Lincoln, NH, the heart of the White Mountains
Gordon Simpson is one of the most accomplished hikers you’ll find in the White Mountains. In just a few short years he’s summited nearly every major peak in the region, logging more than 700 miles and 230,000 feet of vertical gain on the trail.
He’s also only six years old.
Boasting flowing blonde hair and a powerful love of the mountains, the Northeast Vermont native has taken the White Mountains by storm since he first joined his father Rob Simpson on a hike three years ago.
As of today, Gordon is the youngest finisher of the New England 67 4,000-footers and New England Hundred Highest lists and the second youngest finisher of the New Hampshire 48 4,000-footers. He and his dad continue to hike regularly and have their sights set on several other lists in the years to come.
“It’s just being out there, it’s just fun, fun seeing the environment, seeing our friends,” Gordon said. “It’s just cool.”
A Powerful Bond
Rob took Gordon on his first hike when he was only three years old. They were taking a leisurely stroll up Mt. Pierce when they met another hiker on the trail.
While striking up a conversation, the other hiker asked what number they were on. Rob wasn’t sure what he meant, so the other hiker explained the New Hampshire 4,000-footers list and how people make it a goal to climb them all.
“I’ve been hiking these mountains since 1977 and I didn’t know there were a number of mountains,” Rob said. “So I said, ‘I guess this is No. 1.’”
The two immediately caught the hiking bug and started visiting new peaks every weekend. Rob took Gordon on progressively more challenging hikes, and without fail Gordon proved himself up to the task.
Over time they developed a routine. Every Friday Gordon asks “where are we hiking tomorrow?” and they come up with a destination. They’ll wake up early the next morning, enjoy a sausage egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, and drive over to whichever trail they’d chosen. Most of the time Gordon tries to sleep on the way over, but he said he’s usually too excited.
And once on trail, Rob said the experience of being on the mountain with his son is indescribable.
“Just being able to grow with Gordon has taught me so much about life. It’s taught me patience, how to be a better person and how to be a good dad,” Rob said. “Every day I pray to be a better dad and the mountains give me an opportunity to be a better father. It gives me something to reflect my life on each time I’m in the mountains and it creates a strong bond between Gordon and I.”
‘I want to see the bear!’One of Gordon’s most memorable hikes came on Mt. Liberty, when he and his dad got an up close and personal look at a curious black bear.
The two were on their way up the Liberty Springs Trail when another hiker came down and warned them that they had seen a bear up ahead. Gordon, who had never seen a bear, expressed his excitement. “I want to see the bear!”
“I’m like ‘you don't need to see a bear,’” Rob said, recounting the story. “We’ll see a bear sometime just by accident but we don’t need to go looking for a bear.”
The pair decided to continue up the trail, and sure enough they eventually spotted the bear about 300 feet in the distance. Eventually the bear made its way onto the trail itself, getting close enough that the two decided to walk off trail to give it room to go by.
At first it looked like it would, but then it stopped, turned towards the pair and began to approach.
“The bear walked within six feet of us and raised up on his hind legs and he held onto a tree,” Rob said, as he and Gordon both demonstrated the bear raising up its arms. “So I held my hiking poles up and said ‘Mr. Bear you don’t want to be here, just go away.’ And he did.”
The two later learned the bear was a juvenile and had stolen several other hikers’ backpacks. They think it was trying to scare them into dropping their packs as well, but while Rob was understandably nervous about the situation, Gordon kept his cool.
But wasn’t he just a little afraid the bear might eat his dad?
“Nah,” Gordon said with a smile.
Making new memories
From the beginning Rob was concerned about how Gordon would handle his new hobby. He loved hiking, sure, but how would he respond to the adversity everyone eventually faces in the mountains? Could he handle the days where it was too hot or too cold? What about the days where the trail seems determined to make your life difficult?
“That was the hardest part of the whole hiking the 48 mountains,” Rob said. “That went right through the 67, it went right through the 100 highest, it wasn’t until maybe the last five mountains of the 100 where I said to myself ‘ok, he’s got it, I’m not going to worry about him, he can do it.’”
All the while, the two were rewarded with some amazing experiences and friendships. Gordon has celebrated two of his birthdays at the Lake of the Clouds hut, and the Simpsons are regularly accompanied on their hikes by acquaintances they have met on the trail. When Gordon finished his New England Hundred Highest list on The Horn off Mt. Cabot, they were met at the top by a crowd of 23 people, including several strangers who made the trip specifically to meet Gordon.
“We have met so many wonderful people through our Hundred Highest peaks that we’re still friends with today and we still hike with today,” Rob said. “The fellowship is as important as anything else in these mountains, the people you meet and the people you stay in contact with. They become your extended family, and that is I think the most amazing thing in the mountains.”
With the Hundred Highest done, Rob and Gordon are now working on the New Hampshire Winter 48, which they hope to complete next year. The two also recently went on a three-week, 8,076-mile road trip visiting more than a dozen state high points, and by the end of the year they hope to have completed about 40 of the 50 states – saving peaks like Denali and Mt. Rainier for when Gordon is older.
Wherever their journey takes them, Rob said he’s grateful for the experiences he and Gordon have shared and can’t wait to see what comes next.
“It creates a bond between the two of us that I’m hoping will never go away. Something so strong that you just trust in each other and there’s no question about it, in our everyday life, no matter what we do,” Rob said. “I can’t think of a better scenario for myself personally than to be with Gordon in the mountains.”
~ Mac Cerullo
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