the vistas, but the weather was too relentless. Too teary eyed from the wind and cold we, unfortunately, experienced the summit for what seemed like seconds. However, those seconds were of great meaning. I got to look across this land with a new set of eyes. Before we started our descent I decided to check the temp. and the reading showed zero degrees. Shocked by this I knew I had to get Cull Dog back into the tress. We safely made our way back into coverage as fast as we could, and from there on our hike down was full of warmth and joy. Cullen had just reached a place no one would have thought possible for him. A 15lbs min pin a top the 5th highest mountain in NH during the winter. There is no end to what is possible.

Most people feel sorry for Cullen when they hear about the adventures we go on, but the truth is it’s not me who has taken us to the mountain tops, it is him. He leads the trail, and with that my life is full of more satisfaction that I thought imaginable. He has shown me to look deeper into things; to see past what my own eyes allow and into the truth. In the beginning I honestly didn’t see Cullen doing all the things he does. I didn’t even have the intention, but his persistence, strength, and innocence is what keeps him true and progressive. He is not undone by the harsh words of this world. His gift is that he doesn’t understand the unkind remarks others have to offer, and with that someone’s sympathy, negativity, or misunderstanding will not be able to deter him from moving forward. Cullen has shown me that if you are able to see past the oblivious, great things can happen. Just take the time to reflect and accept that this world is not here to limit you, but to let your life be limitless.

There is no doubt that those shooting stars I saw driving up were meant for us. I didn’t see one or three or four. I saw just two, a shooting star one right after another. It was not just by chance that the day we accomplished one of the greatest hikes we have yet been on we experienced such a rare and beautiful aspect of this world. Possibly a gift sent from my mother, God, or who knows. All I do know is that the stars were symbolizing the experience we were about to have. Two shooting stars on their way to somewhere full of peace and enchantment. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Life Has Many Summits

Yesterday, Cullen and I finally got back to the mountains and attempted to hike the entire Wildcat’s. This hike consists of 5 peaks, Wildcat A through E. I said “attempted” because we didn’t succeed in doing so; however we succeeded in other more important ways.

The drive up was more peaceful than usual. The morning commute was mostly dark but as we were driving down US 302 the sun began to rise. This ride is famous for its direct route across the White Mountains with peaks on both sides towering over you. As the sun started to wake, it illuminated the peak just ahead of us with a bright pinkish orange color, and while the others were still hidden in the morning’s night, their silhouettes made for a serene contrast.        

We started the hike at Glen Ellis Falls via the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which was soon regretted just minutes in. The trail starts off remarkably precipitous, rocky, and harsh. Within moments we were walking on a ledge with a drop off to the left, which typically wouldn’t bother me but the random ice patches undoubtingly had my nerves acting up. Although, ledge walking was nothing compared to the monstrous chimney (two vertical rock walls at an acute angle) we came across about 15 minutes into the hike.  We had two choices; either scramble our way up and over or head back. Without even having a chance to ponder the options Cullen was already making his approach up. I quickly followed and when it became too challenging for him and he became unclear of what move to make next I was right there guiding him up. I was telling him to stay when it was too unsafe so I could catch up and help him the next few feet, having to be extremely cautious because one wrong move could send either of us off the cliff just a few feet to the left.

Slowly and safely we made it to the top, and as we continued our hike we came across an open cliff with an exceptional outlook. However, as I approached the cliff, Cull was nowhere to be seen. I called his name, which usually he appears so rapidly it’s like a magic trick. I called again, and again my voice getting more and more frantic fearing that he had slipped on the ice at the edge of the cliff. Moments later he appeared running top speeds down the trail to get to me. He then did something he has never done for me on any of our hikes. As I dropped to the ground, half of the reason was due to my relief; he jumped at me placing his tiny paws on my shoulders and started to smother me with kisses. I swear he could tell the panic in my voice and how uneasy I felt about this treacherous climb we were on. His paws stayed on my shoulders and his head was now pressed against mine, comforting me as I sat and welcomed the view of Mt. Washington.  The peak was completely controlling the view once again, but this time the view was completely snow capped. The mountain wearing the snow as a crown establishing the dominance it has over the other mountains in the presidential range.

From that point on Cullen’s attitude changed. His guard was up and he didn’t want to leave my side. As we pressed on, he constantly would look back at me or stop to check in, not leaving me until I gave him a pat and told him I was okay. The hike was nothing more than a series of steep inclines and declines with some serious ice making it tricky for me to navigate my way safely. Most of the time I would just follow Cullen’s lead and he would present to me the safest way up or down, however there were times when my assistance was needed and I did the same for him.

As we approached the summit of Wildcat D, the sun was shining and bright, and I felt its warmth cut through the harsh cold winds this peak was famous for. We took shelter from the wind behind a tractor as we shared some lunch. I quickly made the decision to cut the hike sort and make our way down the ski trails. Descending the same way we came would have been a gamble I would have not wanted to take for either of us. Cullen’s friendship is one of the greatest gifts in my life and I will never take advantage of his love and dedication for me by having him push himself to the point of getting hurt.

The trails on the way down were much calmer than the one we had ascended. Some of the trails were covered in hardened snow. Without even thinking I grabbed Cullen and began to slide down the slope on my butt just like a young, innocent child after a snowstorm. However, that lasted only moments and then we were back to using our legs. As we reached the base I knew we had about another two miles of road walking back to the car.

As we walked I realized that the mountain we just hiked was a lot like living life. There will always be challenges, a series of ups and downs with some slippery spots and the only way to triumph over these complications is to keeping moving forward using the guidance of your loved ones. Although, there is no doubt that there will be some great views on the way up, in order to get the whole picture, to see things for what they are you must make it to the top. This is where you find out who you are and where you find the purest love from the most important ones in your life. Turning back brings to you nothing more than regret and doubt. Never question your will and the will of others; it will be the only way to reach the summit.   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Preparing For The Winter Ahead

Cullen making his way atop Mt. Tecumseh (Jan. 2012)
Today we woke to a cool and moist morning, the December air smothered by a dense fog that hovered above the open field that lies just outside my front door. Feeling like an early November morning instead of an early December, but that is what makes New Hampshire so unique, you never know exactly what you are in store for. I had planned on a morning run at Heads Pond with Cullen, but the clouds and air were clearly demonstrating rain is seconds away from falling making me toggle with the idea of actually going. When I looked down at Cullen and asked “you want to go for a run”, his eyes went wide and his nubby tail cruised back and forth a million miles and hour, and he immediately ran for the door (that meant yes). As I began to pack our things for our morning cardio session I realized if not for Cull I most likely would have canceled this run.

That is what makes Cull Dog truly inspirational to me. He doesn’t let things get in his way of doing what he wants. He pushes forward regardless of any situation and does so with the greatest appreciation. Here is a Min Pin who should instinctively and naturally hate the water and the cold but is begging to go for a run in it, and here I am a 23yr old who is built for such things thinking twice about running in a little bit of cold rain. However, due to his great aspirations I was able to enjoy a peaceful run, a family of ducks swimming aimlessly, and a forest that offered me a sense of gratitude. However, Cullen and I have been preparing for more superior challenges that lie in our near future.      

The past couple of week’s winter has started to make herself known here once again. The temperatures are steadily declining and the weather is becoming even less predictable. Which means Cullen and I have not been back up the Whites since Eisenhower and Pierce, unfortunately. Cullen doesn’t have the ability to acclimate to the colder weather as easily as other dogs. Min Pins are notoriously susceptible to the wintry temperatures. Due to Cull’s thin, sleek coat of fur and lean body build he doesn’t have the essential and required traits that allow him to thrive during these harsh winter months, and hiking to the top of a 4,000 footer only means more brutally cold temps and ruthless winds. However, neither Cullen nor I have the ability to sit still. He may not possess the genetics that allow him to conquer mountains during winter, however and more importantly he does possess the will and attitude to do what no one would expect; continue hiking the Granite State’s highest peaks.

The past couple of weeks I have been taking him on more local hikes, getting him outside as much as I can, and trying to get him to become accustomed to winter temps. However, our training goes beyond just that. Due to the fact Cull has a hard time during New England’s winters we have gotten him several different pieces of gear to compensate, which is where the training comes in. Dogs obviously don’t take to wearing other materials naturally, and in this case Cullen is no different. Last year we had purchased him a snowsuit designed to keep his warmth. This bodysuit is made with microfleece which is extremely soft and comfortable, and exactly what any good hiker would use as a base layer. We also got him a pair of dog boots, which didn’t exactly go over too well for the first few weeks. He was famous for biting them off or outlandishly kicking his legs to get them off. Now every winter there is work to be done getting him used to wearing his equipment, and preparing him for the challenges ahead.
Due to Cullen’s fearless animation and regal bearing there is no doubt that he will be able to continue to do what he loves most during the next several months. We just now have to be more cautious of the weather, and choose our hikes wisely. The love I have for hiking the White Mountains is unexplainable, but it doesn’t compare to the love and respect I have for Cull Dog. I would never put him in any situation that would set him at risk. We started this journey as a team and it will be finished that same way. If the mountains are too relentless this winter we will wait patiently, because where Cullen can’t go I won’t go. Nevertheless, I know he is too extraordinary and too hard-hitting to let some snow and falling temperatures stop him from setting the record of being the smallest K-9 to stand atop all 48 4,000 footers the White Mountains have in store for us. Our posts about our mountain adventures may be far and few these next couple months, but that doesn’t mean we are taking a break. We are always out doing what we do best, and planning more challenges for the future.