Moving Through Grief: A Hiker Returns to the Mountains after the Death of Her Husband

(Durham, NH, October 21, 2020) - When Rachael Caron first met her husband, Christopher Purinton, in 2007, the pair bonded over shared love of hiking. Over the years, they would be married in the White Mountains and spend vacations tackling the challenge of climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot mountains. But on their 43rd peak, only a brief walk from the summit, Chris collapsed from a cardiac event. He died later that day. Almost a year later, Willem Lange, the host of New Hampshire PBS’s WINDOWS TO THE WILD, joined Rachael and a group of supporters, as she climbed Wildcat Mountain, Rachael’s final peaks, in honor of Chris – a journey of healing that has been guided by extraordinary friendships.

Like so many couples, Rachael and Chris hiked as a way to spend quality time together. “It was all about building memories and trust and learning about each other,” Caron says. “It was a really good experience.” But after the trauma of losing her husband on the trail, Rachael was initially reluctant to return to the mountains. “I was terrified. I didn’t want to do it. I swore I wasn’t going to go back in the woods.”

It was Brenda Leary, one of the rescue workers who was called to help after Chris’s collapse, who convinced Rachael that the wild could be a place for her to work through her grief. The two women had stayed in touch after Chris’s passing and Brenda accompanied Rachael on her first days back on the trail. “It was a journey without part of her,” Brenda says of those early hikes. “It was Chris who was by her side, though all of it. If she struggled a little, Chris’s hand was there to help her, to steady her.”

WINDOWS TO THE WILD producer Phil Vaughn saw how Rachael’s friends stepped in to play that role of steadying hand for Rachael as she got back on the trail. “They not only seemed to encourage Rachael to return to the mountains” says Vaughn, “but offered the reassurance that they would be there to support her.”

Another of Rachael’s friends, Arlette Laan of Redline Guiding, says that those first hikes may have been difficult but they allowed Rachael the time, space and peace to begin to heal. “You have to take your time,” says Laan of the grieving process. “You have to move through the motions of feeling the fear and the sorrow. You have to work through it. You can’t just push it away.”

Lange, who lost his wife and frequent partner in outdoor adventure two years ago, saw some of his own experience reflected in Rachael’s. “When the worst we can imagine actually happens to us, we still have to go on,” he says. “The more creatively and actively we do it, the better. That’s also a tribute to our lost partner.”

After completing her 48th peak, Rachael acknowledges that her new journey is just beginning. “I’m going to continue to live every single second of every single day, because I know how quickly it can leave you." Hiking will continue to be a part of that journey. “Getting back out here is what helped me,” Rachael says. “Nature helps everybody, if you let it.”

You can hear more about this healing journey up to Wildcat Ridge on the next episode of WINDOWS TO THE WILD, premiering Wednesday, October 28th at 7:30 pm on New Hampshire PBS and online anytime at nhpbs.org/windows.

Windows to the Wild is generously supported by the Alice J. Reen Charitable Trust, The Fuller Foundation, Inc., The Gilbert Verney Foundation.


Watch Online

Outdoor Classroom (Preview)

Outdoor educator Scott Ellis is passionate about connecting people with the outdoors.

Watch More Moving Through Grief: A Hiker Returns to the Mountains after the Death of Her Husband

Latest Updates


TV Schedule

Full Schedule



More Video

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor educator Scott Ellis is passionate about connecting people with the outdoors.

Preserving A Way Of Life

Preserving A Way Of Life

Host Willem Lange visits one of NH's spectacular public properties.

Preserving A Way Of Life (Preview)

Preserving A Way Of Life (Preview)

Host Willem Lange visits one of NH's spectacular public properties.

Memorial Hike

Memorial Hike

Rachael decided not to let their dream die.


Memorial Hike (Preview)

Memorial Hike (Preview)

Rachael decided not to let their dream die.

Build It And They Will Come (Preview)

Build It And They Will Come (Preview)

When Marianne Borowski retired, she had a dream to create an adventure trail.

Build It And They Will Come

Build It And They Will Come

When Marianne Borowski retired, she had a dream to create an adventure trail.

A Trek Through Scotland (Preview)

A Trek Through Scotland (Preview)

Host Willem Lange explores the history, culture and natural beauty of Scotland.

A Trek Through Scotland

A Trek Through Scotland

Host Willem Lange explores the history, culture and natural beauty of Scotland.

Mountain Safety

Mountain Safety

Host Willem Lange spends the day at Pinkham Notch where he learns about staying safe.

Forest Therapy With Dogs (Preview)

Forest Therapy With Dogs (Preview)

Forest Therapy Guide Nadine Mazzola and their dogs.

Forest Therapy With Dogs

Forest Therapy With Dogs

She shows how to have a deep connection with our dogs and nature.

Taking On Mount Washington

Taking On Mount Washington

Mount Washington is a New England icon that dares people to challenge it.

Taking On Mount Washington (Preview)

Taking On Mount Washington (Preview)

Mount Washington is a New England icon that dares people to challenge it.

Classroom On The Connecticut (Preview)

Classroom On The Connecticut (Preview)

Vermont teacher Scott Ellis believes that real learning happens outdoors.

Classroom On The Connecticut

Classroom On The Connecticut

Vermont teacher Scott Ellis believes that real learning happens outdoors.

On The Trail With Tom Ryan

On The Trail With Tom Ryan

Host Willem Lange and best-seller author Tom Ryan hike to Sawyer Pond, NH.

On The Trail With Tom Ryan (Preview)

On The Trail With Tom Ryan (Preview)

Host Willem Lange and best-seller author Tom Ryan hike to Sawyer Pond, NH.

Kayaking With Outdoor Afro

Kayaking With Outdoor Afro

Host Willem Lange kayaks NH's seacoast with members of Outdoor Afro.

Kayaking With Outdoor Afro (Preview)

Kayaking With Outdoor Afro (Preview)

Host Willem Lange kayaks NH's seacoast with members of Outdoor Afro.

The Mountain Wanderer

The Mountain Wanderer

Lincoln, NH bookseller Steve Smith takes host Willem Lange on an adventure.

The Mountain Wanderer (Preview)

The Mountain Wanderer (Preview)

Lincoln, NH bookseller Steve Smith takes host Willem Lange on an adventure.

Dartmouth Outing Club

Dartmouth Outing Club

The Dartmouth Outing Club is the oldest collegiate outing club in the country.

Rico The Hiking Cat

Rico The Hiking Cat

The family dog wasn't up to the task, so Michael turned to his Siamese cat Rico.

Rico The Hiking Cat (Preview)

Rico The Hiking Cat (Preview)

The family dog wasn't up to the task, so Michael turned to his Siamese cat Rico.

Trailblazing Sue - Wild Moments

Trailblazing Sue - Wild Moments

Sue Johnston accomplished a hiking feat no other woman had done before.

Hiking for Hunger - Wild Moments

Hiking for Hunger - Wild Moments

A chef hikes Mount Major with others to raise awareness about hunger.

White Mountain National Forest - Wild Moments

White Mountain National Forest - Wild Moments

It's the 100th anniversary of the White Mt National Forest.

Trekking Norway

Trekking Norway

Fjords, Viking ships and the Lofoten Islands. Perhaps we're not in Kansas anymore.

Trekking Norway (Preview)

Trekking Norway (Preview)

Fjords, Viking ships and the Lofoten Islands. Perhaps we're not in Kansas anymore.

Friday Night Lights (Preview)

Friday Night Lights (Preview)

After the sun goes down, the fun ramps up at Black Mt in Jackson, New Hampshire.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

After the sun goes down, the fun ramps up at Black Mt in Jackson, New Hampshire.

Trailblazing Sue

Trailblazing Sue

Sue Johnston accomplished a hiking feat no other woman had done before.

Trailblazing Sue (Preview)

Trailblazing Sue (Preview)

Sue Johnston accomplished a hiking feat no other woman had done before.

Mountaintop Wedding (Preview)

Mountaintop Wedding (Preview)

What does a hiking couple do when they decide to get married?

Mountaintop Wedding

Mountaintop Wedding

What does a hiking couple do when they decide to get married?

Hiking With Tom Ryan (Preview)

Hiking With Tom Ryan (Preview)

Host Willem Lange and best-selling author Tom Ryan discover ways to keep on moving.

Hiking With Tom Ryan

Hiking With Tom Ryan

What happens when the mind is willing but the body is weak?

Finding Your Way

Finding Your Way

Learning the art of ancient navigation can save your life.

White Mountain National Forest

White Mountain National Forest

It's the 100th anniversary of the White Mt National Forest.

White Mountain National Forest (Preview)

White Mountain National Forest (Preview)

It's the 100th anniversary of the White Mt National Forest.

Barry Burbank Takes A Hike (Preview)

Barry Burbank Takes A Hike (Preview)

Boston meteorologist Barry Burbank heads up Frankenstein Cliff Trail with his son.

Barry Burbank Takes A Hike

Barry Burbank Takes A Hike

Boston meteorologist Barry Burbank heads up Frankenstein Cliff Trail with his son.

Pepper And Me (Preview)

Pepper And Me (Preview)

Willem heads out on the trails with Pepper.

Pepper And Me

Pepper And Me

Willem heads out on the trails with Pepper.

Hiking for Hunger

Hiking for Hunger

Renowned NH chef Jayson McCarter hikes Mount Major with several dozen chefs for hunger.

Hiking for Hunger (Preview)

Hiking for Hunger (Preview)

Hikes Mount Major with several dozen chefs to raise awareness about hunger.

Hiking With The Maniacal Traveler

Hiking With The Maniacal Traveler

Writer and adventurist Dianne Fallon takes us to Mount Belknap.



Visit video.nhpbs.org to see even more local and national video.


More to Explore

Bird Tales

Bird Tales

Counting On Birds

Counting On Birds

Journey of the Broad-Winged Hawk

Journey of the Broad-Winged Hawk

Lighthawk: Destination Conservation

Lighthawk: Destination Conservation

Plight of the Grassland Birds

Plight of the Grassland Birds

Saving New England Fisheries

Saving New England Fisheries

Saving Songbirds

Saving Songbirds