The start of our epic journey to climb all 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks started in 2020 at the beginning of the global pandemic. My son Michael (then a senior in high school), was sent home along with millions of students from preschool to graduate studies across the globe. In the infancy of the pandemic, little was known of the cause nor the best way to contain such a fast-spreading airborne illness. Fast forward to 2022, global scientists, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals collaborated on effective COVID-19 vaccines, medications, and public health recommendations to help underserved populations and improve patient outcomes.
The journey with my son hiking the 46 High Peaks began as a quest to raise awareness for the millions of brave men and women working tirelessly to protect the communities that they serve. The continued display of heroic perseverance and compassion for those impacted continues as the Omicron variant rages on. The lessons that I have learned on the mountains are transferable to life’s many uncertainties. Much like living in today’s world, mother nature can deliver majestic beauty along with tremendous devastation. No matter what part of the world you call home, it’s hard not to find unscathed communities negatively impacted by COVID-19.
At 39 peaks completed, we still have some very challenging mountains to summit on our journey to becoming 46ers. The planning for this hike was all weather related, as winter hiking conditions in the Adirondacks can be extremely challenging. The weather patterns and temperature can change at the drop of a dime. The morning of our hike, January 5th, was a cool 12 degrees with overcast skies. We wanted to get an early start for an attempt at Cliff (the 44th highest peak with an elevation of 3,960 feet), Redfield (the 14th highest at 4,606 feet), and Marshall (ranked 25th at 4,360 feet). Combined, this was going to be a challenging 23.2-mile trek from start to finish. We looked at the different routes and decided on starting from the Upper Works parking area located near Newcomb, NY. This historic walk-through history is commonly known as “old Adirondack.” (www.adirondackexplorwer.org) The historic area and parking lot was beautifully re-done and provides a nice snapshot of what life was like in this once bustling community that attracted everyone from wealthy investors, explorers, to a U.S. president.
Our start at 5:15 am was later than we planned, as daylight and potential weather was something that would impede hitting all three peaks. Today, we had a new explorer joining us on our journey. Cassie is Michael’s friend from Morrisville college who was extremely interested in accompanying us on the hike. Cassie drove three hours the day prior on a short notice. She has the itch as she just started her 46er journey as she accomplished Adirondack’s highest peak, 5,344-foot-tall Mt. Marcy, with her dog Gambit this fall!
Our hike via the Calamity Brook trail started as a gradual, and very peaceful hike in the dark with headlights. The air was a crisp 12 degrees with a heavy cloud cover and very little wind. The stillness of the fresh snow-covered trails brought peace and calmness to ready our minds for what was a very challenging hike ahead. The snow glistened off the trees with our lights like millions of tiny diamonds perfectly placed on the pine needles and low thick brush on the sides of the trail.
The seven miles through the Calamity trail seemed very gradual with even-packed snow all the way to the Flowed Lands. In the winter, the Flowed Lands passage can shave off a mile or more of trail time on flat frozen waters. As we approached the way through, we noticed no signs of snowshoes or Skis. After a few steps onto the ice, we soon recognized the moving water underneath wasn’t safe. We quickly pivoted our approach and headed back on to the safest route.
As we approached the unmarked trail head that splits Redfield and Cliff, there was a dead pine tree that someone carved an arrow and words for each peak. It was already 9:45am, and we quickly headed to Redfield. The trail was snow covered and no tracks to follow. It looked like it hadn’t been traveled in quite a while. Not surprising, as unless you are seeking to check off these challenging peaks to be a 46er, it’s not one of the most popular hiking destinations. The weather cleared up slightly and the temperature gradually increased to 24 degrees. The hike up Redfield was steep, yet pleasant with good vertical and views of the surrounding mountains. Michael and Cassie decided for me to take lead to break trail and the pace. The Micro spikes we had on our feet provided sure footing and some reassurance with the icy patches. After two hours, we finally reached the top. It was absolutely breath-taking! The wind was only 5 to 7 MPH, and the sun briefly broke through the clouds to display a beautiful array of snow-covered mountains as far as the eye could see. Directly across, I found the view of Mt. Allen mystical and peaceful.
We decided to have a quick 15-minute break with a few snacks and struggled to open our water canteens for a drink as the lines froze during our ascent to over 4,600 feet. In that moment, we also witnessed a shift in air pressure and the wind picked up dramatically. The time to head down to the next peak was decided as the clouds started to roll in along with the snow. Although the weather called for a cloudy day with minimal precipitation, winter hiking in the Adirondacks is unpredictable at best.
With haste in our step, we quickly and carefully headed down the trail back to the fork in the trail for Cliff. Although Cliff has less elevation, we knew based on the reviews that the ice-covered rock scrambles could prove to be very dangerous. It took us about 50 minutes to get to the turnoff for Cliff and we had ALL-Trials downloaded on my phone to ensure we didn’t miss the turnoff. We contemplated leaving our packs and gear at the bottom to lessen the weight, but decided to play it safe and bring it in case the weather continued to get worse.
On the steep climb up Cliff, we planned on some steep scrambles, yet the first one seemed like a very formidable foe. Cassie was new to winter hiking and recently purchased an ice axe as we recommended for this hike. Michael and I had experience using it last winter season, but we are not experts by any means. We did a little demonstration on the best way to climb and pick our routes up each of Cliff’s steep and icy cliffs. Since I was the slower of the group and Cassie never climbed ice, we had Michael first, then Cassie and myself last. We steadily and safely made our way up the winding trail littered with ice and cliffs that made me a bit uneasy when looking back down. Cassie was fearless and did amazing on her climb to the top! When we looked at our time, we discovered the day got away from us. We were running out of daylight fast. When we reached what seemed to be the top, we read about the false summit in the reviews. It was another 20 minutes of climbing and a few more ice cliff scrambles. At the top, the wind was howling, and the snow was starting to pick up. We spent very little time at the top as the consensus was not to try for Marshall. It was way too late and the weather turning foul meant it wasn’t in the cards today.
The descent down was equally tricky as we carefully scaled the cliff down to the bottom of the fork. When we hit that section, the time was 4:30 pm and darkness was approaching us fast. We knew at this point that the long and grueling hike was upon us. The headlights came back on, and we changed out of our wet jackets and bundled up as the temps started to drop.
At the point of the journey back to upper works, we felt tired, cold, and not thrilled about long hike out. With each step, we imagined the reward of a warm truck and the thermos of hot chocolate waiting for us to consume. The hike back was uneventful and knowing the prize at the end, we all quickened our pace. Over the next two and half hours, we walked in silence, all pondering the day and accomplishment of two more peaks completed. The most inspiring part of the day was to listen to Michael and Cassie on the way up the peaks, talking optimistically about post-pandemic life. It was in this moment; I recognized the importance of manifestation of what you want out of life and the future. For the younger generations, I am encouraged by their resilience and perseverance on making a difference in this world. It is in this thought that we must place our hope and support for the younger generations to be the next generation of leaders dedicated to making a difference in the world we live.
In summary, the 12+ hour, 18.9-mile hike was one of the most challenging yet rewarding journeys in our 46er quest. The parable of nurses and healthcare professionals was in my mind throughout the long hike up and trek out. My manifestations also became clear and brought a sense of calmness in my cold and weary body. I have learned to trust and use this inner voice as a roadmap in my life. I believe all can leverage manifestation as a secret tool in their daily lives to bring about the positive things they put their efforts and heart into. No matter the challenge, or obstacles we face as individuals, or as a shared community, we bring about positive change in both our own lives and the world around us.
Follow David's progress with his goal to climb all 46 Adirondack High Peaks on the 46er Challenge Page.