I recently attempted to thru-hike all 46 of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, unsupported and entirely on foot. This was far and away the most difficult and dangerous thing I’ve ever attempted. The trails through the high peaks region are some of the wildest and most rugged in the country, and certainly the toughest trails I’ve ever been on.
I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. This is sort of the prologue, day one, back when things were nice and the world was my oyster.
I woke up in my car at the trailhead off of Coreys Road. After stuffing my face full of food and water, I set off with my pack. The plan was to hike the Seward and Santanoni ranges, knocking out a bunch of the isolated peaks in the west before moving towards the more dense cluster of mountains to the east.
The first few miles were along flat dirt trail, so I used that time to get accustomed to my backpack. I had tried to pack light, but I think the pack ended up being just shy of 30 pounds, almost ten pounds heavier than I had wanted. It took a little while to get used to the extra weight, and I spent a good portion of that first morning adjusting straps to find the best fit. Once I had it dialed in, I was good to go.
It didn’t take me long to reach the herd path up to the Seward range. I dropped my pack, strapped on my vest, and bounded up the trail. Dropping the pack made it feel like I was floating up the trail, and soon I found myself at the top of Seward. I snapped a quick picture on my camera and continued on, not wanting to stop for too long on each peak. These were going to be long, arduous days, and I didn’t want to waste any time.
It wasn’t long before I reached Donaldson and was on my way to Emmons. On my way over to the furthest peak in the range, I realized I was freezing. Zooming through the narrow, confined herd paths on these peaks had soaked me with dew, and the cool mountain air was chilling me from head to toe. My teeth were chattering and my hands were numb and shaking. Nothing a few more miles of hiking wouldn’t cure, but it was a good reminder that I needed to be prepared for anything.
It was also at this point that I realized the map I had with me was now completely soaked. This was a problem, since the first two or three days of the hike were going to be on trails that I had never seen before. I knew the general route, so I told myself it would be fine, but the map is my lifeline, even on trails I know well. Losing it would make navigation in unfamiliar territory very difficult. I shrugged and kept hiking. Nothing to be done about it now.
I tagged Emmons and quickly turned around, returning to my pack over the same peaks I had just climbed. When I got to the bottom I had a snack and continued over to the herd path to Seymour, which was only a little ways down the trail. There I dropped the pack again, zoomed up, zoomed down, and had the pack back on before I could say ‘Wow, that feels good!’.
Now that the day had gotten into full swing and I was back down off the high mountains, I was no longer freezing cold. My map was still sopping wet, but I had to take things one step at a time. With the Sewards all done, I had to make my way ten miles over to the Santanonis and hike them as well before the sun went down. Shit. I hurriedly packed all my stuff in my bag, strapped it on, and set off.
I set a pretty good pace leaving the Seymour trailhead. The trail was still easy, with a lot of dirt and few rocks on an easy downhill. The pack was sitting well, and my energy levels were pretty good. I hiked for a little while before reaching a junction I was unsure about. I carefully opened the map to check on it. The damp paper survived the ordeal, and I thought that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. As I was repacking it, I realized something was missing. My headlamp wasn’t in the pocket I thought it was. I rifled through the rest of my pack looking for it, but couldn’t find it anywhere.
This was not good. There was no way I would be doing all my hiking, camping, everything without being able to see in the dark. I stood there for a second, unsure of what to do. It must have dropped off the pack somewhere up the trail. I looked despairingly up the trail I had just traveled. What a pain in the ass. Leaving my pack, I ran back towards the Sewards, searching for the headlamp along the way. I finally found it sitting in the middle of the trail that led to Seymour. Relieved, I snagged it and ran back to the pack. Knowing I had wasted precious daylight on the longest day of the hike, I set off again, redoubling my efforts.
I flew down the trail to Duck Hole, reaching it in the late afternoon. That is a beautiful place. Wide open grassy fields, and a scenic pond or lake or hole or whatever. I ate dinner here, then set off to the south for Bradley Pond, at the foot of the Santanonis. In stark contrast to the gentle trail from Coreys Road to Duck Hole, the trail from Duck Hole to Bradley Pond was in rough shape. The trail was overgrown, to the point I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet. Blowdown stretched up and down the trail, and erosion had made hiking treacherous.
I slowly made my way south to Bradley Pond, slipping and stumbling, yelling and grunting. By the time I reached the lean-to, it was getting dark, and I wearily accepted that I wouldn’t be hiking the Santanonis tonight. I had already had some navigational uncertainties, and I didn’t want to get up to any more in the dark. I crawled into the lean-to, which was full of people eating, laughing, and chatting in English and French. I sat quietly in the back, decompressing from the day. I had hiked 29 miles over 16 hours, and I was toast.
The other folks in the lean-to chatted me up after a while, and I told them where I had come from and my plans for the next day. They were helpful and interested. They offered detailed maps and directions, and one of the people there said he was going up to Couchsachraga the next morning, and that he would show me the way up. Grateful for the help, I went to bed feeling a little better for the next day.