By Gwendolyn Craig
In September 2017, my mom and I met up for a weekend trip to the Adirondacks. I had not moved to the region yet, and had never been to the Adirondack Park.
After a night in Lake Placid, we tried climbing Cascade Mountain, one of the park’s High Peaks.
We did not finish.
I’ve had a wealth of hiking experience and education since then. Last year I climbed four High Peaks. But it wasn’t until this June that I summited my white whale — Cascade. Comparing my 2017 experience with my 2021 experience, I thought I would share some lessons learned the hard way.
- Don’t listen to internet advice calling Cascade Mountain easy. Even if you’ve hiked all of your life, if you’ve never climbed a mountain, it’s important to remember that “easy” is relative. An “Adirondack mile” is not the same as a flat mile.
- Don’t start a high peak hike after two hours of watching skiers practice in the summer heat at the Olympic Jumping Complex.
- Don’t start your hike midday when you are a newbie without a plan, map or headlamp.
- Don’t wear cotton. It doesn’t wick your sweat.
- Don’t bring only one 16-ounce plastic bottle of water from the hotel room. You’ll need much more than that.
- Don’t forget to bring snacks, and bring more than just a hotel breakfast banana and a bag of popcorn. Otherwise, you will be hangry.
- Don’t ignore the advice of stewards at the trailheads, who suggest to you an easier hike, even if you’re turned off by the fact that there are three of them mostly concerned with showing you how to dig a hole to poop off trail.
- Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed that a steward might be implying you don’t look cut out for the hike.
- Don’t rely on the enthusiasm and motivation of other hikers on the trail who tell you that you are “halfway there.”
- Don’t get mad at the next group of hikers who more accurately tell you that you are “one-third of the way there.”
- Don’t sprint ahead of your mom to try and take a picture from the top. Never leave anyone in your group behind.
Learn more about hiking essentials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation at dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28708.html.
- Don’t mistake a false summit for the real one.
- Don’t let yourself get so dehydrated that you throw up. And don’t be afraid to tell your daughter if you do. If you’re having a medical issue the entire group should be aware.
- Don’t be ashamed to turn around. The mountain will be there for another day.
- Don’t let a rough experience keep you from learning and trying again. I’m so glad I didn’t.
Mom and I were lucky. I am glad we turned around when we did. Safely back in our hotel room after a shower and some food, our adventure looked a little rosier and we schemed for our next trip. Little did I know that I would move to the area less than a year later.
Hiking Cascade this June, I had more than enough water packed, plenty of snacks and more Adirondack miles under my belt. My mom has continued to hike, but with two hip replacements since our adventure up a High Peak, she did not accompany me this time. On the way up, I recognized some of the spots where we had rested. When I scrambled up the first lookout, I felt sheepish thinking about how I had once thought it was the summit.
What a pleasant surprise awaited me.
I couldn’t believe it when we came to the clearing in the woods at the bottom of the open rock ledge leading to the summit. My hair whipped in high-speed winds 4,000-feet up. I put on my lighter winter jacket as we climbed the final stretch. I often hear about how crowded and over-hyped Cascade is, but on this day, there were only a handful of people on the trail. The views of Lake Placid and the 360-degree sightline of the High Peaks region had me elated. Nearly four years later, I had made it.
Full Guidebook Set
Buy the full set of six “Short Hike” guidebooks.
Environmental policy updates
Sign up for Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report” newsletter