Where it all started: Buffalo and Tough Cookie’s connection begins with the Mountain King

Jim Gagne and Dan Szczesny near Lion's Head on a hike up Mt. Washington in March 1999.

Jim Gagne and Dan Szczesny near Lion’s Head on a hike up Mt. Washington in March 1999.

I’m often asked where it started. Passions have beginnings. In The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie I write about Janelle’s spark being ignited atop Bald Peak, and the stunned amazement in her eyes as she summitted her first “real” mountain, Mt. Kearsarge.

My own connection to the hills, like Janelle’s, was facilitated by one person who took me under his wing, and with a great amount of patience, taught me how to love the mountains safely; with due respect and humble regard.

And so, this past week, I began a project that Meena has been suggesting for a long time, a biography of my own mentor Jim Gagne. This will be a slow burn, fit in between the rest of life – a tale told without urgency or deadlines. Jim unexpectedly came to our Book Release Party at Gibson’s last week, and it occured to me then how responsible his teaching is not just for my love of the hills, but for the man I am today.

So, next week, I’ll post a longer excerpt from the Introduction. But for today, just a taste.

“So, in early March, with a heavy snowfall still on the upper slopes, Jim took me up Mt. Washington. The third mountain I ever climbed, in winter conditions and below freezing temps, with no experience, was Mt. Washington. It took us 14 hours.

Near the summit cone just past a formation I now know as Split Rock, I was so tired I just sat down in the snow and stared hopelessly down at Lakes of the Clouds Hut and across the vast southern Presidentials and thought to myself that at least this was a wonderful place to die. But Jim was having none of that. After making sure I was warm, he said he was going to the top “real quick” to tag the summit and would be right back. Well, he did come back, only without a pack. Instead, he took mine off my back, lifted me by my collar and said “come on.”

I summitted Mt. Washington that day, so tired that in my summit shot I’m sitting, not standing, by the sign. Jim took all the weight out of my pack and in some spots on the way down we had to take ten or fifteen minute breaks because my legs just would not move. But I did it, and nearly everything I now know about teamwork, patience, preparation and determination, I learned in that one hike. Everything since has only been about improving upon that 14 hours of my life.”

Categories: Updates and Plans | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Where it all started: Buffalo and Tough Cookie’s connection begins with the Mountain King

  1. nancy c

    Another book? Cool!! I love how you write – this excerpt shows this will be another great read!
    I continue to be in awe of you who persevere with your hiking!

    • Well, by another book, the fact is I have a half dozen “other” books going. Which one is the “next” or “ever” is yet to be seen!

  2. Great stuff, Dan!

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