Quinn and the Crew Summit Cannon

by Randy Pierce

The day was a fantastic story of achievement for both Quinn and me. Cannon was a two-day planning event for both 2020 Vision Quest and Powderhouse Productions. They had heard of the inspirational work of the Mighty Quinn and wanted to film it for an inspiring project of their own. The interesting catch is that the film crew had precious little hiking experience, but they really wanted their final day of filming to involve hiking one of the 48 with us.

We filmed all day on Wednesday in Nashua, and then made a trip to Hidden Valley Campground where I gave a presentation to a group of boy scouts while they filmed. I learned a few things about their 14-member production crew during this time. I was very confident that they were capturing some quality footage, which was encouraging. However, the crew had difficulty keeping within desired time constraints – this would be a significant concern to me in our attempt on Cannon.

The latter concern escalated as they moved the trailhead departure time from my requested 7:00am to 8:00am, and then for a variety of production reasons, failed to arrive at the trailhead until well after 9:00am. In fact, the film crew was not actually ready to hike until after 10:00am. Time is among the biggest challenges for our success, and I’d given up over three hours of time already. Though this was an earnest attempt at Cannon, we decided to untypically allow the time impact within all reasonable safety levels. To ensure full comfort in this approach, I had asked both our 2020 hiking manager, Carrie McMillen, and UNH Professor of Outdoor Education, Brent Bell, to join us in undertaking the hike.

As we began the hike, the crew’s prior level of appreciation for Quinn was dwarfed by his astounding work on the trail. I mostly walked with our celebrity host, Ethan, as he watched us work and asked many questions about our progress. We repeated certain stretches to help the camera work, and often paused for the more poignant questions to get full impact on film. The crew was working hard to manage the trail with their equipment, and by the time we hit Lonesome Lake, it was clear that many of the crew would not continue onward with us. We all had lunch just past the impressive bog rails we had traversed around the lake. During lunch, we adjusted the plan; we would continue up with a small camera and sound crew, while the rest of the crew would hike down to take the tram and meet us at the summit.

The trail from Lonesome Lake to Kinsman Ridge is steep and has some good staircase work, which is actually an area where Quinn and I are strong. It was slippery and moderately challenging, with plenty of great opportunities for the film work. Now, the group was small enough that the bonding of the group began to develop in earnest. As we reached the Kinsman Ridge Trail, it leveled briefly at the col between the Cannon Ball and Cannon. The next .2 miles were very steep with hard scrabble, and everyone needed all four limbs for hiking. Due to this terrain, Quinn went off duty, and I managed it with the guidance of the sounds of a person ahead of me.

It was slow going and hard climbing, even for Quinn. This wasn’t our hardest challenge to date but it was a solid stretch of work. Our halts for camera time were reduced to ensure we’d achieve the summit in time. As we finished that section and Quinn returned to me, we made great time to the summit. Again, more film crew pauses held us for nearly an hour more. However, it was fantastic for their story and well worth the time spent – but it also removed any chance of our making a descent. This hike was about the production company getting their story – there was no failure on our end. We actually still felt strong and energized enough to undertake a descent, but we didn’t have enough time to make it reasonable. I was also skeptical that any of the film crew had the strength or energy reserves to continue. Instead, we all took the Tram down in an astounding 7-minute ride.

I learned more about working with Quinn on this hike, I have many new perspectives from the film work, and I became familiarized with Cannon Mountain. This increases my interest in returning and experiencing the mountain more fully with an official 2020 hike and a complete summit ascent and descent. In the meanwhile, I know there’s a fantastic story on film, and I look forward to being able to share more details with you soon.


Pushing My Boundaries

by Tracy Goyette

As we approach the final days leading up to my first ever backcountry camping trip, I find myself faced with a near overwhelming load of self-doubt and fears about the upcoming 2020 hiking trip. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely excited and eager for our trip to Mounts Tom and Field, but I’m pushing my boundaries with this trip.

Tracy and Randy at Lakes of the Clouds

I am, generally, an open person – except when it comes to admitting weaknesses and fears. I probably would have continued on, worrying in silence, except that I got a fantastic note from someone who shared her life situation with me – including what a positive effect our story has had on her. That note made me think that perhaps by sharing my own fears and hopefully later my success, I might inspire another person to try something they’ve been afraid of in the past.

So, without further ado, this trip scares me because of the following:

• I’ve never camped in the back woods before.
• There is bear activity in the area.
• I wonder if I can handle carrying the extra weight needed.
• I fear I’ll be the slowest hiker because I’ve lost a bit of fitness these past few months.
• What if I can’t sleep on the ground and I’m too sore the second day?
• What if we run out of water?

Setting these fears down on paper and sharing them makes me feel a bit silly, yet they express how I’ve been feeling this past week. I know that the group I’m climbing with is extremely supportive, and ultimately everything will be ok. However, I expect that knowledge won’t do much to allay my fears. So, I’m going to follow Randy’s example and just dive right in. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

So, what do you guys out there think? Anyone ever have any of these fears? How did your first backcountry trip turn out?


Surprise! Cannons Thunder and 2020 Rolls with It!

Cannon Mountain, then and now.

by Randy Pierce

Part of my thus-far successful philosophy of life is predicated upon making the most out of opportunities. Where some might find obstacles, I try to see opportunity. This isn’t always easy or successful, but it is most often rewarding. As such, when I received a phone call from Powderhouse Productions inquiring about filming a pilot for a major cable network about Quinn’s amazing work and the 2020 Vision Quest project, I was eager to explore further. We’ve been working out the filming details for just over a week, with the plan of including Quinn leading me in some local guiding work, a presentation for the Boy Scouts at Hidden Valley Campground, and Quinn and I climbing a smaller mountain with decent views and reasonable Quinn challenges.

The filming was to occur Wednesday and Thursday of this week. When a Tuesday morning meeting brought about the suggestion of making the hike a full 4000+ foot mountain, I knew that the change would add a lot of work and challenge. However, I believed it was a fantastic opportunity – so I began to explore ways to make the change safe and feasible, even with only two days to plan.

As I discussed the potential change with other members of Team 2020, the first responses I got were of concern for how much I’d be pushing myself. The team’s second response echoed my own thoughts – what would the impact be on Quinn? Dogs are amazing, and Quinn is astounding, though I admit to a bit of a bias. One day of recovery is more than enough for Quinn to recharge; I just wish it were that simple for me! It will be a hard challenge for me and I understand that this change may affect the weekend summit attempts. However, I have begun preparations and precautions to ensure minimal risk and to give every opportunity for success.

Now the plan is to showcase Quinn’s conventional talents locally on Wednesday, then head up to the Scout camp to share with them the education and inspiration that is so essential to the project. Finally, with a full film crew for the potential pilot, we will launch into Quinn’s unconventional and astounding guide work with a Thursday-morning summit attempt of Cannon Mountain. It will certainly be a solid warm up for this weekend’s backcountry camping, double-summit attempt of Mt. Tom and Mt. Field!

I’ve generally found that the harder something is to achieve, the more value is gained from the achievement. If you follow us on Spot on Thursday – and then again on Saturday and Sunday! – you’ll find out along with me how hard this particular challenge will be. If all goes well, we will soon have some great stories and achievements (and maybe some very exciting news about a pilot TV show!), whether we summit all we attempt or not. Either way, we have one amazing adventure ahead of us yet again!


Looking to Hale: Moving Concerns

by Jenifer Tidwell

On Mount Washington, we learned some hard lessons about how slowly Team 2020 hikes. We knew already that we need to allow plenty of extra time for Randy and Quinn to work their way through difficult terrain, but the actual numbers that we put up on the Ammonoosuc Trail were a bit discouraging. We found ourselves losing time here, there, and everywhere.

I’ll be leading our Mt. Hale hike this coming Sunday, and I want to share some of my thoughts on moving fast through the wilderness.Jenifer on Mt. Washington

Now, no one who’s hiked with me in the past – Mike, Karl, Dan, and all you others – will claim that I’m a speedy hiker! However, I’ve learned a few lessons over many years of hiking, climbing, and mountaineering. I’ve failed to summit mountains in about all the ways you can imagine, many of them time-related.

First lesson:  Both “slow and heavy” and “fast and light” travel are dangerous in their own ways. Find your happy medium.

I started as a “slow and heavy” hiker. I would carry everything the AMC recommended in an enormous, heavy pack. However, I found that weight slows you down, throws off your balance, and makes you prone to injuries. And, if you go too slowly, you incur all kinds of costs, such as the following:

  • long travel days
  • mental fatigue
  • frustration at unreached goals
  • the need for more food and water, due to more on-trail time
  • afternoon thunderstorms, common in the White Mountains in summer
  • not being able to reach safety quickly when travel is dangerous

(In some conditions, like winter above tree line, or on multi-pitch rock climbs, these can cost you far more than just summits. Sharpens the mind, I tell you!)

On the other hand, I’ve traveled “fast and light” too. In winter, I’ve been caught shorthanded when I needed certain equipment that I hadn’t brought with me! Also, warm-up hikes for 2020VQ have seen participants running out of water on long days, and that’s never good. Fast hiking over rough terrain can cause injuries, too. People trip and fall, and fatigued hikers make mistakes when they down climb. I tried to keep up with my long-legged trekking companions for two days of downhill in the Himalayas, and my knees hurt for years afterward… ouch!

Therefore, here’s my advice for Team 2020 hikers – and other hikers too – on moving both quickly and safely through the wilderness:

  • Move fast, but not too fast. Once you’re warmed up, get your body working at a level where you can still converse (between deep breaths), but where you can cover ground quickly and smoothly. Experience, fitness, and good technique help here. Everyone has a “sweet spot” – a speed at which they move most efficiently – and it’s okay for a varied group like 2020VQ to spread out a bit, up and down the trail. On Hale, the leader will go last, to make sure no one is left behind, and we’ll regroup as necessary.
  • Minimize stop time. Sometimes we all need to rest, or eat, or pee, or adjust boots – but “short” group stops can easily stretch out into ten or fifteen minutes. That’s lost time, and lost momentum. Disciplined habits help here. Need to take your pack off? Do it as soon as you stop, finish what you need to do, and get the pack back on before the group gets ready to go. Can’t find something in your pack? Organize it carefully ahead of time, and memorize where everything goes. Need to “chase a rabbit” in the woods? Drop your pack and go; no need for a group stop. Randy and Quinn will need to stop at certain obstacles (e.g. stream crossings), and those are fine, but we don’t want to add to the total stop time with unnecessary stops. During the Mt. Hale hike, I want to work on shorter group stops, and I’ll be a stinker about it. Team 2020, you have been warned!Jenifer on Mt. Washington
  • Lighten your load. As I said above, a heavy pack is a safety risk. Go through your pack and see what everything weighs, if you’re curious. What can you honestly do without? Can you replace a critical piece of equipment (shell jacket, headlamp, etc.) with a lighter alternative? Can you reduce food weight by carrying dehydrated or dense foods, instead of water-heavy foods like fresh fruit? Of course, some things are necessary no matter what. Just before the Mt. Hale hike, I will see that certain items (Quinn’s gear, first-aid kit, etc.) are distributed fairly among participants, so that Randy, the most injury-prone of us all, gets a lighter load than he’s carried in the past. 
  • Stay fueled and stay cool. Thirst and low blood sugar make you ineffective in all kinds of ways, even before you notice it. I recommend never waiting until a stop to eat or drink, since it may be a while before the next convenient group stop. (Team 2020, we don’t really want to stop Randy and Quinn while they’re “in the zone,” right?) Make sure you have water and small amounts of food accessible to you while you walk, so you don’t even have to stop at all, let alone unpack. In the summer, keep cool to the extent you can. The mountain air is so much more invigorating when you’re not miserably hot!

Which brings me to my last point: a hike shouldn’t be a death march. It’s supposed to be fun! If you’re working yourself to exhaustion, you won’t enjoy it so much. Think, plan, pack, learn the techniques and systems, and stay disciplined, but once you’re out there, smile and enjoy the beautiful surroundings!


Falling For You!

by Randy Pierce

This post is not some romantic melodrama inspired by the majesty of the mountain hikes, but rather addresses a common inquiry from concerned friends. The question is: Do I fall or hurt myself on these hikes?

The reality of hiking is that most folks will bash a shin or two, or even roll an occasional ankle upon the rock jumble that covers much of the White Mountain trails. It is also realistic to expect that I am going to be more susceptible to these pitfalls than other people. While I have joked that my shins are mere “Object Detectors” in everyday life, I am not eager to cause myself unnecessary pain. So, I make solid efforts to minimize the bumps and bruises that I accumulate on my hiking adventures. I use the best-quality footwear that I can find, I stay very attentive to Quinn’s cues and trust his protective guidance, and lastly, I use my hiking trekker pole to help detect obstacles as I stride along.

Randy & Quinn navigate some difficult footing.

Despite these and other protective measures, I have fallen on occasion, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. I have a set of rules for falling, through which I pay particular attention to where and how my fall is most safe. Since I do not know what is ahead or to the side of me, I concentrate on falling where I’m standing or where I’ve been, presuming that the area behind me is a safe fall. I try to fall on my pack when possible, or at least minimize the impact using my pack as padding. I have many safety approaches in my mind as I move, and for the most part, I feel very successful at keeping myself safe.

Carrie applies a bandaid to Randy's Leg

During the entire Mt. Washington trip, I believe I fell twice.  The first fall was a very controlled, effective drop in place. This is a great example of the majority of my falls: small, low-impact, little to no harm done. I did, however, challenge Carrie’s claim that I have rubber ankles while on the summit cone of Washington. The second time I fell, I was entangled by loose scree and an angled ankle trap. I was unable to twist my pack under me for cushioning, and in this rare instance, my best choice was to fall in such a fashion as to not further endanger my trapped ankle, even though it meant falling far to one side. It was a risk for me to do this, but my hiking pole indicated that there was at least no drop in that direction. The trick was to stay loose and curl my side, so as to avoid breaking a limb I might otherwise be tempted to thrust out to catch me.

So, the answer to the question is yes. I do fall, and sadly I do occasionally hurt myself. Fortunately, with the right preparation, I’ve ensured that this happens rarely, and has minimal impact (ok, pun intended) upon the fantastic experience of the adventure. Everyone evaluates risk versus reward, and in my case, the risk remains low and the reward is tremendous. And if I get the occasional bump or bruise? Well, it’s just part of the adventure and builds a ‘better’ story!


"He who fails to plan, plans to fail."

by Carrie McMillen

So, as we get ready for the BIG HIKE up Mt. Washington, a few of you have asked, “How are we preparing?”

Personally, I am answering a lot of email from our nine other participants about car spotting (where to leave the cars so we can get home again!), arrival times and food allergies. We’ve got a great group of ten who have a lot of questions, but are genuinely thrilled to be a part of the Mt Washington inaugural hike. I’m just hoping their excitement and positive attitudes remain after they learn how early I am making them get up the morning of July 4th!

Other than answering emails, the big thing I’ve been working on this week has been our trip report. Whether your group is super-experienced or not, it’s important to outline your intentions and backup plans for a hike. So here are my 2 cents on what I think is important to document ahead of time:

  • Trip Dates (include departure time from trailhead and expected return)
  • Leader and Co-leader
  • Trails we will hike/ Mountains we will try to summit
  • Elevation gain and rise
  • Water sources
  • Overnight information (where you plan to camp or lodge for the night)
  • Evacuation plan (see below)
  • Emergency numbers (police, hospital, White Mountain National Forest, etc)
  • General hike description
  • Participant’s allergies, medical information and emergency contacts (I like to keep this printed out separately since it can contain confidential information. And then I pray that it doesn’t need to come out while on the hike, because that would mean we had an injury!)
Courtesy of http://www.ellison-photography.com/

Most of you might be thinking some of this is obvious information – why the heck would you need to be so official about it? Well, when you start counting the topo lines on the map (or try the AMC White Mountain Guide descriptions if your eyes are tired of squinting), you learn some things about how prepared you need to be. For instance, from my perspective, Randy will have more of a challenge going down, so it’s good to know how much elevation loss there is and how rocky it will be.

When considering an evacuation plan, I try to think of ways to get off the mountain. Are there shorter trails out? Are there huts that have radios to communicate? Are there toll roads that can take somebody down in a car? Also, it’s not good to split up a group, but if it absolutely necessary due to injury and the group is big enough, I think BEFOREHAND about how I would split them up: keep a leader with each group, keep the strength divided up while having the slightly stronger group do the hiking out and have a designated sheltered waiting place where the first group stays. I consider these types of things because with these logistics already mapped out, it will free up my time to focus on an emergency if we do have one.

In addition to bringing a copy in my pack, I will typically give a hike report not just to Randy for his information, but also to a friend not coming on the trip, so that they are aware of our overall plan. This person is always someone I will contact soon upon return so they know not to come looking for us!

I don’t think a trip report is crucial for when you spontaneously grab a friend and go on a hike (but still tell someone where you’re going) – but when you’ve got an overnight group of ten people (and don’t forget a super-cute guide dog!), it’s pretty important to me to think some of these things out beforehand.

See you out on the trail!



When The Right Choice is Disappointing

by Randy Pierce

As you can imagine, we’re a pretty enthusiastic bunch, with a can-do attitude. But sometimes there are situations where you have to make a tough call, and not be mislead by your own eagerness — especially when safety is the issue. From the begining I’ve been concerned that we’d be able to make those kind of tough calls, and today I got my first proof that yes, we can, even though the result is disappointing to me.  We cancelled our Cannon Mountain hike today and it was absolutely the right choice. For an assortment of reasonable reasons, we had a collection of our hiking folks cancel and were left with a late night before the hike and only three of us prepared to make the trip. Three may be a fine number for many mountain hikers but, on the risk-management side of hiking blind, it is not optimum. Rather than unnecessarily risk  a problem on the trail – should one occur – growing into something significant , we decided to have a restful Sunday on our last weekend before the Mt. Washington climb instead.

I’m disappointed and of course a little frustrated.  I’m also proud of the fact we don’t put ego or any other factors before the primary consideration of being safe.  I didn’t want to disappoint anyone with whom we’d shared the hike plans.  I didn’t want to miss the last chance to test our various pieces of equipment before the first official hike next week. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to escape to a beautiful mountain on a near ideal weather day. I know it’s the right choice, I support the decision and by the time we are headed to the next hike I hope my emotions will fully accept the decision as well.

Old Man April 26, 2003 – before the fall

One other consolation… We’ll be back to Cannon soon enough…



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