Climbing the Auto Road on Stilts in Winter

Climbing the Auto Road with a Heightened Perspective
Hans Bauer Tackles Mt. Washington on Stilts

by Steven Caming

Photo: Mike Pelchat

Some people just need to challenge themselves. Its part of their DNA…it’s how they get to know themselves and the world around them. For some, the challenge is professional or financial, for others it’s personal. Some need the accolades of many, while others require only the quietly competent knowledge that they did what they set out to do.

Each challenge, each goal is uniquely tailored to the personality of the individual, as only they know what particular achievement will meaningfully validate the effort. You might think climbing the Northeast’s highest peak during winter, on stilts with snowshoes attached, would be a challenge…and you’d be right. But for Hans Bauer of Center Conway it was more of a whimsical adventure that didn’t quite get to the level of being truly challenging.

Of course, Bauer is a man who’s already logged a few endurance miles along the way. He has biked through all six New England states in just 17 hours. In his “ultra-running” mode he has several grueling treks under his belt, including 100 miles in 17 hours, 5 minutes; 130 miles in 24 hours and 195 miles in 48 hours (it should be noted he is not satisfied with any of these times). He has run 7000 miles (including halfway across the USA) in one 18 month period and has biked more than 31,000 miles during five grand tours that have taken him through 11 countries and all of the lower 48 states…and he has done this all alone.

Generally speaking, it’s not about speed and records for Bauer, but about endurance. He pushes himself to discover not life-threatening limits, but life-enhancing perspectives. A near fatal climbing accident on Cathedral Ledge this past year (falling more than 100 feet) further developed his philosophical position. “I could easily have been dead, so I enjoy what every day has to offer. Sure, I’ve been doing things that could be considered dangerous, but I don’t take it to that place. For me, it’s more just testing the limits of my endurance. I like to know that I’ve lived on THIS day,” he said emphatically. “It’s about seeing the world a certain way—as full of wonder and possibility and the chance to experience things we may have done before in new ways”.

While many of his adventures have taken him around the world, Bauer finds plenty to test himself right here in the Mt. Washington Valley. After tackling his first 23 mile Presidential Range/Mt. Washington winter traverse (which goes from the Dolly Copp campground area in Pinkham Notch all the way across to the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch), he decided to step it up a notch, so to speak. The next time around Bauer did a one day solo winter double traverse, reversing his course and covering the 46 miles in just about 23 hours. Yes, this is what he does for fun…

Photo: Mike Pelchat

Bauer began what would become Mt. Washington’s first ever ascent on stilts at 6:00 am from the Auto Road base. He had attached a pair of snowshoes (with built in crampons) to the bottom of the construction stilts (he found those at a yard sale for $30) and began his ascent (alone again, naturally) in the quiet darkness of the pre-dawn morning.

While not an imposing fellow physically (“I’m the same size as Napoleon!” he noted), Bauer does exude a certain quiet (and well earned) confidence in his abilities. Still, he never takes a cavalier attitude towards his wilderness adventures. As the winds gusted over 35 mph above treeline during his ascent of the Auto Road, he lowered his stilt height from three feet to two feet off the ground, to keep from being excessively blown around. “I was definitely afraid at times, but mostly of ending up in the paper for doing something dumb and getting hurt!” he said.

For the record, Bauer never took his stilts off during the entire eight mile ascent and then skied back down the road to finish his long day.

Tolstoy wrote that every man is three men: how he sees himself; how others see him and who he really is. Hans Bauer sees the world through the eyes of a man who challenges himself, challenges nature and challenges onlookers to question what they themselves may be capable of…If seeing the world from his heightened perspective (he stands over 7 ½ feet tall with the stilts fully extended) has broadened his horizons, it is a hard won view to a thrill.

Upon his arrival at the summit, Bauer provided quite an unusual and unprecedented sight to those working at the Observatory and State Park…it was certainly an unexpected visit. As the summit crew looked up at the man who towered above them on stilts, one asked “How’s the weather up there?” Taking in his surroundings on the summit of Mt. Washington, his simple answer summed up his day “Just perfect”.

Those who may be interested in coming up with their own unique way of ascending the Mt. Washington Auto Road can inquire about participating in Alton Weagle Day, scheduled for May 26th. For more information call the Auto Road at 603-466-3988 or online at www.mtwashingtonautoroad.com

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