In Northeastern New York there are 6.1 million acres of land, including more than 10,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and a wide variety of habitats. Within those millions of acres also lies 46 High Peaks - those are the 46 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains which were originally believed to be the peaks above 4,000 ft. Since then, it has been found that four of the 46 are actually under 4,000 feet, but for historical purposes the list has remained the same.
Where there are mountains, there will be people to climb them, and of course the challenge was born to climb all 46, making you an official “46er” when you did. For many, this is an accomplishment that spans the course of a lifetime. For me, this was a challenge I wanted to take on over just a handful of days.
Despite knowing about the Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the 46 High Peaks for the better part of a decade, it wasn’t until recent years that I felt prepared enough to consider it for myself. The High Peaks weren’t going to be about following a blaze down a set trail for a series of miles….instead I was going to need the knowledge to plan my own route. I was going to need the wilderness and navigation skills to successfully bushwhack parts of that route. I was also going to have to fine tune my trail skills because while no peak requires technical climbing, 20 of the peaks have only informal routes to the top known as “herd paths” that are more rugged than most any trail I had seen.
So over the last 2 years I’ve learned to use a map and compass. I’ve bushwhacked and found my way - and lost my way! I’ve become more comfortable than ever before in the woods. And after a few trips up north to spend some time on the trails around the High Peaks, I began to plan my route.
Route planning was a bit like putting together one of those puzzles where you slide the pieces around until the picture finally takes shape. But before successfully getting it done, you slide the pieces around over and over many iterations only to find that at the end, one piece is still not quite right. I wanted everything to fit: the mileage target for the day, where I would be sleeping, crew access points through the day, and overall elevation targets. I wanted to keep more runnable terrain in the early days. I wanted to have the smaller segments of 10 miles or less in the final day. All of these pieces took shuffling, and with the data I had from scouting plus the routes of previous men’s record holders - it was months until I finally had The Route.
While all this route planning was going on, the world was also seemingly falling apart in so many ways. It became more clear to me than ever that the personal is political, and that I have a platform, even if I self-consciously think it is “just a small one.” But after seeing the efforts of others around me, I was inspired to use the platform to make any difference that I could. Reading about the High Peaks over the last year — particularly focusing on the women and minorities in its history - I stumbled upon Dr. Alice Paden Green and the Paden Institute & Retreat for Writers of Color. Every summer the Paden Institute sponsors writers of color to live at a cottage along Lake Champlain to experience the Adirondacks, and write. Because literature had been such a huge part of my knowledge base for coming to the Adirondacks, this concept really spoke to me. I decided to run this FKT attempt as an effort to raise money for the Paden Institute, and that has surpassed my wildest expectations. There is still time to donate here!
Back to the route….The final breakdown looked like this:
Day 1: Seymour, Seward, Donaldson, Emmons, Wright, Algonquin, Iroquois, Marshall, Allen
45 miles and 16,303 ft elevation gain
Day 2: Santanoni, Couchsachraga, Panther, Macomb, South Dix, Grace, Hough, Dix, Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, Blake
39 miles and 17,815 ft elevation gain
Day 3: Lower Wolf Jaw, Upper Wolf Jaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Sawteeth, Basin, Saddleback, Haystack, Marcy, Gray, Skylight, Cliff, Redfield, Colden, Tabletop, Phelps
37 miles and 18,465 ft elevation gain
Day 4: Big Slide, Porter, Cascade, Street, Nye, Esther, Whiteface, Rocky Peak, Giant
38 miles and 14,829 ft elevation gain
159 miles and 67,412 ft elevation gain
During this time I slept in a van, I slept in a tent, and I slept in a Lean-To, for a total of about 11 hours of sleep during the hike. I was constantly eating a diet consisting of Nuun Hydration (Sport tabs & Instant), F2C Nutrition’s Endurance 5:1, Spring Energy gels, Nutella and tortillas, sour watermelon candy, ramen, spaghettiO’s, and meat pies my crew member Kate, a native of New Zealand, made which made me feel like I was on the shorefront of Wanaka!
I experienced golden hour for 4 days in a row and realized that at least in this special place in the world, it truly is golden. I saw two of the most spectacular sunsets ever while on top of Allen and Colvin mountains. I turned off my headlamp on Phelps and saw the Milky Way.
I also had my legs burn so much I didn’t think they’d ever recover for the next mile. I was so wet and cold I wasn’t sure at times how much more I could handle. I lead a bushwhack that minutes later ended us up right where we started (oops). My fingertips were shredded from the rock faces (and as much as I like to think I was climbing like Alex Honnold in Free Solo…..that was not the case, ha!) and I took my Smashfest Queen bike gloves to places they have never been before!
I brought together a group of people from different places, with different strengths, and different perspectives to form the ultimate crew. The crew framework is a bit like a Jenga tower - as time goes on, people need to be taken out, placed on top and carried through by the rest of the tower. Slowly they become part of the base again, keeping the tower just as strong as ever before. As the miles go on, the tower thins, but if you do it right, it remains just as strong.
And with all of this, in 3 days, 16 hours and 16 minutes I became the fastest female - and second fastest human - to hike all 46 High Peaks in a supported fashion. It. Was. Epic.
Some other stats and and facts that people have asked:
4 pairs of shoes (VJ Shoes are my go-to!)
13 pairs of socks
300 calories an hour (~22,000 total!)
Favorite peak: Haystack
Least Favorite Peak: Anything in the Santanoni Range
Memorable moment: Sunsets on Allen and Colvin
Wildlife encounters? Only toads and frogs and chipmunks!
This run was part of a head-to-head FKT “race” with ultrarunner Sarah Keyes who also started her quest for the FKT on the same day. I will write more about that, the mental side of the FKT, and the power of competition in Part 2 next week!