Since the 1920's, when Marshall brothers first began tackling the High Peaks in earnest, hikers and climbers have been attracted to perform feats of climbing endurance in the Adirondack wilderness.
Bob Marshall and his brother, George, along with the family guide, Herb Clark are credited with being the first individuals on record to scale all of the 46 Adirondack peaks above 4,000 feet elevation.
Their accomplishments spawned the Adirondack '46ers, a hiker's advocacy group with a membership that now numbers in the tens of thousands.
Clark, a local guide, was described by Bob Marshall at the time as being, "The fastest man I have ever known in the pathless woods."
From his humble youthful wanderings in the Adirondacks, Bob Marshall developed a lifelong commitment of wilderness advocacy which eventually lead to his efforts to organize The Wilderness Society.
His initial scamps through the peaks, often dressed in tennis sneakers rather than the cumbersome climbing boots of the era, soon grew to longer excursions that included records for high peaks bagged in a day, (14).
By the fall of 1937, according to W. C. White's book, Adirondack Country, Marshall had gone on "more than 200 walks of 30 miles in a day, 50 walks of 40 miles and a number of longer walks including one of more than 75 miles."
When asked about such jaunts, Marshall remarked, "It's a great thing these days to leave civilization for a while and return to nature."
By the 1950s, as peak bagging became increasingly popular, a number of local, summer camp counselors began a friendly competition when one counselor completed the 46 High Peaks in 11 days.
Ed Palen, currently a rock climbing guide and the owner of Rock and River Lodge in Keene was a teenager counselor at Camp Pok-o-Moonshine in 1972. That was the summer when he and Sharpe Swan, a fellow counselor established a long held record for the fastest trip up the 46. Their journey took six days and 18 hours.
Twenty five years later, Palen and Swan again took to the peaks, reducing their record to four days and 18 hours. Their effort was for personal gratification and little mention was made of the achievement.
Palen later explained, "We didn't tell a soul. We tried to adhere to that philosophy: Do it and don't tell anybody. Do it because you like to do it."
The antithesis of this concept appeared in the Adirondacks in June 2002, in the person of Ted Keizer, an ultra-marathoner, speed climber and self promoter known as Cave Dog.
With the full support of The Dog Team, a full crew that provided food, drink and transportation to the various trailheads; Keizer climbed the 46 Adirondack High Peaks in a record three days, 18 hours and 14 minutes.
Keizer's knack for attracting press attention to his accomplishments soured many people's opinion about the feat. But, there is no denying the fact that it was a fast an arduous journey. Keizer's record remained intact until last summer, when Jan Wellford, a trail runner from Keene Valley covered an estimated 153 miles in 3 days, 17 hours and 14 minutes. With a limited support crew, and about nine hours of sleep over three days, Wellford, 26, managed to shave about an hour off the record.
Wellford's effort received little fanfare and even less press coverage. It was intended as a personal accomplishment, not a public affair. But eventually, someone will step to the plate to challenge his achievement.
Trail runs become increasingly popular
In recent years, numerous trail running events have sprouted up targeting the growing community of folks who enjoy taking a faster pace through the wilderness. These events have taken trail running to a whole, new level.
The grandaddy of them all is the Damn Wakley Dam Ultra Marathon, scheduled annually for mid-July. The popular race fills up every year with returnees and open slots are only available, "if someone dies," according to organizers.
The event, now entering it's ninth year of competition, is an extreme trail run through an uninterrupted, 32.6 mile section of the Northville Placid Trail between Piseco Lake and Wakley Dam in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area.
With no cross roads, no aid stations and no assistance provided by support crews; the Damn Wakley Dam is "not your average run" according to race organizers who caution participants that "there are no DNF's (do not finish) when you are running the Dam...unless you get carried out!"
Such events have raised concerns about the suitability of racing through the woods. However, according to enthusiasts, running and hiking are both forms of pedestrian travel. The only distinction is the rate of travel.
Trail runners pursue their sport in the wilderness for the same reasons as hikers; to enjoy the natural surroundings. The environmental impact caused by runners versus hikers is negligible. Essentially, it becomes a matter of esthetics. Is running through the forest an appropriate use? The answer depends on your point of view.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org