Thursday, December 23, 2021

Climbing the Adirondack 46ers

In the past two years, I have written quite a few posts about the Adirondack 46er (ADK 46) peaks. Now that I have visited all of the summits at least once, I'd like to write an overview about my experiences on the 46ers.

Alpine terrain on Haystack

The Adirondack 46ers are the 46 summits in the Adirondacks rising over 4,000 feet. The list actually contains several peaks less than 4,000 feet. When the list was first conceived, less accurate elevation measurements placed these sub-4,000 foot mountains above the magical 4,000 foot mark. After more accurate measurements placed these peaks below 4,000 foot, they remained on the list to keep in consistent with the original. Generally the 46ers are located within the High Peaks and adjacent Wilderness areas. This region of the Adirondacks is often referred to as the High Peaks.

View from the Dix Range

Many regions have peak bagging lists that usually include peaks above a certain elevation. The lists range from the extremely elite 8,000M summits (summits rising above 8,000 meters) and  the Seven Summits (Continental high points), to small local lists like the Tupper Lake Triad in my current home town consisting of three modest peaks. In the US some of the these lists include the High Pointers (Highest summit in each of the 50 states), Colorado 14ers (50+ summits over 14,000feet), Southern Sixers (summits over 6,000 feet), New Hampshire 48 (48 summits over 4,000 feet), NE 111 ( 4,000 foot summits in New England and New York), the ADK 46ers (46 Adirondack summits that were believed to be over 4,000 foot), and many others throughout the country.

View from Cascade

Throughout the US I have climbed many mountains on many of these lists. I never became too focused on peak bagging lists however. I didn't live close enough to any one group of mountains on a list to warrant the travel to check off a list for the sake of checking off a list. I was unaware of hiking lists when I started hiking, so they were never a priority. I mostly hiked these places because I wanted experience the hike, the lists didn't really mean anything to me.

Seward Range from Seymour

In 2019, I moved to Tupper Lake, NY in the heart of the Adirondacks. Despite hiking, backpacking, cycling, mountain biking, skiing, and running in nearly 30 states and a handful of Canadian provinces prior to moving to the Adirondacks, I never hiked hiked a single mile in the Adirondacks before I moved there. Nearly every peak on the Adirondack 46er list can be reached within an hour drive from my house. For the first time, I decided to actually see through a peak bagging list. While finishing the ADK 46 wasn't a top priority, I did make an effort to incorporate routes in the High Peaks regularly. Since I live so close to the mountains, I tried to hold out for the best weather days to get the most out of my summit days. I didn't focus entirely on the 46 when I started hiking the Adirondacks. I  hiked and backpacked plenty of other destinations in between trips to the High Peaks. I spent plenty of time kayaking, cycling, running, fishing, and skiing as well between trips to the High Peaks. When I passed the half-way point on the list, I started to focus on finishing the list.


There is no right or wrong way to tackle the 46ers as long as you travel by foot, ski, or snowshoe. Everybody's 46er journey will look different. Some have hiked all 46 in one long continuous hike, while others have taken decades to finish the list. This is a synopsis of my hikes over the 46 peaks and not meant to be a guide. My listed mileage may not match other reported distances since I often take side trips to visit destinations other than the peaks on the list or alter my route to take less used paths or visit other peaks.

Descending Marcy

Click on the blue links below to read about the specific hikes in more detail.

View from Big Slide

May 29, 2019
1. Wright, 2. Algonquin, 3. Iroquois
14.0 Miles

Iroquois above the Clouds

This was my first hike ever in the Adirondacks, on my 42nd birthday, about two weeks after moving to the Adirondacks. It was also the only hike that another person joined me on any of the 46. We started relatively late. Despite a forecast for clear skies by morning, we reached Wright and Algonquin with little to no views. Breaks in the clouds came after reaching Iroquois. We descended on a very wet trail to Avalanche Lake and out Avalanche Pass. Initially missing the turn to the Iroquois herd path added some extra distance. 


Although the visibility was poor, breaks in the clouds showed incredible views. Despite a rugged and wet descent to Avalanche Lake, the stunning early season waterfalls along the trail and great views at Avalanche Lake make this hike one of the best in the Northeast.

Trailside waterfall

June 12, 2019
4. Whiteface, 5. Esther
13.5 Miles

I ascended Whiteface and Esther from the Wilmington Reservoir, which isn't the shortest route. This was the first 46er hike that my dog Choya joined me. Unlike my first hike, the weather was sunny throughout the trip. Unfortunately the Adirondack mud was out in full force in early June and the trail was consistently muddy throughout, particularly enroute to Esther.

Choya with Lake Placid below

Whiteface rises above treeline with spectacular views. Unfortunately, a road climbs to just below the summit. A few structures also stand on the summit. Expect a lot of people on the summit, many that drove there. Despite the crowds, the view above treeline makes it a worthwhile destination. Esther offers a few hide and seek views toward Whiteface as you reach it but nothing to write home about with lots of mud in the early season. If it wasn't over 4,000-foot, Esther probably wouldn't be a popular destination.

June 28, 2019
6. Donaldson, 7. Emmons, 8. Seward
15.0 Miles

The Seward Range contains four summits above 4,000'. Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons, lie on the same ridge, with Seymour separated from that ridge. I hiked the three peaks on the main ridge via the Calkins Brook Herd Path. I hit Donaldson first before heading over to Emmons. I then made my way to Seward on the opposite side of Donaldson. 

Looking toward the Santanoni Range
over the Cold River Valley

I enjoyed Donaldson the most of the three summits. It offers views on both sides of  the ridge. Living in Tupper Lake, I can see the Seward Range from town. You get a pretty good look of Tupper Lake from Donaldson. On the east side, you look down upon the remote Cold River and toward many of the High Peaks. While Seward's summit is enclosed in tree cover, ledges to the south offer some nice views. Emmons on the other hand probably ranks among my bottom five of the 46 High Peaks. The trudge to Emmons featured a healthy dose of thick mud and I encountered some the worst black flies on its summit. The travel between the peaks encountered several slabby sections with some easy scrambling. Choya joined my on this hike.

Looking into the heart of the High Peaks

August 14,2019
9. Santanoni, 10. Couchsachraga, 11. Panther
15.5 Miles

After the mud on my last few trips into the High Peaks, I took a break from the 46 for about six weeks before tackling the Santanoni Range with Choya. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the High Peaks Wilderness, the Santanoni Range consists of three 46ers often hiked together. I started my day with the highest and namesake mountain of the range, Santanoni, before heading to the outlier Couchsachraga, and rapping it up with Panther. Even though I hiked in mid August, the mud was just as bad as May and June.

View during climb on Santanoni

Santanoni features numerous vantage points with views in most directions and is a worthy destination. Couchsachraga sits off the main ridge on a nasty, muddy herd path that requires traversing an ugly bog with little in the way of views. It stands well below 4,000' and probably would never be hiked if it wasn't on the original 46er list.  An open ledge just below Panther's summit provides a nice lookout. 

Another view from Santanoni

For some reason, this hike left me battered and it ranks as one of my roughest days on the 46. By the time I reached Panther, blood ran down my legs in more than a few places. The rocky descent from Panther left my knees sore at the end of the hike. Despite the abuse, Santanoni and Panther make for worthy destinations with their vistas. Choya seemed to have a much better go of these peaks than I did.

Indian Pass in the center with Algonquin on right

September 30, 2019
12. Giant, 13. Rocky Peak Ridge
8.2 Miles

Interesting clouds moving in

I took another six weeks off from the High Peaks after the Santanonis to paddle and hike other areas of the Adirondacks before climbing Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge. Compared to the rough and muddy hikes in the Seward and Santanoni Ranges, these two peaks were a real treat. This was one of the shorter hikes I made on the 46, but there was no shortage of great scenery. Giant provides nice views toward the Great Range from its summit and as it descends rocky terrain. Rocky Peak Ridge features a beautiful open ridge with great views across Lake Champlain as well into the High Peaks. As far as the 46er hikes, this one offers a great bang for the buck. Some stretches require scrambling. Good foliage and interesting cloud cover further added to this hike. Choya joined me on this trip.

Looking toward the Great Range

October 11, 2019
14. Macomb, 15. South Dix, 16. Grace, 17. Hough, 18. Dix
15.2 Miles

Elk Lake

My next hike took me to the Dix Range with Choya. This loop ranks among my favorite hikes in the Northeast. Starting with the Macomb Slide, this hike throws a lot of big views at you. Once on the ridge, you stay pretty high in elevation. Hiking counterclockwise, the loop reaches its crescendo at Dix Mountain with the highest elevation on the route as well as some of the best views. Lingering fall color made this splendid hike even better.

Marcy and the Great Range

October 21, 2019 
19. Cascade, 20. Porter
6.2 Miles

Cascade and Porter were Choya and my last two summits of the 46 in 2019. These two peaks offer the shortest hike of the 46ers and some of the biggest crowds. They are often the first 46er peaks people climb due the shorter distance and convenient access. I got an early weekday start and avoided most of the traffic on my climb. After encountering some serious muddy conditions, I started to see snow at higher elevations. Unfortunately Cascade was socked in with clouds when I got there. I headed to Porter in more sloppy mud.

Clouds lingering on the summits

As I made my way back toward Cascade, the clouds broke. I reclimbed the summit and had much better visibility.  Surprisingly, I had the summit of Cascade to myself both times as well as Porter. As I descended, I encountered an endless stream of people. Despite the crowds, Cascade offers some pretty impressive views from its open summit. If you don't mind the crowds, it's a really nice summit for such a short hike. If you are going just for views, skip Porter and climb Cascade.

You can reach this view in less than three miles of hiking

June 26, 2020
21. Seymour
13.7 Miles

Ampersand Lake and Mountain from Seymour

Nearly eight months passed since I last climbed a 46er. While focusing on cross country skiing over the winter and a couple spring backpacking trips, peak bagging wasn't a priority. I didn't have high hopes for Seymour. After my trip to the other peaks of the Seward Range, I expected a muddy slog. The hike was relatively dry. I wasn't expecting much in the way of views, but a couple of vistas near the summit provided descent scenery. Unfortunately I couldn't enjoy the views very long due to the oppressive black flies on the summit. Seymour is a middle of the road peak as far as the 46er summits go. It has better vistas than a lot of the High Peaks, but there are definitely more impressive peaks. Despite clocking in at close to 14 miles, most of the route runs flat with only the 3 roundtrip miles on the herd path providing any real challenge. Choya tagged along on this trip.

Santanonis from Seymour's summit

August 13, 2020
22. Lower Wolfjaw, 23. Upper Wolfjaw, 24. Armstrong, 25. Gothics, 26. Saddleback, 27. Basin,  28. Haystack, 29. Marcy 
26.6 Miles

Rugged terrain in the Great Range

This was my biggest day tackling the Adirondack 46. I hiked over 26 miles, visiting eight 46er summits in addition to lower peaks Rooster Comb and Hedgehog. Having previously hiked the Presidential Traverse, I wanted to tackle the Great Range Traverse as the two often draw comparisons. With good weather, I really enjoyed this challenging route as it visits many of the peaks with the best views, ending with the highest summit in the Adirondacks. 

The Great Range has some of the most dramatic
scenery in the Adirondacks

Although not for everyone due to its distance and large amount of vertical gain, I would rank this as one of my favorite hikes in the Northeast. The route encounters countless vistas, ladders, a cable, cliffs, an easy side trip to a waterfall, and roughly 9,500' of elevation gain. All of the above make it a great hike. There are plenty of options to break these peaks up into multiple hikes. As far as views go, the Wolfjaws offer less in the way of views than the other summits. I also had a close encounter with a tiny saw whet owl. Due to the distance and terrain, I left Choya home fore this one.

Saw whet owl below Upper Wolfjaw

September 23, 2020
30. Colden, 31. Table Top, 32. Phelps
18.8 Miles

View of Colden

Colden is said to have some of the best views in the High Peaks. I wouldn't know it from this hike since the summit was socked in. Looking at Colden on a clear day, it looks impressive with its exposed summit and numerous slides. The weather was supposed to clear early morning. It didn't clear until late afternoon. Fortunately Phelps offered some nice views. Table Top was socked in, but I'm not sure it provide much to look at either way. 

Marcy and Colden from Phelps

Typically Table Top and Phelps are climbed together. I added Colden since it was close enough to make a loop out of it. I only had brief glimpses of views on Colden's cloud-soaked and wind-battered summit. A few breaks in the clouds let me peek down on Avalanche Lake and Avalanche Pass. I'm going to return on a clearer day to see the views. Table Top didn't seem too exciting. The clouds finally parted when I reached Phelps and I was rewarded with sweeping views of the High Peaks from its open ledges. Although the flow wasn't too strong, I'm glad I took time to appreciate Indian Falls when I passed it. Choya went along for the ride.

Colden, Algonquin, and Wright

November 20, 2020
33. Dial, 34. Nippletop, 35. Colvin, 36. Blake
19.0 Miles

The Great Range

I had a shoulder season window of opportunity and decided to hit these four peaks. Icy and snowy conditions prevailed before I hit 3,000' in elevation. The snow was only a couple inches deep with the exception of the upper reaches of Nippletop. The descent from Elk Pass was quite icy. Colvin and Blake weren't much better. This hike gave my microspikes a workout. 

Dix from Nippletop

Although Dial lacks any real views, open ledges enroute have decent scenery. Nippletop provides nice views. By the time I reached Colvin, the clouds thickened, limiting what little scenery there may have been. Blake seems like a pointless trudge to a sign in the woods. I doubt Blake would see many visitors if it wasn't on the 46er list. It ranks among my bottom five peaks on the list. Be sure to take the short sidetrip to Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indian Head for the iconic Adirondack views over Lower Ausable Lake. If my goal wasn't visiting all the 46er summits, I would possibly bypass Colvin and probably skip Blake in the future when hiking this route.

Make sure to stop by Fish Hawk Cliffs
and Indian Head if your in the area

December 23,2020
37. Nye, 38. Street
12.0 Miles

On the approach to Nye and Street

I wasn't too enthusiastic about these two peaks. They aren't known for great scenery or being particular interesting hikes. I would agree with that assessment. I hiked them early in the winter in shallow, mostly unbroken snow. The limited views from these peaks were mostly obscured by cloud cover. On my descent I added the short side trip to Mt. Jo. Mt. Jo was far more interesting that Nye and Street with much better views. Hiking Nye and Street by themselves from the Adirondack Loj runs about 8 miles roundtrip. My mileage was higher because I started at South Meadow and added Mt. Jo. Nye and Street aren't necessarily a bad hike. They just aren't very exciting. Adding Mt. Jo to the mix made it much more interesting.

Sometimes the forest provides scenery without
far-reaching views

February 26, 2021
39. Big Slide
9.5 Miles

The Great Range along the Brothers route

I spent most of  winter cross country skiing, so a couple months passed since my last 46er outing. Big Slide is one of the less difficult and shorter hikes in the 46. I hiked it on a gorgeous, blue bird winter day with zero wind and comfortable temperatures. I couldn't have asked for better conditions on a winter hike. Big Slide provides great views as well. I hiked Big Slide as a loop via the Brothers and down the Slide Mt. Brook Trail. This was pretty much a perfect day on all accounts for an Adirondack winter hike.

Looking across Big Slide's namesake slide

March 17, 2021 
40. Sawteeth
14.5 Miles

View near Sawteeth's summit

This trip I actually climbed three 46ers as well as an unranked 4,000' peak. Sawteeth was the only of the peaks I hiked on this trip that was needed for the 46. Once again I managed to hit the mountains on a blue bird day with comfortable temperature. This trip didn't disappoint. The route to Sawteeth provides solid views. Unranked Pyramid Peak offers some of the finest views in the High Peaks. As far as views in the High Peaks go, Gothics holds its own among the best in the Adirondacks as well. I won't complain about Armstrong's summit scenery either. A couple of  large frozen waterfalls on this route are an added bonus. Best of all, I had all of these highlights to myself on a magnificent late winter day.

On Gothics

June 25, 2021
41. Marshall
16.0 Miles

Wreckage of a plane crash from the 1960s below Marshall

An ankle injury kept me out of the High Peaks for a couple months before I headed to Mt. Marshall. This was the first time Choya joined me on a 46er trip since last fall. Mt Marshall as an out and back didn't sound too exciting so I made a loop out it by hiking through Indian Pass and descending Herbert Brook. Indian Pass is a worthy destination on its own. Climbing Marshall from Indian Pass takes you through remote terrain which includes the option to visit an airplane wreckage. Herbert Brook descends a series of waterfalls. 

Colden with Marcy in the distance

If I hiked this as an out and back via Herbert Brook, this would have been a less appealing hike. Hiking this as a loop made the trip to Mt. Marshall a great outing. This loop is rather tough however. The descent from Indian Pass is rough and tumble. The trail into Cold Brook Pass is no longer maintained and overgrown at times. The herd path from the north isn't a cake walk with jumbled terrain and vegetation encroaching the path more than most High Peaks herd paths. Descending Herbert Brook takes a little care following the trail. The route in late June was quite muddy. While the summit of Marshall isn't the most awe inspiring, it does have a few viewpoints in several directions. 

Wallface from Indian Pass

July 5, 2021
42. Allen
19.0 Miles

View into Panther Gorge between Marcy and Haystack

Allen Mountain has a reputation as a long slog and often ranks as one of the most hated mountains of the Adirondack 46. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Allen. Most of the miles are the flat terrain on the approach to the herd path. The climbing follows a steep creek along a slabby course with numerous waterfalls and drops. Despite tough footing, the climb is quite pretty. 

Better views than I expected on Allen

Open views near the summit are much prettier than I anticipated. Yes it's a long hike to tackle one summit, but there are plenty of peaks that I found less appealing. There are plenty of peaks in the 46 with less attractive views. The route travels near, and crosses the Opalescent River as well as other mountain streams that are all quite attractive. Choya joined me on this hike and it was his longest day in the Adirondacks.

The water along this route helps break up the long hike

September 2, 2021
43. Redfield, 44. Cliff, 45. Gray, 46. Skylight
26.0 Miles

Flowed Lands on the approach from Upper Works

These four peaks aren't typically climbed together. I combined them in one long day from Upper Works. Unfortunately, for a long day with four summits, the weather didn't cooperate. Forecasted evening clouds moved in by mid morning and kept the summit views to a minimum. Fortunately there are plenty of scenic spots on the lower reaches of this route. Beautiful waterfalls along the Opalescent River make for a worthy destination on their own. The views from Flowed Lands and Lake Colden are also quite pretty.

Clouded over summit of Skyight

As for the summits, Redfield has a reputation as a slog. The summits does offer some views and the herd path travels along numerous waterfalls that made the approach rather pleasant. Cliff has a reputation as a less desirable peak, but the scrambling enroute made for a rather fun hike. My views were limited from Gray but it seems to have at least some scenery and it's a quick detour off the main trail. While I didn't get the best conditions on Skylight, it stands well above treeline. I love alpine summits, so I'm sure I would enjoy Skylight on a better day. My first 46er summit began on an alpine summit socked in the clouds, and it finished that way.

One of many waterfalls on this route

I know everyone has different motivations to hike the ADK 46. For some it's almost spiritual and a life changing experience.  They have a deep connection to the Adirondacks. Others are just looking for another challenge and move on. I didn't come to the Adirondacks until I was in my 40s, so I don't have the deep connection to the region like some. I mostly hiked the 46 with the mentality as my "next challenge." While I had some great experiences hiking the 46, it didn't hold the same level of meaning to me as it does some people. 

You'll likely pass Marcy Dam several times
during a quest for the 46ers

There are plenty of great destinations within the High Peaks. There are also some of the most beat up, eroded, and muddy trails. I certainly don't regret climbing any of the 46, although some are much more rewarding than others. And often, the best experience doesn't come from the summit but the time in the wilderness. 

Here are a few stats from my 46er trips.

Total trips to complete the 46: 17
Most peaks in one outing: 8 (plus two non-46er peaks)
Longest mileage in a day: 26.6 Miles
Peaks climbed with another person: 3
Peaks climbed with my dog: 23
Total mileage on all hikes: about 262.7
Most vertical elevation gain in a day: about 9,500'
Start date: May 29,2019
Finish date: September 2, 2021
First peak: Wright
Final peak: Skylight
3 Favorite trips: Great Range Traverse, Dix Range Loop, MacIntyre Loop through Indian Pass
5 Least favorite peaks (not in order): Blake, Emmons, Couchsachraga, Nye, Esther
5 Favorite peaks (not in order): Haystack, Algonquin, Gothics, Dix, Colden  

Beaver Meadow Falls in winter

Avalanche Pass and Lake

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