The Journey of a 46er
“It is easier to become a Forty-Sixer than to be one. The art of being is to keep one’s sense of wonder after the excitement of the game is over. There are few experiences in life that do not need to be expressed in words. Becoming a Forty-Sixer is one. How to be one is up to the individual.” Paul Jamison.
For a moment, as I descended Whiteface Mountain on August 5, 2020, after reaching my forty-sixth Adirondack High Peak, I thought, “I can’t believe it’s over.” Game over. A journey of twenty-three months and three weeks. The miles climbed. Trips planned. Miles driven. Joys and tears. Cuts and bruises. Over.
Yet, the journey is only over if one determines it to be. No thanks. I’ll keep going. The thrill of the forty-six does not evaporate in a moment, or with a full roster sheet. One simply goes deeper into the majesty of the mountains themselves.
On June 20, 2018 I asked my son if he wanted to hike Bald Mt. in Old Forge with me the following day. That June 21sthike was the beginning. At 350lbs, I struggled to hike the one mile trail to a summit I had climbed dozens of times over my life. Still, every week that summer my son and I would take a day trip to a trail, somewhere in the Adirondack Park. This pattern was the beginning of a change. For years I had struggled with weight issues, depression, anxiety, and stress. Slowly, as lifestyle changed, I changed.
The week before my son was to return to school for his senior year of college, we set out for a challenge. I knew Mt. Marcy, and some other high peaks, but beyond that I knew little. My experience with the Adirondack Park had been limited to the more southern zones. Then on August 13, 2018 two high peaks were in view: Porter, my first, and Cascade, my second. A common beginning. I had lost 25lbs in the previous month and a half, but, as my son can report, I genuinely struggled to ascend and descend these peaks.
Even in pain I was intrigued. Several weeks later I would hike Tabletop and Phelps mountains. The next week, Marcy. The week following that, Giant. Do you see a pattern? I ended my first season on Algonquin, as my eighth high peak. Every high peak in 2018 I climbed while being over 300lbs, and six of the eight I did as solo hikes.
I continued into the winter, snowshoeing a high peak, Giant, and several low peaks. I lost more weight. In the summer of 2019 I did 26 high peaks. More snowshoeing, and winter climbs in the high peaks in 2019. In 2020 I reached my forty-sixth peak, Whiteface.
What are the 46?
The “forty-six” refer to the forty-six mountains of the Adirondack Mountains over 4,000’ in elevation. Four of the forty-six are actually under 4,000’, but challenging nonetheless; and several that you climb along the way are over 4,000’ as well, but too close to other peaks to count, adding to the challenge. And when an individual has summitted all forty-six peaks they are referred to as a 46er.
For the joy of the climb.
I recall vividly the first time I turned onto Adirondack Loj road. Immediately after that turn you are greeted by Mt. Marcy, Mt. Colden, Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois among others. Intimidating. There is something surreal about being immersed in these mountains. The beauty of the landscape, the majestic sounds of waterfalls, rivers, and streams. The seemingly ever-present mud. And who can forget the miles of rocks, boulders, and roots.
There is a joyful, yet unnerving feeling as you sign the trail register, leaving behind your vehicle and relative safety, for the great unknown of the miles ahead. I recall as I set out for the Seward Range and Seymour Mountain thinking, “Ok, just twenty-two miles to go.” What?! Over four high peaks, thousands of rocks, roots, and sloppy mud, all a joy, except for the .2 of the last mile – that seemed to take forever. Ironic.
Yet, even with the miles and often difficult paths, the joy of the climb draws you back time and again. More than half of my climbs ended with me saying to myself, “I’m never doing this again.” Only to begin planning my next hike as I was driving home. I, and many others, return, not because of the pain or the uncertainty, but the joy of climbing and reaching a summit of unique beauty. While up there the joy overtakes the enormity of being out there. Joy, if one opens their eyes on these treks is to be found everywhere, even when the moment – excuse my casual tongue – sucks. It happens.
I began at 350lbs., and ended at 227lbs. Obviously this was not a result of hiking the high peaks, but the preparation to do so. To me every hike, high or low, long or short, run or walk, is a preparation for the next hike. While I hiked the Seward Range and Seymour for peaks no. 41, 42, 43, and 44, I was preparing for Esther and Whiteface, peaks no. 45 and 46. And now, while I have several hikes planned for the remaining summer and fall, I’m mentally and physically preparing for the winter season. This preparation keeps me mentally and physically on track. They help me decompress, refocus, pray and prepare for my vocation – ministry. Ministry unbalanced destroys. Ministry in balance builds life.
The morning after my forty-sixer finish, a short ten mile hike, I got up and went for a quick 2.5 mile run. It felt good. No pain. I remember all too vividly the years of sitting on the couch watching television, and struggling to stand up from the couch. My body suffering under its own weight. To be in good health, physically and mentally, now, I thank the Living God for this change in my life.
It was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that caused me to ask my son to go for a hike. What if he had said no? Would I have gone? Heaven alone knows. I’m blessed that he said yes. That moment of inspiration was all that was needed to begin living again.
On each hike, even though I often have music with me, I take some hours to pray, meditate, and commune with the Lord. It has been another level of inspiration and healing. To get away from the frenzy of daily life, unplug, and hear His voice more clearly. It’s a gift, and one that was not expected. I am thankful.
I finished my 46er journey at 46. Poetically pleasing. It seems to be a confirmation of the changes made, that are no longer changes, but a set lifestyle. It was His time. It was my time.
Everyone will experience this journey in a different way. For some each hike is a death march. For others a rather easy stroll in the park. I’ve tried to articulate, poorly I confess, in words what does not actually need to be expressed. I hiked miles, mountains, and survived. Yet, it seems that someone needs the encouragement of reading how an overweight middle-aged man, diagnosed as obese, lost weight, beat the terrible medical conditions he was heading straight into and started to live again. I pray you take that inspiration of the Holy Spirit, stand up, find what resonates with your soul, and do that something for the joy of doing it. I did. It feels great.
I climbed each mountain with my eyes open, my heart open, and a willingness to live in the moment He brought me to. Those moments I treasure. Now, I treasure them off the mountains as well. לחיים, L’Chaim, to life!
Be well. Shalom; and happy hiking.