There’s only one way to join the Four Thousand Footer Club. You don’t have to pay an entrance fee, live in a certain place, or even apply for membership. There’s only one way to join, and that’s hauling your way to the top every one of the 48 mountains over 4000 feet in the White Mountains of the state of New Hampshire. For some, the task takes years, with rough and sometimes dangerous hikes on exposed mountain tops that total over 347 miles in length (depending on the route).
“It’s kind of like a part time job,” says Yuchen ‘Cindy’ Zhou, a recently ordained member of the Four Thousand Club and frequent Ridj-it rider/driver. Zhou spent about a year completing New Hampshire’s 4000 foot mountains, organizing group hikes from her home base in Boston, Massachusetts. “I wanted to finish the 48, so I decided to host [hiking trips].”
Zhou says that hiking with others has opened up a whole new world for her. When she first moved to Boston, Zhou used group activities, most prominently group hikes, to help build herself a community. “I started meeting people on hikes and falling in love with the outdoors,” she says, and notes that she quickly ramped up her involvement in such activities. “Since last September I’ve been leading hikes. It was really a life changing moment and helped me discover what my passions really are.”
Organizing excursions is not a new experience for Zhou, who says she has been planning events since she was an undergraduate in college. Unlike some other students, Zhou remained a part of some student organizations even as she continued into her graduate studies. She says she has always enjoyed organizing because it helps her “get to know each person’s personality along the way.” Zhou also enjoys having the freedom to choose the routes and mountains to be hiked, freedom that made it easier to complete her goal of hiking the New Hampshire 48.
Zhou has built quite a community for herself through group hikes. “I met my hiking partners through Ridj-It,” she says, “we all have the exact same pace.” When asked which hike in the 48 was most memorable for her, Zhou tellingly mentions people before she mentions scenery or hiking trails. “The Bond Traverse,” she says, “the group we went with were really mature hikers with high stamina, there was no fussing and complaining [...] it was really fun.”
Bond Traverse is a two-day, 20 mile hike in central New Hampshire that spans three different mountains. The challenging trip does not pose an easy task for an organizer that must balance a diverse group of participants over a long period of time. Zhou says that this balancing is her favourite part of hosting trips. “When people hike with a group they have to keep an open mind,” she says. “Everyone has a different pace and we’re meeting for the first time. You really have to work out the differences between each other.”
With New Hampshire’s 48 finished, what comes next? Zhou says that hiking more mountains in the Presidential range is a goal, as well as learning more about rock climbing. Most significantly, however, Zhou is considering moving to a career in the outdoors, a possibility inspired by the first time she organized a group hiking trip. “I’m trying to find internships right now,” she says, “I’d really like to start a career in the outdoors.”