With thoughts of his son, father pursues all 46 peaks in one trip
By Mike Lynch
A 67-year-old father of a fallen 46er is planning a winter thru-hike of the High Peaks to raise money for forest rangers.
Neil Luckhurst, of Montreal, plans to start the trek in mid-February and finish in under 20 days. The main rules of his journey are simple: he doesn’t plan to enter a vehicle or building until he’s done. But he will be getting plenty of support from friends and family, including his wife, Sylvie, along the way. They will break trail through the snow and provide food, dry clothes and other necessary supplies. At times, they will join him on hikes and stay overnight.
This is Luckhurst’s fourth hiking fundraiser for the ADKHighPeaks Foundation, a nonprofit he started more than a decade ago as a way to cope with the loss of his son, Dominic 16 years ago. An avalanche buried and killed Dominic at the age of 19 in the Canadian Rockies.
The father and son completed the 46 High Peaks together. They started in July 1992 at Cascade and finished on Rocky Peak Ridge in October 2005.
“Anytime I’m doing a specific trail or mountain in the High Peaks, I recognize specific spots where we may have stopped,” he said. “I think about him quite a bit.”
Luckhurst’s previous three hiking fundraisers for the foundation raised more than $25,000 combined, he said. For his last one, he climbed the Adirondacks’ 100 highest mountains in a single winter, finishing in 2018.
The foundation supports various High Peaks-region related causes, including the summit steward program and restoring the Mount Adams firepower. This fundraiser is aimed at raising money that will go to the nonprofit Forest Ranger Foundation, which provides state forest rangers with equipment, training and other support.
“For another nonprofit to help us out like that and fund-raise is a huge help,” said Keene-based forest ranger Andrew Lewis, who has been instrumental in the foundation. “It’ll just springboard our next fundraising project, which will be fantastic. So it’s a huge help. It’s definitely what we need.”
The ranger foundation, which became official in May, has raised nearly $20,000, mostly from small donations and a pair of grants, Lewis said. He said one of the foundation’s goals this winter is to purchase equipment kits to aid cold-weather rescues. The kit would include essential gear to keep the rescued people warm, including a jacket.
As for Luckhurst, he plans to stay in lean-tos most of the trip, but will have to camp in a tent some days. He will carry a satellite phone for safety reasons and to communicate with fundraiser organizations to update a blog about his trip.
He plans to cook freeze-dried dinners with a lightweight white-gas stove since fires aren’t allowed in the High Peaks. Breakfast will consist of protein bars and caffeine candies that he eats in the comfort of his sleeping bag.
He aims to hike from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, getting to sleep at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.
“I’ll be getting a lot of sleep at night and that’s going to be very important for recovery because each day is a big day and they just keep coming one day after the other,” he said.
Luckhurst, who is retired, has been training for the adventure since June, when he was doing hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
His training switched to the Adirondacks in November and he’s been here ever since, staying with a friend who lives in Ausable Forks.
“When I got here, the Adirondacks, in early November, I had to scale way back on my ambitions in terms of how much vertical I was going to hike because there’s nothing harder than hiking in the Adirondacks,” he said.
In February, his route will start with a climb of Esther and Whiteface and finish about three weeks later on Seward Mountain in the western High Peaks.
Photo at top: Neil Luckhurst stands on the summit of Saddleback Mountain. Photo provided