Why is our Mt. Waumbek success linked to Mt. Vesuvius and the alleged World's Greatest Traveller?

Randy and Quinn on the trail.

by Randy Pierce

Our July New Hampshire heat wave is not untypical, nor is the choice to seek some solace from the heat by hiking amidst the elevation of a 4000-foot peak. Aware of the real dangers of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, we were relieved to have an early morning shower easing the challenge and risk. Our task was to hike a longer distance on some generally moderate trails to the summit of Mt. Starr King and then along the ridge to Mt Waumbek. The mostly wooded course would limit the relief of wind on our long humid hike, and we expected the heat to be our larger challenge.

Mt. Waumbek is part of a ring dike complex, which means it was formed by volcanic activity. In fact, it bore Pliny Major as its name for many years in honor of Pliny the Younger, a Roman who provided the only written eyewitness testimony of the infamous eruption on Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Vesuvius, at 4206 feet, is a similar height to our climb, and the tale of James Holman humbles each and every one of my efforts. He was the first blind person to summit Mt Vesuvius and he did so while it was still active. The tale of his life is remarkable, and during that particular expedition, he dealt with a fair bit more than our July jaunt in the White Mountains.

Team 2020 - Waumbek!

Still I’m quite proud of the nine friends who joined Quinn and me, and overcame the heat of our journey. A diverse group shared a collection of wilderness and life details as we took up the steady climb to the Chimney overlook of the Northern Presidentials from the summit of Starr King. One of the gentlest ridge trails brought us to a vastly restricted view from the wooded summit of Waumbek. While the light breezes did cool some, the heat was steady from the high noon sun. As we returned at a comfortably quick pace, we left the elevation-gained coolness. As a group, we had plenty of water and we supported each other well, yet as we reached the relief of the trailhead, I could still feel the light touch of some heat exhaustion. I needed an electrolyte boost and the cooling benefit of an ice pack on the back of my neck to regain full comfort.

Even one of the gentler challenges of the 48 teased us with a lesson in respecting all factors that can place a hiking group risk. I’m certainly no James Holman, and unlike him, I had a fantastic team of support throughout this day. I respect and appreciate the experience with the people and the mountain, as well as all of the hikes past and in the future. Each hike to come will have unique rewards and challenges, and Mt. Waumbek has now carved out its place on our path!


Leave No Trace

by Randy Pierce

It’s time for a peek into the hiking side of our project, though the ramifications of this topic are relevant to all of society. The principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) are simple and well articulated at this site. The video, impressively with audio description, is a fantastic start to a quality education on the topic! The challenge comes in each individual’s personal interpretation of how LNT will apply to them. A second and equally powerful challenge is the compromise necessary to meld these personal choices into an effective strategy with a humane approach.

On the 2020 Project, we’ve already faced the discrepancy of approach, and fortunately it was managed by calm and reasonable discussion, education, and consideration – but that is sadly not always the case. I encourage everyone to learn the basic principles of LNT to ensure we are tending the well-being of not only our hiking environs but our entire planet. A green-aware world can benefit us all in many ways. We hikers can each see immediate positive, or negative, impact by the decisions made in our forest and mountain habitats. We may also benefit tremendously in how we approach these topics with our fellow humans, and respect the quintessential points of LNT while keeping in mind the subjective ‘gray areas’ that exist.

Let’s examine the Gray Jay magic experience that we shared last year. By feeding the birds even a nominal amount of dried fruit, are we adjusting their behaviors and putting them at more significant risk? Answers to that question may vary, even from the experts. The first step is awareness of a potential impact, which at the time of our experience, we did not even consider. That was a mistake, and part of the reason why we want to emphasize education and planning as a successful approach.

Hiking blind, and with Quinn, I increase my potential impact in several ways that are difficult to avoid. The extreme of leaving no trace suggests that I not even partake of the wilderness experience, but I’ve obviously made a different choice there. So, the next recourse is ensuring that I have the techniques that minimize the negative potential of my presence, and to those I will remain dedicated. I hope all of you will do the same, including the polite and appropriate sharing of concerns with each other as we all strive to enjoy an incredible experience while preserving it for all who come after us!


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