Over the Hill Hikers began, modestly enough, in the summer of 1979 with a handful of friends hiking past Jose's Bridge in North Sandwich to the rocky ledges at Great Falls for a picnic lunch. In later weeks they would move on to more challenging climbs in nearby peaks of the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains.
Lib Bates, the original "Den Mother", and her late husband Charlie Crooker, would retire to Sandwich a couple of years later and quietly step forward to organize the group and broaden its reach. As the daughter of one of the first AMC hut masters, Red Mac Gregor, Lib had been hiking in New Hampshire all her life. She looked forward to taking her friends on her favorite trails.
Under her leadership the Sandwich hiking group literally took off, bagging 4000 footers week by week, nearly always on a Tuesday. The hikers would throw in overnights at the AMC huts and the Glen in Pittsburg from time to time. Ski groups formed, and they visited the Balsams and Bethel Inn. In 1986 the schedule was expanded to include a fall trip outside of New Hampshire. More recent trips to do the 4000 footers in Maine, excursions to Montana and the hiking in the Alps have been well received.
The club grew to over 100 people on the roster plus some non-hiking spouses. Many of the Over the Hill Hikers (OTHH) have climbed the New Hampshire 4000 footers, some multiple times, and some even over the age of 70! Few have completed or are working on the GRID and Red Lining the trails in the Whites.
In 1990, with some of the older members tiring of the 4000 footers, Lib Bates came up with another list and the "52 with a View" hikes were formed. This is a list compiled of shorter, but in some cases quite difficult hikes, to splendid viewpoints in the white Mountains.
The group is not exactly a club- more a loose collection of people who like to hike and prefer hiking with friends. There are hikes scheduled each week with A, B, and C group hiking abilities available. The A group typically does the 4000 footers at a moderate, beat book time pace. The B group does some 4ks, many of the 52 with a view, at a somewhat more relaxed book pace. The C group (also known affectionately as The Turtles) hike at a slower pace and do shorter hikes of interest such as Greeley Pond, Mount Willard, and Blueberry Mountain (an excellent hike).
Each hiking group has a leader who plots the route, keeps track of fellow hikers with proper pace/sweeper, and makes the decision to "go-no go" based on weather and trail conditions. There have been of course, some ups and downs; Cuts and sprains, hikers who strayed from the path, leaders who went too fast or too slow. Hiking in the Whites means one must be open and prepared for fast changing weather conditions. By and large a scheduled hike goes unless the leader of the day determines the conditions are dangerous. At the beginning of each season a planning meeting is held amongst each individual group to choose upcoming hikes and establish a leader for each, publish the list to the blog, and emailing the list throughout the hiking community.
In 1984 a companion group, the Friday Walkers was formed for a more leisurely paced, social hike.
When Lib Bates stepped aside in the late 90's, a "Life after Lib" committee first named Bill and Claire Smith as leaders. Bill Glenday and Jocelyn Gutchess are prior chairs along with Pat Russell, Dave and Marion Blackshear, and Mark Tuckerman who led the NE100 group and winter hiking. In 2007 Charlie Kuehn turned over the task of communications and website development to Mark Tuckerman, and Mary Cullen (who has since passed) acted as treasurer and kept the roster up to date. Sharon Vittum handled the very important task of social director. 2009 saw Ginny McDonald and Nancy Leighley take over organizing the successful winter awards banquet.
In 2006, an informal group started getting together on Wednesdays and Thursdays to explore the 100 highest summits of New England. This was a faster paced group with some longer days on the trail. In August 2007, that group went over to Maine and bagged 10 4000 footers in a very fine hiking week. In August 2008, a trip to Baxter was planned and several completed their NE67 4000 footers that year with these trips to Maine as well as Vermont. Since then they have broken away from the OTHH, doing their own thing throughout the past few years so I’m sorry to say I cannot offer much information regarding those hikes.
As of 2015, many of the legendary Over the Hill Hikers have passed or have retired their boots. Tracy Ripkey started maintaining the blog, as well as a general email distribution list. Milan McNall continued to organize the winter ski and snow shoe activities, just recently passing the helm to Jane Albert in 2019. We have a great group(s) of hikers varying in ages and abilities. We continue to have over a hundred people on the email rosters and interest still grows. We enjoy two annual potlucks a year and look forward to planning an overseas hiking trip for 2020, and a hut to hut and a beginners backpacking trip in 2019.
"If you are interested in hiking with us, please send me a quick blurb about yourself, your hiking experience, and I will point you to the right direction. Happy Hiking!"
Tracy Ripkey, current Den Mother