‘Archangels’ blesses readers with passion for Adirondacks

‘Adirondack Archangels: Guardians of the High Peaks: Testimonials from and about the High Peaks,’ Christine Bourjade and Alex Radmanovich, eds., Adirondack Mountain Club, 2016

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I expected this anthology of essays to be informative — early explorers of the Adirondacks, efforts to preserve and educate, initiatives to maintain wilderness status and trails — which it certainly is. But I did not expect it to be so moving and full of passion as well as good humor and hope.

Here are the voices of people who have devoted hours and years, engaged in arguments and conversations, trod miles, sweated gallons, muddied countless pairs of Gore-Tex gaiters, all because of their wonder about and love for the Adirondack mountain region, its flora and fauna, its rocks and water, its natives and its increasing numbers of suitors who risk loving it to death. Many of the essays contain not just facts and figures but reminiscences, elegies and anecdotes from the trail, punctuated throughout by wonderful images from the region’s most respected photographers.

The inspiration to put together this anthology came from a desire to honor the work of Dr. Edwin H. Ketchledge, called “Ketch” by friends, family and years of students who studied with him at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The first several pieces are by his family and students, and two essays are in the words of Ketch himself. His son James writes, “Climbing with Dad, many of which involved his 160 ascents of Algonquin, was forever an education. … There was almost always an academic or scientific reason behind all the outings I remember but he appreciated any person who exhibited motivation to climb, and if he could channel it into his goals of preservation all the better.”

That kind of spirit seems to be reflected by many of the authors of the volume’s essays, personal passion coupled with the generosity and desire to communicate that passion with the variety of people who find themselves stumbling along an Adirondack path. Ketchledge started the Summit Stewardship Program, and the stewards are represented here, as is the Adirondack Landowners Association, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, among others — all organizations whose founders and members share this, perhaps to some, peculiar enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy. Having panted along many a trail myself, I’m both empathic with and utterly flummoxed by the 160 Algonquin ascents mentioned above, or ranger Pete Fish’s 700 ascents of Marcy, and am completely on board with Elk Lake Lodge owner John Ernst’s confession, “My favorite Adirondack sport is still sitting in a chair reading, or watching the light change in the mountains.”

This is a volume well worth diving into for the breadth of discussion about the ideas, controversies, attempts, failures, brilliant ideas and challenges to honor these mountains, from their grand vistas to their tiniest and most fragile of denizens, the particular concern of Dr. Ketchledge, the alpine flora on the highest mountaintops. It may even inspire you to join these sweaty and smiling archangels in their ongoing efforts. One photo in particular captured for me the spirit of these archangels: Pete Fish standing jaunty in his kilt atop Marcy. That is the Adirondacks: unexpected, smile-producing, rugged but ready with a story should you take the time to listen.

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