Archives - July, 2012

28 Jul 12

By Randy Pierce

What does it take to give that spark of hope–better still, to ignite a passionate fire of inspiration? The simple truth is that it may take something different for each person and each situation.

In Goffstown, NH an important mission is reaching 60-70 children and adults with challenging disabilities. The outreach of UpReach is celebrating 20 years of service with a mission that is worthy and a vision which has a strong parallel to our own 2020 Vision Quest. You can learn more on their website: “UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc.”

MISSION: UpReach is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to improving the physical, emotional, and psychological development of challenged children and adults through progressive therapies, specifically those centered around the horse.

VISION: Through providing high quality therapeutic riding and driving lessons, UpReach strives towards excellence in its field. With the help of our equine friends, we are dedicated to enhancing quality of life for those we serve, by providing challenge, promoting independence, and celebrating success.

This vision is directly in line with our own 2020 Vision Quest Mission statement. I’ve seen the power of Quinn and his spirit to change lives beyond the incredible work he does for me. The horses at UpReach and the talented volunteers use a similar approach. In their own words, UpReach draws upon the strengths each individual possess to develop riding and driving skills, build relationships between horses and humans, and nurture abilities. By partnering with the horse, they offer programs that include therapeutic riding and driving lessons as well as equine assisted learning.

While all this information is tremendous, their video brings it all together and so I urge you all to take a moment and watch their Video from Concord TV’s “Volunteers In Action” Show. Scroll down the page and select UpReach from the episode list.

Whether you know someone who could benefit from their programs, want to help them make a difference, or think their programs could benefit your own life, help us and them share the message of a fantastic organization!

I leave you with a reminder of our own mission statement:

2020 Vision Quest inspires people to reach beyond adversity and achieve their highest goals — personal, professional, and philanthropic. We believe in leading by example, in climbing the highest peaks, and in sharing our successes and challenges with each other. Funds raised through these endeavors will be given to two remarkable organizations which benefit the visually impaired community: Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind.


21 Jul 12

By Randy Pierce

…And now, part 2 of our hike on Mt. Washington, Monroe, and Eisenhower!

Read Part 1

AMC Hut Life

The “higher huts” as they are called can be an amazing experience in the White Mountains. The people who have built and cared for these places created an environment like few others. The crew staffing the huts have a love of the region and are part of the atmosphere designed to make the haven a blend of community, naturalism, entertainment, feasting and rest.

This particular hut can host 90 guests and is usually pretty close to this on weekends. The community of hikers shares stories and experiences while generally reveling in the present experience they are sharing. So too did our group. As the incredible turkey dinner was being served family style, we had time to share a toast as a group. A Nalgene flask of homemade chocolate raspberry port had found its way into my pack for the purpose.

“To all the folks who have been part of making this experience possible!” which included the names of all those prior hikers, all the staff of 2020 Vision Quest, and all of the supporting community who keep us inspired to not only choose these experiences but to continue to use them and our other efforts towards our mission. Anything is possible and while success may not come immediately, the determination and perseverance to problem solve, practice, and proceed may lead to moments like this. We were going to officially add Washington to our list and this would be the halfway point, peak 24 of 48, in our 2020 Vision Quest goal!

Close of Day

After dinner we put on warm gear to sit outside and repeat that magical sunset of 2010, at least in part. Each experience is different and though the clouds created an interesting “black ray” phenomenon, our westerly view over the seven ranges extending into New York could not hold the intensity of that crystal clear evening two years prior.

Neither was the same immense gathering of people present, but the few sitting in the cold winds to marvel had a different bit of bonding and communal appreciation for the majesty of these mountains. It passed slowly and satisfying before dusk encouraged us to take our weary bodies to bed. Jenifer shared a tale from one of the many books from the hut library: a tale of how the Mt. Welch ledges alpine zones became officially and unusually preserved. The circle gardens there did what many other attempts failed to accomplish and was precisely the tale to send us to sleep in our private, comfortable albeit impressively tight quarters.

Shakespeare? And Bacon?!

I’ve heard it espoused that bacon goes with everything and apparently it’s true for a staff-inspired performance of Romeo and Juliet. The huts commonly have skits to show guests the best practice “check-out” procedures in a humorous and educational way. Without question, the one we saw the morning after our stay in the huts (a humorous skit inspired by “Romeo and Juliet”) was the best any of our group had experienced. With a hot breakfast of bacon and accompanying goodies in our bellies to match the laughs there as well, we were prepared to say farewell to our hut haven with very warm memories. Whether a hut is right for others isn’t my expertise, but I can tell you the experience has been very rewarding for all of my trips to stay there and the AMC and their incredible crews have my admiration, respect and appreciation!

Back on the Trails

The dense fog of the morning was burned away by a sunny and very windy day. Gusts reached 60 mph pretty quickly as we faced the prominent craggy peak of Mt. Monroe directly ahead of us and the gateway to the Southern Presidential range through which we would hike down to our car spot. As we set upon the short journey to the summit of Mt. Monroe. Cliff took the opportunity to guide along this challenging stretch and within a short time we scrambled up the final section to stand, albeit leaning into the gusts, atop the fifth highest of the 48!

The wilderness beyond here was breathtaking and the skies were giving us full appreciation of the scenic offerings. Away in the distance our next and final summit, Eisenhower, was visible with the tallest cairn in the whites clearly discernible. Back towards Mt. Washington, the line of cairns was described as a line of soldier sentries to guide and guard the path to the peak. We needed to continue as we had several miles above treeline and exposed to that wind and the descent would be precarious footing until we cleared a sub peak and reached the Crawford Path. Cliff continued to guide me in these winds and our teamwork grew stronger. At one point, a gust nearly blew him into a dangerous fall save for the steadying of my hand on his pack. A small return for the innumerable crevices and challenges through which he guided me.

Highway in the Hills

Crawford path was a fairly smooth pathway on which Quinn was able to guide me at reasonable speeds along the ridge line. Three of our crew took the loop over Franklin to appreciate the look deep into Oaks Gulf while Tracy and I enjoyed some quality time along the easier trail. It’s worth a pause to consider the people who have maintained and still maintain these trails from erosion and work on them so that others can readily appreciate the treasures of these hills. Some of those people are long gone, yet so many modern day trail workers perform their work with insufficient thanks for the incredible service they provide.

Pleasant Mountain

In 1972, Eisenhower became the more appropriately presidential name for Pleasant mountain. As we endured the intense and powerful winds, we found a small sheltered point to have a quality food stop before the final ascent. We had watched the mountain loom closer for miles and didn’t intend to repeat the prior day’s over-zealous drive towards the hut. We also knew there would be no wind shelter up there allowing us to eat. Most packs were dropped to allow for the final steep ascent. Cliff again guided me and with pack weight absent we made tremendous time to the expansive summit of Eisenhower. There is tremendous space atop this bald summit which makes it a distinctive experience. Mt. Pierce lies directly south after a tree-laden saddle that promised a respite from the win soon. We would take Edmund’s Path and skip Mt. Pierce but the trees would soon be there nonetheless. John took over the guide work as he had his pack and that eases the process of guiding me down. Our 0.8 mile out and back to this summit had us changing our gear, donning our packs and preparing for the final leg of the journey.

The Slog

Trail reports are not always as they appear. Edmund’s path was touted as a beautifully crafted and maintained trail. Perhaps this was once true but at the higher points we crossed a slide that created challenge and some danger with a drop off. We found it rocky, eroded, and challenging for much of the descent into the trees. Even beyond the trees there was work to manage the very wet slabs which typically slanted in disadvantageous ways.

Perhaps some of this was the feeling which often comes when the final stretch of the journey is underway. Often, whether due to the efforts expended, the  anticipation of the finish, or perhaps the reflections of the experience overall–this portion can become the slog. Conversation quiets and people feel the weariness grow disproportionate to the challenge they are facing. Certainly the trail had eased to the rather decent trail reported before we began to slip out of the slog and begin the full appreciation of our adventure together. During a break, our “slogging” feelings began to abate as we laughed at the Mighty Quinn’s immediate ability to sleep on a trail and his dubious half awake look when deciding if we were getting up to hike more or if he could catch a few more moments of sleep! It was exactly the cure to get conversation flowing and the final mile stretch on easy ground for Quinn to Guide me out of the Presidential range!

High Five at the Finish Line

Often we tout the celebratory high five on the summit. It is a glorious experience for certain and worthy of that group celebration. The work there is only partially done as we learned all too well on our last climb of Mt. Washington. The true finish is back at the trailhead when you have achieved the full measure of success. The challenge is overcoming exhaustion, the desire to change footwear, and perhaps even clean up a bit of the wilderness grime! We were, however, so very full of our accomplishments–meaning our groups camaraderie and the desire to celebrate–we had one of our best high five moments to date!
High fiveThis occasion was monumentous enough for all of us to continue the celebration as we packed the one car full, reunited everyone to their own vehicles, and then travelled to savor a post-hike feast together. Stories called out favorite moments while satisfied smiles made it clear how much this group had come to appreciate far more than just the mountain trails we had travelled.

We celebrated something more important than the accomplishment of three significant peaks in the White Mountains. We celebrated each other and the chance to bond through the experience. The goal for me at least is to always reach more people than peaks and that is the real mission accomplished this round. Though I think Mt. Washington, Monroe and Eisenhower were worthy deeds as well!

What’s next Quinn?!



15 Jul 12

By Randy Pierce

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”

–George Bernard Shaw

Mt WashingtonIn 2010, we reached the summit of Mt Washington after a two-day journey loaded with learning and rewarding experiences. (Read about it here.)  There was some disappointment in knowing we would not complete the trip with a hike down, but there was a confident determination we would return and fully complete the journey.

On July 7-8, 2012 we did just that and more in another experience-rich excursion which brought five people and one incredible (some might say mighty!) dog together to finish one leg of the quest.

Blame it on the Bacon

A Banker, Lawyer, Accountant, Author, Blind Guy and a Guide Dog walk onto a mountain adventure and the punch lines await!

Before the full group rendezvous, a car was placed several miles away where we expected to return in two days if all went well. We started just a bit after our intended 7:00 a.m. time. Our starting point was from the slightly further, newer trailhead parking lot rather than the cog railway shortcut used last time. The last call of bacon may have delayed the start, but our small group would need all that energy.

A steady pace allowed us to meander through simple stream crossings and the quiet trails we had all to ourselves. The boulders made travel a little slower than memories of prior hikes but within a short time we passed the plaque in memory of Herbert Young who died there in 1928–offering a quick reminder of the many perils of Mt. Washington.

Putting Gem Pool behind us, we began the steep ascent which would leave heat and humidity behind for the duration of the trip. It was there that our cloudy trail allowed the first hikers to pass us as we paused for the Gorge side trail that holds incredibly majestic pools and waterfalls for those taking time to appreciate the side journeys.

Scrambles, Chutes and Ladders

The mile stretch before the hut is likely the most challenging section of the trail. In  past hikes my companions and I had lingered here a long time learning how to navigate such terrain. I had nearly forgotten that first ladder, and yet now learning to put my hands on the trail and use them as my eyes has become a favorite part of taking on the challenge of such hikes.

It is here that John Swenson showcased his guiding prowess as he described in a previous report. While Quinn and I can manage this, it is slow and considerably more taxing for both my marvelous guide and myself. As such, our time through the narrow scrambles and across cascades was not nearly as time consuming. It still required considerable effort and was probably our weariest section of trail. Likely we should have grabbed a more solid food break, but the siren song of the hut for lunch urged us to push a bit too long.

Lake of the Clouds

It was five hours to the hut and food was a delightful recharge. Packs were dropped and weather reports checked as the ominous cloud banks gave considerable concern. To the summit and back would be 3 completely exposed miles on the rocky ridge entirely above tree line. Lightning with our generally slower speeds would be a risk not worth taking. It was nearly 1:00 p.m. and in order to be at the hut again for the evening meal essential for the rest of our work, we set a turnaround time of 3:30 p.m. for our attempt. The hut provides a direct summit report that suggested we had an afternoon window with low probability if we set out immediately. With nonessential gear left on our bunks (we were staying the night at the hut), lighter packs led to quicker steps and much hope. 

Summit Success!

Nearly half way through the process, the blackness into which we were about to walk suggested a turnaround, but for only a few moments before it began to lighten in the fickle weather patterns for which the region is famous. Tracy took a round of guiding to help increase our speed and passed the job to John for the steepness of the final ascent. We reached the summit in 1.5 hours, although the promised visibility of 100 feet was apparently only partially true. Glimpses of views opened occasionally as the 45 mph winds were as steady as the 45 degree temperatures which felt cooler given the wind.
We had achieved the first part of our goal well within the time window necessary. Most of the group had not even felt a single raindrop! The summit buildings allowed for water recharge, a break from the wind, and a short rest as we celebrated the experience thus far and prepared for the final phase of the first day.

Promising Descent

Climbing down over steeper rock steps is definitely much slower with a Guide Dog, so we put Quinn’s harness in my pack and he was free to roam with us as John led me. Almost immediately the weather took a major shift and incredible views began to open routinely through the cloud cover. While our entire journey up was within the clouds, the descent unfurled views of the hut and often the vast expanses of the southern presidential range and beyond. With the Alpine Lakes beside the hut in view constantly we had our destination in sight and realized our likely success becoming reality. Conversation was lively to describe and appreciate the views as well as planning for the dinner and celebration ahead that night. The promise of clear and sunny skies for our hike out on Sunday seemed more real as we saw the world from more than a mile high opening in a vast expanse of beauty!

Watch next week’s blog post for the second installment of our Presidential Range hike report!


13 Jul 12

By John Swenson

My job this past weekend was to guide a blind man on his journey up Mt. Washington and several other Presidential Peaks. I was to be his eyes on the trails. White Mountain trails are strewn with rocks, roots and river crossings and countless other challenges for a blind hiker. I would use subtle and not so subtle signals to protect him from the many dangers such a trip involves. We had done this work before, yet there is always room to learn and perfect our teamwork and communication.

Many of you reading this know Randy Pierce and his story and are also aware of the amazing work of The Mighty Quinn. Normally, Quinn guides Randy along these treacherous trails, but on this past weekend’s hike up Mt. Washington and the ensuing traverse across the ridge, there were stretches of trail where Randy asked for assistance from a human guide.

It was not that Quinn could not perform the work. Indeed, he has successfully led Randy on many a trail and entered the record books with Randy in March for completing the single season winter 48. Randy requested a human guide this time because a human can move a bit quicker in certain trail conditions and offer verbal communication that Quinn cannot. The end result is hopefully the same–a successful trip–but a human guide can sometimes speed the trip a bit. This is helpful when there are many miles to log.

I had guided Randy for brief stints last summer on the Hancock trip and again this spring on the Jackson hike to kick off the 2012 season. I knew that in a small team of five hikers on the Washington trip, I would likely be called on for more assistance than previous hikes and was excited yet nervous about the opportunity. A hike in the demanding terrain of the Presidentials is a workout for seasoned hikers. Add to that the physical and mental demand of successfully guiding a blind man on this trek and the demands and dangers multiply significantly. I was now responsible for my own safety and Randy’s as well.

Randy pressed me into service on a good stretch on the upper portion of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. I eagerly accepted the invitation yet quickly realized the demands. The ledges in front of us were steep, smooth and in many places wet. I was looking at them wondering how to approach them myself; yet at the same time; the gentle tug I felt behind me was that of Randy placing not just his hand on my pack, but his trust in my ability to safely navigate the trail ahead of us.

As I began to talk Randy through the obstacles ahead of us, I saw every root, every wet rock and the countless crevices and potholes as chances for Randy to slip to a dangerous injury. I instinctively began to warn him of these dangers with explanations such as: “There’s a large slab ahead of us with water running down it and some branches sticking out that might scrape your shin if you go too far left”. I was feeling proud of this detail but quickly learned that in the time it took me to utter such a warning, Randy was slipping, scraping, and stumbling because the key message was not delivered in time for him to adjust for or avoid the hazard.
With some guidance from Randy, I learned that “less is more”. Quickly, the above phrase became: “Wet slab; shin bash left”. Randy now had the key pieces of information he needed to deal with the conditions underfoot or overhead.

As the guiding on the Ammonoosuc trail progressed, I found myself with a newfound appreciation of the challenges and wonder of Quinn’s work. I was surprised by the additional exhaustion that came from the special mental and physical work involved in being Randy’s eyes on the trail. If it tired me so, how must Quinn have felt at the end of the winter 48? While he eagerly accepts each new hike with that trademark tail wag, there’s no doubt that he is also tired at the end of his day guiding Randy in these mountain quests. Quinn cannot warn with a “Stop while I assess our approach to this” or a “Take this section slow; lots of loose rock ahead”. Quinn’s tools are body positioning, cadence, and gentle tugs and nudges. How immensely difficult and yet how effective this communication has been for Randy. Less truly is more.

On Sunday of our trip, we journeyed across the Crawford Path from Lakes of the Clouds Hut to take in Mts. Monroe, Franklin, and Eisenhower. Each of us in the group had our stint of guiding for portions of the trip. Cliff offered to take some of the uphill challenges and I accepted a number of downhill shifts. We descended from the ridge via the Edmands Path and our afternoon was filled with much lively conversation. At one point late in the day, Randy was quite engaged in conversation as I guided him and although I could interrupt him to warn of dangers ahead, I found myself wanting to minimize interruptions so he could fully participate in the dialogue.

A short while later, we were discussing how my guiding had changed in two short days from the overly detailed communications I described above to the “less is more” approach. I realized, and Randy observed, that I had just guided him for a good length of trail without uttering a word. I had become Quinn-like in my guiding, using body positioning and speed to communicate without speaking. When there was a step down, I sometimes exaggerated it a bit with my step so that Randy would sense the need to step down. If the footing became rougher, I would slow my pace as I hiked through so Randy would pick up the need to move carefully. If we had a water crossing, I would stop while I assessed approach and in so doing, the stop signaled Randy to be alert for more guidance.

I have been impressed with the work Quinn does since Randy first shared it with me a few years ago. After two days watching Quinn work in his quiet effective manner and experiencing my several opportunities to be a human guide dog, my respect for what Quinn does and for the way he communicates with Randy have reached new heights. While I look forward to my next tour of guide duty, I will forever tip my hiking stick to the work of The Mighty Quinn.


7 Jul 12

By Randy Pierce

A shot of some of the 6500 runners lining up to startQuinn and I hoisted the harness to run the July 3 “Finish at the 50” road race. I always appreciate and am in awe at Quinn’s eager approach to guiding me for a race. With more than 6,500 runners joining us this, was going to be our most crowd-challenged race yet and it showed. Our times were slower in large part due to congested narrow points and the sheer volume of people filling the route.

While there was a 10K and 5K option, I had chosen the shorter and felt a little badly I was doing “just the 5K.” In fact, I heard that sentiment a number of times from folks both in advance of the race and after the fact. I felt compelled to offer an almost begrudging apology–as if choosing to spend the latter part of a hot July day running multiple miles was a bad thing?! I’ve thought a lot about this mysterious misplaced lack of appreciation for an accomplishment. Choosing to do something positive is always celebration worthy. Still, it is all too easy to downplay accomplishment and fail to appreciate the many victories along the way.

For the first time in a race we had collisions–not once but twice. They were not serious, though they definitely made it easy to disparage the work. Fortunately, I had the tail-wagging wonder to remind me with his doggish enthusiasm that we were choosing to put ourselves in the midst of positive adventures. It was a pretty encouraging experience, as is often the case with races, to have people on the sideline giving encouragement and cheers.

This race finished at a place near and dear to me as we ran the final 50 yards on the field turf at Gillette Stadium, home of New England Patriots. The organizers of the race understood the need to appreciate all accomplishments. A camera zoomed in on each runner and broadcast them to the “jumbotron” while the stadium speakers called out their names. Then we ran through the giant inflated helmet tunnel into a tunnel of people and across the line.

Randy, Quinn and friends enjoy a moment on the field

Despite all this fantastic support which is the hallmark of most races, still there was an easy slip into downplaying the experience. So my thought on this Independence Day celebration is that it’s not just a 5k– it’s a choice made to do something

and whatever that something may be, a part of that choice should be the willingness to congratulate yourself for making a positive choice. A part should also be to appreciate all the people choosing to celebrate such an experience with you, whether it’s the many incredible folks doing the work to make the race happen or the friends who join you along the way.

That said, my very dear thanks go to Ed Bryant for his first run with Quinn and me as well as to Sarah, Jennifer, Robert, and Tracy for running and encouraging us to run. Lastly, my biggest and best thanks to Quinn for so eagerly making these adventures possible and then reminding me with his attitude the wisdom of loving each moment!


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