46 High Peaks in less than 4 days

Ted Keizer bounds off the summit of Cascade Mountain, his 41st High Peak in less than four days. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.

3 days, 18 hours of fame

By Phil Brown

He did it, but not everyone is thrilled. Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer set a speed record for climbing the 46 High Peaks: 3 days, 18 hours, 14 minutes. He beat the old mark by a full day.

Keizer hiked 141 miles and ascended nearly 56,000 feet during the mountain marathon. He slept only 15 minutes a day. Setting off from the Ward Brook lean-to near the Seward Range at 4:15 a.m. on June 24, he arrived at his first summit, Seymour, 2½ hours later and at his final summit, Whiteface, at 10:32 p.m. on June 28.

Despite his fast clip, Keizer had time to enjoy the views. “By far, the best was on the top of Wright,” he said. “I saw this amazing sunset. It was fiery red that turned into a pale pink.”

The 30-year-old Oregon resident broke a record set without fanfare in 1977 by two local hikers, Ed Palen and Sharpe Swan. Then in their early 20s, Palen and Swan climbed the 46 peaks in 4 days, 18 hours. Their only goal, Palen said, was to finish in less than five days. Unlike Keizer, they slept for several hours every night.

“We weren’t trying to set any speed records,” said Palen, who now owns the Rock and River Lodge in Keene. “We just wanted to have fun.”

Nevertheless, the record stood for 25 years. Then one day Keizer showed up at Palen’s door and announced his intention to break it. Palen had no doubt that Keizer—who had already set a speed record by climbing Colorado’s 55 peaks over 14,000 feet in 10 days, 20½ hours—would be successful. “He’s a serious athlete,” he remarked. “We were hikers.”

Palen didn’t mind. In fact, he advised Keizer on which routes to take. Yet, Palen fears that the publicity surrounding the quest, in the media and on the Cave Dog’s Web site, will leave young hikers with the impression that mountains exist only to be run up and down. “I don’t want to come down as a heavy, but I felt a little disappointed,” he said. “We did it for fun because we loved being in the mountains. We didn’t tell anybody because we didn’t want to give people the wrong idea.”

Others were more blunt in their criticism.

“He’s a glory hound; that’s the kind of dog he is,” said Neil Woodworth, lawyer for the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). “Our mountains are environmental treasures to be protected,” he added. “They’re not sporting trophies.”

Biologist Ed Ketchledge, who has devoted many years to studying High Peaks flora, regards the mountains as a classroom in which to learn about natural history. “Running up and down them for some perceived physical recognition—fleeting at best—is no more justified an endeavor than racing around the New York State Museum or the Arlington National Cemetery. The High Peaks are not a playground for men acting as children.”

Ted Keizer relaxes on Whiteface, his last summit. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.

But Tony Goodwin, author of ADK’s High Peaks guidebook, said Keizer should not be condemned for doing his own thing. “Who’s to say what motivation is correct and what motivation is incorrect?” he asked. “If we get into that, it’s like Orwellian thought control.” Furthermore, he noted that Keizer did no more damage to the environment than an ordinary hiker.

“I don’t have to defend myself,” Keizer said. “There are lots of ways to enjoy the mountains, and I love them all. People get the idea that I just run up and down mountains, but that’s just 1% of what I do.”

Speed climbing is nothing new to the Adirondacks. Bob Marshall, the co-founder of the Wilderness Society, went up 13 High Peaks in one day in 1932. An account of his hike appears in The Adirondack Reader, edited by Paul Jamieson (and published by ADK). The following year, Herbert Malcolm climbed 18 High Peaks in a single day, ascending almost 21,100 feet.

Back in the 1920s, Marshall, his brother George and their guide, Herbert Clark, became the first to climb all 46 High Peaks, a feat accomplished over several summers. In 1948, Lillian and Daniel McKenzie set the first speed-climbing record: 23 days. Other hikers followed suit, whittling the record down to nine days by 1972. That year, Patrick Griffin, 31, and Chris Beattie, 26, set out to break the record but ran into heavy winds and cold rain. Beattie turned back after climbing 32 peaks in four days. Griffin pressed on alone. The next day he was found dead of a heart attack on Mount Marcy.

Keizer enlisted a team of 16 people to help him. They brought him meals, water and dry clothes and, when necessary, drove him between trailheads. He carried a 40-ounce CamelBak water pouch, energy bars, toilet paper and a headlamp for night travel. He wore trail-running shoes rather than hiking boots, but he described his pace as fast hiking, not jogging.

He said he has no idea how much the whole adventure cost. A graduate of Brown University, Keizer supports himself by working odd jobs. Over the years, he’s been everything from a hot-air-balloon pilot to a hotel accountant to an ambulance driver. “My only rule is that I never do the same job twice,” he said.

But he avoids employment altogether when training for one of his marathons. Before setting the High Peaks record, he trained for 13 months, putting in countless hours of road running, climbing stairs (up and down 7,000 vertical feet in 3½ hours) and scouting the trails. This spring, he would spend 10 to 14 hours a day hiking the trails and got to know them so well that he didn’t even carry a map on his record-setting circuit.

For the most part, he followed established trails and herd paths. He ascended Santanoni via a slide from private land inaccessible to the public. He did two bushwhacks, from Bear Den to the Dix Mountain trail and from the Redfield summit to Skylight. He lost his bearings only once, after going off trail in the Dixes to escape a lightning storm.

Keizer has hiked all his life, but he didn’t grow up dreaming of conquering mountains. Although he competed in the pole vault in high school, he considered himself more of a scholar than an athlete. “I thought endurance athletes were all nuts,” he said. Several years after college, however, a friend told him about the Colorado record, and it piqued his interest. Four years later, he broke it.

“I got into speed climbing for the adventure,” Keizer said. “I believe life is a collection of experiences, and it’s up to the individual to find those experiences that are rewarding.”

He soon moved on to his next experience: In August, he set another record by climbing the 48 summits over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in 3 days, 17 hours, 21 minutes.

Map by Nancy Bernstein. Click to enlarge.

June 24
Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer leaves Ward Brook lean-to at 4:15 a.m. His summit times follow.
1. Seymour: 5:09 a.m.
2. Seward: 7:08 a.m.
3. Donaldson: 7:42 a.m.
4. Emmons: 8:07 a.m.
5. Santanoni: 1:44 p.m.
6. Panther: 2:19 p.m.
7. Couchsachraga: 3:09 p.m.
8. Allen: 8:08 p.m.

June 25
9. Marshall: 12:58 a.m.
10. Iroquois: 3:13 a.m.
11. Algonquin: 3:40 a.m.
12. Wright: 4:45 a.m.
13. Phelps: 6:56 a.m.
14. Tabletop: 8:19 a.m.
15. Colden: 9:53 a.m.
16. Cliff: 12:11 p.m.
17. Redfield: 1:46 p.m.
18. Skylight: 3:23 p.m.
19. Gray: 4:02 p.m.
20. Marcy: 4:53 p.m.
21. Haystack: 6:08 p.m.
22. Basin: 7:11 p.m.
23. Saddleback: 7:45 p.m.
24. Sawteeth: 9:40 p.m.
25. Gothics: 11:29 p.m.

June 26
26. Armstrong: 12:07 a.m.
27. Upper Wolfjaw: 12:45 a.m.
28. Lower Wolfjaw: 1:48 a.m.
29. Big Slide: 6:03 a.m.
30. Colvin: 9:45 a.m.
31. Blake: 10:26 a.m.
32. Nippletop: 12:47 p.m.
33. Dial: 1:47 p.m.
34. Dix: 5:08 p.m.
35. Hough: 5:59 p.m.
36. South Dix: 6:51 p.m.
37. East Dix: 8:56 p.m.

June 27
38. Macomb: 12:09 a.m.
39. Giant: 6:12 a.m.
40. Rocky Peak: 6:53 a.m.
41. Cascade: 10:50 a.m.
42. Porter: 11:30 a.m.
43. Nye: 3:16 p.m.
44. Street: 4:06 p.m.
45. Esther: 9:09 p.m.
46. Whiteface: 10:29 p.m.

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The Adirondack Explorer is a nonprofit magazine covering the Adirondack Park's environment, recreation and communities.

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