Archives - July, 2013

27 Jul 13

By Randy Pierce

Years ago, as I dealt with my transition from fully sighted to totally blind, I came across an anonymous humor posting that provided me with a much needed light-hearted moment. In addition to making me laugh, it also provided interesting insight into the way many folks view interaction with the blind. Whether it’s an issue of gender, race, ability or disability, we could all ultimately learn a lot from the message of the words of Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

With this in mind, please enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor behind this piece, and perhaps reflect on how it might apply to ways you should or should not view someone who is different than you.

People who use their eyes to receive information about the world are called sighted people or “people who are sighted.” Sighted people enjoy rich, full lives working, playing, and raising families. They run businesses, hold public office, and even teach your children.

People who are sighted may walk or ride public transportation, but most choose to travel by operating their own motor vehicles. They have gone through many hours of training, at great expense, to learn “the rules of the road” to further their independence. Once that road to freedom has been mastered, sighted people earn a “driver’s license” which allows them to operate a private vehicle safely and independently.

Sighted people cannot function well in low lighting conditions and are generally completely helpless in total darkness. Their homes are usually very brightly lit at great expense, as are businesses which cater to the sighted.

Sighted people are accustomed to viewing the world in visual terms. Thus, in many situations they will be unable to communicate orally and may resort to pointing or other gesturing. Calmly alert the sighted person to his or her surroundings by speaking slowly, in a normal tone of voice. There is no need to raise your voice when addressing a sighted person. Questions directed to sighted persons help them focus on verbal rather than visual and gestural communication.

At times, sighted people may need help finding things, especially when operating a motor vehicle. Your advance knowledge of routes and landmarks, particularly bumps in the road, turns, and traffic lights, will assist the “driver” in finding the way quickly and easily.

Your knowledge of building layouts can also assist the sighted person in navigating complex shopping malls and offices. Sighted people tend to be very proud and will not ask directly for assistance. Be gentle yet firm.

Sighted people read through a system called “Print.” Print is a series of images drawn in a two-dimensional visual plane. Because the person who is sighted relies exclusively on visual information while reading, his or her attention span tends to fade quickly when reading long texts. People who are sighted generally have a poorly developed sense of touch. Braille is completely foreign to the sighted person and he or she will take longer to learn the code and be severely limited by the dominance of his or her existing visual senses.

Computer information is presented to sighted people in a “Graphical User Interface” or GUI.

Sighted people often suffer from hand-eye coordination problems and poor memories. To compensate, people who are sighted often use a “mouse,” a handy device that slides along the desktop to save hard-to-remember keystrokes. With one click on the “mouse” button, the sighted person can move around his or her computer screen quickly and easily. People who are sighted are not accustomed to synthetic speech and may have great difficulty understanding even the clearest synthesizer. Be patient and prepared to explain many times how your computer equipment works.

People who are sighted do not want your charity. They want to life, work, and play alongside you. The best way to support sighted people in your community is to accept them for who they are. These citizens are vital, contributing members of society. Conduct outreach. Take a sighted person to lunch.


26 Jul 13

By Randy Pierce

Jefferson is known to be a challenging hike. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

In the quest for the 48, there are several particularly daunting peaks and difficult trails–and Mt. Jefferson represents both.

Our schedule for the finish was becoming dubious as the miss on Carter Dome and harsh weather for Jefferson required us to cancel the hike on Saturday, July 20. Sunday was forecasted to be an ideal day for undertaking a challenge like Jefferson, so we hurried to put together a team at the last minute.

The Caps Ridge trail is shorter in mileage but long in hours due to the scrambling required even before the crevice-ridden summit cone. The hike requires human guides for most of the journey–strong team to guide me and even to keep watch on Quinn.

Many considerations are essential before taking any dog on this trail, never mind Quinn who has such a pivotal role in my life and who is too rapidly becoming an older hiking dog.

Overlooking the Castellated Ridge. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

On Sunday morning, we assembled at the Caps Ridge trailhead on Jefferson Notch road. The weather front which had delivered powerful lightning storm threats to the humid region one day prior now provided cool and dry weather for our hike. John, Cathy, and Rob had volunteered as a core of guides with me, Tracy, and Quinn. A late addition of Greg and Laura strengthened the group further and we set across the slightly wet lower trail laced with short bog bridges.

Generally gentle trail spanned the first mile to an outstanding overlook. The bugs quickly nudged us onward and the serious hiking of the caps was soon underway. Challenging scrambles led to the scrub brush of an above-treeline trek where views were incredible despite low clouds being blown up the ravines and valleys to create an eerie effect. The Castellated Ridge only enhanced this feeling, making it seems you’re hiking up and over an ancient mountain fortress.

Quinn squeezes through a narrow passage. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

Several accomplished hours of hiking over the Caps brought with it two hiker friends. Mark “Silverfox” and Val informed us we had already completed the Caps and just ahead was the final trail junction before our summit cone work.

The sharp mica schist rock had bloodied up my legs a bit, but we were ready for the precarious summit cone which requires stepping boulder to boulder over narrow but deep crevices which could significantly injure with any misstep. It was a tedious journey taking long patient work before our summit celebration.

Cool temperatures were welcome and the steady breezes above treeline had eradicated insect concerns. Clouds sped past, hiding then revealing glimpses of the many surrounding peaks, valleys, ravines, and even the impressive glacial cirque of the Great Gulf. It was spectacular, though a long day remained.

The Great Gulf. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

Another conversation with Val and Mark sent us down the East Side of the cone that added mileage but gave us a tour of the famous Monticello Lawn. There we feasted, rested, and recharged for the tedious descent ahead. A clever sign adaptation changed the “Over Summit” sign to “Lover’s Summit” and we had some fun moments for those taking that path to peer deep into the cirques around us.

The descent was as demanding as anticipated and set the bar for the toughest trail I’ve managed. It surpassed Falling Waters in difficulty though more guides made it easier on the team. We spent many hours working a difficult stretch and then admiring the view unfurled during our break. A glider coasting below us was one of many highlights of a day filled with fantastic experiences. Whether the friendly kilted hiker or the more bizarre Star Wars Scout Trooper with Princess Leia; the characters on the peaks are often noteworthy.

A Storm Trooper!? Photo courtesy of Greg Neault.

Most noteworthy is always the character of our individual crew. Whether Cathy’s Quinn-attentive care, Tracy and Laura pathfinding amidst their own laughter, or the core work of Rob, Greg, Cathy and John at making such experiences both wondrous and possible for me–it is the people with whom we undertake adventures who shape, change, and enrich our experiences and our lives.

We spent 11 hours on a roughly 6-mile journey. It was tremendously hard and some might think that is the takeaway, but the difficulty isn’t what lingers with me. It is the rewards. I’ve read many Mt. Everest Hikers reports of all their tedious work and preparation for just several moments on the summit but moments of incredible potency. For me those moments are not simply summit moments but laced throughout the entirety of the experiences along the trails of these 48.

Jefferson was our 44th peak and four remain. We established our original quest just over three years ago, and we are now feeling closer and closer to the victory within our reach!

Victory on the summit! Only a few more to go. Photo courtesy of Greg Neault.


20 Jul 13

By Randy Pierce

Scrambling down an incredibly steep, icy, and challenging section of the Falling Waters trail in May 2013, I paused to talk to a couple of climbers ascending the trail. Realistically, we had to pause to manage passing each other safely on this perilous stretch, and each of us was glad for the moments of communication that provided a brief break.

As I was introduced to Michael and Serenity Coyne, I quickly realized there was an incredible story in front of me which I hoped I could share with our community. We are, after all, significantly in the business of inspiration and adventure, both of which these two incredible people demonstrate beyond the wildest imaginations of many! Rather than giving you my version of their story, I’ll let them tell it in their own words. Suffice it to say I am in awe of and appreciate their response to challenges and life. I hope you may find a similar appreciation and inspiration in their tale.


The 2013 Icelandic Wild Heart Expedition

By Michael Coyne

Expedition OutreachI am the team leader for a group of athletes and explorers from the New England area called Expedition Outreach, a charitable organization I founded in 1995. My team will be setting out on expedition in August of 2013 that kicks off a series of trips around the world from Costa Rica to New Zealand and Africa where we will rock and ice climb, race in triathlons and SCUBA dive to raise awareness of heart disease testing.

Sometime ago, I had heart failure in the transition zone of a triathlon equivalent to 2 massive heart attacks that was related to an assault that happened on duty as a Massachusetts State Trooper, when a man tried to kill me for no other reason than the uniform I was wearing. My doctors told me I had an ejection fraction of 15, a measurement of the amount of oxygen that leaves the heart, and had roughly 5 years to live and would never SCUBA dive or climb again. The heart failure was related to sleep apnea that I sustained due to the head injury I sustained during the assault, something I could have been tested for if I had known at the time about the correlation.

As a lifelong athlete I was devastated, I was forced to retire and now I train full time to rehab my heart and extend my life span. In 1 year I have improved my E.F. to 45%, not normal but something my doctors thought unprecedented. I desire now to come back stronger than ever: Inspiring all those who have experienced adversity in their lives.

In Iceland I will attempt to climb the highest peak and set the Guinness Book World Record for the fastest ‘“Alpine” face first Luge. I currently hold the “Official” World Record for the highest altitude Luge run in Bolivia.

Expedition OutreachMy team and I take the publicity we receive from our “extreme” sporting and mountaineering adventures, expeditions and races and focus it on education and awareness: In my life I have broadcasted live from the summit of a previously unclimbed peak in Alaska across the nation on ABC Television and named it Mount Hope, in the symbolism of the world working together to fight disease instead of each other, as a former US Marine I know too well about the effects of war. We were also the first to wakeboard the Amazon River complete with crocodiles and piranha to and wreck diving in Iceberg Alley. We first capture the attention and imaginations of our audience in order to better educate.

When I was told I had roughly 5 years left, my wife Serenity, a registered nurse and athlete we call “Cheetah Girl” since she dresses up as a cheetah for all her races to raise awareness for the highly endangered cheetah, planned these Wild Heart Expeditions and Races. Serenity is on the road to her first Ironman triathlon in New Zealand in 2 years. In Iceland she will race in the Reykjavik Marathon. Iceland starts the filming for our extreme sports documentary designed to educate about the importance of facing our fears to understand the nature of this planet and our own hearts.

Visit Expedition Outreach website

Find Expedition Outreach on Facebook 


18 Jul 13

The hiking crew takes a much-needed break in the heat. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

By Randy Pierce

Nine hikers for the 2020 Vision Quest team circled around the Zeta Pass trail junction on Sunday, July 14. Three of the target peaks (Moriah, Middle Carter, and South Carter) had been achieved but Carter Dome lay ahead as a 2.4-mile out-and-back journey while another 3.8 miles of descent from Zeta Pass to the trailhead would still await the group. A difficult decision loomed.

Randy and Quinn work their way up the ledges. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

Until you’ve hiked challenging mountain miles, it can be difficult to understand the added weariness from elevation and the terrain work. Saturday morning ten hikers started up Mt. Moriah: Jennifer, Robert, Tracy, Rob, Dana, Kyle, Greg, Randy, and a pair of Johns. Heat and humidity built quickly and just reaching the summit of Moriah took an exhaustive toll. The team made significant equipment and strategic adjustments to ease some of the most significant challenges and support each other.

The value of a team working in this fashion is hard to explain well, but without the joint dedication to succeed this quest, many would be far more littered with failures. Even the mighty Quinn had to be helped down a particularly challenging ledge section on the back side of Moriah.

When by plan we bid farewell to day-hiker Rob, our team was diminished and a few more adjustments were necessary for the final stretch to the Imp Shelter. Staying on the ridge would save us much elevation in getting to our next day’s peaks but it had also added gear weight and other challenges. It also created fantastic bonding moments for most of the team.

Dana climbs up a challenging path on North Carter. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

Reasonably rested and well-fed, the group set out early Sunday, knowing the toughest stretch came early with a harsh scramble up North Carter. It was the ideal time to reach it and slight cloud cover held the heat at bay for a time. The feelings of accomplishment and pride in work together helped create the euphoric celebrations at each summit.

While North isn’t an official member of the 48, it remains a location this group cherishes. Similarly, the “Silly Summit”  of Middle Carter rang with the laughter of a team proud and elated. Though concerns for endurance were present by South Carter, the gentle but deep descent into Zeta Pass brought us to the crucial decision.

It is so easy to want to push yourself to the limits when a goal is close. The consequence of not adding those 2.4 miles right then would mean adding a full ten miles additional day hike into the future. Perhaps most challenging is the presumed “pressure” which comes with trying to keep to a schedule.

We are trying to finish our epic original quest by August 24 and there are not many opportunities to add in another difficult day of hiking before then. The reality is that pressure is entirely artificial and the factors of the moment must be the status of the team as individuals and as a group.

Summit success! Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

Everyone wanted to find a way to just make it happen; yet many were able to really evaluate the impact of those additional miles and hours into the safety and the enjoyment which are both critical parts to all our hikes.

We chose to descend and leave Carter Dome for another day, another day in which we’ll be fortunate to experience the wonders of this wilderness and the magic of the mountains. Whether this compromises the schedule of the 2020 Vision Quest is uncertain but that is irrelevant to the wisdom of the decision. I’m incredibly appreciative and thankful for a team which worked through all of the distractions to choose the right response.

For now our August 24 goal remains to finished all 48 and we must see what reasonable options exist to revisit Zeta Pass on the way to achieving the summit of Carter Dome. So this is we find ourselves with a little drama worked into the final five peaks in our mission!

The sun sets from the Imp Shelter. Photo Courtesy of John Swenson.


13 Jul 13

By Randy Pierce

The New Hampshire Association for the Blind provides a useful feature called “Tip Tuesday” on their Facebook page . This past week’s tip reminded me how well they address some simple suggestions for interacting with and assisting blind or visually impaired people. I check in with them every Tuesday and often share their message in the hopes of spreading the word further. This week’s tip I found particularly share-worthy:

Tip Tuesday: When meeting a person who is visually impaired or blind, introduce yourself by name, speak directly and clearly in a natural conversational tone and speed and always announce your departure from a room or ending to a conversation.

It’s such a simple thing to reinforce your arrival with a name to help avoid the embarrassment that voice-guessing can cause for either or both of us. Similarly, I cannot reasonably count how very many times I’ve carried on a conversation long after a person has departed without my knowing. Frequently a new person has arrived to let me know the error of my ways, which is only slightly more disheartening than my ending my discussion with “and by the silence I’m guessing you’ve already left and I’ve been talking to myself for the last few minutes…”

All of their tips are great points of consideration. Each visually impaired person may have slightly different preferences, but the rules of thumb NHAB shares will generally make for smoother interactions until you learn what works best for individual situations. So my thanks to NHAB for yet another great service! I hope that those of you on social media will visit their page and add them to your connections.


6 Jul 13

Sabbaday Falls water crossing

By Randy Pierce

The exceedingly water-logged trails of the Tripyramids gave a crystal clear reminder that success on the quest is not a foregone conclusion. I had perhaps fallen into the trap of being close enough to completion and sufficiently fortunate in success thus to have forgotten to some extent the very real potential of failure. Our final hike of last season was stymied by these very peaks; our Livermore Road loop over both of the impressive slides was called off to avoid the treacherous trail and significant risk of the north slide while it is wet.

June was exceptionally rainy and the White Mountains are swollen with an abundance of water. Forecasts suggested all night rain would potentially leave us a morning of just clouds before afternoon thunderstorms might make the ridge line unwise. We decided to risk another retreat, but with wise counsel changed our route so that the slippery risks of the wet north slide would not be the deterrent. This meant likely longer and more challenging trail miles for our group.

I suspect I was somewhat overconfident of our ability to handle the added difficulty this new route represented, as well as feeling a bit of the time pressure our quest requires for the August 24 deadline to finish all 48 peaks. Thus we began our ascent of Sabbaday falls with less than our usual trail study and reading of the trail reports which aid in preparation for the journey.

A treacherous water crossing

The stream crossings always make more work for my blind footsteps and often not only slow the group as a result, but also make it necessary for me to utilize human guides earlier and more often than on the typical hike. So while we made generally good progress on the earliest part of the Sabbaday Falls trail, we found our pace greatly diminished by the first significant water crossings and the seemingly endless additional crossings caused by the transformation of every rivulet into a swollen stream.

By the “Fool Killer Slide” we were well behind schedule and had to consider some questions of impending thunderstorms on the ridge. We then encountered the steepest section of the trail and most challenging scrambles, which increased these concerns and it took a team of support to help ensure we reached the col between our goals for a slightly late and hasty lunch.

Dropping our packs eased all burdens and increased our pace as the gentler ridge line allowed for a quick out and back to the Middle Tripyramid peak. The cloud cover threatened ominously and we knew more haste was going to be required. Instead of an out and back to return on Sabbaday, we realized we could shorten our mileage and perhaps find a gentler trail by crossing North peak and heading down the Pine Bend trail. It would add a mile road walk to the end but the impending storm effectively made the decision for us.

Group on Middle Tripyramid

We stepped up the pace across the half mile ridge to claim our 40th non-winter peak and then immediately ducked down the headwall of North peak. In moments, the booming thunder confirmed the wisdom of our choice to get off the ridge line but steep slippery scrambles made for a tremendously slow 0.8 mile in which human guides helped me with safety and speed but only by the the willing hard work of the team for which I’m very fortunate.

Several cloudbursts soaked us thoroughly and an extended burst of hail pummelled our progress for a bit as well. The trail was gentler than Sabbaday but miles were slow and full of more water crossings and heavy mud as water logged boots and pruny feet were feeling the cost of the day’s journey. We were on trail for more than 11 hours with more than the normal allotment of bumps and bruises. Many mentioned the mantra of “earning every step” on this day’s travels.

Never take your success for granted! The mountains can always present tough challenges.

Thus it was that we emerged along the infamous Kancamangus Highway to find the mile “walk” had been run by Jennifer to ensure all car shuffling was easier on the bulk of the team. We passed on tailgate time and eased weary bodies into our vehicles for the journeys home. We did, however, take recollections of our shared experience and the team support which was the essence of this trip.

Some hikes are glorious moments of unparalleled views and feelings of personal conquest. The weather and work hid much of those moments from me on this hike. The teamwork and barely achieved perseverance became the difference between success and failure. It was a hard-edged reminder that while we may set an expectation of achieving the quest and set an aggressive schedule to hopefully achieve success, the weather and mountains have much sway. We made all the right decisions and came together for a well earned reward but we won’t forget the goal ahead is by no means assured.

Today I salute Drew, Robert, Jennifer, Aaron, Dana, Chris, Michael, Bren, Carl, Tracy and of course the Mighty Quinn. I salute also the respect due to mountains which provide so much variety of experience and lessons. Like most tales, this story only scratches the surface of immersing personally into the experience and I am grateful for my opportunity to do so.

Quinn says, "So what's next??"


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