Next up in our ambassador spotlight series is Craig Wonson, who helped organize the New England Six-Pack of Peaks. He celebrates his birthday as well as his anniversary in April, so we are featuring him as our first ambassador spotlight feature this month!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do when you’re not hiking?
I was born and raised in New England but spent most of the past 30 years on the west coast and overseas while serving in the Marine Corps. I recently moved back to New England and currently teach at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. I love living where I am close to both the ocean and the mountains. When I'm not out hiking I enjoy things like running, skiing, kayaking, attending sporting events, and listening to live music. Most of all, I love spending time with my wife, kids, and dog.
What has the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge meant to you?
As an ambassador, it has afforded me the opportunity to encourage others to take up hiking and spend more time in the mountains. It is especially rewarding knowing that the Six-Pack of Peaks program increases environmental awareness and helps raise money for Big City Mountaineers.
What is your favorite hike in the Six-Pack of Peaks and why?
San Jacinto was my favorite peak in the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. It was pretty close to where I lived in Joshua Tree and I always enjoyed the tram ride up to the trailhead along with the incredible views from the summit. Since moving back east, I would have to say Mt. Lincoln is my favorite peak in the New England Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. It doesn't always receive the same level of recognition as other New England Six-Pack peaks such as Mt. Washington or Mt. Katahdin, but you won't find a more beautiful hiking route than the Franconia Ridge Loop.
Share one of your most memorable adventures. What makes it so special?
A couple of recent adventures with my family stand out. The first was a trip I took with my seven-year-old daughter to hike in 13 National Parks over a period of two weeks. We racked up some serious miles and long hours but forged some truly unforgettable memories together in places such as Crater Lake, Grand Canyon, Zion, Death Valley, and Yosemite. The second was a hike up Mount St. Helens with my wife which was the first major hike we did together. We camped at the base of the mountain the night prior, the weather and visibility were perfect, and the view from the summit was spectacular. It was remarkable to look down into the crater and see how the 1980 eruption completely transformed the mountain and surrounding landscape. After the hike, we drove all the way to Portland to catch Robert Plant in concert that night which made for a perfect ending to the day.
What’s one piece of gear that you never hike without?
In addition to the the ten essentials I always bring along my trekking poles. They are particularly useful when traversing rugged terrain and help reduce stress on your knees and hips when going down steeper inclines. They are also great to have on hand if you need to set up a makeshift shelter or a splint.
Share a quote, song, or another inspirational item that helps get you through the toughest hikes/life moments.
I find inspiration through prayer and reflection. We only have so many days left. Always give thanks every day you wake up, make every day count, and don't let things that aren't really important bother you.
What upcoming adventures are you looking forward to in the year ahead?
We weren't able to hike much in 2020 because of the COVID restrictions, so we are looking forward to doing the New England Six-Pack of Peaks this year.
Share a fun fact about you that most people wouldn’t know.
I used to be an avid distance runner, to the point I completed at least one half and/or full marathon in every state. Distance running began to take a toll on my body, however, so a friend suggested I take a break from running and switch for a while to hiking. I reluctantly agreed and shortly thereafter signed up for the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. It was very well organized and proved to be a wonderful experience. When I found out I was moving back to the east coast, I asked Jeff if we could set up a similar challenge for New England. The rest is history. Although the New England Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge is still relatively new, I'm confident it will continue to grow in popularity as each year goes by, much as it has in SoCal.
Is there anything else you wish I would have asked you or anything you would like to add?
I'm very fortunate to be part of a great team that helped Jeff develop the New England Six-Pack of Peak Challenge back in 2018. The challenge is quite unique in many ways, with peaks spread across five of the six New England states. Challengers reach the highest point in five different states while also spending considerable time along sections of the iconic Appalachian Trail. Many of the peaks have noteworthy history. For nearly 62 years, Mt. Washington held the record for the highest wind gust ever recorded (231 mph) and is still known for having some of the worst weather in the world. Mt. Katahdin is home to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the breathtaking Knife Edge Trail often considered a must-do for avid hikers. Mt. Lincoln sits atop the Franconia Ridge Loop, a trail frequently listed as one of the most beautiful hiking routes in the country. Mt. Monadnock is generally recognized as the second most frequently climbed mountain in the world, while Mt. Chocorua is known for being one of the most photographed mountains in the world. Mt. Greylock is mentioned in many classic literary works to include those by Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Holmes. Few people realize Greylock's snow-covered appearance in winter also served as the inspiration behind Melville's famous white whale in Moby Dick.
You can connect with Craig here on SocialHiker as @crw0302.