Berkshire County resident completes Northeast 111 but has higher peaks in mind

For Lee resident Charles Edson, climbing mountains helps him hurdle life's obstacles. "I started hiking as a way of healing," he said.
For Lee resident Charles Edson, climbing mountains helps him hurdle life's obstacles. "I started hiking as a way of healing," he said.
BENJAMIN CASSIDY - THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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Charles Edson may work part-time maintaining the building and equipment at Berkshire Nautilus, but he gets most of his exercise outside the gym — way out.

This weekend, the 27-year-old Lee resident is scheduled to start climbing Mount Rainier. At 14,400-plus feet, the famous Washington peak will be the tallest Edson has ever attempted to ascend. He's worried about the altitude.

"Anxiety's kicking in," Edson said last Sunday at the beginning of Stockbridge's Ice Glen Trail, his favorite Berkshire hiking destination.

He won't be arriving unprepared. He recently hiked 19-and-a-half straight hours around the Pemigewasset Loop, a roughly 31-mile traverse through New Hampshire's White Mountains with 9,000-plus feet in elevation gain. And in March, Edson summited New Hampshire's 5,363-foot Mount Madison in a minus 40-degree wind chill, joining fewer than 900 hikers (including only a handful or so from Berkshire County) who have registered completing the Northeast 111 since 1948. Now at 115 peaks after several additions in recent decades, the 111ers of Northeastern USA's list consists of all New England 4,000-footers, the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks and the Catskills' Hunter Mountain and Slide Mountain. Edson hiked many of these mountains in winter — solo.

"As much as people advise against it, I accept all risks and I properly prepare, as much as I can," he said.

The Germantown, Md., native didn't grow up hiking. He lifted weights and participated in track-and-field during his adolescence. He moved to the Berkshires after high school, in search of "a change of pace" during a gap year, and eventually attended Berkshire Community College. Hiking soon emerged as a way of coping with breakups and other life setbacks.

"I started hiking as a way of healing," he said.

While Berkshire County has plenty of trails winding through and around its hills and mountains, it doesn't offer any 4,000-foot elevations. For that, Edson had to hit the road in his Toyota Camry. Hiking partners for trips to distant ranges were difficult to find.

"There aren't a lot of people who want to do this stuff," Edson said.

He began his Northeast 111 quest on Dec. 12, 2015, ascending Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain in the Adirondacks. His next Adirondacks outing was the following weekend, summiting Gothics Mountain amidst a minus 15-degree wind chill.

Early on, Edson was too focused on peak-bagging, or just checking mountains off the list, he said. Over time, he developed an appreciation for the act of hiking itself. He believes deeply in the forest's power to revive and replenish one's spirit, pointing out a hiker who had stopped to meditate on a rock along Ice Glen.

"Hike your own hike," Edson said later.

He also grasps hiking's dangers. The scariest moment during the journey to 115 came when descending Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire. Some ice broke beneath him, sending him tumbling about 40 feet down a hill. He careened into a couple of trees, his head and legs colliding with them.

"It was tricky because it had just snowed, so all the ice was covered up," he said.

Edson is certified as a wilderness first responder and has volunteered with the Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Team. After his fall, he feared that he might have suffered a "TBI," or traumatic brain injury; he hadn't. He did, however, have a hematoma in his knee.

"I've been very lucky with my injuries," he said, noting that he broke a couple of metacarpals in his left hand during a separate fall.

Edson doesn't take safety for granted. For hikes longer than an hour, Edson always packs the 10 essentials, including food, water and a GPS.

"I'm basically prepared to always stay the night," he said.

For gear, including the pair of boots he was wearing on Sunday, Edson often relies on Lenox's Arcadian Shop. On this day, he was also wearing a hat from the store.

"Hopefully, I'll be repping it when I go to Rainier, too," he said.

If the Washington trip goes well, he has higher summits in mind. He aims to hike Denali, North America's highest peak, within the next 10 years. His dream is to climb K2, the second tallest mountain in the world.

Edson feels that Berkshire County has a number of challenging trails, including the Thunderbolt Trail on Mount Greylock. He wishes that others took advantage of them as much as he does.

"I don't think the outdoors in the Berkshires are fully being utilized as a group. I think there's a lot of potential out here," he said.

He also wants to start a group in the county that explores some of the neighboring mountain ranges he has visited so often.

"What I'm trying to do is put together a group of ambitious hikers who want to see more, get out of the state," he said.

His hiking partner on this day asked about the potential for hikers to bite off more than they can chew. The man who had recently stared down 115 mountains and summited them all said that risk shouldn't deter people from attempting a climb, though they shouldn't be stubborn about retreating.

"I think everyone bites off more than they can chew at one time, but it's going with people who know their stuff, going with the groups," he said. "Being able to turn around is the biggest thing. Being able to say, 'Hey, maybe this is more than I can chew,' because, at the end of the day, you know the mountain's always going to be there."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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