Interview With New Hampshire Hikers – Nancy and Charlie Foote
Hardcore. Dedicated. Goal-oriented. Living in the shadow of Mt Moosilauke. The Appalachian Trail practically runs through their back yard. An AT Hiker Hostel sits across the street from their home. They live in Glencliff, a tiny village nestled in the White Mountain National Forest. They are steeped in the mountains and can’t hike them enough.
Nancy Foote, 64, and Charlie Foote, 68, are die-hard New Hampshire hikers. Over the past 11 years, collectively they have laid down over 20,000 trail miles under foot. Yet – they day hike exclusively. I know, I know – most people who will be reading this are probably of the long-distance persuasion. Which is exactly why this day-hiker perspective might be interesting and perhaps even enlightening. No long distance hikes for these two White Mountain trail legends. But how do they hike so much? And why?
Eleven out of twelve months every year this hiking duo hikes every other day in New Hampshire’s rugged mountains. And when they are on vacation they seek out distant peaks to climb – whether it be a summit in the Catskills or a state high point.
Nancy and Charlie have hiked each of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4000 feet (NH 4000-footers) over 25 times and are almost finished with their 26th round – and have hiked many more lists to boot. Yet they modestly profess that they know many fellow hikers who have hiked these mountains more than they have. They continue to check off mountain after mountain, summit after summit, list after list. They are serious peak baggers who hike the New Hampshire mountains (and beyond) in rain, shine, winter, summer, trail, or no trail.
What mountains have they conquered thus far? What lists of peaks will they bag in the future? I got the chance to talk to Nancy (and got a few answers from Charlie as well) and I present to you an interview with these two Granite State hiking gurus.
Nancy, how long have you and Charlie been hiking together?
Well we have been hiking for over 20 years, but we didn’t start hiking every week – all the time – until March of 2005. That’s when we started on the 4000-footers. Once we went on this hike in March of 2005 we were sort of hooked. And we said “Hey! We can do this!”
We started by hiking once a week in 2005. Then in 2011, when Charlie retired, we started hiking every other day.
What mountains and lists of mountains have you hiked?
We have done the New Hampshire 48 4000-footers 25 times and we’re almost done with our 26th round. We’ve done the GRID (576 mountains and 3,600 miles in total: the GRID is each of the 48 4k’s in each month of the year). Charlie finished his over 60 GRID in this past May. I’m the first woman over 60 to do the GRID. We were the 25th and 26th people to do the GRID. We have completed the 300-Highest in New Hampshire, the New England 4000-footers, “52 With A View”, the NH Fire Tower List, the New England 100-Highest, and we completed the Calendar Days (have been on a 4000-footer every day of the year).
What lists of mountains are you working on hiking now?
We have 83 peaks left to go on New Hampshire’s 500-Highest list. We’re also working on a list of New Hampshire’s 500-Highest With A 300 Foot Col. We’re also high pointing the Lower 48 (35 of 48 completed so far). And are working on round 26 of the 4000-footers.
Do you always hike together?
Yes. Well, Charlie hiked Moosilauke when he was 6 without me. I have hiked a few without him. But we don’t count them toward our list. We hike with others – in a group – about once a month. But we prefer to hike just the two of us for the most part because it’s more spontaneous and there is more freedom. Usually we wake up in the morning and decide where to go then. If we go with someone else, we have to be there at a certain time. We enjoy being on our own schedule. Usually you have to talk throughout the whole hike when you’re with a group, and normally we don’t talk much while we’re hiking. But at the same time, it’s nice to join others on a finish hike (like when someone completes a list or a GRID finish).
So why did you start hiking the 4000-footers and what got you into it?
We would hike occasionally and take turns picking hikes – relatively easy hikes. In March of 2005 it was my birthday and my turn to pick the hike, so I picked Tecumseh (one of the 4000-footers). And we were really surprised that we could do it! And thought, you know we could hike the 4k-footers! Before that, when our son Jamie was in high school and wanted to do the 4k-footers, I admit did not support him. I told him, “No, that’s silly. You don’t want to do that. Why do you want to do that?” Then eventually we figured out we could do it ourselves. We got hooked and now we understood why he was doing it.
Why drives you to continue to hike?
The main reason we hike is for health and exercise. We’re in the best shape we have ever been in. And we like to hike together. And the views – even though that’s not the #1 reason.
What are some of your favorite things about hiking?
I think one of the good things about hiking is all the really nice people we have met. It’s really great. And I talk to everybody. It used to be that Charlie would never talk to anybody, but now he talks to everybody.
We enjoy counting the people on every hike. Yesterday there were 71 people on Carter Dome.
And we really like the challenge. Especially the bushwhacks.
Will you hike the GRID again?
No. Absolutely not. I really didn’t enjoy doing the GRID because we hiked mountains that we HAD to do, not mountains that we WANTED to do. It really narrows your choices and it put a lot of pressure on me.
Where do you get your lists of mountains to hike?
Friends. Mostly from our friend Hiker Ed. (Whose website is https://www.48×12.com) Our friend Bryan Cuddihee came up with the list of the 500-highest.
Have you created any lists of hikes?
Yes! We created the Fire Tower List. There are 93 New Hampshire mountains with fire towers – including existing towers, sites of proposed but never built towers, and locations of former fire towers. Several people have since completed the list after us.
(Find the list at https://www.48×12.com/nhfiretowers/nhfiretowers.html)
Will you ever Red-line (hike all the trails in the NH AMC Guide, approximately 1,420 miles)?
No! (Note: Nancy and Charlie usually begin each new mountain list by saying they’ll never hike it…so we’re not so sure that they will never redline…) We redlined the Ossipees and really didn’t like it. It was too much in-and-out and no real reward or conclusion at the end of the day.
What does your average day of hiking look like?
Normally we leave the house at 7 am. And we like to be home for supper.
We like to be home around 4 pm – it doesn’t always work out – but that’s our goal. The closest mountain is Moosilauke (a 5 minute drive) and the furthest is the Carters (a 1 hr 45 minute drive). Our average hike is 10 miles, but it varies from a few miles (for a bushwhack) to 23 1/2 miles (hiking the Bonds in the winter).
Why do you prefer day hikes to overnight trips or long-distance backpacking?
Charlie: I like sleeping in my own bed.
Nancy: I just like to be home. And I don’t want to carry a lot of weight. Just not really interested in long-distance hiking. We’re happy with our day hikes.
What do you normally eat while hiking?
We each bring a sandwich. Charlie always brings a venison sandwich, and I usually bring a PB&J. We always bring chocolate and candy to eat. We bring really bad junk food. Like poptarts, brownies, cookies, Goldfish, chips. Sometimes apples or oranges. Sometimes trail mix. Water. And Gatorade in the summer.
How has your gear changed since you started hiking?
The biggest change we have seen in gear is traction. When I started out I had this pair of ice creepers that our son, Jamie, bought from his friend, Frank, for $3. And Charlie had a pair of 6-point crampons. You had to stop and take 5 minutes buckle each on. Now with Hillsounds and Microspikes – and strap on crampons – they are so fast and easy to put on.
Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
Charlie: My Garmin GPS. Especially for bushwhacking
Nancy: I like my Hillsounds. And I love my Angstrom North Face 28L pack – it’s light and it fits everything I need.
How often do you bushwhack?
For this list of the NH 500-highest, for example, most of them are bushwhacks. So pretty often. About half and half right now – we go back and forth between 4000-footers and bushwhacks.
What’s your favorite NH 4000-footer?
Nancy: Mt Moosilauke. Because it’s our home mountain. We can hike Moosilauke without getting in the car! (Nancy and Charlie live just a few miles from Moosilauke).
Charlie: Bondcliff. Because it’s way back out in the middle of nowhere. It’s 10 miles from the nearest trailhead. The area and the isolation are unique.
Do you have a least favorite hike?
Charlie: Whiteface-Passaconaway because I don’t like the Sandwich area.
Nancy: I can’t really think of what would be my least favorite…you would think that the least favorite would be the hardest, but we like a challenge. Like the other day we were bushwhacking and were on one mountain and the next mountain we needed was a mile and a half away and it was way way way down then way way way up. We said “oh it’s way over there” but then we said “hey, why not?” That’s the fun of it. So we did it. And it was really difficult, but we like the difficulty.
Do you carry cell phones?
Do you get ticks on you while hiking?
Oh yeah. We were bushwhacking in Alton a few weeks ago, and we must have had a dozen ticks each on us. So far they have all been wood ticks. We have never had lyme disease. We did get the shots while they were on the market – we got 2 of the series of 3 before they stopped giving the shots. We’re not sure if it has helped but it may have.
Have you had any injuries from hiking?
None! Aside from falling down and scraping something, neither of us have had any injuries. In fact, since we started hiking every other day in the past 5 years, Charlie has lost over 60 pounds! Both of us feel better since we started hiking every other day. Our knees used to feel sore – we each had a knee that used to bother us – but over the last several years, that has gone away. No shin splints or anything like that – nothing.
Has your approach to hiking changed over the years?
Charlie: We’re more confident because we know the areas so well.
Nancy: I used to be fast and Charlie used to be slow. Now I have to hurry to keep up with him. He has gotten way faster. Now we average at least 2 throughout the whole trip and before we used to hike probably around 2 1/2 mph. Even though we’re getting older, we’re getting faster or staying the same speed.
How have the mountains changed over the past 11 years?
More people. We have learned to never hike a 4000-footer in the summer on the weekend. It’s unbelievable, like a conga line going up these mountains. We used to break trail in the winter – but over the past 2-3 years we’ve never broken trail. It used to be that you were surprised to see anybody else in the winter, and now we’re surprised if we have to break trail. There are just so many more people out there now. And there’s more trash on the trail.
What trail etiquette tips do you have for fellow hikers?
Don’t talk on your cell phone while hiking. (It’s great to bring in an emergency, but chatting your way down the trail is a faux pas). Also step off the trail when you’re taking a break. The hiker going up has the right of way. If you are hiking with a dog, keep the dog under control – most hikers keep their dog on a leash as it’s going by which is great – but it’s not okay to let your dog jump all over other hikers, even if it’s friendly.
What are some unusual things you have seen on the trails?
Nancy: We saw people hiking up Jefferson barefoot the other day. We saw people on sheer ice for miles with no traction recently – which is not unusual. A great percent of the people are unprepared in the winter here. In the winter there has been so much snow that we have sat on the roofs of AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) Huts.
What’s the most dangerous thing you have experienced while hiking?
When we were hiking an 11 mile traverse over the Presidentials – from Jefferson to Adams to Madison – in the winter with nobody else around and it was all ice. Charlie said “Let’s hold hands and go over this icy section” and I said “No way. I’m not holding hands. What if one us falls? They’ll take the other one with them”. And just then Charlie fell and slid down Mt Jefferson. Luckily it wasn’t at one of the ravines. He went down and tried to grab bushes along the way and missed them, his poles went flying, his water bottles went flying. And finally he stopped and he looked up and said to me, “Stay right there hon, I’ll be right up to help you across”. That was the scariest thing. It could have been bad, but luckily it wasn’t.
(Disclaimer Nancy admitted: We don’t carry an ice axe but we try to avoid places where you would need one. We always read trip reports before we go and if anyone mentions ice or ice axe, we don’t go. This past winter was really icy so we stayed off the big mountains and instead did a lot of bushwhacks. We have turned around many times when conditions looked dicey.)
What is the funniest thing you have seen?
Charlie and the Moose! A moose followed Charlie, walked with him, for 2 1/2 miles. And they walked side by side. Charlie made me run ahead but I kept stopping and taking pictures of him and the moose walking down trail. It was so funny. Once in a while the moose would stop and eat and look up and see that Charlie was way ahead, so it would trot up to him and then they would walk next to each other. It looked like a boy and his dog.
For more information online, check out these websites:
Hiker Ed’s hiking page: https://www.48×12.com
Appalachian Mountain Club: https://www.outdoors.org/
NH 4000-footers: https://www.amc4000footer.org/
Views from the top trail conditions: https://www.viewsfromthetop.com/
The Mountain Wanderer (local books and maps): https://www.mountainwanderer.com/
New England Trail Conditions: https://www.newenglandtrailconditions.com/
For more information on the hikes Nancy and Charlie have done, you can email Nancy at [email protected].
Full disclaimer: Nancy and Charlie are my parents and I love hiking with them!
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To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
2014 PCT LASHer, 2015 Long Trail Thru-Hiker, 2018 AZT Thru-Hiker, 2019 AT LASHer. I grew up in the NH White Mountains. I'm the proud owner of a 1991 Toyota Hiace retired Japanese Ambulance named Yakushi with whom I adventure. Read about my adventures at jeanhikes.com.
Great story on a great couple!!! They are the King and Queen of the White Mountains.
What a great article about two of my all time favorite couples from back home. It is people like them that I miss about the north east.
Charlie, how did the moose taste once you got him home?
My friend Julia and I met them years ago when we couldn’t get to Mt Jackson because of the trail being gone pretty much from wind and winter conditions. Upon turning back we ran into Charlie and Nancy and they generously showed us the way. Such great people and awesome accomplishments.