Crowds following Forty-Sixers' lead on High Peaks trails
After spreading allure of mountains, members now try to mitigate effects of overuse
By ALAN WECHSLER, Staff writer
First published: Tuesday, August 20, 2002
The first people to climb the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks didn't have a word for their accomplishment.
On June 24, 1924, Robert and George Marshall of New York City and Herbert Clark, an Adirondack guide, finished climbing all the peaks then believed to be 4,000 feet or higher.
It would be another 13 years before a group of hikers would form an organization called the Forty-Sixers, or 46ers for short. At first it was just a few members of Troy's Grace Methodist Church.
Today, the Adirondack 46ers have nearly 5,000 members. The mountains have been done barefoot, by children as young as 5, by a man nicknamed Cave Dog in less than four days, and by an American and a Canadian who separately climbed the 46 peaks 46 times, finishing the task within a month of each other.
The 46ers also have a trust fund, a Web site, several dinners each year and, to be sure, a bit of angst.
By spreading word of the High Peaks' lure they have encouraged overuse.
Those starting out in their quest for the 46 are asked to write to the group when they are ready to start. Then they are paired with an experienced climber who acts as a pen-pal mentor, encouraging hiking safety and conservation.
For more than half a century, Grace Hudowalski was that mentor, sending as many as 1,200 letters a year. Now 97, she lives at the Guilderland Center Nursing Home. Forty-Sixer officials say it has taken 18 volunteers to replace her.