My Gnarly Mountain

Mt. Haystack, October 9th 2018.

In October 2018, a 305lb. me sat atop Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York State. Marcy was my fifth high peak of the 46 recognized high peaks. I sat with a group of hikers looking toward Mt. Haystack, pictured above, the third highest peak in New York State (4,960ft). From the top of Marcy you could see the full scope of the mountain, and just how steep and rocky it was. Perhaps it was the adjectives used by those sitting around me, but a fear developed. What if I cannot climb Haystack? What if it’s just too difficult?

To me, Haystack just looked, well, gnarly.

I had no way of knowing what the next two years would bring. The weight I would lose. The fitness I would gain. Life changes I would make. The experience from miles of climbing and hiking. And the confidence that would grow along the way.

Yesterday, Haystack became my 38th high peak.

It started like any other day of climbing. Pack. Up at 2:15am. Drive. Embark. I’ve done many long days in the peaks, 15, 18, 21 miles over several peaks. The long miles of rock hopping, tripping, slipping, falling, breaking poles, cuts, bruises, etc. Yesterday was different however: can I do Haystack?

Intellectually I knew I could. I’ve done worse. But that seed planted on October 9th, 2018 had taken root. Doubt. Today I would hike alone, solo; which I’ve done many times. I knew it needed to be me and the Lord. Prayer. Reflection. And lots of “up” as my son and I say.

From the Garden trailhead, to John’s Brook Lodge, up the Phelps trail, and at the junction its .7 miles up to Haystack. Normal enough. Ascend Little Haystack; and there, get my first close up view of Haystack. Stop for a snack. Ascend. Before I knew it I stood at the top.

On top of Haystack, Mt. Marcy in the background.

Almost unconsciously I looked over to Mt. Marcy, pictured above, and looked to the exact spot where I sat nearly two years earlier, now standing where I thought I could never stand – Mt. Haystack. In my mind it was as if I looked back in time and said to myself, you did it. Relief. While the journey was long, the climb from Little Haystack to Haystack and back again was relatively easy. The real challenges of the day were still to come.

Haystack from Little Haystack.

Messiah said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). The words that took root on that October 2018 day developed a long shadow of doubt about Mt. Haystack. Was it impossible for me? Nope. The Lord was preparing me these last 21 months. Reshaping a life that was, well, misshapen. The 305lb. me would not have been able to do it, “with man this is impossible,” but the renewed man did.

There will be many challenges in life, some much more tragic than my fear of a mountain; but the remedy is the same: faith. Not faith in oneself, but faith in the ever-present, ever-faithful, living God who will never leave or forsake.

What is your Haystack?

From left: Basin, and just behind, Saddleback, and in the back Gothics.

The most challenging part of the day was the descent from Haystack (1000′ elevation loss), the ascent up Basin (900′ elevation gain), and then over the notorious cliffs of Saddleback. There was no fear or apprehension of these challenges, just the thrill of meeting them head on. My fear was now behind me.

Long hike back to car.


Milage: 17.5
Elevation gain: 5000 feet (+-)
Time on trail: 11.5 hours
Move time: 10.5 hours
High Peaks: 38, 39, 40.

Never give up. Never stop exploring. Trust in the Lord.

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