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

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Independence Upon the Presidential Range

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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Reality and Opportunity Collide Majestically On Mt. Jackson!

By Randy Pierce

“While the optimist, pessimist and realist were debating the fullness of the glass, the opportunist snuck in and drank it!”
– Anonymous

Quinn was as enthusiastic about a hike as I’ve ever known. After our success on all 48 4,000-footers this winter, perhaps he was growing used to the benefit of the faster pace that winter footing gives my blind hiking and he may have had some slightly different expectations for the start of this new hiking season. On May 19, a picture perfect “blue bird” day at the base of Mt. Jackson in Crawford Notch, our crew began the short but allegedly gnarly footing route of the Jackson-Webster Trail. Quinn’s energy was evident in the harness pull as he guided me up the trails, as comfortable temperatures and an absence of bugs made for ideal walking.

All too quickly the terrain forced Quinn’s eager speed desires into the slow pace required for him to show me every boulder, crack, crevice or root which is significant enough to lead to some harm. It was a dramatic change from our winter experiences atop the smooth blanket of snow. I’ll admit to some dismay at the full ramification of our less practiced return to this type of trail and the particularly challenging footing of non-winter hiking. I even had a few moments to ponder if Quinn was being over-cautious but it seemed clear that most of his alerts were very much necessary and the trail was simply a challenging route of roots and rocks.

As we do on occasions when the terrain suggests that a human guide might be more efficient, I took some of the strain off the Mighty Quinn and capitalized on the benefits of having Rob Webber guide me for the stretch run to the summit scrambles. This complete shift in communication and approach typically allows a little faster travel.

Arriving upon those summit scrambles requires me to use only the verbal guide as my hands and feet explore the trail to work the slightly more technical sections. I recalled how challenging these were on December 25 and relished how much more readily we managed in late spring! It took very few moments before we were all basking in the sun on the summit with an incredible collection of astounding views for the sighted to share. For our picnic feast we had the requisite summit cookies and other delectables which are rarely a part of the winter experience. I was amused to reflect that more time was likely spent on this one summit than all the winter summits combined!

As with every summit though, there is still a full measure of work remaining in the descent. Knowing the downs are more challenging for me we continued with human guides as Rob, Dan, and Robert all shared some of the work of guiding me along the path. While this does involve a lot of communication and concentration, there’s an opportunity for a tremendously impactful teamwork experience. It was again clear to me how challenging I find the footwork on this type of trail! We did finish with Quinn guiding me out the final steps and a great dinner with friends on an outdoor patio nestled in those amazing mountains.

My final reflections brought home the reality and intensity of summer’s challenge as well as the different aspects and powerful rewards to be had when choosing this opportunity. I’ll hike in the winter and I’ll hike in the summer and love the very different experiences. As I put peak #23 for 2020 Vision Quest behind me, I know there’s more than half of the hard work still ahead. Fortunately I’m well aware of the marvels and delights also waiting around every turn of the trail!

Even more fortunate for me, I know there’s plenty of people ready to make the experience better for the camaraderie bursting out of the experience in laughter, conversations, teamwork, blood, sweat and undoubtedly some eventual tears. Thanks to the crew of Tracy, John, Jennifer, Robert, Jen, Justin, Renee, Gary, Rob and super pooches Jackson and Quinn for all being a part of this particular peak! The 2012 season is officially and very successfully underway!

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