Expecting the best, but preparing for the worst

by Randy Pierce

The Northern Presidential range is dominated by the daunting Mt. Adams, and it will be by far the most challenging peak in this year’s hiking season. At 5,774 feet, it is the second highest in the 48 after Washington, but in many ways presents a more formidable challenge. Adams’ 4,500 feet of elevation gain is the absolute most in all of the White Mountains. Its cracked, boulder-strewn cone is often considered to be the most challenging terrain. Thus, Adams represents perhaps the supreme challenge for me personally, and for all of our team, during the entire 2020 Vision Quest.

Courtesy of Sherpa John: www.sherpajohn.com

Weather is frequently the most difficult factor for any hiker, and here again Mt. Adams stands tall. We’ll make our summit attempt through a convergence of paths known ominously as “Thunderstorm Junction.” It is said that there are more lightning strikes on Mt. Adams than any other point in New England. Though we could not verify this detail, we can confirm that Adams’ mystique has landed it on a list of the top 10 ‘Holy Mountains’ as maintained by the Aetherius Society, who are said to keep their symbols upon the summit.

The best path: Thunderstorm Junction

While we chose Thunderstorm Junction as the shortest section of the challenging summit cone, the very threat of lightning would drive us from our task. As fearsome as lightning can be as it rolls through your town, imagine the same experience on an exposed mountain ledge, with no means to escape or even hide. And given my necessarily deliberate pace, we must only attempt to approach this region if both the forecast and the view confirm we are at very low risk of fast-moving storms.

We will undertake both Adams and its neighbor to the north, Mt. Madison (fifth highest in the 48), during a three-day climb based out of the AMC’s Madison Spring hut. The plan is to ascend the Valley Way trail from the northwest. This moderately steep trail will bring us to the hut nestled in a col between the two pyramidal peaks. If time is sufficient we hope to climb Madison that very day. While only a 1 mile round trip from the hut, the terrain is similar to what we’ll encounter on Adams, and we hope to gain from the experience.

And then there’s Plan B

Courtesy of Sherpa John: www.sherpajohn.com

If weather or timing do not allow that practice run, we plan to achieve the summit of Mt. Adams the next day, July 3. Many backup plans are ready based on the conditions on the mountain, and we hope to find the window of opportunity to travel the 2.4 miles of challenging terrain and achieve Mt. Adams’ notorious summit. We anticipate an exhausting day which allows us back to the hut to rest one final night before making our July 4 return down the Valley Way.

Many hikers have managed these summits, but every experienced hiker who knows us well has said this will be an enormous challenge. We could do everything right and yet be forced to forego the attempt of a summit should the weather not hold sufficient clear skies. Even wet rock will greatly magnify our challenge – but of course we are more mindful of the larger dangers of being trapped in hypothermic conditions – — yes even in early July! – — while lightning rages around us.

As you know, we are not doing this because it’s easy. But never before have we looked forward to a hike with such vivid awareness of the dangers we may encounter.

So we’ve prepared more than any peak previously, we have three days of potential to consider a summit and we are prepared to accept any weather reality. After all, all we can ever do is give our best efforts, plan well and make the most of the realities which can challenge or limit our choices. Win or lose, I expect an experience to remember. And I have little doubt that our 8 person team will come out of the endeavor charged by the experience we intend to share!

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Scary Mountain Ledges and Trust

by Tracy Pierce

Our hike of Mounts Whiteface and Passaconaway on June 18 & 19 was a fantastic success. We completed the overall trip with just a few minor injuries (scrapes, bug bites, and a single turned ankle) and in record speed. We overcame a thunderstorm, bugs, and super challenging ledges. We enjoyed beautiful views and great camaraderie. I also learned a lesson that I hope I won’t soon forget.

View from Tracy's safe perch

I am incredibly afraid of heights and this hike certainly tested that fear! When we approached our first ledge, I was leading the group, and I came upon a sharply slanted ledge that dropped off to nothing. I thought that the trail traversed the ledge and instantly I froze. Our hike leader Kyle
stepped forward and determined that the trail took a 90-degree turn and we didn’t need to cross the ledge, which scared me so much. The views of the Lakes Region, Ring Dyke Complex, and the mountains in the distance was incredible, yet I moved to what I felt was a safe spot, and clung to a tree as Kyle bravely looked out onto the view below us.

Randy asked Kyle if he could join him on the ledge so Kyle might trace the outlines of the mountains in the distance. I’m ashamed to admit that I, as the scared and concerned wife, promptly said “No way!” Randy, ever
mindful of my feelings, said nothing and waited at a safe perch instead.

I’m embarrassed to share this interchange, because my own fear caused me to do something that is in opposition of emphasizing ability awareness that 2020 Vision Quest encourages. In placing my own fear onto Randy, I prevented him from having an experience that he would have enjoyed. I was so scared on that ledge that I didn’t even realize or remember what I’d done until Randy and I talked days later. I’m glad Randy brought it up. Certainly, I’ll be scared again in the future, but I’ll have this lesson to help me remember to
trust our team and the care that Randy exhibits when undertaking something dangerous.

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Is Quinn Safe?

by Randy Pierce

I have heard more than a few questions about Quinn’s safety on a hike, and while I’m out in the Pemi Wilderness with him, I thought I would comfort some folks and share with all of you that Quinn is very well tended. With our approach, we follow the adage of a quote I love well: “We do not plan to fail, we fail to plan.” That is to say, we do plan for Quinn’s safety, and hopefully reap the benefits of this choice.

Quinn’s gear includes his own sleeping bag for warmth and to help him dry quickly, which sadly looks necessary for this trip. He will have several paw ‘boots’ to protect him from the rough rocks and these boots have been tested to ensure they give protection and traction. We have a dog safe marigold bug repellent and a bag of cornstarch to soothe bites or chafe. Also, I will carry a full extra meal for him for each day and the extra water to ensure he’s drinking steadily and sufficiently. All of these advance supplies have us prepared to deal with many concerns using a preventative approach.

Taking care of Quinn

On the hikes, we use his best alert signal to us, the tail wag, to know how he’s feeling. Each stop involves a little quick check on him to ensure nothing is amiss. We know that a dog’s conditioning typically exceeds our own but practice on the trails helps us understand the mental energy he uses, and helps us ensure calories and rest are supplied to let him enjoy the experience fully.

Most importantly, we have learned what types of terrain are challenging for him directly or a worry for me. If I am sliding off the icy monorail and have the risk of stepping on him, we switch strategies to a human guide. When steep terrain requires I be guided differently, we ensure he works with a sighted person to keep his pace and route appropriate for the terrain. This is especially essential since we know he wants to worry about me, and occasionally he takes a more direct route to me if left to his own devices.

Quinn is not only my essential link to independence and safety; he is my well-loved and cherished companion. I will not deliberately put him into any dangerous situation without taking all the proper safety precautions. If this experience should ever show signs of displeasing him, I will tend to his happiness as a priority, and ensure he doesn’t deal with such a situation again.

It is for this reason, his sheer delight at our mountain explorations, that I do keep him with me in our work together to accomplish these 48 summits. So check the tail in our video and photographs for the evidence that everyone on our hikes can assure you is present. Should this ever not be the case, Quinn can join all of you in watching our Spot Adventures and awaiting my wilderness return from  the warm, dry, and safe confines of a comfortable home!

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Taking Lafayette by Storm – Part 2

by Randy Pierce

The traction of my MSR snowshoes was incredible and I didn’t slip on any of the steep steps. Aside from the directional work I had to do, the hardest challenge was the many ‘duck walks’. The duck walks occurred in areas where the trail brought us under a dome of branches piled high with snow, like a cave or tunnel. Occasionally an insufficient crouch or ‘duck’ would drop some of that snow onto a hiker, and I quickly learned to get very low for these sections. The sound and air pressure changes in these areas were some of the most magical snow silence and solitude that I relish.

The Agonies provided some of the steepest work of the day, and we felt the winds increase, so much so that I covered my entire face for the remainder of the ascent. As we reached the hut, it was clear that we were walking on snowdrifts, which were higher than the hut itself – it was even possible to walk straight onto the
back roof of the hut. It’s is incredible to realize there is so much snow beneath you and likely the next time you’re on those same trails it would all be gone! We talked with several other hikers at the hut, and all who had attempted a summit had returned unsuccessful. We intended only to go the short distance further to pass tree line and feel a bit more of the full wind upon the mountain. We did this successfully, and we were very eager to get our group photo opportunity and then retreat to the slightly more sheltered region. Temperatures with the wind chill at that point were likely less than twenty below zero, and unless we were working hard or adding layers, it was no place to remain.

Heading down with a very healthy feeling of accomplishment and very comfortable weather (though we knew it was still below zero with wind); we took a few opportunities to play. Most shed their snowshoes, as the hard-packed snow didn’t require them while on the trail. Striding off the trail to measure snow depth, we would easily drop to our waist, necks, or even further in the snow!

Instead of the ‘bear bell’ method of direction I used on the way up, I was able to place my hand on the pack of another person and let him guide me along. Lack of snowshoes made this reasonable; though not sliding into my guide was a challenge at times. Another challenge was attempting to stay away from the edges of the trail, since I was not able to use my trekker poles while being guided in this manner. Physically, this was more demanding but mentally it was less so, and we made better time. Much thanks to Robbie and Sherpa for this incredible bit of work. They were fantastic and I appreciated it – although I must say that the independent feel of accomplishing a trail with them versus with Quinn is noteworthy. Some of the reward is in how we feel about ourselves, and without question, it was a great accomplishment!

Photo courtesy of Sherpa John

In our playful descent, the more practical fun was experienced in the art of glissading, in which the aforementioned luge trail was used for just that. Sitting and using hands and feet to propel the body to slide down the trail was exhilarating.  This also kept our pace up and was far safer in reality than I imagined when it was first described to me. It was a justified reward that the steepest and hardest parts on the way up were the swiftest and most fun on the way down! We needed fewer rests, though there were some different leg muscles at
work and they did require rest at a few points. We were off the mountain by 3:30 p.m. and, as is often the case, feeling a lot closer for the time and accomplishments together.

The bulk of our hike was in beautiful weather, though without all the right gear and the heat of our efforts, it would have been incredibly cold. Just beyond our final turning point was a storm so furious, it would have been torturous to us, despite the additional gear in our packs and the extra exertions it would have required. We took the mountain in a calm around a storm, and our success enabled us to storm up and back with the elation the experience deserved. For a first winter foray into the 48, we achieved a much-deserved reward and look forward to many more!  Continue

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Taking Lafayette by Storm – Part 1

by Randy Pierce

Riding up Interstate 93 into Franconia Notch, John Lacroix – known to many as Sherpa John – explained how the cloud dome over the summit of Mt. Lafayette is caused by the powerful winds riding up the ravine. The presence of the dome also confirmed the weather forecast for us that day; a stormy summit with hurricane-force winds likely. Snow had fallen during the evening, but we pulled into the parking area, made our evaluations, and decided on how to proceed.

Sherpa John took the responsibility for being the “bear bell“ lead on this hike, as he has helped me evaluate and practice the new and challenging aspects of my White Mountain forays in the past. UNH Outdoor Education student Robbie Caldwell was a last minute addition to our group so he could gain some collegiate leadership hours. At the trailhead, the weather was calm but very cold; the red glow of the sun striking the top of Cannon Mountain offering a bit of encouragement.

It was 8:30 a.m. on February 13th, and my hands struggled for dexterity as the biting cold caused mere seconds without gloves to be a problem. We all gathered swiftly and began the trek so that our bodies could get working and warm. There is little small talk – just enough to be clear on our plan, which is to head to Greenleaf hut and then up above tree line to gauge the force of the winds. We would turn around at any point necessary – undoubtedly at that tree line – due to the storm on the summit.

One early detriment to the hike was the discovery that the tube of my Camelbak was frozen and most likely was so even before we began. Despite the warm water in it, the exposed tube was solid, and my water would now have to come from my less-convenient Nalgene bottle. We tucked the tube into my clothes to let my body heat melt it, but it wasn’t until we neared the hut that I finally had water flowing from it.

We called lunch on a rock that provided good seats for our weary legs and a great view of the three hills known as ‘The Agonies’. These three hills were our next challenge on the way up. We took time here to eat, reflect on our hike so far, and to appreciate the various summits all around us: Lincoln, Haystack, and the cloud-enshrouded Lafayette high above them all.

Photo courtesy of Sherpa John

As I had learned on the previous day with my first blind snowshoe hike up a mountain (Pack Monadnock), previous hikers had made a packed-down path that was lower than the surrounding snow. The packed trail made for an easy groove to guide my steps; the edges curled up almost like an ice luge to help guide me, and the flat footing for each step was an absolute treasure, as I’m used to struggling for footing during summer hikes. The bear bells hanging from my guide helped me as well, though the sounds of the snowshoes ahead were an easier source for me to track. Therefore, while each step was considerably easier to manage, the concentration for direction required a bit more work and practice. Fir traps beside the trail became an occasional hazard, as one of my legs sometimes plunged down into them. Without Quinn’s presence to warn me of low-hanging branches, that task fell to the folks in front of me, and it took some adjustments to learn what level of communication worked best. Still the pace was considerably quicker than my normal stride and we made excellent progress. In no time at all, no one was feeling the cold. And while we hiked, gently falling snow decorated the incredible winter landscape for the eight of us…

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School Days Growing on Us

When we visit with students, we engage them in our presentation with many interactive questions that guide the flow of the discussion. At certain times, we give them the opportunity to inquire about any topic we’ve discussed. This week, while at Dr. Crisp Elementary here in Nashua, I was asked a follow-up question regarding Quinn’s ability to know my height and warn me about potential obstacles at head level. Specifically, the student wanted to know how Quinn might adapt if I were to grow.

It was an excellent question in many ways. Maintaining awareness of extreme spatial ranges is one of the more challenging tasks for dogs, for example, my height triples Quinn’s height. However, the question more likely implied the idea of a Guide Dog working with someone such as a child or young adult who is very likely to grow. Since my height is reasonably stable, it might seem a moot point for me – but this isn’t actually the case. When I’m carrying objects such as grocery bags or a bulky item that may jut out to my side, I do ‘grow’ wider. Quinn must adjust to this added width and I have to have confidence in him to do so. Similarly, when I’m wearing boots or a hiking pack, which can rise over my head, Quinn must be aware that I have ‘grown’ taller. To make Quinn aware of such changes, I snap at my larger extension and give Quinn the ‘caution’ command. Usually I can feel him turn a bit in the harness and then I know he has looked and is aware. Much like a driver in a new car, Quinn may double-check a few times to gauge clearance, and he even occasionally makes errors. When that happens, I have to reinforce the change and the word ‘caution’. Quinn typically gets it quickly and my confidence and trust in him is very high for these challenges.

I offer the following story as an example of the trust I have in Quinn. A few years back we had a snowstorm coming just before Christmas. Tracy and I needed a new shovel and went to a very crowded department store on a Friday night, amidst ‘storm panic’ and holiday shoppers alike. We bought the largest shovel we could find, and then I had to carry this bulky and dangerous item through the crowded store. I took the time to give Quinn extra emphasis on the caution and then bade him to guide me. We navigated through the store, which had many added aisle displays and a rush inattentive people. Quinn was slower and looked back at me several times, but nary a sign of misjudgment. I had already learned to trust him, otherwise I wouldn’t have made the attempt – but I believe that for Tracy and many of the shoppers, there was a very clear understanding of how well Quinn adjusted to ‘growth’. I think the students who hear Quinn’s tale are also suitably impressed. Personally, I am amazed at how frequently a student provides an insightful question that allows us to cover yet another interesting aspect of our work.

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Quintessential Reasons for 9/11

Our author with his dad on Mt. Welch

by The Mighty Quinn

Everyone has his or her own methods and reasons to appreciate 9/11 – including this Mighty Guide Dog! I wasn’t even born when 9/11/2001 became known for the tragic events that motivated the Flags on the 48 project. However, I can tell you a little about what motivates me.

Sure my tug toy and tennis ball are high on the list of motivators, and I’ve never been known to turn down a little kibble or even a lot of kibble, but there is more to me than those simple notions. Yes, I’m rather fond of the big lug (Randy), and keeping him safe is a point of pride for me. Undeniably, I even love the adventure, which climbing Mt. Liberty represents, but like an infomercial – still there’s more!

Did you know one of the guide dogs from my school, Roselle, was on the 78th floor when a plane struck one of the towers? Did you know about the miraculous work he did in leading his handler to safety in the midst of that chaos and devastation? I encourage you to read their story here!

That example alone demonstrates the amazing work of a Guide. We are, however, more than simply about blindness. Have you considered that not only human rescuers gave their lives and efforts on that day, but many heroic and hard working canines did as well? We recently received a note from NH Search and Rescue talking about the dogs they use to help in their efforts here in New Hampshire, along the very terrain where I lead my ‘Dad.’ There’s even a national organization for dogs that help humans when facing disaster.

I know, I know. We have a goal to raise funds for 2020 Vision Quest, which enables us to reach out with our message, all to help causes in which we strongly believe. The fact is there are always many worthy causes and worthy needs. Dad says he wants people to be passionate about something important and to strive forward to positively promote that passion. For me, on the 9/11 hike, I will particularly remember Roselle and my many canine cousins working so hard to help a world that, at times, we cannot understand.

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Where's the Beef?

by Carrie McMillen

I never knew beef could be such an important part of a trip. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I’ll eat pretty much anything on the trail. So, when I heard about how a few of the hike participants had eaten steak tips once on a previous backpacking trip, I was pretty excited. The steak tips ended up being a really important part of the trip – they became both the high and low points of the weekend.

Steak tips as a way to heal


Kara applies frozen steak tips to Randy's injured knee.

About an hour into the hike, as you may have read about by now, Randy’s knee swelled up like a ping-pong ball within seconds after his fall. I knew having something cold on the injury would help, and Kara had to remind me that in the depths of someone’s pack were some tasty and frozen steak tips. After 20 minutes of freezing Randy’s knee, the swelling went way down and we were ready to move on. I really think that the icing minimized the extent of his injury dramatically.

Having an injury on the trail made this all very real. I’ve always carried first aid gear, but have opened it for only a Band-aid or some Neosporin. Maybe I’ve been lucky all of these years – but this hike made me a lot more alert to the fact that this may occur more than once as we summit these formidable 48 peaks. I learned a lot on this hike – about the resilience and determination of Randy, about the strength and support of our team, and about the inequities of the first aid kit. I bought a large survival/ first aid kit, but until you have an actual injury, it’s hard to know what you’re missing. Unfortunately, we probably won’t have frozen steak tips on every trip, but we instead should definitely have instant cold compresses. We should also have Q-tips for cleaning out cuts, butterfly bandages, and tweezers that don’t look like daggers (sorry, Randy!). Luckily, a few of the participants offered up some of their personal first aid items to supplement what was missing. (Tip: a squeeze water bottle is great for flushing out a wound!)

Steak tips as a way to bond


Rob cooking up the steak tips. Mmmm!

Once we were done freezing Randy’s knee with steak tips for a second time before dinner, we had the pleasure of eating them. I was gone for about 45 minutes getting water and by the time I got back, the boys had rigged up a fancy campfire – and those steak tips melted in my mouth as I finally relaxed from the day. Add to that a delicious lentil stew with fresh rosemary and we had ourselves a recipe for a great evening. We spent several hours reminiscing about past hiking experiences and got to know each other better through interesting and challenging questions. As the evening got later and darker, I’m sure we were smiling big with full bellies and great company.

Every hiking trip is different – some go smoothly, some don’t. The bumps of this trip were…literally, bumps. There were many things to think about as Randy hit his knee twice and sliced his hand, and trust me – my mind was going a mile a minute as I considered the ramifications of his injuries to himself and the group, while simultaneously thinking about how to treat the situation. I’ll be honest – it’s mentally tiring to balance all of those things as a leader.

But, I have to say that even with the ‘bumps’, this trip was smooth and sensational. I specifically am grateful for the way we cherished each summit as a group and for the many ways we took care of each other, whether it was cooking a meal, helping breakdown a tent or taking some weight from Randy’s pack. And, I was tickled when nature provided her own few magical moments like the old worldly mossy glen at a stream crossing and the gray jays that fearlessly landed on my outstretched hand. To paraphrase Randy from the weekend: ‘It’s moments like these that keep me going.’

And steak tips.

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Back Country Bruises (with a Bonus!) – Part 2

by Randy Pierce

We set out early the next morning, though not too early as to over-push it. The trail atop the ridge was beautiful and we made excellent time. All seemed ideal, even on my sore knee – that is, until a second mishap occurred.

We were walking on the edge of a washout section of the trail. The three-foot-deep washout was boulder-strewn and hard to navigate. Quinn took the flat high ground to the left, because I walk better on flat ground. As I stepped down with my left foot, the dirt and roots of the washout collapsed and dropped me into the wash. I released the harness and leash from my left hand, so as not to trap Quinn while I tried to  catch myself, but sadly I sliced my left palm on a spiky stump fragment  – just as my injured left knee took yet another hit.

The team, having practiced the day before, was amazing. I am exceedingly grateful for the efficiency with which they got pressure on my two bleeding points, then got my knee elevated and iced. Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate is the order, R.I.C.E. for those wanting the mnemonic. All was accomplished in moments, and though I was sore and concerned, I was in good spirits. During my twenty minutes of ‘ice’, my hand wound was cleared of debris and tended by the amazing crew. Everyone was excellent, and I’m grateful. My spirits took a small hit here for obvious reasons, but the team support was solid – and it was at this point that we observed a little mountain magic, which may have made the difference for me.

We had been told that atop Mt. Field, one could hold out a hand with dried fruit and the Gray Jays would perch on your fingers and eat the fruit. At this very stop, the Jays revealed themselves, and we tested the rumor with an awe-inspiring delight. When ready, I stood and partook of the process, marveling at communing with these birds. I felt a bit as if I was in a Fairy Tale, and my knee and hand hurt a lot less for it.

We continued on, a bit slower, to the summit of Mt. Tom, where we were again treated to better views than anticipated. We called in more of the Jays and even had them perch upon my pack, which of course had the names of our $100 donors (thanks!). One of those names, by the way, is a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy that is being raised to do the same job as Quinn!

We eventually began our descent, knowing this would definitely test my knee. I don’t think I can praise enough the work of Quinn or Tracy’s efforts ahead of me in trail blazing and sharing just enough information to keep us focused and safe. It was tough terrain, but we made good time – and my comfort and confidence in the progress Quinn and I have made was clear. We are a strong hiking team. He knew my injury and he helped me much, occasionally getting me to shift feet for a tricky point, and occasionally giving me stability on a rough area. He knows how to show me when we can do something readily and conversely, he knows how to alert me when I must step or sit down for a significant drop. We did the trip well, arriving at the end of the first rough stretch in time for Carrie to decide that she and Dave would go ahead for water refills while the rest of us could attempt the Avalon spur. Carrie and Dave had done the spur previously, and the team had used a lot of water to flush my injuries – so were lower on water than ideal.

The summit of Mt. Avalon is a very short spur off the trail, and we again did this without our packs…well most of us. Kara kept her pack on, for first aid and other vital needs. The craggy point had some unusual terrain and made for a great climb. Some of the spur trail required a 4-limb scramble, so Quinn could not lead me, but he came along and was excited for the challenges. We loved the view but rested only for a moment, as we had much work ahead in our final steep descent.

The Tom/Field 2020 Team

The next phase of the Avalon Trail is very steep and challenging – even for the fully sighted. It quickly earned my respect. It was not my most challenging down section, but very close – and Quinn was tireless in keeping me safe and oriented. Kara led us for much of this stretch, giving Tracy a well-deserved break. We made great time given the challenge, and we accomplished faster than Carrie expected. When we rejoined with her and Dave, there was a jubilant sharing of restocked water and much celebration. We knew this hike would be a success, despite the injuries. The team had come together marvelously and we had bagged a trio of peaks, two of which were part of the 48 on our list.

There are so many memories of the experiences on those mountains. The lingering bruises certainly have me reflecting on them, but the most powerful memories are of the teamwork and friendship built in sharing the marvels of the White Mountains. Seriously, how many people can stand atop the highest peak in a glorious range and have wild birds landing in their palm? How many people can know the value of friendship and fun so deeply at the core of that peaceful sanctuary? I’m certainly a happier person for it. Thank you to all those who hike with me and to all those inspiring me along the way!

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Back Country Bruises – Part 1

by Randy Pierce

This weekend’s hike was a fantastic experience for me personally, though it came with a significant impact…literally.

We loaded up our packs for a Friday night stay at a campground near the trailhead, to both test our new equipment as well as ensure an early morning departure. Time is typically one of my biggest challenges due to my need to hike more slowly than most. So, with slightly heavier packs (my pack, at 48 pounds, was barely the most heavy), we set out on the Avalon Trail. Roughly .5 miles into the hike, we were enjoying gentle trails – then an error on a plank bog bridge made our hike a bit more difficult.

Typically, Quinn leads me by half a dog, meaning I’m walking beside his right flank. He stops to signal warnings when his subtle body positioning cannot have me evade things entirely. Sometimes, Quinn and I need to go single file, due to a narrow pathway or bridge. While single file, when Quinn stops for an obstacle, I have to estimate the distance to his front paws, ask him to ‘hup-up’, and then find the edge of the obstacle. When we hit a plank bridge that was too narrow for us to walk side by side, Quinn did his work well – and Tracy, with a very good understanding of our process, alerted me that there was a deep space between the plank and the stepping-stone off the plank. Unfortunately, I did not hear Tracy’s warning, nor did I catch Quinn’s extra hesitation as he stepped off the plank to the rock. My wet boot partially reached the stone step, but then it slipped. I fell between the plank and the rock and banged my knee solidly against another rock. The swelling was significant and immediate.

Our Wilderness First Aid training came in handy, as a quick evaluation of my situation found my mood strong, thoughts coherent, and bones not broken. We walked to the junction of the A-Z trail (Avalon – Zealand) and then made some decisions. We would ice my knee, using frozen steak tips for that night’s dinner, wrap it, and carry on – with me periodically giving my status to the hiking leader, Carrie.

We had lunch at our last water source, which was a mossy, old-world-feeling forest with sunlight streaming through forest breaks. The spot was beautiful and we were proud of having made such good progress despite the setback. While filling our water containers, I listened as folks described the area. The air had been chilled by the stream gorge, and I delighted in the day. We had heard of sparse views on Mt. Tom, but we found many worthy views of the Presidentials. My companions were marvelous about sharing things with me, including details of a spider building a web off trail.

We made good time, and at the Mt. Tom spur, we stashed our packs off the trail to make the spur trip without the weight of our packs. The summit had better views than promised, and thanks to Steve Smith’s book on the 48 from the Mountain Wanderer, we knew how to find the ‘secret bench’ views. We laughed much and reveled in our accomplishment. The group was excited – and the luxury of hiking without a pack really makes a difference when you’ve been lugging all that weight.

We walked back to our packs and found some previously used campsite off the trail. Carrie and Kara went for water refills while the rest of us set up camp. A marvelous feast and great camaraderie whiled away the evening. Sure, we could have pushed onward, but staying closer to the water source and savoring the trip was more important. It was a great decision, and we are all closer and happier for that evening together on the top of the range.

Some of you know I’m a bit of a Pats fan, and as such I’m well familiar with the instant replay. Day 2 of our hike featured several of those, both good and bad: great trails, hard work, marvels of nature, water concerns… and yet more practice with the Wilderness First Aid training.

To Be Continued…

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