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A Quest to Become Saranac Lake Ultra 6er

By: Justin Levine – Adirondack Council Communications and Outreach Assistant
Thursday, January 20, 2022

At 4:15 a.m. on a dark, cold November morning, I picked up my friend Christian in Saranac Lake and we went to Berkeley Green, signed the register, and officially started our quest to become Saranac Lake Ultra 6ers. Well, that’s not quite true. Our quest had begun months earlier but started in earnest that Friday at 4:21 a.m. I had enough caffeinated jelly beans in my pack to kill a horse, and I hoped it was enough to get through the day.

The Saranac Lake 6er Program

One of the more popular hiking challenges in the Adirondacks is the Saranac Lake 6er program. It requires people to climb Haystack, Scarface, McKenzie, St. Regis, Ampersand, and Baker mountains to earn a certificate and patch. If all six peaks are climbed in less than 24 hours, then you can become an Ultra 6er. The upshot is that the six mountains combined hold about 30 miles of hiking and almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain.

Preparing for the Ultra

Early in the spring of 2021, Christian and I decided to tackle the Ultra 6er. We knew it would be a long day, full of sore feet, sweaty clothes, and the possibility of injury. With that in mind, we set out in May to begin training for the attempt.

Over the course of the summer, we trail ran each of the peaks with the exception of Baker Mountain, only because Baker is fairly short and we’ve each been up it dozens of times. While we had spent the summer months trail running the mountains, we also talked about the routes we would take during the Ultra, and which peaks we would do in what order.

So as September rolled into October and the days got shorter and shorter, Christian and I finally pulled the trigger and put in for the day off on Friday, Nov. 5. Officially, there would be about 10 hours of daylight that day, and the sun wouldn’t come up until more than three hours after we started in downtown Saranac Lake.

McKenzie MountainSunrise on Mckenzie Mountain

Haystack and McKenzie

Leaving from the bandshell in Saranac Lake, we drove to Lake Placid to tackle Haystack and McKenzie mountains. McKenzie is the longest and highest of the six peaks, and we wanted to get it over with. The trail was slick with ice and a little snow, and the only light came from our headlamps. We made good time going up Haystack first, then backtracked a bit to head up McKenzie. Just as we reached the summit, the sun came up over Lake Placid, giving us a pretty nice reward for the early start.

On the Summit of ScarfaceOn the Summit of Scarface

On to Scarface

Despite a couple of slip and falls on the ice, we successfully made our way back to the car after almost four and a half hours and more than 8.6 miles on the trail. We congratulated ourselves for being ⅓ of the way done. With full sun now, Scarface was next and went pretty smoothly, but we were already beginning to feel the pain of doing this much climbing and hiking in one day. Luckily, since you have to drive between mountains, we were able to stop at Christian’s house in town to get some food, water, and warmth and put on dry clothes. My friend even put his clothes in the dryer for a few minutes, while I was left to regret that I didn’t.

Ampersand Ampersand Mountain

And to Ampersand

Then we headed to Ampersand Mountain, with big puffy clouds in a mostly blue sky. But more importantly, we had plenty of daylight. We set out from the parking area at about 1:30 in the afternoon and were soon enjoying the beautiful view from the top. But the wind was strong, so after a minute we ducked back into the trees and continued on our way.

By now, Christian and I, who are both in our 40’s, spent most of the drive time between mountains talking about the various aches and pains that had cropped up during the day. Luckily, nothing serious had happened and we managed to consume a stupid amount of calories on the way to St. Regis Mountain, perhaps my personal favorite hike in the entire Adirondack Park.

St. Regis - One of my favorites

The sun had started to dip low in the sky as we set out on the 3-mile hike to the fire tower, and even though we were able to start the hike without headlamps, the additional light soon became necessary. The ice situation on St. Regis wasn’t as bad as it had been on McKenzie earlier in the day, and despite the miles already accumulated we made good time. However, by the time we reached the summit, the sky was pitch black, and due to the ridiculous amount of climbing we had already done, neither Christian nor I opted to climb the fire tower.

By the time we reached the parking area, our conversation mostly consisted of what we wanted to eat after finishing the final climb of our adventure. At this point, we were about 16 hours into the Ultra and had already covered more ground than a traditional marathon. And we still had one mountain to go.

On our way back into town from St. Regis, Christian’s wife ordered us a pizza (bacon and tomato) since it looked like we wouldn’t be done before Little Italy closed. With the thoughts of hot pizza and cold beer in our heads, we pulled up as the lone car at the Baker Mountain trailhead, the sky dark and our bodies weary.

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Last but not Least - Baker Mountain

Baker is a short hike, less than a mile, but that mile felt tough. With fresh batteries in our headlamps, we made our way carefully up the mountain, not wanting to slip and fall and get injured now because there was no way in hell we were doing this whole thing again.

After a fall-free ascent, Christian and I stood at the top of Baker, essentially completing our quest for the day. While it was incredibly rewarding and honestly hard to believe that we had accomplished the Ultra, we were bone-tired and our celebration was hardly anything that would have woken up the neighbors.

We went down Baker and got back into the car to officially finish the Ultra 6er back where we started at Berkeley Green in Saranac Lake. Seventeen hours and 48 minutes, more than 30 miles, and almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain later, and it was hard to believe we were still standing.

From there, we went to Christian’s house to devour pizza, a reward for a job well done. That first slice of room-temperature pizza may be the second-best meal I have ever eaten. And it was well deserved.

Remember to Leave No Trace

Whenever you’re out in nature in our Adirondacks, please recreate responsibly. Remember to follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace and help us protect the Adirondack Park for future generations.

The Adirondack Council is a proud Community Partner of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

 

Justin Levine

Justin Levine joined the Council staff in 2021 as the Communications and Outreach Assistant. He previously worked as a regional marketing manager for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and was an award-winning journalist and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News. Since graduating from Paul Smith’s College in 2004, Justin has worked in the environmental field in various roles in both the Adirondacks and Florida. When not working, Justin loves spending time with his family, running, and doing all the outdoor things the Park has to offer.

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