The two mountain ranges stretching north to south across the U.S. invoke two very different feelings. On the east side, the Appalachians are smooth and rolling, thoroughly explored and intriguing through their cultural history. The Rockies on the west bear rough edges, have scattered patches of relatively untouched terrain and bestow a fascinating formation history.
Growing up in the Rockies, mountains always seemed synonymous with immense, and in some places intimidating.
Then there’s the Adirondack range, on the east but geologically distinct from the Appalachians. Driving through the intense green and stormy hills feels like passing through vast open arms. Or as my 96-year-old grandma, who spent nearly her whole life calling Westport, New York home, put it — “These mountains have always felt so welcoming.”
Even though I’ve been swimming and canoeing Essex county waters since I was a child, I feel I’m just getting started on the real adventures the Adirondacks offer. My last trip was the first time I learned about the 46ers.
Defined by a group of dedicated (and maybe a bit wild) mountaineers a century ago, 46 “high mountains” scatter the park. They range from 4,000 to 5,350 feet in elevation. Officially, if all are summited, an official badge of honor is earned. Unofficially, some basic hiking skills are learned — like knowing the difference between the actual trail and a deer path, staying steady on slick rocks with significant consequences, and properly burying your poop 6 to 8 inches in the ground and away from a stream.
One down, 45 to go
The entry-level hike for a 46er pursuer is Cascade Mountain, standing at 4,098 feet high. Naturally, the most accessible was the first I attempted, with my 6-year-old nature companion, to see what these climbs are all about.
We happened to go right after a downpour. The rocky trail up was more like a muddy stream in most places, perhaps attracting more black flies and mosquitos than usual. They swarmed our faces, hair and eyeballs in the middle section of the 4.8-mile roundtrip hike.
If you can avoid going in the May to July buggy months, do. If early summer is the only time, you can go, suck it up, bring the bug spray and even throw in the super stylish head net. If you’re going at a wet time (most times in update New York), wearing some good waterproof hiking boots will make the trip more comfortable. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing Cascade Mountain in the winter is also an option, if that’s your jam.
In the summer, the sprinkling of birch trees, fun rock hops and peak views make up for all the mud and bugs. It’s best to leave a good hour to hang out at the top and picnic on smooth, billion-year-old rocks at the summit (some of the oldest on the planet). The top overlooks vibrant greens, flowing from bright to deep in color. The peace at the top is unmatched. And the fragile mixed-moss alpine habitat hikers must avoid trampling on have a way of forcing respect for these precious places.
If you go, be sure to research the specific hike you’re heading up, sign in at the start and bring the proper gear. The trails can inter-connect (so you can hit more than one peak in one hike if you’re in for the long haul). Also, not all of the lower elevation peaks have the shortest trails (and vice versa), and not all mountains have viewpoints at the top. And, please, follow Leave No Trace etiquette. These mountains are located close to some of the biggest cities in North America. They get used. Good luck!