The story of the Over The Hill Hikers - a group of retirees in their 50s and 60s who moved to the small town of Sandwich, NH in the late 1970s - brought together a group of people who would quickly become close friends. They all gathered in Sandwich, drawn from around the country - and even London - by a deep love and respect for the mountains and a newly shared passion for hiking. Their outings began fairly modestly in 1979 with a leisurely hike to Great Falls for a picnic. Eventually they would move on to more challenging peaks in the nearby Sandwich Range and further north in the White Mountains.
Originally, the group was organized in a somewhat loose fashion but all that changed with the arrival in Sandwich of Elizabeth MacGregor Crooker, a retired school teacher and her late husband Charlie, a preacher, in 1981. Better known as Lib Bates (after marrying orthopedic surgeon Frank Bates after Charlie passed in 1994), she stepped in to organize events and grow the informal organization beyond its local Sandwich roots. Her introduction, motivation and leadership - which made her affectionately known as the "Den Mother" - brought a unique bond and new sense of community to the group. It was at this point they became the Over The Hill Hikers.
Lib was the daughter of one of the first AMC hutmasters, Red MacGregor, and grew up hiking the mountains of New Hampshire with her father. Her first "hike" was as a toddler to Carter Notch, carried in an Adirondack basket by Red. As leader of the OTHH, she was eager to show her new friends what the mountains had to offer. Under her guidance, the group was reborn in a sense and blossomed.
Tuesday was the day settled upon for hiking, and they kept up a frantic pace, bagging the NH 4,000 Footers while also adding in overnights at AMC huts and ski trips. In the mid-80s, they ventured outside of New Hampshire to Mt. Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park. They would later make excursions into Vermont's Green Mountains and the Adirondacks in New York, tackle the Maine 4,000 Footers, visit Montana and even hike in the Alps. The group had swelled to over 100 people, many of whom have climbed the NH 4000 Footers multiple times, some doing so over the age of 70. Today, a few members continue to pursue the grid and the ambitious goal of redlining all the trails in the AMC White Mountain Guide.
By 1991, with so many amazing accomplishments under the group's belt, Lib began thinking about what might be next, and started researching peaks which fell short of the 4,000 ft. mark but which could also be added to that list to create an even 100 peaks. Initially, there was a decision to either keep these additional hikes local to the Sandwich area or to extend them statewide. The latter won out. It was around this time that the AMC Hundred Highest list was being worked on by ardent peakbaggers, but many of the peaks on that list had no trailed access and no view. Lib proposed a new list which consisted only of peaks with a trail and a view. The destinations were then plotted out and organized by decreasing elevation, starting at the highest end with 3,993 ft. Sandwich Dome then moving down to the lowest peak, 2,532 ft. Hedgehog Mountain. These mountains truly spanned the entire state as far south as Mt. Monadnock up to the furthest reaches of the North Country and Magalloway Mountain.
The 52 With A View list had been born.
One day in 1997, at the age of 78, Lib made the difficult decision to step down from her role as leader and organizer. She found she was slowing down, her first husband had died, and other demands outside of the group were taking up more of her time. The group carried on however, following a strict list of duties she had compiled which was entitled, "how the work gets done".
While Lib was out of the leadership role, she still continued to hike, although at a slower pace than her quicker friends. In ill health by 2010, an oxygen tank was her constant companion, but even this didn't stop her from hitting the trails - she devised a pack which would hold two oxygen bottles so she could keep at it.
In 2011, Lib passed away, but she left behind a legacy and a sense of camaraderie amongst friends that has remained unsurpassed. The Over The Hill hikers still get out there today, carrying on in the spirit instilled by their original Den Mother. For the rest of us, we have the good fortune to hike to the beautiful destinations selected by her and described in this guide, for which I am personally very grateful.
"Mountain trails feel like home to me." -- Lib Bates