Wildcats



19 Mar 12

By Randy Pierce

“You made it seem easy!” I heard this sentiment from a few folks in celebration of our accomplishment of climbing the NH 48 this winter. Not so fast with that notion–looks definitely can be deceiving.

I consider setting a goal like this as “Positive Adversity.” I have challenged myself with a task which I must then problem-solve and persevere to achieve. The more worthwhile a challenge, the more it is going to seem like it has a few brick walls. Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture” said it rather well:

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

This is why I think the idea of “positive adversity” is so important–because the goal has to be sufficiently rewarding to justify the effort and potential pain involved in the process of achieving it.

While I didn’t choose to become blind, I no longer look at the blindness as my adversity. The goals I set for myself become my adversity, and my lack of sight is one of the potential challenges connected to the process of achievement.

This winter, my goal was to summit all 48 of the New Hampshire 4,000-ft mountains in the limited time of a single winter. This required considerably improving my conditioning, which meant regular training. I heard “no pain, no gain” many times as I pushed the borders of feeling tired and exhausted to ensure I would be ready for some of the physical challenges that awaited on the frozen mountains. Speed and the ability to be steady would be essential in the cold mountain trails and both of those were new challenges for me.

While I walk, my feet become my eyes in many ways. With each step on the trail, in an instant I have to discern as much information as possible as the next step is already on the way. The fact that I broke multiple sets of micro spikes and wore out a pair of boots over the winter is a solid testament to the stress that my feet, ankles, and knees endure upon the trails.

I rarely find that perfect step–I most often settle quickly on “good enough” and endure the resulting impact on body and gear. I’m fortunate that my ankles have some natural flexibility and strength, though it was a rare day that I didn’t have a little swelling and discomfort. The lower snow this winter meant many lower elevation trails were harder for me–the snow didn’t fill in the holes, gaps, twists and rocks which can snag the blind stepping foot. In fact, ice or slippery low snow were added to the mix and at times made my choice of winter goal seem questionable! Fortunately, higher elevations gave me a break and eased much of that particular challenge.

My hands are my eyes in managing equipment, food, water and of course Quinn. In the frigid air up on the mountains, I had to be as good as possible with gloves and/or mittens to limit the time of complete hand exposure. This required constant learning and improvement of processes and dexterity.

Unfortunately for me, my hands are always out on harness and hiking pole, which starts me out at a disadvantage. Worse still, I’m not apparently genetically gifted with high cold tolerance in my hands. On many hikes, a few simple seconds with gloves off left my hands without feeling and unable to work the key gear I needed. Even the simple manipulation of a zipper becomes impressively challenging when you can’t see to align it and your hands have gone numb.

In these difficult moments, my greatest fortune was the eager help of so many hiking partners. Justin, Dina, and Bob each risked their own exposure time often to help me deal with these challenges as we steadily became better at organization.

Early in the season, I slipped on my driveway at home and dislocated my left thumb–hard to believe that falling injury came at home on flat ground. But luckily it was my left hand, which meant I could continue. My left hand is the one I hold Quinn’s harness with, and it didn’t require extensive strain on my thumb. Had it been my right hand, the quest would likely have ended in early January.

My long legs are a tremendous benefit to me as I stride up or down particularly steep terrain. However, along with that benefit comes the fact I was the tallest person on each of my hikes, which becomes a liability when ground snow lifts you higher on the trail and branch snow presses the branches lower.

A common winter challenge is knowing when and how to duck beneath these snow-laden branches. While Quinn can show me these and did when requested, finding what he’s warning about (footing, side obstacles, or head obstacles) can greatly slow down the key need for speed on these hikes.

We developed a system of others telling me key duck points while for the non-critical points I frequently “grazed” the branches and dealt with the snowfall onto my head and back. This often made me colder and certainly led to some interesting “snow face” moments. It also meant all of my gear tended to get more drenched than the typical hiker, which adds both weight and drying time. The number of mild scratches and bumps was also probably a bit above average, but I accepted this as just part of the choice I was making in this goal.

Overall, we were tremendously fortunate in many ways throughout the process. I fell a bit more than most but kept vastly free of injuries of consequence. Not until our final week did I receive the first significant health challenge on a hike.

As our winter window started to narrow, our Presidential Traverse kept us waiting for nearly two weeks before giving even potentially acceptable weather. When we finally did get on the hike, we did it in frostbite-warning cold. I had to do it with new boots, which caused blisters on the heels we couldn’t treat in the moment with moleskin because of the danger of exposure. We decided to push through due to the time pressure.

Before long, bloody and deep wounds became part of the challenge. In adjusting the foot repeatedly to avoid rubbing them, I inadvertently drove the nail on my big toe back into the foot seriously enough to require the nail to be removed and the area patched up by a specialist.

But that minor surgery couldn’t take place until after the next day’s hike of the Wildcats, and our final hike on Cannon three days later. Our Wildcat hike was the most physically challenging of all as a result. Part of pushing through the challenge was knowing the reward of success was close and with it would come plenty of opportunity to rest.

I share all of these challenges not as part of a pity party. Far from it. The experience full of incredible moments and rewarding experiences that I will recall for a lifetime. My intent in the sharing is to make clear that much is required in to achieve a great reward. The higher the cost, the sweeter the reward may often become.

Our immediate team is absolutely jubilant from the experience and the achievement. Support and congratulations have steadily poured in from many fantastic people. All of these quickly help diminish the costs which were part of the process.

In the full reflection of this winter, I wanted to be sure not to forget the price paid by many along the way for this achievement. For me, the monumental nature of the accomplishment far outshines the investment. I hope that as many pursue goals, they find motivation through the challenge in the reward awaiting those who can persevere.

Lack of adversity isn’t the goal. In fact, that is closer to stagnation than I would wish for anyone. The goal is an adversity we craft to be worth its weight in reward. Obstacles are opportunity–that’s my vision of this winter and the entire world!

Share





19 Sep 11

By Geri Hayes

I’m trying to remember my expectations of this hike in the weeks prior to the actual event. Randy and my husband Bob had been running together frequently this summer. Knowing how much we both hike, Randy talked to Bob about leading a hike with 2020 Vision Quest. Plans slowly started to come together, and we finally agreed on a date to tackle the Wildcats.

Wildcat ridge earlier in the summer.

My husband Bob would be primary ‘leader’ and he asked if I’d bring up the rear in case the group spread out. We’d be hiking over 9 miles and wanted to be sure that we kept a pretty steady pace. The plan was to meet at Wildcat ski area to car spot, then start the hike a few miles north at the 19 Mile Brook trailhead. We’d cross Wildcat Ridge hitting Wildcats A>D and descend via the Pole Cat ski trail.

Bob had done the Wildcats a few weeks ago with another friend, and the two of us were recently on 19 Mile Brook Trail. 19 MB was rockier than I remembered from prior years, yet a fairly comfortable grade. Other than the steep section approaching Wildcat A, and the C-D drop and summit, I felt this would be a fairly comfortable hike. I knew it would be slower than if it were only the two of us, but I’ve seen Randy in action running a few races and the trails at Mines Falls; I knew he was quite fit and ambitious to say the least!

Of course, this was all pre-Irene. And sadly, those thoughts were also ‘pre’ Bob spraining his ankle late on Sept 3rd!

We start out at the Wildcats on Sep. 4.

Based on initial reports we knew that 2 of the bridges were out, yet we expected the trail to be in fairly good condition. No blowdowns had been reported and the trail was open. With Bob out of action from his ankle, I would be group leader. Luckily several friends planned to join us on the hike – Liza, Darlene, and Melissa, all of whom have rather extensive history hiking in the Whites and other areas. Them being there brought a huge level of comfort to me. Besides Randy and his wife Tracy (and Quinn of course), we were joined by Cathy and Mike. Cathy, a long time friend of Randy’s going back to high school days, and Mike a newer acquaintance from one of Randy’s UNH student collaboration.

After introductions, car spotting, and initial photos, we set off on 19 MB a few minutes before 9am. The first section of the trail is quite rocky, then smooths out rather nicely. Or rather it did before Irene. Sadly we found lengthy and deep washouts in the middle of the trail… this on the supposedly ‘easy’ section. We kept a good pace nonethless, and I was impressed watching Randy navigate the trail with Quinn. Being tall, Randy has rather long feet – I wondered if this extra platform helped him keep balance on the uneven terrain.

Geri leads the way.

In a rather rocky area, we decided I’d take a turn leading Randy. He placed his left hand on the back of my pack, and used his pole in his right. All of a sudden, my preliminary thoughts of how smoothly this would work went out the window. And all I can see are the usual obstacles greatly multiplied – rocks lurking and waiting to jump out at Randy’s unsuspecting shins and knees, holes ready to toss him off balance. As we start out I’m giving Randy too many details. He has the patience of a saint (more like a room full of saints) and helps me along the way to understand what verbal tips are necessary, informative, or really not needed. It takes some time and we fall in (and out) of good rhythm along the way. It’s probably not until near the end of the hike when I start trusting myself more and understand Randy’s amazing skill reading the trail from my backpack movement and needing fewer instructions.

The whole team took turns leading along the way. While this gave us a break, it also put Randy into training mode with us novices over and over again. Mike led up to the junction with Wildcat Ridge Trail. Darlene coordinated the steeps from there up to A. This section, although only .7 of a mile long, is very steep with some fairly narrow trail sections. The team spread out here, although we were in site of each other to the top. High fives, a bit of whooping, and we were beyond happy to have this difficult section behind us as we savored a few minutes on the summit of A. Sadly the weather was not clearing and the lovely overlook towards the northeast was only fog. Those here for the first time had to trust us about the spectacular view. Quick bites to eat, and time to head out again.

The clouds rolled in, somewhat obscuring the view.

While I generally do NOT carry a phone on a hike, I brought one this time so we could try to touch base with Bob along the way. No service on A, however it rang a few minutes later. Bob called to advise us about a band of clouds/rain heading our way – we should expect rain in another half hour, lasting 20 minutes or so. A few grabbed jackets in preparation, although with the heat most of us just put them near the top of our pack within easy reach. Miraculously, we only got a few drops early on and it actually felt good.

The A-C sections along the ridge are rolling ups and downs. Tracy led Randy here and we later found out this is the furthest distance she has lead him. Liza bravely took her turn and found herself leading the final climb to C and down the steep rocky section beyond. She managed the tricky sections and helpfully advisesd us that we were crossing bog bridge number 574 of the day. It started sprinkling, however with tree coverage it felt more like heavy mist. Most of us managed without rain coats and were quite comfortable.

Crossing one of the many precarious bridges.

I found myself back in the lead as we headed up the final approach to D summit, the top of Wildcat Mountain. I heard a groan from Randy as one foot slipped off the side of a bog bridge – this one is my fault for not warning and I felt awful. He regrouped for a moment and was ready to press on. I’m thankful he wears heavy gaitors and wonder if he’d stand for football padding. This approach is fairly steep and rocky, Randy navigated several areas free climbing, using both his hands on the rocks with some verbal advice in the transition areas. We knew we were getting close to the summit and finally heard cheering from some of the team in front of us. What a wonderful sound!

A few minutes later, Randy is climbing the stairs to the platform on the peak. More cheering, hugs, photos, and snacks. It’s still a rather dismal day weather-wise, but not by the look of accomplishment on the faces of entire team. Mike won the prize for the dirtiest pants and we are all quite helpful with suggestions to make him presentable for any stops later enroute home. Our last summit activity is being entertained by Randy, Quinn, and Delilah (Melissa’s black lab) as they play a bit of tug of war with one of Quinn’s favorite toys. Quinn politely shares, but keeps hold of his end of the ring.  Randy finished with a few minutes of special time with Quinn, and it’s time to head out to finish the hike. We’ve got over 2 miles down Pole Cat trail to the parking lot below.

The dogs play tug of war at the top of the summit.

We enjoyed a rather easy and comfortable walk down. We were all quite tired, but we finished in the daylight and actually got a few views of the peaks across the way. We saw Adams and Madison, and enjoyed the various shades of gray between the different layers of ridges and peaks. We reached the parking lot shortly after 7pm, so just over 10 hours of hiking. What an accomplishment and learning experience for all of us! I only wish Bob could have been with us to experience this amazing day.

To recap: we struggled, we learned, we laughed; we bled a little, we probably swore a few times, and we all succeeded. I am humbled by Randy’s ambition and patience, I have new respect for a guide dog’s skills and training. I am thankful for the company and support of good friends. And I greatly respect Tracy for her strength to manage her own hike while entrusting her beloved partner to us. A very memorable day for me, thank you all.

The triumphant group!

Share





4 Sep 11

  • Height: 4422 feet
  • Date: Sep. 4, 2011
  • Trail: Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, Polecat Ski Trail.
  • Total hiking time: 10 hours
  • Weather: Foggy, cool, partly cloudy, occasional rain
  • Hike leader: Geri Hayes

The original plan was for Randy’s longtime friend and frequent hiking companion Bob Hayes to lead the hike, but a sprained ankle on Sep. 3 forced him to bow out at the last minute. Leading the trip was then left in the capable hands of his wife, Geri. The other people in the hiking group were Darlene, Liza, Melissa, Cathy, Mike, and of course Randy, his wife Tracy, and the Mighty Quinn.

The group started out before 9:00 a.m. at the head of the 19 Mile Brook trail. Sadly, the group found lengthy and deep washouts in the middle of the trail… this on the supposedly ‘easy’ section. They kept a good pace nonetheless.

Geri leads the way.

The whole team took turns leading along the way. Mike led up to the junction with Wildcat Ridge Trail. Darlene coordinated the steeps from there up to A. This section, although only .7 of a mile long, is very steep with some fairly narrow trail sections. The team spread out here, although they were in site of each other to the top. They spent a few minutes on the summit of A. Sadly the weather was not clearing and the view towards the northeast was only fog. Quick bites to eat, and time to head out again.

Shortly thereafter, Geri received a call from Bob to advise them about a band of clouds/rain heading their way — he warned that the group should expect rain in another half hour, lasting 20 minutes or so. All prepared with jackets in easy reach, but fortunately the team only experienced a few drops.

The A-C sections along the ridge are rolling ups and downs. Tracy led Randy here. Liza took her turn and found herself leading the final climb to C and down the steep rocky section beyond. She managed the tricky sections and helpfully advised us that we were crossing bog bridge number 574 of the day. It started sprinkling, but with the extensive tree coverage it felt more like heavy mist.

Geri led again as they headed up the final approach to D summit, the top of Wildcat Mountain. This approach is fairly steep and rocky, Randy navigated several areas free climbing, using both his hands on the rocks with some verbal advice in the transition areas. They knew they were getting close to the summit and finally heard cheering from some of the team in front of them.

A few minutes later, Randy is climbing the stairs to the platform on the peak. It was still a rather dismal day weather-wise, but accomplishment abounded on the faces of the entire team. After taking some time to rest, their last summit activity was to be entertained by Randy, Quinn, and Delilah (Melissa’s black lab) as they play a bit of tug of war with one of Quinn’s favorite toys. Randy finished with a few minutes of special time with Quinn, and it was time to head out to finish the hike.

The walk down 2 miles down Pole Cat Trail rather easy and comfortable. The group was quite tired, but they finished in the daylight and got views of the peaks across the way, including Adams and Madison. They reached the parking lot shortly after 7pm, finishing the hike in just over 10 hours.

Wildcat Mountain Facts

  • Up until 1860, Wildcat Mountain was named East Mountain.
  • The Wildcat Ski Area opened in 1958 with the first gondola lift in the country.
  • You can see 24 of the 48 4000-footers from the summit of Wildcat Mountain.
Share





21 Aug 11

By Randy Pierce

“Why do you hike?” is one of the most common questions asked of many hikers. The answers are as diverse as the people being asked and even more powerfully they are as changing as the seasons in new England.

I began hiking in part for the simple appreciation of the ability to walk again. I knew from my past the serenity of reflection I often found on the mountain trails. I recalled the wonder of visual splendor from my days with sight and was eager to understand the full spectrum of senses which could be touched as a blind hiker. I was also eager for the sense of accomplishment each summit might bring to my spirit.

In preparing for our day hike of Wildcat and Wildcat D, I had an interesting conversation with Bob and Geri Hayes. As avid hikers, their own motivations and inspirations have changed over time and we all noted not only the diversity of reasons for hiking but the development of those approaches. I believe it was Bob who coined the phrase “Hiking Evolution.”

The abundance of summer wildflowers along the trails on the Wildcats. Photo taken by Robert Hayes.

This is an older concept than Darwin, of course. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, gave us: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I know the simple changes in my own hiking ability; this day hike would once have been an overnight for certain but as my work with Quinn and the trails has developed my understanding and abilities, this will be shorter than several of our previous day hikes. The mountains themselves have changes in them by the seasons, as well as more immediate variances from subtle daily alterations. I remember how small and shrouded the world becomes on a night hike in winter where the limit of sight and sound brings detail to the closest things. I recall hikes through autumn splendor of colorful majesty surrounding the world. A cloud-encased summit creates an otherworldly quality that makes the landscape quite surreal. The wind may bring different feelings and scents even along the same well-traveled trails. All of these and more combine to influence change within ourselves and our perspective on these trails.

A beautiful vista from the Wildcat Ridge Trail. Photo taken by Robert Hayes.

Hike with an ornithologist and the splendor of bird song is more vibrantly obvious. Hike with those who work the trails and a new appreciation for the subtle care taken to preserve these paths is astounding. Learn the geology which created the various terrains or the adaptations of the trees through the alpine zones. As we learn and change, the opportunity to cultivate a wonder of varying appreciations can develop. Most powerfully for me is the element of community on a hike as I endeavor to take a bit of each person’s motivations and experience along with me to the next hike. My own evolution in this way reminds me of a Jimmy Buffett lyric: “Frankenstein, has nothing on this body of mine.” So where I will be when the Wildcats hike begins is likely different than where I’ll be at the end and just maybe in my passing by I’ll influence the evolution of these trails as well — actual and metaphorical.

Share



Bad Behavior has blocked 339 access attempts in the last 7 days.