Three generations of hikers take their place among the High Peaks finishers
By Holly Riddle
When Marta Bolton Quilliam began hiking in 1990 at 27 years old, she hardly expected to become a 46er — or that her children and then grandchildren would join her in completing the strenuous Adirondack hiking challenge.
Previously an extreme cyclist, Quilliam’s first mountain was the comparatively tame Poke-O-Moonshine, at her then-husband’s urging. Next, they tackled something just a little more difficult: Mount Marcy. From there, Marta was hooked and she became an Adirondack 46er within the span of a year, completing her 46th High Peak in September 1991, on Dix Mountain (Becoming 46er No. 2,971, with later adding a “W” for her first winter finish).
Today, Quilliam approximates she’s hiked all High Peak mountains nearly 18 times, six of those times being in the winter, but beyond this admirable feat, she’s also hiked the High Peaks alongside many family members, including her daughters — Renee Bolton (#3266) and Jennifer Ward (#3267). And, this year, two grandchildren, Braiden and Caitlyn Rivers joined the ranks of 46ers (as nos. #13513 and #13514).
A family affair
“My girls’ father and I went out hiking all the time and they wanted to go along as well. They started at ages 8 and 10 and finished at ages 10 and 12,” Quilliam said, describing her two daughters’ experience.
Renee Bolton describes her first High Peak hike, on Phelps Mountain: “It was early fall, with a little bit of snow. It was snowing that day. I had decided that day that I wanted to be a 46er, like my parents. That’s pretty much where I took off from there and we did it,” she said.
“We made trips throughout two summers and by the time I was 10, I completed on Mount Dix, which is the same one that my mom and dad completed on and the same as Caitlyn and Braiden, which is pretty cool.”– Renee Bolton, on family members finishing their 46er series on the same mountain.
Bolton’s favorite hike? Mount Marcy, while her least favorite of the batch was Allen Mountain, which she laughingly describes as “the worst mountain I’ve ever climbed in my life — long and boring.”
Now, Bolton says she keeps her hikes primarily to short nature walks, but, while some mothers may have balked at the idea of her young children taking on such a strenuous — and often risky — hiking challenge, she was thrilled for Caitlyn and Braiden to take on the 46er challenge alongside their grandmother.
“I thought it was a good thing for them. I feel that them hiking and doing that, and having a goal, will help them later on in life, especially with their work ethics,” she explains. “Being an outdoorsy girl, growing up, I didn’t just hike, but I rock climbed and everything, and it taught me not to be lazy. Nowadays, kids are always into video games and stuff like that and they don’t even leave the couch. It’s nice to know that my kids are out and doing something, getting fresh air and setting goals.” She says, since starting their hiking challenge, she’s noticed improvements in both her children’s motor skills and moods.
So what inspired the kids to pursue their 46er status in the first place? As was the case with many people who began hiking more seriously and more often over the last year, it all started with an effort to get outdoors, get healthy and find something to do in the midst of the pandemic.
“Last year during COVID, there was nothing for us to do,” describes Quilliam. “One day, we finished school… and I said, let’s get our backpacks, and we went up Whiteface, up the highway. That lit the fire and we never stopped.”
This time hiking the 46 High Peaks, however, was different for Quilliam. When hiking the peaks as a mother, she had her daughters’ father to assist with all the challenges that come with hiking with children. With Caitlyn and Braiden, it was just her, at least at first.
“Fortunately for us, 27 hikers have come forward through Facebook, saying, if you need any help, let us know. We’re going here or there if you’d like to join us…” she says. “I’m just amazed at how the hiking community really came through for me and the children and stuck with us the whole 15 months we did it… We never lacked a partner.” Many of those fellow hikers joined the trio on their last hike, up Dix Mountain, cheering them on as the children became the third generation of 46ers in the family.
So, what’s next for Quilliam and the kids?
Caitlyn (whose favorite hike was Whiteface) says she’s ready for more hiking, though she does acknowledge that the process of becoming 46er wasn’t exactly easy. “The hardest part was waking up early and my feet being sore, and being all muddy,” she notes. “In the 46ers, you have to pull yourself up a lot and you have to be strong. It takes a lot of effort. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. You’ll be tired after every High Peak, no matter what.”
Braiden, on the other hand, is ready for a break, saying his favorite part of the experience was finishing on Dix.
Quilliam anticipates they’ll work on completing the fire tower hiking challenge next.
“The whole experience was just amazing,” she sums up. “I can’t lie about that. I don’t think there are a lot of 46ers that have been out and did all 46 with their grandchildren, let alone their children as well. I did all 46 with both my girls and all 46 with my grandchildren… Dix will always hold special memories. That, to me, is our generational finisher peak. My daughters, myself and my grandchildren all finished on Dix.”