Summit lists got their start in the northeast United States in 1918 when a young Bob Marshall set out with his brother to climb the 46 highest peaks in New York's Adirondacks; Marshall's proto-list of high peaks became officially known by the 1930s as the Adirondack 46ers. The Appalachian Mountain Club soon followed with its own list of 46 4,000 footers in New Hampshire (now 48 peaks) officially designated a thing in 1957. The AMC's "New England 4,000-Footers" and "New England 100 Highest" lists are just slightly older and incorporate the highest summits in greater northern New England. A few other lists were added in the latter 20th century (notably 52 With A View) but pervasive "list-ism", in terms of raw popularity of the practice, and the proliferation of lists, really didn't take off until the early 21st century.
In the northeast we now have lists dedicated to the high peaks of the Catskills above 3,500 feet in elevation (33 summits), the Adirondack Firetower Challenge (for those who like to climb things that sit atop other things), the 52 With A View list (created to honor the wonders of sub-4,000 foot summits in New Hampshire) and the New Hampshire Trailwrights 72 list (which includes mandatory trail work as a requirement--shouldn't they all?). For the OCD-inclined there are now "Grid" lists, which require that you hike each of the peaks in a previously established summit list once in every month of the year. "Gridding" started off with the New Hampshire 4,000 footers and has quickly metastasized to include other lists. Then there is "Redlining", which could more aptly be called "trailbagging" (now called "tracing" in certain circles to differentiate it from the term's superficial resemblance to the completely unrelated but evil economic practice of "Redlining") where you hike all the trails contained within a particular hiking guidebook and highlight them on a map or fill out a spreadsheet to keep track. And there are lots of "off the radar" lists that lack formal recognition (at least for the moment) but which have an increasing base of devotees: county high point lists, town high points lists, range lists, 3,000 footers lists, 2,000 footers lists, etc.
Recent lists of this ilk include the Saranac Six, the Maine 4,000 Footers, the Go North 9ers, the Camden 10, the Forest Society's "Reservation Challenge" --among others. The sadomasochists have also jumped on the bandwagon by grouping several popular high--mileage popular traverses and shorter summit lists into an extreme "ultra" hiking challenge--where you have to do each item within a 24 hour period, hopefully without peeing blood secondary to a NSAID overdose or bonking from electrolyte depletion. The acronym "FKT" (Fastest Known Time) has become popular among those seeking their temporal 5-minutes of fame by doing this or that list in record time over a season, a year, a 24 hour cycle, or whilst hopping on one leg, crawling to the summit, or hiking it all naked or backward-- or whatever else hasn't been done before (I am waiting patiently --no pun intended-- for the pop-culture fad of FKT to fade and the SKT star to rise. In my mind, SKT and "reverse ultras" are a heck of a lot more challenging--go ahead, think through it).
On top of all that, there are both official and unofficial winter-season lists of many of the above. Many list officials will also offer you a patch and cert for your dog--as if your dog really cares about hiking patches and you aren't really living vicariously through your dog by it.
The listing phenomenon is not limited to New England of course--you can collect lists from other states and foreign nations, and if you add in completion lists for long distance trails (there are ultras rights to those too, where you do more than one in a year) you'll be busy for the next ten reincarnations--provided your karma doesn't favor a return as a domesticated goat. I fully expect these lists to proliferate such to the extent that the gravity of the available patches sewn or glued to your backpack will someday weigh more than the pack itself plus essential contents.
Of course you don't need to subscribe to any of these lists to enjoy hiking in all its goodness. And there is nothing stopping you from creating your own, personally meaningful list of destinations. Why be so imposed upon then? My friend John Clark (currently doing the White Mountains Grid) likes to remind me that peakbagging is what motivates him to get out of the bed on weekend mornings. Not a few people I know do need that structure. Others do it for a variety of reasons, some rational and wholesome (comradery among peers, a sense of accomplishment, the psychological reward of closure, or because they already hiked the prettiest mountains, 90% of them happen to be list peaks and why the heck not do the last few) and some questionable (peer pressure, social media smackheadery, anorexia athletica, or failure of imagination). It's the case that people will either evolve or devolve through the experience of hiking: a list itself is a neutral thing (I like to think more hikers tend to evolve than devolve but perusing hiking social media makes makes me doubt in humanity).
Given all the lists out there to choose from, and the lack of enough time in your short lifespan (even if you are a trust-funder or couch-surfing dirtbag hiker), it makes sense to choose wisely. One might chose to favor lists that are uncommon or interesting in creative ways (as the original ADK 46er and AMC White Mountains 4,000 footers lists were uniquely so back in the day). In that respect, the Terrifying 25 list (T25) really stands out.
Not only are the trails challenging, they are also some of the most scenic and interesting trails in the White Mountains. Take for instance the Subway--a trail that passes underground through boulder caves, or the Table Rock Trail, with its finger of skinny stone dangling over the remote harrow of Dixville Notch.
To get the comical T25 patch you have to hike 20 core trails plus 5 out of 14 "elective" trails on the list. The rest of the rules are clean, no-bullshit: no catering to egos ("Hike this list for fun and adventure, not for record-breaking or bragging rights. . . there won't be any public announcements of who's the youngest, oldest, fastest, slowest, etc. person to finish the list"), no dog patches ("dogs don't care one iota about lists, patches, or any other silly human status marker"), no winter patches (some of the trails are technical ice climbs in winter. . .and the list is intended to be non-technical), and no fuss about how you get to the start of the trail (you could, for instance, drive the Mount Washington Auto Road to get to the top of the trails that originate in the Great Gulf, and hike down from there--"cheating" by most list standards).
There is something inherently refreshing about a hiking list that is centered squarely around fun and exploration and which statedly resists being co-opted into a retentive status contest, even as those seeking status will surely collect the patch as a notch-in-the-belt and brag on social media about how badass they were in conquering the Terrifying 25. So be it--you can ask people to be lighthearted but you can't expect it. For myself, just contemplating the silly T25 patch reminds me of how silly and miniscule my own ego ranks in the face of geologic time and the eon-spurning, cloud-crowned mountains: still beautiful, mysterious, demanding, and god-like even after my 30+ years of obsessive hiking. I'm not but a jester dancing at their feet.
Given that hiking lists are popular and will continue to proliferate, I propose that we come up with more fun lists like the Terrifying 25. Consider it a challenge: enter your proposals in the comments below. --Paul-William