By Randy Pierce
The exceedingly water-logged trails of the Tripyramids gave a crystal clear reminder that success on the quest is not a foregone conclusion. I had perhaps fallen into the trap of being close enough to completion and sufficiently fortunate in success thus to have forgotten to some extent the very real potential of failure. Our final hike of last season was stymied by these very peaks; our Livermore Road loop over both of the impressive slides was called off to avoid the treacherous trail and significant risk of the north slide while it is wet.
June was exceptionally rainy and the White Mountains are swollen with an abundance of water. Forecasts suggested all night rain would potentially leave us a morning of just clouds before afternoon thunderstorms might make the ridge line unwise. We decided to risk another retreat, but with wise counsel changed our route so that the slippery risks of the wet north slide would not be the deterrent. This meant likely longer and more challenging trail miles for our group.
I suspect I was somewhat overconfident of our ability to handle the added difficulty this new route represented, as well as feeling a bit of the time pressure our quest requires for the August 24 deadline to finish all 48 peaks. Thus we began our ascent of Sabbaday falls with less than our usual trail study and reading of the trail reports which aid in preparation for the journey.
The stream crossings always make more work for my blind footsteps and often not only slow the group as a result, but also make it necessary for me to utilize human guides earlier and more often than on the typical hike. So while we made generally good progress on the earliest part of the Sabbaday Falls trail, we found our pace greatly diminished by the first significant water crossings and the seemingly endless additional crossings caused by the transformation of every rivulet into a swollen stream.
By the “Fool Killer Slide” we were well behind schedule and had to consider some questions of impending thunderstorms on the ridge. We then encountered the steepest section of the trail and most challenging scrambles, which increased these concerns and it took a team of support to help ensure we reached the col between our goals for a slightly late and hasty lunch.
Dropping our packs eased all burdens and increased our pace as the gentler ridge line allowed for a quick out and back to the Middle Tripyramid peak. The cloud cover threatened ominously and we knew more haste was going to be required. Instead of an out and back to return on Sabbaday, we realized we could shorten our mileage and perhaps find a gentler trail by crossing North peak and heading down the Pine Bend trail. It would add a mile road walk to the end but the impending storm effectively made the decision for us.
We stepped up the pace across the half mile ridge to claim our 40th non-winter peak and then immediately ducked down the headwall of North peak. In moments, the booming thunder confirmed the wisdom of our choice to get off the ridge line but steep slippery scrambles made for a tremendously slow 0.8 mile in which human guides helped me with safety and speed but only by the the willing hard work of the team for which I’m very fortunate.
Several cloudbursts soaked us thoroughly and an extended burst of hail pummelled our progress for a bit as well. The trail was gentler than Sabbaday but miles were slow and full of more water crossings and heavy mud as water logged boots and pruny feet were feeling the cost of the day’s journey. We were on trail for more than 11 hours with more than the normal allotment of bumps and bruises. Many mentioned the mantra of “earning every step” on this day’s travels.
Thus it was that we emerged along the infamous Kancamangus Highway to find the mile “walk” had been run by Jennifer to ensure all car shuffling was easier on the bulk of the team. We passed on tailgate time and eased weary bodies into our vehicles for the journeys home. We did, however, take recollections of our shared experience and the team support which was the essence of this trip.
Some hikes are glorious moments of unparalleled views and feelings of personal conquest. The weather and work hid much of those moments from me on this hike. The teamwork and barely achieved perseverance became the difference between success and failure. It was a hard-edged reminder that while we may set an expectation of achieving the quest and set an aggressive schedule to hopefully achieve success, the weather and mountains have much sway. We made all the right decisions and came together for a well earned reward but we won’t forget the goal ahead is by no means assured.
Today I salute Drew, Robert, Jennifer, Aaron, Dana, Chris, Michael, Bren, Carl, Tracy and of course the Mighty Quinn. I salute also the respect due to mountains which provide so much variety of experience and lessons. Like most tales, this story only scratches the surface of immersing personally into the experience and I am grateful for my opportunity to do so.