Hiking With a Purpose: Couple Treks AT to Help CHaD

  • Cornish native Hannah Storrs, and her fiancé, Sean Heinrichs, approach the entrance to the Appalachian Trail for a day of slackpacking on Friday, June 30, 2017, in Hanover, N.H., near the Co-Op Food Store. Storrs and Heinrichs are hiking the Appalachian Trail this year to raise money for the Childrens Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hannah Storrs, left, and her fiancé, Sean Heinrichs, pack for the rest of their Appalachian Trail hike on Friday, June 30, 2017, at Storrs’s parents’ home in Cornish. Storrs and Heinrichs are hiking the Appalachian Trail this year to raise money for the Childrens Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sean Heinrichs hikes the Appalachian Trail section in Hanover, N.H. on Friday, June 30, 2017. Cornish native Hannah Storrs and Heinrichs are hiking the Appalachian Trail this year to raise money for the Childrens Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/2/2017 11:55:33 PM
Modified: 7/3/2017 12:56:17 PM

The Appalachian Trail is more popular than ever, each year drawing several thousand individual hikers attempting to traverse the entire 2,168-mile route from Georgia to Maine.

Engaged couple Hannah Storrs and Sean Heinrichs are doing it with purpose — more than one, in fact.

Storrs, a Cornish native and 2008 Hanover High graduate, and Heinrichs are using their AT through-hike as a vehicle to benefit the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, so far having raised nearly two-thirds of their $1,500 target.

Rather than unplugging during the journey, the couple is documenting it with video footage they hope to release this fall in a YouTube series.

It’s the second long-distance trail in the last three summers for Storrs and Heinrichs, who met as undergraduate students at the University of British Columbia and hope to marry next year. In 2015, they trekked the 630-mile South West Coast Path in England, during which their only communication with friends and loved ones was via postcards.

For the Appalachian Trail, they’ve built a campaign called Walk With Us, including a website (www.walkwith-us.com) and social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Toting a 32,000-watt battery to charge a handheld camera, the couple has also garnered about 100 hours of footage chronicling the wondrous aesthetics of the trail — fresh snowfall in the Smoky Mountain and a sunrise over Virginia’s Catawba Valley, for example — as well as their countless interactions with fellow trail users.

“It’s impossible to truly capture what it means to be out living on the trail, but we wanted to try,” said Heinrichs, 25. “It’s been a really good mix of footage. Sometimes it’s trying to capture the beauty in small things and all of the nature. A lot of it shows how strong the community of hikers is on the trail. You’re meeting new people every day, and everyone has a story.”

While many AT hikers attempt to distance themselves from technology, Heinrichs doesn’t feel like it distracts from the experience (Storrs, 27, said for her it “sometimes” does).

“So many people are using the trail now that it’s a very social experience, and most of the people in our generation love being on camera,” Heinrichs said. “Of course, the last thing we want to be is intrusive to the other hikers. We always ask people, ‘Is it OK if you’re on camera?’ but we haven’t had anyone say no yet.”

Storrs is motivated to incorporate a CHaD fundraiser because her grandfather, Bob Storrs, was a pediatrician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s predecessor, Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover, where she was born. Storrs’ younger brother, Colin, was also treated for a back injury at CHaD.

“My grandfather used to do house calls and kind of helped lay the foundation for what became CHaD,” said Storrs. “Plus, just growing up in the Upper Valley, you always know about the great work they do.”

Storrs and Heinrichs began the AT northbound from Georgia’s Springer Mountain on Feb. 20, about a week prior to the early-March rush.

They hiked along in T-shirt weather until encountering a snowstorm in North Carolina’s Smokies in March, but the scenery made bundling up well worth it.

“It was really magical,” said Heinrichs, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. “The wind made for some really awesome snowdrifts. We were probably up to our shins in snow, but it was nothing we weren’t used to.”

Things became a little less pleasant while caught in a thunder and lightning storm at high elevation in Tennessee, prompting the couple to enact a safety procedure Storrs had researched prior to the trip.

“There was one (strike) where the lighting and thunder came at the exact same time, so I was like, ‘OK, that’s really close. We can’t just keep hiking in this,’ ” Storrs recalled. “The procedure was to move at least 100 yards from your poles and stand on your mattress. We were doing that and a 60-something-year-old man just kind of casually hiked past us without a care in the world. At that point, we didn’t really know what we were doing yet. We had to work to get to the (confident) state that he was in.”

Storrs and Heinrichs would eventually find what are known as trail legs, able to complete “marathon days” (at least 26 miles in a single day) by the time they reached Virginia.

The Old Dominion State’s highlight was a nighttime hike from the Four Pines hostel to McAfee Knob, a rocky ledge showcasing a panoramic view of the sunrise.

“We left at about 1 a.m., and neither of us really had any experience night hiking,” Heinrichs said. “It was a little eerie, just relying on headlamps, but the sunrise was so spectacular, it was beyond worth it.”

Heinrichs, a human geography major in college, especially appreciated all of the Civil War monuments along the trail through Maryland, and the couple made it through Pennsylvania’s notoriously rocky terrain (they found its reputation to be overrated) by the end of May.

Storrs and Heinrichs boogied through New Jersey at a 20-miles-per-day clip in order to reach New York City in time for a combination comedy/magic show that included a performance by Mark Correia, a friend from Canada.

They took a zero day, AT parlance for a day off, in Manhattan, spending most of it walking through — where else? — Central Park. “We were obviously still drawn to green spaces,” said Storrs.

Storrs, who often enjoyed roaming the woods of Cornish as a child, could sense becoming nearer to home not long after entering Connecticut. “The trees started looking much more familiar,” she said. “One thing that stood out was there were so many more white birches.”

In mid-June the couple reached southern Vermont, where they encountered lots of mud and needed to replace much of Storrs’ equipment. “My backpack strap snapped, my boots fell apart and one of my poles bent, pretty much all at once,” she recalled. “It was actually kind of funny.”

After departing the trail in Vermont to spend time at Storrs’ home in Cornish, the couple finished the Green Mountain State and reached Hanover on June 25.

Having been in touch with CHaD about the fundraiser, the hospital sent personnel to greet them at Ledyard Bridge and host them for a tour of the facility.

“It was awesome to see what they do and what we’re raising money for,” said Heinrichs.

The couple spent last week visiting with Heinrichs’ parents, who’d rented a cabin in Dorset, Vt., and re-entered the AT in Hanover on Friday. There’s an eventful summer ahead both on and off the trail.

“My whole family lives in this valley, so we’ll be taking a break to see my cousins, and my uncle Tim wants to hike a couple miles with us,” said Storrs.

The pair also has two weddings to attend, including Colin Storrs’ and one of Heinrichs’ friends in New Brunswick.

Oh, and there’s still the strenuous White Mountains and a lengthy portion of Maine to get through before reaching the trail’s northern terminus on Mount Katahdin.

“It’s going to be quite a month,” said Storrs. “I’m sure it’ll be a great time.”

They’ll have the footage to prove it.

For more information or to donate, visit www.walkwith-us.com.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

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