What It Takes to Summit the Adirondacks’ 46 Highest Peaks

Six dogs have done it. Chrissie, Terry, Bobo, Dara, Tigger, and Schuss are all in the record books as official Adirondack 46ers. No doubt they finished a few steps ahead of their human companions, looking back with a wagging tongue while summiting on those afternoons spent up above 4,000 feet. The six, along with another 10,137 bipeds are part of a semi-select group that has officially climbed the 46 highest peaks in New York State’s Adirondack Park since 1925.

The majority of these routes are remote, rocky, and downright nasty.

It’s no small feat. By my rough calculation of the typical routes, multi-peak days, and overnights necessary to finish, it works out to approximately 295 miles of hiking. Gained vert? Pegging the straight altitude gain to the highest peak, the challenge clocks in at somewhere around 70,000 feet in total. Time? At a moderate pace, the average hiker needs 230 hours spent on the trails.

Keep in mind that, with the exception of Whiteface Mountain, which you could summit by walking up its awe-inspiring scenic road to the top—and perhaps Giant, Rocky Peak, Cascade, and Porter perched close to (though high above) NYS Route 73—the majority of these routes are remote, rocky, and downright nasty. These trails are not walk-up, jog-up pathways with packed dirt or pine needles beneath your feet. Rather, the paths to the summits of the 46 are overwhelmingly directed over and around pure granite that has been arranged in a beautifully sadistic manner, just navigable enough for you to keep telling yourself that it’s not going to kill you. The majority of the routes are comprised of some combination of rocky creek bed staircases, wooden ladders, muddy bogs, sheer rock faces, river crossings, and vertical scrambles over giant ledges and boulders that force you to chuck your pricey trekking poles with abandon.

My expert is a 15-year old kid from Vancouver named Makalu Green.

Oh, and 20 of the peaks are considered “trailless” which, while a bit of a misnomer (they do not require full-on bushwhacking), does mean that at least the final summit push is made up of herd paths that are often so tight the scrub pines on either side scratch at your forearms and calves. Sounds like fun, right?

The element of family is most evident in the recorded 46ers. The annual tallies show brothers finishing with sisters, daughters finishing with fathers, and in some cases, entire families completing the summits together.

So here we are, the six dogs, the 10,000+, and me. Me at 50 years old. Me with a total of 27 High Peaks bagged in a meandering 31-year-long love affair with them. Me jumping past the mid-point last summer with a 5-peak, 10-hour day on the Dix Mountain Traverse that made me begin to think the full 46 were attainable. Me also realizing that my knees now scream for Aleve after a tune-up hike. Me acknowledging that the recovery time is no longer just 24 hours, and me admitting that the determination to get this thing in the record books is oft led astray by a part of my brain that tells me to go fly fishing on the nearby Au Sable River instead. Me, with 19 left to go and not a lot of free time on my hands. And we all know that while summiting over half of them might be considered impressive to some, unless you’ve stood on the summits of all, it is not to be reflected in the books with the six famous canines. It remains a quest.

And so I have made a decision to engage in a full-on assault of my remaining 19 peaks during the summer of 2017.

He became a 46er two years ago at the ripe old age of 13.

It’s worth noting that these beauties can be climbed in the winter. Over 700 folks have become Winter 46ers… but that’s not really my skill set. The official ADK guides, published personal accounts and books, REI trail reports, blogs, and chat threads are very insightful, and I suggest using as many resources as you can as you plan the attack. I personally love Jim Burnside’s book, Exploring the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, a detailed, if somewhat dated, account of a father and son and their love for the summits.

But I needed some live chat, some conversational insight on the most efficient way to get the job done, so I did what every person does in this scenario. I contacted an expert. My expert is not a guy from Keene Valley or a 10-time 46er. My expert is a 15-year old kid from Vancouver named Makalu Green.

My friend Michael introduced me to the Adirondacks on a rainy fall day 31 years ago. He shook me out of a haze one morning at Cornell and told me to pack a few layers of clothes, bring my Chuck Taylor high-tops (in lieu of proper boots), and get ready to make a three-hour drive to meet the Adirondacks. And now his son Makalu, or Muk as his dad calls him, was going to get me to the finish line. Muk is a young adventurer. He became a 46er two years ago at the ripe old age of 13, and while he certainly did not have 20 extra pounds on him and tired knees when he accomplished it, I knew it was fresh in his brain.

So, I sent Makalu a list of my remaining peaks and it was quickly obvious to him that I had skipped most of the most difficult ones. I also told Muk I was trying to keep these to single day hikes as much as possible because my wife and I have two dogs of our own that need a dog watcher at our base in Keene.

Those 154 miles will be a piece of cake, right?

Muk got to work on my list and came back with a plan. For me, it will take 11 days—with a few overnights on the trail. I’ll bag Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback in 18 miles and Gray and Skylightclocking in the same. The Santanoni range will be a long day crisscrossing herd paths and bogs in a 17-mile push. Marshall, at 12 miles, and Allen, at 19, are each a full day on their own. Donaldson, Seymour, Emmons, and Seward make up 21 miles and will require a lean-to overnight for two days. Gothics, at 12 miles, and Lower Wolfjaw, at 8.5, could be combined in a long, long day, but I’ll do each individually. Cliff and Redfield, challenging with distance and access, will be combined for another long 18-mile day from the Loj or a nice two-day with a lean-to. And hopefully, on a crisp fall day with great blue skies, the finish on Rocky Peak Ridge will come in at 11 miles.

Those 154 miles will be a piece of cake, right? Well, if those six dogs could do it, I have a shot.

Many thanks to Lee-Siobhan Nesbitt, the Historian of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, for her insight on the most recent number of finishers and the fact that dogs became ineligible by an official vote in the 1970s.

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