Last August, my friend Dave invited me on a trip to the Adirondacks, and I had so much fun in these gorgeous mountains that here I am back again a year later and this time spending a full week.
In recent months I’ve been doing a great deal of barefoot hiking, in part because of a running injury (barefoot hiking is very slow, and this lets a sore tendon heal) and also because it’s a lot of fun (every step is a small adventure). On a recent barefoot tramp in the Catskills I ran into a hiker who told me of a woman who had completed the 46 Adirondack High Peaks barefoot. Predictably, that comment got me thinking, maybe that was an appropriate goal for me, too…
Arriving in the Daks a few days before Dave and his gang, I decided to try one of the high peaks without shoes, and feeling ambitious, I chose the 16-mile round-trip from New Russia Trailhead to the summit of Giant Mountain, which if I made it would also bag me Rocky Peak along the way. According to the ADK Club website, this route is “difficult” due to the mileage and also 5,300 feet in cumulative elevation gain, but it is also described as “probably the best hike in all the Adirondacks” — and that comment seemed very intriguing.
Here are a few notes from the hike….
- The hike started out at around 700 feet in elevation, on a beautiful dirt trail that wound through red pines and then hemlocks and whether the surface was covered in needles or smooth dirt, it was a pleasure to walk upon. Stopped at a brook to filter water.
- Emerged after a couple of miles onto a series of open ledges at around 2,000 feet in elevation that offered expansive views south and west. These ledges were reminiscent of higher spots in the Shawangunk Mountain and Harriman State Park, with wavy grass, wildflowers such as meadowsweet and St. Johnswort, blueberry bushes, and a few oak trees. To the side of the trail were luxurious clumps of reindeer lichen, both gray and star-tipped, and beds of peat moss that had turned a spectacular scarlet.
- I settled in for a long climb. The trail would through forests of beech, birch, and maple and after another 1,000 feet arrived at Bald Peak and began crossing large exposed rock faces, no doubt of the anorthosite that constitutes much of the High Peaks region. The rock slabs offer plenty of traction to the barefoot hiker, which is helpful on the steeper grades, although in some places they are pock-marked or contain prickly points and edges.
- From Bald Peak, I could now see my first objective, Rocky Peak, soaring 1,000 feet above me. I began to question the wisdom of pressing on to Giant Mountain, especially with a sore ankle, and also considering the uncertain weather forecast: maybe Rocky Peak would be enough for one day.
- The trail wound its way uphill, and now there were a more few boulders and some open rock faces to clamber up and over.
- Eventually I reached the top of the ridge at around 4,000 feet in elevation. According to the map, the trail would take me along this ridgeline and past a lake before finally reaching Rocky Peak. To the southwest, a long line of mountains loomed under an overcast sky. Behind me and 1,000 feet below lay Bald Peak, and and behind it the ridgeline I’d climbed earlier in the morning curled off into the distance.
- The trail passed a large erratic boulder perched on the side of a ledge, then dipped slightly and arrived at a large pond called Lake Marie Louise.
- I finally arrived at the summit of Rocky Peak. This was my first successful barefoot climb of an Adirondack high peak, although I didn’t dwell upon this achievement, but rather shivered in the chilly wind as fog raced across the summit obscuring any views. There was a man and woman at the summit who’d come from the other direction. The woman asked me to take her picture, and she took one of me. When she saw I wasn’t wearing shoes, she called me a “warrior.” Who doesn’t like a compliment?
- Between Rocky Peak and Giant Mountain there’s a divide of roughly 800 feet. The woman cautioned me that the climb to Giant Mountain was steep. A large white cloud was blowing up the mountain and billowing through the divide, blocking the view of Giant Mountain. I felt good, the sore ankle seemed OK, and so off I went into the mist.
- The woman wasn’t kidding about the trail: after a mild descent to the saddle, the path shot straight up the mountain through a tumble of boulders. I made slow but steady progress and eventually emerged onto the summit.
- A young woman was sitting on the rocks, while a young man stared off into the misty distance. They discussed whether it was worth waiting a little longer for a clear view. The man declared he was optimistic. I joined them on the summit and peered off into the clouds. After a few minutes, we were joined by a dark-eyed junco which hopped about among the rocks. And then suddenly the mists cleared, and we could see the Adirondack high peaks ranged in rows off to the west and south. And then thick white clouds boiled up from the valley and once again obscured the view.
- I looked at my watch: it was 3PM and time to head back.
- The steep descent back toward Rocky Peak was trying in bare feet. Stepping down from one boulder to another demands strong knees, steady balance, and enormous concentration — especially barefoot, because you can’t jump down, you can’t afford a single misstep. A long difficult descent like this is mentally draining.
- After making it back to Rocky Ridge Peak, now it was time for the 1,000 foot descent to Bald Peak. The weather had been hazy and cloudy all day, and now it finally began to rain, and soon the rain was coming down steadily. On went sweater and goretex jacket, which shielded me from the weather, except for my shorts, which were soon dripping wet. I kept a slow but steady pace.
- Once I made it back down to Bald Peak, the worst of the steep and rocky descent was behind me. From here the trails were softer and easier. I walked slowly along in the rain, noting the landmarks I’d passed on the way up.
- About two miles out, the sore ankle began to twinge.
- Roughly twelve hours later, I was back at the trailhead.
- At 16 miles, this was my longest barefoot hike yet.
Running the Long Path is now available at the Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY, but if you’re not nearby, you can order it on Amazon