Wilderness Heals

Thank you for visiting the Wilderness Heals blog. Wilderness Heals is an all-women, three-day annual pledge hike that benefits the Elizabeth Stone House (ESH), a Boston-based emergency shelter, transitional housing program, and therapeutic community that provides services to women and children who are escaping violence and overcoming trauma. By encouraging hikers to set challenging physical, emotional, and financial goals, Wilderness Heals mirrors the experiences of hundreds of women who have sought help from the Stone House. Committing to hike is a way to grow personally while simultaneously standing in solidarity with women of the Stone House and women everywhere who are working to overcome the effects of violence in their lives.
Wilderness Heals 2011 will take place July 15-17, 2011. Registration materials may be downloaded here.
Go here to view the 2011 routes, and visit our Who's Who page to meet this year's team leaders and Recruitment Committee members.
Want to learn more? Visit our list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Still have questions? Contact Erika Whyte, Wilderness Heals event coordinator, at 781-726-0551 or ewhyte@elizabethstone.org.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cannonballs on a Roll

I met Susan Genatossio and Jenn Guiry during my first Wilderness Heals training hike on Cannon Mountain. I had no way of knowing it then, but the bonds we formed on the icy Kinsman Ridge Trail two years ago would carry us over many more summits. Last weekend, the three Cannonballs--our group nickname--gathered for a reunion camping and hiking trip over the 4,328-foot Mount Flume and the 4,459-foot Mount Liberty. Above: Vic, Jenn, and Susan smile at the top of Mount Flume.

Rather than hiking up the steep Flume Slide Trail, we opted to spot a car and take the more moderate Osseo Trail to the top of Mount Flume. From there, we hiked across the Franconia Ridge to the summit of Mount Liberty, and down the Liberty Spring Trail. The total mileage for the day was 10.7 miles. Above: Susan and Jenn on the Osseo Trail.

It was not an easy hike. Jenn, who had not hiked much in the past year, began to struggle several miles into our ascent. A short break, some electrolytes, and reorganizing her pack made a world of difference, and we made it to the summit of Mount Flume in book time. Above: Jenn and Vic on the Osseo Trail.

A little more than halfway up the Osseo Trail, we came to a series of steep stairs that led up the mountain. Note: climbing the steps at the Porter Square T-stop is excellent training for this type of hike. Above: Susan makes her way up the stairs.

As Jenn battled feelings of self-doubt and silently conversed with her trail gods, Susan was also deep in thought. Her trek to the summit of Mount Flume was for reasons far more personal than simply checking another 4,000-footer from her list. Above: The summit of Mount Flume is only a short climb away.

After a quick lunch at the top of Mount Flume, Susan showed us a picture of a young man. "Is that your son?" I asked. "No," she replied. "This is Ben, and his spirit lives at the top of this mountain." Above: A cloud looms over Mount Flume.

Ben was a friend of Susan's youngest son, and when he was fifteen, Ben led a group of Boy Scouts to the top of Mount Flume. The hike was a part of a series of requirements that Boy Scouts must fulfill in order to become an Eagle Scout--the highest advancement rank in Scouting. Above: The valley is seen from the summit of Mount Flume.

A few days after he returned from the hike, Ben died unexpectedly in his home. His death devastated his Scout mates, and his parents chose to have Ben's ashes scattered at the summit of Mount Flume, the last mountain he climbed before he died. Above: Mount Liberty is seen from the top of Mount Flume.

As we made our way to the summit of Mount Liberty, Susan told us more about Ben. During his memorial service, she said, another Scout member read a poem he'd written that was modeled after Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Eerily enough, all three of us had listened to the song during our drive to New Hampshire the previous day. Above: Jenn and Vic at the top of Mount Liberty.

The descent from Mount Liberty was long, steep, and extremely hard on the knees. Jenn, with her long legs, bounded down the mountain with ease while Susan and I doggedly trailed behind. We made it back to the campsite by five o'clock, allowing Jenn and me time to take a quick swim in the Pemi River before dinner. It was a glorious day, and my "hiker high" sustained me during the evening's long drive back to Boston.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reaching New Heights

Over Memorial Day weekend, second-year hiker Donna Whyte-English climbed her first 4,000-foot mountain. She describes the experience in the following summary. Above: Donna smiles as she reaches the top of the 4,003-foot Mount Tecumseh.

I’m relatively new to serious hiking. My first Wilderness Heals Hike was in 2005, and I’m pleased to be back this year.

I have several motivations for participating in the Hike. Because I am a survivor of childhood family violence, I feel passionate about supporting efforts that empower women and families. Additionally, as I approach my 50th birthday, I continue to challenge myself to get in the best shape of my life. I was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, and exercise helps me maintain excellent blood sugar control and, thus far, has prevented any additional complications. As a healthcare worker who works with geriatric patients, every day I see the devastating effects of chronic illness. Strokes, heart attacks, and amputated limbs are preventable through lifestyle modifications, and I am committed to embracing positive changes that will result in lifelong fitness, vitality, and great health. The Hike in 2005 was my first backpacking experience, and I amazed myself at how far I was able to push myself while climbing mountains higher than I ever dreamed possible!

I did two training hikes prior to Memorial Day weekend. So far, I have not trained much, although I do take long walks with my dogs around the beautiful Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, and each day I climb my seriously steep 700-foot driveway. (Thankfully, nowhere I walk is flat!) On Saturday, May 26, 2007, I hiked Mount Morgan and Mount Percival with team leaders Sheryl Barnes and Eileen Twiggs, 10 other women, and a hoard of mosquitos and black flies. It was unseasonably warm and humid, and I struggled with the climb. I was glad to learn I was not the only one who found the loop to be difficult. Despite being described as an “easier” hike, most of the group was challenged by the elements. The support of the other hikers and team leaders reminded me once again why the Wilderness Heals experience is so special. The mantra Sheryl told me to repeat – breathe, relax, watch, feel, allow – helped me to focus and conserve my energy as I climbed up the mountains. The summit views of Squam Lakes and the surrounding area were spectacular – and well worth the bugs, heat, and humidity!

Thankfully, Sunday brought cooler weather, overcast skies, spits of rain, and no bugs. Six of us from Saturday’s hike and two others joined team leaders Eileen Twiggs and Susan Genatossio on the hike up Mount Tecumseh, my first 4,000-foot mountain! The trail crossed a small brook and then climbed steadily, leveled off a bit, crossed two more streams, and finally climbed steeply to the summit. Eileen reminded me to use my mantra, which helped regulate my breathing and allowed me to focus. Although the elevation gain was more than the day before (2,163 versus 1,400 feet), the climb overall seemed easier. The last quarter of a mile leading to the summit was quite steep, and the trail was narrow and icy – a reminder of how different the conditions can be in the White Mountains. After eating lunch at the summit, Susan suggested that we “mark the moment” by asking everyone to share her memory of her first 4,000-footer – another reminder of why the Wilderness Heals experience is so very special. I continue to be amazed at how far I can push myself, and I am grateful for the support of everyone who has hiked with me.

Thank you to all of the dedicated team leaders and fellow hikers for sharing the experience with me! See you on the trail!

– Donna Whyte-English

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Till the Clouds Roll By

Like the famous folk singer Joni Mitchell, team leader Liz Varney has looked at clouds from both sides--of the White Mountains, that is. On June 3, 2007, amid ominous storm clouds, she and co-leader Beth Grierson led hikers over the rocky summit of Mount Chocorua. One week later, Liz had her head in the clouds again when she joined six other Wilderness Heals hikers as they trekked over Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette. Here, she shares her photographs from both hikes. Above: The 3,490-foot Mount Chocorua looms in the distance.

Danielle climbs the slippery slabs leading to the summit of Mount Chocorua.

Sandy and Beth scramble over rocks.

Sue, Beth, and Mary summit Mount Chocorua.

Liz summits Mount Chocorua.

Gathering storm clouds indicated that it was time to get below treeline. Thankfully, the rain held until the hikers were headed back to Boston.

During the hike over Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette, hikers took a short break at Shining Rock.

Clouds are seen from the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette are seen from Little Haystack.

Clouds billow across the ridge.

Liz enjoys the view.

More cloud cover.

Still more clouds.

Laura, Liz, Jocelyn, Karin, Jenn, Linda, and Danielle smile at the top of Mount Lincoln.

Jenn is tuckered out.

More Photos from Memorial Day Weekend

First-year hiker Nika Stoop recently submitted photographs from her first training hike over Mount Morgan and Mount Percival. Nika is originally from Alaska, and she learned about Wilderness Heals when she met Beth Grierson--who was leading a recruitment hike--at Middlesex Fells. Nika has two dogs who love to hike and camp with her. Above: Hikers gather at the summit of Mount Percival.

Vonda, Susan, and Lucy make their way up the trail.

Sue takes a break on her way to the summit of Mount Percival.

The Squam Lakes are seen from the summit of Mount Percival.

Margaret helps Lucy adjust her pack.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Tale of Two Mountains

On June 10, 2007, second-year Wilderness Heals hiker Jocelyn Gould attended her first training hike of the season: the classic 9-mile loop over the 5,089-foot Mount Lincoln and the 5,260-foot Mount Lafayette. Many Wilderness Heals hikers cite this loop as their favorite hike in the White Mountains because it features lovely stream crossings, waterfalls, alpine vegetation, two 4,000-foot peaks, gorgeous views, a ridgewalk, and a stop at Greenleaf Hut. Above: Jocelyn stands at the summit of Mount Lincoln.

The Falling Waters Trail is aptly named.

Danielle climbs through a rocky crevice.

Shortly before reaching the alpine zone, hikers came to Shining Rock, which can be accessed from a spur trail off of the Falling Waters Trail.

Shining Rock gets its name from the water that constantly trickles down its steep cliffs. The cliffs can be seen glistening from the highway far below.

The gnome pictured in the photograph above is Larry, Jocelyn's traveling pirate. Larry is a wooden bank that Jocelyn takes on all of her hiking trips. Here is Larry, shortly after he entered the alpine zone.

Here is Larry atop Little Haystack, the first summit of the day. From there, hikers made their way across the ridge to Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette.

Hikers climb up the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Mount Lincoln is seen from the ridge.

Jocelyn's feet are firmly planted at the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Larry sits at the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Before heading back to the trailhead via the Old Bridal Path, hikers stopped at Greenleaf Hut to rest, eat some snacks, and refill their water bottles.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

All Requests, All Night Long

Disclaimer: This message applies to any hiker who rides the Singing Bus on the way back to Boston. You fogies who ride the Quiet Bus can ignore this post. (You know we love you.)


In preparation for this year's Sunday night sing-along, several hikers are compiling a book of lyrics to ensure that someone besides Sandy and Sue can join in on the more obscure tunes. (I mean, really--who besides Sandy knows all of the words to "American Pie"?) If you have any requests, please e-mail them to Eileen Twiggs at eileentwiggs@hotmail.com or Sue Weil at hotweil@aol.com. You can also post them in the comment section below.

Here, I'll start: I request the Weaver's "Goodnight, Irene," Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," and that seventies childhood staple, "Free to Be, You and Me."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Winning the Losing Game; or How I Trained for Wilderness Heals

I never hiked much until I moved to Boston two years ago and became involved in Wilderness Heals. Prior to that, my physical fitness activities consisted of easy day hikes through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and irregular trips to the gym. Needless to say, hiking in the Whites came as a bit of a shock to my not-very-fit body. During my first year hiking, I injured my knees. The second year, I rolled my ankle. And this past winter, I sprained my back while biking with a pack loaded full of Christmas presents.

I'm a reporter for BU Today, Boston University's daily news Web site, and in January, I made a deal with my editors: if they agreed to pay for a personal trainer, I promised to write a first-person, eight-part series that chronicled my four-month fitness quest. Even though the series would require divulging my weight and body fat content to the entire world, I figured fifteen free sessions with a personal trainer would more than make up for any shame I'd suffer. And, I'd be sure to get in shape for hiking season.

I finished up the series three weeks ago, and even though I was disappointed that I didn't lose much weight, a recent hiking trip proved that those four months of rigorous, sweat-induced training sessions were more than worth the effort. I am stronger and more fit than I've ever been in my life. Over Memorial Day weekend, I climbed four mountains with relative ease, and I didn't even have to use my hiking poles. My overall balance has improved tenfold, and best of all, when I returned home, I didn't hurt. Talk about a boost to my morale! My quads, calves, and arms--while not bulging--have muscles! And while I still get out of breath while climbing, I don't have to stop for as many breaks.

For anyone who is interested in what I did to prepare for this year's hike, I've provided links to each installment of my fitness series, "Winning the Losing Game." I hope it helps you as much as it helped me!

Click here to read the first installment, “One woman’s four-month fitness challenge.” Click here to read the second installment, “After an injury, changing the game.” Click here to read the third installment, “Calories in vs. calories out.” Click here to read the fourth installment, “Glimpsing the gain.” Click here to read the fifth installment, “When seeing is not believing.” Click here to read the sixth installment, “Shape-shifting — how weight training can modernize a Botticelli body.” Click here to read the seventh installment, “You are not what you don’t eat.” Click here to read the eighth installment, "The pain, the gain, and how to walk it off."