Saturday, March 10, 2012

Witnessing a Vision Realized on Cannon

This was a day of many emotions for me.  It was an incredible day and a wonderful hike, but it was so much more.  Where to begin...

In August of 2004 we hiked our first 4000 footer in the White Mountains.  We had started coming to NH with our daughter several years before and introducing her to the magic of the mountains.  Our hikes with her went from walking in the woods and discovering the White Mountain waterfalls to hiking small peaks.  On our visit in August of 2004 when Jamie was 9 years old she decided we needed to hike a bigger mountain.  The last time we had been up Cannon was in 1980 - long before Jamie was born.  We took the tram up with our best friends and sat on the ledges below the rim trail.  On that day I thought of returning someday to hike some of these mountains.  It had been a long time coming.  On that day the mountain looked very high.  There was no thought in our mind about it counting on "the list".  We didn't know there was a list.  We had a wonderful day.  When we had almost reached the top Jamie turned to me and said breathlessly "this is better than going to Disney World".  That was one of the happiest moments of my life.  That day we took the tram down.  It had been a great hike up - we didn't feel the need to hike down again.  If you don't hike both directions though, it doesn't "count".

Several years later Nat and I started hiking the 4000 footers and doing "the list".  It was never about doing the list as much as it was a map to a series of amazing places.  We were never disappointed about being on any of those summits.  As we continued over the next few years we knew that we were going to do them all (and hopefully many others as well).  I started thinking (as many others do) where we should finish.  I had decided that Cannon should be the place.  It was somewhere that would be easy to share with our friends if they wanted to join us, but it would be the perfect way to finish what we had started all those years ago.  But the best laid plans...

The last two winters we'd seen so many incredible photos of winter hiking on Cannon.  Not only the beautiful walks along the ridge, but the amazing views to Franconia Ridge (my favorite place in the Whites) and the other surrounding peaks.  Maybe we didn't need to save it for last.  With no winter hiking last year I really wanted some good ones this winter.  Cannon beckoned.  In the last couple of weeks there were additional practicalities.  A new pair of boots that needed breaking in before some potential long hikes next week.  Cannon would be the ideal place.  We planned a hike for this Sunday and then a friend (Kevin)  mentioned to me an event that we might want to be involved in.  Randy Pierce, a blind hiker, and his seeing eye dog Quinn were planning to finish an amazing accomplishment - a single season winter 48 (hiking all 48 of the New Hampshire in the three months between the first day of winter and the first day of spring in the same year) - on Cannon on Saturday.  I had followed Randy's 2020 Vision Quest when he began in 2010 but had not been keeping track of his recent plans and wasn't aware this was coming.  If you don't know Randy's story you can read about it here:  It's simply amazing.

Watching the weather forecast for the weekend Saturday was looking iffy and Sunday much better.  This was a case though where a bluebird day wasn't the most important criteria.  I wondered how often Randy   thought about the weather before his hikes.  Blue skies vs. clouds weren't very important for him.  A sobering thought.  As we drove up Rt 93 on Saturday morning we went through several snow squalls that promised a new frosting on the mountain.  The weather had called for this for most of the day along with mostly cloudy skies. Not a problem.  By the time we pulled into the parking lot the skies had cleared and the brilliant blue was only punctuated by some drifting cotton candy clouds.  It's not always bad when the weatherman is wrong.

We got ourselves packed up and on the trail 40 minutes or so before the planned time for Randy's group.  We knew that it would be a big crowd and had decided to get ahead and wait for them at the top.  As we began our way up the Kinsman Ridge trail a flood of memories and thoughts entered my head.

Blue skies to begin an amazing day

Starting up the Kinsman Ridge Trail

Sculpture from the early morning snow

Nat making her way up

The KRT has a totally different character in winter.  All of the summer ruts and roots are gone under the winter white cushion.  What it doesn't lose is its steepness.  From the trailhead to the top of Cannon cliffs it is pretty much unrelenting.  I really didn't notice it yesterday.  This trail is interesting for another reason in the winter as well - it coincides with the Kinsman Glades ski trail.  It alternates between switchbacking across the trail and being one and the same path.  There were lots of skiers out on this beautiful day and we had to avoid playing bumper cars with them on numerous occasions.  We shook our heads multiple times at the thought that people would find it fun to basically ski through the woods.  A few of them stopped to talk to us and asked us about the hike.  The couldn't believe that people would want to walk up the mountain when there was a perfectly good ski lift on it.  To each their own...

Ski trails on the lower section of Kinsman Ridge

First views appearing

Into the blue

Apparently some people find this to be fun

Nature's sculpture

Many times on the way up I thought of that first hike with Jamie.  We passed several points that I could remember stopping for pictures.  I tried to remember what I was thinking then.  I'm sure it wasn't about what we were doing today.  As we approached the top of Cannon cliffs and the trail leveled off we entered the winter wonderland that I had pictured here.  Many new thoughts began to whirl through my head...

New frosting

What a beautiful section of trail

Winter wonderland

Franconia Ridge appears over Cannon cliffs

We turned off the trail and out to the view point on top of the cliffs.  It is hard to imagine a scene more beautiful than this.  We met another group and chatted for a while and swapped cameras to get our group portraits.  This is one of those places where you can be absolutely absorbed by the beauty, but today there was something that I simply couldn't get out of my mind.  Just a short way behind us Randy's group was coming up the ridge and would soon be in this spot.  What would it be like to be here and not see this incredible sight?  There is no way that I can understand.  I don't think I've ever felt such sadness and joy together at the same time.

Nat and I on Cannon cliffs

The last time we were here - 8 years ago

No words can describe this view

The summit peeking up ahead

Franconia Ridge splendor

Nat on the edge

Feeling very small

We left the viewpoint and headed for the summit.    As we left, the first of Randy's group had started to catch up and the rest were close behind.  It was a beautiful walk through the col and up to the top.  We took the long way around the Rim Trail and arrived at the base of the tower to find Randy's welcoming committee waiting.

Almost to the top

Looking back

We're here

Tower on the tower

We headed up the tower to take in the amazing views and get our summit photo.  There were a few other folks up there including Boo and Mad Hatter who we knew of through the forums but were meeting for the first time.  Always great to meet more of the folks in this wonderful community.  Boo was nice enough to take our summit pictures for us.

Nat and I with our frozen friend.  Cannon makes #36 (winter #5)

Thanks for the great shots Boo!

Kinsmans from the tower

More angles on Franconia Ridge.  I never get tired of this view

We'd only been on the tower a short time when we heard the cheers from below as Randy, Quinn and his large group of supporters came out of the trees and onto the summit.  It was an amazing moment.  Words aren't needed here - the pictures tell the story...

Randy and Quinn leading the way to the summit

The celebration begins

First congratulations from Tracy.  Success indeed!

A very high five from Justin!

The first award is announced

It's in Randy's pack

And it's a...  (And guess who carried it up)

Guess Tracy is saving it for later

Quinn explores as the celebration continues

Cath begins Quinn's award presentation

The F.L.E.A. Order of the Golden Biscuit

And whereas Quinn...

And also...

A kiss for the award winner

Yea Quinn!

Dave Bear and Thor taking in the festivities

And now for Quinn's next award

Lunch!  Quinn's ready!

Can I have it now?  Please??

OK Quinn!  Good dog!


What this man has been able to accomplish in the last few years and even more in the last three months goes beyond a tribute to the human spirit.  I think about the days that I've complained about the weather or the drive or how hard some part of a hike has been.  It makes me feel ashamed.  How often we forget what we have and how fortunate we are.  Today more than ever I thought about just how blessed we've been.  I don't know that I'll ever be able to stand on a mountaintop again without thinking about Randy.  Every view is a thing to be cherished.

We had our lunch and headed down.  It was an uneventful trip and and we once again enjoyed the spectacular views along the way.  Some dark clouds moved in as we went an obscured much of the brilliant blue for a while.  It really didn't matter anymore.

Skier getting ready to head through the scrub.  Tough path!

Frosting and cotton candy

Nat heading through the col

Snow sculpture

Ski trail through the glade

A young skier negotiating the glades

Everyone agrees - this was a very happy day!

We had plans to meet friends later for dinner in Boston and had some time to kill so on the way back we stopped at the Flume Gorge and took another walk and checked out the ice.  The last climbers of the day were leaving just as we arrived.  It was a beautiful and peaceful place to end our day in the mountains.

Mt Flume over the covered bridge leading to the gorge

Pemigewasset River

Flows beneath the snow

Ice heading into Flume Gorge

Flume Gorge

We drove back to Boston and met Erich, Gloria, Chris, Cindy, Corey and Bethany for dinner.  It was wonderful seeing old friends and meeting a couple of new ones.  It was an evening filled with good food, conversation and laughter.  Much of the talk was not surprisingly about hiking.  Stories of trips past and plans for those to come.  It was another reminder, as had been seeing the group that came together to celebrate Randy's finish, what a wonderful community this is.  We're so glad that we're able to be a part of it.  And today more than ever I was reminded of one of my favorite John Muir quotes -

Going to the mountains is going home.  ~ Amen.

All the pictures are here if you prefer the slide show: