There’s no doubt I’ve been fortunate to travel more than most people my age; it’s been in my blood since I was little, filling my summers with camping around the Northeast US and winters racing sled dogs throughout New York, New England, the northern Midwest and Canada as well.
College was no different with more days spent in the Adirondacks than in class. This first manifest itself on an orientation trip with the Clarkson University Outings Club into the High Peaks region. I remember purposely selecting the hardest route available, slightly humorous seeing I had never overnight backpacked a day in my life. But “Hey, why not?!”
I recall sucking serious wind my first day, dragging my ass up, most likely Algonquin Peak, although it was probably something smaller for a “warm up”. Ah, yes, it was Mount Colden… a hell trip straight up, grabbing tree roots and skittering up loose dirt. Algonquin was indeed the second day, no doubt it was a good struggle on my part getting up it, but the loop as I recall was long and by that point, what I would later recognize as a strong point of mine, my uncanny stamina kicked in for the second half of the loop route we took.
I would never learn the Mountaineers’ concept of “getting to the top is the easy part, bringing yourself safely down was what really counted,” until reading some of the great mountaineering stories of the day; “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson and soon to happen, or having just happened, the story of the first major disaster to happen on Mount Everest and hit the world stage.
Most know it now, as mostly rich, socialites and well-to-do midlife crisis candidates ponied up the substantial money to be dragged up the highest peak in the world, only to stack up in accident after foreseeable accident, and die when conditions turned anything but perfect. It has happened again, even after all of the outrage, and will probably happen again… money has a way of making people think anything is possible with enough of it.
Come our third trip, we were heading to the highest peak in New York State, Mount Marcy. There’s back story behind it’s name, but I can’t recall it these days. I do remember it’s the headwaters and start of the Hudson River, emptying into the Atlantic at New York City. It sounded and was important to me back then, NYC was a big deal in the small world of upstate NY where I grew up. But it was regarded by the blue collar, stoic population of my peers in much the same way environmentalists would regard sprawling Los Angeles to the rest of California; any natural catastrophe that could sweep it out to sea would be welcomed with much happiness and satisfaction.
The hike was a long one, somewhere on the order of 14 miles or more, slightly more than half would be on the return. The rise in the morning was early, the “slog” up to the five thousand, three hundred and forty three feet summit, long, gradual and mostly direct as can be, whether straight through a boggy section of trail, a rock scramble though a brook, or up a high stepped ladder made of local timbers, lashed or spiked together. The point of hiking in the High Peaks region was to get you to the top as quickly and in as short of a distance as possible.
This was no different than most of the hikes I had done or would come to do in the eastern chain of mountains known as the Appalachians, worn mostly round and low over the eons, covered by a blanket of hardwood trees in their lower elevations and dwarfed evergreens at heights. An outcrop of rock would garner a view randomly as you traversed the distances, a false summit might trick you into thinking you were nearing the top, only to reveal there was much more to go once you reached that “summit”.
Only a few peaks would be bare rock, tree line in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire started around four thousand feet and varied depending on the concentration of mountains and how far north you were. There were forty-six so called “high peaks” in New York, most of which were in the aptly called High Peak region, although few isolated ones were outside or separated far from the rest. The coveted ADK 46ers patch was earned after successfully summiting all of them, having signed into the logbook located at the top of each.
This trip would rack up quite a few, enough to inflict the addiction in my blood anyways. Although the trip up Marcy was long, our loop would quickly take us down the backside into the col and with a quick race straight up six hundred odd feet, the summit of Skylight was mine. Another ticked off, one closer to being an Adirondack Mountain Club 46er!
Over twenty years later, writing this without digging out a journal entry I know I did not write, that wouldn’t come until later, I know this accounting is quite accurate as to the addiction setting in then and there, as I would repeat this trip again. The notable difference being, without group and in the middle of winter. The first trip, my initiation, I would deem to have been too easy, regardless my days earlier sucking wind to make it to my first summit.
Nothing said “addiction” or “crazy” like setting out on my own in an Adirondack winter, “loaded for bear” to show not only could I do all the Forty-Sixers under decent weather conditions, but I could do them in winter too!
I can recall camping out in the col between Marcy and Skylight better than I can recollect the original hike with the group. This slog loaded me down with every piece of camping and survival equipment possible, and as I was far from a competent skier, I carried it all atop a pair of snowshoes…. Step by heavy step through the wet Adirondack snows.
A friend, Patrick, whom I met through my “crazy” reputation preceding me via a fellow classmate on this original trip, and I would later set out to build our own snowshoes. It was just the natural course of things in our youthful and rebellious age, turning away from society, making your own and “earning your turns”.
We never did forge our own snowshoes, but we were only a few decisions and subsequent actions away from following in the footsteps of the famous Yosemite Wallrat, “Endless Summer” traveler and founder of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. Of course then, Patagonia was still a niche product line, well outside the price range of us dirtbag counterculturists, the rubberized cloth of a school bus seat seemed perfect for the decking, aircraft grade aluminum tubing, just coming into regular usage, for the frame was another story all together.
Neither here nor there, Patrick would one day live in a Yurt, my hippie ass would later be chided for “living in my van down the [ocean]”, our mutual friend Rob would opt for the simpler life in New England, and later to arrive, the third member of the “Saugerties Boys” Jonathan would join our Nedite aspirations in Potsdam, to later welcome me to Crested Butte, Colorado after my first “retirement” from gainful employment, prior to his departure from crowded mountain town society to less occupied places.
And this could go on….