In 1997 I attended the Banff Festival of Mountain Films (the Burlington, VT stop of the “Best of the Festival” tour) and was awestruck by the film “I Made It.”  It was about Goran Kropp of Sweden who 20 years ago this October left Stockholm with all the gear that he would need to climb Everest and biked the 7,000 miles to Nepal (through countries like Romania, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran) without any outside support. Then he hiked to Everest base camp carrying all this gear (without any Sherpa support), climbed Everest solo and without supplemental oxygen, hiked back to his bicycle and then biked back to Sweden. Unfortunately Goran died in a rock climbing accident in 2002 but his story still inspires many. Then in 2014 I heard about Justin Simoni’s upcoming attempt to hike/climb Colorado’s 58 14,000’ peaks in a self-powered and self-supported manner. Starting and finishing at the American Mountain Center in Golden, CO and getting between trail heads via bicycle. I followed along (on Trackleaders.com and Bikepacking.net and through Justin’s Facebook posts) and was amazed when Justin completed his “Tour 14er” in 34 days and 12 hours. This “tour” included 1609 miles of cycling, 387 miles of hiking and over 150,000’ of elevation gain on foot and on bike (over 306,000’ total). An incredibly difficult adventure and Justin was deservedly honored by Bikepackers Magazine in the Adventure/Expedition category of its 2014 Year in Review edition. Justin SimoniInspired by Goran, Justin and this whole new world of self-supported bikepack racing, I try to ride/hike self-powered (avoiding the car) and self-supported whenever I can. Starting/ending most rides at my home in Richmond, VT, biking to and from trail heads or using bikes to get to or from one end when doing point to point hikes. Fortunately this is fairly easy where I live as there are a lot of dirt roads, single track trails and hiking trails close by. But Justin’s Tour 14er got me thinking that the same concept could be used to complete the Adirondack 46ers (the historical list of the 46 4,000’ peaks in the Adirondack Mountains of NY) or the 48 White Mountain (NH) 4,000’ peaks. For many it is a lifetime goal to complete either list but both sets of mountains have also been completed via self-supported backpacks in the 7-8 day range as the peaks are close enough together to make thru hikes feasible. After doing research it didn’t appear that either set of peaks had been tackled while starting/ending at one spot while getting around by bicycle. Via self-powered peak bagging or a self-powered duathlon as Justin has referred to this approach. I decided that the ADK 46ers were more appealing (though the Whites might be on the agenda for next summer) since the history (in my opinion) is more interesting, the peaks are more remote and there is less hiker traffic. Only 26 of the peaks have trails to the top that are maintained by New York’s Department of Conversation (DEC). The other 20 are known as “trail-less” peaks but in reality they each have what is referred to as “herd paths” which are maintained by the ADK 46ers club. Some are very rough but others are as nice as many of the trails maintained by the DEC. Also – I had hiked 33 of the 46 previously but was making slow progress towards my goal of completing all 46. Why not take on this challenge of doing all 46 at once and complete this goal! 46er listSo this spring I began training in earnest. I did long day hikes, long bike rides, put in long bike/hike days as well as some multi-day backpacking. And I also began working to come up with a schedule that I thought I was capable of – while still hopefully enjoying the challenge – and was as efficient as possible. There are numerous trail heads and numerous ways that one could tackle this challenge. One could do more backpacking (with overnight gear) to link together more peaks to lessen total hiking and biking miles for example. There are tradeoffs when it comes to hiking miles, biking miles, weight carried and elevation gain but with the help of the experts on the ADK High Peaks forum I settled on a schedule that I could hopefully complete in 14 days. And of course I had to settle on gear. Keeping the weight down while being prepared for all kinds of weather and making sure that I could stay fueled and hydrated throughout the trip. There would only be 230 miles of cycling with maybe 25 of that on gravel as bikes are not allowed in the designated wilderness areas (so I could only bike to trail heads). A cross bike would have worked well but I was happy to stick with my Specialized Stumpjumper 29er HT Comp with Revelate Design bags. Taking extended time off from work meant that I needed to keep expenses down but I did splurge on a new lightweight backpack (Osprey Exos 38) and raincoat (Marmot Essence). The most important piece of gear would be my hiking shoes as there would be 200+ miles (around of 70,000’ of elevation gain) of very rugged trail to negotiate (a lot of mud, roots and steep/rocky scrambling). After some testing I settled on a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D trail running shoes that turned out to be the perfect choice. Complicating things was the fact that a bear canister is required for wilderness overnights in the Eastern High Peak Zone (where I would be the first 10-11 days). The bears in the Adirondacks had long ago figured out how to get to food hung by rope. There is even 1 bear that figured out how to get into the BearVault brand of canisters so this brand can no longer be used (smart bears here!) I could have rented the required canister at several trail heads but as I already owned one I decided to be frugal and bring it from the start. While cycling the canister fit inside my backpack (while the rest of the gear was in my bike bags), while backpacking it fit nicely under the top lid of my pack and while day hiking it was stashed in the woods alongside my bike. I never enjoyed lugging around the bulky 2.7 pounds but it was nice to know that my food was safe from critters. Gear - including bear canisterFinally my start date of July 21st arrived and I drove to the parking lot at the terminus of the Northville-Placid trail (133 mile hiking trail thru the Adirondacks) – determined to be the best long term parking option – from where I had a 4-5 mile bike ride to get to the Olympic Torch (from the 1980 Lake Placid winter Olympics). This was my planned start/end point from which the clock would start and stop on the Tour ADK 46er. My first day was going to be a long/hard one and I had hoped to be on the road by 5AM but it wasn’t until 5:45 that I pushed away from the torch and the Tour ADK 46er began.

The following is a recap of the 14 days

Day 1 – From the torch it was a 15 mile ride to the trail head in Wilmington, NY from which I would hike Whiteface (peak #1) and Esther (#2). Whiteface was a challenging start as it is the 5th highest at 4,867’ but I was moving quickly and was on top by 11AM. Esther was tagged via an out and back on the way down and I was back on the bike in the early afternoon for the 18-20 mile ride to the High Peaks Info Center (HPIC) trail head at Heart Lake. From here I had the Street (#3) and Nye (#4) herd paths to negotiate (9 miles of rough hiking) which included a couple of “interesting” stream crossings. Back at the trail head before dark I ate a backpacker meal on the porch of the info center to avoid an evening rain shower and then stealth camped in the parking lot to avoid the steep $40 fee at the adjacent campground. A long first day made tougher by the mud (it had been a very wet June/July in the northeast) and the 15 minute downpour that hit me on the afternoon ride. Whiteface Mt. - first summt Days 2-4 – To knock off the next 12 peaks I would be backpacking for 3 days. After stashing the bike in the woods I headed out and dropped my pack at the bottom of the side trails to Phelps (#5) and Table Top (#6) and struggled thru the mud to get to the top of each. Then the plan was to do the same for Mt. Colden before heading to the Uphill Brook Lean-to for the night but somehow I missed the trail for Colden and didn’t realize until 2 miles past. Idiot! Studying the map I decided that backtracking wasn’t the best option and I headed straight to the lean-to where I could tackle the challenging Redfield (#7) and Cliff (#8) herd paths a day early. Mt. Marcy plaqueThe next morning started with a good climb to Lake Tear of the Clouds from which I needed to find the herd path up Gray Peak (#9) before returning to maintained trails to tackle Marcy (#10 – the highest peak in NY at 5,344’) and Skylight (# 11). Above the tree line on these 3 peaks the views were amazing. Then back to the lean-to to pack up my overnight gear and then a hike down to Lake Colden from where I now needed to hike Colden (#12) from a longer/steeper trail than the one that I had planned to hike the day before. A highlight of this day was meeting ultra-runner Jenny Hoffman out for a training run (10 miles from the trail head) just 4 days after being the 3rd female finisher in the Vermont 100 (she led much of the way). Googling her later I learned that she is also the mother of 3 young children and a Harvard physics professor. Wow! Day 4 started with the rough and muddy herd path up/down Marshall (#13) and then I lugged the backpack up the long/steep trail over Algonquin (#15 – 2nd highest peak in NY) and back to the HPIC trailhead. Stashing the pack along the way to knock off Iroquois (# 14) and Wright (#16) via side trails. After reuniting with my bike I headed a few miles down the road to camp at South Meadow. Morning view from Mt. Marshall Days 5-7 After feeling great for 4 days I now had tired legs and sore knees and feet (my big toe nails were goners) from the steep/rocky descent of Algonquin the day before. In a bit of a funk I rode to the beautiful village of Keene Valley – stopping on the way at Cascade Lakes for the hike up Cascade (#17) and Porter (#18) – where I was able to resupply before riding the couple uphill miles to The Garden trail head from where I backpacked in 3 miles to basecamp for the next 2 nights. Expected rain and a broken spoke nipple (I had spaced on bringing a few extra spokes) deepened the funk and this day was a low point. Heavy overnight rain left muddier conditions and low clouds but fortunately things cleared up after descending from Haystack (#19). I continued along what is known as the Great Range – tagging Basin (#20), Saddleback (#21), Gothics (#22), Armstrong (#23), Upper Wolfjaw (#24) and Lower Wolfjaw (#25) -with spectacular views all along the way. The rock slides on these peaks and the rock scramble up Saddleback were highlights. Hiking fast all day I finished in the early evening and was now more than halfway thru the 46ers! This day was a high point – just 24 hours after my low point. View of GothicsBack in Keene Valley the next morning – after knocking off Big Slide (#27) and backpacking the 3 miles back to The Garden – I needed to figure out how to get the spoke nipple replaced. Stopping at the local grocery store I was elated to hear that the little town had a bike shop. LeepOff Cycles is owned by Mark Nassan (also known in town as “the bike dude”) who lives above the cool little shop. Mark was awesome and had me good to go in no time and I really enjoyed chatting with him about riding and backcountry skiing in the Adirondacks. After resupplying I was going to head a few miles down the road to stealth camp but I stopped by ‘The Hostel’ for a possible shower and found out that I could camp there for $15. With the opportunity to shower, the popular Noon Mark Diner right across the street and no need to look for a safe/comfortable place to camp I decided to basecamp here the next 2 nights. LeepOff Cycles in Keene ValleyDays 8-9: Refreshed from a relatively easy Day 7 I was up early and rode the 3 miles to the private Ausable Club for another tough day of hiking. To access the hiking trails of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (owned by the club) you need to walk right thru the heart of this exclusive and beautiful property (where there is a dress code for dining, golf and tennis!) which is allowed (subject to many rules like no cell phone use) due to an easement negotiated by the state of New York. From here it was a long hike to the top of Dial (#27) and then Nippletop (#28) before dropping down for the out and back that took me over Colvin (#29) and Blake (#30) and back over Colvin again. A hot day with scarce water sources I got dehydrated before finally coming across water on the way down to Lower Ausable Lake. Now late afternoon I still had a 2300’ ascent to get to the top of Sawteeth (#31) before hiking 7 miles back to my bike. This final peak of the day required a lot of willpower but fortunately I made it back to Keene Valley before dark and before the diner closed! ADK trail signThe next day was another hot one and started with an easy 5 mile ride to the trail head for the hike up Giant (#32) which was followed by an out and back to Rocky Peak Ridge (#33) from close to the summit of Giant. With minimal shade and few water sources I again misjudged how much water to carry and became dehydrated. After completing the hike I was in rough shape and took a break to jump in beautiful Chapel Pond across the road before starting the 20 mile ride to North Hudson where I decided to forego stealth camping for better recovery at the Blue Ridge Falls Campsite ($10/night for cyclists). Days 10-12 Up early I biked the mostly uphill 8 miles (the last 2-3 being gravel) to get to the Elk Lake trail head from where I would begin the 15+ mile hike of the Dix range (much of it a loop) that included Macomb (#34), South Dix (#35), East Dix (#36), Hough (#37) and Dix (#38). Moving quickly all day – though slowed a little by the steep and gravelly/rocky slide up Macomb and the wet /slippery descent of Dix during the rain – I completed the hike in the late afternoon and raced downhill on my bike to get to the store at the Adirondack Buffalo Company (yup – a bison farm in the Adirondacks!). I arrived just before it closed and stocked up on baked goods and candy which I would need to get me thru the next couple of days. Then further backtracking to the campsite where I would spend a 2nd night. Adirondack Buffalo CompanyIn the morning I was packed and on the road by 6AM for the 22 mile ride to the Upper Works trail head near the site of the Tahawus ghost town. On this day I would hike Mt. Allen (#39) which required an 18+ mile out and back slog with most of the elevation gain in the last mile (a rocky and steep streambed) of the 9 mile approach. On the trail by 9:00 and at the top in the early afternoon I was back to the trail head by 6:00. With the next day’s hike starting only a few miles away I had dinner in the parking lot, treated Hudson River water for tomorrow’s hike and stealth camped in the woods. After a fitful night of sleep I rode to the trail head for the Santanoni’s and was surprised to see the parking lot close to full. The “Santa’s” are fairly remote peaks and it looked like many others (including a large contingent from Quebec) were trying to also knock them (or some of them) off on this beautiful Saturday. I got the biked stashed quickly and was on the trail ahead of most of the crowd and a few miles in found the start of the steep/rocky herd path that would lead up Santanoni (#40). Then it was across the ridge to the junction for the long out and back to Couchsachraga (#41) and then the short out and back up Panther (#42). The long day continued with the steep descent down the Panther Creek herd path to the regular trail and the long hike back to the bike. Then the 12 mile ride to Newcomb where the first stop was Scoops ice cream and food stand before finding the local campground. Days 13-14 – Only 4 peaks remained and these could be hiked in a long day but it would be a 60 mile ride to get there. So I decided to sleep in until 7:30 and take my time that day and enjoy the ride. As it wouldn’t make sense to start the final hike until the following morning so I could hike without overnight gear. I stopped for food in the beautiful towns of Long Lake and Tupper Lake and arrived at the trail head (5 miles down the gravel Corey’s road) in the late afternoon before backtracking a mile or so to one of the primitive roadside campsites. Now “smelling the barn” I decided to get up extra early on day 14 and was on the trail by 3:20 AM. Hiking in the dark on the long approach I eventually came to the herd path for Seymour (# 43) and neared the top just as the sun was rising. Then back to the bottom I backtracked until I found the herd path that would take me to the final 3 peaks. On the top of Seward (#44) I ran into a great group of kids from Camp Pok-O-MacCready also working on becoming 46ers. It seems this camp specializes in cranking out young 46ers and more than 375 of the camps alumni have hiked all 46 peaks. Pretty cool! After a long chat with the kids it was off to knock off Donaldson (#45) and finally Emmons (#46). Rain had threatened all day but as I approached the final summit the sky cleared and the sun came out helping to make the moment extra special. While backtracking off the summit I ran into the young hikers again and I got to partake in their tradition for new 46ers of “running under the bridge” (their outstretched arms) which will also be a nice memory. After a bit I found the Caulkins Brook herd path for the long trek back to the trail head. 46th summitNow anxious to finish this challenge I was quickly back on the bike and after returning to the main road I made great time on the pavement back to Lake Placid and the Olympic torch. Pedaling hard I covered the 30 miles in a little over 2 hours and was done at 5:30 for a total time of 13 days, 11 hours and 45 minutes. I was very happy to be done (I’ll be sleeping in a bed again after 13 straight nights on the ground!) and also very satisfied that I had met my ambitious goal of 14 days. I’ve recorded this adventure on the Fastest Known Time website and hope that others might want to take on this self-supported ADK 46er challenge. I know that it could be done faster and if/when somebody does it in a faster time I might take another go at it myself. In the meantime I’ll be looking for other self-supported challenges. And finally it should also be noted that a 47th 4k goal was achieved as I was taking “per peak” pledges (which helped to motivate me to finish this quest) and we were able to raise more than $4,000 for the University of Vermont Cancer Center. For whom I also raised over $7,500 in 2013 while racing the Tour Divide. Olympic Torch finish

3 Comments

  1. Great trip, and very fast time.

    In my late teens I led a few 46er trips with Northern Frontier Camp, we did half the peaks one year and the other half the next, four weeks total, including transition and packing days. It was a pretty ambitious schedule for the average fit high school guy.

  2. Jeremy – it sounds like 2 awesome summers. And definitely ambitious for the average high school kid. I doubt that I could have all the peaks in 4 weeks at that age. The Adirondacks are an amazing place and I’m now looking forward to helping my wife finish her 46er list.

  3. Pingback: 18 Bikepackers of 2015 - Bikepackers Magazine

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