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!
by Randy Pierce:
We accomplished Liberty on 9/11/2010 with an impact I will not likely forget. The impressive experience also included a shocking realization, to me, which is a part of this day’s discovery.
There was plenty of doubt about whether we could achieve Liberty’s summit in the time constraints we set and the physical constraints of my hiking. I am well aware that my personal drive should always be tempered with consideration for the toll upon my hiking team. This hike was important, and I wanted us to undertake it with as much proper preparation for success and open minds to the possibility of having set the bar too high.
We met at the trailhead for 5:45 AM and were hiking in the dark by 5:54 AM, though headlamps helped the team on this initial easy stretch. We made steady and impressive progress, which our Spot technology revealed to the growing number of folks who watch our hikes. Many remarked on the beauty of the trail and the surrounding forest, though I admit to being more focused on the drive due to time pressure I had placed on myself. Quinn was sharp and enthusiastic, and the only debate on the trail was when to switch Quinn’s to his boots – there is a tradeoff in that timing which is important to him and to us.
We hit Liberty Springs earlier than anticipated, which meant success seemed likely and ahead of schedule. During our half-hour lunch and rest at the spring, we considered delaying there longer so as not to be exposed too long on the summit. Deciding to take nothing for granted, we forged further over the most difficult section of our ascent. The summit is a rocky pyramid thrust upward above the forest, and it grants the most astounding views yet experienced on any of our hikes. The wonder of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east is overwhelming while the Lafayette range, notch, and cliffs of Cannon lend an otherworld quality to the peak. This would be enough for any day, but today there was so much more, as our American flag soon adorned the Liberty summit! A surprising number of hikers reached this peak, each with a slightly different reason, but all seemingly bonded in spirit with the meaning of this 9/11 memorial. An impromptu singing of our national anthem was moving, as were the cheers at each raising of the flag on the other 4000+ foot peaks. There were roughly 32 peaks visible from our perch and there was a swelling of unity and freedom, which I still feel stirring within me from those moments. I didn’t want the experience to end though we did have to start our difficult descent, knowing we still were likely to finish after dark.
It is amazing how different a trail can seem going down than up – particularly a trail with the many steps of Liberty. The time pressure was heavy upon me again, and I went back to the focus I’d chosen on the way up the peak. This was precisely the type of down in which the work Quinn and I do is most difficult. While our work can excel upwards through rough terrain, down is far more demanding on me and more worrisome for me. Quinn cannot lead me down large drops, but must simply show me the drop and let me step ahead on my own. It is slow, demanding, and as I realized more clearly, not the optimum solution. We were managing it, but more slowly and less ideally than I might have with the right human guide. Quinn represents liberty and freedom for me, as our teamwork feels so truly a part of me. Choosing another option always feels like I’m giving away more than I would get, but I could not deny that the best choice down the tough trail was not one with Quinn and me working as a team.
I chose to let Kyle guide me, my hand on his pack. We had the advantage of his height, towering over Quinn, to give me more information about the trail as we descened. We were quicker than anticipated and in some ways safer – though there was some communication development that affected this. My footing was a little extra challenge, but the result was a faster speed for the rough stretch, until we reached the portion where Quinn’s work would again be ideal. It was liberating to know I was choosing the best means for the benefit of the team, and not holding to the Quinn teamwork on principle. This takes nothing away from Quinn’s work, though he certainly worries about someone else guiding me. Like the time pressure impact I chose to accept in the ascent, clinging to our teamwork when it wasn’t ideal was a chain I had to release. We will be more efficient in the future for this learning, and our accomplishments the greater for it. The day was a tremendous success. We did finish after dark and very tired but having accomplished something very powerful. I will have a lot more liberty in many ways having been a part of the 9/11 Liberty summit of 2010.
Here at 2020 Vision Quest, it seems we’ve have had one non-stop exciting adventure after another and we’re barely done with our inaugural month, much less our first year’s hiking season! And right now, we’re all about celebrating our successes and sharing our hopes and ideas for the upcoming year with everyone who’s been so supportive of the project.
To do this, we’re holding Peak Potential, our first annual Celebration Dinner & Charity Auction, on October 23rd. We’d love to have you join us at The Derryfield in Manchester, NH.
Randy (with the help of the Mighty Quinn) will give a special presentation about where we’ve been and where we’re going, along with some never before seen video from the climbs. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres, a sit-down dinner (your choice of Pan Roasted Salmon, Cranberry Walnut Chicken, Prime Rib or Spinach Stuffed Tomato), and dancing galore, along with a cash bar.
In between courses, there will be both silent auction bidding and the opportunity to win several very special live auction packages intended to inspire, educate, and help challenge the winning bidders to achieve their own visions!
When: Saturday, October 23rd, hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 pm, dinner at 7 pm
I never knew beef could be such an important part of a trip. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I’ll eat pretty much anything on the trail. So, when I heard about how a few of the hike participants had eaten steak tips once on a previous backpacking trip, I was pretty excited. The steak tips ended up being a really important part of the trip – they became both the high and low points of the weekend.
Steak tips as a way to heal
About an hour into the hike, as you may have read about by now, Randy’s knee swelled up like a ping-pong ball within seconds after his fall. I knew having something cold on the injury would help, and Kara had to remind me that in the depths of someone’s pack were some tasty and frozen steak tips. After 20 minutes of freezing Randy’s knee, the swelling went way down and we were ready to move on. I really think that the icing minimized the extent of his injury dramatically.
Having an injury on the trail made this all very real. I’ve always carried first aid gear, but have opened it for only a Band-aid or some Neosporin. Maybe I’ve been lucky all of these years – but this hike made me a lot more alert to the fact that this may occur more than once as we summit these formidable 48 peaks. I learned a lot on this hike – about the resilience and determination of Randy, about the strength and support of our team, and about the inequities of the first aid kit. I bought a large survival/ first aid kit, but until you have an actual injury, it’s hard to know what you’re missing. Unfortunately, we probably won’t have frozen steak tips on every trip, but we instead should definitely have instant cold compresses. We should also have Q-tips for cleaning out cuts, butterfly bandages, and tweezers that don’t look like daggers (sorry, Randy!). Luckily, a few of the participants offered up some of their personal first aid items to supplement what was missing. (Tip: a squeeze water bottle is great for flushing out a wound!)
Steak tips as a way to bond
Once we were done freezing Randy’s knee with steak tips for a second time before dinner, we had the pleasure of eating them. I was gone for about 45 minutes getting water and by the time I got back, the boys had rigged up a fancy campfire – and those steak tips melted in my mouth as I finally relaxed from the day. Add to that a delicious lentil stew with fresh rosemary and we had ourselves a recipe for a great evening. We spent several hours reminiscing about past hiking experiences and got to know each other better through interesting and challenging questions. As the evening got later and darker, I’m sure we were smiling big with full bellies and great company.
Every hiking trip is different – some go smoothly, some don’t. The bumps of this trip were…literally, bumps. There were many things to think about as Randy hit his knee twice and sliced his hand, and trust me – my mind was going a mile a minute as I considered the ramifications of his injuries to himself and the group, while simultaneously thinking about how to treat the situation. I’ll be honest – it’s mentally tiring to balance all of those things as a leader.
But, I have to say that even with the ‘bumps’, this trip was smooth and sensational. I specifically am grateful for the way we cherished each summit as a group and for the many ways we took care of each other, whether it was cooking a meal, helping breakdown a tent or taking some weight from Randy’s pack. And, I was tickled when nature provided her own few magical moments like the old worldly mossy glen at a stream crossing and the gray jays that fearlessly landed on my outstretched hand. To paraphrase Randy from the weekend: ‘It’s moments like these that keep me going.’
We set out early the next morning, though not too early as to over-push it. The trail atop the ridge was beautiful and we made excellent time. All seemed ideal, even on my sore knee – that is, until a second mishap occurred.
We were walking on the edge of a washout section of the trail. The three-foot-deep washout was boulder-strewn and hard to navigate. Quinn took the flat high ground to the left, because I walk better on flat ground. As I stepped down with my left foot, the dirt and roots of the washout collapsed and dropped me into the wash. I released the harness and leash from my left hand, so as not to trap Quinn while I tried to catch myself, but sadly I sliced my left palm on a spiky stump fragment – just as my injured left knee took yet another hit.
The team, having practiced the day before, was amazing. I am exceedingly grateful for the efficiency with which they got pressure on my two bleeding points, then got my knee elevated and iced. Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate is the order, R.I.C.E. for those wanting the mnemonic. All was accomplished in moments, and though I was sore and concerned, I was in good spirits. During my twenty minutes of ‘ice’, my hand wound was cleared of debris and tended by the amazing crew. Everyone was excellent, and I’m grateful. My spirits took a small hit here for obvious reasons, but the team support was solid – and it was at this point that we observed a little mountain magic, which may have made the difference for me.
We had been told that atop Mt. Field, one could hold out a hand with dried fruit and the Gray Jays would perch on your fingers and eat the fruit. At this very stop, the Jays revealed themselves, and we tested the rumor with an awe-inspiring delight. When ready, I stood and partook of the process, marveling at communing with these birds. I felt a bit as if I was in a Fairy Tale, and my knee and hand hurt a lot less for it.
We continued on, a bit slower, to the summit of Mt. Tom, where we were again treated to better views than anticipated. We called in more of the Jays and even had them perch upon my pack, which of course had the names of our $100 donors (thanks!). One of those names, by the way, is a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy that is being raised to do the same job as Quinn!
We eventually began our descent, knowing this would definitely test my knee. I don’t think I can praise enough the work of Quinn or Tracy’s efforts ahead of me in trail blazing and sharing just enough information to keep us focused and safe. It was tough terrain, but we made good time – and my comfort and confidence in the progress Quinn and I have made was clear. We are a strong hiking team. He knew my injury and he helped me much, occasionally getting me to shift feet for a tricky point, and occasionally giving me stability on a rough area. He knows how to show me when we can do something readily and conversely, he knows how to alert me when I must step or sit down for a significant drop. We did the trip well, arriving at the end of the first rough stretch in time for Carrie to decide that she and Dave would go ahead for water refills while the rest of us could attempt the Avalon spur. Carrie and Dave had done the spur previously, and the team had used a lot of water to flush my injuries – so were lower on water than ideal.
The summit of Mt. Avalon is a very short spur off the trail, and we again did this without our packs…well most of us. Kara kept her pack on, for first aid and other vital needs. The craggy point had some unusual terrain and made for a great climb. Some of the spur trail required a 4-limb scramble, so Quinn could not lead me, but he came along and was excited for the challenges. We loved the view but rested only for a moment, as we had much work ahead in our final steep descent.
The next phase of the Avalon Trail is very steep and challenging – even for the fully sighted. It quickly earned my respect. It was not my most challenging down section, but very close – and Quinn was tireless in keeping me safe and oriented. Kara led us for much of this stretch, giving Tracy a well-deserved break. We made great time given the challenge, and we accomplished faster than Carrie expected. When we rejoined with her and Dave, there was a jubilant sharing of restocked water and much celebration. We knew this hike would be a success, despite the injuries. The team had come together marvelously and we had bagged a trio of peaks, two of which were part of the 48 on our list.
There are so many memories of the experiences on those mountains. The lingering bruises certainly have me reflecting on them, but the most powerful memories are of the teamwork and friendship built in sharing the marvels of the White Mountains. Seriously, how many people can stand atop the highest peak in a glorious range and have wild birds landing in their palm? How many people can know the value of friendship and fun so deeply at the core of that peaceful sanctuary? I’m certainly a happier person for it. Thank you to all those who hike with me and to all those inspiring me along the way!
This weekend’s hike was a fantastic experience for me personally, though it came with a significant impact…literally.
We loaded up our packs for a Friday night stay at a campground near the trailhead, to both test our new equipment as well as ensure an early morning departure. Time is typically one of my biggest challenges due to my need to hike more slowly than most. So, with slightly heavier packs (my pack, at 48 pounds, was barely the most heavy), we set out on the Avalon Trail. Roughly .5 miles into the hike, we were enjoying gentle trails – then an error on a plank bog bridge made our hike a bit more difficult.
Typically, Quinn leads me by half a dog, meaning I’m walking beside his right flank. He stops to signal warnings when his subtle body positioning cannot have me evade things entirely. Sometimes, Quinn and I need to go single file, due to a narrow pathway or bridge. While single file, when Quinn stops for an obstacle, I have to estimate the distance to his front paws, ask him to ‘hup-up’, and then find the edge of the obstacle. When we hit a plank bridge that was too narrow for us to walk side by side, Quinn did his work well – and Tracy, with a very good understanding of our process, alerted me that there was a deep space between the plank and the stepping-stone off the plank. Unfortunately, I did not hear Tracy’s warning, nor did I catch Quinn’s extra hesitation as he stepped off the plank to the rock. My wet boot partially reached the stone step, but then it slipped. I fell between the plank and the rock and banged my knee solidly against another rock. The swelling was significant and immediate.
Our Wilderness First Aid training came in handy, as a quick evaluation of my situation found my mood strong, thoughts coherent, and bones not broken. We walked to the junction of the A-Z trail (Avalon – Zealand) and then made some decisions. We would ice my knee, using frozen steak tips for that night’s dinner, wrap it, and carry on – with me periodically giving my status to the hiking leader, Carrie.
We had lunch at our last water source, which was a mossy, old-world-feeling forest with sunlight streaming through forest breaks. The spot was beautiful and we were proud of having made such good progress despite the setback. While filling our water containers, I listened as folks described the area. The air had been chilled by the stream gorge, and I delighted in the day. We had heard of sparse views on Mt. Tom, but we found many worthy views of the Presidentials. My companions were marvelous about sharing things with me, including details of a spider building a web off trail.
We made good time, and at the Mt. Tom spur, we stashed our packs off the trail to make the spur trip without the weight of our packs. The summit had better views than promised, and thanks to Steve Smith’s book on the 48 from the Mountain Wanderer, we knew how to find the ‘secret bench’ views. We laughed much and reveled in our accomplishment. The group was excited – and the luxury of hiking without a pack really makes a difference when you’ve been lugging all that weight.
We walked back to our packs and found some previously used campsite off the trail. Carrie and Kara went for water refills while the rest of us set up camp. A marvelous feast and great camaraderie whiled away the evening. Sure, we could have pushed onward, but staying closer to the water source and savoring the trip was more important. It was a great decision, and we are all closer and happier for that evening together on the top of the range.
Some of you know I’m a bit of a Pats fan, and as such I’m well familiar with the instant replay. Day 2 of our hike featured several of those, both good and bad: great trails, hard work, marvels of nature, water concerns… and yet more practice with the Wilderness First Aid training.
As we approach the final days leading up to my first ever backcountry camping trip, I find myself faced with a near overwhelming load of self-doubt and fears about the upcoming 2020 hiking trip. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely excited and eager for our trip to Mounts Tom and Field, but I’m pushing my boundaries with this trip.
I am, generally, an open person – except when it comes to admitting weaknesses and fears. I probably would have continued on, worrying in silence, except that I got a fantastic note from someone who shared her life situation with me – including what a positive effect our story has had on her. That note made me think that perhaps by sharing my own fears and hopefully later my success, I might inspire another person to try something they’ve been afraid of in the past.
So, without further ado, this trip scares me because of the following:
• I’ve never camped in the back woods before.
• There is bear activity in the area.
• I wonder if I can handle carrying the extra weight needed.
• I fear I’ll be the slowest hiker because I’ve lost a bit of fitness these past few months.
• What if I can’t sleep on the ground and I’m too sore the second day?
• What if we run out of water?
Setting these fears down on paper and sharing them makes me feel a bit silly, yet they express how I’ve been feeling this past week. I know that the group I’m climbing with is extremely supportive, and ultimately everything will be ok. However, I expect that knowledge won’t do much to allay my fears. So, I’m going to follow Randy’s example and just dive right in. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
So, what do you guys out there think? Anyone ever have any of these fears? How did your first backcountry trip turn out?
We’ve all experienced that moment of indecision when we’re packing for a trip.
You ask yourself – do I squeeze in that hardcover bestseller book I want to read even though my suitcase weighs a ton? (Answer: usually, yes) This may not be a big deal at the airport or on a train where you can conveniently say goodbye to that bag during your travels. However, if you’re backpacking it’s a different story…
So, how heavy is YOUR pack? Mine is 42 pounds.
At least that’s what it was on my most recent backpacking adventure last summer in Colorado. That’s a typical number for me, although it depends on how long a trip, how difficult, and what ‘extras’ I’ve packed. I’ve run into backpackers on the trail who consider themselves minimalists – they sleep under the stars, they only eat rehydrated food – and they boast a pack weight of around 25 pounds. Admirable? Sure. But I’d like to hope that maybe they aren’t enjoying themselves on the trail as much as I am!
For those of you who like facts and numbers, your pack’s weight should be a reflection of your fitness and comfort level in addition to a general factor of 1/4 to 1/3 of your body weight. (The minimalists mentioned above use ratios like 1/6). For the rest of you who don’t like facts and numbers, you can determine your appropriate weight by stuffing your pack full of everything you think you want, and then try it on. Then take something out because it will feel too heavy. Try it on again. Repeat at least six more times. Then try to get your friend to take something for you!
I am one of those people who will sacrifice a bit of weight for comfort in the woods. I don’t bring my solar hairdryer or my iPod – but I do bring a few things that will help my happiness on the trail, as they pertain to food, drink, and sleep. So, if you’re not scared of the number 42 (or higher) and you’re headed out into the backcountry – here are my comfort items that will add both weight and happiness to your trip:
Thick sleeping pad (22 oz) – My biggest challenge is always sleeping on the ground. It’s worth the price and weight for a thick pad with air chambers (the foam pads are far less comfortable!). Get self-inflating if you get light-headed easily.
Camp shoes (6 -11.5 oz) – Your feet are so tired from the boots; you’re going to love feeling a new pair of shoes while walking from your tent to the stove!
Earplugs (.001 oz) – ok, I might have made up the weight, but these things are priceless. Guaranteed you won’t hear snoring neighbors or bears.
Camp pillow – (8 oz) – Typically I stuff a fleece inside a stuff sack, but I’ve also found the inflatable neck pillows for the airplane work well, too.
Journal (10 oz) – Call it my luxury item – this allows me to reflect in the woods and write my experiences down on paper. Priceless, but not weightless…
Special drink – (2 oz – 16 oz). This can come in the form of your favorite tea or cocoa. Or, it could come in the form of something more potent (note: bottle of wine (2+ lbs))
Special food – This can come in the form of M&M’s (1.69 oz), a jar of peanut butter (12 oz), or steak tips (24 oz). You are going to be hungry – bring something fun to eat! Just don’t forget the cast iron skillet (6.6 lbs) to fry up those steak tips.
So what is 2020 bringing for their comforts on Tom/Field? Guess you’ll have to wait until after the weekend to find out!
As I settle into the electronic world to share our excursion details, I’m tremendously buoyed by the feeling of full accomplishment. This was our second official hike for 2020 Vision Quest, and while Washington was a great and successful experience, it was not a full success – as we “only” completed the impressive ascent of the mountain. This time, we conquered both the up and the down and can now name Hale as our first officially-completed peak in our quest for the 48.
Sunday morning looked ominous. Tracy reported to me that our drive through Franconia Notch was enshrouded in storm clouds, and the pelting rain on the roof had me concerned. We reached the Zealand Road trailhead early as intermittent rain fell on a less-overcast sky. I reviewed the trail description one final time and – just as the rain tapered off – we heard the sounds of several cars approaching.
It is amazing how our isolation, alone in early-morning quiet at the trailhead, transformed into a high-energy group laden with anticipatory excitement. This experience, like most hikes, was likely to change and strengthen our friendships. It is precisely this transition and community bonding that I particularly enjoy. The trail offers plenty of time for introspective personal growth, and an equal measure of understanding the social growth and dynamics of the people with whom I’m fortunate to share the experience.
We headed up the trail, and I quickly found that it suited my hiking style well. Quinn’s guidance was inspired, and at our first short break, there were some jovial complaints about the speed of my pace. Kevin even quipped that I was a “Hiking Shark,” having lured him in with talk of being a slow hiker. There were certainly challenges to slow me down, though the better understanding of them I’ve been gaining over the past few hikes, and the steady improvements Quinn has made, led to overall quick and strong hiking.
There were some tremendous birch trees along the route, and I remembered that in 1903, much of this mountain and many surrounding mountainsides were ravaged by fire. Birch trees are among the earliest growths, so those great trees we encountered on the trail likely started growing in 1904; just over 100 years of age. The birch tree, which delivers the name White Mountains, is so young and yet so old. It’s one of many reflections I treasured along the hike.
The summit transition was swift and redolent, from slight forest humidity to the open and wind-cooled, grassy peak. The summit was a great celebration as the overcast sky eased enough to give us ideal conditions to enjoy a lunch – not to mention the humor of having achieved this summit several hours faster than anticipated. It gave us time to relax and enjoy our accomplishment as a group, knowing we had eradicated our challenge of time to summit. We took many photographs, told a few stories, and shared some time with other infrequent visitors to our mountaintop. We had the luxury of spending an hour together in such fine spirits before stretching well-worked muscles and returning down the Hale Brook Trail.
The descent was slower but not tremendously so. The section of trail that is very narrow with a perilous drop off was challenging, since this time the drop was on my right, which meant Quinn could not shield me from it with his body. Quinn, as a guide dog, is always on my left side and my use of the Trekker Pole on my right side was mostly impossible due to the steep edge. Quinn was very cautious, and we took our time to navigate the slippery surfaces of wet rock and root, which were less challenging when climbing up.
While climbing down, I recollected considerable portions of the trail, such that predicting the switchbacks and first stream crossings gave me real familiarity with my terrain and my journey. This comforting knowledge helped inspire me through each section and gave me the mental freedom to converse more than many other hikes would allow. By the final stretch, where we were at full speed again, I could not help but appreciate how complete and successful an experience we had enjoyed on this mountain. Hale is our first official success in the quest for the 48. I successfully climbed several others before launching 2020 Vision Quest, but this was the project’s first full success. I will savor the accomplishment, along with the companionship of the people who shared the journey with me.
There will be many more mountains and many variations of Team 2020 ahead. I look forward to all of them, for each trip is distinctive in the challenge and reward. I will, however, fondly recall this group and Mt. Hale as the first of them all.
On Mount Washington, we learned some hard lessons about how slowly Team 2020 hikes. We knew already that we need to allow plenty of extra time for Randy and Quinn to work their way through difficult terrain, but the actual numbers that we put up on the Ammonoosuc Trail were a bit discouraging. We found ourselves losing time here, there, and everywhere.
I’ll be leading our Mt. Hale hike this coming Sunday, and I want to share some of my thoughts on moving fast through the wilderness.
Now, no one who’s hiked with me in the past – Mike, Karl, Dan, and all you others – will claim that I’m a speedy hiker! However, I’ve learned a few lessons over many years of hiking, climbing, and mountaineering. I’ve failed to summit mountains in about all the ways you can imagine, many of them time-related.
First lesson: Both “slow and heavy” and “fast and light” travel are dangerous in their own ways. Find your happy medium.
I started as a “slow and heavy” hiker. I would carry everything the AMC recommended in an enormous, heavy pack. However, I found that weight slows you down, throws off your balance, and makes you prone to injuries. And, if you go too slowly, you incur all kinds of costs, such as the following:
long travel days
frustration at unreached goals
the need for more food and water, due to more on-trail time
afternoon thunderstorms, common in the White Mountains in summer
not being able to reach safety quickly when travel is dangerous
(In some conditions, like winter above tree line, or on multi-pitch rock climbs, these can cost you far more than just summits. Sharpens the mind, I tell you!)
On the other hand, I’ve traveled “fast and light” too. In winter, I’ve been caught shorthanded when I needed certain equipment that I hadn’t brought with me! Also, warm-up hikes for 2020VQ have seen participants running out of water on long days, and that’s never good. Fast hiking over rough terrain can cause injuries, too. People trip and fall, and fatigued hikers make mistakes when they down climb. I tried to keep up with my long-legged trekking companions for two days of downhill in the Himalayas, and my knees hurt for years afterward… ouch!
Therefore, here’s my advice for Team 2020 hikers – and other hikers too – on moving both quickly and safely through the wilderness:
Move fast, but not too fast. Once you’re warmed up, get your body working at a level where you can still converse (between deep breaths), but where you can cover ground quickly and smoothly. Experience, fitness, and good technique help here. Everyone has a “sweet spot” – a speed at which they move most efficiently – and it’s okay for a varied group like 2020VQ to spread out a bit, up and down the trail. On Hale, the leader will go last, to make sure no one is left behind, and we’ll regroup as necessary.
Minimize stop time. Sometimes we all need to rest, or eat, or pee, or adjust boots – but “short” group stops can easily stretch out into ten or fifteen minutes. That’s lost time, and lost momentum. Disciplined habits help here. Need to take your pack off? Do it as soon as you stop, finish what you need to do, and get the pack back on before the group gets ready to go. Can’t find something in your pack? Organize it carefully ahead of time, and memorize where everything goes. Need to “chase a rabbit” in the woods? Drop your pack and go; no need for a group stop. Randy and Quinn will need to stop at certain obstacles (e.g. stream crossings), and those are fine, but we don’t want to add to the total stop time with unnecessary stops. During the Mt. Hale hike, I want to work on shorter group stops, and I’ll be a stinker about it. Team 2020, you have been warned!
Lighten your load. As I said above, a heavy pack is a safety risk. Go through your pack and see what everything weighs, if you’re curious. What can you honestly do without? Can you replace a critical piece of equipment (shell jacket, headlamp, etc.) with a lighter alternative? Can you reduce food weight by carrying dehydrated or dense foods, instead of water-heavy foods like fresh fruit? Of course, some things are necessary no matter what. Just before the Mt. Hale hike, I will see that certain items (Quinn’s gear, first-aid kit, etc.) are distributed fairly among participants, so that Randy, the most injury-prone of us all, gets a lighter load than he’s carried in the past.
Stay fueled and stay cool. Thirst and low blood sugar make you ineffective in all kinds of ways, even before you notice it. I recommend never waiting until a stop to eat or drink, since it may be a while before the next convenient group stop. (Team 2020, we don’t really want to stop Randy and Quinn while they’re “in the zone,” right?) Make sure you have water and small amounts of food accessible to you while you walk, so you don’t even have to stop at all, let alone unpack. In the summer, keep cool to the extent you can. The mountain air is so much more invigorating when you’re not miserably hot!
Which brings me to my last point: a hike shouldn’t be a death march. It’s supposed to be fun! If you’re working yourself to exhaustion, you won’t enjoy it so much. Think, plan, pack, learn the techniques and systems, and stay disciplined, but once you’re out there, smile and enjoy the beautiful surroundings!
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