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Happy to Be Here: Record set in the highest heights

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Ending summer vacation satisfied that the time was well spent is one thing. Ending it after reaching the crest of many mountains is another.

Zane Wasicko did just that this summer. He completed a direttissima (Italian for “shortest link”) an unsupported direct climb to the summit of a mountain up the fall line from the valley base to the top. The climber ascends the mountain in a more “direct” way than on the standard path.

Between graduation from George School and entering Western Colorado University this week, Wasicko, a Buckingham resident, completed the White Mountains Direttissima, a solo, unsupported hike of the 48 peaks of the White Mountains, which are 4,000 feet high or higher. The mountains are known for “the world’s worst weather.”

“It’s bushwacking,” Zane said during a visit to the Herald. “no paths, no one route. I had to map it out.” He spent last September to January creating a digital map. Then he uploaded it to his phone.

“It was pretty astounding once I got into it,” he said. “It was plan, plan, plan.” He researched how much food he would need and designed his backpack to hold the food and supplies and warm clothing that would support him on the trek. He could not resupply at any point and he could not have a hiking partner – no companions, none of the alpine huts hikers use in the White Mountains. A company in New Jersey built the backpack he specified.

“It’s very physically demanding,” Zane said and that was an understatement. A distance runner in high school, he had significant preparation for the hike.

The biggest challenge is the wind on Mount Washington, the highest peak in Northeastern United States at 6,288 feet, and part of the super-windy Presidential Range. Zane had to cross Madison, Adams and Jefferson on his way to Mount Washington, “threading a needle.”

Zane knew a storm was coming and he had to reach the summit of Mount Washington before the storm so he set his pace at 18 hours a day. The wind was blowing at 80 miles an hour when he got there. He held on to a rock to avoid being blown away. “It was humbling,” he said in another understatement. “The outcome was out of my control.”

Above the tree line, hikers like Zane, walking with two metal poles, are prone to lightning strikes so the next move was to get below the tree line. He pushed to get there. “Then I felt I had made it,” he said.

Zane started hiking the Appalachian Trail with his father, John Paul (JP), a special education teacher, when he was 12 years old. They began with weekend hikes – later they completed the Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania in summers and spring breaks, then the New Jersey section and eventually the 14 states of the entire trail, Virginia through Harper’s Ferry, and ending in Georgia. “We summited Mount Katahdin in Maine last August to complete the 2,193-mile trail,” JP said.

Zane got the idea to hike the White Mountains last summer while he and his father were on the Appalachian Trail through New Hampshire. This summer, to prepare for the challenging White Mountains Direttissima, father and son completed the 165-mile section of the Long Trail in Vermont in late June.

“Since the White Mountains, Mount Washington in particular, have very extreme weather, Zane tracked weather reports for weeks prior to his attempt,” his father said.

“On July 5, he began what would be an approximate 230-mile hike over eight days 10 hours and 11 minutes. Few people have completed an unsupported White Mountains Direttissima, and just shy of his 18th birthday, Zane was the youngest person on record to have completed it.” Zane turned 18 on July 21.

JP put the climb in perspective: “The White Mountains are considered by hikers to be some of the most challenging mountains in the U.S. During his hike, he experienced 157,000 feet of elevation change from ascents and descents. This is roughly the equivalent of summiting and descending Mount Everest from sea level 2.5 times. His longest single day of hiking during the trip was 37.5 miles.”

It’s not surprising that Zane will major in geology, specifically geospatial analysis, in college. He says his strongest subject is math and he demonstrates an abundance of fortitude too.


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