The White Mountains of New Hampshire boast 48 peaks with at least 4,000 feet of elevation, a roster that is sometimes referenced by hiking enthusiasts as “The List.” But in the past few decades, peak-baggers have taken to tackling a two-faceted list: dubbed “The Grid” (because hikers document their progress in a designated spreadsheet), the feat requires summiting every single one of the 48 peaks in each month of the calendar year—that’s 576 hikes in all. New England’s ruthless winters add another layer of intensity to the challenge, and so the Grid usually takes several years to complete.
The first Grid finisher checked off the final peak in 1989, but the Grid website says that the pioneer asked not to be named. The next Grid finish didn’t come along until 2002, when Appalachian Mountain Club trip leader Ed Hawkins completed the task. (He repeated it again in 2006. These days, Grid finishers can call Hawkins if they want him to accompany them up peak 576. His phone number is listed right on the website.) Since its inception, only 62 people have completed the Grid—and one of those hiking obsessives is Jeb Bradley, the New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader and a former U.S. Congressman.
Bradley, whose family moved to New Hampshire when he was two years old, completed his Grid last January, after about six years in pursuit of the goal. He was the 49th person to earn the accolade, and now he’s moved on to a new challenge. He is in the middle of a “single-season winter 4K,” attempting to hike all of the 48 peaks between December 21 and March 20. At the time we spoke, he’d bagged 27 of the 4,000-footers so far this winter. (He succeeded at this in the winter of 2013-14, but with such a short time window and New Hampshire’s unpredictable winter weather, each year presents new obstacles.) Bradley is also more than a third of the way through completing the Grid a second time.
Bradley has been an enthusiastic hiker for most of his life, and says that he first hiked New Hampshire’s Mount Washington when he was 10 or 11 years old. His hiking addiction has brought him to the Rockies, the Himalayas, and the Alps, but he’s spent the bulk of his trail time in New Hampshire’s mountains. He first finished his regular 48-peak list in the fall of 2004. “It was a crazy three weeks,” he says—in addition to completing the list, he also won reelection to Congress, and the Boston Red Sox won the World Series (he’s a big fan, as are many New Hampshirites).
It wasn’t until two years later, when he lost reelection in Congress to Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, that he upped his hiking ante. He started out with a few years of intensive winter hiking. Bradley was elected to State Senate in 2009, the same year he found out about the Grid. Michelline Dufort, a public affairs specialist who occasionally works with Bradley and has hiked with him for about eight years, doesn’t really remember when he started deliberately tracking his Grid progress. “I don’t think he ever consciously decided he was going for it,” she says. “I think he just was born going for it.”
Bradley usually hikes in small groups, and he has a handful of very reliable companions. “He’s very easy to get along with,” says Bill Cronin, a friend of Bradley’s and one of his longtime hiking partners. “The folks who hike with us are of all political flavors.” (Bradley is a Republican, and in December endorsed Chris Christie for president. About the speculation that he may run for governor of New Hampshire, he tells me “the rumors are true” that he’s considering it, but he still has not made a decision.)
While Bradley rarely engages in political discussions on his hikes, he doesn’t see his hiking habit as entirely divorced from his role as a politician. He’s very active on Twitter (part of his bio reads: “49th person to finish the GRID—all 48 4k peaks in each month!!”) and frequently posts photos from his hikes online. “Most people hike for personal reasons, and they aren’t as public about is as I am,” he says. But New Hampshire’s economy relies heavily tourism—so Bradley’s social media presence doubles as a means of luring hiking enthusiasts to his home state’s trails. “I have a somewhat larger megaphone than somebody else might have,” he says, “so I try to use it for that purpose.”
Bradley tries not to pick favorites among the list—“I always say that my favorite hike is the next hike,” he tells me—but he cites Mount Madison, Mount Monroe, West Bond, and Mount Garfield as a few of his soft spots. As Dufort tells it, “Every view we ever see, Jeb always says, ‘This is the best view in the White Mountains!’ ” In recent months, he’s started sharing some of those views, selling some of his White Mountains photographs and displaying them in art galleries as a side project. New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse has even bought a few.
Between his active social media presence and prominent political status, Bradley can’t always blend in while trekking in the mountains. Dufort says that other hikers will frequently recognize Bradley’s face or voice on the trail: “Someone will stop and say, ‘Oh! You’re Jeb Bradley! I’ve been looking for you—I knew you were out here somewhere!’”