During the Memorial Day weekend, there were more snowflakes than blackflies in the air, after a late spring snowstorm deposited nearly three feet of fresh snow on Whiteface Mountain and the surrounding High Peaks.
Heavy rains, strong winds, floods and more than three feet of fresh snow combined to usher in a most memorial, Memorial Day weekend in the Adirondacks.
Although the long, holiday weekend has traditionally ushered in the beginning of the tourist season, the foul weather greatly diminished the crowds of hikers, bikers, paddlers and anglers that are typically found out and about.
However, there was one major exception to the foul weather rule and it occurred in the village of Saranac Lake where nearly 100 hiking enthusiasts gathered in anticipation of becoming the first wave of Saranac Sixers.
The Saranac 6’ers campaign is a community-based effort that is intended to attract hikers to a few of the ‘lower peaks’ of the Adirondacks. The idea is the brainchild of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who understands the importance of promoting the region’s natural attractions.
The campaign provides a climbing standard that is readily available and achievable by the average person. It is a ‘minor league’ version of the well established Adirondack 46’ers. Rather than attempting to tackle all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks, the Saranac 6’ers campaign requires participants to climb just six local peaks, all of which are within easy striking distance of the community.
The six peaks include McKenzie Mountain at 3,861 feet, which requires the longest hike of more than a 10-mile round trip. Ampersand Mountain at 3,261 feet is the next tallest, followed by Scarface Mountain at 3,088 feet elevation, and Haystack at 2,874. St. Regis Mountain in Pauls Smiths stands at 2,865 feet and Mt. Baker, in the village of Saranac Lake is the smallest at 2,452 feet. It also features the shortest hike of only an 1.8 mile round trip.
In addition to the many hardcore hikers who took to the trails to set the standard, the Saranac 6’er Challenge has attracted a lot of local interest as well. I spoke with mother and daughter, Chrissie and Adrian Hayden of Saranac Lake on the morning of the campaign’s inaugural launch, who explained: “We plan on taking it at an easy pace, climbing just two peaks a day.” Her daughter was obviously excited at the prospect, and she offered: “We can see four of the mountains from our house.”
“That’s great,” I replied. “But the view is much better when you can see your house from the top of the mountains.”
While the Saranac 6’er Campaign will certainly serve to attract ‘ultra-hikers’ who are interested in speed and endurance, I expect the campaign will also prompt many local residents to get out and enjoy some of the surrounding summits that they have long enjoyed from a distance. After climbing all of the six peaks, hikers can register for Saranac 6’er status on the honor system. They will then be eligible to submit the dates to the village of Saranac Lake to receive an official Saranac Sixers number, a vest patch and a bumper sticker.
Participants can attempt a variety of achievements with a Sixer finishing up all six peaks, and an Ultra 6’ers completing all six peaks in a 24-hour time span. Winter 6’ers will complete all six peaks during the winter season, and Family 6’ers will do it all as a family. I was in Saranac Lake last Saturday on a cold, wet and windy morning to see how many of the one hundred or so pre-registered 6’er participants would show up. The wind was whipping the rain sideways as the first few hikers staggered toward the sign-up station.
The temperatures continued to drop and so did the rain, as weather conditions worsened throughout the day. By noon, snow had capped the nearby peaks and high winds pummeled the participants with a driving rain. Many in the crowd joked about awarding winter Saranac 6’er status to all finishers.
I listened as George Grzyb, an ultra hiker from downstate, complained the event was not going to begin until 8 a.m.
“I drove up late last night and slept in my car,” he explained. “I thought it would start at daybreak! I just want to get it over with before last call at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, so I can enjoy a few pints of Ubu Ale!”
Grzyb finished in 12th place.
Another hiker, Matt Hicks was huddled inside to avoid the rain, but he was ready to hit the trail. Hicks hails from Poughkeepsie and is a NYS licensed guide, as well as an accomplished trail runner. He had recently completed a 50 Mile trail run in the Catskills. When asked to predict a time frame for the first event finishers, Hicks estimated it would take about 14.5 hours, due to the rain. He eventually completed the event in eighth place.
The inaugural Ultra Saranac Sixer was Lake Placid resident Loring Porter, who rang the bell after tackling the required six local peaks in a time of just 10 hours, 22 minutes.
Porter is an accomplished trail athlete who has tackled the Adirondack 46, the 111 Peaks (tallest mountains in the NorthEast), as well as Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide and the Pacific Crest Trail.
He explained: “When I first heard about the Saranac Sixer, I thought it was just silly, those little peaks! Then I thought about it and realized it was going to be hard to do 31 miles all in one go. The water and the rain really made it much tougher. I was the first one on McKenzie and there was a lot of snow up there.”
It was nearly 40 minutes later before the next ultra finishers returned, and they were a pair of sisters, Bethany and Mallory Garretson from Cherry Valley near the Catskills. Bethany, who works in Saranac Lake, was joined by her sister for the event.
They finished in 11 hours and 10 minutes. Covered in mud and shivering against the cold wind, the two sisters celebrated their accomplishment with friends and family. “It was cold up there,” they explained, “And there was a lot of snow, and running water on the trails. We we forced to forde several streams. It was a lot tougher than we expected!”
I expect the Saranac Sixer program will continue to draw hikers to the smaller peaks, which will certainly benefit the regional tourism based economy. However, I hope the effort will also provide an incentive for local residents to get out and enjoy their surroundings. It will be interesting to see if the accomplishment of becoming a Saranac Sixer is embraced by local youth. Whether it requires climbing a High Peak or tackling a few of the low peaks, paddling the big lake or just a small pond; any opportunity to get outside is worth the effort. If we don’t learn to appreciate and take advantage our natural surroundings, there really isn’t a lot of entertainment available in the Adirondacks, especially for our youth.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.