"The Mighty Quinn," guide dog for blind hiker Randy "Zip" Pierce, was awarded the Order of the Golden Biscuit after helping his master reach the summit of Cannon Mountain on Saturday. The pair have completed their goal of climbing all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000-plus foot peaks in a single winter. (COURTESY)
Blind hiker and his dog complete 'The 48' in NH
For Randy 'Zip' Pierce and his canine companion, 'The Mighty Quinn,' a single step onto Mount Tecumseh began a journey to all 48 of New Hampshire's peaks over 4,000 feet - and ended with an emotional climb to the summit of Cannon Mountain on Saturday.
Pierce is the first blind hiker - and Quinn the first guide dog - to climb 'The 48' in one winter.
Surrounded by well-wishers, Pierce said, 'I'm blown away by this experience. I'm absolutely exhilarated.' He paused for a moment to pat his seven-year-old yellow lab. 'I'm a little choked up right now.'
His wife Tracy led a group of friends and well-wishers to meet him at the summit. The group greeted him with music, noisemakers and bells .
'I am extememly proud of him,' Tracy said. 'But I am not one bit surprised he did it. That's just how Randy is.'
Even a painful foot injury didn't keep him from completing the climb.
'For me, the reward of what we can accomplish, the attention we can get for things, I believe, are going to be worth the fact that for the next week I'm going to be really sore,' he said.
The attention is for 2020 Vision Quest, a non-profit that raises funds for the New Hampshire Association for the Blind and Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Saturday's climb completed a winter version of that goal, but Pierce isn't done.
'The truth is, a blind person hiking in the summer is a magnitude more challenging and slow,' he explained, noting rocks, holes and roots make it difficult to find safe footing. In winter, it's easier because snow fills those areas.
Pierce intends to hike all 48 peaks by 2020 in 'non-winter' conditions. He has already climbed 22 of those peaks.
He said he wants to ensure anyone who goes through vision loss like he did has access to services like those that helped him.
Pierce began losing his vision in 1989 due to an unknown neurological disease. He went completely blind in 2000.
The same disease later attacked his cerebellum, the balance center of his brain, causing such severe vertigo he was confined to a wheelchair from 2004 to 2006.
After a series of experimental treatments, Pierce began to walk again. As he recovered, he found a passion for hiking - and inspiring others.
'The most important thing I can tell anyone is the choice we make in how to respond to our life is going to have a bigger influence on our life than anything else ever could,' he said.
He's hiked 300-plus miles this winter, has a black belt in karate, is a devoted Patriots fan and is making plans to complete a 100-mile walk in June as a tribute to NHAB's 100th birthday.
For his part, Quinn was presented with the Order of the Golden Biscuit at Saturday's climb, making him the fourth canine to have completed the 48 peaks in a single winter.
Fighting back tears at the summit of his latest achievement, Pierce compared Saturday's hike to a hiking cairn. 'It's not a beginning, it's not an ending - this is a waypoint,' he said. 'We've still got work to do.'