SARANAC LAKE - Climbing six mountains in one day was enough of a challenge.
Cold temperatures, driving rain, flooded streams and trails, and several inches of heavy, wet snow at the higher elevations combined to create grueling conditions for participants in the village's inaugural Saranac Lake 6er hiking program this weekend.
"The weather was definitely challenging," said Loring Porter of Lake Placid, who became Saranac Lake 6er No. 1 by completing all six mountains in 10 hours and 22 minutes. "I mean, there was a lot of snow, maybe an inch or inch-and-a-half on McKenzie, and I was the first one through it. At the lower levels you'd get rain and this kind of slushy stuff in the middle which made the rocks slippery, and the trails were just running with water, just pouring down."
Loring Porter of Lake Placid rings the 6er Bell as the first Saranac Lake Ultra 6er Saturday. He hiked McKenzie, Haystack, Scarface, Ampersand, Baker and St. Regis mountains in 10 hours and 22 minutes.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Roughly 60 hikers had signed up in Berkeley Green by 8 a.m. Saturday morning, many of them intent on hiking all six peaks - Baker, Ampersand, Haystack, McKenzie, Scarface and St. Regis - in less than 24 hours to become "Ultra 6ers." Mayor Clyde Rabideau said 100 people had preregistered as of Friday.
"Had we not had rain all week, maybe we would have hit 150 people," he said before the start of the race. "It's obviously hurt turnout a little bit, but the real stalwarts are here and we're determined to have a lot of fun."
Rabideau estimated another 30 to 40 people climbed the peaks without preregistering. The list of those who signed up included both locals and people from all across New York and several Northeast states.
"I'm excited to try it. It's a nice physical challenge for me," said Hans Tielmann of New Jersey, who said this would be his first time hiking in the Adirondacks. "I do tree work, so I walk 8 to 10 miles every day with gear and wood, and I also run."
Tielmann said he wasn't too worried about the rain and the cold, although his hiking partner, Rick Cronk of Montgomery, said he expected it would slow them down and make the trails treacherous.
Cronk said he learned about the Ultra 6er challenge from two friends who are Adirondack 46ers. They opted to stay home because of the weather, he noted.
"I'm not a 46er, but I've done long, marathon hikes over the years," Cronk said. "Off the couch is the only way to do it. No training. We're here for the challenge."
As a steady rain came down just prior to the 8 a.m. start, the hikers huddled together in the Berkeley Green gazebo for speeches from Rabideau, state Assemblyman Dan Stec and state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann.
"I think it's a great idea to bring people into Saranac Lake," said Stec, who's an Adirondack 46er. "It's going to put Saranac Lake on the front of a lot of hikers' minds."
"This is such a cool example of how communities can get connected to the Forest Preserve and make it a real asset for your community," Stegemann said.
The hikers gathered together for a group photo before Rabideau fired a starter pistol to mark the start of the race.
As they waited for the first hiker to return, village officials hosted a series of events in the park, including performances by local Celtic band Inisheer and an Adirondack trivia session with local guide and Enterprise columnist Joe Hackett. The late Herb Clark, the first Adirondack 46er, was inducted in the village's Walk of Fame.
The small crowd clapped and cheered as Porter arrived in the park with his wife, who had shuttled him from trailhead to trailhead, at 6:22 p.m. He signed his name in a trail register, rang the 6er Bell and was presented with an armful of prizes from Rabideau.
"I feel pretty good," Porter told the Enterprise. "I don't know if it's sunk in yet. It just feels good not to be running anymore."
A native of Nova Scotia, Porter has lived in Lake Placid for the past two-and-a-half years. He works for Placid Industries. He's no stranger to long-distance and marathon hiking as he's done the Adirondack 46, the 111 highest mountains in the Northeast, the Appalachian Trail - where he met his wife - the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Asked about hiking the Saranac Lake 6, Porter said he thought it was kind of silly at first.
"I said, 'What, those six little peaks?' Then I thought about it and said, 'That's going to be hard to do. That's 31 miles or so all in one go.' And I didn't expect the rain and the snow.'"
Porter said he hiked the hardest mountains first, starting with McKenzie and Haystack. He then did Scarface, Ampersand and Baker, and finished on St. Regis Mountain.
"I'm amazed," Rabideau said. "The weather was challenging, and to have this guy finish in the time that he did was amazing."
Roughly 40 minutes later, the second and third 6ers arrived in the park, sisters Bethany and Mallory Garretson of Cherry Valley, a small town about halfway between the Adirondacks and the Catskills.
Kyle Dash, an All-American cross-country runner and skier at Paul Smith's College, and village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans were also among the dozen people who had hiked all six peaks as of 8 a.m. Sunday morning. They finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
Many didn't finish, either due to exhaustion, the weather or a combination of both. Rabideau said his son Kasey and a friend hiked four of the six peaks but had to call it quits because they were "wiped out." One of the biggest challenges, Rabideau said, was a flooded stream crossing on the Haystack trail; some people had to shimmy across the torrent on a log, he said.
Those who plan to finish or start hiking the Saranac Lake 6 in the weeks and months to come will register on the honor system. They can submit the dates and times they climbed to the village in order to receive their official 6er number, patch and bumper sticker.
Rabideau said he's convinced the 6er hiking program "has legs.
"I think it's going to grow in the years ahead," he said. "This is the start of a great tradition."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.