by Gary Samson
The trail to the Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC) Gale Head hut in the White Mountains winds over and around roots and boulders, through mud and across streams to an elevation of 3,800 feet. An average hiker can complete the steep 4.5-mile climb in about five hours. It took Nicole Haley 12 hours to reach the hut last August, but she did it the hard way, in a wheelchair.
Haley was one of three hikers in wheelchairs and two hikers on crutches who tackled the trail with the help of Northeast Passage, a program run by UNH's Department of Recreation Management and Policy.
The mission of Northeast Passage is to increase the number and variety of sports and recreational opportunities available to people with disabilities. So when some New Hampshire newspapers said it was a waste of money for the AMC to make the Gale Head hut comply with the accessibility standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Northeast Passage decided to prove otherwise.
On the trek up and down the trail, the hikers in wheelchairs were assisted by able-bodied team members who hauled gear, set ropes and helped to push and pull the wheelchairs over obstacles. The team agreed at the outset that no one would be carried across the rough spots. Souley Marzouk, who had polio as a child, negotiated one difficult river crossing by walking on his hands. "This shows how determined we are, and how far determination can take you," he observed when he reached the hut.
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