Adams Family Union

by Randy Pierce

There are many reasons this was the most daunting hike to date. The weather forecast did not help much, as thunderstorm potential was present every day of our trip. Our group hit the trailhead at 7:00am on Saturday with good weather and appropriate anxiety. A sense of urgency kept words and packing efficient as we began the 3.8-mile ascent up Valley Way. Quinn sensed the apprehension as his work was cautious but quick through the easier early miles. As the terrain steepened with a few trickier points, Rob Carroll shouldered the challenge of guiding me, while Cliff Dike took on Quinn care. We became quickly efficient at communicating and our speed was solid as is evident by our reaching the hut by 12:30pm.

The immediate excitement was the approach of a medical helicopter. An ankle injury had forced a hiker to spend four days at the hut awaiting weather good enough to land a helicopter and evacuate her from the challenging trails. This was an ominous reality check despite our successful work thus far. We enjoyed lunch at the beautifully renovated hut while debating the timing of going for Adams during this better weather. Uncertain of how well we would manage the terrain of either summit, we opted for the practice of the shorter Mt. Madison. The decision was rewarding as Kyle led me along the most challenging footing I have yet traversed in these mountains. Our significant work together in the past paid dividends as well. We made the summit in well under an hour and clear skies with no wind gave us the opportunity to appreciate the beauty that surrounded us. It is simply awe-inspiring to experience the full majesty of the heart of this 300 million year old mountain range unfurled from atop the northeast corner of the Presidential peaks.

Slower but steady and satisfying work led us back down to the AMC Madison Springs Hut. We fully appreciated the many renovation upgrades and a turkey dinner, which was an incredible repast for this group of hungry hikers. The ‘buzz’ of many enthusiastic members of our team and the full entourage of travelers was an excellent energy burst. Some enjoyed a naturalist presentation while Kyle’s advance scouting of the Gulf Side Trail unearthed a different bit of nature. A young, but large moose had wandered above tree line and watched us from the shoulder of John Quincy Adams. We shared Kyle’s find with many and all delighted in the rare experience before settling onto a bench to once again savor a spectacular sunset. Day one was in the books with complete success and thoughts were turning to the deteriorating weather reports and tomorrow’s monumental goal.

Packs were loaded before breakfast and we were quickly upon the trail to seek the peak before the weather arrived. It was a very pleasant morning and Quinn was called upon initially. The terrain was challenging for our work together, and due to the time pressure, we attempted human guidance once again. John Corbett’s tall frame and long strides would match my own well and so he joined the ranks of those guiding me. Our speed increased as we worked together along the edge of the beautiful King’s Ravine. It was more than an hour to traverse the Gulf Side Trail but we hit Thunderstorm Junction earlier than the storms and still felt strong in body and mind. A storm was definitely coming but there was some time, so Kara Minotti Becker, our leader, took over as my guide while Ben Becker took an additional role to scout the route for her as we ascended the summit cone of Mt. Adams. Whether it was our focus, the anticipation, or the success of this double team, the terrain seemed less challenging than Madison to me. The crevices were deeper, the stones sharper and more erratic, yet our route led us smoothly to the summit just as the wind began to rise higher.

Even as the celebratory summit picture was taken, two probing cloud hands reached over Mt. Washington and hurled the dense storm clouds over the summit and towards us. We ratcheted up the urgency significantly and began a hasty descent! Moments later, we realized the terrain would be considerably more difficult going down, and Kyle took over guiding with Ben’s continued scouting. As the first drops began, pack covers and rain gear was donned just in time to withstand the worst of the sleet, which began to pelt our trail and us. Our progress was necessarily slower than we would have preferred, but still quick for the pre-trip expectations.

It had turned to rain by the time we rounded the exposed western edges of the ravine and we were managing the slippery wet rocks very well. We finally found the comfort of the hut, and a long afternoon and evening allowed the group camaraderie to grow stronger as we celebrated our successful experiences. We read books from the hut supply, played games, and partook of the educational presentation on Geology of the Presidentials, while heavy rain and dark clouds encased the hut. It was a long but gratifying evening in which our “Adams Family” hungered for more hiking together.

Monday, July 4, brought us beautiful weather for our descent down Valley Way, which would signify the full success of our trip. Feeling the confidence of our prior work, we allowed time to dry much gear in the warm sun as we shared stories and jests atop the col. Finally, at 9:30am we reluctantly released our hold upon the hut. Kara worked the more difficult and steep section, to practice the different challenges that going down presents for me. After a couple of hours of the slower terrain, Ben replaced her for his first work guiding me, though he had watched and learned much previously. With the somewhat easier trail frequently dotted with the grooved slots, which challenge Quinn and I together, Ben made a long two hours of work, up to the easier final stretch where Quinn eagerly took back his job, and raced out with me in tow. Our expedition was at an end, and yet another team had become a key part of my life and the experience of our quest. These mountains deserve all the daunting words and emotions they held in advance of this trip. This group deserves all the accolades for undertaking the challenge, building our bonds, and savoring an exquisite experience. I may not ever be so fortunate as to assemble this team again but I will always treasure this journey and hope for the possibility for an “Adams Family Reunion” on whatever adventure might await!


Whiteface and Passaconaway lift us above last year!

by Randy Pierce

Prior to this year’s hiking schedule, my collective knowledge of Whiteface and Passaconaway could fit into a single sentence – likely spelled incorrectly! One of the aspects of this quest in which I delight is the historical explorations for each hike. I was amazed at the incredible tale of Passaconaway and the rich historical depth missing from my school education. He was a great chief who united the disease/plague depleted tribes to ‘wage peace’ upon the European settlements throughout the 1600s. He (potentially) lived  to a venerable 120 years of age and interestingly relevant to the timing is that a great cirque upon the mountain was not forested,  such that trees of more than 400 years still live, thereby providing a living connection from his time to our own!

The trail up Whiteface

On June 18, 2011, we set upon the slopes of Whiteface with the chance to congratulate an inspiring hiker (Congratulations Pat!) who would finish his 48 with these last two mountains. He was by himself, and while we shared the trail for a time to allow him to marvel at Quinn’s work, it highlighted for me the shared journey of so many in these mountains. We reached the Blueberry ledges many had warned me would be challenging. Rain had held off long enough for us to pass sections that might otherwise have been too much for us when wet and slippery. We were afforded some incredible views of the Ossipee Ring Dike Complex, the entirety of a majestic lakes region, the “Bruschi” Belknaps, as well as both the Tripyramids and Chicorua’s magnificence. There is good reason Chicorua is the most photographed mountain in the entire world!

Whiteface achieved, our group of Kyle, Aimee, Tracy, Quinn and I came together such as these experiences allow. The thunderstorm rolled through without rain slowing our pace, though it did blessedly eradicate the presence of black flies. Still, the saddle, as most seem, was long and slow getting us to our campsite near 6:00 p.m. We setup our tents and decided we could attempt (pack-free) a speedier push for the .7 miles of trail that would give us our second peak for the day. Kyle led me for speed, and our focus was as strong as it has ever been on a summit. When the one incredible view unfurled to display the Tripyramids, I realized that in roughly half an hour we’d come to 40 yards shy of the summit and barely realized the impressive work that entailed. The surprise celebration of success came quickly, even on the unremarkable actual summit. We descended before dark to dinner and a quiet camp in the woods below. This was our sixth summit of the young season, while the prior year’s start to 2020 Vision Quest had given us only five total successful summits. We were proud and admittedly a bit tired as meals gave way to stories, and soon to slumber and the sound of wind whispering to us of some secret messages of reflection.

Dicey Mill Trail led us out on Sunday, Father’s day. It was the gentlest of all the trails I’ve yet encountered and our speed was higher than normal. We arrived to the trailhead before many day hikers were setting out that morning. Each of us had many reasons for appreciating the benefit of an early retreat but I know that these summits will stay with me for a long time. I think the experiences I shared with the others will remain with me even longer, thanks to a small and strong team!


No Letdown for Team 2020

by Kyle Dancause

In sports, there is much talk and concern over the dreaded letdown game. For those not familiar with the term, a letdown game is one where a team comes off an emotional, meaningful victory and turns in an uninspired, lackluster performance in their following game. Another contributing factor to a letdown performance is when a team looks past their present opponent to a more daunting, challenging foe looming in the near horizon. Whether you believe in this letdown concept or not, acknowledging its possibility allows us to see how Team 2020 may be perfectly positioned for a letdown performance.

The sign indicating the way to Passaconaway's summit

As the interim coach, or hike leader, of Team 2020 on our upcoming game against Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway of the White Mountain Sandwich Range conference, I must warn my team against a letdown performance. Team 2020 is on a roll. With recent success against perennial powerhouses Owl’s Head, Mt. Garfield, and Mt. Lafayette, the Vision Quest squad is off to a roaring start for the 2011 hiking season. Randy and Quinn’s successful return to the Pemi is proof of the vast improvements they have made since this time last year. With new experiences and new hiking companions, the team continues to learn, reflect, and grow stronger. As Vision Quest’s confidence and excitement grows, we inevitably begin to look ahead to what many are calling the game of the year, the clash of the titans, as team 2020 takes on #2 ranked Mt. Adams and #5 ranked Mt. Madison on July 4th weekend. So there you have our current situation, sandwiched between a successful trip to the Pemi and a looming battle with the Northern Presidentials. Do you think Team 2020 may be in danger of that letdown performance?

I don’t. With Randy wearing the captain’s armband and Quinn and Tracy sharing the assistant captain duties, I have full confidence that Team 2020 will be physically and mentally prepared for Whiteface and Passaconaway. I have faith in Randy’s attitude and leadership, Tracy’s unwavering support, and Quinn’s tail wagging, that our leaders will get our team motivated and ready to go. I have been told by one rather knowledgeable and experienced friend that Whiteface and Passaconaway pose some of the most challenging, viewless hiking of all the 48. I’ve read trip reports that claim that the rock scrambling on the Whiteface ledges can be quite intimidating and dangerous. With 12 miles of hiking and significant elevation gain over two days, we have a stiff challenge in front of us, but I look forward to the hard work, learning experiences, and most importantly, time spent in the woods with good friends.

For those who still have doubts of a letdown game, I leave you with a brief tale of Passaconaway – more of which I’ll share to the team in the locker room before the game. Passaconaway is named for the legendary chief of the Pennacook tribe. Passaconaway was revered as a great Indian chief, medicine man, and peacemaker to both the natives and white settlers. There are two unique tales about Passaconaway’s death which I learned from reading a short excerpt from Charles Beals’ Passaconaway in the White Mountains. The first story claims that Passaconaway was buried in a cave on Mount Agamenticus in present day York, ME, a significant mountain in Randy and Quinn’s hiking history.

The second tale is as follows. The native’s feared the mountains and seldom, if ever, visited the summits. The most feared was Mt. Agiocochook (Mt. Washington) where the natives believed The Great Spirit resided. I leave you with the tale.

“The tradition runs that there was to be a Council of the Gods in heaven and it was Passaconaway’s wish that he might be admitted to the divine Council Fire; so he informed the Great Spirit of his desire. A stout sled was constructed, and out of a flaming cloud twenty-four gigantic wolves appeared. These were made fast to the sled. Wrapping himself in a bearskin robe, Passaconaway bade adieu to his people, mounted the sled, and, lashing the wolves to their utmost speed, away he flew. Through the forests from Pennacook and over the wide ice-sheet of Lake Winnepesaukee they sped. Reeling and cutting the wolves with his thirty-foot lash, the old Bashaba, once more in his element, screamed in ecstatic joy. Down dales, valleys, over hills and mountains they flew, until, at last, enveloped in a cloud of fire, this “mightiest of Pennacooks” was seen speeding over the rocky shoulders of Mount Washington itself; gaining the summit, with unabated speed he rode up into the clouds and was lost to view?forever!” – Charles Beals


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