by Randy Pierce
“This is the hardest physical day of my life,” I had said last year on the second day of the Pemigewasset backpacking trip. This was not exactly what my friend Prof. Brent Bell hoped to hear as we contemplated the trail ahead, six miles of some of the tougher hiking in the Northeast.
The collaborative team of 2020 Vision Quest and the University of NH led us in the Pemi to hike up Bondcliff, Bond, and down to Guyot shelter. This was a project we had conceived to help prepare for the beginning of the 2020 Vision Quest (on July 4, 2010), and a unique educational experience for the students in the class. The challenge took a tremendous toll upon my spirit and willpower, but we had our educational experience. As a group, we learned about hiking with Quinn, the need for sleep, and about the resiliency of a group when water is low, bugs are abundant, and everyone is tired. We put into practice a team effort amidst a perfect storm, and additional challenges made this an experience I could never forget. The experience was a tremendous success in many ways. So why not do it again? This year we return with a new group of students and considerably more knowledge and practice, as we undertake the loop from where we ended it last year.
We have an assortment of goals to achieve in this expedition. The students are learning to lead an Outdoor Educational Experience, which presents some untypical challenges. Teams of students plan the route, the day’s curriculum, and the pace – any mistakes or errors are part of their experience. If the student leaders begin to hike the wrong way, we will hike the wrong way until the error is apparent. Mistakes are great teachers, so we will enter the experience knowing it will not go perfectly, but if it is anything like last year, the most important aspect of a trip is the people you work with, not the summits you stand upon.
As we come together as a team, we will blend our various abilities and perspectives to succeed in journeying through some rugged terrain. With a quality journey may come some transformations for all of us. While last year was about learning and preparing for the launch of the 2020 Vision Quest project, this year hopes to display unity and accomplishment as an official part of Team 2020. If this hike succeeds as planned, it will be the most successful peaks achieved in a single 2020 Vision Quest hike.
We will head up the Gale River trail after camping out in the Wilderness and sharing some team building exercises. Galehead hut will be a break point from which we may leave some of our supplies and make the round trip to the summit of Galehead Mountain. The night’s rest should launch the hard traverse to Garfield Tent Site and some of the most challenging terrain in our experience. The steep sections will provide plenty of opportunity for problem solving. From this highest of tent sites in the Whites, we will be preparing for a ridge traverse to include both Garfield and Lafayette. Descending to Greenleaf Hut gives us another quality resting point for evaluating our progress through that point. Mount Lincoln may give us the final 4,000-foot peak of the journey if we have been sufficiently successful. Otherwise, we will make our way to the UNH outing club cabin and eventually depart into Franconia Notch.
While Professor Brent Bell and teaching assistant Amaryth Gass are ultimately the leaders for the entire excursion, each day different students will be charged with managing all aspects of leadership in practice. This creates some constant change in the group dynamics, adjusting to accommodate the differences in leadership styles. Overall, we must adapt to the pacing, terrain, weather, and individual tendencies to make a successful team. We will build trust and communication, as I have done with Quinn, and the more effectively we do so, the more powerful our experience will be. Undoubtedly different and yet similar to last year, success is not in the summits, but in the process and the growth. In that, I’m reminded that obstacles are often opportunity disguised as hard work. As hard as the days ahead may prove, I’m eager to embrace the challenge and reap the rewards for myself, our hiking group, Team 2020 and all those who may follow our tale.