A Season of Summits!

By Randy Pierce

Randy, Quinn, and friends hike along the path on Mt. Jackson on May 19, 2012.

Reflecting upon the incredible highlights of our 2012 hiking season for 2020 Vision Quest, I am overwhelmed with the diversity and intensity of the experiences! This was our third season. It followed a winter of touching the top of all 48 peaks and deepened my understanding of the peaks and the process. So I think a quick tour of the peaks and summation of the entirety of this incredible season is worth a few moments of consideration.

It started on Mt. Jackson. The gnarly footing I experienced without the padding of snow winter added considerable challenge the trails. Basking for an hour on a sunny summit with friendship and laughter helped ease the frustration in the difficulty. With the challenge came other rewards as well, such as a few new hiking partners the winter had drawn into our company.

A view of craggy peaks on Mt. Monroe, over the presidential range hike of July 7-8, 2012.

We then took a month away from the mountains while the deerflies ruled and my legs fully healed from the 100-mile walk we did in early June. Our annual July 4 foray was pushed back just a bit and we gave the summer rematch to Mt. Washington. We could not recreate our original crew for this challenge, but we had a more than worthy collection of friends. That trip was an epic success, yielding Washington, Monroe and Eisenhower. It established a level of camaraderie which would set the stage for many of the hikes in the season and all with a different collection of friends.

Buoyed by that success, we took on our most challenging water crossings (excluding Owl’s Head) and delivered Twins on our longest day hike of the season. North and South were the objectives, but we added in Galehead for Tracy to ensure that the goal of next season would stage closer. I intend to finish the 48 non-winter in 2013 and it will be done with Tracy beside me, finishing hers at exactly the same moment.

Drew leads Randy through one of the teams toughest water crossings on the Twins hike, July 21, 2012.

Just as our group of hikers always come together and enrich the experience by the interactions on a trail, so too will the larger goal be magnified by my sharing so much of it with Tracy including the start and finish of the peak-bagging aspect.

Perhaps the most magical of the trips was our Bonds Traverse. We spent a two-night camping expedition with great friendships and the peaks of Zealand, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff all on a 20-plus mile journey through the deepest of the NH wilderness regions. The back-to-back sunset and sunrise atop different 4,000-foot peaks will remain a treasured part of the experience and favorite tale in the retellings ahead. The addition of Thoreau Falls and the foggy cliffs of Bondcliff interspersed the adventure with a little magic and mystery as well.

Swimming at the Thoreau Falls on the Bonds Traverse, over Aug. 4-5, 2012.

Next we hiked the Osceolas, thereby erasing the last of the peaks which had been climbed by me personally but not within the scope of our 2020 Vision Quest. It was our first ever and the experience had been grueling. This time it was exhilarating. We also included the vaunted Chimney in the conquest. We convened and participated in “trailhead tailgating” which promises to be a long-standing tradition.

Finally Willey gave us a Boston globe article and highlighted the premier of our winter documentary at the Highland Center. It also reunited us with our winter team and the slightly overrated challenge of the Willey Ladders.

Our 36th peak of the quest was Cabot for the Flags in the 48 program. It was our 14th non-winter summit in a season during which we had sought to match the previous year’s 17 accomplishments.

Success at the end of the Osceola hike on Aug. 25, 2012.

On our final hike of the season, the Tripyramids, we chose to turn back as a sunny forecast turned into a rainy morning and ensured the North slide would be more treacherous than we needed to undertake.

We’d adjusted a few hikes along the way, moved a few, cancelled a few and added yet others. The flexibility and choices to be healthy and happy along the journey are an essential part of the lessons learned throughout the quest. The peaks will remain for another day if the reasons for not hiking are sufficient to lure us away. I am more proud of the decisions not to summit, particularly the final hike of the season, because it makes clear that the quest isn’t driving us but rather we drive the quest.

12 peaks remain for next season to bring us our official 48 for the Quest. This will likely involve 8 separate hikes we’ll announce at our Peak Potential Charity Dinner and Auction on November 17. While the summit is in sight, I think it’s worthy to reflect on what was accomplished this season and what it means to me personally.

We completed a single season winter summit of all 48 and produced an incredible documentary on the experience. We added another fourteen summits towards our goal on the 48.

Randy presenting a check for $10,000!

We accomplished an incredible 100-mile walk in tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. We brought our total of students reached by our presentations to more than 16,000! We provided a pair of checks for $10,000 each to the two organizations we are pledged to support!

Our staff welcomed some tremendously beneficial new volunteers even as we sadly bid farewell to a few who needed to tend other parts of their lives.

We did all of these incredible things and yet the greatest accomplishment of all is that we grew our community of friends and support in many ways. I’m admittedly a little tired from the many accomplishments described and more we have accomplished but not mentioned. But I am buoyed up by when I look back on this season of success and count the meaningful friendships that highlight the lives of Quinn, Tracy and me. We have lives outside of the charity work–though that may not always be as clear as I hope–and our lives are touched and enhanced by the impact of the work we undertake. I love this season but I again think back to the words of a man famous in these White Mountains: Reverand Edward Hale. He once said:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Thanks to all who have played a part in this Season of Success!

Randy & the Mighty Quinn

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Bonding Together in the Heart of the Pemi Wilderness!

By Randy Pierce

“Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears”

—Lyrics from “Sunrise, Sunset” – Fiddler on the Roof

This three-day deep wilderness hiking excursion on Aug. 4-5 produced four of the most remote peaks in the 48 and brought us 80% of the journey to our ultimate goal! It also provided an unparalleled experience as the result of a simple choice in the midst of this expedition: I had been told the sunset from Mt. West Bond was amongst the most incredible experiences within the White Mountains, so our trip was structured so that we could ensure that seeing it was likely.

There is a quote by Sally Edwards that my wife Tracy shared with me which helped to motivate our choice: “When was the last time you have done something for the first time?” We decided that we would not only marvel in the West Bond sunset, but we would also sleep at Guyot campsite in our tents for a short night, rise early, and be on the summit Mt. Bond to watch the sunrise the very next morning. It is a choice that I will never regret and an experience I will never forget!

From my view, this was an “old school” hike with four University of New Hampshire alumni from the 80s as the centerpiece (John, Matt, Mark and Randy). But 2011 graduate and trip leader Kyle might disagree with the notion. So might non-UNH students Tracy and Erik or even Guiding Eyes graduate the Mighty Quinn! Whether we had never met or not in many years, this group had some high expectations to match the hiking chemistry of the last several trips that have been exceedingly kind to the 2020 team. The group and the trip would surpass all hopes and expectations for more of the trail magic that motivates many to undertake these experiences.

Friday’s car spot was quick and efficient with a bit of significance to noting that our cars were spotted roughly 40 highway miles away from each other. This certainly highlights the distance of our traverse even though the shortcut through the mountains made for part of that difference. Day one had the car spot and a leisurely start on the Zealand trail. Just 2.75 miles of fairly gentle trail had us at the fork for the Ethan Pond trail where we would camp, ¼ mile below Zealand hut. Shortly beyond the junction we found magnificent campsite opportunities and had a private grotto with all three tents set up and lunchtime spent laughing and marveling at the beauty of our campsite for the night.

Swimming at Thoreau fallsWe were so far ahead of schedule that we geared down for a 2-mile gentle hike to the infamous Thoreau Falls. This subtle railroad grade had been fully returned to a natural trail and had many narrow points along the beautiful White Cliffs but provided no unreasonable challenges. It did share views of the entire Zealand-Guyot-Bond ridge including the mass of the Z-Cliffs where we hoped to be for lunch the next day. As we emerged to the falls and cascades, an incredibly beautiful sunny day heated the rock slabs and created a refreshing and soothing contrast between icy stream and sunny slab! With no pressing time schedule and being entirely surrounded by a wilderness valley, our trip might have been complete just for this much experience. The dynamic of the friendships had already begun to shine. Quinn’s “mighty leap” from atop a boulder and into the pool plunged him under the water and wagging tales soon were snoozing in the sun in complete contentment.

Quinn and Randy relax after swimmingDinner’s debates over dehydrated meals and the sharing of tastier delicacies allowed for an early bedtime and gentle breezes. Early risers were packed up and reaching the hut before breakfast was served for those guests. We met several friends and connections and had to force ourselves away to reach the trails in a timely schedule but not for lack of opportunities to enjoy reconnecting with people. It is simply marvelous to feel so much a part of a much greater hiking community!

Zealand is steep and the rocky trail slowed progress enough that eventually Kyle took over guiding me while Quinn enjoyed the hike in trust of someone he believes has the experience to guide me without his supervision! We worked hard and reached the overlook of the Z-Cliff with delight. This view adorns the cover of Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman’s book “48” and with good reason. It is a spectacular view which make the mountain climb completely worth the journey, a foreshadowing of the feeling we would have many times and in many places along this trip.

View of ZealandAtop the sparse views of Zealand we rested briefly and sent out our first Spot message to our Facebook community before repacking and heading for the last serious climb up Mt. Guyot. Knowing that the spaces were limited at our remote destination, we wished to ensure our group could claim a tent platform and so a little equipment adjustment send everyone but Kyle, Tracy, Randy and Quinn ahead to set up tents and be certain our night’s rest was secure.

The heat and humidity were considerable, once again reminding me the fantastic invigoration my “Chill Towel” provided throughout the entirety of the hike! The sustained steep of this glorious peak effectively ended the elevation gain for our entire trip even though the col rule prevents Guyot from counting as a peak over 4,000 feet. (Don’t tell that to thirsty bodies and weary legs which earn every step of the climb.) The views from the peak are excellent but an unnamed sub-peak we dubbed “Quinn’s Knoll” was in our opinion the most fantastic viewpoint we’d ever experienced in the entirety of the White Mountains. All around are simply remote and majestic peaks, valleys and deep wilderness views that will likely remain with anyone so fortunate as to have earned their way out here on a day with any visibility!

A very short jaunt brought us to the junction with the trail spur to Guyot shelter. It’s a quarter mile of challenging hike down into the campsite, but the water source is renowned for the cold and freshness that the day’s efforts and heat had made so enticing. We had an excellent spot as we rejoined our companions and we were fantastically ahead of schedule 2 with several hours to relax, unpack, feast and prepare for our sunset hike.

Eager for the highly anticipated trip, Tracy and I set off with Quinn to get a head start on our faster moving companions who were prepping everything for the potential of the early morning departure. Tracy guided me in a somewhat romantic appreciation of how well our work together had allowed for such hiking opportunities. Rested and with most pack weight left at our tents, we made our way out of the spur and the reasonably short distance to the West Bond Spur. Another half mile with some tricky points and we were on the craggy outcropping that thrust West Bond into a Pemi overlook and a pair of horseshoe canyons of breathtaking grandeur! Here all seven of the Bond companions came together for a few hours of the most inspirational relaxation. The sunset developed steadily and gloriously between Mt. Garfield and Mt. Lafayette. We laughed and shared the experience as much as possible along with a little dark chocolate and red wine that had made the long journey with us! Our spirits had climbed incredibly and exponentially higher than the trails and yet another moment of magic was added to an incredible hike.

Bondcliff at sunset.

It was during this time we decided for certain that we would rise early enough to ensure we savored the Mt. Bond sunrise consecutive to this sunset. Though it did mean we begrudgingly wound our way down from West Bond and back to our tents. John guided me and we were the last to return to camp. The moon lit the trail for him with a headlight ready as needed. There was a serenity in the night during which I could not have wanted for better company to share and discuss.

We rose for 3:30 though Matt was sufficiently eager as to have been long awake and vastly packed for the trip. The plan had been for my slower pace to require me to leave sooner but the entire crew was so efficient we all departed effectively together. The site of 30 (maximum) had been filled with more than 80 hikers and people literally had fallen asleep on the trail leading down to the site! We navigated them mostly by moonlight with Kyle guiding me again for the speed and silence. The moon again shone so brightly the morning hike required no other lights for the sighted of the group. We had again that same serenity of wilderness night to envelope me in an atmosphere of awe and appreciation. Our crew all too easily gave the shout of exhilaration that the summit had been obtained and well before the sunrise would unfold for us.

Sunrise at West Bond

The summit of Bond is large enough for all of us to unpack, begin breakfast preparations and appreciate the boulder seats thrust out of the summit. Views were a full 360 degrees of wonder and perhaps highlighted by the coming light over the looming shadows of the massive Presidential range to our east and a bit north. Ever so slowly details flooded into the darkness and the sun rose to welcome in a brilliant and beautiful morning. I wondered how many have been so fortunate as to appreciate the sunrise on one of these amazing mountains and then a consecutive sunrise on another such peak! I had not and may not ever again but if I were to think on how much was given in the experience I would chide myself as a foolish man for not planning another attempt.

The chill temperatures eased considerably and though a wind was still brisk, we turned our steps towards Bondcliff even as low clouds raced over the Lafeyette ridge, across the Pemigewassit Wilderness and completely enveloped Bondcliff in a wall of thick fog. It gave the impression of hiking through the Scottish Highlands and provided an entirely different type of wonder. Companions were lost in the fog only a few short steps ahead or behind. The voices would call to with an eerily hollow distance.

Matt leading Randy to Bondcliff through the fog

Matt led me down a trail that had so extremely challenged me in my traverse two years prior. As is often the case when someone guides me for the first time, we become a team and experience the partnership and friendship in a way I rarely find anywhere else in the world. The foggy isolation only enhanced that feeling as a friendship more than twenty years separated after college was easily appreciated anew for the people we each had become. It was not long before we stood on the summit of Bondcliff with fog occasionally opening enough to show the daunting depths of the cliffs that plunge into the Hellgate gorge below! This was our fourth and final peak of the journey and our group had bonded so naturally and thoroughly in the experience.

We knew that ahead lay Bondcliff’s version of the “Hillary Step”. We knew there was a steady descent into the Lincoln Woods and we knew a very long, albeit level, trek through to the trailhead remained. Still, for me the group had finished the journey to completing our bonds of friendship and the rest would be vastly in reflection and appreciation for all that had been experienced!

Mark was the person who had connected me with the others back in my freshman year at UNH. We worked together at the MUB cooking breakfast before classes and he introduced me to the others in the fraternity of Phi Kappa Theta. We were not a typical fraternity and these are atypical men still today. I was proud to see the quality of people that were there and the suggestion we probably had a solid foundation back in school as well. So Mark guided me the stretch of narrow trail from Bondcliff to the Wilderness trail. Each guiding is different and each system takes time to develop but always there’s a chance to appreciate a little bit of the view from the other’s perspectives. This is true of trail and life and no less so with my long absent friendship with Mark. The years melted away though not so easily from a body tired by a long weekend of hiking.

At the Wilderness trail Quinn took over for the easiest of the final miles of the journey. While he could have done many other sections he accepts that sharing the experience is part of the enrichment of the entirety of the adventures. He’s a patient pup! Now it was time for Tracy and me to ease behind as others made great time striding towards the suspension bridge and the stream soak that would clean and refresh from the weekend. We were clear by 3:00 easily and the rain did not begin until all were in vehicles retrieving cars.

We came together one final time to feast and toast an incredible experience. Though I say it’s about the people more than the peaks, the marvels of the natural wonders within the White Mountains were definitely a powerful enhancement to our bonds of friendship. I think about my belief in the phrase “Choosing the Right Response” which titles a book I hope to someday publish. Choose your friends and your paths wisely and the rewards will continue for the entirety of your lives. I have look forward to a lot more of life and adventure ahead and to choosing friends such as these and journeys such as this!

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A Mushy Moment of Inspiration

By Randy Pierce

I trust you will all indulge me with a rather personal approach to this week’s blog. Usually our goal is to rotate themes from inspiration, dogs, blindness, education, and/or hiking. I share this incident because it was so powerfully moving for me and because it came at such an ideal moment in my present quest. While it may seem like a hiking tale, I assure you it is something even more powerful.

On Friday, February 17th, Justin, Dina, Quinn, and I undertook a Winter “Bonds Traverse” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This 23.2-mile journey over 4 significant and very remote mountain summits is the longest such traverse in the quest for the single season 48. The journey began at 7:30 in the morning to light falling snow and sustained an array of emotions and experiences along the way.

The first peak, Mt. Zealand, came after 9 miles of work, the latter part involving respectable steady steep hiking. This was our last chance to realistically turn around before we were committed for the duration, though turning around there would have still meant an 18-mile day!

On the summit of Mt. Guyot, which doesn’t technically count as one of the 48, we found ourselves in a full-on snowstorm with no visibility for the sighted, reasonably steady and intense winds and a hunt for the cairns which would guide us onward to the most remote location, West Bond. But we knew the skies would clear and our spirits were as high as the bonds of friendship which brought us together on the hike. Those bonds brought us to West Bond and a reasonable clearing that afforded views of the Pemi wilderness and the surrounding sentinel summits which swelled our spirits.

We arrived at Mt. Bond in a clear and calm day of beauty from which it seemed the entirety of the White Mountain splendor was unveiled in full majestic wonder. We took the time to savor all of it and to count ourselves so very fortunate for the accuracy of the good forecast and the dedication which had brought us through the early challenge to the sweetness of this reward.

With the invigoration of our progress, we began the long and challenging descent from Bond to Bondcliff. Fairly quickly, we were struck by the ferocity of the wind which gusted mightily as Quinn and I battled from snowfield to snowdrift in the steady long steepness of the saddle. Sound was whipped past our ears instantly and the progress of our team was totally dependent on Quinn’s eyes and my trust in my companions’ ability to oversee our work and interrupt if necessary. It was wild and unbridled adventure and it stoked the fire of my spirit even further.

When Bondcliff’s mass eventually gave shelter from the wind, we ascended in a tranquility which seemed eerie given the battle of mere moments prior. Bondcliff was my second of the 4K peaks and the first in my first traverse. I still recall the UNH crew sharing my struggles and our feelings of conquest upon that summit. This return trip in winter came with so many differences and our stay was short since long miles still awaited. Thus began a hike of much reflection.

My journey into hiking the 48 this winter began at the inspiration and motivation of my friend Bob Hayes, and for the next many miles I brought thoughts of him along with me in reflection of how much he taught me, how much he shared with me, and how much he had worked with me to get me so far along this journey. I would likely not have begun nor come so far without him. This was my first winter hike without him which brought some significant disappointment for many reasons which shall remain personal to me for the moment. Like the somber drifting of my mood in this reflection, the snow had gone soft and mushy in the warmth beyond Bondcliff and down to the Wilderness trail. As darkness descended upon us and the snow grabbed and held at our feet, parts of this long day began to feel a bit like a slog.

When we reached the suspension bridge into Lincoln Woods, the trail firmed up and Quinn’s eager resolve did likewise as he took over from the break Justin had provided him on the descent of Bondcliff. We set a fast and steady pace and weary muscles and joints were called to rise up to the challenge of 12 long hours out in the White Mountain Wilderness. As our final turn to success arrived at the final suspension bridge to where we would find our cars, I shared the emotional surge within me: “I’m so happy right now that I could almost cry.” Before Justin, Dina or Quinn could respond we heard a shout of “Woohoo! – Congratulations!” in the familiar voice of my wife

Tracy! She had surprised us by driving up and waiting there in the dark for us to emerge so she could give us that inspirational boost. There was no “almost” about my response as I was overcome by the love for and from her…and my eyes did shed the tears of joy I felt so well.

I could not forget how I feel about my companions on the journey, my companions of every prior journey, and the experiences of that particular day. They are only magnified by the exclamation, the crescendo, the pure inspiration and motivation shared so beautifully by the loving choice made by Tracy. I can only know for certain how appreciative and fortunate I feel by the many positive gifts of so many people along my way. I will always attempt to express this in all the ways I reasonably know and yet often will fall short. The measure of success I hope does exist should be in all of those people knowing how well they have impacted my life – especially my very fantastic wife. Thank you all!

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Help 2020 Achieve Peak Potential!

by Rachel Morris

It’s not too early to save the date (and buy your tickets) for this year’s Peak Potential Charity Dinner & Auction, in celebration of 2020 Vision Quest’s 2011 season.

Peak Potential 2010 was a huge success for us and this year promises to be even bigger and better! We’re returning to The Derryfield in Manchester, NH, with its beautiful views of the Derryfield Country Club, on Saturday, November 12. We kick off the event with hors d’oeuvres and a preview of our auction items at 6:30pm, with dinner seating at 7:00pm. Festivities run until 11:00pm. Ticket prices are $100 each, or $175 per couple. For the best price, you and seven friends can grab a table of your own for $600 ($75 per person).

Last year’s menu was popular enough that we’re sticking with it – you have a choice of Pan Roasted Salmon, Cranberry Walnut Chicken, Prime Rib, or a vegetarian Spinach Stuffed Tomato. There’s a cash bar available and we’ll have DJ Will Utterback returning to keep things hopping with music from the 60’s to today.

Peak Potential 2010, courtesy of Green Photography: http://green-photography.net/

Our auction includes numerous silent auction items and a few special “package” deals that will be bid on in a live auction during the dinner, with Randy (and Quinn) as our auctioneers. If you or your business has something to donate for the auction, let us know. Some of our most sought after items are event tickets, travel related items, meals at a favorite restaurant, spa services, and so on. Not sure if it’s right for us? Ask!
Randy will give a presentation covering some of 2020 Vision Quest’s most memorable moments of the 2011 season, including the following:
•       The mountains summited this year
•       Quinn’s momentous Tug-of-War victory over Patriot star Tedy Brushy at the top of the Belknaps
•       What it means to be able to speak to area children about achieving through adversity
…and more.

All these things have been possible with the generosity of our donors, and through fundraising events such as this one. Buy your tickets online or by mailing a check to us at 2020 Vision Quest, 109 E. Glenwood Street, Nashua, NH  03060 (be sure to tell us it’s for Peak Potential and let us know your meal choices). Join us in this year’s celebration!

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Is Quinn Safe?

by Randy Pierce

I have heard more than a few questions about Quinn’s safety on a hike, and while I’m out in the Pemi Wilderness with him, I thought I would comfort some folks and share with all of you that Quinn is very well tended. With our approach, we follow the adage of a quote I love well: “We do not plan to fail, we fail to plan.” That is to say, we do plan for Quinn’s safety, and hopefully reap the benefits of this choice.

Quinn’s gear includes his own sleeping bag for warmth and to help him dry quickly, which sadly looks necessary for this trip. He will have several paw ‘boots’ to protect him from the rough rocks and these boots have been tested to ensure they give protection and traction. We have a dog safe marigold bug repellent and a bag of cornstarch to soothe bites or chafe. Also, I will carry a full extra meal for him for each day and the extra water to ensure he’s drinking steadily and sufficiently. All of these advance supplies have us prepared to deal with many concerns using a preventative approach.

Taking care of Quinn

On the hikes, we use his best alert signal to us, the tail wag, to know how he’s feeling. Each stop involves a little quick check on him to ensure nothing is amiss. We know that a dog’s conditioning typically exceeds our own but practice on the trails helps us understand the mental energy he uses, and helps us ensure calories and rest are supplied to let him enjoy the experience fully.

Most importantly, we have learned what types of terrain are challenging for him directly or a worry for me. If I am sliding off the icy monorail and have the risk of stepping on him, we switch strategies to a human guide. When steep terrain requires I be guided differently, we ensure he works with a sighted person to keep his pace and route appropriate for the terrain. This is especially essential since we know he wants to worry about me, and occasionally he takes a more direct route to me if left to his own devices.

Quinn is not only my essential link to independence and safety; he is my well-loved and cherished companion. I will not deliberately put him into any dangerous situation without taking all the proper safety precautions. If this experience should ever show signs of displeasing him, I will tend to his happiness as a priority, and ensure he doesn’t deal with such a situation again.

It is for this reason, his sheer delight at our mountain explorations, that I do keep him with me in our work together to accomplish these 48 summits. So check the tail in our video and photographs for the evidence that everyone on our hikes can assure you is present. Should this ever not be the case, Quinn can join all of you in watching our Spot Adventures and awaiting my wilderness return from  the warm, dry, and safe confines of a comfortable home!

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Starting our Season with Success – Owl's Head!

by Randy Pierce

We’ve learned so very much and come such a long way in our first season that it truly seemed fitting to make the long trek of Owl’s Head our first success. More than this, though, my friend and hiking mentor Sherpa John is leaving New England with time enough to share this one last hike with us. John has an appreciation for the Pemi and this mountain which is infectious and rare. His leadership and a fantastic team led to one of my proudest successful summits!

We began strong with heavy overnight packs and a higher level of fitness than the previous year. Quinn quickly showcased his talents to the wonder of some of the new folks watching him work a mountain trail for the first time. We reached the Black Pond ahead of schedule and prepared to undertake the Bushwhack which avoided some very perilous early spring crossings of the larger rivers required in the conventional trail. For this we planned a human Guide and Sherpa John did the honors. Though we soon learned this made it more challenging for Sherpa to navigate, as the nature of guiding me caused him to be shifted left and right in disorienting fashion. We switched out and had learned one of many quality lessons of the trip.

The next lessons would come in the several significant stream crossings we still had to manage after connecting back to the main trail. In my Teva water shoes I could use two hiking poles and the voice of someone on the far bank to navigate the streams strong and well. Bone chilling cold and swift currents were in full force for all and ultimately dangerous enough that Tim, Robbie and Sherpa had to tend Quinn’s safe crossings which included carrying him at some points! The icy glacial sides of the river bed made clear the cold and harshness of this challenge and this  was one of the hardest parts of the trek.

We reached the hardest part, the Owl’s Head Slide, at 4:00 p.m. and this was just barely too late for a reasonable summit attempt. We didn’t want to return down the slide in the dark (headlamps for the sighted!) or manage the risk of such dangers knowing anything going awry would be better handled with a morning response. Camping in such a remote location was a great bit of quality time and community building which even exceeded the summit ‘high five.”

Leaving our full packs behind, Sherpa led me on my undertaking of the slide. It was an experience unlike any other of my hikes so far. Its unrelenting steepness, loose footing and wet, even icy, challenges were impressive. It is no wonder a moose even met its end on this slide not so very long ago. Still, with my hands to the ground for almost all of it, we made great time and soon stood higher than “the spring”.  The unmaintained trail had the extra challenges of the long lingering deep snow, post holes, and many blown down trees. For Quinn’s safety and speed I used Robbie as my guide again. We hit not only the old summit but added the additional half mile of rough work and searching to get to the ‘new’ summit as well. We were right on schedule and pleased especially since the ice and snow depth had significantly enhanced the challenges.

Our descent down the slide was a marvel of efficiency as I backed down on hands and feet for the bulk of it. I think our success surprised all of us and the pride at the bottom of the slide was something earned by every member of the team. We supported each other physically and emotionally, well deserving the elation we felt. Resting only for lunch, we picked up our packs for the long hike out.

During this break I bent to pick up equipment and struck my head into a tree that I had been warned of earlier. This moment of sloppiness would challenge me for the next few hours. My head was pounding, my balance impacted and now the burden of my wet pack would make me struggle too much. A mentally weary Quinn would have been my guide, but he reacted to my unsteady struggles by not wanting to lead. He knew I was not at my safest and wanted me to get stable first. We took him off duty and I tapped the human guides for the next stretch. I slipped and fell a bit more during this struggling time and the rain began to fall lightly. By the time we crossed the streams which had grown from the prior day, we achieved a speedy safe efficiency. It was incredibly taxing but the results were ideal. Enough so we kept Quinn off duty for the remainder of the trip.

Our final challenge was a Bushwhack gone slightly awry. The Spot Adventure shows the challenges and realities of such expeditions. A steady soaking rain, thick fog and weary hikers can miss the mark and force back-up plans. Sherpa and Tim coordinated to bring us to the streams which would allow us to exit via Franconia Falls. This was hard hiking for certain and mentally draining as well. The team pulled together, gave full support and the aching muscles were pushed to successfully get us all through this. Robbie set a new record for human guiding time and most of it in the unfamiliar bushwhack approach.

The surge of adrenaline and enthusiasm we found at the Franconia Falls was tremendous. Our group then began the long but vastly easy Wilderness trail egress. So much pride and sense of accomplishment poured out even as those final three miles extended into full darkness. Headlamps here were certainly safer than on the slide had we opted for the prior day summit. The day was long and demanding but our crew found dry clothes, celebrated an amazing success and still had the strength and desire to linger longer together. We met at the Woodstock Station for the hot meal and camaraderie such an expedition demands. I will never forget many moments of this marvelous trip or the strength and dedication of the incredible people who were part of the adventure. The views on this hike are not the majestic panorama sought by many, excepting perhaps upon the slide. There were glimpses of the ranges and wilderness which was very worthy yet the most spectacular aspect by far was the spirit of the people who rose up to this challenge and showcased the power of human potential! It was that spirit to which we toasted each other at the end of an incredible journey. Our second season begins with success on all levels and I am thankful for the ever growing Team 2020 Vision Quest and this Owl’s Head expedition!

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Prepping for the Pemi (again!)

by Randy Pierce

“This is the hardest physical day of my life,” I had said last year on the second day of the Pemigewasset backpacking trip. This was not exactly what my friend Prof. Brent Bell hoped to hear as we contemplated the trail ahead, six miles of some of the tougher hiking in the Northeast.

Randy on the challenging Pemi trip in 2010

The collaborative team of 2020 Vision Quest and the University of NH led us in the Pemi to hike up Bondcliff, Bond, and down to Guyot shelter. This was a project we had conceived to help prepare for the beginning of the 2020 Vision Quest (on July 4, 2010), and a unique educational experience for the students in the class. The challenge took a tremendous toll upon my spirit and willpower, but we had our educational experience. As a group, we learned about hiking with Quinn, the need for sleep, and about the resiliency of a group when water is low, bugs are abundant, and everyone is tired. We put into practice a team effort amidst a perfect storm, and additional challenges made this an experience I could never forget. The experience was a tremendous success in many ways. So why not do it again? This  year we return with a new group of students and considerably more knowledge and practice, as we undertake the loop from where we ended it last year.

We have an assortment of goals to achieve in this expedition. The students are learning to lead an Outdoor Educational Experience, which presents some untypical challenges. Teams of students plan the route, the day’s curriculum, and the pace – any mistakes or errors are part of their experience. If the student leaders begin to hike the wrong way, we will hike the wrong way until the error is apparent. Mistakes are great teachers, so we will enter the experience knowing it will not go perfectly, but if it is anything like last year, the most important aspect of a trip is the people you work with, not the summits you stand upon.

As we come together as a team, we will blend our various abilities and perspectives to succeed in journeying through some rugged terrain. With a quality journey may come some transformations for all of us. While last year was about learning and preparing for the launch of the 2020 Vision Quest project, this year hopes to display unity and accomplishment as an official part of Team 2020. If this hike succeeds as planned, it will be the most successful peaks achieved in a single 2020 Vision Quest hike.

We will head up the Gale River trail after camping out in the Wilderness and sharing some team building exercises. Galehead hut will be a break point from which we may leave some of our supplies and make the round trip to the summit of Galehead Mountain. The night’s rest should launch the hard traverse to Garfield Tent Site and some of the most challenging terrain in our experience. The steep sections will provide plenty of opportunity for problem solving. From this highest of tent sites in the Whites, we will be preparing for a ridge traverse to include both Garfield and Lafayette. Descending to Greenleaf Hut gives us another quality resting point for evaluating our progress through that point. Mount Lincoln may give us the final 4,000-foot peak of the journey if we have been sufficiently successful. Otherwise, we will make our way to the UNH outing club cabin and eventually depart into Franconia Notch.

Professor Brent Bell and Randy Pierce

While Professor Brent Bell and teaching assistant Amaryth Gass are ultimately the leaders for the entire excursion, each day different students will be charged with managing all aspects of leadership in practice. This creates some constant change in the group dynamics, adjusting to accommodate the differences in leadership styles. Overall, we must adapt to the pacing, terrain, weather, and individual tendencies to make a successful team. We will build trust and communication, as I have done with Quinn, and the more effectively we do so, the more powerful our experience will be. Undoubtedly different and yet similar to last year, success is not in the summits, but in the process and the growth. In that, I’m reminded that obstacles are often opportunity disguised as hard work. As hard as the days ahead may prove, I’m eager to embrace the challenge and reap the rewards for myself, our hiking group, Team 2020 and all those who may follow our tale.

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