Winter 6ers brave severe weather
SARANAC LAKE – A group of hikers battled rain, snow, sleet and ice this weekend to become the first Winter Saranac Lake 6ers.
Caleb Strong of Victor, near Rochester, was the first person to hike the six mountains in the Saranac Lake area – Ampersand, Baker, Haystack, McKenzie, St. Regis and Scarface – in winter, which officially began with the solstice Saturday, and return to Berkeley Green. He did it in 9 hours and 59 minutes, a new record time.
“It feels good to finish first; I have to admit it,” Strong said. “I trained like hell for this event during the last four months, and I wanted to win.”
Strong, 57, had finished fifth when the village launched the 6er program in May with a similar race to hike all six peaks. That challenge was won by Loring Porter of Lake Placid, who also competed in Saturday’s Winter 6er competition and took second place, finishing exactly an hour after Strong. Right behind Porter was his hiking partner, Kyle Forbes Bissell of West Salem, Mass., who took third place.
Strong is a retired paintball entrepreneur who was a scholarship cross-country runner at St. John Fisher College, near Rochester, in his earlier years. He’s also an Adirondack 46er, in both summer and winter, and has been doing the Fire Tower Challenge, hiking all the mountains in the Adirondacks and Catskills with fire towers on their summits. He’s also competed in snowshoeing in the Empire State Winter Games.
Asked how he was feeling after the grueling 33-mile trek, Strong said, “I still have a little adrenaline going, but my knees and my legs are shaking. I’ve got a tremendous blister on this heel.”
While the weather made for sloppy and, at times, treacherous conditions, Strong said it was actually better than he thought it would be. The rain started later than he expected, and more snow had melted off the peaks.
“Today there wasn’t much snow on them, but lots of slush everywhere,” he said. “The worst two were St. Regis and Ampersand. Ampersand had a pretty good stream coming down from the top. St. Regis was just wet.”
Strong used crampons to help keep a grip on the trail, first on his hiking boots before they got soaked, and then when he changed over to sneakers. He said he ran where the trails were flat and walked the uphill sections.
“Doing all six mountains in under 10 hours when it’s pouring rain and slushy snow – what an accomplishment,” said village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. “The conditions today, although bad, were not as bad as the original kickoff. The temperatures were the same; the rain was the same; the snow was the same; the only thing different was we didn’t have the flooding. This time, really the hardcore people came out.”
A total of 68 people started the Winter 6er challenge in the dark at 6 a.m. Saturday, many of them hoping to finish all six mountains in less than 24 hours to become “Ultra 6ers.” Twenty-three people did, including hikers from across the Northeast and Quebec.
Porter said the conditions made Saturday’s race more challenging than the May 6er event.
“The snow was a lot harder to run in,” he said. “It was pretty challenging. It would have been nice to have been first, but I did the best I could and ran hard. (Strong) trained like a demon for this, so good for him.”
The only other locals among the first group of Winter 6ers are Kyle Dash of Paul Smiths, who finished fourth in 11 hours and six minutes; David Gomlak of Lake Placid, who finished in 12:45; and Sam Racette of Saranac Lake, who finished 12th with a time of 17 hours and 35 minutes. (Editor’s note: The previous sentence has been corrected.) Nancy LaBaff of Canton was the only woman to finish in the first 24 hours, coming in at No. 11 with a time of 17 hours and 25 minutes.
Over 500 people have hiked all six mountains since the May 25 kick-off. A key to the success of the program, Rabideau said, is the village staff who volunteer their time to run and administer it. He thanked village Community Development Assistant Kelly Brunette, village Clerk Kareen Tyler, Community Development Director Jeremy Evans and Treasurer Paul Ellis for their help. Also, Trustees Tom Catillaz, Allie Pelletieri and Paul Van Cott helped to make Saturday’s event happen, Rabideau said.
Rabideau said the village isn’t planning any similar 6er challenge events next year but would like to host a Saranac Lake 6er Stewardship Day in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Registered 6ers would be invited back to Saranac Lake this summer “to help maintain the trails and attend a reunion-type barbeque to celebrate our good fortune of being in the Adirondacks,” the mayor said in a news release.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.