By Randy Pierce
Nine hikers for the 2020 Vision Quest team circled around the Zeta Pass trail junction on Sunday, July 14. Three of the target peaks (Moriah, Middle Carter, and South Carter) had been achieved but Carter Dome lay ahead as a 2.4-mile out-and-back journey while another 3.8 miles of descent from Zeta Pass to the trailhead would still await the group. A difficult decision loomed.
Until you’ve hiked challenging mountain miles, it can be difficult to understand the added weariness from elevation and the terrain work. Saturday morning ten hikers started up Mt. Moriah: Jennifer, Robert, Tracy, Rob, Dana, Kyle, Greg, Randy, and a pair of Johns. Heat and humidity built quickly and just reaching the summit of Moriah took an exhaustive toll. The team made significant equipment and strategic adjustments to ease some of the most significant challenges and support each other.
The value of a team working in this fashion is hard to explain well, but without the joint dedication to succeed this quest, many would be far more littered with failures. Even the mighty Quinn had to be helped down a particularly challenging ledge section on the back side of Moriah.
When by plan we bid farewell to day-hiker Rob, our team was diminished and a few more adjustments were necessary for the final stretch to the Imp Shelter. Staying on the ridge would save us much elevation in getting to our next day’s peaks but it had also added gear weight and other challenges. It also created fantastic bonding moments for most of the team.
Reasonably rested and well-fed, the group set out early Sunday, knowing the toughest stretch came early with a harsh scramble up North Carter. It was the ideal time to reach it and slight cloud cover held the heat at bay for a time. The feelings of accomplishment and pride in work together helped create the euphoric celebrations at each summit.
While North isn’t an official member of the 48, it remains a location this group cherishes. Similarly, the “Silly Summit” of Middle Carter rang with the laughter of a team proud and elated. Though concerns for endurance were present by South Carter, the gentle but deep descent into Zeta Pass brought us to the crucial decision.
It is so easy to want to push yourself to the limits when a goal is close. The consequence of not adding those 2.4 miles right then would mean adding a full ten miles additional day hike into the future. Perhaps most challenging is the presumed “pressure” which comes with trying to keep to a schedule.
We are trying to finish our epic original quest by August 24 and there are not many opportunities to add in another difficult day of hiking before then. The reality is that pressure is entirely artificial and the factors of the moment must be the status of the team as individuals and as a group.
Everyone wanted to find a way to just make it happen; yet many were able to really evaluate the impact of those additional miles and hours into the safety and the enjoyment which are both critical parts to all our hikes.
We chose to descend and leave Carter Dome for another day, another day in which we’ll be fortunate to experience the wonders of this wilderness and the magic of the mountains. Whether this compromises the schedule of the 2020 Vision Quest is uncertain but that is irrelevant to the wisdom of the decision. I’m incredibly appreciative and thankful for a team which worked through all of the distractions to choose the right response.
For now our August 24 goal remains to finished all 48 and we must see what reasonable options exist to revisit Zeta Pass on the way to achieving the summit of Carter Dome. So this is we find ourselves with a little drama worked into the final five peaks in our mission!