Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Starts In Waterville

I have no idea what I'm going to accomplish this winter season in terms of White Mountain exploration. The last few years, I've set the bar pretty high only to come up short time and time again. I have a list of things I know I'd like to do and yet it all had to start somewhere. So, on the first official day of Winter, I put the call out for all comers of the UNH OE program to join me of a hike of Mount Tecumseh, better known as the 4003 Foot Peak of Waterville Valley Ski Area. I managed to wrangle one sucker in... and Marion, a Grad Student, was excited to join me on the adventure.

We left the parking lot of the ski area just before 7:30pm and headed out onto the Mt. Tecumseh Trail. The trail was a well packed highway of about a foot of snow down low. Water still flowed freely at the first river crossing but the higher we ascended up the slope, the deeper the snow got and the more frozen the mountain became as snow/ice bridges were forming well on the other two crossings. It was a rather chilly night, with temps hovering around 10 degrees on the mountain with a stiff westerly wind. Being on the eastern slope of the mountain we were well protected.

We enjoyed great conversation as we steadily climbed the mountain. The only thing we could hear besides our heavy breathing and words, was the pumping of the snowmaking fluid lines. The trail climbs ever so steadily before really increasing in grade making for a somewhat steep climb. We bare booted the entire way without the need of snowshoe or traction devices. The spruce trees above 3000 feet looked like a colony of snow people silently watching us as we moved on by. Our headlamps pierced the darkness and lit up the small tunnel of earth we walked through. I warned Marion that as we made the ridge the wind would whip up for sure and to be ready for it.. it didn't disappoint. As we topped out at the Sosman Trail, the wind cranked in out of the West and chilled me to the bone. We kept moving steadily and made our final approach up the summit cone. As we reached the top, We touched the cairn, stepped to the edge of a tiny outlook and shut our headlamps off and enjoyed the millions of lights above.. and the lights of the valley below. Such a surreal experience.. and if anything else, a wonderful moment of silence for busy lives.

We turned the headlamps back on and made our way over to the ski area. We knew we had arrived with the sound of the wind moaning as it slide through the open areas of the cell tower. We quietly walked on by and then we stepped out into a frigid open expanse. The ski area's main slopes are wide open allowing us an amazing view of Plymouth, NH and Waterville down below. I led us over to the main slope, I sat down on my sled.. and away I went. With my feet out in front of me and using my hiking pole as a rudder, I steered myself down the mountain side at times excellerating to speeds I was not too fond of yet I laughed out loud like a child. Marion hiked down on the side of caution, negotiating the steep slops by walking at the edge of the forest and the groomed trails, often time slipping into a deep spruce trap. I tried my best to control my speed and to ensure that I didn't injure myself and putting her in a bad situation. At times, I just sat down and slide down the icy groomed slope on my butt. It was great fun.. and we made it to the base of the mountain in about an hour.. a 2 mile sledding run I'll never forget.

I'm not a huge fan of winter, but I'd like to think that I started the winter hiking season on a good note. Now, as soon as the new running tights come in, I can get my feet back on the roads and continue to prepare for the year 2010.. running and mountains.. tons of work to do.

Thanks Marion!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Year In Pictures Part 2

To view Part 1 CLICK HERE
2009 was another great year of adventure. This is the continuation of the year in photos. Click on the links above the photos to head back to old reports!

We bushwhacked up Raymond Cataract to continue out 4th of July Traditions.

With Adam and Al we reset the Belknap Range Record
(No Photo)

I finished my 3rd straight Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run in under 24 Hours.

We went backpacking into the Pemi-Wilderness staying at the beautiful 13 Falls Tentsite

Set a 5K PR at the Cigna/Elliot 5K in Manchester 20:04
(No Photo)

Then I spent 5 days backpacking through the White Mountains

I finally became the youngest person to ever complete the TrailWrights72 Peakbagging List

We sought redemption and found it at the Wapack 17.5 Miler

I survived the MUD FEST that was the Vermont 50 - my 4th finish.

Once again, Ran Across the state of New Hampshire for charity.. all 120 miles of it.

I met and ran with a New York Times Bestselling Author

Finally climbed up Lincoln's Throat

And went up and bushwhacked down Carrigain in a pair of Crocs.

And finally.. before the December Rest, I got a chance to lead Erik Weihenmayer and Randy Pierce to the top of Mount A.

2009 was a year full of great adventures and I am very much looking forward to the year that will be 2010. Over the last two posts you've only seen a few pictures of the adventures had and have been supplied with links to my reflections of each. There is not enough time and space to share with you all of the adventures I've had this year.. both internally and in the out of doors. Though I hope through this blog I've had the opportunity to both share my world with you as well as inspire you to believe in yourself and seek out that something new.

It is my only hope that as we make our way through the Christmas and Hanukkah Holidays, you will be safe and warm with your friends and family. You will also welcome and enjoy the New Year and get geared up for a promising 2010. I'm not talking about my 2010.. I'm talking about YOUR 2010. Together, we will accomplish great things as we all strive to live this life for all that it's worth. Left Right Repeat.. Human Potential... it's inside you!

Sherpa John

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seeing is Believing

Monday, December 7, 2009
York Water District, Maine
Mount Agamenticus

I recieved an e-mail from one of my professors, Brent Bell, about joining him for a hike on Monday. It's not foten that a professor randomly invites me to hike with him so I was intrigued from the get go. After a little discussion I knew this was an opportunity I did not want to pass up as the company for the hike is both inspiring and honorable. So I agreed to go along, yet little did I know that Brent was making me a guide for a day to the top of tiny Mount A.

I met Brent at his house and we then carpooled over to New Castle where we met the rest of the group at Wentworth By The Sea. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was easy to recognize that this was our group. Randy Pierce was walking through the parking lot being led by his guide dog. Randy is 100% blind, the effects of a neurological disorder if I remember correctly. Quinn is his guide dog and best friend and they make a wonderful team. With them is Kara, one of Randy's friends from college. What also sets Randy a part in the crowd is that he was the 2001 Patriots Fan of the year. He is a current season ticket holder, seats given to him by Teddy Brushi himself. Randy is on a mission to climb the 48, 4000 foot mountains of New Hampshire.


And then there was Skylar.. Skylar is Erik's guide. An accomplished climber, Erik Weihenmayer became the only blind man in history to reach the summit of the world's highest peak - Mount Everest on May 25, 2001. On August 20, 2008, when he stood on top of Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest peak in Austral-Asia, Weihenmayer completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits - the highest peak on every continent. Skylar goes most everywhere with Erik, best friends of course as Skylar serves as Erik's guide. Erik also has a guide dog, whom we did not have the chance to meet. She slept all bundled up back at the hotel.

They all piled into their vehicle and Brent and I led the way over to Mount A. But before we left, we had a small introductory conversation in the parking lot in the hotel where I finally realized my role.. Brent had recruited me to play guide.. and I had no idea. The group was charged and ready to go and I was the one who was going to lead us to the mountain and then get us to the top. I had no idea what to expect.. but what I got in return was one of the most empowering experiences of the year.

We followed the directions Brent and I had dug up on the web before heading over to the mountain. I had no idea if we were going the right way or not... but as far as the rest of the group knew.. I was an expert on Mount A. I'd only actually been there once before when I ran to the top with my good friend Al. The drive over is all of 18 miles or so.. but its all Maine backroads, taking us a whole 30-40 minutes to get there. We turned onto an ice covered dirt road and soon came to a sign that said, "Road Closed in Winter." I looked carefully at the hiking map we downloaded and speculated our location on the map. The group turned around thinking we had arrived at the wrong side of the mountain. Based on my knowledge of the terrain on this side.. I agreed. Yet we asked some hunters what was up the road ahead.. we liked their answer. So we turned back around and parked just 200 yards up the icy path.

We got out of the vehicles and I watched everyone get ready. I was in rare sherpa form. I showed up in a pair of fleece pants, no poles, no pack.. just me myself and I. After all, Mount A is only 750 feet tall and the trip is not that strenuous. Yet it was enough for our group to enjoy a day in the out of doors. Erik and Randy had been pen palling for quite some time as Randy prepares for his tour of the 48. The purpose of this meeting was for he and Erik to finally meet and pick each others brains. Me? It was my job to get these guys to the top of a mountain. They are both blind, I'm naieve.. and my nerves are in rare form. I felt lost, concerned.. even humbled. And then we started hiking.

As we started off down the trail I gave as clear a description as I could. We're going to walk past a gate in a minute. There is about 2 inches of fluffy snow on the ground, beautiful powder. It's hanging from the evergreens so sprly and causing them to dip low. A set of ATV tracks mark the trail as we can clearly see that hunters are out and about. Randy smiles and thanks me for the fine description.. and we carry on. I march in front at a rather comfortable pace. Not too fast and certainly not too slow. And then... the climbing began.

From the map I knew what the trail ahead looked like. There were other ways to take but I was unsure of mileage and we were under a time window. I knew this trail, Vultures View, had plenty fo slab under the snow and ice. I wondered if the group would manage. I got nervous.. I even cringed, yet I continued forward determined to give these guys the test I felt they wanted and craved. I mean.. one of these guys at least had been up Everest... EVEREST... BLIND!

The trail got steeper and icy. I lead us off trail and slightly into the bushes or woods where I could to give the guys a break, offer some traction and some form of safety. The higher up the hill we got, the more impressed I became. Skylar wore a bell and Erik simply followed the faint jingle jingle with each one of his steps. The mighty Quinn led Randy expertly up the slope, stopping at low hanging limps and waiting at exceptionally steep sections. Yet in the entire way up the mountain, Randy fell but once, he got up, brushed himself off and let Quinn show him the way once more.

Upon reaching the summit we painted the picture for them as we hiked to the summit tower. We climbed the short set of stairs to the top and faced Northwest. Erik did an amazing job of pointing to where he thought Lake Winnepesaukee would be located. Low hanging overcast prevented us from seeing any peaks of considerable distance away. One a clear day you can see the Belknap Range in the lakes Region and even Mount Washington and the Presidential Range out afar. While those of us with vision enjoyed what limited views we had, I marvelled at the amount of joy exuded on the faces of these fine gentlemen who must rely on their other senses to enjoy the beauty on high.

We descended from the tower and walked over towards the summit house. This is an old ski lodge that we learned they were turning into a Conservation Center for families. Randy and Erik then asked about the history of the hill. We didn't know it, so we made something up about the idians seeing the american's and british fighting in the 1700s. And the I spotted an information board. I walked over and read what I could. It is speculated that John cabot himself spotted Mount A from sea back in the 1490's making this hill the first spotted land mass by an explorer. In the 1800's, Oak was harvested from the mountain to be made into Charcoal. And in the 1940's, the summit was clear cut to be made into an Army Barracks. Why? Because the first land radar tower in America was erected here during the war.

Now it was time to head back to the car. I lead the group down Witch Hazel to the Ring then down Goosefoot to the Cedar Trail. On the way up the mountain I hiked with Erik and Skylar. On the way down I enjoyed some time with Randy, Quinn and Kara. We talked about ultra-running, hiking the 48 and creating a non-profit. Randy wants to hike the 48 to raise money for a local foundation dedicated to creating better living for the blind. His project 20/20 has not yet gotten off it's feet but when it days I'll post more here.

Upon reaching the car back down at the base of the Mountain, I felt in absolute awe of these gentlemen. Two blind men, making the most out of life still engaging in what they are most pationate about. And even thought they can't enjoy the view beyond what lies behind their own darkness, they can suredly enjoy the view within. Randy and I talked about this in great detail on the way down the mountain, in how the journey one endures on the inside is much greater then the one experienced on the outside. For this, I was in a way jealous of their disability, perhaps if I was blind I too could see.

We got back into the cars and headed over to Kittery for Lunch. Turns out Erik and I have a few mutual friends and we enjoyed talking about them greatly. I also enjoyed talking with Erik about the Primal Quest he participated in, various other hikes and the joys of living in Golden, CO. I can honestly say that through this hike I was greatly humbled. To see that even when blind, these men have so much to see and even more to share. Did I guide them up a mountain? No.. they guided me. They guided me in much more than a hike up a silly little hill. It was a true joy to share some vision with others, both of the land and of the "landscape."
(Erik and I)

Believing is achieving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Carrigain In Crocs

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Mount Carrigain - 4,680'
Pemigewassett Wilderness, NH
Outdoor Education Community Event

There is nothing worse then having an amazingly gorgeous day to hike, and when you've driven a half hour out from home you realize that you've forgotten your hiking boots or shoes. So as I glanced down at my feet while Gilly asked if I wanted to turn around, I smiled and quickly answered that hiking in my crocs would be just fine. A silly notion for sure, but thats how it was about to play out either way.

Upon arriving in the parking lot off of Sawyer River Road, I noticed the vehicle of the infamous "HikerEd" sitting in the shade. Ed has hiked all 48 four-thousand foot mountains in NH some 49+ times. He's is a legend to most and a friend to many more. With a smile rivaled only by the cheshire cat himself, I couldn't wait to run into Ed and his group of hikers. While Gilly and Nate laced up their boots, I simply sauntered out of the car in my red crocs, smiled, shook my head and got ready to go.

As soon as we hit the trail I was able to see the kinds of problems hiking in crocs would pose for me this day. The bottoms of my indestructible shoe contained no traction as I've worn them clean and they slip and slide on the litany of fallen leaves. If I stepped in any mud, my feet would slide from side to side. There were pockets of standing water hidden under the leaves and given the holes in my crocs, if I accidentally stepped into one of these puddles, my foot would then be automatically soaked. Other then the aforementioned, hiking in the crocs was VERY comfortable and enjoyable.

The forest is mostly naked this time of year. The leaves are off of the trees and nestled into the cracks and crevices of the forest floor. This is both good and bad. While I miss the green canopy of summer, one is now afforded exceptional views typically unseen when the forest is full. We could hear the wind lightly dancing through the trees and the branches lightly rattled together. The higher we climbed, the cooler it got and on this magnificent day where the Valley Temps reached into the 50's, we were chilled by temps in the 30's up high. It is very much winter in these mountains, snow or not.

As we made it to the rocky switchbacks of the Signal Ridge Trail, we had finally caught up to HikerEd's group. They were resting and grabbing sips of fluids as well as enjoying a variety of snacks. Of course, I'm not one to turn down Ed's offer of chocolate. After introductions and a bit of jovial conversation, we decided to move along ahead of this group and make our bid for the summit. As we climbed ever higher, the conversation behind me got a little shorter and quieter. Gilly and Nate were doing an amazing job in keeping up with me, but it was obvious they were ready for some views.. especially since Gilly kept asking how much further it'd be.

And just as we'd leisurely walked into the woods a few hours before, we leisurely walked out into the sky. "Hey Gilly.. we're on the ridge.. enjoy." "Really?!" With as much excitement as she could contain, we all walked out onto Signal Ridge and enjoyed the views all around. And then, Gilly mentioned she thought it would be better. To this very moment I have no idea if she was being sarcastic in her expression about one of the finer views in the Whites. We took photos, paused for reflection, told more jokes and then pressed on to the summit. GIlly asked to here the story of the Waterman's.. I gladly told her what I knew from my research over the years.

In reaching the summit we climbed the old fire tower to take in the 365 degree views of these white mountains. 46 of the 48 4,000 Footers are visible from this peak. I had a hard time remembering the last time I had even been here. I was turned around in 2008 because of a thunderstorm... I think it was 2007 when I was here last with Sarah over the Memorial Day weekend. As the chilly winds blew across the summit, I thought back to the time I was here in Winter... and vowed to come back. After enjoying the views we decided to descend off the tower to eat our lunch. HikerEd and his group joined us on the top and all of us enjoyed entertaining the Gray Jays with some snacks to bring back to their nests.

After the feeding frenzy I sat down upon the stones under the tower and looked at the map. I asked GIlly and Nate how they felt about a bushwhack, they were all for it. SO I went over to HIkerEd and asked him if he had ever 'whacked off of Signal Ridge down to the Valley Below. He told me of a whack he'd done on the opposite side to bag another peak, but never what I proposed. We agreed that it would probably be open most of the way given the forest's nature. I agreed, took my group, and we headed back down to Signal Ridge. Once we reached the ridge, we glanced down off the steep side of the mountain and could see what looked like a large drainage down below. That became our target. Just as we were stepping off of the ridge, Gilly saw someone she knew (what else is new) and she said hello. Her friend's father gave us a puzzling look and asked if we were descending on a trail he never heard of, "Nope.. it's called bushwhacking... kinda like what hunters do." And with that, we slinked off of ridge, me in my crocs, into the unknown.

The upper reaches of the mountainside was a mix of thick spruce and deep deep moss. The moss was the most dangerous part. As it flowed over the stones and roots it did an amazing job of hiding many small crevasses, one wrong or unsuspecting step and your leg would easily fall a few feet down into nothingness. We played this delicate came for a short while as I led our group across the slope to the most open areas I could find. For the most part, we descended a few hundred feet before really getting into it with the forest. We then had a hell of a time pushing, pulling and of course weaving our way through the woods, but thankfully I was with the two most adventurous kids I could find. Laughing and smiling the entire way down hill, it seemed as though nothing was going to ruin the very spirit of our hike. We were having an amazing time engaged in adventure.

The hardest part for me was keeping my crocs on my feet. Every once in awhile one would slip off and I'd have to backtrack to retrieve it. I was thankfully for the copious amounts of moss that graced the mountain. Never once did I find a place to injure or compromise my feet, I was very pleased. I then spotted a more defined drainage off to our right, so I headed right for it. When I first got there it was easy to see that the thick intertwined network of branches made for a touch whack down through the rocks. I led us back into the woods for another 300 yards or so and we re-emerged out onto the drainage. It was wide open from here as we began to bleed elevation quickly. The further down we got the more open the drainage became.. and then... we found a rock slide.

We sauntered out of the thicker woods onto a wide open swatch of talus. It didn't matter where we stepped, the earth let go beneath us. Rocks slide all around us, carrying us down with it in a sulfur scented avalanche if we were not careful. Quick footwork was the key, which was hard in crocs, to make it down unscathed. With each step I took I felt the earth leave me, I ended up surfing down on the largest rocks I could find. As the tidal wave of rocks moved beneath me, others came down behind me, chasing my feet and as I stopped, I felt my ankles get pummeled from all angles with heavy sharp shards of rock... for some reason I loved it.

The further down we got, the larger the rocks got. As we scampered down I dove deep into my best Keith King impression. Keith is a pioneer of outdoor education and I had Gilly and Nate rolling with my dialogue. Our laughter echoed off of the rock strewn walls of the drainage we were in. ONe drainage after another filtered into the one we were in. Once small and almost unnoticeable, we were not walking down a pile of rocks wide enough to stick a two lane road into. We could hear the rushing of water close by as we started to grow annoyed with the constant rock hopping. Soon, water appeared to flow up form the earth and begin it's cascade downhill and eventually towards the ocean. Down lower we came to an opening to our right and upon pausing, I was taken a back by the sight of a magnificent waterfall. Water simply trickled over the edges of rocks. I'd love tobe back here during a heavy rain or after spring run off. It was amazing. Just up ahead, I noticed the river and drainage taking a hard right, it was time to duck back off to the left so back into the woods we go.

Once we scampered up the steep river bank, we entered into the forest of beechnuts and striped maple. This was moose country for sure with droppings a plenty. I wanted Nate and Gilly to get the true effects of finding their way out of the woods, so I pushed ahead at a quick clip. I kept them with ear shot while I remained mostly quiet in my travels. I found a HUGE fungi and left a story written on it, placing it neatly in the woods for another whacker to see... maybe some day. I eventually came to the trail where I settled myself down amongst the leaves and rested quietly while I heard Nate and Gilly thrash around amongst the brush. As I expected, they were drifting too far to the left while I sat to the right.. I hooted like an owl a few times to lure them towards me and it eventually worked. They emerged from the wood, unscathed minus a few scratches and holes in their clothing, but in the end... accomplished bushwhackers.

From here, we shuffled along through the leaves on our way out of the woods discussing an arrange of interesting topics, telling inappropriate jokes and even leading each other into hidden swaths of shin deep water (Thanks Gilly). I'm always ever amazed at the power of the Pemi. As we followed the old railroad bed back out of these woods, I was humbled to know once more than I am merely one walking amongst a forest of ghosts. But everything here in these woods contains a power beyond what is conceivable. Something here makes me feel whole again. Something here makes me feel at peace... something here makes me so alive. As we walked out of the woods, I was very thankful that I could bring at least two others to this place to perhaps experience what I do here... something beyond human... something real. Something.. amazing. I never asked them... but I can only hope within themselves they did.

When we reached the car I was jealous that they could slip into their crocs and be comfy. My feet were achey for sure! We saw Ed and his group huddled around his truck sucking down some PBR's. He offered us some libations to which we gladly accepted. We stood around and talked about this Grand and Magnificent place.. and I couldn't help but wonder what my next adventure here-in would be.. where to next..

Hiking in crocs wasn't bad at all. Some in the hiking community would scold me saying that I "need" or "should" hike in boots with ankle support. My response... you "need" or "should" live a little. Nothing in this life is black and white and you make your own adventures. Go out there and make some. Will I bushwhack in crocs again?? Not if I can help it!

Happy Trails