Philip Carcia was exhausted. Over the past week he’d raced across the White Mountains, covering 240 miles in less than six days with almost no sleep along the way, and over the past year he’d trudged through rain, snow and ice to summit all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers every single month without fail.
Now after more than 2,700 miles and a million feet of elevation gain, only a few more steps remained between Carcia and the orange-painted sign marking the end of his journey.
When Carcia reached the summit of Mt. Moosilauke on Sunday, July 7, 2019, he achieved his long-sought goal of completing the White Mountains Grid in a single year. In the process he also set a new fastest known time for one of the most obscure but grueling list-based hiking challenges in the northeast.
Traditionally, those who attempt to complete the grid do so over a period of many years. The grid requires hikers to summit 576 peaks in total, and at the time Carcia began his Single-Year Grid attempt on Aug. 23, 2018, the feat had only been accomplished in a single year by one other person, the legendary long-distance pioneer Sue Johnston.
In order to cut his time down to the absolute minimum, Carcia chose an August to July timeframe instead of a January to December window, which allowed him to start and finish his Single-Year Grid with a Diretissima, a thru-hike of the White Mountains that traverses and connects all 48 4,000-footers.
By completing his first round in about eight days and his last month in roughly seven, he was able to complete the project in a record time of 10 months and 15 days. He even tacked on an extra month in August of 2019 to push just a little bit further and take advantage of the nice summer weather.
The project required total dedication. In the lead-up to the Single-Year Grid, the Worcester native trained by climbing nearby Mt. Wachusett more than 300 times. Once the project began he took a job at the Notch Hostel in North Woodstock to support himself financially as he spent most of the rest of his time on the trail.
All of this was borne out of a desire to give himself fully to the mountains and discover the limits of what he was capable of.
That desire was first sparked when Carcia was a teenager, when he first discovered a passion for the outdoors on a high school field trip to Wachusett. It then led him on a journey of self-discovery that took him all across the country.
Between 2006 and 2013 he competed a thru-hike every year, starting with shorter trails in the northeast, including the Mid-State Trail in central Massachusetts and the Long Trail in Vermont, before graduating to bigger trails like the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.
Eventually, the annual thru-hiking routine was broken after tragedy struck the Carcia family. In the summer of 2014, Carcia’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died only three months later, and in his grief Carcia resolved to make sure that when his time eventually came, he could look back and say with certainty that he’d made the most of his time on Earth.
He also realized that he wouldn’t need to travel west every year to do that.
In the summer of 2015, Carcia traveled up to the White Mountains – where he had regularly hiked since his youth – and hiked all 48 4,000-footers for the first time. He accomplished the feat in 26 days, living out of the back of his truck as he did so, and eventually began to contemplate the project that would consume the next four years of his life.
Since completing the Single-Year Grid, the natural question for Carcia has been “what’s next?” What could there possibly be left to do after hiking all 48 4,000-footers every month for more than a year? As big as an accomplishment as the grid was, there is still another major White Mountains challenge there for the taking.
What could that be? Join him on Zoom this Thursday at 7 p.m., when Carcia plans to share all the details for his upcoming 2020 project.
By Mac Cerullo
Burgeon Outdoor was founded in 2019. Burgeon’s mission is to help mountain communities flourish. Burgeon proudly manufactures premium outdoor apparel in Lincoln, NH. By manufacturing locally, Burgeon creates year round jobs in the White Mountains. 5% of Burgeon’s sales support its community and environment efforts. To learn more, please visit our studio at the Village Shops in Lincoln, our website; burgeonoutdoor.com or call us at 603-745-7123.