Meet Seek the Peak Steward Chris Nichols

By MWOBS Staff

Mount Washington Observatory’s largest fundraising event, Seek the Peak, has long encouraged participants to seek their peak by picking a walk in the woods of their choosing, whether in the White Mountains or their backyard, while raising funds for the organization’s research, education, and everyday operations.

It is a great honor and pleasure to learn about the individuals who make this event an immense success year after year and the stories behind their involvement. For some, it is about getting together with friends and family in the great Granite State; for others, it is about setting a personal goal to explore their region; and for many, it is about meeting others in the outdoor community who also have an affinity for Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest peak.

For some participants, it’s a mix of some of the above, but every year, Seek the Peak participants never fail to make it their own.

Chris Nichols, a husband, father, and grandfather from Massachusetts, climbed Mount Washington for the first time in 1978 with his Boy Scout Troop. Many years later, on a summer vacation in North Conway in 2005, he had the familiar feeling of longing to “get back into the woods.” The following year, he began tackling the 4,000 footers. It was on a Mount Washington hike in 2008 with his younger brother when Chris learned about Seek the Peak and wanted to get involved.

“2009 was my first year participating in the Seek the Peak, and I have participated every year since,” he said.

Chris at the summit during last year’s Seek the Peak.

Chris’ alignment with the Observatory stems from his interest in engineering, weather science, and climate research. “The consistency with which the Observatory has tracked weather and climate information for more than 90 years provides a historical record of the changing climate and will help lead to insights on how we can change things for the better,” he said. “Science for science sake has led to many of the things we take for granted today, and the unfettered ability to follow a question to its end without a need to turn a profit often leads to knowledge that benefits everyone. From my perspective, there aren’t a lot of enterprises left who do research just because. ”

Over the years, Chris has gotten together with friends, family, and sometimes just himself for unforgettable hut hikes, sunrises, socked-in views, surprise news crews, and memories with loved ones no longer with us.

“In 2011, I started doing STP with members of my family and some friends,” he said. “My oldest Son Jacob climbed with me many times, along with my older Brother Geoff and his kids, my niece, my wife, and assorted other friends.”

The Nichols Clan is one of the top fundraising teams for the event, last year raising a whopping $17,000 to help the Observatory reach its goal.

“In 2018, I climbed with my brother Geoff, his son Philip, and our niece Danyelle.  Geoff passed away from a sudden heart attack on September 11, 2018.  He was 56. The 2018 Seek the Peak was the last time I saw him. Geoff was an avid hiker and backpacker and lived in North Conway.”

Chris and family for Seek the Peak 2018.

The following year, Chris and a large group hiked from Lakes of the Clouds hut at 3:00 am to summit for sunrise, spread ashes, and celebrate Geoff’s life.

Chris has hiked Mount Washington just about every year for Seek the Peak (he hiked the Kinsman’s in 2020 during the pandemic), 16 Mount Washington summits in total, and has taken just about every path to get there (all except Huntington Ravine). This year, now retired, he is taking on sections of the Appalachian Trail while hiking more 4,000-footers.

“I love hiking in the White Mountains and feel a great deal of peace when I am alone in the woods,” Nichols explains. “What better way to bring attention to the Observatory than to walk a path that passes within yards of the Observatory itself?”

Chris shared that he has survived two bouts with Thyroid Cancer, the last of which (in 2020) resulted in a paralyzed left vocal cord. “They consider me cured of Thyroid Cancer at this point and my voice has been stable since my last surgery in early 2022.” You can learn more about Chris and his journey here.

What advice does he have for aspiring Seek the Peakers?

“You need to know your limits, and understand that getting to a summit is just half the trip,” Nichols says. “I’ve always believed that anyone who sets their mind to it can climb Mount Washington, but training determines how you feel the next day.”

To prepare, Chris tries to hike a few smaller mountains in months/weeks leading up to Seek the Peak weekend, a few suggestions including Pack Monadnock, Mount Monadnock, and Kearsarge South.

“These days,” Chris continues, “Seek the Peak offers lots of options to mix with a group of like-skilled hikers, and a real beginner should consider taking advantage of one of those groups.”

As for fundraising tips, “you just have to be willing to ask people and make sure you send out a few reminders,” Nichols suggests. “People are busy and one email in the hundreds most get every day can easily get lost.” He also suggests helping people draw connections to the event, such as with pictures of prior hikes and trail discussions.

Join us in cheering on Chris for this incredible adventure. To follow along on his hikes, visit his YouTube channel. We’ll also be posting updates from Chris on our channels so stay tuned, and consider a contribution to his Seek the Peak fundraiser here. We wish Chris the best on his adventure!

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