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. Things are getting rough at this point, but don’t count me out yet! Failing now wouldn’t be nearly spectacular enough.
I woke up relatively late, sometime around seven. The sun was shining brightly, and the first thought in my head was how much daylight I had wasted already. I got moving quickly, and was on the trail before long. I was going to move camp that morning to the base of Cliff and Redfield to prepare for the following day. The plan then was to hike to the Loj over Colden, Tabletop, and Phelps. I had been in touch with Laura and Jason, and they said they would try to meet me at the Loj somewhere.
As I sat and filled my water in the Opalescent, I realized that the song that had been stuck in my head for the past three days had disappeared. I raised my arms to the sky in mute exultation. Not that Kickapoo is a bad song, but when you’re trying to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods and a young Jack Black is screaming in your head, ‘GOTTA SUCK A CHODE IN THE PARTY ZONE’, it can get a little distracting.
The move went relatively quickly, and I was headed up the backside of Colden before long. I had a lot of deja vu the day before, hiking familiar trails and passing the usual spots, but today the feeling was even more profound. I had only hiked this trail once before, years ago with a friend of mine from high school. It was the last morning of a multi-day trip, and we were trying to hike out in time to get a McGriddle from the D’s. The peak proved to be far more difficult than either of us expected, however, and we missed the breakfast menu by hours.
Now, years later, I could still hear and see Luis talking to me, hiking up the trail, clambering over rocks. Those memories kept me company on the way up to the peak, and faded as I reached the peak. Last time I stood on top of Colden, it was a foggy, dreary morning. Today it was totally clear, and I could see the MacIntyre range stretched out in front of me. Being able to see every step of the mileage I had traversed the day before was motivating, and I swelled with pride as I descended down the other side of the mountain.
I hiked for a couple miles before realizing I had missed the turn for the other two peaks on my way to the Loj. At this point, I couldn’t be shocked, surprised, or frustrated. I mean, of course I was going to miss the turn. That’s what I should have expected in the first place. I just shook my head and continued on to the Loj. Worst case scenario, I would hit the peaks on the way back.
I reached the Loj late in the afternoon. As I was walking over to the spigot to refill my water, I heard something. Chatter. Familiar chatter. Loud, raucous laughter. That was Strat. Had to be. I took a couple hop-skip steps around the corner and found Josh and Jason at the spigot filling water bottles.
Euphoria. Joy. Relief.
I hugged them and yelled a lot about how glad I was to see them. We laughed and talked all the way to Jason’s car, where Laura was also getting ready for a day on the trail. I sat and had lunch while the others packed and prepared. I was so happy just to be around people that I loved. They say home is where the heart is, and I think they are totally right. Sitting in that dusty parking lot with my friends. Laura fussing with her pack. Jason converting his zipper pants into shorts. Strat bouncing around despite a bum foot. I was at home.
After a little bit, Laura, Jason, and I said our farewells to Josh and headed out to Street and Nye. We were ahead of schedule by my estimation, so I was feeling pretty good about the day. I’d knock these peaks out relatively quickly, then be back at my camp before it got too dark. The miles passed by easily. The three of us had plenty to talk about.
As we hiked, Jason and I discussed the question I had been asking myself over the past few days. Why do we do this? What drives us to push ourselves further and harder than we need to? We bounced some ideas back and forth, but nothing really struck me as a good solution. Jason postulated that there was no ‘why’ at all – that we only do these things because we do them. That’s how I understood what he said, at any rate. That was pretty interesting to me. It would definitely explain why I couldn’t come up with a reasonable answer for that question.
An hour of hiking had passed when we reached a sign that would bring us to Rocky Falls. That would- wait. We weren’t supposed to be going by Rocky Falls. Oh…oh no. A quick look at the map and trail guide confirmed it: we had taken a wrong turn and hiked two miles out of our way. Nothing to do but head back. I was disappointed, but I was starting to not feel the sting of these navigational miscues. You can only get so frustrated so many times before your brain stops giving a shit. I was nervous for Laura and Jason, however. It was bad enough that they had given up their hiking plans to meet me, and now taking a devastating wrong turn on top of that? I suddenly felt awful for dragging them out there with me.
They took the whole thing in stride, which was really fantastic of them. We made our way back to the correct trail and made our way over to Street and Nye. The trail was not quite as easy as I remembered, but it was nowhere near as bad as some of the others. Relatively free of rocks, and only climbing at a moderate grade, the trail quickly brought us to the split. The flies had come out to feast, so we didn’t waste a lot of time on top. We were up and down Street before too long, and then we went after Nye.
As we approached the summit of Nye, Jason called up to me and Laura, saying he had smacked his head and was bleeding. Upon investigating the wound, we found that he hadn’t just hit his head, he had ripped it wide open! Laura was concerned, I was unimpressed. I think my fatigue kept me from fully appreciating the gravity of Jason’s wound, because it was bleeding profusely, and Jason seemed like he had been concussed.
We made our way urgently down from Street and Nye. It was starting to get late again, due to our wrong turn earlier in the day, and I was dreading the idea of doing two more peaks that evening. To be honest, I was fed up of hiking in the dark. Hiking through the night a couple days earlier had offset my sleep schedule with daylight hours, and I hadn’t corrected it yet.
Laura and Jason encouraged me to stay at the Loj that night and get an early start the next morning. I could reset my daylight schedule and get some much-needed rest. I wrestled with this a lot more than I should have. It made perfect sense in the context of my physical, mental, and emotional well-being, but…I would fall further behind. It struck me what a stupid fucking internal struggle this was. One one hand, I could make a good decision for my health and the perpetuity of this adventure, but on the OTHER hand, I could continue throwing myself at the mountains like a maniac in pursuit of an impossible goal, expecting them to move for me. Why am I doing this?
I agreed to stay. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, and I couldn’t stop crying. I had wept more in these four days than I had in the past year, and not for lack of weeping. I just realized I’m a huge crybaby. Damn.
Anyway, this would be good for me. Reset, get moving at a reasonable hour, and catch back up. That made sense. When we got back to the Loj, Jason said he would drive over to Josh’s campsite at South Meadow to start getting things set up. Still wanting to hike the whole way on foot, I walked over with Laura.
We had a really nice walk into the setting sun. Laura and I chatted the whole way, with me mostly dominating the conversation with complaints and rants about the way the hike had gone and how I was feeling. She was patient with me, and by the time we made it to Strat’s campsite, I was feeling much, much better. Jason had set up his tent and sleeping bag, and offered it to me. He wouldn’t need them, he said, because he was going to urgent care(!!!) to get his wound checked out. Wide-eyed, I stammered a thanks.
I laid down to sleep was out in a matter of minutes.