Trailblazer

Nick Cornell '14 watches the sunrise in the Goat Rocks wilderness area on the Pacific Crest Trail in August.

Nick Cornell ’14 watches the sunrise in the Goat Rocks wilderness area on the Pacific Crest Trail in August.

The day after Nick Cornell ’14 walked across the stage of The Dell to receive his diploma from Randolph College, he embarked on an exciting new adventure—a 2,200- mile journey, to be exact.

In celebration of his graduation, Cornell hiked the Appalachian Trail for 131 days with his brother, Brian.

The ending mile marker for the Pacific Crest Trail

The ending mile marker for the Pacific Crest Trail

“My mom did a section hike of the AT between 2010 and 2011, meaning she did sections of it at a slower pace,” Cornell said. “We went out with her a few times to do some sessions, and I think we both just fell in love with it—both the culture and the hiking itself.”

Those first hiking escapades with his family triggered what has become a lifestyle of adventure. In addition to his after-graduation trip in 2014, Cornell set out this May to conquer the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trek that starts in the deserts of Southern California and ends in the snow-capped mountains of Northern Washington. Sponsored by Vasque Thru-Hike Syndicate, he completed the trip in 134 days. Along the way, Cornell met other hikers from all over the world. He even met another native of his hometown of Front Royal, Virginia.

“What I enjoy most about thru hikes is just being outdoors, the beautiful scenery, and the people you meet along the way,” he said. “You meet so many other thru-hikers from completely different lifestyles, and you meet people that you would never come across in normal life. You share the trail, and it brings so many people together from so many different places. It’s really amazing.”

Given his love for the outdoors, it’s no wonder Cornell was an environmental studies major at Randolph. He was also a member of the men’s soccer team that won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championship in 2011.

“Just like on the trail, there are so many different people at Randolph,” he said. “You get to know everybody, and honestly the coolest thing was meeting new people that I still talk to today and that I’ll probably continue to be friends with forever.”

Cornell is already making plans for his next big adventure in 2018— hiking the 3,000-mile Continental Divide to complete the “Triple Crown” of hiking in the United States. Each year, only a handful of people attempt to hike the all-terrain trail, which runs through the central region of the United States from Mexico to Canada.

When he’s not blazing some of the world’s most challenging trails, Cornell uses his environmental studies degree and love for the great outdoors as a tour guide at Glacier National Park in Montana and at Park City Mountain ski resort in Utah. And when he’s not working, he’s always “dreaming about more adventures.”