Al Laubinger owes the Adirondack Mountains for getting him in the most peak physical condition of his life -- at 82 years and counting.
Laubinger recently became the oldest person to join the Adirondack 46ers, a select group of people who have climbed all of the park's 46 mountains with an elevation of 4,000 feet or higher.
'My only claim to fame is my age,' he said. 'I started when I was 76. I always did a lot of fishing and hunting, but I never went on a hike, period. Now I couldn't bear to be taken away from the mountains.'
Laubinger's odyssey started with a New Year's resolution to get in better shape. He bought exercise equipment and worked out several times a week in his basement. He'd always been athletic, even competing in international badminton at a younger age, so there was some foundation for his renewed interest in conditioning.
Then a friend from Seattle, a serious mountaineer who's twice climbed Denali (Mount McKinley), told him about the 46ers. The idea fascinated Laubinger, but his daughter and son in-law, Jennifer and Mike Stelzer, had doubts about their father climbing mountains at an age when many people are resigned to rocking chairs.
Knowing his determination, they agreed to accompany him up Cascade Mountain, one of the easier Adirondack trails. Without saying so, they hoped the experience would discourage Laubinger once and for all.
'They damn near killed me,' he said with a chuckle. 'I wasn't in the shape I am today.'
Rather than deter him, the outing gave him new enthusiasm to tackle the pursuit head-on.
'Nothing gets you in shape for climbing like climbing,' Laubinger said. 'They say exercise promotes strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. With climbing, you get every single one of these.'
On Saturday, Aug. 7, Laubinger reached his goal by scaling Esther and nearby Whiteface Mountain. Friends and family members were there to congratulate him, having driven up Veterans Memorial Highway, which goes to the summit.
'So I didn't have to carry the champagne,' he joked