Slater on Bondcliff
December 20, 2021

Slater achieves peak performance

Instructor in history and social science Donald Slater joins New Hampshire’s Four Thousand Footer Club
by Nancy Hitchcock

More than 15,000 people have summited all 48 of New Hampshire’s tallest mountains, each 4,000 feet or higher, and earned membership in the Four Thousand Footer Club, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club. Instructor in history and social science Donald Slater, an avid outdoorsman, recently completed his final 14 peaks and joined the club in October. Although the aspiration involved many challenges—climbing dangerous precipices, enduring extreme weather, and testing one’s physical stamina—Slater hadn’t expected an additional obstacle: he had a heart attack in February 2021 at the age of 42.

One of Slater’s first thoughts during recovery—after worrying about his family and his mortality—was whether he’d be able to hike again. “I love hiking. It’s one of the things that refreshes me,” says Slater. “There’s no place I feel happier than being up in the mountains. I’m at peace there. I just love being in the outdoors.”

Slater (center) with his family on Mt. Cannon

Slater knew that after his heart attack, if he was going to accomplish his goal, he needed to be in top physical condition, so he committed to healthy eating habits and lost more than 40 pounds. As soon as he was strong enough, Slater set off for the mountains again this past summer and, by October, had stood atop each of the 14 peaks he had left to summit on the list of 48. For his final summit, he selected Cannon Mountain so that he and his wife, Beth, could hike up and meet his parents, two daughters, sister, and nieces at the top—they would be traveling by tram. Although the weather didn’t allow for spectacular views that day, Slater and his family delighted in the accomplishment.

“It was emotional when I first got to the actual summit,” recalls Slater. “It felt like a special moment for sure. It was nice to have [family] up there to celebrate with me. It was a joyous occasion.”

Completion of the 48 peaks involved hiking a total of 300 miles, a total elevation gain of 104,650 feet, an 18.4-mile round-trip day hike to the summit of Owl’s head, and the most summits in one overnight hike—six. Some hikes were accomplished alone, some with friends and family; many with good friend Mark Cutler, instructor in Spanish and director of Learning in the World; and some with students and faculty on adventures with the Outdoor Pursuits program, which Slater directs.

The White Mountains are Slater’s happy place. “I love hiking solo, I love hiking with one or two buddies, and I love taking big groups of students. All of it,” he states. “Each of those different scenarios makes for very different hikes, but they’re all so much fun in their own way.”

One of the most challenging treks, recalls Slater, was a November night-hike to the Carter Notch hut with biology instructor Christine Marshall and students in Outdoor Pursuits. After spending the night in the hut, the group bundled up the next morning and climbed to the summit of Carter Dome and Mt. Hight—to find themselves pummeled by winds whipping at 40 miles an hour. “After a frigid night in the hut, it was a very steep and taxing run up to Carter Dome. It certainly challenged the students and us. And then having the big winds up at the summit, it felt like we dealt with many extreme circumstances, which led to a sense of high accomplishment for everyone.”

One particularly memorable hike was an overnight solo trek of 20-plus miles that took Slater to three remote summits above treeline—Mount Bond, West Bond, and Bondcliff [pictured at top of page]. “I had all three summits to myself, which was amazing,” enthuses Slater. “There was not another soul around. I saw a couple of people en route, but once I got to the summits, it was just me. I was watching the sunset from West Bond when a little rainstorm came in. It created this spectacular play of light in the sky, and then a big rainbow popped out arching over Mount Bond. It was one of those special times where you’re just out by yourself witnessing the grandeur of the wilderness.”

Slater (far right) with Outdoor Pursuits on Mt. Lafayette

On the path to accomplishing the 48 4,000-footers, Slater, who has taught and worked at Andover for about 20 years, enjoyed spectacular views, dramatic foliage, and camaraderie with friends, family, and the PA community. He also points out that he is just one of many in the PA community to be a member of the Four Thousand Footer Club; others on the roster include faculty members Lisa Svec, Jill Meyer, Paige Roberts, and Matt Lisa; Lisa’s sons James ’23 and Cristofano ‘25; and alumni Abigail Johnson ’19, and Nick Letendre ’24.

What’s next on Slater’s horizon? There are numerous other mountains to tackle—the 67 4,000-footers in New England that include mountains in Vermont and Maine, the “Terrifying 25,” and the “52 With a View,” for instance. “There’s plenty more great hiking to do in New Hampshire and elsewhere in New England,” says Slater. “The whole quest is a celebration of the outdoors. It’s glorious just to be up in the mountains.”

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