[The following is Part 2 of a report based on a trip taken in May 2010. The trip was conducted under the guise of The University of New Hampshire Outdoor Education Option and with the cooperation of 2020 Vision Quest. The enormity of this trip coupled with the amount of energy taken to complete it and various life events following prevented me from writing a proper report. The story continues..]
Day 3: Guyot Shelter to Galehead Hut
We woke up rather early on Day 3 and began hasty preparations in order to make use of our time today. Quinn is walking very gingerly. We notice a red rash and swelling has become visible on his under-carriage. As a group we’ve all ready discussed making our way to Galehead Hut as planned and we’d re-assess our situation there. With that, Randy took off with Brent rather early as they began their ascent out of the Guyot Shelter and back up to the ridge. Though we all slept like rocks within the confines of the shelter last night, we are all very much exhausted and still reeling from the day before.
At the junction of Bondcliff Trail and the Twinway, we sit down as a group and discuss everything that transpired the day before. It quickly came to light that much of the class had feared for there lives while hiking along the Bondcliff Ridge, Randy with vertigo and a migrane, Quinn limping, the class out of water. I was quick to remind them that we had all of our provisions for a week upon our backs and death was the furthest thing from reality. This eased the pain some, but the group was still having a tough time coping with the mental stress of this trip.
We come up with a plan to make it to Galehead Hut today and then spend a night under the roof of the shelter. Then tomorrow, a zero day for Randy and Quinn to allow them to regain their health while those who so choose will go out and back to Garfield. With the plan in mind, we began our journey to South Twin, the class taking turns guiding Randy, serving as his eyes, warning him or near every single rock and root under foot. The job we were taking over for Quinn is one of incredible patience and remarkable skill. To think, a dog without a voice, leading his master through these woods without being able to say a nary word.. shocked us all and at the same time, the job was now ours while Quinn continued to nurse his wounds.
Atop South Twin we sat beneath a blazing sun while a small breeze danced across the summit, just strong enough to keep the black flies at bay. Many of us were sporting thousands of red welts all amongst our bodies from the nibbling of their little teeth. As we ate lunch and gazed out across the 360 degree expanse, I stop up high and grabbed Randy’s arm. We spun in a circle with his finger pointed out while we traced the outlines of the many peaks we could see from our vantage point. When we finished Randy looked towards Mount Washington and then down at me. He asked, “Sherpa, I want you to be honest with me. Do you really think it’s possible that I can climb Mount Washington and the rest of these 48 peaks based on what you’ve seen so far?” After brief pause, I looked up at the man who was tired and slightly fatigued from a solid 3 days work and I said, “Randy, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can do anything you put your mind to and I believe that from what I’ve seen here, you’ll do that and more.” Randy welled up with tears and with a crack in his voice he thanked me foe the encouragement.
I then welcomed Randy’s hand upon my pack as I began to lead him the eight-tenths of a mile down to Galehead Hut. In this short distance we’d drop around 1,000 feet in elevation. This section of trail is some of the steepest and rockiest in the Whites. This stairway to heaven would today be our stairway to hell. For the next three-and-a-half hours I’d guide Randy down the mountainside, describing to him every rock and root and with it every hand and foot placement. The further down we got the more exhausted we became. Both of us are incredibly stubborn men, unwilling to give up our fight as a team to the hut. As many students would try to take over for me, I’d wave them off and stand tall on my feet continuing to guide my new friend to our destination. As the class tried to remove his pack and carry it for him or take some of the weight from it, he waved them off and elected to carry it all himself. As we neared the hut, dark storm clouds blew in from the west while thunder rumbled in the distance. We kept our poise, pushed ahead, and made it to the hut before the rains finally came pouring down. Once inside we all cozied into our bunk rooms. We made dinner on the huts stoves and settled in for one of two comfortable nights upon high.
Day 4: “Zero Day” to Garfield
We woke up in the morning and made sure Randy and Quinn were set for a day of rest at the hut. Two of the other students elected to stay back and keep him company, tired themselves from 3 taxing days in the mountains. The rest of us took day packs with us over to Garfield. The section of Garfield Ridge from Galehead hut to the Garfield summit is lauded by most as the toughest miles on all of the Appalachian Trail. As a class we agreed, after seeing it first hand and given Randy’s current condition, that there was no way we’d succeed in making it to Garfield Tentsite on this trip. After hearing Brent’s clown story, we sat upon the old fire tower foundation on the top of Garfield Mountain and soaked in the sun and magnificent views of a perfect day.
Upon returning to the Hut, we enjoyed group games before heading in for dinner. And after dinner, I provided the group with a historical journey of the Pemi while they painted their own Picasso’s of the story I depicted for them. As a group, we had come together in ways unimagineable, thanks to our steadfast approach to adversity. We knew that tomorrow we’d hike down into the valley to complete our evacuation of our trip. No longer looking to complete the Pemi-loop, though happy we’d completed half of it.
Day 5: Galehead Hut to Gale River Road.
I woke up this morning in the zone. I agreed to take on the task of guiding Randy once more. I packed my bag meticulously, finding every way I could to lighten my load and arrange it in a way that maximized comfort. When Randy was ready, we walked off of the porch and back out onto the trail. With our communication in sync and with an idea of how this was going to go, I led Randy across a portion of the Garfield Ridge trail and then we headed down the Gale River trail. He trusted me to be his eyes, once again telling him of every rock and root along the way, every duck every bob and weave. We were a tadem of perfection, ticking off the yards and miles as if both sighted, making our way down off of the mountains and into the valley below. Once we reached the first major crossing of the Gale River, I gave up my guiding to others, but not before receiving thanks and much praise from Randy for what he described as “Better guiding then does Quinn himself.” Proud yet tired, I still reluctantly gave up my duties to another and fell to the back of the line of the hiking group.
After a few more hours of brisk hiking we made it out to Gale River Road. This is where our ride home would pick us up the following morning. For now, a few of us scouted through the woods for a stealthy place to camp. We asked a camper if we could sneak into the woods and camp amongst the trees just past where he’d set up his camper. He agreed to let us. It was here amongst tall grasses along snowmobile trails and old skidder roads that we camped for the night. I swung one last time in my hammock but not until after we debriefed our trip and spoke about the many lessons learned amongst these hills. After one last nights slumber, we packed into the UNH vans and headed home; forever changed people whom had achieved a vision beyond our sight.