ADIRONDACK PEAK Experiences: Mountaineering Adventures, Misadventures and the Pursuit of “The 46” contains eighty-six essays and one poem inspired by wilderness outings, mostly in the High Peaks.
It also contains brief histories of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Forty-Sixers (whose members have climbed all forty-six of the peaks).
Carol Stone White, a Forty-Sixer herself, edited the anthology. Most of the accounts are short, written by enthusiasts about their own adventures. Many are illustrated by small black-and-white photographs.
As many hikers know, the forty-six High Peaks were first climbed by Bob and George Marshall, along with their guide, Herb Clark. In 1925, when they completed their round, they thought all the peaks were over four thousand feet. Later measurements revealed that four fall short of that benchmark status. Nevertheless, hikers stick to the original list.
Climbing the forty-six has become an Adirondack tradition. More than six thousand hikers have done it. Although the peaks are small compared with the Rockies or the Sierras, this book shows that they are not to be taken lightly.
Philip Corell describes a perilous winter overnight on Mount Marcy in snowshoes with leather straps that got wet, stretched, and caused the snowshoes to fall off.
“Eventually, as you stepped out of your snowshoe, your leg would plunge down into unconsolidated snow. This would result in a face plant with a sixtypound pack firmly weighing you down!We soon became adept at turning our bodies as we fell to avoid a mouthful of snow, but grew tired from struggling up and wrestling to replace the shoe.”
Corell’s is a cautionary tale from years ago during his college days. The account doesn’t say exactly when.
The book’s first and longest account is from Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer, who came to the Adirondacks as part of a quest to do marathon hikes in all fifty states. He had a commercial sponsor and support crew all with dog nicknames. He planned to conclude his quest in November 2005 by duplicating a famously ambitious hike by Bob Marshall over the Great Range and the MacIntyre Range. When Keizer made his attempt, however, the weather and terrain were icy and wet. He hiked parts of the Marshall route starting in the daytime but took a detour overnight.
“I called Sugar Dog again; Night Dog had called Sea Dog! Enormous relief swept over me. Sea Dog told Night Dog to get off the mountain immediately, hike to the Adirondack Loj, and Lucky Dog would pick him up. I wanted to join him, but Night Dog was too far ahead. I spent the rest of the night hiking at lower elevations to achieve the necessary mileage for the challenge, finishing at 4:00 a.m. and caught a two-hour nap.”
As you can see, this is not literature. And Keizer spent part of that night walking along two-lane highways to get his distance, not exactly Marshall’s wilderness experience.
It raises the question about purpose. In his essay “Why Do We Hike?” Bruce Wadsworth answers it after meeting a couple on the Northville-Placid Trail, the man blind, hiking while holding onto his wife’s shirttail. “To experience change in our daily routine, to let nerve endings rest awhile … that’s all part of it,” Wadsworth wrote.
As the essays make clear, there are various reasons, ranging from endurance test to adventure, from sublime aesthetics to escape.
In a New Year’s Eve climb up Marcy, Isaac Siskind and his companions, all wearing crampons and face masks, reached the summit about 4 a.m. “To the north we could clearly see the illuminated towns of Saranac, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, while to the south there were only solitary twinkles of scattered lights. The heavens were crystal clear with more stars than I had seen before. The fact that it was the last day of 1979 seemed to weave a spell about us. The quick flash of a meteor heightened the drama of the scene.”
Gloria Daly’s climb up Mount Colden’s Trap Dike in July 2000 led to a moment when her tewnty-two-year-old daughter followed the guide up a steep rock face and ran out of handholds and couldn’t see her way to go back down. It’s a tense situation, as their guide gives precise instructions about where to place her hands and feet. They later climbed onto part of the Colden slide, then pushed through “very nasty krummholz,” dense vegetation that stabbed and jabbed them for twenty minutes before they emerged near the top of the main slide. “Although the view is breathtakingly beautiful, the pitch of the slide is not for those who have any fear of heights,” Daly wrote.
Having been stabbed by krummholz above the Trap Dike, hiked little Mount Jo to watch Keizer finish his Marshall marathon, seen the cascade of stars on an Adirondack winter night, and done a face plant in the snow, I can say the accounts ring true.
You have to be a little rugged to climb some of these mountains. It’s the recurring theme of these stories. They’re by, and for, climbers and hikers inclined to go back.