by Randy Pierce
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!