The Right Guide Makes All the Difference

By Randy Pierce

Hiking Mt. Isolation in 2013Mt. Isolation via Rocky Branch was looming as a daunting challenge for our team as we closed in on the completion of our non-winter 48 summit goal. As its name implies, it has some significant separation from many other trails
and routes more commonly hiked in the White Mountains and our team was a little short of the ideal numbers for the added risk my blindness brings to remote hiking. I had interacted with Mike Cherim  a few times on the internet and was glad for his willingness to join our team. We had a considerable amount of experience already on the trip and we were generally well prepared so he joined to meet, learn a little about the guiding process we use for my total blindness, and to share the enjoyment of hiking.

On the early ascent my Dog Guide Quinn did the work and those new to our team got to appreciate the subtle ways we worked the trails together. As we reached the general flats across the valley with the mud, water crossings and narrowed trails, I switched to a human guide for speed and efficiency under those situations. An experienced friend took that role (thanks, Sherpa John!) and Mike watched occasionally asking a few questions about the process. Mostly though, we were a comfortable group of friends sharing the wilderness. Mike’s excellent eye for photography proved to be an excellent eye for sharing some of the descriptions I might otherwise have missed. The easy-going comfort with which we all fell into conversations as well as times of quiet appreciation highlighted an awareness for allowing our group dynamics to develop naturally to allow us all to appreciate the hike in ways we wanted and needed.

Guiding can be mentally taxing, and as John was a little tired Mike offered to give it a bit of work. He was a natural and showed quickly that he translates his personal comfort and grace on the trails to his ease in guiding my steps through it as well. By the time we rose out of the valley to the ridge line and up to the remote summit, we were all friends sharing the marvels of the wilderness and learning to understand each other and the treasures of experience and knowledge each had brought along with them.

This is not a story about that hike. However, that journey can be found here.

Winter guiding with Randy's groupThis is a story in which I want to talk about guiding. Mike guided me much of the way out of that trip, somehow amazingly taking me through the muddiest of trails while keeping his boots shiny and clean. Better still I was safe and smiling, albeit a little weary. Mike is in tremendous shape which is part of why he is able to be so effective in both guiding and his work with Search and Rescue. His mental toughness to keep high focus through a long day many find grueling was truly impressive, particularly for someone undertaking this for their first time.

It was no fluke either as he would join me and guide more for our Carter Dome trek and once again highlight the knowledge, skills, fun, and friendliness with which he shares his passions for the trails and wilderness experiences. I’ve had many human guides on my mountain treks and a couple tremendous dog guides. I make no secret that my life bond with my dogs has much to do with my preference for our work together even as I understand there are times when the right choice is to use a human guide for a stretch of trail or occasionally longer when speed or types of risk suggest it. The more time I spend with guides the better our effectiveness and rapport develop and the more effective a team we become.

Redline GuidingIn two epic trips with Mike Cherim, it was clear to me how talented and capable we were as a team and he is as a guide in general for me as a totally blind hiker. As such I am not surprised by and absolutely support his  choice to make his passion a career choice with many options to enhance the experience of those who choose from the many fun packages–weddings anyone?!

In fact, I applaud your choice if you decide to use his services with Redline Guiding but more importantly I suspect and the review agrees that you will applaud his services should you make such a choice. In this appreciative blog for his services and all my present and past guides, I have only one simple bias which is that I experienced and appreciated the time we shared on the path and so too, I suspect, will you.


Guest blog: Hiking Mt. Isolation

By “Sherpa” John Lacroix

Hiking on Mt. Isolation

Almost 4 years have passed now since I first met Randy and Quinn on Mount Agamenticus in Southern Maine. Prior to that meeting, I had never met a blind hiker, though had heard stories of a few in existence. They were largely elusive in nature to say the least. It has been an immense pleasure to get to know Randy over these years and to watch him develop and ultimately flourish as your everyday peak-bagger.

When I first met Randy, I wrote a trip report of my own titled “Seeing Is Believing” (linked to above). Every time I hike with Randy, I try to bring some new folks along so they can indeed see it, and believe it, that a blind man and his dog are legitimately tackling each and every 4,000-footer in New Hampshire.

I’ve done the 48, a few rounds now actually. I attempted to hike them all in one winter and came a few peaks short in the final week. I know a small part of the struggles, both mental and physical that Randy is taking on in his quest to complete the 48. Certainly winter hiking comes with perks. The rocks and roots are largely filled in by deep sticky maritime snows. Summer offers challenges some would say are unimaginable for this team. And yet, they soldier on. The rocks and roots are all there. So are the raging stream crossings of an unusually wet spring and summer, mud pits of various and sometimes surprising depths adorn the trails, and the bugs are as bad as they’ve ever been.

Stream crossing on Isolation.

Before moving to my new home state of Colorado in 2011, I had the honor of guiding Randy and team out to Owls Head. Many consider Owl’s Head to be one of the least popular summit of the 48. Nine miles from the nearest road and without any spectacular summit view. It was a two-day excursion that took everything we had to make it out and back. We took on bushwhacks, steep rocky slides, feet thick ice and knee deep snow on that trek. Not to mention the mind numbingly frigid streams.

On our first trip together, Randy stood emotional on top of South Twin and asked if I “really thought he could hike Mount Washington.” Never mind the 48, in one trip, Randy went from thoughts of 48 success to just summiting the tallest one. I told him then, “Randy, I truly we believe that with patience, we can so anything we put our mind to.” And so it was. It was on the Owl’s Head trek that I saw just how far Randy’s patience and mental resilience would take him on this journey. To the end.

Dry River Trail on Mt. Isolation

So it was with Isolation that I had the honor once again to guide Randy to and from one of New Hampshire’s highest peaks. This time, to the other of the least popular peaks. Isolation is a 14.6-mile round trip on the Rocky Branch route from US Route 16. A closed hike, we had packed it with 10 human souls and one guide dog. Unfortunately, the day of the hike only saw 6 human souls and the dog.

Doubts were expressed in the parking lot about our ability to negotiate the days hike with such a small crew. I never doubted it for a minute. I’ve seen what Randy is capable of, and heard of other tales along the way. Never once did I doubt our ability to make it to the summit, especially now with Randy exhibiting signs of “Summit Fever.” Though, I had convinced myself early on, that we’d get as far as we could before having to turn around at a reasonable time and that’s truly it.

Hiking through the wilderness at Mt. Isolation.

Our crew consisted of Randy and Quinn, Tracy, Jim Roy, Mike Cherim, Rick Stevenson, and myself. Quinn led to the height of land before I took over and guided Randy down to the first of five river crossings. It’s tough being 5’6″ and guiding a 6’4″ blind man. Trees I casually walk under without a thought I sometimes forget to mention to the other guy. Randy, in all likelihood, has a few dings on his head from this hike. It’s ok though… it builds character.

While guiding Randy, I watched him flip upside down and lay in a trail-turned-stream, bump his head a few dozen times, and get lost in shin-deep muck. Mike took over from River Crossing 1 to the summit. He did a fine job for his first time, really communicating well with Randy to tell him of the trails hazards and obstacles. They made surprisingly great time. We were on the summit in about 7 hours. There, we enjoyed a spectacular views of a cloud covered southern presidential range. I’d guide Randy back through the river, which we chose to just trudge through given our wet status, and then Mike would guide him back out to the car from there. All told, our 14.6 mile day took around 14 hours to complete.

The views get better as you near the top!

I could go on and on about the beauty of the Dry River Wilderness. The soggy trail. Soul-sucking mud. Lack of any truly spectacular views we all long for. I could go on about how well this team worked together to seamlessly get to and from one of the longest summits in a day. I could go on and on about how it rained at the end, and we all finished a bit soaked from head to toe. But that’s not the story here. The story continues to be Randy, Quinn, and Tracy. A family who has set out on an unimaginable journey to complete the 48 4,000-footers in the non-winter season. Close your eyes and hike a mile sometime, then think about it, then remember that that’s not even close to what it’s like for Randy. Think about his tenacity, his resiliency, his mental drive. Get out there and see it with him. See it all. Because Seeing is Believing.

It has been an incredible honor to guide Randy on his Owls Head and Isolation journeys. I appreciate his trust in me and others to lead him to these places given their unfair and unfortunate reputations. But as I’ve always told him, “Sometimes the view within is better than the view out.” We all need to remember that Randy continues to lead us… where our leading him is merely circumstantial. Thank You, Randy. Left-Right-Repeat, my friend. The end of the journey is near. It’s all downhill from here now. We’re all with you in spirit, no matter how near or far away we live. And thank you for the amazing opportunities to be a small part of your journey.

Fist bump! We're with you til the end.

~Sherpa John

*Photos courtesy of Tracy Pierce, John Lacroix, and Mike Cherim.


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