by Randy Pierce
Achieving the summit of Mount Washington on our Inaugural 2020 Vision Quest hike was a tremendous success. Reaching the lives of many people with our tale and our message is an overwhelming and hopefully ever-increasing success. Having the incredible experience of the journey, the struggle and the accomplishment is an unmitigated success, and stands as an example of what I think is the essence of my very fortunate life.
Over the last day, I’ve been evaluating a particular aspect of our journey. It’s something that challenged us to look at success with new eyes. It’s a facet of the trip about which I’m incredibly proud.
Our plan was to climb the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail to AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut. There we would evaluate the time, the weather, and the group’s condition and then either summit Washington and return to the hut or summit Monroe (a closer peak) and return to the hut. On the second day we would summit whichever of the two we had missed and return to the appropriate trailhead either via the Jewell trail or the Edmands trail.
On Sunday July 4, we spent 8 pretty challenging and amazingly fantastic hours working the 2.4 miles to Lakes of the Clouds. We had all exerted significant amounts of energy to reach the hut. Doing the math, we saw clearly that making a Washington summit attempt that evening would be a hefty challenge. Washington was a 1.4 mile journey up some challenging and new (to me) hiking terrain. We anticipated that at our speed, the round trip time would be near to the 8 hours we’d just spent going a similar distance. For both time and exertion reasons, we agreed to forego a summit bid that evening. We were also well aware that this decision had a very serious impact on how much work remained ahead of us. We knew there would be much to address during our evening evaluation, but in the meantime, we decided to enjoy ourselves. Our crew had two folks and one dog take the resting option while the rest of us made for the peak of Monroe with no packs and minimal equipment. We did that .6 mile journey in 2 hours counting time to celebrate at the summit pin.
After dinner we had a serious talk about our prospects. We were looking at a roughly 14-hour hike minimum for Monday if we wanted to achieve the Washington crown and get back down to the trailhead. I had done such a day in the Pemigewasset Wilderness with the UNH Outdoor Education class. I realized how tremendously challenging that type of day was for everyone. We also needed to consider that at the end of the hike our group was facing a three hour drive home. These factors combined to create a significant amount of risk, both on and off the trail. We thought about what we were accomplishing and what we had learned from the experience. We had considerable confidence we could shave off several hours in future journeys with a slightly different approach to a few things. Most importantly, we knew we had an amazing experience in full swing and it would not be lessened by choosing a safer approach. Our quintessential message is that we are always reaching higher and savoring the adventure; putting that much additional risk into the journey wasn’t worthy of us or our goals. We listed multiple options, did some quick research and then shared our thoughts and ultimately came to a decision together.
Sitting outside the hut in the windy mountain twilight, we decided as a group to set our sights on the Washington summit – visible to us from our vantage point – early the next morning after the AMC breakfast. We anticipated roughly four hours of climbing and then left room for some evaluation, but would likely use the Cog railway to transport our crew down in whatever shifts would be required to get us all back to the trailhead. This meant that neither Washington nor Monroe would qualify as mountains climbed on my list of the 48 because that requires you climb to the summit and hike back down as well. We knew this. In a moment I think none of us will ever forget, we unanimously vowed that we would not only return to the mountain and achieve the requirements but would do it with our very same group who had bonded in so many life-enriching ways through this trip.
Tonight I was reminded of a quote regarding the Apollo 13 mission; it was termed “a Successful Failure.” While we did not fulfill the requirements to add these mountains to our list of the 48, we were living our credo for Team 2020. We had savored an incredible experience, driven ourselves to reach incredible heights of both geography, determination and community. We had accomplished much and were already set to reach higher still when next we return to this mountain.
The mountain’s original name was “Agiocochook ” in the language of the Abenaki Indians; it means “Home of the Great Spirit.” There is nobody in our group who doubts that all eleven of us in this journey proved that name quite true. We all had tremendous spirit in our journey and in our accomplishment. When we say it is about the journey and not the destination we offer the success of this trip as living proof of our beliefs.