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.


An Owl’s Knowledge

by Sherpa John Lacroix

Owl’s Head, at 4,025 feet, serves as a white whale to many a New England peak-bagger. Its thickly wooded summit sits quietly amongst the storied trees of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, some nine miles from the nearest road. There are many reasons why many peak-baggers save their long walk to Owl’s Head until the end of their pursuit of the 48. Words such as long, misery, boring, tough, and no view are, in my opinion, hardly a fair set of adjectives to describe the mound. I prefer to use words to describe the hikers who whine, words such as weak, tired, capricious, and missing.

Owl's Head from West Bond

Owl’s Head is a peak that carries with it more speculation and debate then a New Hampshire town hall meeting. From the summit sign wars between hikers and the Forest Service, to the scrubbing of paint blazes from trees, to the removal of cairns, to the re-discovery of a new highest point, Owl’s Head is a mountain that gets the least amount of love of all the 48 four-thousand-footers.

I’ve enjoyed all six of my previous journeys to the summit of Owl’s Head. A peak I’ve summited in all four seasons and a peak that, when asked which of the 48 is my favorite, gets serious consideration if not the choice of the day. The walk to Owl’s Head is long, but it’s also amazingly gorgeous. Along the Pemigewasset River and the Lincoln Brook, through an amazing re-growth forest priming with beech wood, birch, and fir, it is a shame to think that any hiker could fail to enjoy the immense beauty of a forest that was a barren wasteland by the late 1800’s and a raging inferno in 1907. It’s because of the torn history of this place and its steady revitalization that one of our nation’s most important conservation acts, The Weeks Act, was passed in 1911.

The trail leading to Owl's Head

All history aside, this mountain could very well prove to be the white whale of 2020 Vision Quest. However, on the weekend of May 13, it is the goal of a partnership between 2020 Vision Quest and Team Sherpa to prevent that from happening. For Randy and Quinn, hiking on the trail during the more summery months has proven to be a real challenge. A challenge they have risen to repeatedly on previous expeditions. The first peak of the 2011 season, Owl’s Head will offer up a new challenge to Randy and his trusted companion, and that new challenge is the challenge of multiple bushwhacks.

Along the nine-mile trek to the Owl’s Head summit are two incredible river crossings that challenge even the heartiest of sighted hikers. During this time of year, those crossings carry with them a level of risk that would be foolish to take on under less than ideal conditions. With a hearty snow pack still clinging to locations of elevation, and warmer temperatures causing swollen rivers from snowmelt; this expedition will choose and all but require the challenges of a bushwhack.

I am humbled by the idea that Randy trusts me to lead him on this incredible hike. A two-day expedition that will allow us to camp primitively near the base of Owl’s Head Path, I hope to enjoy the fruits of our labor at the summit of mighty Owl’s Head. There, I will bring Randy to the viewing spot to describe a most remarkable view of Lincoln Slide and the Franconia Ridge to our west, and the Bonds to our east. While the challenges before us are large, they are not impossible. With good faith, teamwork, and a vision beyond our sight; it will be done.


Lofty Goals for 2011

by Carrie McMillen

Our 2011 hiking schedule has been posted!

Last year, we had many unknowns and challenges as we started out on this grand adventure. Our experiences were vast – we dealt with a few (luckily, minor) injuries on the trail, we made a decision not to summit a certain 4K due to timing and safety, we camped in the backcountry and we were part of the Flags on the 48 atop Mt Liberty. We had ups and downs, physically and emotionally, and I think we can all agree that it was the culmination of all these experiences that has left us feeling richer and more comfortable with what is to come.

Mt. Adams ascent

So what exactly is to come this season? If you check out the schedule on our hiking home page at, you’ll see that our goals this year are BIG. This year we’re dusting off the training wheels and going for the gusto!

Our 2011 plan is to summit 16 4K summits by the time snow flies next winter. Yes, we may be a bit ambitious and perhaps even a tad crazy (we did five in 2010). However, we are starting the season much earlier and increasing our efficiency with multiple day trips, allowing us to summit several peaks on a weekend. Here are a few of the highlights we are looking forward to:

Owl’s Head in mid-May – Our first hike of the season will test those camping skills not to mention some stream crossing doozies, as the spring runoff season will have peaked. It’s a good thing Quinn likes water and Randy has those gaitors and Teva water shoes.

Partial Pemi Loop – This will be Randy’s longest overnight backpack trip this year, but will be supported by hut accommodations. Last year, he climbed a few of the Pemi mountains with a UNH group and faced some of the hottest temperatures on record and it proved to be a few of the most grueling days of his life. We are hoping for much more manageable weather this year!

Adams and Madison – For anyone familiar with the Northern Presidentials, you’ll know that Mt Adams is an enormous pile of jumbled rocks at the top and Quinn will not like it one bit! For the sighted, this mountain is a challenge because you are boulder hopping on slanty rocks and it’s easy to slip. For the 2020 group, this will mean some slow, careful hiking supplemented with human guides (I think I might also try to sneak in some kneepads into Randy’s pack).

Carter Range – This hike will be another 3-day trip (like Adams/Madison) taking advantage of the AMC hut system we love. The concerns here are trying to summit 3 mountains over the course of one weekend along with some incredibly steep terrain. I hope that since this trip is later in the season, we’ll be faster, more efficient and better versed in the terrain.

So feel free to follow along via our website and via the Spot GPS as we hike throughout this summer – we plan to have information on each hike, both before and after the trips. Moreover, as we move into summer, we’ll also be asking the community for any terrain advice for our upcoming trips. Stay tuned!


A Hiking Season in Review…

By Carrie McMillen

Randy & Carrie's 1st hike together on Mt. Welch 5/1/10

It’s been an incredible season with 2020.

I’ll be honest – I started out this summer with a lot of nerves. When there is a bunch of unknowns out there, one tends to make up scenarios in your head about what could happen (I think I’ve shared some of those qualms here before). Will we actually summit anything? Will we get stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to be evacuated? How do I keep Randy or Quinn from slipping on the mossy rocks? Do people think we’re insane?

Now, as we prep for Mt Pierce, I feel surprisingly calm. I think it’s because I’m confident in the people around us and in Quinn and Randy’s techniques. The amount of strength in Randy, Quinn, and in our entire team astounds me.

Having never hiked with Randy, Quinn, or the team before May of this year, I am amazed at the differences between then and now. My two favorite moments from this summer encapsulate my pride in that strength:
-The conversation at Lake of the Clouds where we decided it was too risky to descend Mt Washington – on that hike, I witnessed Randy admitting he couldn’t do something for the good of himself and for the good of the team. Also, the group became stronger by being smart and by honestly looking at our limitations.
-Attending to Randy’s two injuries just below Mt Field – the team reacted super quickly to a bit of gore and bruising and each person took a unique role to ensure we had a safe hike down. We learned urgency, safety, first aid skills, and teamwork here.

So this is what I come away with at the end of the season:

I am amazed at the strength and determination in our team, in the hikers, and the friends we have had along the way.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and hike with people who carry extra gear, who wait patiently around the next bend, who brainstorm solutions for the challenges we are facing. These are the kinds of people who put the mission before themselves – through patience and kindness. I can’t thank you all enough.
Yes, we have a few more mountains to climb! Mt Pierce should be a great celebration of our accomplishments and strengths from this summer and I am looking forward to welcoming some new hikers to our team this weekend. I’m sure we haven’t seen even a portion of the challenges on the other peaks that lie ahead – after Pierce, more await us next summer in terms of weather, potential injuries, and rocky trails.

Will these things worry me as they did this summer?
Yes…but thankfully, not quite nearly as much as before!


Give Me Liberty

by Kyle Dancause

Our guest author, Kyle, kneels to the left of Quinn.

In writing this blog I have done exactly what I tell my students not to do – I started with the title. When I began thinking about a blog post for the Mt. Liberty hike, I became fixated on Patrick Henry’s famous line, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” What a perfectly fitting title for a blog post about hiking Mt. Liberty on September 11th.

As I procrastinated on writing this post and waited for a source of inspiration, I reassured myself that at least I had a great title. Then I realized that this ultimatum might send the wrong message. I don’t know that Quinn would be too happy with me if I’m running up and down the mountain yelling, “Give me Liberty or give me death.” Bad idea.

I did some more thinking and realized that I didn’t even really know anything about Patrick Henry or his speech. About all I remembered was that Henry’s speech convinced Virginia to join the Revolutionary cause. With still no idea what I wanted to say in this blog, I read Patrick Henry’s speech (1775) and found the inspiration I was looking for.

In the third paragraph of his speech, Henry says, “I have one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging the future but by the past.” If Patrick Henry had known Quinn, he may have added a second lamp. However, with Henry’s message in mind, I look to Saturday’s hike with an eye on the past.

Last May I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Pemigewasset Wilderness with Randy, Quinn, and a group of UNH backpackers as a part of Brent Bell’s Outdoor Education course. It is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and certainly not one I can do justice to in a short post. On our Pemi hike, I learned a great deal about Randy, Quinn, and myself that gives me a deep sense of confidence and excitement approaching this weekend.

First, I know that Randy and Quinn have the physical ability to climb Mt. Liberty. I saw them struggle up Bondcliff, Mt. Bond, and South Twin Mountain – three four thousand footers. Randy was exhausted, perhaps as tired as I’ve ever seen someone standing on two feet, yet he made it. Quinn fought through some nasty chafing and a significant paw abrasion that when discovered at the Guyot shelter left me feeling an increasing sense of despair. “This was a bad idea. We’re in over our heads,” I remember telling others. As a self-proclaimed worrywart, I feared the worst – emergency evacuation. Then Quinn started working, taking the pain, and leading Randy through a two-mile, post-hole minefield that was the Twinway trail.

That gets me to my second point: Courage. I’m fascinated with the concept of courage – both extreme and every-day acts. Those who know me well know that I’m a positive person. My glass is half-full and I believe strongly in the infectious nature of optimism. For this reason, I’m drawn to courage, to people who don’t complain but instead put their head down, grit their teeth, and keep on going. On the second day of our Pemi hike, this was Randy. I distinctly remember passing Randy on the saddle between Bondcliff and Mt. Bond. It was probably around 7pm and though I had tunnel vision – we need water – I remember looking at Randy as I passed him. He was extremely fatigued. He was soaked in sweat and covered in dirt. His arms and hands were shaking. His eyes were looking for a million things at once. I remember being very worried, as scared as I’ve ever been on a mountain, but I also remember feeling an incredibly sense of inspiration. Randy had nothing left in the tank, but he kept on going. No complaining. No, “I can’t do this.” Perseverance. Courage. Mental toughness. As we approach Mt. Liberty, I take comfort in these qualities.

Third, I have confidence in our team’s ability to do the right thing. Though I realize that ultimately I will have to call the shots, I know that Randy and the team will have my back even if it’s not what they want to do. On the third night of our Pemi hike in May, I led a serious discussion about our options moving forward. We had gotten to Galehead Hut sometime after 8pm and a 13 hour day of hiking featuring a rugged 3 ½ hour .8 mile from South Twin to the hut. After back-to-back hiking days of 14 and 13 hours, I didn’t think it was a good idea to continue our original route. I suggested that Randy, Quinn, and others take a down day at the hut and that finishing the loop as planned didn’t seem reasonable. Using Quinn’s paw and Randy’s exhaustion as a scapegoat, we voted for a down day and an altered route out of the Pemi. Though Randy may have had a bruised ego and more likely just downright felt really bad about impacting the group experience, he let us make that decision. It wasn’t the most popular decision but it was the right decision. Looking ahead to Mt. Liberty, if we aren’t sitting on the summit flying our flag at 1:30pm, I’m ready to make a decision and confident that it will be the right one.

I’m excited to once again hike with Randy, Quinn, and T.J, and looking forward to meeting and getting to know the rest of our team. We have a long, challenging day hike ahead of us, but I am eager to begin. I’m confident that we will be sitting atop Mt. Liberty next Saturday, but I’ll be ok if we can’t get there this time.

Finally, I dedicate my participation in this hike to the members of my family actively serving in the armed forces. Todd, Billy, Johnny, Tyler – Thank you. I’ll be thinking about you.


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