46er letter tradition ends

LAKE PLACID – For decades, people looking to become members of the Adirondack 46ers were required to do two things: Hike all 46 High Peaks, and send journal entries documenting those experiences to the club historian.

But in March, the Adirondack 46er organization announced a new procedure for getting into the club. People starting out on their quest to climb all 46 High Peaks are now required to fill out a questionnaire, available on the 46ers website, after they finish. People in the midst of their quest are being allowed to continue sending in letters.

Adirondack 46ers President Sally Hoy of Glens Falls said the club made the change in its admission policy for a few reasons, including the club’s surge in popularity in recent years.

“Over the last three years we’ve had well over 1,000 finishers,” Hoy said. “With this increase in climbers, the process that had been put in place really can’t handle it. There’s just not enough people (to handle it), not enough hours in the day.”

The club, which consists of more than 7,000 members, had 450 people finish their 46 High Peaks in 2012, Hoy said.

She said the workload specifically became too much for the club’s office of historians, who handle admissions on a volunteer basis. The club’s head historian is Tony Solomon of Ballston Lake, who is assisted by his wife Jane Meader Nye and friend Mindy Jatulis. The trio works out of Solomon’s home and the 46ers office in Schenectady

“We’re an aging population, and he’s just done with it,” Hoy said. “He says he can’t keep up with it. There’s all kinds of nuances itself, and it takes between 20 to 30 hours just for three people to process all of the paperwork and so forth, and handle the correspondences. So he decided this is it, he’s not doing it anymore, so he came up with a modified approach to help sustain us over the next few months because people are obviously still writing in. So we don’t have anyone in the office to manage it. So this is what he came up with.”

Hoy said the option to change the policy is still available. The 46ers will discuss possible changes to the policy during its annual spring meeting Memorial Day weekend in Lake Placid.

When asked if Solomon wants someone to replace him as historian, Hoy said the club will discuss the issue at its spring meeting.

The tradition of hiking High Peaks and sending journal entries to the 46ers organization dates back to 1937, when the club was known as the 46ers of Troy. The club became the Adirondack 46ers in 1948.

Back then, the task of maintaining hiker files was handled by the late Grace Hudowalski, who became legendary because of her efforts to not only maintain files on all hikers on a voluntary basis but for her efforts to return letters to those who wrote the club.

Hudowalski was a founder of both 46er clubs and the first president of the Adirondack 46ers, serving from 1948 to 1951. Following her term as president, she became the club’s secretary and historian, a position she held until her death in March 2004 at age 98.

While acting as club secretary and historian, Hudowalski wrote hundreds and sometimes thousands of letters to hikers annually.

In 1993, the Associated Press reported in a story on Hudowalski that she wrote 1,600 letters at the age of 86.

“Sometimes I get as many as 30 letters a day,” Hudowalski told the Associated Press. “I answer the letters from children first.”

Today, Hudowalski’s responsibilities are handled by the office of the historian with the help of about two dozen club correspondents, who are responsible for writing response letters to hikers.

One of those correspondents is Spencer Morrissey of Lake Placid, a guidebook author who has held the post for about six years.

Morrissey said the purpose of corresponding with hikers is “to build a correspondence with another person and make it more personal. Grace’s whole purpose was to make things a little more personal, not like, ‘Hey, I need to get a patch’ or ‘Hey, I need to get a sticker.’ It’s to make it personal and build a community. And it’s great because you could potentially make lifelong friends and built strong ties within the hiking community. I think that was the biggest purpose behind that.”

While Morrissey said he enjoys corresponding, he understands the need to make changes to the system because the workload has become too much for the club historians.

“There’s a lot to it,” Morrissey said. “They live it, eat it, breathe it, and they’ve been doing it over 18 years.”

Morrissey said several options for a new admission procedure have been discussed. He said one includes using email instead of postal mail to make the system more efficient. He said some people have also suggested giving hikers the option of continuing to write letters to a correspondent or just filling out a questionnaire.

Morrissey said many people actually don’t write detailed letters anymore, instead choosing to write something very brief or listing mountains they climb.

Whatever option is chosen, it looks like it will be done at the spring meeting in Lake Placid in May.

“When we meet all together face to face, we’ll come up with a more definitive decision,” Hoy said. “I don’t know what that’s going to look like, whatever. But at present time, this is what we’re doing to carry us forward.”

Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 28 or mlynch@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.