Erik Hamilton - Freedom Found In The Hills

Erik Hamilton

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

I was introduced to the joy and allure of the high hills at the age of six when my family of adventurers would load into our 1989 Toyota Corolla each weekend to tent camp by night and hike mountains and relax lakeside by day - this would be our weekly routine for the coming 3 years until my family was broken by divorce. 

Together we fed fish our bread crumbs over lunch break, learned to split firewood, dive into shallow pools, paddle canoes and haul heavy gear into the mountains. As a family we stood on the summits of the Adirondack, Berkshire and Green Mountain’s mightiest.

Summit of Katahdin, Baxter Peak, Maine, 2019
[Summit of Katahdin, Baxter Peak, Maine, 2019]

With family and friends in the mountains, I learned at a young age to rely on my own strengths to excel and to push harder, achieving higher climbs in the mountains; fear of heights began slipping away, in a short time I began actually craving steeper cliffs, loftier views, longer pushes into the backwoods where other crowds did not traverse. 

These days I have been lucky enough to find the best hiking partners ever - brothers Boone & Crockett and Ciara, with whom I have stood reflecting in silence atop New Mexico, Arizona & Wisconsin’s high points when we took the CR-V cross-country in 2017: living the tent life, searching high and low to quench our thirst for adventure.

Among the mighty Redwoods, California, 2017
[Among the mighty Redwoods, California, 2017]

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

I became familiar with topographic maps; I could recognize a ½ x ½ bump on a map and rattle off places and who or what they were named for, I ate up all the history of the Adirondacks that I could get my hands on. 

During a hike I would become quiet, drifting softly into a tonic state of becoming aware of who had walked these very trails hundreds of years prior in search of lumber, food, shelter, or the new and elusive: steel. 

I knew the Adirondacks very well while I lived in its front yard, so when Ciara and I moved from our home in New York to test out new life in New Hampshire, I sat on the carpeted floor night after night, gradually becoming acquainted with all NEW names of places and mountains that I hoped to one day visit. 

Name after name, checking off the places I visited: the Carters, Bonds, Hancocks and Kinsmans; I became familiar with all my new friends in each season, bathing in all of their natural beauty.

Trail running in Acadia National Park, Maine, 2019
[Trail running in Acadia National Park, Maine, 2019]

But what about even further east? Had I ever been there? I think not as a child... Maine might as well have been a whole different continent away! What about Katahdin? What about these far away massifs? 

I could still recall the aroma of old books from years past - my father, the strongest climber I had ever met, whose bookshelves lined with broken spine books and countless stories of these monoliths: Everest, Lhotse, Katahdin, Denali, Hood... only REAL climbers had the guts to venture onto their slopes - or at least that is what a childhood of ascending local 4000-foot mountains had taught me!

I grew up stubborn, I also learned to be reserved, quiet, keep me to myself. Around the time of my 34th birthday, and honestly probably still riding the high a tired body manufactures for itself after 31 miles of Pemi-loop in the White Mountains, I decided to book a night at Baxter State Park.

Somewhere right around the 9am mark I found myself standing at the infamous Katahdin A-frame sign at the northern Appalachian Trail terminus. Despite thunder claps and lightning flashes that day, I stood in soaking rain feeling like I had truly found the place I belong in my life. 

A Life Among The Cloudsplitters 

The following weekends were packed with places I would visit. Learning to sleep and make food in the back of my Subaru by night and logging some high mileage treks by day. My last multi-day jaunt of 2019 took me back to Maine, visiting names like Sugarloaf, Abraham, Spaulding, the Crockers and possibly the most meaningful summit sign I had ever stood below: Redington - the last true bushwhack of the northeast four-thousand footers. 

I returned elated to our cabin in New Hampshire, with a new sense - a craving for adventure: for I had been bitten while out in those distant forests. Bitten with the desire to finish a thing. 

Upon checking the weather and coming to terms in the back of my mind that snow was indeed coming to our mountains, our trails - I made the call, which turned out to be a tremendously good call - to visit a peak that I knew much about - I had the prior two years to look at photos and read online reports in the old trail guide books of: Carrigain, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

High Rock Mt - Washington, 2017
[High Rock Mt - Washington, 2017]

Back to Bartlett, NH I drove that morning - alone and in my element I climbed while my breath resembled a steam locomotive: I saw two-thousand feet come and go, then three and four - still climbing as I hit deeper snow as now the trees grew shorter and shorter - there it was off in the distance, appearing so close as if I could nail the summit tower with a snowball, if I had one! “I’m coming for ya!” I thought nearly aloud to myself, knowing I was alone in these woods - I had no one to be, but myself. 

I sliced up that slope quicker than I once thought possible, and once again, just as my watch hand clicked over to 9am I stood there. All was calm; my breath creating the only wind atop that summit that morning, no other human could be heard or seen deep in this forest.

USGS survey marker - Mount Carrigain, 2019
[USGS survey marker - Mount Carrigain, 2019]

At 9am on the 9th of November, I stood letting nature sculpt me from 4,682 feet above sea level; for I was in that instant, the 1,013th lover of nature to successfully ascend all 115 of the four-thousand foot mountains of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. 

One chapter closed, another chapter is just now being written... But it is a waste of time to ponder over how it will end - every day we reconfigure our broken vocabulary onto the weathered pages of our ‘new chapter’ to form some understanding of who we think we are, or who we think the person sitting next to us at the coffee shop will want to read about, to say hello to, and with any luck - find a need to befriend.

Mount Redington, summit canister, 2019
[Mount Redington, summit canister, 2019]

I do not know who people want to read about, but maybe at the end of this journey... Perhaps the words that this hiker has laid down will put a smile on an otherwise dismal face. 

The person who finds no home in society can always come the mountains. 

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

There was a time that I long to forget. A time I willingly gift on to others as I pass by and advise: do not go this route, this path is a dead end: go your own way

I was out of high school with too much time on my hands and not enough time in the mountains. I dabbled in new words; words like depression, anxiety, suicide - the words grew bleak rather quickly in those years.

At 9am on the 9th of November, I stood letting nature sculpt me from 4,682 feet above sea level

In short time, I developed new habits. Habits that I shared with others. I thought these ‘others’ were ‘friends’, only because they were ‘around’. But none of us were ‘present’. Together we would plan out our evenings...  and every evening hoping to give us a good reason to be around. 

Night by night we would live for the moment, live to get high, to get low, to get drunk, to forget, and to be forgotten - and quickly repeat upon waking subsequent days, most of these days quickly growing tired of the routine and the fact that we did wake up day after day, stuck in a rut and living for each new bottle. 

I carried this daily routine and tried every trick that I could think of to hide my reality from anyone who might show an ounce of ‘care’. I couldn’t have someone around who ‘cared’ for me, they might try to ‘help’ me, and I couldn’t afford that. I wanted the routine to end, I needed an end to the monotony. 

Somehow, from left field there entered a lovely soul who walked the forest with two fuzzy companions. We met on an organized hike and continued seeking out our passions, which I disguised as adventure and my will to see new things. I mean, that was there, always.

Somehow, she learned who I was, began to know who I strived to be... I didn’t always want to be a lost cause - I once had a life worth living and now, I desperately wanted that back. 

Together we hiked in snowy trails, climbed old fire towers, sat in each other's arms along the front facades of rickety old cabins. With her I felt free; with her I felt even worse for feeling terrible in the first place. 

Day by day, with Ciara and the doggie brother duo of Boone and Crockett, I grew stronger than I ever knew myself to be. 

I found love. I found the true desire to live again!

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

A favorite “must-have” in my pack.. an answer as unique as me, I suppose. 

The revolutionary.. Plastic Bag!

But why a simple plastic bag when I could go to a local climbing store and pick off the shelf cams, ice axes, mountaineering boots, 4 season tent, SPOT person location beacon, self-heating gloves.. Why with all of the latest and greatest technology crammed into century old tried and true products on the market would I choose a plastic bag??

Safety, that’s why. After seeing the need for a plastic bag in winter and hearing the countless stories of such a mundane piece of hiking gear coming to the rescue and saving so many.. lives? Maybe, maybe not that extreme.. Feet? More likely, yes!

The one thing that I will never go hiking or trail running in the forest without is a good, durable plastic bag - or FOUR! (always nice to have an extra for a friend in need, seeing as they take up minimal space in a pack.. And are essentially weightless compared to all the other gear stuffed into our packs. 

  • Step one: Go hiking in the winter time for a most-lovely trek above tree line on a bluebird day. 
  • Step two: 3.2 miles into the trek, without even thinking because such an action is so routine, go to cross that stream. 
  • Step three: Snow bridge gives out. 
  • Step four: Your waterproof boot (great while waterproof!) sinks before you can stabilize and brace yourself. 
  • Step five: Your once waterproof boot now fills with sub-zero river water, socks become soaked. Your hike may just as well be over!
  • Step six: Relax, get to solid (hopefully flat) ground. 
  • Step seven: Remove freezing boot and sock, replace wet sock with a dry spare wool sock from your pack, preferably stored WITHIN one of your plastic bags in case you happen to slip and your pack goes underwater! 
  • Step eight: Place now dry foot with dry sock into your day-saving dry plastic bag and place back into your hopefully not frozen solid boot. 
  • Step nine: Jump for joy that you 1) just saved your toes from imminent frostbite, and 2) saved your hike and can now trek on!

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

I have learned so, so... so much over the years, for the adventurist just starting out though.. educate yourself! 

Never stop learning. Learn how to use a map and compass, learn to read and visualize topography, learn to work in a group, learn to rely solely on yourself, learn about what gear is best used for each scenario, learn about how to fuel your body, learn about geology, develop a taste for knowledge and run with it, eat up everything you can that will give you an edge in the mountains! 

One of the most important attributes I have learned to develop - and one that has helped me possibly the MOST while being in the high peaks - physical conditioning, striving to be STRONGER than the mountains will ever demand.

5 year difference, 207lb in my worst state on left - on the right Oct 2018 Mount Desert Island Marathon, Acadia National Park, Maine - Erik Hamilton
[5 year difference, 207lb in my worst state on left - on the right Oct 2018 Mount Desert Island Marathon, Acadia National Park, Maine]

As a trail runner who has toed the line of 5k’s all the way to 50mile events, running has been an outlet for me. Running, whether on road (road.. yuck!) or trail has given me an outlet for the past decade. Running is (for me at least..) a form of therapy without paying their high co-pays, a method to channel my anxiety and depression, a way of turning crippling neuro-chemicals into compounds that my body can burn clean to push myself harder, further, stronger and faster in the hills.

Just prior to ascending 13,161’ Wheeler Peak, NM high point - 5/2017
[Just prior to ascending 13,161’ Wheeler Peak, NM high point - 5/2017]

Running has helped to understand just how to breathe, how to slow my breathing down when my body says to start huffing and puffing. Running helps condition tendons and ligaments in the legs to put up with the onslaught of constant climbing or steady descending.

Vegan Power 50K - summer 2019
[Vegan Power 50K - summer 2019]

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

I have always been drawn to music, every genre (in my opinion) has a place, every form of music can conjure up different emotions, taking the listener back to a time in their lives - or music can take someone into the future, psyching them up for what is to come: I do this a lot with music before a big run, although I rarely listen to music while running these days. 

In the past year or so, my eyes (and ears) have been opening to the vast world of podcasts. I listen to them primarily while driving or walking my mile commute to or from work. Many have heard of the ultra-endurance athlete and his accomplishments through his memoir Finding Ultra; Rich Roll has one of the most incredible journeys of transformation that I have ever read. 

Upon being introduced to his book, I found the Rich Roll Podcast to be highly influential with guests such as medical doctors, dieticians, mountain adventurers, endurance athletes, public figures, basically anyone who promotes all-around well-being. 

Of course, I cannot mention “influential” without thinking of Scott Jurek. I live 2.5 miles from the Appalachian Trail and became deeply touched by Jurek’s book North, where he recounts his 2,178 mile adventure, shattering the speed-record for the long distance hiking trail. 

There is a picture of Jurek in the back of the book running across a ledge; I frequent this same ledge at least once each month and every time I do, I cannot help but dig up this image and in doing so... reminds me of what amazing souls have come before me and graced these rocks with their energy. 

These two men (there are SO many more to mention!) remind me that a person can transform and crawl their way out of any rut and accomplish incredible feats... feats that friends and family may say are a waste of time - to not give up, and see your idea through to fruition, one never knows what will come from trying something new.. we cannot know, I suppose, until we try!

Where’s your next adventure?

Typically each year, Ciara and I try to have one decently big adventure - big in any sense of the word: the amount of planning and logistics required, food to prepare, travel required to access trailheads, difficulty to accomplish - many factors go into how we choose to prioritize our “to-do” list. 

This year for 2020 we have decided on an adventure that both of us have longed to attempt, dreamt of, and watched documentaries of, drooling over the rugged miles all the while! The Long Trail and all of its ~274 miles is more or less in our backyard (as compared to the Pacific Crest Trail that brings up a steep #2 on our ‘to-do’ list!). 

During 2019, our bigger adventure took us back to the Adirondack mountains for a (advertised 130mi, my GPS watch tracked 153mi with trail re-routes, flooding, bushwhacking..) nine-day thru hike of the Northville Placid Trail.

Mount Madison, Presidential Traverse, 2018
[Mount Madison, Presidential Traverse, 2018]

With this adventure, we became deeply hooked and adored all aspects of the trail lifestyle. The ability to carry everything one needs for weeks away from society is an incredible feeling, and one that we immediately missed the instant that our transport picked us up from the northern terminus. 

This year we again plan on dehydrating and creating all of our own plant-based meals and energy bars - much cheaper than buying ‘off the shelf’ backpacking meals, plus we both enjoy knowing/seeing how we fuel our bodies!

Erik & Ciara, May 2019, Northern Terminus - Northville Placid Trail, Adirondacks, NY; Nine days, 153 miles
[Erik & Ciara, May 2019, Northern Terminus - Northville Placid Trail, Adirondacks, NY; Nine days, 153 miles]

This year we are planning on allowing ourselves at least one “zero-day”, a day of no, or next-to-no travel, if we find a lean-to on a lake or somewhere nice that we would like to stay and relax, we will allot time for that, or perhaps if the weather is crummy, we can take a day to lay around journalling, reading, planning our next moves over our topographic maps or just stretching and meditating! 

Follow along our journey either on our blog: - or on Instagram @ehamilton9481 and @ciaragroesbeck

Where can others learn more about you?

Curious about fueling your body with plant-based ingredients? Want to run a marathon... Or further but don’t know where to start? Do you want to experience the freedom of the mountains? 

Instagram - @ehamilton9481

Email -

Blog/website -

Erik Hamilton Signature

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