Tribute to 9/11: Flags on the 48

By Randy Pierce

“The roar of applause upon raising the American flag gave me goose bumps up my entire back, finishing at the base of my neck. Hiking Mt. Moosilauke to raise the American flag on 9/11 as part of the Flags on the 48 program, I wasn’t sure what emotions I would feel. I anticipated feeling patriotism, some sadness, and being filled with very reflective thoughts. However I did not anticipate the tremendous pride I would feel being part of a team that displayed a tribute to our fallen heroes of September 11.”

–Rob Webber as part of 2020 Vision Quest’s Flags on the 48 tribute 2011

Mt. Liberty, Flags on the 48We founded 2020 Vision Quest on Independence day in the year 2010, the same year the “Flags on the 48” graciously allowed us to be part of the team on Mt. Liberty. There was some powerful anticipation in celebrating Liberty, Independence and Community even as we were slowly learning just how poignant the community experience was for this program.

Last year in anticipation of the experience, I wrote a blog expressing my belief in taking Positive Steps. The words I wrote then remain very true as I anticipate our opportunity to again be part of this program:

“There are times in our lives which leave an indelible mark upon our memory. September 11, 2001 is a poignant example of such a time. I can still readily draw forth the stunned shock of the moment the tragedy became real for me. Today, ten years later, I am gathering with many of my community to celebrate our tribute to 9/11 and the positive impact of the choices we have made to take steps forward.”

I remain convinced that in all challenges, the most impactful point for any of us is the moment we choose to begin taking positive steps forward.

This year we have been assigned to join a group tending the flag on the summit of the northernmost of the 48. We’ll be atop Mt. Cabot where last winter we climbed while bald eagles soared on the updrafts of the cliffs of this peak. I think it appropriate that the symbol of our country was so evident on my last trip to this mountain and that spirit will be so strongly in my heart as I reflect upon friendship, sacrifice, choices and the power and emotion available to those who choose to see first with their hearts. As Helen Keller so aptly said, “the most beautiful things are viewed with our hearts and not our eyes.”

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

I hope that wherever you are as 9/11 arrives this year–or even Saturday, 9/8, when the Flags on the 48 will celebrate the event–you find the time to reflect upon all things dear to you and the many sacrifices involved in preserving them. I hope you will think of all the opportunities you have to take steps forward in a positive response to any circumstance. I’ll cherish the service of many who help support this outlook and I will recommit myself to giving the best service I can in the ways which I am afforded opportunity.

Should you want just a hint of the flavor of how worthy and moving this experience may be, I encourage you to watch the video montage crafted by Tracy last year or read the words of my friends Jenifer and Rob as they wrote about their views on the experience. I took the time for all three of these things and feel better prepared to appreciate the moment and my life as a result. Thank you Tracy, Rob, and Jenifer!

Tracy’s Video Montage from Mt. Moosilauke 2011:

Jenifer Tidwell’s 2011 Flags on the 48 Anticipation and Commemoration

Rob Webber’s Reflections on Mt. Moosilauke 2011


Reaching Beyond our Limits on the Presidential Range: Part 1

By Randy Pierce

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”

–George Bernard Shaw

Mt WashingtonIn 2010, we reached the summit of Mt Washington after a two-day journey loaded with learning and rewarding experiences. (Read about it here.)  There was some disappointment in knowing we would not complete the trip with a hike down, but there was a confident determination we would return and fully complete the journey.

On July 7-8, 2012 we did just that and more in another experience-rich excursion which brought five people and one incredible (some might say mighty!) dog together to finish one leg of the quest.

Blame it on the Bacon

A Banker, Lawyer, Accountant, Author, Blind Guy and a Guide Dog walk onto a mountain adventure and the punch lines await!

Before the full group rendezvous, a car was placed several miles away where we expected to return in two days if all went well. We started just a bit after our intended 7:00 a.m. time. Our starting point was from the slightly further, newer trailhead parking lot rather than the cog railway shortcut used last time. The last call of bacon may have delayed the start, but our small group would need all that energy.

A steady pace allowed us to meander through simple stream crossings and the quiet trails we had all to ourselves. The boulders made travel a little slower than memories of prior hikes but within a short time we passed the plaque in memory of Herbert Young who died there in 1928–offering a quick reminder of the many perils of Mt. Washington.

Putting Gem Pool behind us, we began the steep ascent which would leave heat and humidity behind for the duration of the trip. It was there that our cloudy trail allowed the first hikers to pass us as we paused for the Gorge side trail that holds incredibly majestic pools and waterfalls for those taking time to appreciate the side journeys.

Scrambles, Chutes and Ladders

The mile stretch before the hut is likely the most challenging section of the trail. In  past hikes my companions and I had lingered here a long time learning how to navigate such terrain. I had nearly forgotten that first ladder, and yet now learning to put my hands on the trail and use them as my eyes has become a favorite part of taking on the challenge of such hikes.

It is here that John Swenson showcased his guiding prowess as he described in a previous report. While Quinn and I can manage this, it is slow and considerably more taxing for both my marvelous guide and myself. As such, our time through the narrow scrambles and across cascades was not nearly as time consuming. It still required considerable effort and was probably our weariest section of trail. Likely we should have grabbed a more solid food break, but the siren song of the hut for lunch urged us to push a bit too long.

Lake of the Clouds

It was five hours to the hut and food was a delightful recharge. Packs were dropped and weather reports checked as the ominous cloud banks gave considerable concern. To the summit and back would be 3 completely exposed miles on the rocky ridge entirely above tree line. Lightning with our generally slower speeds would be a risk not worth taking. It was nearly 1:00 p.m. and in order to be at the hut again for the evening meal essential for the rest of our work, we set a turnaround time of 3:30 p.m. for our attempt. The hut provides a direct summit report that suggested we had an afternoon window with low probability if we set out immediately. With nonessential gear left on our bunks (we were staying the night at the hut), lighter packs led to quicker steps and much hope. 

Summit Success!

Nearly half way through the process, the blackness into which we were about to walk suggested a turnaround, but for only a few moments before it began to lighten in the fickle weather patterns for which the region is famous. Tracy took a round of guiding to help increase our speed and passed the job to John for the steepness of the final ascent. We reached the summit in 1.5 hours, although the promised visibility of 100 feet was apparently only partially true. Glimpses of views opened occasionally as the 45 mph winds were as steady as the 45 degree temperatures which felt cooler given the wind.
We had achieved the first part of our goal well within the time window necessary. Most of the group had not even felt a single raindrop! The summit buildings allowed for water recharge, a break from the wind, and a short rest as we celebrated the experience thus far and prepared for the final phase of the first day.

Promising Descent

Climbing down over steeper rock steps is definitely much slower with a Guide Dog, so we put Quinn’s harness in my pack and he was free to roam with us as John led me. Almost immediately the weather took a major shift and incredible views began to open routinely through the cloud cover. While our entire journey up was within the clouds, the descent unfurled views of the hut and often the vast expanses of the southern presidential range and beyond. With the Alpine Lakes beside the hut in view constantly we had our destination in sight and realized our likely success becoming reality. Conversation was lively to describe and appreciate the views as well as planning for the dinner and celebration ahead that night. The promise of clear and sunny skies for our hike out on Sunday seemed more real as we saw the world from more than a mile high opening in a vast expanse of beauty!

Watch next week’s blog post for the second installment of our Presidential Range hike report!


Remembering 9/11 on Mt. Moosilauke

By Jenifer Tidwell

The unimaginable happens.  Then what?

Ten years ago Sunday, a young Brooklyn firefighter named Chris Pickford lost his life when the Tower 2 fell. He was 32 years old. I’m a mother, and my heart recoils at the thought of losing my son in such a way. Yet it happened to so, so many people that day — we just can’t imagine all that pain, thousands of times over.

Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. And barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Irene struck here. Like many readers of this blog, I indirectly know people who were lost to those disasters, not to mention homes and other beloved places.

We hold the funerals. We mourn, we clean up, we rebuild, and the river of time moves implacably on.

Later come the anniversaries and the memorials. To me, these hold a different meaning. Removed in time from the immediate impact, memorials call us not to recover, but to change. They ask us: how has this disaster changed you? And how does it change the world through you?

Tribute to 9/11.

This Sunday, 2020 Vision Quest will take part in one of those memorials — the Flags on the 48 9/11 Memorial Hike. Of course, all of our hikes aspire to be part of something bigger than “just a hike” (we’re raising funds for two charities), but in this 9/11 hike, we’re taking part in a collective effort that really is far bigger than ourselves. Each of the 48 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire will fly an American flag carried up by a hiking group. This carefully organized effort has been going on for nine years, occurring on or near the anniversary of 9/11.

Chris Pickford’s family is entrusting to us the flag that draped his coffin ten years ago. We will carry that flag up Mt. Moosilauke, and we will fly it from the summit from noon to 2:00. His cousin plans to hike with us, and we welcome him warmly.

How has 9/11 changed you? How do you respond to the anniversary this year?

For many people, simply remembering is response enough. There’s nothing wrong with that; sometimes it’s all we can manage, and remembering is important. Others respond by changing their lives entirely, such as by joining the armed services, or by working overseas to defeat poverty and illness and ignorance. God bless them all.

For me, the Flags on the 48 is certainly one way I respond. I’ve hiked it almost every year, and it moves me deeply each time. I admit that I don’t have the courage to work on the front lines against military threats or global poverty. But another way I can respond is to raise a child who understands how different people may share this world in peace, and who knows the meaning of honor, sacrifice, and courage.


An Accomplishment on All Fronts

by Randy Pierce

Team 2020 doing a virtual High 5 to their fans at the summit of Hale.

As I settle into the electronic world to share our excursion details, I’m tremendously buoyed by the feeling of full accomplishment. This was our second official hike for 2020 Vision Quest, and while Washington was a great and successful experience, it was not a full success – as we “only” completed the impressive ascent of the mountain. This time, we conquered both the up and the down and can now name Hale as our first officially-completed peak in our quest for the 48.

Sunday morning looked ominous. Tracy reported to me that our drive through Franconia Notch was enshrouded in storm clouds, and the pelting rain on the roof had me concerned. We reached the Zealand Road trailhead early as intermittent rain fell on a less-overcast sky. I reviewed the trail description one final time and – just as the rain tapered off – we heard the sounds of several cars approaching.

Randy lunches on the summit of Mt. Hale

It is amazing how our isolation, alone in early-morning quiet at the trailhead, transformed into a high-energy group laden with anticipatory excitement. This experience, like most hikes, was likely to change and strengthen our friendships. It is precisely this transition and community bonding that I particularly enjoy. The trail offers plenty of time for introspective personal growth, and an equal measure of understanding the social growth and dynamics of the people with whom I’m fortunate to share the experience.

We headed up the trail, and I quickly found that it suited my hiking style well. Quinn’s guidance was inspired, and at our first short break, there were some jovial complaints about the speed of my pace. Kevin even quipped that I was a “Hiking Shark,” having lured him in with talk of being a slow hiker. There were certainly challenges to slow me down, though the better understanding of them I’ve been gaining over the past few hikes, and the steady improvements Quinn has made, led to overall quick and strong hiking.

Randy & Tracy on summit of Hale
Randy & Tracy at the summit of Mt. Hale.

There were some tremendous birch trees along the route, and I remembered that in 1903, much of this mountain and many surrounding mountainsides were ravaged by fire. Birch trees are among the earliest growths, so those great trees we encountered on the trail likely started growing in 1904; just over 100 years of age. The birch tree, which delivers the name White Mountains, is so young and yet so old. It’s one of many reflections I treasured along the hike.

The summit transition was swift and redolent, from slight forest humidity to the open and wind-cooled, grassy peak. The summit was a great celebration as the overcast sky eased enough to give us ideal conditions to enjoy a lunch – not to mention the humor of having achieved this summit several hours faster than anticipated. It gave us time to relax and enjoy our accomplishment as a group, knowing we had eradicated our challenge of time to summit. We took many photographs, told a few stories, and shared some time with other infrequent visitors to our mountaintop. We had the luxury of spending an hour together in such fine spirits before stretching well-worked muscles and returning down the Hale Brook Trail.

Jenifer (Hale hike leader), Randy, and K atop the cairn on Mt. Hale.

The descent was slower but not tremendously so. The section of trail that is very narrow with a perilous drop off was challenging, since this time the drop was on my right, which meant Quinn could not shield me from it with his body. Quinn, as a guide dog, is always on my left side and my use of the Trekker Pole on my right side was mostly impossible due to the steep edge. Quinn was very cautious, and we took our time to navigate the slippery surfaces of wet rock and root, which were less challenging when climbing up.

While climbing down, I recollected considerable portions of the trail, such that predicting the switchbacks and first stream crossings gave me real familiarity with my terrain and my journey. This comforting knowledge helped inspire me through each section and gave me the mental freedom to converse more than many other hikes would allow. By the final stretch, where we were at full speed again, I could not help but appreciate how complete and successful an experience we had enjoyed on this mountain. Hale is our first official success in the quest for the 48. I successfully climbed several others before launching 2020 Vision Quest, but this was the project’s first full success. I will savor the accomplishment, along with the companionship of the people who shared the journey with me.

There will be many more mountains and many variations of Team 2020 ahead. I look forward to all of them, for each trip is distinctive in the challenge and reward. I will, however, fondly recall this group and Mt. Hale as the first of them all.


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!


Life, death, and stupid train tricks

by Jenifer Tidwell

Washington is a mountain of many moods. You don’t know how the mountain will behave on the day you show up at the trailhead. What will the weather do? Will it be windy or calm, clear or foggy, snowy or rainy? What else will you see? What stories will you return with?
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been on Mount Washington over the past twenty years. But I remember the stories.

Here are some of the things that have happened to me up there.

The dumb college student. I had just learned to ski, and one spring I tagged along with some much better skiers who were going to Tuckerman’s Ravine for some serious skiing. On the way up, the weather changed literally every few minutes: sunny, dark, snowing, whiteout, sunny again. I made it as far as Hojo’s (a building near the base of Tuckerman’s) before I realized how woefully underdressed I was! After recovering from mild hypothermia, I attempted to ski back down. Actually, I would ski a few meters, slip and fall a farther distance, get up, repeat. As we drove home that evening, we looked up to see the summit of Washington, tauntingly clear against the darkening sky. “I’ll be back,” I said to the mountain.

The blackflies. A group of us went up Boott Spur to Lakes of the Clouds one June. I hadn’t known that blackflies — soft-bodied, persistent, obnoxious, biting little things — were worst in June. They were terrible! At stops, they would cover our faces and necks. I got so fed up at one stop that I grabbed my pack, mumbled apologies to my hiking partners, and dashed up the trail, slapping and waving and yelling at the flies as I ran. (It actually worked for a few minutes.) Later that day, the rain and fog closed in, and the blackflies went away — they don’t like it any more than we do, I guess.

The snake. When I was helping guide a group of blind hikers on the Old Jackson Road one summer, at least two of us saw a large, beautifully patterned snake slither across the trail a few yards ahead of us. On his tail was… a rattle.

The sunset. The heaviest pack I ever carried was full of climbing gear and ropes, in addition to the stuff you have to take on a Washington day trip. We climbed a rock route in Huntington Ravine that day. The climb itself was fabulous, but the pack wore me out! I “hit the wall” at the top of the route. After redistributing the heavy gear, we each made our way slowly back along the Alpine Garden and down Lion Head. Thankfully, the mountain was in the best of moods that day. I stopped for a rest around sunset — still on the Alpine Garden — and realized that there was no wind, no clouds, and no sound except the croaking of a distant raven. The sun slanted down over my shoulder and cast blue shadows on the valley below. What an exquisite moment.

Jenifer with Randy & Quinn before a *much* easier climb!

The ice axe. On a winter ascent, we used full mountaineering gear and technique. Good thing, because as we ascended the summit cone, we were in a whiteout the whole way: vicious roaring wind, driving snow, zero visibility beyond a couple of yards in front of you. We made it to the summit in that! On the way down, the weather cleared rather suddenly, and at the lip of Tuckerman’s Ravine, it was decided that the group would slide down on our bottoms. (Yes, you can do this safely and under control.) The first few climbers started the slide with no problems. But when I went, I accidentally slipped out of the track they had laid, and I hit ice. Next thing I knew, I was rocketing down Tuckerman’s Ravine — on my back, head first, no control at all! I honestly thought I was going to die. But the previous day, we had practiced self-arrest with ice axes. Good thing. I whacked my ice axe into the snow, the way I’d been taught, and stopped my slide before I reached the rocks at the bottom of the gully.

The moon. A few summers ago, some friends, a dog, and I climbed the same route that Team 2020 might climb this coming weekend — up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, stop at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, climb to the summit, and down the Jewell Trail to complete the loop. It was a hot, dry, windy, beautiful day, and we had a ball! Now, the Jewell Trail descent takes you across the Cog Railway tracks. We happened to be in that area at the same time that a train was coming up the mountain. Leaving the dog with me and the other female hiker, every single male member of the group ran to the tracks and mooned the Cog Railway. Oh, the juvenile hilarity!

There will be more stories from our trip this weekend. I hope they’re good ones. What stories do you have from this unique mountain? Share them in the comments!



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