No Letdown for Team 2020

by Kyle Dancause

In sports, there is much talk and concern over the dreaded letdown game. For those not familiar with the term, a letdown game is one where a team comes off an emotional, meaningful victory and turns in an uninspired, lackluster performance in their following game. Another contributing factor to a letdown performance is when a team looks past their present opponent to a more daunting, challenging foe looming in the near horizon. Whether you believe in this letdown concept or not, acknowledging its possibility allows us to see how Team 2020 may be perfectly positioned for a letdown performance.

The sign indicating the way to Passaconaway's summit

As the interim coach, or hike leader, of Team 2020 on our upcoming game against Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway of the White Mountain Sandwich Range conference, I must warn my team against a letdown performance. Team 2020 is on a roll. With recent success against perennial powerhouses Owl’s Head, Mt. Garfield, and Mt. Lafayette, the Vision Quest squad is off to a roaring start for the 2011 hiking season. Randy and Quinn’s successful return to the Pemi is proof of the vast improvements they have made since this time last year. With new experiences and new hiking companions, the team continues to learn, reflect, and grow stronger. As Vision Quest’s confidence and excitement grows, we inevitably begin to look ahead to what many are calling the game of the year, the clash of the titans, as team 2020 takes on #2 ranked Mt. Adams and #5 ranked Mt. Madison on July 4th weekend. So there you have our current situation, sandwiched between a successful trip to the Pemi and a looming battle with the Northern Presidentials. Do you think Team 2020 may be in danger of that letdown performance?

I don’t. With Randy wearing the captain’s armband and Quinn and Tracy sharing the assistant captain duties, I have full confidence that Team 2020 will be physically and mentally prepared for Whiteface and Passaconaway. I have faith in Randy’s attitude and leadership, Tracy’s unwavering support, and Quinn’s tail wagging, that our leaders will get our team motivated and ready to go. I have been told by one rather knowledgeable and experienced friend that Whiteface and Passaconaway pose some of the most challenging, viewless hiking of all the 48. I’ve read trip reports that claim that the rock scrambling on the Whiteface ledges can be quite intimidating and dangerous. With 12 miles of hiking and significant elevation gain over two days, we have a stiff challenge in front of us, but I look forward to the hard work, learning experiences, and most importantly, time spent in the woods with good friends.

For those who still have doubts of a letdown game, I leave you with a brief tale of Passaconaway – more of which I’ll share to the team in the locker room before the game. Passaconaway is named for the legendary chief of the Pennacook tribe. Passaconaway was revered as a great Indian chief, medicine man, and peacemaker to both the natives and white settlers. There are two unique tales about Passaconaway’s death which I learned from reading a short excerpt from Charles Beals’ Passaconaway in the White Mountains. The first story claims that Passaconaway was buried in a cave on Mount Agamenticus in present day York, ME, a significant mountain in Randy and Quinn’s hiking history.

The second tale is as follows. The native’s feared the mountains and seldom, if ever, visited the summits. The most feared was Mt. Agiocochook (Mt. Washington) where the natives believed The Great Spirit resided. I leave you with the tale.

“The tradition runs that there was to be a Council of the Gods in heaven and it was Passaconaway’s wish that he might be admitted to the divine Council Fire; so he informed the Great Spirit of his desire. A stout sled was constructed, and out of a flaming cloud twenty-four gigantic wolves appeared. These were made fast to the sled. Wrapping himself in a bearskin robe, Passaconaway bade adieu to his people, mounted the sled, and, lashing the wolves to their utmost speed, away he flew. Through the forests from Pennacook and over the wide ice-sheet of Lake Winnepesaukee they sped. Reeling and cutting the wolves with his thirty-foot lash, the old Bashaba, once more in his element, screamed in ecstatic joy. Down dales, valleys, over hills and mountains they flew, until, at last, enveloped in a cloud of fire, this “mightiest of Pennacooks” was seen speeding over the rocky shoulders of Mount Washington itself; gaining the summit, with unabated speed he rode up into the clouds and was lost to view?forever!” – Charles Beals

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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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An Owl’s Knowledge

by Sherpa John Lacroix
www.sherpajohn.com

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.

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See What I Mean?

by Randy Pierce

As the blazing red sun slowly slipped below the last range of mountains to our west, the purple, blue, and green hues of several mountain ranges ever closer to us provided radiant beauty to the scene. High upon the shoulder of Mount Washington on July 4, 2010, the striations of the wispy clouds, which reflected red to pink, capped the magnificent splendor of an amazing sunset that unfurled beneath us while at Lakes of the Clouds hut. Close your eyes for a moment and try to picture that scene we so well appreciated. Now consider this, if you did picture it (and many report they can), you did so without ever seeing it. In fact, you did so because someone, who also never saw the scene, described it to you. How can this be? Sight is only twenty percent eyes, and an impressive 80 percent brain, which collects the eye data and formulates the image. We use neurology to craft imagination to vision, and along with the benefit of past visual experiences, create our individual interpretations of a picture.

In short, you experienced it precisely the way I did, despite my total blindness. Without question, I am in debt to the descriptive enhancement my many friends gift unto me as we share our journeys together. People are often concerned that their detail isn’t sufficient, but the simple fact is that each person provides the detail that stands out for them, and through the amalgamation of all these unique interpretations, I am able to create in my mind the richness I would likely lose otherwise. I “see” through these descriptions, and the meaning of my life is unquestionably enhanced as a result.

July 4th, 2010 at Lakes of the Clouds

So in the frequent discussions of what it is a blind person cannot do, which a sighted counterpart may accomplish, “see” is the most obviously correct answer. I think the inspirational detail above might just call into question that very answer. Meanwhile, allow me to give thanks for the past, present, and hopefully many future descriptions that will enrich my life! More specifically, thanks to the many people who provide, in their own way, the essential descriptive details through which I see!

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True Vision and Thoughts of Peak Potential 2011

by guest blogger Kim Kett-Johnson

“Sight lets you see where you are right now; vision lets you see where you are going.”

Randy speaking at Peak Potential

I heard my friend Randy Pierce, Founder of 2020 Vision Quest, say this quote in an interview this past December and it has really stayed with me. I have posted it as my Facebook status and tweeted it. It really puts in perspective for me how Randy chooses to live his life with his blindness, always looking towards what could be done instead of dwelling on what might be a challenge to do. I have known Randy for 25 years. I have known him sighted, and without sight, able to walk and move around with ease, and known him when he was confined to a wheelchair. I knew Randy would not be confined to anything for long. Randy’s tenacity and bold joie de vivre have always made people stand up and take notice. Notably, the New England Patriots organization, the NFL, HBO, WMUR TV, and too numerous to mention radio stations and people in the blogosphere who all want to hear what he thinks is going on right now and what his vision is on any number of topics. Randy is sought after for his intellect on a variety of subjects, and this, I believe, is because everyone who meets Randy takes something away from the meeting that makes them feel good about themselves. Randy just has that way about him.

All of this background brings me to the purpose of my post today. About a year or so ago, I learned that Randy was starting a charity organization. I wasn’t at all surprised that the man who feels, even in going blind, that he has been given so much that he would like to give back to others. From there, 2020 Vision Quest was born, the brainchild of Randy and his amazing wife Tracy (behind every man is a good woman.) Through their collaborative efforts to get it going, the true vision took off, and Randy and his guide dog, the Mighty Quinn, prepared to climb all of the 4000+ foot peaks in New Hampshire by the year 2020. All to raise money for the charity.

One of the highlights of last year, for me, was attending the first annual Peak Potential Dinner & Charity Auction. Besides helping to support the great work of 2020 Vision Quest, it was so wonderful that it brought many of our old friends together. One group bought a table, and I had part of another table with a different group of friends. We all got together to have a couple drinks, eat great food, and be together. We bid against each other at the auction, both silent and not so silent, and we reminisced and decided that the night was just like a party in college since we were all together — except we had better clothes and better hair, (some MUCH better hair, some not so much hair at all.)

At the event, we were fortunate enough to hear Randy give a presentation about 2020 Vision Quest and the work the organization has done, as well as what he has accomplished with the Mighty Quinn. This included their numerous hikes and climbs, and speaking engagements Randy (and Quinn) have given to schools and other organizations on behalf of 2020 Vision Quest. Randy has given 2020 Vision Quest not only vision, but also a voice.

A great time was had by all and I am looking forward to attending this year. I have no doubt that more friends will attend, now that they know what a great time it was for all of us who attended the inaugural event. So make sure to “Save the Date” for next year’s event on Saturday, November 12th, for which planning is already underway. Put it on the calendar, get a sitter if you need to, bring your friends, drink, bid, and just be with people you care about. Not only will you just have a great time, but you can support a wonderful organization and take advantage of being able to get to know my friend Randy Pierce, a man who I think has true vision.

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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 http://www.2020visionquest.com/hiking-the-48.html, 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!

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Inspiration Unleashed

by Randy Pierce

The arrival of the New Year often includes many resolutions laden with good intent. I personally believe in making resolutions each and every time I find an opportunity to address a concern or improve my approach. So, while I do make the occasional New Year’s resolution, I more often believe in an immediate approach to change.

Randy in 2003
Randy in 2010

The drive for me comes entirely from inspiration. I significantly benefit from the process of identifying a need and immediately addressing it with a resolution. That process must have enough potency to inspire me through the work required to induce the change. Simply put, inspiration is the essence of my motivation and success. Also, there must always be an identification and reflection upon the inspiration.

2020 Vision Quest is about to embark on the New Year, and we are resolved to expand our blog content beyond the hiking topics which were an essential aspect to our start. This project is not about me or even the mighty, tail-wagging wonder beside me; it is more about each person who understands the fundamental message of our project. Our mission statement defines our belief in a means for everyone to reach their highest potential, and experience the benefits it can provide. Our regular updates on more varied topics will require significant effort, and our inspiration will be the echo of voices past and (hopefully) future, who tell us how 2020 Vision Quest has inspired a positive change in their life. My thanks to those of you who have shared such thoughts with me. I hope you continue to be my inspiration for the efforts ahead!

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What's Next?

by Randy Pierce

Standing at the podium during our Peak Potential charity dinner, I was asked, “What next?” in regards to after we achieve the 48 mountain summits of New Hampshire.

I’m happy to report that I’m rather distracted by the immediate present for too much thought beyond those climbs. For me, the immediate focus is upon the intent behind our 2020 Vision Quest – and that has not stopped with the arrival of snow on mountains. This is a prime opportunity for me to present our core message at schools and elsewhere as we seek to educate, inspire, and challenge. In addition, we strive to support belief in possibility, goal setting, achievement through adversity, problem solving, teamwork, and the appreciation of the process.

We have raised awareness and built up our community but now we must expand these efforts through the tools we’ve established on the web. Yes, we have done some quality fund raising for the charities we believe have need of our efforts, and our outreach is in process, but we have only begun. I hope you will find many improvements and enhancements on our website and approach as we begin the next phase of our vision.

The first season of climbing was tremendous, and I’m eager to share aspects of that for some time to come. The next season of our 2020 Vision Quest is starting to come into focus, and I have to set my efforts on ensuring a clarity of vision to build the foundation for more than just climbing mountains! I hope that our work gains your interest and support as we continue forward!

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Season of Success Wraps Up on Mt. Pierce!

by Randy Pierce

Randy navigates a tough stretch on his namesake mountain.

The wind chill was 10 degrees, I struggled to put boots onto Quinn’s front paws for a descent over some sharp edged rocks, and I wondered if I could hear enough over the howling, biting-cold wind. This may not sound ideal but it was only about a ten-minute walk from the summit to the tree line, which brought immediate comfort and relief. It was an excellent reminder of the challenge and potent reality these mountains can represent.

We began our ascent early in the morning, eager and enthused to share our journey with four folk who had never hiked with us. Everyone had the right gear for any conditions the day might present, so we headed up to the Crawford Path; the oldest continuously maintained trail in the United States. I certainly was not looking forward to the end of the ‘official’ 2020 hiking season, but I was energized by how amazing a season it has been.

The trail was better than anticipated, albeit very wet, as trees routinely dropped prior-day rainfall upon us. It was cool but comfortable – ideal hiking weather, and we made great time past Gibbs Falls and up to the Mizpah Hut. I had the chance to display Quinn’s work with the new folk and he showcased why others and I marvel at his talents. It wasn’t his best day but it was more than good enough for this trail.

We arrived at the hut without incident, to feast and don our wind gear – for the temperatures had dropped notably and the forecast for the summit was colder still. The trail to the summit from the hut was far more challenging but we welcomed the opportunity and the resulting reward. False summits teased us, and a host of bog bridges and two ladders added to the difficulty. However, our summit success came and we were a deservedly proud group of companions.

Atop the summit, we met some folks who had heard of our project and were delighted to meet us. Quinn got his summit play and we all stocked up a bit on food. Finally, we prepared for the wind rumored to be gusty just over the bald summit and headed down.

Most readers know by now that going down is simply much harder for me, and sacrificing my hearing to a windbreak and warmth added to that – but Quinn rose to the challenge and performed his best descent work of the season. I was all too aware of how much Quinn and I had learned to understand each other over the season, to speak the language of harness and hand, body dynamics, hesitations, and occasionally, vocalizations. The trail had a few extra large steps down, so we made steady, slow progress down the peak. It was a long descent, and it has been a long season – so I was not surprised to find my mental reserves begin to slip a bit. What astounded me was how sharp a focus Quinn sustained through it all.

We finished our hike with incredible speed on the easier lower trails and as we regrouped at the trailhead for reflections, I had more thoughts than this post can contain. I will say that teamwork, challenge, achievement, and camaraderie are absolutely at the core of my feelings from these hikes. On a grander scale, I’m well aware we are doing all this as part of our charity, the 2020 Vision Quest, because we believe in human potential and want to ensure that the boost I received to my stride in life is never lost for those dealing with similar challenges. We have a lot more to accomplish with the project, and as I often say, I hope to reach a lot more people in our hiking future. I hope those of you reading now will help us share our message and achieve our goals as we go forward from this initial successful season!

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