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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Remembering Osceola

By Randy Pierce
Mountainside of OsceolaIn September of 2009, I had climbed precisely 0 of the NH 4,000+ foot mountains. I had only left the wheelchair in 2005 and stopped needing an assistive support cane in 2007, which of course made such a mountain hike a rather lofty goal. Despite this, our goal was to explore the potential of such a climb based on some considerably shorter work with Quinn on far less intensive trails in southern NH.

We spoke to a diverse group of hikers looking for suggestions on which of the big peaks might make a proper starting point and the majority suggested Osceola from Tripoli Road as an easier climb. While they are likely correct that a typical hiker would find the more gradual grades a reasonable initial hike, the first 1.25 miles of this trail are exceptionally strewn with small boulders, making the placement of a foot tricky and particularly so for a blind person!

On that first trip back in ‘09, I had so much still to learn and yet I had a very excited approach to the day’s potential. My speed was generally slow, and unfortunately we left too late in the day for best success. I also underestimated the ideal amounts of food and water that would have been appropriate for the amount of energy that we would expend.

Our group did successfully reach the summit and, more importantly, returned to the trailhead parking lot afterwards, but we were incredibly fatigued and had pushed ourselves a bit more than was reasonable. Hiking back from the summit after dark without headlamps for the sighted and without any food or water remaining was another indicator of our poor job of risk management. We learned our lessons and ultimately we knew we’d repeat this peak once we had officially turned the dream of 2020 Vision Quest into the reality of our charity undertaking.

On August 25, 2012, Quinn and I were fresh off a five-day backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail with the University of New Hampshire’s Outdoor Education program. The 2020 Vision Quest team led by Jennifer and Robert Liang gathered at the Osceola trailhead for 8:00 a.m., intent on not just capturing Osceola but traversing out and back to East Osceola as well. We had a full crew of eager friends and we were ready.

I couldn’t help but reflect upon how much I had learned since that very first hike three years prior. Where once these mountains and their trails seemed mysterious and wild to me, they now seemed like familiar places that I understood in many comforting ways. Certainly that first long stretch of challenging boulders required my attention, yet Quinn and my feet glided along steadily.

Well after the most challenging sections, I switched to using my wife Tracy’s pack for guidance because it allowed me to talk more freely with her and catch up on our seven days away from each other. The comfort of using a human guide is another skill that has been developed and the mental freedom to interact more fully while hiking is a gift that enriches the entire experience. As such, it was no surprise when a jovial crew arrived to have lunch on the summit considerably ahead of time and enthusiastic for the additional trek to the sister peak.

The saddle between East Osceola and Osceola involves a considerably more
challenging trail than the entirety of our prior hike. Despite this, it was a routine traverse including the bypass of the infamous “Chimney” on our way out to our second summit of the day. On the return trip, our entire group, less Quinn who repeated the bypass, undertook the hand scramble up through the chimney. This unique rock feature is a more technical climb that resembles a nearly vertical rock tunnel, much like its name!
In our prior trip, I could not have imagined an out-and-back on this day hike. I’m not sure I could have thought the Chimney would ever be within my grasp. The reality is we did all of this and more as a fine group of friends laughed and shared tales throughout the entirety of the trip. As I remember that first trip, I am most impressed that our learning and experience transformed the mountains from the daunting challenge to a familiar second home in which I invited friends to come and visit with me. This time around it was a most excellent visit too!

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