Cannon Mountain



1 Jun 13

By Randy Pierce

Old Man of the Mountain, 1911

It was my intention to begin our final hiking season with a bang–and starting on Cannon was the ideal first shot. Cannon is where we ended our single season winter quest and is for many the heart of NH as the home of the Old Man of the Mountain. His immense craggy profile collapsed ten years ago in a massive boulder slide. An iconic image gone from the world provided some reflections even as our crew began part one of our epic cross-notch journey!

Six of us set upon the trails a little before 9 a.m., knowing the first stage of the day was only 4.4 miles along the Northeast Kinsman Ridge Trail. It’s a reasonably steep trail with respectably challenging footing in many locations. This presents two challenges and the clear sky and unseasonably warm temperatures added a little unexpected heat to the mix as well.

 

Friendship on the trail

John, Dan, Cathy, Tracy, Randy and Quinn share a moment on the bench on Cannon Rim Trail

Still, the sounds of laughter made clear how quickly the mountains may overshadow other challenges of a normal day and help to guide us back to a serenity rare in other places. Jimmy Buffett would call it a “Latitude Adjustment” and Dan Gagne prefers “Altitude Adjustment” though the results are rather the same. The majesty atop East Cannon’s ledge is spectacular and the Lafayette ridge across the notch dwarfs most other considerations quickly. It was daunting to consider that later that day we’d be on the edge of that ridge having hiked both sides of the notch in a single day.

With that sobering thought, we packed away lunch and hiked to the rim trail. We took special note of the bench honoring all these mountains share to those who open themselves to such. An all-too-brief climb of the summit tower let us descend the still slightly icy trail that separated us from the next stage of our commencement hikes. Reaching the bottom is usually the end of a day, but we had only set the stage to make our launch more epic and worthy of our 2020 Vision Quest goals!

Quinn guides Randy up Lafayette

Greenleaf hut sits above 4,000 feet on the shoulder of Mt. Lafayette. The Old Bridle Path winds reasonably steeply with several sections known as the “Agonies” for good reason! Many of our crew departed and one new member joined us. Ultimately, three of us and the Mighty Quinn would undertake the next phase.

We had feasted and hydrated as best possible as the lower elevation heat remained respectable. As the path worked into the Walker Brook Gorge, we all noted how quickly the sounds of traffic fell to the mountain’s solace. It was our latest start ever for a mountain, but we knew that only 2.9 miles separated us from the hut and the rest we would need for Sunday’s Ridge walk.

While we already had obtained the summit of Lafayette several times, its neighbor across the ridge, Mt. Lincoln, was still necessary to reach our original goal of summiting all 48 in the non-winter. There is no direct ascent of Lincoln by trail and so a loop over Lafayette delivers the reward of an incredible ridge while adding very little to the total mileage. In fact, by adding in the hut stay we made our Sunday goal less than our Saturday work. Perhaps “less mileage” is a better description than “less work” since our final traverse through Falling Waters would prove to be the most difficult stretch of trail to date in our project!

We reached the hut as daylight was fading and not without some difficulty from weary legs and tired minds. The final scramble over the Agonies had drained me significantly and in hindsight a touch of heat stroke may have been at work. While my counterparts celebrated later into the evening, I trusted water and sleep to rejuvenate me for the next day.

The crew at the summit of Lafayette

Sunday began leisurely with much of that intended rejuvenation achieved. There was a good breakfast and much water before idyllic temperatures enabled a 7:40 a.m. start up the summit. Rising quickly above tree line, we reached the summit of Lafayette ahead of schedule and with views beyond the expectations of the team who had been told to expect an overcast day. Those views and perfect temperatures would continue for the entirety of the mildly challenging ridge walk over Mt. Truman and then up to Lincoln’s pointy peak. A brief summit celebration for our 38th peak obtained was short lived because the most challenging part of the entire weekend ordeal was still ahead.

Down into the col and across the knife edge of the ridge, we then strode up to Little Haystack and found the turn for Falling Waters Trail. Most choose to climb up this difficult, steep, slippery, and narrow trail and the reality of our choice was quickly upon us. True to trail reports, icy coatings on the steep upper section required a little traction for best risk management.

Randy takes a break to reconnect with an old acquaintance met on the trail

It was still slow going and required all the human guide skills and my own mental efforts. We traded out guides to allow for needed mental rest but my own concentration was tested repeatedly. Each greeting of a hiker heading up past us was a welcome mental break but always the miles ahead needed our attention. By the time the slope had eased considerably, we had reached the series of cascades and waterfalls which–while beautiful–provided a different style of challenge with slippery slab steps, narrow-edged ridge walks, and nearly endless tricky footing.

As the five stream crossings required yet a different bit of work for my blindness, it was not surprising that physically and mentally the day slipped a little closer to gruelling than ideal. But perseverance has its place; the rewards of what we had experienced were probably foremost on our minds after the final bridge crossing was achieved and we knew that officially only ten peaks remain in our quest.

While that might be dramatic enough to culminate our epic first weekend, there’s one further detail deserving of our attention. It wasn’t the many friends encountered along the trails either from our new community of hiking friends, or the encounters with folks on trails repeated often enough that acquaintances have begun. It was instead the smell of a grill and fresh steak tips and the surprise of finding my wife had set up a glorious tailgate of food and beverages to revitalize the most weary of hikers. It was the glorious moment of sitting in a comfy lawn chair and removing bruised and battered feet from the confinement of well trodden hiking boots and socks! It was revelling in the overall accomplishment and the potency of loving support.

The journey held many wonders and inspirations for me and our mission. Ten more peaks await this summer and I believe we’ll achieve our mission. It won’t be easy nor assured but with good friends, my faithful though aging Quinn, and a lot of perseverance, we will celebrate with another tailgate on August 24 and I hope many more of you may be there to revel in the experience with us!

A  spectacular view from the Cannon Lunch Spot

A spectacular view from the Cannon Lunch Spot

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4 May 13

By Randy Pierce

In 2010, we founded 2020 Vision Quest with a charitable mission and a goal to summit all 48 of the peaks rising above 4,000 feet in New Hampshire. While our historic single winter season accomplishment achieved a portion of that goal, we are proud to have worked through a very significant and differently challenging quest to reach them without the benefit winter snows bring to my blind footsteps. Twelve peaks remain between us and successfully achieving our original goal.

Our first hike will begin on Cannon mountain, once home to the symbol of NH. While the cliffs forming the visage of the Old Man collapsed a decade ago, the mountain remains dear to NH. It is the location where my winter quest culminated and is appropriate for launching this final season in style. We hope many hikers and non-hikers may be around to celebrate with us either on the trails or at the summit via the hike or the tram! We of course will be taking the trails both ways.

Our hiking day will not end at the end of trailhead for Cannon, however. We’ll quickly resupply and perhaps adjust some of the members in our group before crossing to the other side of the Franconia Notch and setting upon the Old Bridle path. Saturday’s travels are intended to end at the AMC Greenleaf hut.

This will set the stage for an early morning summit of Mt. Lafayette, which allows for an incredibly stunning ridge walk over to our actual goal, Mt. Lincoln! We’ll hopefully enjoy lunch atop this famous president’s peak and reflect upon the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg before descending via the Falling Waters trail which I have jokingly referred to as “Falling Blind Guy” due to the challenges of this trail in our winter journey.

Thus will our season begin with a pair of peaks necessary to complete our quest in our fourth year of what was originally intended as a more leisurely ten-year goal. Ten peaks will still remain to finish our non-winter 48 and the season of celebration will be underway. I expect to hike many more mountains in NH and perhaps beyond once the 2020 Vision Quest accomplishment is complete. I will relish the freedom to repeat any hike any time inspiration and inclination converge to give me this opportunity.

Still, this season will be a little special because I will have allowed a vision to guide me to heights I once did not imagine possible! If all goes well, the Lincoln Woods Parking area will host many friends on August 24 as we visit Mt. Flume for the completion of the season and the Quest.

Let the hikes begin!

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14 Aug 10

by Randy Pierce

The day was a fantastic story of achievement for both Quinn and me. Cannon was a two-day planning event for both 2020 Vision Quest and Powderhouse Productions. They had heard of the inspirational work of the Mighty Quinn and wanted to film it for an inspiring project of their own. The interesting catch is that the film crew had precious little hiking experience, but they really wanted their final day of filming to involve hiking one of the 48 with us.

We filmed all day on Wednesday in Nashua, and then made a trip to Hidden Valley Campground where I gave a presentation to a group of boy scouts while they filmed. I learned a few things about their 14-member production crew during this time. I was very confident that they were capturing some quality footage, which was encouraging. However, the crew had difficulty keeping within desired time constraints – this would be a significant concern to me in our attempt on Cannon.

The latter concern escalated as they moved the trailhead departure time from my requested 7:00am to 8:00am, and then for a variety of production reasons, failed to arrive at the trailhead until well after 9:00am. In fact, the film crew was not actually ready to hike until after 10:00am. Time is among the biggest challenges for our success, and I’d given up over three hours of time already. Though this was an earnest attempt at Cannon, we decided to untypically allow the time impact within all reasonable safety levels. To ensure full comfort in this approach, I had asked both our 2020 hiking manager, Carrie McMillen, and UNH Professor of Outdoor Education, Brent Bell, to join us in undertaking the hike.

As we began the hike, the crew’s prior level of appreciation for Quinn was dwarfed by his astounding work on the trail. I mostly walked with our celebrity host, Ethan, as he watched us work and asked many questions about our progress. We repeated certain stretches to help the camera work, and often paused for the more poignant questions to get full impact on film. The crew was working hard to manage the trail with their equipment, and by the time we hit Lonesome Lake, it was clear that many of the crew would not continue onward with us. We all had lunch just past the impressive bog rails we had traversed around the lake. During lunch, we adjusted the plan; we would continue up with a small camera and sound crew, while the rest of the crew would hike down to take the tram and meet us at the summit.

The trail from Lonesome Lake to Kinsman Ridge is steep and has some good staircase work, which is actually an area where Quinn and I are strong. It was slippery and moderately challenging, with plenty of great opportunities for the film work. Now, the group was small enough that the bonding of the group began to develop in earnest. As we reached the Kinsman Ridge Trail, it leveled briefly at the col between the Cannon Ball and Cannon. The next .2 miles were very steep with hard scrabble, and everyone needed all four limbs for hiking. Due to this terrain, Quinn went off duty, and I managed it with the guidance of the sounds of a person ahead of me.

It was slow going and hard climbing, even for Quinn. This wasn’t our hardest challenge to date but it was a solid stretch of work. Our halts for camera time were reduced to ensure we’d achieve the summit in time. As we finished that section and Quinn returned to me, we made great time to the summit. Again, more film crew pauses held us for nearly an hour more. However, it was fantastic for their story and well worth the time spent – but it also removed any chance of our making a descent. This hike was about the production company getting their story – there was no failure on our end. We actually still felt strong and energized enough to undertake a descent, but we didn’t have enough time to make it reasonable. I was also skeptical that any of the film crew had the strength or energy reserves to continue. Instead, we all took the Tram down in an astounding 7-minute ride.

I learned more about working with Quinn on this hike, I have many new perspectives from the film work, and I became familiarized with Cannon Mountain. This increases my interest in returning and experiencing the mountain more fully with an official 2020 hike and a complete summit ascent and descent. In the meanwhile, I know there’s a fantastic story on film, and I look forward to being able to share more details with you soon.

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11 Aug 10

Cannon Mountain, then and now.

by Randy Pierce

Part of my thus-far successful philosophy of life is predicated upon making the most out of opportunities. Where some might find obstacles, I try to see opportunity. This isn’t always easy or successful, but it is most often rewarding. As such, when I received a phone call from Powderhouse Productions inquiring about filming a pilot for a major cable network about Quinn’s amazing work and the 2020 Vision Quest project, I was eager to explore further. We’ve been working out the filming details for just over a week, with the plan of including Quinn leading me in some local guiding work, a presentation for the Boy Scouts at Hidden Valley Campground, and Quinn and I climbing a smaller mountain with decent views and reasonable Quinn challenges.

The filming was to occur Wednesday and Thursday of this week. When a Tuesday morning meeting brought about the suggestion of making the hike a full 4000+ foot mountain, I knew that the change would add a lot of work and challenge. However, I believed it was a fantastic opportunity – so I began to explore ways to make the change safe and feasible, even with only two days to plan.

As I discussed the potential change with other members of Team 2020, the first responses I got were of concern for how much I’d be pushing myself. The team’s second response echoed my own thoughts – what would the impact be on Quinn? Dogs are amazing, and Quinn is astounding, though I admit to a bit of a bias. One day of recovery is more than enough for Quinn to recharge; I just wish it were that simple for me! It will be a hard challenge for me and I understand that this change may affect the weekend summit attempts. However, I have begun preparations and precautions to ensure minimal risk and to give every opportunity for success.

Now the plan is to showcase Quinn’s conventional talents locally on Wednesday, then head up to the Scout camp to share with them the education and inspiration that is so essential to the project. Finally, with a full film crew for the potential pilot, we will launch into Quinn’s unconventional and astounding guide work with a Thursday-morning summit attempt of Cannon Mountain. It will certainly be a solid warm up for this weekend’s backcountry camping, double-summit attempt of Mt. Tom and Mt. Field!

I’ve generally found that the harder something is to achieve, the more value is gained from the achievement. If you follow us on Spot on Thursday – and then again on Saturday and Sunday! – you’ll find out along with me how hard this particular challenge will be. If all goes well, we will soon have some great stories and achievements (and maybe some very exciting news about a pilot TV show!), whether we summit all we attempt or not. Either way, we have one amazing adventure ahead of us yet again!

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