Moosilauke



9 Jun 18

By Randy Pierce

A group of hikers on a mountain summit with a partly cloudy sky behind them.I joined the students of this leadership and backpacking course in the spring of 2010 in preparation for my own hiking adventures and to provide an untypical aspect for those students. Those experiences and friendships left a significant imprint upon me and I continued to be involved in different ways through the years since then. This year Brent asked me to act as the TA for the class and we went through the appropriate approvals, hoping my many experiences in hiking, leadership, and communication would provide positive guidance in the classroom and along the trails.

Day 1: We set out on May 21 with my legs being a little weary from the Gate City Marathon the day before and my pack a little heavy as I was carrying Autumn’s sleeping bag and food along with all of my own supplies. The two student leaders of the day, Brian and Sam had provided us walkie-talkies to keep communications open in our two vehicles as we approached the trailhead for our first day’s hike into Wachipauka Pond.

Hikers with full packs walk on a rocky trail. As usual Autumn spent the first 100 yards being a little too enthusiastic and I had to mitigate her enthusiasm with my own enhanced caution as my right hand trekking pole work was emphasized. Quickly she settled into high quality trail work and I was very proud as on the hot day and steady climb she simply shined in work and obvious love for the wilderness. I spent the early part near the back with Brian behind me as sweeper, ensuring the group was together and ahead of him. As we began our first descent we switched to a little trail entertainment by partnering up, me with Caitlin, to talk about our day and trip goals with each other. It was a chance to begin building better connections and worked rather nicely. Ultimately as we reached a series of “bog bridges.” Autumn and I worked them tediously but Caitlin had the opportunity to help by becoming the first student to choose a little human guiding. She set the tone for many others later and we worked the short stretch of trail building the guide language for a comfortable pace and quality interaction.

In short order, our shortest day brought us to Wachipauka Pond. The temperatures were ideal, the scene as majestic as previous trips promised, and for a time we just relaxed and enjoyed the remote serenity earned by an afternoon of trail work together. My SteriPEN water purifier refused to light as the single downside of my evening preparations, but Brent and the team found ways to help Autumn and me have purified water for the trip. The leaders brought the team together and bear bags were hung, tarps for sleeping and cooking were established and an idyllic evening descended complete with one of the sunset gifts those who experience them in the White Mountains usually treasure for the rest of their days. We had a couple of meetings to close out our activity before sleeping open to the air with the sounds of the pond and the likely moose who traipsed belligerently within 50 yards of our campsite and left his marks for us to find in the morning.

Rocky trail with a blue sky behind it.Day 2: Samm and Anthony were our leaders. (This “Samm” was male, vs. the female “Sam” who led on day 1.) Anthony was taking a bonus leadership day to fill in for our first casualty as Chloe had an illness requiring her to miss the trip. We started out with a steady upward climb to the Webster Slide summit and a beautiful overlook, our first official “peak” of the trip. We did a little stretching as a group and had a lot more interactions amongst the team as both Bridget and Emma took some turns guiding me to supplement the great work being done by Autumn as well. Down is simply always easier with a human guide and there were some fun challenge points along this route. We made excellent time to cross a road and make a significant water crossing which included an educational moment for the various methods of safer water crossing. Autumn showcased multiple crossings until a stick enticement convinced her to go all the way over and be held there awaiting my cross.

There is a point in most hikes where conversations bring teams together and as the rain held off for us, the trail was generally gentle, we came together decently. Just to enhance the scenario of challenge, a “fake” broken arm practice was added to the leader challenge and still we arrived to the Jeffers Brook Shelter ahead of schedule and feeling strong despite the rain joining our group. Several of us made use of the shelter and had a few AT through and section hikers to enhance the evening conversations. The evening debrief was a supportive and encouraging preparation for what most expected to be our most challenging day.

Sign pointing to various trails including Glencliff Trail 0.9 milesDay 3: Bridget and Anthony had us up at 5 with light traces of the rain still falling. Brent was ill and that complicated the start, as did our plan to hike a short distance to a car spot where we would have breakfast and adjust some equipment for the remaining trip. This was more important, as Brent’s medical device had lost its charge and the back-up battery wasn’t working. As my water purification system had seemingly failed, Brent was my support and my cook partner so both of us became a delay for the group. At the car Brent charged his device, we repacked, and set out for the Glencliff trail and Mt. Moosilauke!

Because of the low water aspects, I had my heaviest water load, and below Glencliff the trail gets a little boulder-strewn. Due to this, after the steady steepness we reached a section of trail which was particularly hard work for Autumn and me. At this point I shared my struggle to keep the group pace and for a short time switched to Emma guiding me to bolster both of us for a bit. Then Samm took his first shift to handle the long steady steep up to and over the headwall of Moosilauke with us pushing well into the full hunger-almost-hangry range for the team. A well earned lunch below south peak recharged us for the glorious ridge walk which Autumn handled once again until we emerged in the boulder fields and alpine zone where Brent guided as we all managed an impressive 40 mph wind for our spectacular summit reward!

Our goal for the day was Beaver Brook Shelter and so a fair bit of hiking remained. The trail involved some particularly precarious sections and due to Brent’s overall health concerns, he needed to be free of guiding. The students realized Autumn and I would be slow on this track and so took the challenging load for a strenuous section concluding with a considerable amount of snow/monorail hiking led by Sam, working some impressive final descents to the much celebrated shelter. It was a very weary team debrief, proud of the accomplishments and having fully come together to work through all the challenges and fully understand the many ways of supporting each other. Our AT section hiker had made the journey with us and surprised some by sharing that in his 23 years of section hiking the Appalachian Trail, this was his hardest day ever.

Bright sunrise on Day 4 of the hike. Day 4: Our fourth and final day began with the most powerful sunrise of the trip. We faced out over the Kinsmans, the Lafayette ridge, and the presidentials beyond with the sun rising to give the layered mountains a particularly majestic splendor few will ever forget. Caitlin and Emma were our leaders of the day. Brent had experienced his roughest night and was resolutely tending himself to overcome a difficult start. It was crisp and cold at our 3800 feet of elevation and Autumn wisely chose to curl up with our AT companion as he was the last one in a sleeping bag once we had all packed and prepared for departure. We set out as quickly as possible to retrace some of our prior evening’s steps up before descending steadily down through an old forest. It was part of a long-ago Dartmouth ski trail from an era when skiing involved no turns other than what the trail made!

Some of the terrain was more difficult than anticipated and trail games had the group laughing and entertained while I was in full concentration. On a particularly rough trail, I rolled an ankle on a shifting rock more seriously than usual, which resulted in a rare fall for me. The mirth of the group would be essential as would Brent’s high focus guidance to ease my hobbling worked out the long miles still remaining. When the trail eased by our stream crossing and gentle footing allowed us to pick up pace and find the Ravine Lodge for reward, a weary but satisfied group had once again undergone the transformative process of such hikes.

Leadership, guidance, and the richly rewarding wilderness experience were certainly all part of the process. For Autumn and me, we had bonded well with the people of this trip and it was easy at times to forget the decades of difference in our ages because of the commonality of our experience. There is a sadness to the ending and knowing we will never have the same group together to experience all of the varied powerful moments we did share. There is, however, much reward in knowing we grew together, shared together and all of us, student, teacher, and Autumn extraordinaire experienced individual growth on our journey towards personal peaks. I’ll take the growth and the memories and the solace of knowing the choice to be on the path is the most rewarding one of all.

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28 May 16

By Randy Pierce

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

Randy and friends fly an American flag atop Mt. Moosilauke in honor of those who died in service, both civil and military.

In honor of Memorial Day, our thoughts appropriately turn to the many men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. This week, in respectful appreciation, I will simply thank  them for the service they gave and the freedom I experience.

My only aside from this is to appreciate particularly a trio who are no longer with us and have served so very well. My father, Theodore “Bud” Pierce, served in Korea and has been gone from me nearly four years. My two prior dog guides, the Mighty Quinn and Ostend, each spent their lives in loving service to me directly and I’ll choose to reflect on them this memorial Day as well.

Thank you to all who have served and no longer share the living world with us.

Quinn on Mt. Flume. We love you, boy!

Quinn on Mt. Flume.

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8 Nov 14

By Randy Pierce

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

Randy and friends fly an American flag atop Mt. Moosilauke in honor of those who died in service, both civil and military.

My vision of Veterans Day is from my youth with fog encroaching on a chill morning over a memorial in my hometown of Colebrook, NH. The haunting echo of the bugle is barely finished when the 21-gun salute rips through the echo and startles my somber reflection. My parents and community had instilled in me a sacred duty to honor the service gifted by all our veterans to our country. Veterans Day was one of the special holidays.

Is it still special? Certainly some make efforts to appreciate the choices and all too often sacrifices of our veterans. It does seem less emphasized to me today though, and I wonder if it’s the advent of so many “special” days, from “Unwrapped Twizzler Day” (yes, I hope I only made that up) to a culture that seemingly has lost some intensity of focus on any particular holiday or other day of note. Perhaps the ugliness of war and the reality of instant news coverage of any and every atrocity or failing has desensitized us and increased apathy?

For me, all of this is entirely my subjective observation. I sadly believe it as firmly as I believe there are many very worthy causes deserving of our limited attention and it is our personal responsibility to cut through the dilution of emotion and give focus to as many as we can reasonably manage.

Blindness is a cause to which I dedicate much time and energy. Cancer has impacted my life in so many painful ways it must get my full focus and all too often fury. These are reasonable and worthy points and I’m proud of the means by which I support them both. For all the people who do and have served our country, from my father to the many friends and family across all branches of service, I am humbled and appreciative. For some it may have been just a job or means to an education, and for some a career, but for all an agreement to serve. The reality of such service in hostile and abhorrent circumstances I likely may never fully fathom.

I’ll be grateful all year for the very significant freedom their choices provide. On Veterans Day this year and every year, I hope I will join many in recalling the people who are the veterans so worthy of our dedication on their day. Thank you veterans and to all those who join in honoring them with me.

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1 Sep 12

By Randy Pierce

“The roar of applause upon raising the American flag gave me goose bumps up my entire back, finishing at the base of my neck. Hiking Mt. Moosilauke to raise the American flag on 9/11 as part of the Flags on the 48 program, I wasn’t sure what emotions I would feel. I anticipated feeling patriotism, some sadness, and being filled with very reflective thoughts. However I did not anticipate the tremendous pride I would feel being part of a team that displayed a tribute to our fallen heroes of September 11.”

–Rob Webber as part of 2020 Vision Quest’s Flags on the 48 tribute 2011

Mt. Liberty, Flags on the 48We founded 2020 Vision Quest on Independence day in the year 2010, the same year the “Flags on the 48” graciously allowed us to be part of the team on Mt. Liberty. There was some powerful anticipation in celebrating Liberty, Independence and Community even as we were slowly learning just how poignant the community experience was for this program.

Last year in anticipation of the experience, I wrote a blog expressing my belief in taking Positive Steps. The words I wrote then remain very true as I anticipate our opportunity to again be part of this program:

“There are times in our lives which leave an indelible mark upon our memory. September 11, 2001 is a poignant example of such a time. I can still readily draw forth the stunned shock of the moment the tragedy became real for me. Today, ten years later, I am gathering with many of my community to celebrate our tribute to 9/11 and the positive impact of the choices we have made to take steps forward.”

I remain convinced that in all challenges, the most impactful point for any of us is the moment we choose to begin taking positive steps forward.

This year we have been assigned to join a group tending the flag on the summit of the northernmost of the 48. We’ll be atop Mt. Cabot where last winter we climbed while bald eagles soared on the updrafts of the cliffs of this peak. I think it appropriate that the symbol of our country was so evident on my last trip to this mountain and that spirit will be so strongly in my heart as I reflect upon friendship, sacrifice, choices and the power and emotion available to those who choose to see first with their hearts. As Helen Keller so aptly said, “the most beautiful things are viewed with our hearts and not our eyes.”

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

I hope that wherever you are as 9/11 arrives this year–or even Saturday, 9/8, when the Flags on the 48 will celebrate the event–you find the time to reflect upon all things dear to you and the many sacrifices involved in preserving them. I hope you will think of all the opportunities you have to take steps forward in a positive response to any circumstance. I’ll cherish the service of many who help support this outlook and I will recommit myself to giving the best service I can in the ways which I am afforded opportunity.

Should you want just a hint of the flavor of how worthy and moving this experience may be, I encourage you to watch the video montage crafted by Tracy last year or read the words of my friends Jenifer and Rob as they wrote about their views on the experience. I took the time for all three of these things and feel better prepared to appreciate the moment and my life as a result. Thank you Tracy, Rob, and Jenifer!

Tracy’s Video Montage from Mt. Moosilauke 2011:

Jenifer Tidwell’s 2011 Flags on the 48 Anticipation and Commemoration

Rob Webber’s Reflections on Mt. Moosilauke 2011

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16 Jan 12

By Randy Pierce

Quinn is a master climber as he leads Randy up a treacherous path.

Our winter hikes on the “NH 48” have begun in earnest and have been very successful so far. We have already traversed a number of peaks, with our most impressive achievement this winter to date being our climb of seven summits of over 4000 feet in four days. More than 40 miles and over 10,000 feet of elevation gain is simply a respectable challenge for most people; we have accomplished this and significantly more as winter has barely begun to overtake the White Mountains. Our challenges have been significant–the trail-heads are generally bare ground or icy coated rocks, which makes the hikes more difficult. They transition above 2500 feet to several feet of snow with a narrow snow shoe trail broken through where other hikers may have passed. While the snow often makes the going easier, that transition has some steep and slippery points with hidden foot traps throughout. These are not the ideal conditions to make climbing easier for me or my guide dog Quinn.

Quinn’s fame is growing both along the network of trails and in the cyberspace network which carries the tale of the tail-wagging wonder who is guiding a totally blind man to the top of peak after peak during the White Mountains winter 2012 season. To be certain, the accolades are well deserved as our speed and efficiency continue to increase and the number of peaks begin to fall beneath our feet.

"Has Dad found someone else?"

In that four-day span, Garfield, Tom, Field, Willie, Liberty, Flume and Moosilauke were added to Tecumseh, Jackson, Hale, and Cabot on our winter season’s summit success stories. An assortment of different hikers have joined us on the various hikes and we’ve met an significant number of fantastic people upon the trails. Many of those who witness the marvel of Quinn’s work are astounded by the dedication and ability he possesses. What many may not realize is that in our group, there is a battle for top dog.

It is not with Dusty, the recent rescue pup of Bob and Geri Hayes, though he is admittedly a little marvel in his own right. His boundless energy in surging ahead on every trail to the extent of his 20-foot leash or his near-constant darting into the side woods to plunge his rodent-sniffing nose after every squirrel scent with rarely a moment delay in our progress.

It is in fact Bob Hayes who is battling it out with Quinn for “top dog.” Not only does Bob bring a fair bit of hiking experience and motivation into our undertaking, he also brings a supportive human guide element to particularly tricky areas and many of the descents when we need or want to increase our speed.

Randy, Bob, and the Mighty Quinn make the best team!

Bob’s and my teamwork has continued to improve our communication and efficiency. Using techniques such as putting my hand upon his pack so I can follow along behind him have helped us traverse vast sections of trail in times better than the AMC book suggests for those regions. We have developed an endurance of work which has far surpassed any prior guiding efforts, and in the case of Mt. Hale actually involved virtually jogging the entire descent of the trail for a summit-to-car travel time of an incredible 2 hours and 15 minutes!

Each person accompanying or encountering us for any length of time upon these wilderness excursions will undoubtedly catch a different part of our experience. Many have provided me with encouragement and inspiration in various ways, for which I am incredibly appreciative. As for who will be “top dog”: the simple fact is that both Bob and the mighty Quinn share honors as my guides, both outstanding in their own ways. They have my full gratitude for their willingness to team up with me and make this incredible journey possible.

How many thousands of feet of elevation we climb, miles of trail we cover, or simple number of peaks we achieve this winter will be determined as the winter unfolds. I already know full well how much I love the experience and celebrating our joys and accomplishments together!

Team portrait!

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29 Sep 11

By Rob Webber

The roar of applause upon raising the American flag gave me goose bumps up my entire back, finishing at the base of my neck. Hiking Mt. Moosilauke to raise the American flag on 9/11 as part of the Flags on the 48 program, I wasn’t sure what emotions I would feel. I anticipated feeling patriotism, some sadness, and being filled with very reflective thoughts. However I did not anticipate the tremendous pride I would feel being part of a team that displayed a tribute to our fallen heroes of September 11. The jubilation of the – I’m guessing – one hundred other hikers as we raised Old Glory on the summit was a tremendous feeling I’ll never forget.

The group assembles the flag on the summit.

We had a terrific team of hikers on September 11, 2011, with each member carrying part of the flagpole, flag or rigging to the summit. Once there, we each took a job we thought we could execute well – assembling the pole, deploying anchors in the rock or preparing the lines. Given the size of our flag (6’ x 10’) and typical White Mountain winds, we secured our monument with no less than seven lines. I think it could have withstood 50 mph winds(!), but fortunately we only experienced a fraction of that. In fact, while the winds at noon were fairly strong (enough to make our flag fly very majestically), by the end of our stay the winds were not even strong enough to make the Stars and Stripes fly at full attention.

There certainly was some sadness during our tribute. Thinking of the reason we were there is enough to make the toughest drill sergeant misty. We had some wonderful remarks by people who had special connections to 9/11. Those were excellent speeches, but I couldn’t help but wiping away the start of a tear thinking of all the people we lost ten years ago, and how some of their close relatives were with us today.

The hikers make new friends at the summit.

One feeling I did not anticipate (but probably should have) was the warm camaraderie we shared with so many hikers we met for the first time while on Moosilauke. Hiking is an activity which lends itself so well to meeting new friends and sharing experiences, and this setting only enhanced that feeling. Our commitment flying the flag on the summit from noon until 2:00 pm made conversing with people easier. I can’t imagine we would have spent close to three hours on the summit had it not been for the Flags on the 48 program, but in doing so it forced us to relax, meet so many new people, share special experiences, and have long conversations about a myriad of topics – not just the two or three minute typical chat you might have with someone in that case.

My day on Moosilauke was one filled with emotions I expected and didn’t expect, and gave me memories I will have forever.

The group flies the flag on the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01.

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12 Sep 11

There are times in our lives which leave an indelible mark upon our memory. September 11, 2001 is a poignant example of such a time. I can still readily draw forth the stunned shock of the moment the tragedy became real for me. Today, ten years later, I am gathering with many of my community to celebrate our tribute to 9/11 and the positive impact of the choices we have made to take steps forward.

On 9/11/11, we joined the Flags on the 48 and raised our American flag in honor of all the people who dedicate their lives to making a better community and country. We are privileged to be a part of a community which chooses to respond to this tragedy by giving honor to the sacrifices of the many lost and the many left behind with tremendous wounds upon their hearts. The emotional surge of grief is part of the remembrance and dedication, but so to is the swell of pride and hope as we choose to honor the past while creating a community bound by hope and a determination to emphasize the positives within humanity.

On 9/12, one day after our hike, we will gather at the 99 Restaurant in Nashua, NH ostensibly to partake of a 2020 Vision Quest Fund Raiser. We’ll celebrate and commemorate the events of our hike and the powerful meanings behind so many of the experiences which have led to this point. We’ll feast and drink and watch the New England Patriots open their NFL season on Monday Night Football. If you join us and present the form below to your server, 15% of your bill will be donated to our 501(c)(3) organization.

http://2020visionquest.org/DiningForACause.pdf

But there is a more important purpose behind our gathering. The celebration of people coming together will demonstrate the power of community. We will share our grief and our hopes. We will remind ourselves that we may influence many aspects of our lives and, most powerfully of all, that we may always choose the manner in which we will respond to any event within our lives. The power of that choice will have a greater impact upon our lives than any event could ever have. As we did on our Flags on the 48 hike and in our 9/11 response, we choose to take positive steps forward. To quote Robert Frost in the closing of his famous poem about choices on diverging roads: “That has made all the difference.”

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9 Sep 11

By Jenifer Tidwell

The unimaginable happens.  Then what?

Ten years ago Sunday, a young Brooklyn firefighter named Chris Pickford lost his life when the Tower 2 fell. He was 32 years old. I’m a mother, and my heart recoils at the thought of losing my son in such a way. Yet it happened to so, so many people that day — we just can’t imagine all that pain, thousands of times over.

Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. And barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Irene struck here. Like many readers of this blog, I indirectly know people who were lost to those disasters, not to mention homes and other beloved places.

We hold the funerals. We mourn, we clean up, we rebuild, and the river of time moves implacably on.

Later come the anniversaries and the memorials. To me, these hold a different meaning. Removed in time from the immediate impact, memorials call us not to recover, but to change. They ask us: how has this disaster changed you? And how does it change the world through you?

Tribute to 9/11.

This Sunday, 2020 Vision Quest will take part in one of those memorials — the Flags on the 48 9/11 Memorial Hike. Of course, all of our hikes aspire to be part of something bigger than “just a hike” (we’re raising funds for two charities), but in this 9/11 hike, we’re taking part in a collective effort that really is far bigger than ourselves. Each of the 48 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire will fly an American flag carried up by a hiking group. This carefully organized effort has been going on for nine years, occurring on or near the anniversary of 9/11.

Chris Pickford’s family is entrusting to us the flag that draped his coffin ten years ago. We will carry that flag up Mt. Moosilauke, and we will fly it from the summit from noon to 2:00. His cousin plans to hike with us, and we welcome him warmly.

How has 9/11 changed you? How do you respond to the anniversary this year?

For many people, simply remembering is response enough. There’s nothing wrong with that; sometimes it’s all we can manage, and remembering is important. Others respond by changing their lives entirely, such as by joining the armed services, or by working overseas to defeat poverty and illness and ignorance. God bless them all.

For me, the Flags on the 48 is certainly one way I respond. I’ve hiked it almost every year, and it moves me deeply each time. I admit that I don’t have the courage to work on the front lines against military threats or global poverty. But another way I can respond is to raise a child who understands how different people may share this world in peace, and who knows the meaning of honor, sacrifice, and courage.

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