By “Sherpa” John Lacroix
Hiking on Mt. Isolation
Almost 4 years have passed now since I first met Randy and Quinn on Mount Agamenticus in Southern Maine. Prior to that meeting, I had never met a blind hiker, though had heard stories of a few in existence. They were largely elusive in nature to say the least. It has been an immense pleasure to get to know Randy over these years and to watch him develop and ultimately flourish as your everyday peak-bagger.
When I first met Randy, I wrote a trip report of my own titled “Seeing Is Believing” (linked to above). Every time I hike with Randy, I try to bring some new folks along so they can indeed see it, and believe it, that a blind man and his dog are legitimately tackling each and every 4,000-footer in New Hampshire.
I’ve done the 48, a few rounds now actually. I attempted to hike them all in one winter and came a few peaks short in the final week. I know a small part of the struggles, both mental and physical that Randy is taking on in his quest to complete the 48. Certainly winter hiking comes with perks. The rocks and roots are largely filled in by deep sticky maritime snows. Summer offers challenges some would say are unimaginable for this team. And yet, they soldier on. The rocks and roots are all there. So are the raging stream crossings of an unusually wet spring and summer, mud pits of various and sometimes surprising depths adorn the trails, and the bugs are as bad as they’ve ever been.
Stream crossing on Isolation.
Before moving to my new home state of Colorado in 2011, I had the honor of guiding Randy and team out to Owls Head. Many consider Owl’s Head to be one of the least popular summit of the 48. Nine miles from the nearest road and without any spectacular summit view. It was a two-day excursion that took everything we had to make it out and back. We took on bushwhacks, steep rocky slides, feet thick ice and knee deep snow on that trek. Not to mention the mind numbingly frigid streams.
On our first trip together, Randy stood emotional on top of South Twin and asked if I “really thought he could hike Mount Washington.” Never mind the 48, in one trip, Randy went from thoughts of 48 success to just summiting the tallest one. I told him then, “Randy, I truly we believe that with patience, we can so anything we put our mind to.” And so it was. It was on the Owl’s Head trek that I saw just how far Randy’s patience and mental resilience would take him on this journey. To the end.
Dry River Trail on Mt. Isolation
So it was with Isolation that I had the honor once again to guide Randy to and from one of New Hampshire’s highest peaks. This time, to the other of the least popular peaks. Isolation is a 14.6-mile round trip on the Rocky Branch route from US Route 16. A closed hike, we had packed it with 10 human souls and one guide dog. Unfortunately, the day of the hike only saw 6 human souls and the dog.
Doubts were expressed in the parking lot about our ability to negotiate the days hike with such a small crew. I never doubted it for a minute. I’ve seen what Randy is capable of, and heard of other tales along the way. Never once did I doubt our ability to make it to the summit, especially now with Randy exhibiting signs of “Summit Fever.” Though, I had convinced myself early on, that we’d get as far as we could before having to turn around at a reasonable time and that’s truly it.
Hiking through the wilderness at Mt. Isolation.
Our crew consisted of Randy and Quinn, Tracy, Jim Roy, Mike Cherim, Rick Stevenson, and myself. Quinn led to the height of land before I took over and guided Randy down to the first of five river crossings. It’s tough being 5’6″ and guiding a 6’4″ blind man. Trees I casually walk under without a thought I sometimes forget to mention to the other guy. Randy, in all likelihood, has a few dings on his head from this hike. It’s ok though… it builds character.
While guiding Randy, I watched him flip upside down and lay in a trail-turned-stream, bump his head a few dozen times, and get lost in shin-deep muck. Mike took over from River Crossing 1 to the summit. He did a fine job for his first time, really communicating well with Randy to tell him of the trails hazards and obstacles. They made surprisingly great time. We were on the summit in about 7 hours. There, we enjoyed a spectacular views of a cloud covered southern presidential range. I’d guide Randy back through the river, which we chose to just trudge through given our wet status, and then Mike would guide him back out to the car from there. All told, our 14.6 mile day took around 14 hours to complete.
The views get better as you near the top!
I could go on and on about the beauty of the Dry River Wilderness. The soggy trail. Soul-sucking mud. Lack of any truly spectacular views we all long for. I could go on about how well this team worked together to seamlessly get to and from one of the longest summits in a day. I could go on and on about how it rained at the end, and we all finished a bit soaked from head to toe. But that’s not the story here. The story continues to be Randy, Quinn, and Tracy. A family who has set out on an unimaginable journey to complete the 48 4,000-footers in the non-winter season. Close your eyes and hike a mile sometime, then think about it, then remember that that’s not even close to what it’s like for Randy. Think about his tenacity, his resiliency, his mental drive. Get out there and see it with him. See it all. Because Seeing is Believing.
It has been an incredible honor to guide Randy on his Owls Head and Isolation journeys. I appreciate his trust in me and others to lead him to these places given their unfair and unfortunate reputations. But as I’ve always told him, “Sometimes the view within is better than the view out.” We all need to remember that Randy continues to lead us… where our leading him is merely circumstantial. Thank You, Randy. Left-Right-Repeat, my friend. The end of the journey is near. It’s all downhill from here now. We’re all with you in spirit, no matter how near or far away we live. And thank you for the amazing opportunities to be a small part of your journey.
Fist bump! We're with you til the end.
*Photos courtesy of Tracy Pierce, John Lacroix, and Mike Cherim.