July 27, 2012

Book offers history of 46ers


---- — There are about 7,000 Adirondack 46ers. 

These are the people who have climbed the 46 Adirondack peaks with an elevation of at least 4,000 feet and registered their names with the club in Schenectady. The mountains and the climbers are the subject of a wonderful new history entitled “Heaven Up-h’isted-ness: The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.”

(The title, by the way, are the words that legendary Adirondack guide “Old Mountain” Phelps used to describe how he felt atop Mt. Marcy.)

Compiled by the Adirondack 46ers, the book has three sections. In the first section, Suzanne Lance, assistant director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany, chronicles the history of the 46ers. Lance not only writes well, but brings experience to the project; she is a serious climber, becoming a 46er in 1982 and a winter 46er in 2007.

Appropriately, she begins her six-part history with the Marshall brothers, Robert and George, and their guide Herbert Clark — the first 46ers.

The Marshalls, two New York City residents, teamed with the significantly older Clark from Saranac Lake as their guide. The first of their 46 ascents (Whiteface) was in 1918, their final (Emmons) in 1925. Lance notes that “their personal journey has in many ways played a part in shaping the history of the Adirondacks.”

Some of that influence is evident in Lance’s second chapter, an examination of the hikers who came from Troy’s Grace Methodist Church in the 1930s. If the Marshalls were the genesis of the 46ers as a goal, a plan and a community, the hikers from Troy were the force that made it grow. Among them were their pastor, the Rev. Ernest Ryder (the seventh 46er), and Ed and Grace Hudowalski (numbers six and nine).

As she had for the Marshalls and Clark, Lance completes the portraits of Ryder and the Hudowalskis as shapers of the Adirondacks in the 20th century. Grace Hudowalski, who became the longtime correspondent with aspiring 46ers, looms especially large, encouraging others to experience the mountains as she did, especially on a rainy and buggy three-day climb of Marcy in 1922 that changed her life:

“It was tough. I was on all fours sometimes. I didn’t think I was going to get there ... but I had to go on. And on the top for just a fraction of a moment, the clouds lifted while I was there and I looked down and there a mile below me was Lake Tear of the Clouds, the Hudson’s highest source. And you know, that did something to me. I had seen something — I felt it. I never forgot the mountain and I never forgot that trip.”

In the final four chapters of her history, Lance describes the changes and challenges that confronted both the mountains — especially the High Peaks — and the Adirondack 46ers as a group. It’s a fine history of cultural and legislative changes, and even offers a glance at the future.

Lance’s contribution demonstrates her thesis, that the Adirondack 46ers were and are “integral to the care and preservation of the region.”

The second portion of the book focuses on the mountains, themselves. Nineteen chapters by 16 contributors, all 46ers, offer science, history and personal experience about each of the mountains.

If you’ve hiked these mountains, it’s fun to compare the writer’s description to you own. What John Konowitz says about the beauty of Gray Mountain bears no resemblance to the ugly hike through blowdown that I remember. I’m glad one of us had a good day on Gray Mountain.

As in the case of Konowitz, many of these contributing authors will be familiar names: Phil Corell, Gretel Schueller and Chuck Gibson, for example.

The final portion of the book is a roster of the 7,000 Adirondack 46ers.

This is an important book because the history of the 46ers is important to the Adirondacks and New York state. By gathering that history in one place, and including archival and modern photos, Lance and the Adirondack 46ers have provided a service to us all.

For years, Jerry McGovern was the Press-Republican’s coordinator of Newspapers-in-Education. He also taught in New York state’s public schools and now teaches in the Communications Department at Plattsburgh State.