Saturday, July 21, 2012

Seek the Peak 2012 - We Hike for Brad

In 2008 Nat and I participated in our first Seek the Peak and hiked to the summit of Mt Washington for the first time.  A year before that we had never heard of Seek the Peak and really knew nothing about the Mt Washington Observatory.  After hiking our first 4000 footers the previous summer I had decided to try to get some information about White Mountain hiking through some of the online communities.  Through an article in Backpacker Magazine and some interesting twists and turns I found my way to the Observatory forums.  For a month or so I hung out and read the posts and found it to be a great source of information.  It was a very active community and there was one person in particular with a forum name of "Brad" that seemed to be the biggest cheerleader of this place and this community.  I decided to join the forums so that I could post some questions and join some of the conversations.  Within a couple of hours after joining and posting my first message I had a reply welcoming me to the group.  It was of course from Brad.  Over the coming months I made many online friends through the forums.  Even though most of us had never met each other in real life it soon started to feel like being part of a family.  It turns out that this is a very common story.  So many of the regular forum members had been welcomed in by Brad and made a part of the family.

Soon after joining I started hearing about Seek the Peak.  This seemed like a great way to hike Mount Washington for the first time and to support the Observatory, which I was becoming increasingly interested in.  There were many of my "forum friends" that were planning to be there too and it provided a great way to meet some of them in person.  At the time I really had no idea how much impact this decision would have and how much it would change our lives.  

I continued to participate in the forums on a daily basis and the online connections grew.  In July of 2008 we headed to New Hampshire to participate in that first Seek the Peak.  The complete story of that day is HERE.  It was just fantastic!  It was an incredible bluebird day and there couldn't have been a better day to be standing on the summit of Mt Washington.  Nat and I hiked up by ourselves and at the Lion Head trail junction we met the first of our forum friends - Brad, Charlie and Corey.  During the rest of the hike and at the dinner afterwards we met many more of the forum crowd - and started friendships that will last a lifetime.

Brad, Charlie and Corey at STP '08

We've been at Seek the Peak each year since, and our connection to the Observatory and to the many friends that we've made through it have continued to grow.  In last year's event a team format was started and the Kilted Clan was born.  It's a long story (which you can find HERE), but in the end our team of 8 raised $11,000 for the Obs and were the top fundraising team.  While Brad and I didn't hike in kilts like the rest of our team, we used our "kilted resistance" to help drive fundraising and in the end wound up in kilts ourselves for the first time to join our team at the dinner and awards.

Seek the Peak '11 - the original Kilted Clan
Bob, Don, Ali, me, Brad, Charlie, Chris (and Scot presenting the award) 
(Erich - aka BlueDog - missing from picture)

The planning for Seek the Peak '12 began early.  There were more people that wanted to join the Kilted Clan this year and as soon as registration was open there were two teams formed - the Kilted Hikers led by Erich and the Kilted Supporters led by Brad.  On April 6th tragedy struck, and Brad sadly passed away.  We all knew that Brad would want us to go on with Seek the Peak and we all redoubled our efforts and vowed to make this a fitting tribute to our friend that loved this mountain and this organization so much.  Another team was formed led by Amy Parulis - the Kilted Friends of Brad - and Nat and I joined this team.  The combined Kilted Clan now had 23 members and a slogan - We Hike for Brad.  By the time the fundraising had finished the day before the event we had raised over $24,000 and overall this became the most successful Seek the Peak ever, raising over $250,000 for the Observatory - over $60,000 more than last year.  I know that Brad would have been thrilled to see this amazing support for his beloved Obs.

So finally, the story of the day itself.  For me there was one thing left to add to the tribute.  We stopped in North Conway to meet Michelle Hawkins to get Brad's kilt from last year which I would wear to hike to the summit. Brad and I had both sworn that we'd never hike in a kilt. This was an easy decision for me.

We me many of our friends at the registration event at the Weather Discovery Center on Friday evening.  It was so good to see everyone again and to finally see this very special Seek the Peak begin.

And so it begins...

Nat and I getting checked in

The party is in full swing

We went back to the campground and settled in early to prepare for an early start.  We were on the road Saturday morning at 5:30 and at the trailhead a bit after 6:00.  The teams had divided a bit for the hiking portion and we wound up with Amy, Nat, Armando and I hiking together.  We had chosen Boott Spur for our route - a new one for Amy, Nat and I.  It was finally time to hit the trail.

Armando, me, Amy and Nat

Not turning our backs, showing our tribute

Why we're here

Mark and Karen - members of the Kilted Supporters

It was a crisp clear morning - the kind of bluebird day that we'd had for that first STP in 2008.

Enjoying the early views

Nat on the bridge

Duck Armando!

The hike through the woods on the Boott Spur trail was nice and we really appreciated the cool air after the recent heatwave.  We made it through the initial climb and it wasn't long till we had emerged from treeline and onto the ridge.

Nat and I taking a break

First views.  What a spectacular day!

Nat and Amy heading over the bog bridges

Climbing the ladder

In training for a Tough Mudder?

Boott Spur ahead.  That's where we're headed

Soon after coming out of the trees we arrived at Harvard Rock.  This is a simply spectacular spot and we hung out for a bit to take a break, enjoy the views and get some photos.

Arriving at Harvard Rock

Mt Washington over Lion Head.  Huntington Ravine beyond

Boott Spur and Tuckerman Ravine over Harvard Rock

Checking out the view

Kilted Friends of Brad

On Harvard Rock!

Not a great spot for someone afraid of heights.  Take that picture fast please!!

Back on solid ground

The section from Harvard Rock to the summit of Boott Spur was a bit of a grind.  The spectacular views along the way help us to forget about our legs getting tired.

Far?  How far??

Beautiful walk on Boott Spur!

Split Rock

Mt Washington ahead

Heading up to Boott Spur summit


Into the clouds

Approaching Boott Spur summit

Amy still in the lead

Up the rockpile

On top of Boott Spur

At the top of Boott Spur we met the Davis Path and began the beautiful trek across to the Mt Washington summit cone.  It was great to have some fairly flat walking for a while and our legs all felt rejuvenated.  Nat and Amy even decided to do a bit of trail running.

Where we came from.  Now on to the summit

How'd Nat and Amy get so far ahead?

Run Forrest, run!!

Nat and Amy are kicking it into high gear

What a beautiful trail

Summit cone ahead

We decided to stay on Davis Path and then take Crawford Path to the summit.  This is really a beautiful walk and the climb up the summit cone is a bit easier than the one on the Tuckerman Ravine side.  We had planned our timing based on the memorial service for Brad on the summit that was supposed to start between 11:00 and 11:30.  We had to hustle a bit, but we still had time to make it.

Southern Presis

Mt Monroe and Lakes of the Clouds

Approaching the summit cone

Final slog

Armando takes in the views over the southern Presis.  Lakes and the hut on the left

Croo member from Lakes Hut.  There's 90 pounds on that packboard!

Don't know how they do it

We had been under cloud cover most of the way across Boott Spur (which was really a good thing as the sun would have been hot even on this cool day).  Shortly before reaching the summit the clouds opened and we were bathed in sunlight and a brilliant blue patch of sky.  I looked down at my watch and it was exactly 11:00.  Brad was telling us that it was time to get ourselves on top.  Just before the summit we met another person in a kilt taking pictures of the people coming up.  He wasn't a part of our group, but it somehow seemed very fitting.

The clouds break at 11:00.  The kilted photographer waits ahead

The towers mean we're almost there

The Obs is a welcome site

Nat and Armando climbing out of the clouds

Most of the rest of our group was waiting for us when we arrived.  Many had driven up (including those that hiked on Friday).  A few more made it to the top shortly after us.  We gathered for our group photos before the memorial.  Thanks to Ed O'Malley for taking all the photos and being kind enough to share them with us.

We're here!

More of the group already gathered

Kevin, Armando, Charlie, Michelle and Rosy

Just part of the group

More gathering

Judy and Emma

After the initial photos and the rest of the group had arrived we reorganized into the "missing man formation" - leaving a space in the middle for Brad.  We know he was there with us all day.

Leaving a space for Brad

Christine, Linda, Rosy and Michelle

Paying tribute to the one that brought us all together

Dave and I have our arms around Brad

Brad's family - Christine, Bill, Judy, Linda and Kristen

We gathered in a circle for our memorial remembrance of Brad.  Several people spoke and provided their thoughts about his life and how we knew him.  Linda read a poem that was a most fitting tribute to this wonderful man that had ultimately brought this group together.

Gathered to remember Brad

Linda reads a poem.

A circle of touching hands remembering the one who touched our lives

From there we moved on to the Obs for more group pictures.

Trish, Alex, Sage and Hugh

Heading for the Obs

Ed getting the troops organized

Amy out on the edge (big drop back there)

The group at Brad's favorite place - the Obs

Looking for a face in the clouds

Amy and Don

Clouds hanging over the northern Presis

Ed and Amy discussing the best shot

Perhaps something Marilyn Monroe-esque?

Ed at work


Cog heads down under clearing skies

Into the valley

We headed into the Obs and got ourselves some nice hot soup for lunch and went downstairs to the crew quarters for the famous Seek the Peak homemade cookies.  Some of the group went for the tour of the Obs, but we'd done it several times and decided to skip it and make room for the rest of the crowd.

Down in the crew quarters looking for cookies!

Stairway to the clouds

Several of us decided to give our knees a break and take a ride back to the bottom with some of the drivers that were heading down.  Armando and I opted for the ride, but Steve-O, Roberta and Don joined Amy and Nat for the hike down Tucks.  Mark and Karen gave me a ride and when we got to point where Old Jackson Road crosses the auto road we found another car in the group pulled over and Rex getting out.  He was going to hike the last two miles back to Pinkham on OJR and I decided to join him.  This is a really nice stretch of trail that I've done several times and it was great to walk out together and reminisce about past Seek the Peaks.  I didn't take any pictures in this segment - we were enjoying the walk too much to think about it.

Nat coming down the headwall on Tucks

Here's the map and some views of our route (at least those that made the whole hike).

The dinner and awards ceremony was great as always.  There were a TON of prizes this year (even more than usual) and I was lucky enough to win a new pair of boots from Vasque - the latest sponsor of the Obs.  We had four tables reserved for our group this year and many more friends in the crowd.  The group (or more accurately family) grows every year.  When we look back, we all know who we have to thank for it.

Beautiful night for the after-party

Subaru is a great sponsor

Our team banner - thanks Dave

Emma, Judy, Nat, Tim and Val.  Looks like Judy is placing her dinner order with Kevin :)

Starting to give out the many prizes

And the winner is...

Ed won the Subaru lease again.  Congratulations!

The event ended with a very special new award - the Brad Bradstreet Award.  It is given to the person who, like Brad, is the greatest supporter and "cheerleader" for the Obs.  The winner of the inaugural award was our team captain, Amy.  I can't think of anyone better to have gotten it!  Congratulations Amy.

A special thanks to Dave for getting us the great T-shirts and making the banner, to Chris for making the buttons with Brad's picture for us all to wear and to Karen for the BB patches for our packs.  And thanks to all our friends and Mt Washington family for being there to share this day with this us.  It's one we'll never forget.  Finally, thanks to all of our friends who supported us this year.  Together Nat and I were able to raise over $2000 for the Observatory and we couldn't have done it without all your help.


There was one final tribute.  Several weeks before Seek the Peak I asked all the members of the Kilted Clan and other friends of Brad to send me their favorite photos of Brad.  These were combined with others that he had taken and others had taken of him that were collected on his Facebook page to make a collage of him in the places that he loved so much - Mt Washington and the Observatory.  This collage will be hung in the Observatory as a lasting tribute to Brad from all his Mt Washington friends.

So ends this most amazing event.  It's not the end of the story though.  The "family that Brad built" will go on.  Rest in peace my great friend.  None of us will ever forget you.


The full resolution photos and slide show are available here:


  1. What a great report about a great day, Mark. Mother Nature blessed us with wonderful weather for Seek the Peak, my first! It was so nice to meet you, and moving the tribute you and so many others paid to your fine friend, Brad. Thanks for sharing with us about this special day, a report eagerly awaited here and, for sure, elsewhere.

    Best regards,

    Chris Stratton/Arkie

    1. Thanks Chris. It was indeed an amazing day in many ways. Glad you were there for your first Seek the Peak and got to share it. It was great to finally meet you. Hope to see you on the trail.