Not long ago, photos on social media started popping up about a “grid” challenge. The pictures were being shared by Caet Cash, a hiking guide, van lifer and accomplished long-distance backpacker who has completed thru-hikes of both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
After spending some time on Cash’s Instagram feed and seeing photographs of her at various stages of exhaustion and exhilaration (often both), as well as reading the detailed captions of her adventures, we decided to catch up with Cash and learn a little more about gridding.
So What Exactly Is Gridding?
Gridding involves climbing multiple peaks, multiple times a year in a specific area. It’s not a new sport. Hikers have been repeating summits for as long as they have been hiking. Over the past 10 years, gridding has become more popular, especially among popular peak bagging lists of the Northeast – such as the White Mountain 4,000 Footers. The South Beyond 6,000 Feet Challenge’s (SB6K) roots actually go back to 1968 and credit goes to the Tennessee Eastman Recreation Hiking Club (now called the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club). “The grid isn’t a hiking project,” says Cash. “It’s a challenge of balance.” And by balance, she means work, bagging the necessary peaks per month, rest and life in general.
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What Are the Specifics of the SB6K?
The specific grid that Cash is pursuing is 40 columns wide (the number of peaks) and 12 rows deep (months in a year). Her challenge has been dubbed the SB6K or, as she calls it, the Southern Sixers, both of which are short for the South Beyond 6,000 Challenge.
The Southern Sixers, as the name suggests, takes place in the South Appalachian Mountains (that’s App-a-latch-in to you non-Southerners). In other words, she’s attempting to hike to the top of 40 (6,000-foot) peaks once a month for a total of 480 summits in a year. She started her grid in July 2019 and her anticipated date of completion is June 2020. The reward for her completion of the grid? The knowledge that she will be the first person to complete a single-year grid in the SB6K. Oh, and there’s also a patch involved.
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What Makes the SB6K Challenge Unique?
For starters, you have to hike a minimum of five miles with a minimum of 5,000 feet of elevation gain to count a peak. You also have to document which route you took. “It ends up being a lot of paperwork,” says Cash. Her sister, also an accomplished hiker, is helping her with the paperwork which is being cataloged via a spreadsheet. Ergo, the grid.
In addition to the distance and elevation requirements, hikers attempting this particular grid also have to bushwack. (It’s exactly what it sounds like.) For the uninitiated it involves wading through dead and downed trees and navigating to the summit without an actual trail or trail markers. She estimates that about one half (22 out of 40) of the peaks she bags each month require bushwacking. Whereas most would think this is scary, Cash finds it super rewarding and empowering.
What Motivates Her to Pursue the SB6K Challenge?
Cash lists Philip Carcia as someone who has motivated her because he recently completed his own gridding challenge in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. She originally was going to complete the grid over several years time but was so inspired by Philip that she decided to go for the SB6K in one single year. And Cash is not the only one who was inspired by Carcia. She notes that Melissa Adamo, another Asheville-based hiker, was also inspired by Carcia and is also attempting a single year grid of SB6K.
At the time of this story, Cash has roughly seven more months to go in the SB6K grid. Winter will present a big challenge both physically and logistically. She’s concerned that the access to the trails she’s been hiking will close up with the impending season. (Even though she’s located in the Southeast, many of the roads that she will have to travel will close and make getting to trailheads even more difficult.) Nevertheless, her outlook is full of optimism and she shows no signs of stopping.
Cash is documenting her trip because she loves the area and wants to get more people into the mountains in the southeast. The idea actually came to her as she was wrapping up an adventure in the Smokies where she hiked every single trail in the park. (The term for hiking every single trail in an area is called “redlining” in case you want to learn more about that.)
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“Thru-hiking and redlining showed me the possibilities of the southeast, but gridding is showing me its depth,” says Cash. “Re-hiking these peaks every month, in every season, in good conditions or bad, has given me a greater sense of place than I could ever have imagined.”
You can follow her attempt to grid the SB6K Challenge on Instagram at @woodswomyn.
Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are based in Asheville, North Carolina, but are currently traveling the country in their van. You can follow along with their adventures at Authentic Asheville.