Remembering Osceola

By Randy Pierce
Mountainside of OsceolaIn September of 2009, I had climbed precisely 0 of the NH 4,000+ foot mountains. I had only left the wheelchair in 2005 and stopped needing an assistive support cane in 2007, which of course made such a mountain hike a rather lofty goal. Despite this, our goal was to explore the potential of such a climb based on some considerably shorter work with Quinn on far less intensive trails in southern NH.

We spoke to a diverse group of hikers looking for suggestions on which of the big peaks might make a proper starting point and the majority suggested Osceola from Tripoli Road as an easier climb. While they are likely correct that a typical hiker would find the more gradual grades a reasonable initial hike, the first 1.25 miles of this trail are exceptionally strewn with small boulders, making the placement of a foot tricky and particularly so for a blind person!

On that first trip back in ‘09, I had so much still to learn and yet I had a very excited approach to the day’s potential. My speed was generally slow, and unfortunately we left too late in the day for best success. I also underestimated the ideal amounts of food and water that would have been appropriate for the amount of energy that we would expend.

Our group did successfully reach the summit and, more importantly, returned to the trailhead parking lot afterwards, but we were incredibly fatigued and had pushed ourselves a bit more than was reasonable. Hiking back from the summit after dark without headlamps for the sighted and without any food or water remaining was another indicator of our poor job of risk management. We learned our lessons and ultimately we knew we’d repeat this peak once we had officially turned the dream of 2020 Vision Quest into the reality of our charity undertaking.

On August 25, 2012, Quinn and I were fresh off a five-day backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail with the University of New Hampshire’s Outdoor Education program. The 2020 Vision Quest team led by Jennifer and Robert Liang gathered at the Osceola trailhead for 8:00 a.m., intent on not just capturing Osceola but traversing out and back to East Osceola as well. We had a full crew of eager friends and we were ready.

I couldn’t help but reflect upon how much I had learned since that very first hike three years prior. Where once these mountains and their trails seemed mysterious and wild to me, they now seemed like familiar places that I understood in many comforting ways. Certainly that first long stretch of challenging boulders required my attention, yet Quinn and my feet glided along steadily.

Well after the most challenging sections, I switched to using my wife Tracy’s pack for guidance because it allowed me to talk more freely with her and catch up on our seven days away from each other. The comfort of using a human guide is another skill that has been developed and the mental freedom to interact more fully while hiking is a gift that enriches the entire experience. As such, it was no surprise when a jovial crew arrived to have lunch on the summit considerably ahead of time and enthusiastic for the additional trek to the sister peak.

The saddle between East Osceola and Osceola involves a considerably more
challenging trail than the entirety of our prior hike. Despite this, it was a routine traverse including the bypass of the infamous “Chimney” on our way out to our second summit of the day. On the return trip, our entire group, less Quinn who repeated the bypass, undertook the hand scramble up through the chimney. This unique rock feature is a more technical climb that resembles a nearly vertical rock tunnel, much like its name!
In our prior trip, I could not have imagined an out-and-back on this day hike. I’m not sure I could have thought the Chimney would ever be within my grasp. The reality is we did all of this and more as a fine group of friends laughed and shared tales throughout the entirety of the trip. As I remember that first trip, I am most impressed that our learning and experience transformed the mountains from the daunting challenge to a familiar second home in which I invited friends to come and visit with me. This time around it was a most excellent visit too!


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