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Work on the mountain vs. mountain of work

October 05, 1998

 

Tim RowlandNever has it felt so good to be back at work. I need the sleep.

That's because there is this insidious organization known as the Adirondack 46er Club, a group whose membership is composed solely of those individuals who have climbed all 46 of the High Peaks in the northern mountains of New York. I'm now up to 13, which means that if I average two a year, I'll be finished about the time I'm eligible for early retirement.

The Adirondacks, viewed from the western shores of Lake Champlain, are a wave on wave of blue towers, some conical, some blunt, some jagged, but all massive and confident sidled up alongside the 100-mile waterfront like a table of fat, New York City robber barons seated happily around a roast of pork.

The first to be climbed was the 4,627-foot Giant Mt. The feat was accomplished in 1797 by a surveyor named Charles Brodhead, who was charged with carving out boundary lines for property awarded as compensation for service in the Revolutionary War.

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Bound by the unbendable vectors of science, poor Brodhead was compelled to climb straight up the sheer east face then plunge straight down the equally uninviting west face, in what the Adirondack Mountain Club guidebook calls "a route that probably has never been repeated since."

The book doesn't say what lucky soldier was awarded the peak, or what he did with it. I think it is safe to say he didn't make a soccer field out of it.

Most likely, he took one look at his prize and began to rethink his dissatisfaction with the British.

In the 19th century, about the only men who called these crags home were a small band of hickory-tough woodsmen, the most famous of whom is remembered today as Old Mountain Phelps.

Phelps and his fellow mountainmen cut a number of the trails that are used today and named a number of the peaks. They picked out a modest hill with a splendid view of the three tallest mountains in the range and named it Phelps Mountain. But after that their originality seems to have failed them. If they saw a mountain that resembled sawteeth they named it Sawteeth. One that resembled a haystack became Haystack, and on they went with Saddleback, Whiteface, Big Slide, Avalanche and such.

So I think it is safe to conclude that all these mountainmen were originally from Washington County. How else do you explain the eerie similarity in naming ventures that brought us South Mountain, High Rock and Big Pool?

But against all this romantic background, I'm sure you can see how a weak person such as myself can be suckered into believing he should become a member of the 46er Club or die. At this point, the odds are solidly in favor of the latter, not only because of the physical aspects, but because of the psychological battering you take along with it.

Nothing sets you back like struggling to the top of a 5,000 foot peak to discover that someone has brought his dog. Or his 12-year-old kid.

My brother Bruce and I had just hauled ourselves up the last rock ledge of the Gothics and were lying there on a bare hunk of granite panting like President Clinton on sorority pledge night, when two young women hoisted themselves delicately up the opposite face.

Barely pausing, they glanced at the world-class panorama with the same casual detachment they might have used for a store window in the mall and mentioned in passing they had climbed another peak earlier in the day and were thinking about a third.

That they were not shoved off into the abyss is an iron testament as to just how tired Bruce and I were at that moment. Still, I must admit, there is nothing like a million miles of glowing fall foliage and cobalt-blue lakes viewed from a stone boulder 5,000 feet up in sparkling 20-degree temperatures with bracing 50-mph winds to make you wish you were home in a warm bed.

Or back at work.

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