“You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”- Maya Angelou
Interesting choice of quotes to kickoff the hiking blog that rolled out my 46er finish, right? If you’ve been following along with me on this incredible, transformative journey, you would know this simple fact: the mountains saved me.
Not in a dramatic-movie-like way. Although, reaching Redfield projected feelings reminiscent of the final scene in a prolific drama. It was much more humbling than that. The mountains saved me from my own worst enemy: myself. The price is high, but the reward is great.
Blog Warning:This post will be more than a typical trip report. It may contain flashbacks, emotional sidebars, “Jen-isms,” and slight swearing. Be advised 😉
Five years ago, I found myself braving the wilderness. The very first steps into the scary unknown that held my truth. My entire world crashed down around me. It is only now, as I reflect back to connect the dots, can I see that it was actually just beginning. The two years that followed were brutally painful. Brutally. Times when I barely spoke to those around me, did not leave my house unless it was to go to work, and second, third and fourth-guessed myself a million times over and over. But like Mary Tyler Moore said, “You can’t be brave if you only have wonderful things happen to you.” And she who is brave is free. When you walk the path to becoming your truth, it will cost you people, relationships, spaces, things. This wilderness. This truth I was committed to living was some seriously hard shit, for lack of a better word. Hard shit. And still, choose her over everything.
The price is high. The reward is great.
Hit the fast forward button and visual images would be seen of becoming a runner, a swimmer, a triathlete, a hiker, on top of a 20-year veteran of teaching. A hiker is where this story becomes poignant. When I was forced to give up everything else due to a life of hip preservation, hiking delivered my being to freedom.
So friends, let us begin on this final embarkment towards Cliffy and Redfield. Otherwise known as, “The mountains that almost broke us all!” Just kidding…sort of.
On Saturday, October 14th, 2017, my dearest friends Mallory and Jenny, and my newest friends Stacie and Mark bravely and willingly joined “Cliff and Redfield for the win!” The most unlikely of finishers, that’s for sure. I am fairly certain that no hiker chooses these 2 mountains to finish on purposely! But sometimes the best laid plans…so…a grueling duo it would be.
Symbolically fitting, perhaps? Like the Universe’s final check if I’m truly committed to braving the wilderness of life.
It is true that the chosen route added some elevation loss, gains and mileage, but how could one pass on the giant loop of Avalanche Pass?? The plan included a trek through Avalanche Pass, around Lake Colden towards the Uphill Lean-To. Then it would be the tromp to Cliff, finishing with Mr. Redfield himself. On the descent, make the pass through Feldspar bog, Lake Arnold and out. A hike that I believe clocked out at 22 miles? (My Garmin died at mile 20.) Seemed simple enough. HAHA!
It was anything but glamorous. No special hat as I typically don. No new “hiking outfit.” A simple bun, no makeup, chipped black nail polish, full of mud. My IronGirl shirt and compression running tights to hold my bum hips in place. Six months prior, my Orthopedic surgeon was skeptical of any physical activity after my diagnosis, remember? But, here I stood. With 4 incredibly supportive hiking warriors. Yup. A symbolic finish. A glorious, humble walk to the end.
I imagined the perfect fall day. Bursting with vibrancy and blue skies of valiant luster. Birds chirping, gentle breezes…are you with me on this?? Thus, anyone else who was out in the Adirondacks on this same day would laugh at my dream-like vision. #mwahahaha
The reason? The weather brought an eerie mix of rain, fog, more misty rain, etc. The misty mountain climate, however, radiated an alluring backdrop filled with pure beauty.
We hit the trails at 6:45 a.m. in the blueish dawn glow and soon found our way through the well-done reroute towards Marcy Dam. Familiar and much faster now. My nerves had the better of me as I walked on in silence. Which, if you know me, is quite unusual! A rollercoaster of emotions from anticipation to surrealism to bittersweet sadness to pure joy zoomed throughout my heart and soul during the entire hike. One moment I was bursting out in laughter and the next bursting into tears.
I looked forward to seeing Lake Colden though! It had been the one section of trail either from the Loj or Upper Works that I’d yet to visit. Full of extraordinary surprises it would prove to be!
There they are! The brave souls…
Onward we hiked toward Avalanche Camps as conversations carried on. Quiet is how I remained. Quiet moments of inner solitude. This would be Mallory and Jenny’s first time around Avalanche Lake. Deep breaths as we traveled through the marvelous miracle. A mountain playground. The phrase I used to describe my first visit to the pass 2 winters prior, when the MacIntryes brought a happiness like I’d never known before…but I digress.
The landscape hiking into Avalanche Pass is massive, yet humbling. Mother Nature’s way of reminding us that we are only a small piece of this extraordinary world.
The woman behind most of these candid shots and heartfelt moments…our beautiful, stealth trail photographer.
Soon, we found ourselves at the start of the lake around 8:50 a.m. A photo-op and a refueling break before hurdling through the playground of ladders and bridges and enormous boulders.
Avalanche Pass was eerily gorgeous. I found myself singing, “Oh, misty eye of the mountain below..” It was absolutely breathtaking. This was the day we were given. And as always, if you keep your heart open and eyes up, there is beauty everywhere you look. The renovations of the Hitch-up Matildas and other ladders were amazing. Well done ADK trail angels and workers!! Strong and secure again!
Now entering the grown-ups jungle gym!
A love for ladders…
A hazy fog slowly rolled its way along the water, creating a moody mountainscape. As we edged along the matildas, a gentle rain showered the way. Then my own tears fell in sync with the surroundings. No, not due to the not-so-pleasant weather. Tears of bittersweet memories making peace with the past. Two years of hiking the high peaks. Choose her over everything. The price is high. The reward is great.
Jenny smiling away, despite the fact that she has yet to have a bluebird weather hiking day with us! One snowstorm, one rainstorm, and one misty fogstorm.
More matildas guided our journey to the next crossroad.
Mountain cliffs, still waters and translucent fog woven together, created a silent lucidity. An dream-like aura wrapped its arms around us.
Stopped often, we did. It was hard not to. Every moment sparked “Oooo or Ahhh” feels.
I believe we hiked roughly 6 miles by the time the junction to Lake Colden was reached. Now. This right here…was my favorite section of the entire hike! The trail was GORGEOUS and GREEN! A shade of green new to these eyes. Lush mossy-green carpets along the path, log-formed steps guiding the trek, beautiful lean-to’s with lakeside views. I was in utter awe. How have I not been here before??
As we zigzagged back and forth over bridges and around Lake Colden, a sense of pure joy returned.
Bridges!! It was about 10:40 a.m. Spectacular vantage point! Even on a yucky weather day…it was serene and breathtaking. Thank you, Universe.
As if it could not get any better, the best gift from Mother Nature waited for us just around the bend. Five minutes later, it was time to cross a bouncy bridge spanning the river. Ya’ll know how I feel about these bridges! Just let me cross it on my own first, and I’ll be alright! LOL. I knew Mallory couldn’t wait for this one, though.
Soon after we crossed the infamous bridge back over Lake Colden and started our ascent towards the Uphill Lean-to, a truly wondrous sight to behold! “Whaaat?? Oh my goodness!” I whispered and then shouted back to the group. If you are a waterfalls fanatic, this is the route for you. Exquisite. Flowing. Powerful, yet tranquil. Happy. Happiness had returned!
Stacie is all smiles here! Having some fun by the gorgeous falls.
Peaceful lullaby. Although there would be no snoozing allowed. We still had mountains to climb!
Absolutely a must see!! Mallory deemed this as the ultimate resting spot in summer, for sure!
Keep on, keeping on…
“Say, say say, hey hey now baby…” Adam Levine sang into my ears. Then next line I always make up, no idea what he says! A solid earworm for happy hiking and a renewed sense of spirit!
Mushroom Love. My favorite.
The trail towards the Uphill Lean-to was quite pleasant and muddy, but not terribly challenging. And before we knew it, we were there! The lean-to was vacant so we rested for another refueling/rehydrating break. The mileage was close to 9 miles and jokes flew like wildfire. I mean, 9 miles, 5 hours in and still climbs left ahead of us??
Stacie joked, “Well it’s been a lovely walk in the woods today! We’ll see you guys later.” It was off to Cliffy not long after. I love mountains. I respect them. I have learned better than to curse them, chagrin them, bad voodoo them. Blake? Loved him. Buttsliding down Blake in the winter was amazing! Couch and his infamous bog? Easy peasy. Loved him too! Even Emmon’s mud baths were no match for what we were about to encounter.
That being said, Sir Cliff was…well, one of the toughest little buggers I’ve ever climbed. After navigating deep lakes of mud swamps at the base of the climb, the tone was set for the remainder of the trail.
Wading in mud, which was an understatement, was not exactly how one wants to spend their Saturday afternoon, no matter how good for your skin mud claims to be! Haha!
Then there were a plethora of blowdowns so low that even the short girl right here had to get down on her hands and knees to crawl under them. Speaking of knees…Jenny, Mark and I were starting to feel the pain a bit. The constant crawling under and climbing over takes a toll on your body for sure. Still, we pressed on…to climbing the cliffs. Appropriately named.
The clouds grew opaque and uncanny, making the rocky cliffs just a tad bit slippery. No views to be had anywhere. Popular among the group, Cliff was not.
Cliff after cliff after cliff…
Looming dense clouds set the tone for the climb up and over and up and over this little toughy!
Then at 1:15 p.m., 6 1/2 hours and lord know how many miles, #45 was conquered with Cliff Mountain! Grueling, filthy, treacherous, not-even-a-4000footer-technically, Cliff!
Cliff Mountain is the 44th highest (or lowest, really!) of the 46 high peaks, standing at 3944 feet tall. Tradition prevails and thus, here we stood!
My friends had some choice words for him. I had some choice gestures for him. But laugh we did! We had to…or else crying may have occurred prematurely! Mark found a nickel on Cliff, heads up. He suggested I be the one to pick it up. 2015. The year I started climbing the 46. A multiple of 5 on #45. Completely awesome. #mathlover
Love these girls. Smiles for miles. Hiking soul sisters.
Conversely, however, we did not linger long. It was 1:30 p.m. when we departed Cliff. My mind quickly did the mental calculations. You know where this is going, right? Probably another hour or so to descend Cliff. Then the battle of Redfield remained. We could only guess the distance of that herd path. My mental estimations had us arriving on Redfield around 4 p.m. I also knew the majority of our descent and hike out would be in the blackness of night. Popular among the group, it would not be.
But for now, I maintained a positive outlook to the best of my abilities, as did the rest of my friends. Warriors, they were! One deep mishap in the mud lake on the way out, and curse Cliff again, unfortunately I did. I am laughing about it now, but yeah, not so much then. Back to the junction, as everyone’s pace slowed down. Cliffy took a toll on us all.
My mudbath….thanks man!
The start of the ascent towards Mount Redfield was beautiful. You basically climb a series of waterfalls. I imagine on a perfect weather day, this hike is spectacular. The trail was full of tiny miracles along the way to keep our spirits full of joy, amidst the exhaustion.
Looking back on the way we just came from. The mountain weather followed us as well.
Steep as heck. Unrelenting for the entire climb. Bodies ready to wave the white flag, but determined to persevere. It was a lot to ask of my friends. This wasn’t the fast, furious, exhilarating “woo hoo” to the finish. This was hard shit. Much like the beginning of my mountain journey a few years ago.
Mallory and Jenny methodically climbed along behind Stacie and Mark. I pushed on with a fierce determination…until about .2 miles from the summit, when I stopped dead in my tracks. On a steep slope no less. I just stopped. “I’m done. I’m done.” I whispered to myself through the tears. Entering light sobbing. Everything I had been through in the past 5 years flashed before my eyes like frames from a movie, but moved in slow motion at the same time. I saw everything. All the joyful, blessed, triumphant moments and victories. All the brutally painful defeats and heartache. I saw my children. Nina, my beautiful, brilliant, gentle soul of a teenager. She was telling me to keep going. That we don’t give up. That she believes in me. My son, Michael and the littlest one, Lila. Just do it, Mom. That’s what they tell me all the time. Just do it, no matter how weird of a mom you are for doing this.
I saw all of my friends that have hiked these mountains with me, from the very beginning until now. My family, who stuck by me, through all my antics, no matter how crazy they thought I was. Visits to doctors’ office, pain, scans, diagnosis, rehab. The little girl with braids and freckles, deep down inside, smiling back at me. Surreal. Overwhelming. Loss of breath. Almost to the point of being scared that I might actually make it. Holy shit, I actually might finish what was started almost exactly 2 years prior. A crushed heart. A hopeful rise. One dream that I refused to let die. Mark and Stacie caught up with me, as I stood there frozen still, shaking my head “no.” “I can’t do it. I can’t do it.” I barely breathe out, defeated. To which they both replied, “Yes you can. You can do this. One foot in front of the other.”
Everything hurt. Every piece of my being was begging me to give up. To just be done with it all. A hopeful rise. One foot in front of the other. Just one step forward, Jen. Just one step. Wiping my tears and digging deep into the pit of my soul where grit, love and truth resides, one foot in front another. And another. And still another. Then faster and faster I climbed, as adrenaline kicked in, until…
At 4:04 p.m. I BECAME A 46ER!!!! At 42 years old. The ultimate victory. Victory. Out of breath, completely depleted. Falling to my knees, I broke out into a full-blown meltdown. Hysterically crying, whispering “we did it, we made it.” Like out of a dream.
“Ya, it was a tough climb I suppose, no?” I heard someone say. Startled, I looked up and saw 2 other hikers already on the summit. All I could squeak out was “last one. 46.” Haha! They must have thought I was cra-cra-crazy! (sigh). Standing back up, I then said, “This is my 46th mountain.” At that time, Mark arrived next with a high-five and “well done.” Then Stacie with a hug and congratulations. The couple, who had apparently bushwhacked to the summit because they lost the trail, finally realized it was a party, lol. Jenny and Mallory followed next and HUGE hugs and tears once again came streaming down!! It was A BATTLE for this summit.
Mallory gave me a Mount Redfield patch and an AWESOME ADK 46er trail marker with the date stamped on the back. I was surprised and truly touched! An extra special shout out to Mal for putting up with me on 8 mountain trips through 11 tough peaks! More tears flowed.
I climbed up the tree to the summit sign like a kid again. A glorious, almost debilitating finish. Mount Redfield for the win…incredible.
Redfield is the 15th highest peak, standing at 4606 feet tall. Kind of cool that the first 2 digits in the height are “46,” but again, I digress. I was told that the views from Redfield were amazing. Nothin’ but socked-in clouds and fog for us, but divine it remained.
Stats for my hiking tribe: Mallory’s 17th; Jenny’s 4th (badass!); Stacie and Mark’s 39th! This crew: their camaraderie, support and fierceness was the best! I have said it many times since this day…forever grateful.
Celebrations of scotch and mug chugs and photos blessed the tiniest mountain summit ever! I thought Santanoni was tiny but Redfield takes the cake for sure! We rested on the misty summit for 30 long minutes. The heavy mug is from my college days, when I pledged Phi Lamb. I carried it in my pack for this final hike in memorandum for one of our young sisters who was taken from us too soon. Peace, sweet Alex.
My friends headed down ahead of me. I needed just a few minutes alone on Redfield to breathe it all in and love it all out. I knew once we started descending, my brain transforms into the hiking comatose tunnel-vision. The moment of solitude provided the time to process what just occurred! Bittersweet tears graced my cheeks, as a prayer of thankfulness and gratitude came to mind. When I climbed my very first high peak with Giant Mountain, I wrote Jeremiah 29:11 next to my name in the trail register. I prayed that same prayer alone on this summit. Giving my palm a gentle kiss, I pressed my hand upon Redfield’s belly. No Matter What. Amen.
Ok, back to the descent. We were 10 miles away from the parking lot. We still had to contend with the steep descent, the hike through the floating “bridges” of Feldspar, then that little “kick in the ass” ascent occuring soon there after. It would be a miracle if we made it that far before true darkness hit.
One last stop, back at the junction for Cliff and Redfield. My hiking gear strewed all over the place summed up my current state of emotions.
Once we reached the junction for Feldspar, the headlamps went on as dusk quickly approached. At 6:30 p.m., we navigated our way through the bog and floating logs. Thrilling, in a pure exhaustion kind of way. Ha! I could hear Jenny and Mallory laughing behind me, which is making me laugh now as I write this! We are all just big kids at heart.
Hello Darkness, my old friend…
7 miles in darkness. Lake Arnold to Marcy Dam to the ADK Loj trailhead register. At some point, we stopped for one last refueling break. We were broken. All of us. This aggressive hike was already 12 hours in the making, and we knew it would be another 3 hours until we could plunk ourselves down in my truck.
You know that feeling I usually describe for the final death mile? The time when every single part of your body wants to separate and fall decrepidly to the ground?? That moment hit us with about 6 miles to go. I couldn’t even pin point if the pain was from my bum hips, bad knees or mental weariness. Songs? Nothing came to mind! The only thing that whispered was the sound…of silence.
Just my three whole hearts. Nina, Michael, Lila. That was my mantra. Nina, Michael, Lila. Nina, Michael, Lila.
Mantra time for us all! It was foggy and the “things that go bump in the night” were coming alive. Our souls were exasperated. But we forged on with fortitude in our hearts and images of sound slumber in our sleep-deprived minds. (And apparently, microwaved mac & cheese from Stewarts on Mallory’s, lol!)
Then that moment, that exact moment, when you see the light on one of the cabins in the Loj site, ignites the spirit once more. “Light, I see lights!!” I shouted back to Mallory and Jenny.
Not a single other picture until 9:45 p.m. when I signed us O.U.T of this epic, glorious adventure. Any hopes of a celebratory drinks and dinner would have to wait for another day.
Total time: 15 hours. 15 freaking hours!? The longest day hike ever.
Total distance: 22ish miles.
Below is an excerpt of my submission to become an official 46er:
In the summer of July 2015, my kids and I took a trip to the high peaks with our friends. I’ve lived in New York my entire life, but this would be the first time I had ever been to the Adirondacks. To say I was going through a challenging time in my life is an understatement. We drove up to Whiteface and climbed the last little bit together. As I stood on the summit, tears poured down my face. My friend, Melanie put her hand on my shoulder and hugged me. She got it. My heart was home. The mountains are magical that way. It was in that moment when I knew the mountains would be my path towards healing. I made the decision to attempt the 46. I honestly was not sure I could even do it…. ………..At first, I was a woman on a mission. I thought the more I hiked and the more I climbed, the faster painful moments in my life would go away. It was only through this journey among the 46 peaks that I would truly uncover my inner strengths and listen to the whisperings the mountains spoke. In time, with each climb, I transformed from a woman on a mission to a woman living in peace and truth. Breathing it all in and loving it all out. I learned how to let life live through me, no matter what and how to truly stay present in each moment. The mountains saved my life. Without a doubt.
You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.
Yes, yes. Brave. Free. Loved. Is there anything better?
An eternally heartfelt thank you to Mallory, Jenny, Stacie and Mark for giving up your weekend to ensure I was not going to do this alone. I should mention that Mallory completed this hike on heavy-duty cold medicine because she was sick. Sick. And still, she came to be with me. Jenny’s knees hated her guts and she knew they would give her hell. And still, she came to be with me too. Stacie and Mark battled through crazy weather on the Dix Range AND the monsoon that tore through us on the Seward Range. And still, they were willing to come back and do it all again! Forever grateful and honored to have this crew of trail angels. More importantly, friends.
Cliffy, you were a killer and put up one heck of a fight, but I thank you for instilling an unfailing resilience in us all. Until we meet again under the winter snow.
Red…I will love you forever. And always. No matter what. You granted me the greatest gift a girl could ask for: freedom, self-acceptance and peace. And the belief that I am always enough.
The best part of this all? What was intended as an ending is just the beginning. Brave the wilderness. Never stop exploring. Be gentle with yourselves. AND Live your truth. Live.your.gosh.darn.truth.
The price is high. But I promise, the reward is great. A to-the Men.
Humbly walking onward,
P.S.: Our view from the Route 73 the following morning, where the old Keene Barn once stood…at least we finally saw the amazing autumn hues!