As every New England hiker knows, the 4000 footers in New Hampshire’s White Mountains are not to be trifled with. With 48 peaks over 4000 feet, summiting all of them is an ambitious goal. In 48 Peaks: Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, author Cheryl Suchors does just that. Suchors carries us through the logistical and emotional challenges of her goal and how it is interwoven into her life as she deals with loss, illness, and recovery.  It ultimately takes her ten years to complete her goal and, along the way, she loses her best friend to cancer, battles with cancer herself, and struggles with the need to succeed and feel in control of her life. Her story shows the connection between one’s personal life and the healing power of the outdoors.

Where it Hits

This book is a slam dunk in showing the connection between nature and the human soul. Suchors does an amazing job explaining the flora and, as a result, as a reader I could practically feel how the trees and flowers were uplifting her emotionally. She poignantly shares her need to spread the ashes of her best friend and hiking buddy on top of one of the peaks. Her drive to carry on with her goal, not just in spite of her life challenges, but because of them, is all too human.

Suchors also does an amazing job of exhibiting the challenges of hiking with people. A leisurely day hike is one thing, but taking on a larger physical goal, such as this one, with another person is always a challenge; people have different paces, abilities, and goals. It can be frustrating hiking with someone much faster, or much slower, than you. With multiple hiking partners throughout the book, Suchors effectively shows the complexities of hiking relationships and the need for compromise.

The book also drives home the importance of taking outdoor endeavors seriously. Suchors planned out each of the hikes and made it clear how much research was done prior to each hike. She strictly follows leave-no-trace principles. The backbone of every outdoors-related book should include these things.

Where it Misses

The biggest miss was the book’s inability to show the freedom of nature. While Suchors does an excellent job of showing the importance of planning, she is a little too obsessed with trying to control the hike. She has a ritual the night before every hike with whomever she is hiking with, she has extensive packing lists that she sends out to everyone participating, she’s hyper-focused on numbers such as the length of time the hiking guide says a hike should take and the elevation gain (which she puts in terms of how many houses high) and, while she uses a hiking guide, she also creates her own. While some of these things can be very beneficial, it felt like overkill. You can’t control nature and it often felt like Suchors’ desire to control detracted from the enjoyment and freedom of the experience.

The book also doesn’t adequately explain the ruggedness of New England hiking. To be fair, she tries. She tells you over and over again how hard it is. The rocks, the roots, the lack of switchbacks, and so on. And yet, it still doesn’t make it clear. But the constant repetitiveness is why the message becomes blurry; it makes her sound like she’s complaining and not explaining. To someone unfamiliar with the terrain, they would likely read it and think, um, you’re outside, of course, there are rocks and roots, and possibly assume that she’s being dramatic. The book would have been better served with one descriptive explanation of the whites at the beginning to make the reader understand the difficulty of the terrain and, subsequently, the difficulty of hiking and her endeavor, as opposed to trying to belabor how hard each individual hike was.

What It Does for the Outdoor Community

What’s beneficial about this book is that it is a massive outdoor goal that is also relatable and attainable. There is a plethora of thru-hiking memoirs published, and they’re great, but fewer people will have the opportunity to put their life on pause for half of a year to take on that goal. There are outdoor books recanting stories of Everest and Kilimanjaro, and of death and danger. These books are just as useful in learning about and escaping into the outdoor world via books, but how many people are really taking on Mount Everest? 48 Peaks, however, feels attainable. Instead of thinking, that would be cool and daydreaming about an epic outdoor adventure, this book inspires you to make you realize that you can get out there and do it. Any book that can inspire people to go after their outdoor and physical goals, and do so responsibly, is a win for the community.

My Take

I had a hard time connecting to the book. At first glance, it should have been an easy connection. With a look at my own self and personal life, this book was practically screaming at me to read it. But, while I could relate to the book, I couldn’t connect with it. For me, this was because of Suchors’ calculated look at approaching hikes. Her apparent type-A personality was too overwhelming; she tries to break nature down into numbers and check boxes and it made me feel disconnected. Suchors’ calculated approach, however, will undoubtedly be exactly what draws people in, as our outdoor approach is all different.

Even so, I give the book an overall thumbs up. While I didn’t fall in love with it, it was most definitely enjoyable and worth my time. As someone who loves hiking and has spent substantial time hiking in New England, I enjoyed reading about the mountains that I love. I’d recommend this book to any New England hiker that can appreciate The White Mountains in all their epicness. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend the book to anybody. The book has a more limited audience, even amongst the hiking community.