Press-Republican

June 16, 2013

Saranac Lake's new mountain challenge

Saranac Lake creates 6er group for hikers

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC LAKE — A bell in Berkeley Green tolls for adventure. Some- times in the rain, sometimes in the snow.

But this summer, it may ring in sunny succession by folks taking on a new outdoor mountain challenge: The Saranac Lake 6er.

The tony bell signals an addition to the list of hiking achievements in the Adirondacks: to summit all six mountains that surround the village here.

It’s an ongoing pursuit launched this summer by local recreation enthusiasts and a team of village officials, including Kareen Tyler, village clerk; Jeremy Evans, Saranac Lake community development director; Kelly Brunette, Evans’s associate; and Clyde Rabideau, village mayor.

FOREVER 6ERS

The hiking event will continue in perpetuity, Evans said.

“It’s an individual challenge that has opened to a wide swath of the population and gained a lot of interest from locals who haven’t really gotten into hiking. Part of the hope is that people from out-of-town will come to do this and discover all that Saranac Lake has to offer.”

Over time, just like the well-known Adirondack 46ers, it’s hoped that the list of 6ers will grow and then cross generations.

Climbers can register at the sign-in on Berkeley Green off Main Street and then check off the six peaks in any order they wish — Haystack, McKenzie, Scarface, Baker, St. Regis and Ampersand mountains — earning a place on the roster, a patch, a numbered certificate and a 6er sticker.

The bell nearby is to ring when the feat is finished.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY

The circle of six mountains close to Saranac Lake have summits below the famed Adirondack 46 mountain peaks over 4,000 feet. They have well-marked trails within about 8 miles of the village.

Some have steep sections that might prove challenging for smaller children’s legs.

“We will all be 6ers someday, when my son is 12 or so,” Evans said of his family.

“Then I will take him up McKenzie. It (the 6er feat) is more family-oriented than, say, the 46ers; these mountains are not High Peaks, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Part of McKenzie is super steep. Ampersand has some steep parts. St. Regis isn’t quite as bad.”

But in progression, the sequence could be attained over several years as children grow older, looking forward to the next reachable peak, Evans said.

Altogether, the 6er peaks encompass about 30 to 35 miles of hiking, about half of which is on ascent — climbing.

“Ampersand, St. Regis and Scarface have longer, flatter sections before ascent,” Evans said. “Baker, from step one, you’re going up the whole way. Haystack and McKenzie, you walk in for a ways, but then it’s steadily an uphill climb.”

The 6er challenge commenced on Memorial Day weekend — despite snow and freezing rain.

Evans was one of 12 people to earn the first “Ultra” 6er award on Memorial Day weekend.

He climbed all six mountains within 24 hours. It took Evans, including a warm-up break, 13 hours and 16 minutes to bag all six peaks.

The inaugural challenge was set against wild wintry weather that dropped 3 feet of snow on Whiteface some 25 miles east and about 6 inches on McKenzie.

Evans laughed, recounting the decidedly un-springlike conditions.

Normally, black flies plague forest adventures after Mother’s Day.

“I was hiking up McKenzie and there was a really nice couple that were doing all the mountains, and the woman said: ‘But at least it’s not super hot, and there are no bugs.’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not — no bugs — and I’m not complaining any more today.’ It was very memorable, I’ll put it that way. You couldn’t have worse weather,” Evans said.

“I stopped at home after I did three of them, because I was really cold. Actually, I got some dry clothes, swapped out my hiking boots and had some hot soup.”

There is also a Winter 6er challenge for climbers who want to summit amid the snowfall.

“The running joke over Memorial Day was the people who were Ultra 6ers then should also get the Winter 6er status as well,” Evans mused.

STURDY DOZEN

The first Ultra 6er dozen and their official placements for all time are (listed from first to 12th place): Loring Porter, Bethany Garretson, Mallory Garretson, David Gomlak, Caleb Strong, Kyle Dash, Jeremy Evans, Matt Hicks, Richard Reynolds, Nancy LaBaff, Michael Cady and George Grzyb.

As the regular 6er list grows, the roster is updated. It had reached 46 success stories by the second week in June.

Nearly 90 hikers started their pitch on the unofficial first weekend of summer, according to Rabideau.

“Over 50 others joined the ‘Ultra Dozen’ (first 24-hour finishers) for the pistol start with an estimated 30 to 40 more climbing the six peaks without registering,” he said via email.

Everyone battled severe weather conditions for the Ultra finish. 

Finisher number four, David Gomlak, runs the TMax-n-Topo’s hostel, the former Jackrabbit Inn, in Lake Placid.

A mountain climber, Gomlak has summited the 46 High Peaks numerous times.

He believes an annual Ultra 6er event would be a great local-recreation addition but may be better scheduled past the wet spring season.

For him, the extreme weather involved some team support.

“We came in fourth. Without my wife, Terri, and my hiking friend Topo (a fluffy toy frog carried in his backpack), I would not have finished,” he said.

“People who finished first, fourth and fifth all had our wives as a support team, providing food, helping with clothing changes and dry clothes.”

TERRAIN 

Gomlak did the six peaks in this order: McKenzie, Haystack, Scarface, Baker, St. Regis, then Ampersand.

Other top teams flipped the order of the last two mountains, he said.

“I wanted to save the hardest climb for last, since I’m a climber. The runners wanted to get Ampersand out of the way before climbing St. Regis.”

During the race, the climber crisscrossed paths several times with the Garretson sisters, both runners, who took second and third place.

The encounters generated some genuine and jovial trail-run spirit.

“We passed each other a number of times. I just don’t run, I’m a climber. They passed me the last time and had put ‘warpaint’ — mud — on their faces,” Gomlak said with a laugh.

The TMax-n-Topo hosts many hikers attempting the 46 High Peaks.

“People come here, and most of them are in one way or another climbing the 46 or doing the grid (46-by-12, or each mountain climbed in every month). We’ve seen a proliferation of hikers in the last few years. The 46ers are a very special group because it’s a very tight group,” Gomlak said.

“I think what can happen in Saranac Lake can definitely be a smaller version of that.”

By way of mountain-climbing introduction, it may even introduce people to the larger 46er challenge.

“I think people in Saranac Lake will see more people who are talking about it, asking questions about it. No one has really asked us about Ampersand before this,” he said.

But by early June, he was answering many questions about Ampersand Mountain.

“This absolutely could become prevalent,” he said of the 6er circuit.

Of the six summits, McKenzie is definitely a day hike, Gomlak said.

“For people who can’t climb straight up 600 feet, it is more difficult.”

Saranac Lake officials are considering whether the Ultra 6er should become an annual event.

The sole cautionary comment Gomlak had of the idea for an annual race was in timing, since hiking on wet trails can cause substantial trail damage.

“If you love the mountains, take care of them,” he said.

Rabideau is finding people generally pleased with the focus on a local circuit of readily accessible hikes.

“Village residents even stopped me on the trails to shake hands and expressed their pleasure with the program and their intent to climb all the mountains,” he said in an update on the 6er Facebook chronicle.

SUMMIT IN SITE

To make the 6er roster, hikers have to achieve each summit in turn and in any order.

“Keep track of the time and date you finish each peak,” Evans said.

“That’s the key piece of information people need to submit to us in writing. Then you get a patch and a certificate that tells you your number and an official 6er sticker. Once the Village of Saranac Lake receives the completed information, each finisher will be sent a confirmation letter with an official member number.”

The hikes have to start after May 25 of this year, so any previous climb up these mountains doesn’t count.

The 6er entry costs $5 for postage and handling and requires the hiker’s email and mailing address. Checks can be made out to the Saranac Lake Special Events Fund.

The Ultra 6er name goes to anyone who completes all six hikes within 24 hours.

The 6er’s trailhead register is planted in the Berkeley Green at the intersection of Main Street and Broadway in Saranac Lake.

“People are welcome to go there and sign in, say they’re going to do Baker, for instance, and when they’re finished all of the hikes, they can ring the bell,” Evans said.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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MOUNTAIN SUMMITS

The 6er mountains are listed below from tallest peak to the lowest.

McKenzie, at 3,822 feet, is the tallest, with a trailhead less than 5 miles east of Saranac Lake.

Ampersand is 3,353 feet at the summit, with an ascent of 1,775 feet. The trailhead is 8 miles south of the village on Route 3.

Scarface, at 3,054 feet, is a 6.8-mile hike round-trip, beginning at the trailhead on Route 86 just outside Saranac Lake.

St. Regis is 2,874 feet at the summit, with a trailhead off of Route 30.

Haystack (not to be confused with the Haystack Mountain among the High Peaks) reaches 2,864 feet, with a 6.6-mile trail round-trip that begins near the Saranac Lake Golf Club off Route 86.

And Baker, the shortest round-trip hike of 1.8 miles, has a summit at 2,452 feet, with a trail that begins off Forest Hill Avenue, just off Pine Street inside the village.

To check the roster or find further information on each mountain, visit the 6er website at saranaclake6er.com, or join the conversation online at facebook.com/SaranacLake6er.