By Doug Ireland
---- — Scott Delaney of Windham has hiked many mountains over the last 20 years, scaling each of New Hampshire’s four dozen 4,000-foot-high peaks.
So has his dog Morgan.
But few hikes are as emotional for the Windham Fire Department lieutenant and his firefighting comrades as the annual Flags on the 48 memorial hike in the White Mountains. The hike is held in memory of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Delaney, fellow Windham fire Lt. Jay Moltenbrey and Lt. Craig Lemire, Adam Newbery and Jared Whalen of the Salem Fire Department were among those who hiked Mount Adams and Mount Madison on Saturday.
They braved heavy gusts, rain, sleet and a wind chill of about 10 degrees to pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who died, including many members of their profession. The firefighters plant an American flag on each summit.
Each year, it’s a rewarding, but thought-provoking experience, Delaney said. Moltenbrey and Whalen agreed it can be an emotional hike.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to think about it,” Moltenbrey said.
Delaney, 49, has participated in the hike, now in its 13th year, since 2008. Moltenbrey, 45, has done it since 2009.
“There were 343 firefighters who died that day.” Delaney said. “We never not think about it when we do the hike.”
The five local firefighters were joined by at least 20 friends and family members. Morgan and Moltenbrey’s dog, Fenway, also took part.
One of the highlights of each hike is relaxing after each to enjoy the majestic view from the mountaintop, including the flags on each summit, the Windham firefighters said.
They usually see about 17 flags, Delaney said.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “You look around and see flags everywhere.”
But this year, the stormy weather made it impossible to see the flags and the view.
The inclement weather made the approximately nine-hour hike to both summits tougher than usual, Delaney said. They were prepared, dressing for the bitter cold weather they would encounter.
“The conditions were pretty challenging,” said Whalen, a 34-year-old Sandown resident.
Whalen said thinking about those who sacrificed their lives on Sept. 11 made the tough trek in the sleet and strong wind more bearable.
“When you are hiking, you think about why you are hiking,” he said.
The group first tackled the 5,793-foot Mount Adams — the second tallest mountain in the Northeast after Mount Washington. They then climbed Mount Madison, which is 5,367 feet, Delaney said.
For Delaney, perhaps his proudest moment was when Morgan — a 7-year-old black Lab/hound mix — finished scaling Mount Madison. It meant she had climbed all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot-plus summits.
“The highlight of this hike for me was having my dog make her (48th hike),” he said.
The event, which began with a hike of Mount Liberty in 2001, has grown to include hundreds of hikers each year, according to organizer Chris Oberg.