Mount Washington



20 Oct 12

By Randy Pierce

Randy, Quinn, and friends hike along the path on Mt. Jackson on May 19, 2012.

Reflecting upon the incredible highlights of our 2012 hiking season for 2020 Vision Quest, I am overwhelmed with the diversity and intensity of the experiences! This was our third season. It followed a winter of touching the top of all 48 peaks and deepened my understanding of the peaks and the process. So I think a quick tour of the peaks and summation of the entirety of this incredible season is worth a few moments of consideration.

It started on Mt. Jackson. The gnarly footing I experienced without the padding of snow winter added considerable challenge the trails. Basking for an hour on a sunny summit with friendship and laughter helped ease the frustration in the difficulty. With the challenge came other rewards as well, such as a few new hiking partners the winter had drawn into our company.

A view of craggy peaks on Mt. Monroe, over the presidential range hike of July 7-8, 2012.

We then took a month away from the mountains while the deerflies ruled and my legs fully healed from the 100-mile walk we did in early June. Our annual July 4 foray was pushed back just a bit and we gave the summer rematch to Mt. Washington. We could not recreate our original crew for this challenge, but we had a more than worthy collection of friends. That trip was an epic success, yielding Washington, Monroe and Eisenhower. It established a level of camaraderie which would set the stage for many of the hikes in the season and all with a different collection of friends.

Buoyed by that success, we took on our most challenging water crossings (excluding Owl’s Head) and delivered Twins on our longest day hike of the season. North and South were the objectives, but we added in Galehead for Tracy to ensure that the goal of next season would stage closer. I intend to finish the 48 non-winter in 2013 and it will be done with Tracy beside me, finishing hers at exactly the same moment.

Drew leads Randy through one of the teams toughest water crossings on the Twins hike, July 21, 2012.

Just as our group of hikers always come together and enrich the experience by the interactions on a trail, so too will the larger goal be magnified by my sharing so much of it with Tracy including the start and finish of the peak-bagging aspect.

Perhaps the most magical of the trips was our Bonds Traverse. We spent a two-night camping expedition with great friendships and the peaks of Zealand, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff all on a 20-plus mile journey through the deepest of the NH wilderness regions. The back-to-back sunset and sunrise atop different 4,000-foot peaks will remain a treasured part of the experience and favorite tale in the retellings ahead. The addition of Thoreau Falls and the foggy cliffs of Bondcliff interspersed the adventure with a little magic and mystery as well.

Swimming at the Thoreau Falls on the Bonds Traverse, over Aug. 4-5, 2012.

Next we hiked the Osceolas, thereby erasing the last of the peaks which had been climbed by me personally but not within the scope of our 2020 Vision Quest. It was our first ever and the experience had been grueling. This time it was exhilarating. We also included the vaunted Chimney in the conquest. We convened and participated in “trailhead tailgating” which promises to be a long-standing tradition.

Finally Willey gave us a Boston globe article and highlighted the premier of our winter documentary at the Highland Center. It also reunited us with our winter team and the slightly overrated challenge of the Willey Ladders.

Our 36th peak of the quest was Cabot for the Flags in the 48 program. It was our 14th non-winter summit in a season during which we had sought to match the previous year’s 17 accomplishments.

Success at the end of the Osceola hike on Aug. 25, 2012.

On our final hike of the season, the Tripyramids, we chose to turn back as a sunny forecast turned into a rainy morning and ensured the North slide would be more treacherous than we needed to undertake.

We’d adjusted a few hikes along the way, moved a few, cancelled a few and added yet others. The flexibility and choices to be healthy and happy along the journey are an essential part of the lessons learned throughout the quest. The peaks will remain for another day if the reasons for not hiking are sufficient to lure us away. I am more proud of the decisions not to summit, particularly the final hike of the season, because it makes clear that the quest isn’t driving us but rather we drive the quest.

12 peaks remain for next season to bring us our official 48 for the Quest. This will likely involve 8 separate hikes we’ll announce at our Peak Potential Charity Dinner and Auction on November 17. While the summit is in sight, I think it’s worthy to reflect on what was accomplished this season and what it means to me personally.

We completed a single season winter summit of all 48 and produced an incredible documentary on the experience. We added another fourteen summits towards our goal on the 48.

Randy presenting a check for $10,000!

We accomplished an incredible 100-mile walk in tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. We brought our total of students reached by our presentations to more than 16,000! We provided a pair of checks for $10,000 each to the two organizations we are pledged to support!

Our staff welcomed some tremendously beneficial new volunteers even as we sadly bid farewell to a few who needed to tend other parts of their lives.

We did all of these incredible things and yet the greatest accomplishment of all is that we grew our community of friends and support in many ways. I’m admittedly a little tired from the many accomplishments described and more we have accomplished but not mentioned. But I am buoyed up by when I look back on this season of success and count the meaningful friendships that highlight the lives of Quinn, Tracy and me. We have lives outside of the charity work–though that may not always be as clear as I hope–and our lives are touched and enhanced by the impact of the work we undertake. I love this season but I again think back to the words of a man famous in these White Mountains: Reverand Edward Hale. He once said:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Thanks to all who have played a part in this Season of Success!

Randy & the Mighty Quinn

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21 Jul 12

By Randy Pierce

…And now, part 2 of our hike on Mt. Washington, Monroe, and Eisenhower!

Read Part 1

AMC Hut Life

The “higher huts” as they are called can be an amazing experience in the White Mountains. The people who have built and cared for these places created an environment like few others. The crew staffing the huts have a love of the region and are part of the atmosphere designed to make the haven a blend of community, naturalism, entertainment, feasting and rest.

This particular hut can host 90 guests and is usually pretty close to this on weekends. The community of hikers shares stories and experiences while generally reveling in the present experience they are sharing. So too did our group. As the incredible turkey dinner was being served family style, we had time to share a toast as a group. A Nalgene flask of homemade chocolate raspberry port had found its way into my pack for the purpose.

“To all the folks who have been part of making this experience possible!” which included the names of all those prior hikers, all the staff of 2020 Vision Quest, and all of the supporting community who keep us inspired to not only choose these experiences but to continue to use them and our other efforts towards our mission. Anything is possible and while success may not come immediately, the determination and perseverance to problem solve, practice, and proceed may lead to moments like this. We were going to officially add Washington to our list and this would be the halfway point, peak 24 of 48, in our 2020 Vision Quest goal!

Close of Day

After dinner we put on warm gear to sit outside and repeat that magical sunset of 2010, at least in part. Each experience is different and though the clouds created an interesting “black ray” phenomenon, our westerly view over the seven ranges extending into New York could not hold the intensity of that crystal clear evening two years prior.

Neither was the same immense gathering of people present, but the few sitting in the cold winds to marvel had a different bit of bonding and communal appreciation for the majesty of these mountains. It passed slowly and satisfying before dusk encouraged us to take our weary bodies to bed. Jenifer shared a tale from one of the many books from the hut library: a tale of how the Mt. Welch ledges alpine zones became officially and unusually preserved. The circle gardens there did what many other attempts failed to accomplish and was precisely the tale to send us to sleep in our private, comfortable albeit impressively tight quarters.

Shakespeare? And Bacon?!

I’ve heard it espoused that bacon goes with everything and apparently it’s true for a staff-inspired performance of Romeo and Juliet. The huts commonly have skits to show guests the best practice “check-out” procedures in a humorous and educational way. Without question, the one we saw the morning after our stay in the huts (a humorous skit inspired by “Romeo and Juliet”) was the best any of our group had experienced. With a hot breakfast of bacon and accompanying goodies in our bellies to match the laughs there as well, we were prepared to say farewell to our hut haven with very warm memories. Whether a hut is right for others isn’t my expertise, but I can tell you the experience has been very rewarding for all of my trips to stay there and the AMC and their incredible crews have my admiration, respect and appreciation!

Back on the Trails

The dense fog of the morning was burned away by a sunny and very windy day. Gusts reached 60 mph pretty quickly as we faced the prominent craggy peak of Mt. Monroe directly ahead of us and the gateway to the Southern Presidential range through which we would hike down to our car spot. As we set upon the short journey to the summit of Mt. Monroe. Cliff took the opportunity to guide along this challenging stretch and within a short time we scrambled up the final section to stand, albeit leaning into the gusts, atop the fifth highest of the 48!

The wilderness beyond here was breathtaking and the skies were giving us full appreciation of the scenic offerings. Away in the distance our next and final summit, Eisenhower, was visible with the tallest cairn in the whites clearly discernible. Back towards Mt. Washington, the line of cairns was described as a line of soldier sentries to guide and guard the path to the peak. We needed to continue as we had several miles above treeline and exposed to that wind and the descent would be precarious footing until we cleared a sub peak and reached the Crawford Path. Cliff continued to guide me in these winds and our teamwork grew stronger. At one point, a gust nearly blew him into a dangerous fall save for the steadying of my hand on his pack. A small return for the innumerable crevices and challenges through which he guided me.

Highway in the Hills

Crawford path was a fairly smooth pathway on which Quinn was able to guide me at reasonable speeds along the ridge line. Three of our crew took the loop over Franklin to appreciate the look deep into Oaks Gulf while Tracy and I enjoyed some quality time along the easier trail. It’s worth a pause to consider the people who have maintained and still maintain these trails from erosion and work on them so that others can readily appreciate the treasures of these hills. Some of those people are long gone, yet so many modern day trail workers perform their work with insufficient thanks for the incredible service they provide.

Pleasant Mountain

In 1972, Eisenhower became the more appropriately presidential name for Pleasant mountain. As we endured the intense and powerful winds, we found a small sheltered point to have a quality food stop before the final ascent. We had watched the mountain loom closer for miles and didn’t intend to repeat the prior day’s over-zealous drive towards the hut. We also knew there would be no wind shelter up there allowing us to eat. Most packs were dropped to allow for the final steep ascent. Cliff again guided me and with pack weight absent we made tremendous time to the expansive summit of Eisenhower. There is tremendous space atop this bald summit which makes it a distinctive experience. Mt. Pierce lies directly south after a tree-laden saddle that promised a respite from the win soon. We would take Edmund’s Path and skip Mt. Pierce but the trees would soon be there nonetheless. John took over the guide work as he had his pack and that eases the process of guiding me down. Our 0.8 mile out and back to this summit had us changing our gear, donning our packs and preparing for the final leg of the journey.

The Slog

Trail reports are not always as they appear. Edmund’s path was touted as a beautifully crafted and maintained trail. Perhaps this was once true but at the higher points we crossed a slide that created challenge and some danger with a drop off. We found it rocky, eroded, and challenging for much of the descent into the trees. Even beyond the trees there was work to manage the very wet slabs which typically slanted in disadvantageous ways.

Perhaps some of this was the feeling which often comes when the final stretch of the journey is underway. Often, whether due to the efforts expended, the  anticipation of the finish, or perhaps the reflections of the experience overall–this portion can become the slog. Conversation quiets and people feel the weariness grow disproportionate to the challenge they are facing. Certainly the trail had eased to the rather decent trail reported before we began to slip out of the slog and begin the full appreciation of our adventure together. During a break, our “slogging” feelings began to abate as we laughed at the Mighty Quinn’s immediate ability to sleep on a trail and his dubious half awake look when deciding if we were getting up to hike more or if he could catch a few more moments of sleep! It was exactly the cure to get conversation flowing and the final mile stretch on easy ground for Quinn to Guide me out of the Presidential range!

High Five at the Finish Line

Often we tout the celebratory high five on the summit. It is a glorious experience for certain and worthy of that group celebration. The work there is only partially done as we learned all too well on our last climb of Mt. Washington. The true finish is back at the trailhead when you have achieved the full measure of success. The challenge is overcoming exhaustion, the desire to change footwear, and perhaps even clean up a bit of the wilderness grime! We were, however, so very full of our accomplishments–meaning our groups camaraderie and the desire to celebrate–we had one of our best high five moments to date!
High fiveThis occasion was monumentous enough for all of us to continue the celebration as we packed the one car full, reunited everyone to their own vehicles, and then travelled to savor a post-hike feast together. Stories called out favorite moments while satisfied smiles made it clear how much this group had come to appreciate far more than just the mountain trails we had travelled.

We celebrated something more important than the accomplishment of three significant peaks in the White Mountains. We celebrated each other and the chance to bond through the experience. The goal for me at least is to always reach more people than peaks and that is the real mission accomplished this round. Though I think Mt. Washington, Monroe and Eisenhower were worthy deeds as well!

What’s next Quinn?!

 

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15 Jul 12

By Randy Pierce

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”

–George Bernard Shaw

Mt WashingtonIn 2010, we reached the summit of Mt Washington after a two-day journey loaded with learning and rewarding experiences. (Read about it here.)  There was some disappointment in knowing we would not complete the trip with a hike down, but there was a confident determination we would return and fully complete the journey.

On July 7-8, 2012 we did just that and more in another experience-rich excursion which brought five people and one incredible (some might say mighty!) dog together to finish one leg of the quest.

Blame it on the Bacon

A Banker, Lawyer, Accountant, Author, Blind Guy and a Guide Dog walk onto a mountain adventure and the punch lines await!

Before the full group rendezvous, a car was placed several miles away where we expected to return in two days if all went well. We started just a bit after our intended 7:00 a.m. time. Our starting point was from the slightly further, newer trailhead parking lot rather than the cog railway shortcut used last time. The last call of bacon may have delayed the start, but our small group would need all that energy.

A steady pace allowed us to meander through simple stream crossings and the quiet trails we had all to ourselves. The boulders made travel a little slower than memories of prior hikes but within a short time we passed the plaque in memory of Herbert Young who died there in 1928–offering a quick reminder of the many perils of Mt. Washington.

Putting Gem Pool behind us, we began the steep ascent which would leave heat and humidity behind for the duration of the trip. It was there that our cloudy trail allowed the first hikers to pass us as we paused for the Gorge side trail that holds incredibly majestic pools and waterfalls for those taking time to appreciate the side journeys.

Scrambles, Chutes and Ladders

The mile stretch before the hut is likely the most challenging section of the trail. In  past hikes my companions and I had lingered here a long time learning how to navigate such terrain. I had nearly forgotten that first ladder, and yet now learning to put my hands on the trail and use them as my eyes has become a favorite part of taking on the challenge of such hikes.

It is here that John Swenson showcased his guiding prowess as he described in a previous report. While Quinn and I can manage this, it is slow and considerably more taxing for both my marvelous guide and myself. As such, our time through the narrow scrambles and across cascades was not nearly as time consuming. It still required considerable effort and was probably our weariest section of trail. Likely we should have grabbed a more solid food break, but the siren song of the hut for lunch urged us to push a bit too long.

Lake of the Clouds

It was five hours to the hut and food was a delightful recharge. Packs were dropped and weather reports checked as the ominous cloud banks gave considerable concern. To the summit and back would be 3 completely exposed miles on the rocky ridge entirely above tree line. Lightning with our generally slower speeds would be a risk not worth taking. It was nearly 1:00 p.m. and in order to be at the hut again for the evening meal essential for the rest of our work, we set a turnaround time of 3:30 p.m. for our attempt. The hut provides a direct summit report that suggested we had an afternoon window with low probability if we set out immediately. With nonessential gear left on our bunks (we were staying the night at the hut), lighter packs led to quicker steps and much hope. 

Summit Success!

Nearly half way through the process, the blackness into which we were about to walk suggested a turnaround, but for only a few moments before it began to lighten in the fickle weather patterns for which the region is famous. Tracy took a round of guiding to help increase our speed and passed the job to John for the steepness of the final ascent. We reached the summit in 1.5 hours, although the promised visibility of 100 feet was apparently only partially true. Glimpses of views opened occasionally as the 45 mph winds were as steady as the 45 degree temperatures which felt cooler given the wind.
We had achieved the first part of our goal well within the time window necessary. Most of the group had not even felt a single raindrop! The summit buildings allowed for water recharge, a break from the wind, and a short rest as we celebrated the experience thus far and prepared for the final phase of the first day.

Promising Descent

Climbing down over steeper rock steps is definitely much slower with a Guide Dog, so we put Quinn’s harness in my pack and he was free to roam with us as John led me. Almost immediately the weather took a major shift and incredible views began to open routinely through the cloud cover. While our entire journey up was within the clouds, the descent unfurled views of the hut and often the vast expanses of the southern presidential range and beyond. With the Alpine Lakes beside the hut in view constantly we had our destination in sight and realized our likely success becoming reality. Conversation was lively to describe and appreciate the views as well as planning for the dinner and celebration ahead that night. The promise of clear and sunny skies for our hike out on Sunday seemed more real as we saw the world from more than a mile high opening in a vast expanse of beauty!

Watch next week’s blog post for the second installment of our Presidential Range hike report!

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13 Jul 12

By John Swenson

My job this past weekend was to guide a blind man on his journey up Mt. Washington and several other Presidential Peaks. I was to be his eyes on the trails. White Mountain trails are strewn with rocks, roots and river crossings and countless other challenges for a blind hiker. I would use subtle and not so subtle signals to protect him from the many dangers such a trip involves. We had done this work before, yet there is always room to learn and perfect our teamwork and communication.

Many of you reading this know Randy Pierce and his story and are also aware of the amazing work of The Mighty Quinn. Normally, Quinn guides Randy along these treacherous trails, but on this past weekend’s hike up Mt. Washington and the ensuing traverse across the ridge, there were stretches of trail where Randy asked for assistance from a human guide.

It was not that Quinn could not perform the work. Indeed, he has successfully led Randy on many a trail and entered the record books with Randy in March for completing the single season winter 48. Randy requested a human guide this time because a human can move a bit quicker in certain trail conditions and offer verbal communication that Quinn cannot. The end result is hopefully the same–a successful trip–but a human guide can sometimes speed the trip a bit. This is helpful when there are many miles to log.

I had guided Randy for brief stints last summer on the Hancock trip and again this spring on the Jackson hike to kick off the 2012 season. I knew that in a small team of five hikers on the Washington trip, I would likely be called on for more assistance than previous hikes and was excited yet nervous about the opportunity. A hike in the demanding terrain of the Presidentials is a workout for seasoned hikers. Add to that the physical and mental demand of successfully guiding a blind man on this trek and the demands and dangers multiply significantly. I was now responsible for my own safety and Randy’s as well.

Randy pressed me into service on a good stretch on the upper portion of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. I eagerly accepted the invitation yet quickly realized the demands. The ledges in front of us were steep, smooth and in many places wet. I was looking at them wondering how to approach them myself; yet at the same time; the gentle tug I felt behind me was that of Randy placing not just his hand on my pack, but his trust in my ability to safely navigate the trail ahead of us.

As I began to talk Randy through the obstacles ahead of us, I saw every root, every wet rock and the countless crevices and potholes as chances for Randy to slip to a dangerous injury. I instinctively began to warn him of these dangers with explanations such as: “There’s a large slab ahead of us with water running down it and some branches sticking out that might scrape your shin if you go too far left”. I was feeling proud of this detail but quickly learned that in the time it took me to utter such a warning, Randy was slipping, scraping, and stumbling because the key message was not delivered in time for him to adjust for or avoid the hazard.
With some guidance from Randy, I learned that “less is more”. Quickly, the above phrase became: “Wet slab; shin bash left”. Randy now had the key pieces of information he needed to deal with the conditions underfoot or overhead.

As the guiding on the Ammonoosuc trail progressed, I found myself with a newfound appreciation of the challenges and wonder of Quinn’s work. I was surprised by the additional exhaustion that came from the special mental and physical work involved in being Randy’s eyes on the trail. If it tired me so, how must Quinn have felt at the end of the winter 48? While he eagerly accepts each new hike with that trademark tail wag, there’s no doubt that he is also tired at the end of his day guiding Randy in these mountain quests. Quinn cannot warn with a “Stop while I assess our approach to this” or a “Take this section slow; lots of loose rock ahead”. Quinn’s tools are body positioning, cadence, and gentle tugs and nudges. How immensely difficult and yet how effective this communication has been for Randy. Less truly is more.

On Sunday of our trip, we journeyed across the Crawford Path from Lakes of the Clouds Hut to take in Mts. Monroe, Franklin, and Eisenhower. Each of us in the group had our stint of guiding for portions of the trip. Cliff offered to take some of the uphill challenges and I accepted a number of downhill shifts. We descended from the ridge via the Edmands Path and our afternoon was filled with much lively conversation. At one point late in the day, Randy was quite engaged in conversation as I guided him and although I could interrupt him to warn of dangers ahead, I found myself wanting to minimize interruptions so he could fully participate in the dialogue.

A short while later, we were discussing how my guiding had changed in two short days from the overly detailed communications I described above to the “less is more” approach. I realized, and Randy observed, that I had just guided him for a good length of trail without uttering a word. I had become Quinn-like in my guiding, using body positioning and speed to communicate without speaking. When there was a step down, I sometimes exaggerated it a bit with my step so that Randy would sense the need to step down. If the footing became rougher, I would slow my pace as I hiked through so Randy would pick up the need to move carefully. If we had a water crossing, I would stop while I assessed approach and in so doing, the stop signaled Randy to be alert for more guidance.

I have been impressed with the work Quinn does since Randy first shared it with me a few years ago. After two days watching Quinn work in his quiet effective manner and experiencing my several opportunities to be a human guide dog, my respect for what Quinn does and for the way he communicates with Randy have reached new heights. While I look forward to my next tour of guide duty, I will forever tip my hiking stick to the work of The Mighty Quinn.

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30 Jun 12

By Randy Pierce

Gorgeous sunset on Mt. Washington

Gorgeous sunset on Mt. Washington.

Independence day 2010 marked the first official 2020 Vision Quest hike. We experienced an amazing sunset beside Lake of the Clouds on Mt. Washington and proudly stood upon the summit pin as part of the incredible experience. The journey and results were captured fantastically in a short and long version you can appreciate below:

Blind to Failure (the long version)

Blind Ambition (the short version)

Ultimately though we reached the summits of both Monroe and Washington, neither count as success in our pursuit of the 48 because as a group we decided we could not reasonably hike down the mountain in the time we had remaining. It was a bittersweet start to our project. Since then we’ve put 23 of the 48 into the success column and are now poised to leap over the halfway mark with an early July return to both Monroe and Washington once again.

We have learned a few lessons and skills along the journey and feel very confident we have a much better likelihood of reaching our goal on this expedition. Certainly some might suggest our winter accomplishment makes this a near certainty, but our recent hike on Mt. Jackson reminded us how much more challenging the experience is without snow smoothing the trails for us.

Our July 2010 scramble up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail on Mt. Washington took us over 8 hours from start to the Lake of the Clouds hut. In the winter that journey was an astounding 2 hours into incredibly majestic views and an unrivalled feeling of accomplishment.

I understand the time-sensitive work required to the gem pool, up the steep steps of the Ammo to the “Avocado Falls” overlook. There it will be a hands-to-the-ground scramble to reach the hut and ideally before noon to ensure we can reduce our packs and prepare for the 3-mile round trip to the summit on that same day.

All aspects of the weather will impact our chances and as always with the crown jewel of the white mountains, we must be prepared to change/adjust/cancel any aspect of this journey. Still, I know what I know of every experience–I succeed already when I make the choice to undertake and properly plan such an endeavor. I cannot tell you anything other than my fervent hope and intent to celebrate success, independence and a tremendous feeling of freedom!

Mt. Washington Summit 2010

Mt. Washington Summit 2010

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20 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

I wanted to share a personal reflection on an article I read in the news yesterday. The article talks about the tragic death of Christopher Baillie. This young and healthy 24-year old was dedicated to several philanthropic efforts, had already battled cancer successfully, and by all accounts in the many tributes on his Facebook page, was simply a wonderful person. As he pursued his personal dreams, he explored the wonders of the wilderness, and it was in this pursuit that he fell to his death on Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail.

Life is fragile, and as we try to live in manner that is rewarding to us, we should remember that each appreciation is a precious gift. I did not know Christopher personally, but I understand a bit of the spirit with which he lived. I was particularly touched when I read a tribute left by one friend, Sean Harkins, “You already made the summit and went far past, overcoming everything life threw your way.” It speaks volumes of not only Christopher’s character, but also of his ability to appreciate his journey, albeit a journey brought to an end too suddenly.

We all experience risks and challenges, whether we’re on Mt. Washington or elsewhere. I hope most of us can remember to appreciate each step along our own personal summits.

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15 Jul 10

by Randy Pierce

This post is not some romantic melodrama inspired by the majesty of the mountain hikes, but rather addresses a common inquiry from concerned friends. The question is: Do I fall or hurt myself on these hikes?

The reality of hiking is that most folks will bash a shin or two, or even roll an occasional ankle upon the rock jumble that covers much of the White Mountain trails. It is also realistic to expect that I am going to be more susceptible to these pitfalls than other people. While I have joked that my shins are mere “Object Detectors” in everyday life, I am not eager to cause myself unnecessary pain. So, I make solid efforts to minimize the bumps and bruises that I accumulate on my hiking adventures. I use the best-quality footwear that I can find, I stay very attentive to Quinn’s cues and trust his protective guidance, and lastly, I use my hiking trekker pole to help detect obstacles as I stride along.

Randy & Quinn navigate some difficult footing.

Despite these and other protective measures, I have fallen on occasion, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. I have a set of rules for falling, through which I pay particular attention to where and how my fall is most safe. Since I do not know what is ahead or to the side of me, I concentrate on falling where I’m standing or where I’ve been, presuming that the area behind me is a safe fall. I try to fall on my pack when possible, or at least minimize the impact using my pack as padding. I have many safety approaches in my mind as I move, and for the most part, I feel very successful at keeping myself safe.

Carrie applies a bandaid to Randy's Leg

During the entire Mt. Washington trip, I believe I fell twice.  The first fall was a very controlled, effective drop in place. This is a great example of the majority of my falls: small, low-impact, little to no harm done. I did, however, challenge Carrie’s claim that I have rubber ankles while on the summit cone of Washington. The second time I fell, I was entangled by loose scree and an angled ankle trap. I was unable to twist my pack under me for cushioning, and in this rare instance, my best choice was to fall in such a fashion as to not further endanger my trapped ankle, even though it meant falling far to one side. It was a risk for me to do this, but my hiking pole indicated that there was at least no drop in that direction. The trick was to stay loose and curl my side, so as to avoid breaking a limb I might otherwise be tempted to thrust out to catch me.

So, the answer to the question is yes. I do fall, and sadly I do occasionally hurt myself. Fortunately, with the right preparation, I’ve ensured that this happens rarely, and has minimal impact (ok, pun intended) upon the fantastic experience of the adventure. Everyone evaluates risk versus reward, and in my case, the risk remains low and the reward is tremendous. And if I get the occasional bump or bruise? Well, it’s just part of the adventure and builds a ‘better’ story!

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12 Jul 10

by Tracy Goyette

Hiking with Randy and the large 2020 team translates, understandably, to very little “couple time” for us on the trail.  Between the team, which is made up of friends, and all of the cool new people we meet along the way, Randy is in high demand.  In everyday life we get our fair share of time, so on hikes I try to step back and allow those who don’t usually get as much interaction with Randy to spend time with him. To account for this we tend to aim for some end-of-day, quality “us” time.

At Lakes in the Clouds hut we decided that sunset would be that time.  Randy asked me to find us a great vantage point from which we could share the sunset together.  I found a comfortable perch near where a large number of other hut guests had gathered, and we settled in to see what Mother Nature would share with us.

She had been busy that day; we’d marveled already at beautiful cornflower blue skies, wispy clouds and amazing waterfalls. I wasn’t sure that the day’s visual delights could be topped.  The atmosphere of the crowd’s excitement for the upcoming sunset was palpable and similar, ironically given the date of July 4th, to a crowd’s mood just before a fireworks display.  Obviously, the day’s gorgeous weather had folks keyed up and expecting a fantastic display. We were not disappointed.  Some of our companions captured outstanding images of both the sky to the West and an interesting array of clouds to the East; however, they are mere shadows of the beauty of this sunset.

I despaired that my words of description were inadequate in conveying the magnificence of the sunset to Randy, but he could feel the quiet awe of those around us.  When something is so beautiful as to silence that many people, it has to be powerful.  As the sun finally nestled behind the far horizon the silence gave way to applause.  Yes, we applauded a sunset, it was that amazing.

If I could choose a moment to share with Randy and to keep in our memories together forever, this one certainly would be one of my choices.

Thank you Mother Nature.

–Tracy

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10 Jul 10

by The Mighty Quinn

Well that was quite the excursion! I could probably generate quite a few pages of observations from my four-paw perspective. But I think it wiser to stretch (mmmmm, stretch!) the reports out a bit while I let it all soak in. I do want to share some tidbits from the Washington trip so here goes!

I really love my work and role as Adventure Dawg (t.m.?!). Guiding the big guy up a mountain really puts my skills to the challenge. There’s so much subtlety to it I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t hit the trail with us can fully appreciate everything I have to do! Some of you may have seen our cool You Tube video, or the one from the Nashua Telegraph Online which really showcases me at work on a mountain. I cannot wait for everyone to see the fantastic high-end video release we’ll have for you in mid-August, showcasing the Mt. Washington experience. I’m not one to wait too long, though, so in the meantime I hope you all like this little video montage put together by Tracy.

Watching us work, you may notice that Dad uses this strange phrase – “hup-pup” – with me all the time, and particularly often while we are hiking through challenging portions of a trail. I’ve been asked what it means and the answer isn’t simple: in clever human fashion its meaning changes constantly depending on the situation. Today, though, I’ll let you in on some of my and Dad’s trail language, our own sort of secret code we’re developing for our hikes.

In normal situations, hup-pup usually means Dad wants me to go forward, or sometimes go faster – like after I pause to show him a curb, or when he wants to pick up the pace (which I love!)

In the case of our mountain excursions it usually means Dad has noticed an obstacle I’m showing him. Hup-pup from Dad means I should evaluate how big the challenge is, and let him know how I think we should handle it. Here’s how I do it.

Quinn-Con 1

If I proceed after a single pause and hup-pup, I’m showing Dad a minor obstacle. This is a normal alert level – I call it Quinn-Con 1 – and is pretty similar to a hup-pup in “real life.” I’m usually pointing out a step or small jump up onto or over whatever I’d shown him.  In these situations I expect he’ll be able to follow me easily, and we usually proceed smoothly past the obstacle.

My harness location always gives him a lot of information, too – am I above or below him, for example – and I may even position myself to give him easier footing, to protect him from a rough spot, or to give us a better angle of approach for the next obstacle. After all, mountain climbing is one constant obstacle after another – but I’m up to the task!

Quinn-Con 2

Other times, Dad will give me a hup-pup, but I’ll stay put. This is what I call raising his alert level to Quinn-Con 2. Yep, I’m ignoring a command from Dad! This is called “intelligent disobedience.” I think the “intelligent” part is right, but the “disobedience”? I think it’s a bad rap, and here’s why: When I ignore a hup-pup, I’m alerting the big guy that his command might get him into trouble. After all, my first priority is Dad’s safety!

So, when I don’t proceed after that first hup-pup, I am raising Dad’s awareness of the difficulty of the obstacle – maybe it’s simply a higher step than I think he realizes, or perhaps I see that the footing is rougher than even his rubbery ankles might withstand. Let me tell you it is challenging to be looking right at a problem and be fairly certain Dad doesn’t fully understand it, since he’s telling me “Let’s go for it Quinn!” So I make him wait until I’m sure he gets it. He’s pretty good at praising me for my decisions, and that helps me feel confident warning him whenever I need to.

Quinn-Con 3

The third and final alert rating I use – Quinn-Con 3 – indicates the challenge is really hard. In these cases, even after Dad’s second hup-pup, I won’t advance. More often than not, I’m warning him that not only is there a very big step up, but perhaps a lip and or other serious footing challenge that he must attend to. Our next maneuver may very well require Dad to drop my harness if he can’t keep up with me (if, say, I have to crouch into a Mighty leap – though sometimes we surge up together and I love that!), or I feel he can’t keep his balance next to me safely.

Commonly Dad will wisely sweep with his hiking stick to locate the impediment I’m pointing out to him. I’m way easier to follow and to trust than the stick, though. Plus, for Dad the stick enhances balance and stability and should remain planted as often as possible. I know all of this, so I don’t alert to this level unless necessary.

Sometimes, though, I’ll cut right to the chase. Instead of going through all three alert levels, I’ll actually give a little backwards push into the harness right from the first hup-pup, to let Dad know we’re heading straight to Quinn-Con 3 and he can go head and explore options for getting past the obstacle without holding my harness. This is usually my most serious warning, and countless times I’ve saved his knees from nasty protruding rocks this way. Dad is pretty good at respecting this approach and almost always gives me a bit of extra praise for the decision. This also helps us make good time through the mountains, which Dad and I both appreciate – there’s Adventure to be had!

Sometimes Words Speak Louder than Actions

So I said that I use the backwards harness push move as my highest warning level and that is mostly true. For very severe situations, though, I’ve developed the patented Quinn Whine. You hopefully all know I do not whine. There’s no whining in the mountains! This is just my way of vocalizing to Dad so I can really get his attention. I continue to wag my tail as proof that I’m still excited and enthusiastic, but I simply must make the man aware of the impending peril which I’m sure he hasn’t yet grasped. Dad always reads me loud and clear, drops my harness and very cautiously explores the area. In fact I encourage him to question nearby humans in these situations, so they can alert him to whatever he might not learn from me. The results of this approach are mixed but at least he knows it’s my professional opinion that he’s a little crazy to be undertaking the section of “trail” immediately in front of us!

All this with one basic command – and all this is just when going upwards on a trail.  The down hup-pups have a whole different array of warning levels. But I’m not revealing all our trail secrets just yet!

While I didn’t quite track the number of times we worked the ‘hup-pup’ during our eight-hour hike up to Lakes of the Clouds, I can tell you it was literally thousands of times on the journey. It’s no wonder we both burn an incredible amount of mental energy on our mountain adventures. Plus, my many mighty leaps make me physically tired (wouldn’t you be?) and having to stabilize the harness as Dad maneuvers takes some work too.

All in all I give us both tremendous credit – but there’s no doubt in my mind who is top dog! In fact guess who was standing on the pin FIRST at the very summit of Mt. Washington when our journey was complete! Check out my summit photo!

Mighty Quinn – Adventure Dawg

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8 Jul 10

by Carrie McMillen

So by now you’ve read some of the details of our momentous weekend on various posts and blogs. I wanted to offer a hike leader’s perspective. Here it is: this trip was TOUGH.

Each of us carried 20-30 pounds on our back (Randy is rumored to have over 45 pounds) up a very steep trail, some of the time moving very slowly and a lot of times, not moving at all. We stopped for various things – water, food, one bloody knee, dozens of hikers wanting to pass, doggie boot switches, stream crossings, ladders and scrambles. We stopped numerous times to debate the best way to tackle the next sets of rocks. Carrying weight while standing or moving slowly over a long period of time can take a physical and mental toll on anyone. I hiked the Ammonoosuc Trail two years ago in dense fog. I thought it was kind of challenging from a mere physical perspective, but I didn’t remember it being THAT HARD.

After this weekend, I will never look at a trail the same way again.

With each step I took, I thought about the clues on the ground that Randy and Quinn were grappling with. Where are the rocks? Are they even or pointed or irregular? What is sticking out at shoulder height that they could run into? What audio (waterfalls, talking) is affecting Randy’s experience? Are hikers getting impatient to pass? I kept looking at the amazing and varied terrain that Randy hiked over and I kept asking myself incredulously, “Are Randy’s ankles made of rubber?”  (Answer: yes)

I will never look at the simplicity of an AMC guide book trail description the same way again. A basic paragraph explaining a rocky, steep trail with several stream crossings barely begins to hint at what we might encounter. Throughout the trip, my mental acuity was on high alert as I observed dozens of conditions that affected Randy’s hike. And those conditions weren’t just about the rocks – add in streams, weather, eight other people, an Adventure Dawg, water and food issues and you’ve got one recipe for a big challenge.

Perspective can change throughout a hike and I felt myself not only trying to put myself in Randy’s shoes, but also trying to do the same with the other eight team members. Each of us experienced something different out there. I was amazed to witness emotions such as nervousness, elation, pride, happiness, frustration, pain, patience, hilarity and exhaustion. You can see it was a bit of a roller coaster.

But through all of the ups and downs, an enormous sense of pride and camaraderie grew exponentially in a matter of just two days. I think all of us evolved and gained perspective in ways that have touched our lives tremendously.

Shortly into the hike, we reached a section of descending steps which were uneven. As a leader sweeping in the back, I asked the hikers behind me to patiently wait while Randy worked through the problem. As the line began to pile up behind us with 10 or so hikers, a woman in the back impatiently called out “Hey, can we get going here?” I explained that we were leading a blind man up Mt. Washington and she immediately turned red and apologized over and over.

Things change when you see things from a new perspective.  My advice? Be open to it and be patient.

That’s what we did.

Carrie

PS I’m so proud of everyone!

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