Hiking is a rigorous exercise that can be enjoyed by most people for a few hours or a day in the countryside or on city streets.
Personally, I was introduced to hiking in the high peaks (4,000 feet) of the Adirondack Mountains in New York state as a teenage Boy Scout, first hiking Mt. Marcy, the highest.
As a result of this early experience, I have been eager to return to hike these mountains. Once I learned there was an organization called the "Forty-Sixers," who climbed all 46 peaks over 4,000 feet; I decided to attempt this effort.
The author, third from left, is accompanied by his family and relatives at the summit of Sawteeth Peak in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state at the completion of hiking his 46th and last peak over 4,000 feet.
Starting at age 50, I was able to hike two or three peaks each year and completed the 46th peak on July 3, 2008, with my wife, four daughters, one son-in-law, one daughter's boyfriend, a sister and brother-in-law, and one nephew joining me on the hike of Sawteeth. In a recent edition of The Post-Journal, Jeff Tome, in a beautifully written article, described the pleasures of backpacking and camping overnight in the woods of Pennsylvania. For me, carrying 35-45 pounds in a backpack detracted from the pleasures of hiking so day hikes were my choice.
After an eight-hour, 400-mile drive to the trailhead near Lake Placid, I often tell myself I should hike near home in Chautauqua County. In spite of the long drive, many overwhelming attractions draw me back to the high peaks. First is the physical challenge of ascending 2,000 feet from the trailhead, which is at a 2,000 foot elevation to start, while hiking 10-18 miles round trip to the summit, usually in one day. On a clear day the view from the summit 50 miles in any direction over rugged, conifer covered peaks is breath taking. Balsam fir growing near the summit of all the mountains emits a wonderful fragrance reminding me of Christmas. On most trips I had the companionship of two daughters at a time when they were in elementary school who agreed to hike with dad if shopping followed the next day in Lake Placid. Other times adult friends or my wife joined me. Even family dogs made the hike when I was desperate for company.
Hiking any of the 46 peaks, including the 12 or so tailless peaks, are considered safe and popular routes used by thousands of hikers every year. Since summer and fall weather can change to rain or cold suddenly, I hike with a pack carrying waterproof rain pants and jacket, a first aid kit, toilet paper, lunch, extra food, 2-3 liters of water or a water purification pump and a body length light-weight metal foil lined bag for an emergency night out on the trail. Family members balk at this ordeal which hiking authorities considered the safe way to hike in the Adirondacks.
Fortunately, all my trips ended safely. Vivid memories remain for most of the hikes. While hiking Whiteface Mt. in mid July with family members several years ago an inch of hail fell en route. The summit was so cold the refreshment stand for motorists reaching the peak was closed. We worried about hypothermia as we ate lunch huddled behind the summit building to escape the wind. On a trip up Saddleback and Basin Peaks with my 90 pound dog, Miller, I had to bushwhack for two hours around a cliff meant to be scaled by a wooden ladder which Miller could not climb.
We completed the hike after dark, missed the shuttle back to my car, which added five more miles to the day. During those final five miles, every time I stopped to rest, Miller fell asleep on the side of the road. My friend, Ranjit, has hiked four peaks with me even though he grew up avoiding any effort producing sweat. During a descent from two peaks a buddy hiking ahead of me missed a trail sign and then headed along the wrong trail. Luckily, a group of hikers helped me locate my friend. Completion of my 46th and final peak was celebrated at a local restaurant over pizza and beer.