Top Ten List for 2020 Vision Quest

By Randy Pierce

Happy Independence Day from 2020 Vision Quest!

David Letterman may have retired but we can still have a little summertime fun while reflecting upon the top things 2020 Vision Quest has meant to me. Perhaps you’ll have a different order or a few new items to share with us?

10. “Watching” fireworks on July 4, 2010…
…from atop Mt. Washington on our first hike of our quest!

9. The Peak Potential event of  2012
My Dad died that very morning and I needed all the love and support given to me by our community to get me through that night. We had so much to celebrate from the year and folks helped me do that while barely holding it all together.

8. Our final steps to the summit of Flume for our All-Season 48 finish
This was all the more special as Tracy, John, Quinn, and I shared the moment and those final steps together!

7. Ringing the bell for Oberto’s Hero of Summer at the Tough Mudder in LA!
A slightly selfish moment of appreciation for an accomplishment and experience which only happens when you are willing to truly reach beyond comfort zones with all that you can give to the experience!

6. National Championship at the California International Marathon 
Really? This takes sixth? It might even be lower except the teamwork and pride with Jose elevated the experience tremendously as did Tracy’s finish on the same day.

5. Atop Cannon Mountain for the final peak of my single Winter 48 completion
I still hear “Beautiful Day” playing and the cheers and laughter of a perfect winter day.

4. The Boston Marathon
Not just the finish but the entire experience leading to it, through it, and even the aftermath. I worked very hard for the goal and with a purpose well reported elsewhere. The pinnacle moment for me was cresting Heartbreak Hill but I applaud the entire experience.

3. Quinn’s legacy of achievement, dedication, and devotion
Hard to believe this isn’t number one as the boy is certainly top in my heart always. His impact to 2020 Vision Quest will always be integral to our success.

2. Feeling the steady growth and considerable support of an inspired community of friends old and new
I did not have the vision to fully appreciate how many people and places would find our work resonates so well for them.We’ve accomplished so much together and for me the lesson is clear that it’s always the people who matter the most… and for me pups are people too!

And the #1 aspect of 2020 Vision Quest for me thus far has been:

1. Knowing the positive impact of our school presentations on over 42,000 students and counting!
I never realized how much this part of the quest would positively impact our world and me personally. It is the heart of our entire mission to me. When the work is overwhelming in various ways or other challenges emerge, I always come back to the letters from students and teachers to build my strength and my belief that what we do is worth every bit of effort and more.

The truth is there are so many other worthy moments from learning to ski with Brent Bell, Century bicycle rides, Owl’s Head slide, Mt. Welch, Ms. Autumn’s arrival, and so many more. Hiking with Tedy Bruschi didn’t make this list? Winning an Emmy Award with Willem Lang and Windows to the Wild? What about the release of “Four More Feet” and the incredible friendship of Justin and Dina? Well, that’s why maybe all of you might share a different moment or aspect of what we do. I can tell you that handing a donation to Guiding Eyes and NHAB every year is an important foundation of our mission and one from which I take a great amount of joy as well.

The reality is we are now over half way to the year 2020 from our inception and I could not be prouder of the team and community helping us to reach for and achieve this dream every day. Thank you and Happy Independence Day to all of us celebrating our independence in so many varied ways.


A Season of Summits!

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


Starting our Season with Success – Owl's Head!

by Randy Pierce

We’ve learned so very much and come such a long way in our first season that it truly seemed fitting to make the long trek of Owl’s Head our first success. More than this, though, my friend and hiking mentor Sherpa John is leaving New England with time enough to share this one last hike with us. John has an appreciation for the Pemi and this mountain which is infectious and rare. His leadership and a fantastic team led to one of my proudest successful summits!

We began strong with heavy overnight packs and a higher level of fitness than the previous year. Quinn quickly showcased his talents to the wonder of some of the new folks watching him work a mountain trail for the first time. We reached the Black Pond ahead of schedule and prepared to undertake the Bushwhack which avoided some very perilous early spring crossings of the larger rivers required in the conventional trail. For this we planned a human Guide and Sherpa John did the honors. Though we soon learned this made it more challenging for Sherpa to navigate, as the nature of guiding me caused him to be shifted left and right in disorienting fashion. We switched out and had learned one of many quality lessons of the trip.

The next lessons would come in the several significant stream crossings we still had to manage after connecting back to the main trail. In my Teva water shoes I could use two hiking poles and the voice of someone on the far bank to navigate the streams strong and well. Bone chilling cold and swift currents were in full force for all and ultimately dangerous enough that Tim, Robbie and Sherpa had to tend Quinn’s safe crossings which included carrying him at some points! The icy glacial sides of the river bed made clear the cold and harshness of this challenge and this  was one of the hardest parts of the trek.

We reached the hardest part, the Owl’s Head Slide, at 4:00 p.m. and this was just barely too late for a reasonable summit attempt. We didn’t want to return down the slide in the dark (headlamps for the sighted!) or manage the risk of such dangers knowing anything going awry would be better handled with a morning response. Camping in such a remote location was a great bit of quality time and community building which even exceeded the summit ‘high five.”

Leaving our full packs behind, Sherpa led me on my undertaking of the slide. It was an experience unlike any other of my hikes so far. Its unrelenting steepness, loose footing and wet, even icy, challenges were impressive. It is no wonder a moose even met its end on this slide not so very long ago. Still, with my hands to the ground for almost all of it, we made great time and soon stood higher than “the spring”.  The unmaintained trail had the extra challenges of the long lingering deep snow, post holes, and many blown down trees. For Quinn’s safety and speed I used Robbie as my guide again. We hit not only the old summit but added the additional half mile of rough work and searching to get to the ‘new’ summit as well. We were right on schedule and pleased especially since the ice and snow depth had significantly enhanced the challenges.

Our descent down the slide was a marvel of efficiency as I backed down on hands and feet for the bulk of it. I think our success surprised all of us and the pride at the bottom of the slide was something earned by every member of the team. We supported each other physically and emotionally, well deserving the elation we felt. Resting only for lunch, we picked up our packs for the long hike out.

During this break I bent to pick up equipment and struck my head into a tree that I had been warned of earlier. This moment of sloppiness would challenge me for the next few hours. My head was pounding, my balance impacted and now the burden of my wet pack would make me struggle too much. A mentally weary Quinn would have been my guide, but he reacted to my unsteady struggles by not wanting to lead. He knew I was not at my safest and wanted me to get stable first. We took him off duty and I tapped the human guides for the next stretch. I slipped and fell a bit more during this struggling time and the rain began to fall lightly. By the time we crossed the streams which had grown from the prior day, we achieved a speedy safe efficiency. It was incredibly taxing but the results were ideal. Enough so we kept Quinn off duty for the remainder of the trip.

Our final challenge was a Bushwhack gone slightly awry. The Spot Adventure shows the challenges and realities of such expeditions. A steady soaking rain, thick fog and weary hikers can miss the mark and force back-up plans. Sherpa and Tim coordinated to bring us to the streams which would allow us to exit via Franconia Falls. This was hard hiking for certain and mentally draining as well. The team pulled together, gave full support and the aching muscles were pushed to successfully get us all through this. Robbie set a new record for human guiding time and most of it in the unfamiliar bushwhack approach.

The surge of adrenaline and enthusiasm we found at the Franconia Falls was tremendous. Our group then began the long but vastly easy Wilderness trail egress. So much pride and sense of accomplishment poured out even as those final three miles extended into full darkness. Headlamps here were certainly safer than on the slide had we opted for the prior day summit. The day was long and demanding but our crew found dry clothes, celebrated an amazing success and still had the strength and desire to linger longer together. We met at the Woodstock Station for the hot meal and camaraderie such an expedition demands. I will never forget many moments of this marvelous trip or the strength and dedication of the incredible people who were part of the adventure. The views on this hike are not the majestic panorama sought by many, excepting perhaps upon the slide. There were glimpses of the ranges and wilderness which was very worthy yet the most spectacular aspect by far was the spirit of the people who rose up to this challenge and showcased the power of human potential! It was that spirit to which we toasted each other at the end of an incredible journey. Our second season begins with success on all levels and I am thankful for the ever growing Team 2020 Vision Quest and this Owl’s Head expedition!


An Owl’s Knowledge

by Sherpa John Lacroix

Owl’s Head, at 4,025 feet, serves as a white whale to many a New England peak-bagger. Its thickly wooded summit sits quietly amongst the storied trees of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, some nine miles from the nearest road. There are many reasons why many peak-baggers save their long walk to Owl’s Head until the end of their pursuit of the 48. Words such as long, misery, boring, tough, and no view are, in my opinion, hardly a fair set of adjectives to describe the mound. I prefer to use words to describe the hikers who whine, words such as weak, tired, capricious, and missing.

Owl's Head from West Bond

Owl’s Head is a peak that carries with it more speculation and debate then a New Hampshire town hall meeting. From the summit sign wars between hikers and the Forest Service, to the scrubbing of paint blazes from trees, to the removal of cairns, to the re-discovery of a new highest point, Owl’s Head is a mountain that gets the least amount of love of all the 48 four-thousand-footers.

I’ve enjoyed all six of my previous journeys to the summit of Owl’s Head. A peak I’ve summited in all four seasons and a peak that, when asked which of the 48 is my favorite, gets serious consideration if not the choice of the day. The walk to Owl’s Head is long, but it’s also amazingly gorgeous. Along the Pemigewasset River and the Lincoln Brook, through an amazing re-growth forest priming with beech wood, birch, and fir, it is a shame to think that any hiker could fail to enjoy the immense beauty of a forest that was a barren wasteland by the late 1800’s and a raging inferno in 1907. It’s because of the torn history of this place and its steady revitalization that one of our nation’s most important conservation acts, The Weeks Act, was passed in 1911.

The trail leading to Owl's Head

All history aside, this mountain could very well prove to be the white whale of 2020 Vision Quest. However, on the weekend of May 13, it is the goal of a partnership between 2020 Vision Quest and Team Sherpa to prevent that from happening. For Randy and Quinn, hiking on the trail during the more summery months has proven to be a real challenge. A challenge they have risen to repeatedly on previous expeditions. The first peak of the 2011 season, Owl’s Head will offer up a new challenge to Randy and his trusted companion, and that new challenge is the challenge of multiple bushwhacks.

Along the nine-mile trek to the Owl’s Head summit are two incredible river crossings that challenge even the heartiest of sighted hikers. During this time of year, those crossings carry with them a level of risk that would be foolish to take on under less than ideal conditions. With a hearty snow pack still clinging to locations of elevation, and warmer temperatures causing swollen rivers from snowmelt; this expedition will choose and all but require the challenges of a bushwhack.

I am humbled by the idea that Randy trusts me to lead him on this incredible hike. A two-day expedition that will allow us to camp primitively near the base of Owl’s Head Path, I hope to enjoy the fruits of our labor at the summit of mighty Owl’s Head. There, I will bring Randy to the viewing spot to describe a most remarkable view of Lincoln Slide and the Franconia Ridge to our west, and the Bonds to our east. While the challenges before us are large, they are not impossible. With good faith, teamwork, and a vision beyond our sight; it will be done.


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