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  • Staff photo by JONATHAN VAN FLEET
    Blind hiker Randy Pierce congratulates his friend and guide dog Quinn at the summit of Cannon Mountain Saturday. They became the first blind man and service dog to hike all of New Hampshire's 4,000-footers in one winter season. Quinn was given a special award at the top from Cath Goodwin on behalf of the Four-Legged Explorers Association.
  • Staff photo by JONATHAN VAN FLEET
    Randy Pierce and Quinn both received the same medal at the conclusion of their last hike. Surrounded by a gold ring is a photo of the two of them together.
  • Staff photo by JONATHAN VAN FLEET
    Quinn rolls in the snow during an “off-duty” break on the Kinsman Ridge Trail in March 2012. Quinn, a service dog owned by Randy Pierce, of Nashua, below, died of cancer on Jan. 20.
  • Staff photo by JONATHAN VAN FLEET
    Members of the hiking party stop for a group photo at a lookout along the backside of Cannon Mountain. You can see across Franconia Notch at Mount Lafayette, Lincoln and Little Haystack.
  • Staff photo by JONATHAN VAN FLEET
    Justin Fuller, left, pauses for a moment with Randy Pierce and Quinn during their final 4,000-footer summit. Fuller hiked 42 of the peaks with Pierce and Quinn this season and finished his second round of 48 peaks in one winter on Saturday.
  • Staff photo by JONATHAN VAN FLEET
    Quinn wears a harness that Randy Pierce holds on to while they hike.
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Blind Nashua native climbs all 48 4,000-footers in NH with help of guide dog

At 12:15 p.m. Saturday, at the top of Cannon Mountain, Randy Pierce gently let go of his dog Quinn’s harness.

Pierce, with snow on his hat left over from where his head hit a frozen branch, leaned over and gave Quinn a quick hug around his neck with an ungloved hand.

“You’re a good boy, Mr. Quinn,” Pierce said. “You’re a good boy.”

Even though Pierce’s eyes can no longer see, they can still shed a tear. For hundreds of miles, thousands of hours and millions upon millions of steps, Pierce and Quinn accomplished Saturday what no blind person and guide dog had done before – hike all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers in one winter.

“I’m going to look back at what we accomplished this winter, and I’m going to be very proud of this little dog and myself and all my friends who made this possible,” Pierce said from the summit.

Only three people and their dog companions have hiked all 48 peaks in one winter, and all of them could see. In total, only 46 people have done the same thing on their own two feet.

“It stands for what people can accomplish if they have a goal and they’re willing to put some work into it,” said Pierce, a Nashua native. “It’s really limitless. The sky is the limit on this.”


Hiking in the winter is no easy task. Many people have died from exposure in these mountains, despite their best preparations.

For a blind man, winter has those same dangers, maybe more, but it also has its advantages.

Without sight, the smallest things, like clipping a buckle on a backpack or reaching and opening a water bottle, often require the assistance of others. If Pierce did all of these things himself, he’d have to rely on his sense of touch, which is nearly impossible given the freezing temperatures and the fact that bare hands become numb fast.

“If I were to do this alone, I don’t think I would have succeeded,” Pierce said.

On the plus side, snow-covered trails are actually much easier for Pierce to navigate than exposed trails in the summer months.

“The twisted, rocky, rooty messes that most people call a stream bed, and we call hiking trails, are very different to put your foot on when you are blind,” Pierce explained.


On the way up the trail, one member of the hiking group had stopped just off the trail for a minute.

As Quinn neared, he paused, alerting Pierce to a potential problem.

“What’s up, buddy? What you got?” Pierce said to Quinn like someone talks to an old friend. “Up, up. Go ahead.”

Quinn proceeded slowly, and Pierce kicked a strewn backpack.

“Oh, I see what you got,” Pierce said.

Farther up the trail, Pierce stopped for a sip of water and let Quinn know he was off-duty for a while. The 7-year-old yellow Labrador retriever proceeded to bathe in the sun-drenched snow and bury his nose into the powder in search of something smelly.

“I don’t just love my dog, I marvel at him every day,” Pierce said.

Quinn gets worried when other people lead Pierce. When Pierce had to traverse a crossing for skiers along the hiking trail, he made Quinn stay put as he walked ahead. Quinn kept his eyes on Pierce until he finally heard the words he was waiting for, “OK. Come on, boy.”

“The freedom a guide dog gives you is incredible,” Pierce said. “He’s doing the work that lets me interact with the world.”

“My focus doesn’t have to be on how this world is a danger to me. My focus can be on how he and I are just buds traveling through it together,” Pierce said.


On Cannon, Pierce didn’t stumble or bumble his way up the mountain. He walked deliberately, step after step as he trusted his guide to show him the way to the top, as he had done so many times before.

He hikes fast. On Saturday, he outpaced many of the two dozen people who hiked the mountain with him.

And Cannon, at 2.2 miles to the 4,100-foot summit via the Kinsman Trail, is a veritable cake walk compared to some of the hikes Pierce, Quinn, and hiking companions Justin Fuller and videographer Dina Suton have been through this winter.

At the start of the week, they completed a northern Presidential Range traverse, covering Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay and Washington mountains in a single, gruelling day.

Earlier in the season, they covered 23 miles hiking up Mount Zealand, over Mount Guyot to Mount Bond and Bondcliff through the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Fuller and Suton are sure to bring headlamps on such long trips, Pierce just saves the weight.

Pierce has suffered a bit along the way, but was never seriously injured.

As he motored his way to the top Saturday, few knew that earlier this week he had broken in a new pair of hiking books, which nearly broke his feet. His developed huge, bleeding blisters on his Presidential Traverse.

The next day, Pierce taped up his feet and then hiked up Wildcat Mountain. He tried to kick his toe into the snow on the way up Wildcat to keep his foot level and prevent it from sliding in his boot. He was moderately successful, but caused such damage to his toenail it was ready to fall off before his hike on Cannon.

Not once Saturday did he complain about his feet, despite the hidden injuries underneath.


At the bottom of the trail, Pierce’s wife, Tracy, was waiting. While she didn’t hike with her husband, it’s been a long journey for her, too.

Neither Tracy or Randy considered this feat an end of a journey, rather a way station for new adventures.

“It’s a place to switch tracks,” Tracy Pierce said.

“It’s a point along the way,” Randy said.

As friends, family and even complete strangers congratulated Pierce, Quinn stayed by his side.

As a special treat, he got a couple bits of steak.

Amid all the cackle, Pierce leaned over to his friend once more.

“You’re the best boy, Quinn,” he said. “You’re the best.”

Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at or 594-6465.