By Randy Pierce
I trust you will all indulge me with a rather personal approach to this week’s blog. Usually our goal is to rotate themes from inspiration, dogs, blindness, education, and/or hiking. I share this incident because it was so powerfully moving for me and because it came at such an ideal moment in my present quest. While it may seem like a hiking tale, I assure you it is something even more powerful.
On Friday, February 17th, Justin, Dina, Quinn, and I undertook a Winter “Bonds Traverse” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This 23.2-mile journey over 4 significant and very remote mountain summits is the longest such traverse in the quest for the single season 48. The journey began at 7:30 in the morning to light falling snow and sustained an array of emotions and experiences along the way.
The first peak, Mt. Zealand, came after 9 miles of work, the latter part involving respectable steady steep hiking. This was our last chance to realistically turn around before we were committed for the duration, though turning around there would have still meant an 18-mile day!
On the summit of Mt. Guyot, which doesn’t technically count as one of the 48, we found ourselves in a full-on snowstorm with no visibility for the sighted, reasonably steady and intense winds and a hunt for the cairns which would guide us onward to the most remote location, West Bond. But we knew the skies would clear and our spirits were as high as the bonds of friendship which brought us together on the hike. Those bonds brought us to West Bond and a reasonable clearing that afforded views of the Pemi wilderness and the surrounding sentinel summits which swelled our spirits.
We arrived at Mt. Bond in a clear and calm day of beauty from which it seemed the entirety of the White Mountain splendor was unveiled in full majestic wonder. We took the time to savor all of it and to count ourselves so very fortunate for the accuracy of the good forecast and the dedication which had brought us through the early challenge to the sweetness of this reward.
With the invigoration of our progress, we began the long and challenging descent from Bond to Bondcliff. Fairly quickly, we were struck by the ferocity of the wind which gusted mightily as Quinn and I battled from snowfield to snowdrift in the steady long steepness of the saddle. Sound was whipped past our ears instantly and the progress of our team was totally dependent on Quinn’s eyes and my trust in my companions’ ability to oversee our work and interrupt if necessary. It was wild and unbridled adventure and it stoked the fire of my spirit even further.
When Bondcliff’s mass eventually gave shelter from the wind, we ascended in a tranquility which seemed eerie given the battle of mere moments prior. Bondcliff was my second of the 4K peaks and the first in my first traverse. I still recall the UNH crew sharing my struggles and our feelings of conquest upon that summit. This return trip in winter came with so many differences and our stay was short since long miles still awaited. Thus began a hike of much reflection.
My journey into hiking the 48 this winter began at the inspiration and motivation of my friend Bob Hayes, and for the next many miles I brought thoughts of him along with me in reflection of how much he taught me, how much he shared with me, and how much he had worked with me to get me so far along this journey. I would likely not have begun nor come so far without him. This was my first winter hike without him which brought some significant disappointment for many reasons which shall remain personal to me for the moment. Like the somber drifting of my mood in this reflection, the snow had gone soft and mushy in the warmth beyond Bondcliff and down to the Wilderness trail. As darkness descended upon us and the snow grabbed and held at our feet, parts of this long day began to feel a bit like a slog.
When we reached the suspension bridge into Lincoln Woods, the trail firmed up and Quinn’s eager resolve did likewise as he took over from the break Justin had provided him on the descent of Bondcliff. We set a fast and steady pace and weary muscles and joints were called to rise up to the challenge of 12 long hours out in the White Mountain Wilderness. As our final turn to success arrived at the final suspension bridge to where we would find our cars, I shared the emotional surge within me: “I’m so happy right now that I could almost cry.” Before Justin, Dina or Quinn could respond we heard a shout of “Woohoo! – Congratulations!” in the familiar voice of my wife
Tracy! She had surprised us by driving up and waiting there in the dark for us to emerge so she could give us that inspirational boost. There was no “almost” about my response as I was overcome by the love for and from her…and my eyes did shed the tears of joy I felt so well.
I could not forget how I feel about my companions on the journey, my companions of every prior journey, and the experiences of that particular day. They are only magnified by the exclamation, the crescendo, the pure inspiration and motivation shared so beautifully by the loving choice made by Tracy. I can only know for certain how appreciative and fortunate I feel by the many positive gifts of so many people along my way. I will always attempt to express this in all the ways I reasonably know and yet often will fall short. The measure of success I hope does exist should be in all of those people knowing how well they have impacted my life – especially my very fantastic wife. Thank you all!