Archives - July, 2010



30 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

If a picture paints a thousand words then this video montage of our Mt. Hale ascent tells a fair bit about the Mighty Quinn’s magnificence. Team 2020 is very proud of all aspects of the day’s accomplishments. Personally, I think there is a great progression of how to enhance the appreciation of an experience. Words are enhanced by pictures, which are in turn enhanced by video. I certainly find that living the experience is the most incredible part of the process, but I hope the following video gives you a feel for our fun and fortune on this day!

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26 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

Team 2020 doing a virtual High 5 to their fans at the summit of Hale.

As I settle into the electronic world to share our excursion details, I’m tremendously buoyed by the feeling of full accomplishment. This was our second official hike for 2020 Vision Quest, and while Washington was a great and successful experience, it was not a full success – as we “only” completed the impressive ascent of the mountain. This time, we conquered both the up and the down and can now name Hale as our first officially-completed peak in our quest for the 48.

Sunday morning looked ominous. Tracy reported to me that our drive through Franconia Notch was enshrouded in storm clouds, and the pelting rain on the roof had me concerned. We reached the Zealand Road trailhead early as intermittent rain fell on a less-overcast sky. I reviewed the trail description one final time and – just as the rain tapered off – we heard the sounds of several cars approaching.

Randy lunches on the summit of Mt. Hale

It is amazing how our isolation, alone in early-morning quiet at the trailhead, transformed into a high-energy group laden with anticipatory excitement. This experience, like most hikes, was likely to change and strengthen our friendships. It is precisely this transition and community bonding that I particularly enjoy. The trail offers plenty of time for introspective personal growth, and an equal measure of understanding the social growth and dynamics of the people with whom I’m fortunate to share the experience.

We headed up the trail, and I quickly found that it suited my hiking style well. Quinn’s guidance was inspired, and at our first short break, there were some jovial complaints about the speed of my pace. Kevin even quipped that I was a “Hiking Shark,” having lured him in with talk of being a slow hiker. There were certainly challenges to slow me down, though the better understanding of them I’ve been gaining over the past few hikes, and the steady improvements Quinn has made, led to overall quick and strong hiking.

Randy & Tracy on summit of Hale

Randy & Tracy at the summit of Mt. Hale.

There were some tremendous birch trees along the route, and I remembered that in 1903, much of this mountain and many surrounding mountainsides were ravaged by fire. Birch trees are among the earliest growths, so those great trees we encountered on the trail likely started growing in 1904; just over 100 years of age. The birch tree, which delivers the name White Mountains, is so young and yet so old. It’s one of many reflections I treasured along the hike.

The summit transition was swift and redolent, from slight forest humidity to the open and wind-cooled, grassy peak. The summit was a great celebration as the overcast sky eased enough to give us ideal conditions to enjoy a lunch – not to mention the humor of having achieved this summit several hours faster than anticipated. It gave us time to relax and enjoy our accomplishment as a group, knowing we had eradicated our challenge of time to summit. We took many photographs, told a few stories, and shared some time with other infrequent visitors to our mountaintop. We had the luxury of spending an hour together in such fine spirits before stretching well-worked muscles and returning down the Hale Brook Trail.

RandyRocksHaleChicks

Jenifer (Hale hike leader), Randy, and K atop the cairn on Mt. Hale.

The descent was slower but not tremendously so. The section of trail that is very narrow with a perilous drop off was challenging, since this time the drop was on my right, which meant Quinn could not shield me from it with his body. Quinn, as a guide dog, is always on my left side and my use of the Trekker Pole on my right side was mostly impossible due to the steep edge. Quinn was very cautious, and we took our time to navigate the slippery surfaces of wet rock and root, which were less challenging when climbing up.

While climbing down, I recollected considerable portions of the trail, such that predicting the switchbacks and first stream crossings gave me real familiarity with my terrain and my journey. This comforting knowledge helped inspire me through each section and gave me the mental freedom to converse more than many other hikes would allow. By the final stretch, where we were at full speed again, I could not help but appreciate how complete and successful an experience we had enjoyed on this mountain. Hale is our first official success in the quest for the 48. I successfully climbed several others before launching 2020 Vision Quest, but this was the project’s first full success. I will savor the accomplishment, along with the companionship of the people who shared the journey with me.

There will be many more mountains and many variations of Team 2020 ahead. I look forward to all of them, for each trip is distinctive in the challenge and reward. I will, however, fondly recall this group and Mt. Hale as the first of them all.

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26 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

While there are still many challenges to face with regard to accessibility awareness and education, the world I reside in is tremendously better for the foundation of understanding provided by the passing of the ADA.

NEDS on Mt. Hale

Team 2020 and the NEDS banner at the summit of Mt. Hale 7/25/10

As such, I give a hearty thank you to the people who enacted such a policy, and to all those who help ensure my freedoms are better in the proper application of reasonable accommodations. Though there is more work to do, I personally wish to celebrate the progress already achieved on this momentous date!

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23 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

Randy, as a blind person, what exactly is the thrill you get from the hiking to the summit of a mountain?

I understand the dubious nature of that question even when posed by my well-intentioned friends. It is difficult for most sighted folks to fully comprehend my world without sight. I certainly did not and could not grasp the thought when I had vision. In my imagination, my idea of being blind was neither worse nor better than it actually is, just inaccurate.RandyQuinnFalls

It isn’t that my other senses are any better than before I went blind. It’s that I pay better attention to my other senses now. In doing so, I have learned a little more of the language of scent, sound, touch, and taste. The enhancement that this new ‘language’ brings to all my experiences is astounding. Vision can be splendid and awe-inspiring, especially when considering the scenic views of nature found in the White Mountains. Vision can also be a distraction, hiding away some other hidden sensory gem of an experience.

In a poem entitled Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant wrote, “To him who in the love of nature holds / Communion with her visible forms, she speaks / A various language” I’m still getting better at appreciating the ”various language” of nature, but try to imagine some of this with me. The babbling brook is easy to hear and visualize, as is the rushing roar of a waterfall. Those experiences are powerful, single-sense perceptions. Standing on a trail and pausing for a rest, you feel the wind caressing your skin as it cools the moisture on your brow. The air carries upon it the scent of pine and the sound of branches rustling in the same breeze – not just the sound of the wind moving one branch or one tree but an entire forest in a symphony of subtle sound. With practice, you can even tell much about the type of forest within which all of this exists. In appreciation, a deep breath pleases the palette with crisp and fresh air – rife with flavor lost to a mind distracted by the stimulus of sight. If that sounds incredible, it is. Each trip, I encounter a few more of these moments, and yet each mountain, each moment, is different and speaks to the “surround sense” world which I am privileged explore.

Many experiences confirm the reward that entices me to the trails. I gain vast and rich experience through the eyes of my fellow hikers and through our mutual accomplishments. I crave the accomplishment of the summit and the bonds of community. I desire the mental reflection atop a summit with nothing above me and the world sprawled below. But most of all, I yearn for the chance to learn the deep and rich language of synesthesia for all my senses, within a wilderness that has so very much to say – if only I can learn to listen with all of the senses still available to me. In the ascent, the descent, the summit, and all along the journey, it is this full sense of the world that is my reward. What a “various language” indeed!

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22 Jul 10

by Kim Beauchemin

So, I have a confession to make. There was a time, not too far in the distant past, when I had a love/hate relationship with hiking. Okay, maybe it was more like a hate/hate relationship, but I tried really hard to like it. All my friends hiked, and I loved spending time with my friends, but ugh hiking was a chore to me.Welch-Dickey Group

Now, back then, I was not in the greatest of shape, but I did okay. I also didn’t mind the pack weight so much – I had a good pack that sat on my hips and off my shoulders, so I was fine there. The problem was that I would start on the trail, head down, hell-bent on reaching the summit. That was my goal and I was going to make it, dammit. I would trudge and trudge and trudge and…well, you get the point. I hated every single solitary step it took to get to the summit of a mountain.

As proof, allow me to share an excerpt from a trip report I wrote in July of ’07:

“…the first 30-40 minutes of trudging are just absolute hell. I wonder why I do it and kick myself mentally for setting out on another hellish hike. But as time goes on, I think to myself, ‘it’s gonna be really pretty at the top, can’t wait to get there, the pain’s not THAT bad.’”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved the camaraderie of the group as we ascended the mountain; that’s why I went on the trip. But I didn’t enjoy the walk, the breaks, or the brief pauses to eat/drink – I just wanted to get to the top and get the pain over with. Eventually, we would reach the top, and as I looked upon the splendorous views before me, the agony of climbing would slowly start to slip from my memory – that is, until we had to start our trek back down…

Back in January, when Kara (another Team 2020 member) asked me if I wanted to help out with this charity-thing Randy was starting – involving hiking – I was apprehensive to say the least. I immediately started thinking about ‘the pain’ of hiking that I’d experienced in the past, but I really felt strongly about Randy’s message and wanted to help him get it out there.

Little did I know that Randy would change my perspective on hiking forever.

One of the greatest gifts that Randy has given me, certainly unknowingly until now, is the opportunity to slow down. As he has often stated in his own blog posts, he is a very slow hiker. Some folks might find this a challenge when hiking with Randy. For hike leaders, Randy’s slow hiking pace is something that needs to be ‘accounted for’ – and that is certainly a necessity for a safe and successful hike. Others may take issue with having to carry a pack on their back for double the normal hike time.

For me, I love hiking with Randy – because of his slowness. His reduced hiking pace forces me to stop, turn around, look at what I have just climbed and appreciate the accomplishment of 20 or so feet. I find myself enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, enjoying the views on the way up, and relishing in the journey itself – no matter what part of the journey I am on. It is no longer just about the summit. What was once an adversarial attitude toward hiking has transformed into a strong, passionate appreciation for the walk.

Thank you for that, Randy. From the bottom of my heart.

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21 Jul 10

by Jenifer Tidwell

On Mount Washington, we learned some hard lessons about how slowly Team 2020 hikes. We knew already that we need to allow plenty of extra time for Randy and Quinn to work their way through difficult terrain, but the actual numbers that we put up on the Ammonoosuc Trail were a bit discouraging. We found ourselves losing time here, there, and everywhere.

I’ll be leading our Mt. Hale hike this coming Sunday, and I want to share some of my thoughts on moving fast through the wilderness.Jenifer on Mt. Washington

Now, no one who’s hiked with me in the past – Mike, Karl, Dan, and all you others – will claim that I’m a speedy hiker! However, I’ve learned a few lessons over many years of hiking, climbing, and mountaineering. I’ve failed to summit mountains in about all the ways you can imagine, many of them time-related.

First lesson:  Both “slow and heavy” and “fast and light” travel are dangerous in their own ways. Find your happy medium.

I started as a “slow and heavy” hiker. I would carry everything the AMC recommended in an enormous, heavy pack. However, I found that weight slows you down, throws off your balance, and makes you prone to injuries. And, if you go too slowly, you incur all kinds of costs, such as the following:

  • long travel days
  • mental fatigue
  • frustration at unreached goals
  • the need for more food and water, due to more on-trail time
  • afternoon thunderstorms, common in the White Mountains in summer
  • not being able to reach safety quickly when travel is dangerous

(In some conditions, like winter above tree line, or on multi-pitch rock climbs, these can cost you far more than just summits. Sharpens the mind, I tell you!)

On the other hand, I’ve traveled “fast and light” too. In winter, I’ve been caught shorthanded when I needed certain equipment that I hadn’t brought with me! Also, warm-up hikes for 2020VQ have seen participants running out of water on long days, and that’s never good. Fast hiking over rough terrain can cause injuries, too. People trip and fall, and fatigued hikers make mistakes when they down climb. I tried to keep up with my long-legged trekking companions for two days of downhill in the Himalayas, and my knees hurt for years afterward… ouch!

Therefore, here’s my advice for Team 2020 hikers – and other hikers too – on moving both quickly and safely through the wilderness:

  • Move fast, but not too fast. Once you’re warmed up, get your body working at a level where you can still converse (between deep breaths), but where you can cover ground quickly and smoothly. Experience, fitness, and good technique help here. Everyone has a “sweet spot” – a speed at which they move most efficiently – and it’s okay for a varied group like 2020VQ to spread out a bit, up and down the trail. On Hale, the leader will go last, to make sure no one is left behind, and we’ll regroup as necessary.
  • Minimize stop time. Sometimes we all need to rest, or eat, or pee, or adjust boots – but “short” group stops can easily stretch out into ten or fifteen minutes. That’s lost time, and lost momentum. Disciplined habits help here. Need to take your pack off? Do it as soon as you stop, finish what you need to do, and get the pack back on before the group gets ready to go. Can’t find something in your pack? Organize it carefully ahead of time, and memorize where everything goes. Need to “chase a rabbit” in the woods? Drop your pack and go; no need for a group stop. Randy and Quinn will need to stop at certain obstacles (e.g. stream crossings), and those are fine, but we don’t want to add to the total stop time with unnecessary stops. During the Mt. Hale hike, I want to work on shorter group stops, and I’ll be a stinker about it. Team 2020, you have been warned!Jenifer on Mt. Washington
  • Lighten your load. As I said above, a heavy pack is a safety risk. Go through your pack and see what everything weighs, if you’re curious. What can you honestly do without? Can you replace a critical piece of equipment (shell jacket, headlamp, etc.) with a lighter alternative? Can you reduce food weight by carrying dehydrated or dense foods, instead of water-heavy foods like fresh fruit? Of course, some things are necessary no matter what. Just before the Mt. Hale hike, I will see that certain items (Quinn’s gear, first-aid kit, etc.) are distributed fairly among participants, so that Randy, the most injury-prone of us all, gets a lighter load than he’s carried in the past. 
  • Stay fueled and stay cool. Thirst and low blood sugar make you ineffective in all kinds of ways, even before you notice it. I recommend never waiting until a stop to eat or drink, since it may be a while before the next convenient group stop. (Team 2020, we don’t really want to stop Randy and Quinn while they’re “in the zone,” right?) Make sure you have water and small amounts of food accessible to you while you walk, so you don’t even have to stop at all, let alone unpack. In the summer, keep cool to the extent you can. The mountain air is so much more invigorating when you’re not miserably hot!

Which brings me to my last point: a hike shouldn’t be a death march. It’s supposed to be fun! If you’re working yourself to exhaustion, you won’t enjoy it so much. Think, plan, pack, learn the techniques and systems, and stay disciplined, but once you’re out there, smile and enjoy the beautiful surroundings!

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20 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

I wanted to share a personal reflection on an article I read in the news yesterday. The article talks about the tragic death of Christopher Baillie. This young and healthy 24-year old was dedicated to several philanthropic efforts, had already battled cancer successfully, and by all accounts in the many tributes on his Facebook page, was simply a wonderful person. As he pursued his personal dreams, he explored the wonders of the wilderness, and it was in this pursuit that he fell to his death on Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail.

Life is fragile, and as we try to live in manner that is rewarding to us, we should remember that each appreciation is a precious gift. I did not know Christopher personally, but I understand a bit of the spirit with which he lived. I was particularly touched when I read a tribute left by one friend, Sean Harkins, “You already made the summit and went far past, overcoming everything life threw your way.” It speaks volumes of not only Christopher’s character, but also of his ability to appreciate his journey, albeit a journey brought to an end too suddenly.

We all experience risks and challenges, whether we’re on Mt. Washington or elsewhere. I hope most of us can remember to appreciate each step along our own personal summits.

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20 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

Photo from: http://www.newenglandtrailreview.com/

What is the “hardest” hike for me? The answer, for now, is both the last mountain I climbed and the next mountain I will climb. I take so much from each hike experience that it’s hard to let each go. I have put the Washington hike fully behind me and I am very eager for our next summit attempt: storming Mt. Hale this coming weekend.

Each mountain holds challenges that I must attempt to overcome, and I often try to get help from folks that previously hiked the trail. It is essential that I discover and manage these challenges. Time and speed are frequent challenges for me.

Mt. Hale though, at 4054 feet, is on the shorter side, and at only 2.2 miles of trail, this mountain gives us good reason to feel confident. These advantages are ones we didn’t have on the Washington hike, and we’re all feeling optimistic. Of course, underestimating any of the 4K mountains is foolish, but perhaps that is a part of the challenge.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll fail to appreciate how “hard” any mountain is, no matter what the challenges or advantages of a particular trek. Many times each step requires a high amount of focus, and on a mountain trail of two miles, it can mean 10,000 steps for me.  That takes some serious concentration and attention. The upcoming Mt. Hale hike has no easy way down, and we are committed to the full trip, which means doubling that number of steps. At this point, there is a promise of glorious weather for our hike, but (the title of this post aside) you can never quite trust the weather in the Whites, and someday soon we will test that statement – hopefully not this round. Until then, though, I’ll simply salute all the 4,000s, and give a simple answer: they’re all hard! I’d be disappointed if they weren’t.

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15 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

This post is not some romantic melodrama inspired by the majesty of the mountain hikes, but rather addresses a common inquiry from concerned friends. The question is: Do I fall or hurt myself on these hikes?

The reality of hiking is that most folks will bash a shin or two, or even roll an occasional ankle upon the rock jumble that covers much of the White Mountain trails. It is also realistic to expect that I am going to be more susceptible to these pitfalls than other people. While I have joked that my shins are mere “Object Detectors” in everyday life, I am not eager to cause myself unnecessary pain. So, I make solid efforts to minimize the bumps and bruises that I accumulate on my hiking adventures. I use the best-quality footwear that I can find, I stay very attentive to Quinn’s cues and trust his protective guidance, and lastly, I use my hiking trekker pole to help detect obstacles as I stride along.

Randy & Quinn navigate some difficult footing.

Despite these and other protective measures, I have fallen on occasion, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. I have a set of rules for falling, through which I pay particular attention to where and how my fall is most safe. Since I do not know what is ahead or to the side of me, I concentrate on falling where I’m standing or where I’ve been, presuming that the area behind me is a safe fall. I try to fall on my pack when possible, or at least minimize the impact using my pack as padding. I have many safety approaches in my mind as I move, and for the most part, I feel very successful at keeping myself safe.

Carrie applies a bandaid to Randy's Leg

During the entire Mt. Washington trip, I believe I fell twice.  The first fall was a very controlled, effective drop in place. This is a great example of the majority of my falls: small, low-impact, little to no harm done. I did, however, challenge Carrie’s claim that I have rubber ankles while on the summit cone of Washington. The second time I fell, I was entangled by loose scree and an angled ankle trap. I was unable to twist my pack under me for cushioning, and in this rare instance, my best choice was to fall in such a fashion as to not further endanger my trapped ankle, even though it meant falling far to one side. It was a risk for me to do this, but my hiking pole indicated that there was at least no drop in that direction. The trick was to stay loose and curl my side, so as to avoid breaking a limb I might otherwise be tempted to thrust out to catch me.

So, the answer to the question is yes. I do fall, and sadly I do occasionally hurt myself. Fortunately, with the right preparation, I’ve ensured that this happens rarely, and has minimal impact (ok, pun intended) upon the fantastic experience of the adventure. Everyone evaluates risk versus reward, and in my case, the risk remains low and the reward is tremendous. And if I get the occasional bump or bruise? Well, it’s just part of the adventure and builds a ‘better’ story!

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12 Jul 10

by Tracy Goyette

Hiking with Randy and the large 2020 team translates, understandably, to very little “couple time” for us on the trail.  Between the team, which is made up of friends, and all of the cool new people we meet along the way, Randy is in high demand.  In everyday life we get our fair share of time, so on hikes I try to step back and allow those who don’t usually get as much interaction with Randy to spend time with him. To account for this we tend to aim for some end-of-day, quality “us” time.

At Lakes in the Clouds hut we decided that sunset would be that time.  Randy asked me to find us a great vantage point from which we could share the sunset together.  I found a comfortable perch near where a large number of other hut guests had gathered, and we settled in to see what Mother Nature would share with us.

She had been busy that day; we’d marveled already at beautiful cornflower blue skies, wispy clouds and amazing waterfalls. I wasn’t sure that the day’s visual delights could be topped.  The atmosphere of the crowd’s excitement for the upcoming sunset was palpable and similar, ironically given the date of July 4th, to a crowd’s mood just before a fireworks display.  Obviously, the day’s gorgeous weather had folks keyed up and expecting a fantastic display. We were not disappointed.  Some of our companions captured outstanding images of both the sky to the West and an interesting array of clouds to the East; however, they are mere shadows of the beauty of this sunset.

I despaired that my words of description were inadequate in conveying the magnificence of the sunset to Randy, but he could feel the quiet awe of those around us.  When something is so beautiful as to silence that many people, it has to be powerful.  As the sun finally nestled behind the far horizon the silence gave way to applause.  Yes, we applauded a sunset, it was that amazing.

If I could choose a moment to share with Randy and to keep in our memories together forever, this one certainly would be one of my choices.

Thank you Mother Nature.

–Tracy

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