WILMINGTON - As 82-year-old Jerry Levine hiked up the steep, stone-covered trail on the way to the summit of 4,867-foot Whiteface Mountain, he was quiet except for some heavy breathing.
This was the toughest stretch. It was not only steep, but the footing was lousy. There were so many loose stones, the trail resembled a stream bed.
But it didn't seem to bother Jerry, who was very focused last Saturday, Aug. 18. His goal was to become the oldest person to finish all 46 High Peaks, and this was his last one.
Jerry Levine takes a drink shortly after reaching the summit of Esther Mountain. His son, Peter, is to his left. Whiteface is in the background.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
To become a "46er," a person must climb all of the 46 major Adirondack Mountain peaks and, upon completion, provide the Adirondack 46er organization with details about when the mountains were hiked. All but four of these High Peaks are higher than 4,000 feet. Mount Marcy, at 5,344 feet, is the highest.
Prior to Jerry, the late Al Laubinger of Moreau held the distinction of being the oldest person to become a 46er. He was 82 years when he finished, but several months younger than Levine, whose birthday is in September.
Earlier this trip, Jerry had reached the summit of the 4,240-foot Esther Mountain and shown a mental and physical toughness that proved he wasn't your average senior citizen. When he slipped and fell off the trail earlier in the hike, he bounced up immediately, erasing any fears that he may have hurt himself. When there was a steep section over slab rocks, he used trees to pull himself upward.
This uphill section required a methodical determination and a strong mind. It was the type of place where one could feel one's heart pounding against the sternum. Slowly but steadily, Jerry - a heart attack survivor 12 years ago - placed one foot in front of the other. His longtime friend Phil Corell marched in unison behind him. A large collection of family members, including his two sons and several grandchildren, hiked a few hundred yards behind him. Finally, Jerry slowed down.
"OK, we'll stop here," Jerry said, starting to veer off to the right where a boulder sat in front of a white birch tree in a heavily wooded area.
He then stumbled a bit, like a person will do when he's tired, as he reached out to find a seat on the edge of the boulder. After catching himself with two hands, he spun on his left hand, sat down and looked up at Phil.
"Well, what was that, 15, 20 (minutes)?" the 140-pound Jerry said as he leaned back and looked up.
"It's 20 minutes," Phil said.
"Ooph," Jerry said, bobbing his head in a yes motion with a defiant grin on his face. "It's a tough workout. That's what it's all about"
Jerry then leaned back, took a deep breath and smiled. He then began to pull off the fingers of his thin gloves.
"I have to get my shoelaces tied," he said.
Phil then reminded him the break wouldn't be any more than five minutes, a rule they would follow for the final five miles of this 12-mile trip.
A lifelong journey
To prepare for hiking Adirondack peaks, Jerry says he eats healthily and trains frequently. He often visits the gym, where he gets an aerobic workout and does a series of weight exercises for his legs.
When not at the gym, he likes to hike a steep section of Anthony's Nose, a small mountain in the Hudson Valley near his home in Cortlandt Manor.
While Jerry is now an avid hiker and athlete, this wasn't always the case. In fact, as a child he didn't go outside much at all. He was raised in the Bronx, far removed from wilderness. Plus, his mother was very protective and didn't want him to play outside.
"She said, 'If you fall, you could break your head or teeth or have an accident,'" Jerry said. "She said, 'Don't play any games,' and she was pretty strict about that. Kids in school didn't really like me because of that. I didn't play games."
Jerry recalled that one time a teacher asked him to play baseball.
"I was so happy to be asked if I wanted to play," Jerry said. "I never played before."
Jerry went to the outfield, but when a ball came at him, it hit him awkwardly on his pinkie and broke it. Jerry said he never told his mother about the broken finger.
"My mother would have died if she saw this," Jerry said.
When Jerry and his wife Sondra had children, they didn't put the same restrictions on them, in large part because his wife was adamant that the kids be active and play outside. Because of this, Jerry and Sondra enrolled their sons, Gary and Peter, in the Pok-O-MacCready Camps in Willsboro, where children are taught outdoor skills and hike regularly. Peter, 51, finished the High Peaks in 1974 at age 13; Gary, 48, did the same in 1978 at age 14.
Although Jerry encouraged his children to become active, he still wasn't exercising a whole lot. He was too busy raising his family and working at a marketing firm in New York City. Plus, he had to commute at least two hours each day from his suburban home.
When he climbed a mountain, it was at the urging of his sons, especially Peter. Back then, Jerry struggled to keep up with his children on the hikes. Jerry recalled finishing up one particular hike, which he said started at the Adirondak Loj.
"I couldn't even lift my foot to sit in the car," Jerry said. "I was really in bad shape. By the morning I was OK, but I didn't want to do any more."
At this point, Jerry didn't have any intention of becoming an Adirondack 46er. Instead he knocked off peaks at a slow pace, never climbing more than a few in one year and not climbing any in some years.
The first mountains Jerry climbed were close to roads. In 1974, he hiked his first High Peak - the 4,627-foot Giant Mountain, located off state Route 73 outside of Keene Valley.
Three years later, Jerry went up Cascade and Porter mountains, starting near the Cascade Lakes outside of Lake Placid.
Between 1974 and July 2000, Jerry climbed 27 mountains. The last of those was Saddleback. Then in the fall of that year, Jerry had a setback. He had a heart attack while riding a stationary bike in the local gym, something he had taken up about a decade before.
Concerned for his health, Jerry took seven years off from climbing Adirondack High Peaks.
"I didn't want to hurt myself," he said. "I had the idea that I wanted to do something, but I didn't want to (hike High Peaks) because my doctor told me I shouldn't raise my heart rate too high."
So Jerry waited until 2007 to resume climbing High Peaks. That year he knocked off Tabletop Mountain. Then in 2009 he climbed Lower Wolf Jaw. About that time, Jerry looked at the list of High Peaks he had climbed and realized it was pretty long. Something clicked inside him.
"I sat down with my son Peter, and I said, 'You know, I have 29 mountains. Do you really think I can make it to 46?"
Jerry was approaching 80 years old when he posed this question. Peter, who had been on every High Peak hike with his father, was willing to help, but had some doubts.
"When I looked at the list, I'm like, 'There's a very good chance we're not going to be able to do this or that he's not going to be able to do it," Peter said.
That's because Jerry still had some of the most difficult mountains before him. Some hikes were more than 20 miles long, would take more than 12 hours and require reaching multiple peaks in one day.
These long trips also required having very strong backcountry skills, something Peter has developed over the years, mountaineering in places like Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.
"For my father to have really been successful, he really needed someone as skilled as my brother to take him out," Gary said. "Peter was really looking after our father."
Knowing all this, Peter and Jerry felt they were ready for the challenge and went forward with the plan. With Peter joining him on each trek and taking care of much of the planning and trip logistics, Jerry climbed eight mountains in the summer of 2010.
Phil, who is a past president and current treasurer of the Adirondack 46ers, joined Jerry for one of these hikes. In August, Jerry reached the summits of all the mountains in the Dix Range: McComb, East Dix, South Dix, Hough and Dix.
"I was amazed," said Phil, who worked at Pok-O-MacCready for 50 years and has climbed the 46 High Peaks more than 24 times.
The next year, Jerry climbed seven peaks. Four of those came in one day on a trek through the Seward Range. That day it was pouring, the type of weather that makes most people stay home.
"The rain was coming down, and the brook was a waterfall, and I remember looking over, and dad . he's under the waterfall, and it's just coming down and gushing on him," Peter said. "I look over and say, 'How could he possibly be doing this, at then 81 years old, water just pouring down (on him)?.'"
Peter knew at that point his dad would complete the 46. His father had a certain determination that allowed him to fight through the elements that present themselves on physically challenging wilderness hikes.
"There's going to be bugs. There's going to be mud. There's going to be rain," Phil said. "You're going to have a lot of long days you're going to have to put in. That inner stick-to-it-ness is a critical element that not everyone possesses."
Finishing the 46
Jerry has that "stick-to-it-ness," and when Saturday, Aug. 18 rolled around, he was again ready for the challenge. The plan was to drive to the top of Whiteface Mountain, the only High Peak with a road to its summit, and then hike downhill. On the way down, Jerry would summit his 45th peak, Esther Mountain. He would then hike to the trailhead at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and start back up again.
This was a hard way to hike the mountain. Normally when one hikes, one hits the top halfway and can go downhill for the second half.
Jerry wanted to hike the mountain in reverse so he could finish on top and celebrate with his friends and family. Those who didn't hike drove to the top.
The hike was also a fundraiser for the Adirondack Scholarship Foundation that raised $6,000. The money will go toward underprivileged children to attend the Pok-O-MacCready Camps, the place Jerry credits for inspiring their family's interest in climbing the High Peaks.
When Jerry arrived on top at about 5:30 p.m. after 7.5 hours of hiking, a crowd of more than 130 people was waiting for him, many of them Pok-O-MacCready alumni who had hiked the mountain in separate groups that day. They let out a cheer for his arrival, then made a tunnel for him to crawl through on the way to the highest point of the mountain. When he emerged from the tunnel, he was smiling. His wife handed him some flowers, and he returned the favor with a kiss.
"The outpouring of support was almost overwhelming," said Gary, who arrived at the summit with his father. "For me personally, knowing that I'm 48 years old and that my 82-year-old father finished something so big and so awesome, we're not only proud of him, but I consider myself a lucky person being the age that I am, at 48, to be saying, 'Wow, look at what my father's done' - the physical and mental accomplishments - whereas most guys my age are talking about their parents, saying they can't really walk or they're in a nursing home."
And Jerry, nearly four decades after he started his journey through the 46 High Peaks, had finished with energy to spare.
"It was a tough hike climbing, but I was determined to do it and I feel great right now," Levine said on top of Whiteface. "If someone told me I had to do another leg, I'd still want to do it."
Jerry Levine's 46
|1. Giant||August 1974|
|2. Porter||August 1977|
|3. Cascade||August 1977|
|4. Blake||August 1978|
|5. Colvin||August 1978|
|6. Rocky Peak Ridge||October 1978|
|7. Upper Wolf Jaw||Aug. 1979|
|8. Armstrong||August 1979|
|9. Gothics||summer 1979|
|10. Big Slide||July 1981|
|11. Phelps||August 1981|
|12. Sawteeth||August 1981|
|13. Nippletop||August 1981|
|14. Dial||August 1985|
|15. Haystack||August 1985|
|16. Wright Peak||September 1986|
|17. Algonquin Peak||September 1986|
|18. Basin||October 1987|
|19. Skylight||September 1988|
|20. Grey||September 1988|
|21. Marcy||September 1988|
|22. Street||July 1989|
|23. Nye||July 1989|
|24. Colden||September 1992|
|25. Panther||October 1996|
|26. Santanoni||July 1999|
|27. Saddleback||July 2000|
|28. Tabletop||August 2007|
|29. Lower Wolf Jaw||August 2009|
|30. Marshall||August 2010|
|31. Iroquois||August 2010|
|32. Allen||August 2010|
|33. Dix||August 2010|
|34. Hough||August 2010|
|35. South Dix||August 2010|
|36. East Dix||August 2010|
|37. Macomb||August 2010|
|38. Couchsachraga||June 2011|
|39. Cliff||July 2011|
|40. Redfield||July 2011|
|41. Seymour||July 2011|
|42. Seward||July 2011|
|43. Donaldson||July 2011|
|44. Emmons||July 2011|
|45. Esther||August 2012|
|46. Whiteface||August 2012|
|Adirondack 46er finishers|
|2011||346 (most ever)||7,355|
The Adirondack 46ers
The Adirondack 46ers Inc. is a membership organization that recognizes people who have climbed the 46 High Peaks. In the early 20th century, Robert and George Marshall, along with their friend and guide Herbert Clark, identified 46 mountains in northern New York State with an elevation of 4,000 feet or higher, which are still the basis for membership in the 46ers.
The Marshall brothers and Clark were the first to ascend all 46 peaks, which they did between 1918 and 1925. Robert Marshall recounted their climbs in "The High Peaks of the Adirondacks," which was published in 1922. The publication in 1927 of "Peaks and People of the Adirondacks" by Russell M.L. Carson provided an additional incentive for others to take up the challenge of climbing the 46.
In 1937, a church school class from Grace Methodist Church in Troy, N.Y., formed the 46ers of Troy, an informal club whose purpose was to bring together mountain climbing enthusiasts. From this group came the current organization, the Adirondack 46ers, which was created on May 30, 1948.
Contact Mike Lynch at 518-891-2600 ext. 28 or firstname.lastname@example.org.