Father, daughter become 46ers together
PLATTSBURGH — From bear encounters to tornado warnings, Peru local Justin Schultz and his daughter Kailee Corcoran’s five-year journey to becoming Adirondack 46ers was one they’ll never forget.
“We had been hiking for a little while and had just gotten into hiking mountains and I thought it would be fun to hike one of the big ones, just for a little credit, or whatever you want to call it, and so we ended up hiking Giant (Mountain). Along the way, we were running into families with other kids and she said, ‘I want to be a 46er,'” Schultz said.
“And I was like, ‘What’s that?'”
Making the dream come true
Corcoran, who was just 7 years old when she expressed that desire, was quick to inform her father that it’s a special club reserved for those who climb all 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks.
After that conversation, Schultz moved quickly to make his daughter’s dream come true.
“When she said ‘I want to be a 46er,’ pretty much all I knew was Whiteface and Marcy were two of them … so it’s been a big learning experience the whole way through. She said she wanted to do this and that made my job being the navigator: the guy that plans everything and hopes it goes to plan. I knew nothing,” he said.
“I educated myself on all that stuff like what you need to bring … I have a number of friends who are 46ers and have made a lot of friends who are. I always reached out and been able to get good intel from them, which has always been just incredible, picking people’s brains and learning what you can.”
For supplies, Schultz and Corcoran would try to carry on the lighter side, but always had headlamps, first-aid kits, water, extra clothes, proper shoes and most importantly, a map with them for these hikes.
“Get a map. Get a map. Get a map. Learn how to read it,” he recommended. “And realize that these are rugged trails — know that it is OK to turn around and come back for it on a better day.”
Corcoran also had a 46er correspondent she would communicate with by mail, who would give her hiking advice; Schultz said he would recommend anyone looking to become a 46er to do the same.
By the end of summer in 2017, the year their excursion began, they already had three High Peaks crossed off their list — Giant, Porter and Cascade.
“The classic starter pack, really, for a lot of people who hike the High Peaks,” he said, “that was to try to keep her happy, keep it going.”
However, Corcoran couldn’t get over her obsession with hiking Whiteface.
“Obviously when I was younger, I was like, ‘Oh I want to go do Whiteface,’ so that was definitely one of them that I did (look forward to),” she said.
“I’ll second her enthusiasm for Whiteface early on in the whole thing,” Schultz added. “There’s an allure to Whiteface, and I get it. For her, that was the big, big one early on. Marcy was another one she was excited about in advance.”
To prepare for the ultimate challenge of hiking Whiteface and Marcy, that following winter and early spring in 2018, Schultz said they turned their focus to lower elevation mountains.
“So I said we’ll climb Marble Mountain, which is on the way to Whiteface, to kind of get a little taste of what we were going to come back for, and we ended up having the most perfect conditions for April … so I was like, ‘Why don’t we keep going a little just to see what lies ahead?’ and we kept going and ended up getting to Lookout Mountain. From there, it’s less than a mile to Esther’s summit,” Schultz said.
“We ended up going and tagging it in three feet of snow, which was like, ‘Wow, we really weren’t out here to hike a High Peak today,’ but that definitely did set the tone.”
Summer of 2018 would see the father-daughter duo completing an additional 17 High Peaks; Whiteface was completed the following summer in 2019. Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in New York, was crossed off their list in 2020.
“She totally impressed me with her abilities,” Schultz said.
“We would go out to hike one High Peak but then we’d walk away with two or three, we were really lucky with a lot of weather and good conditions.”
There were times though, when the Adirondacks showed just how unpredictable they can be, which slowed down the two’s progress.
“The 2020 and 2021 summers, we got beat down by a lot of weather, and the Adirondacks showed a little bit of their ugly side to us, and so two-planned peak days ended up becoming one. One-planned peak days ended up becoming none a few times,” Schultz said.
“Last year, we got turned around three times and we only had three peaks left.”
The type of weather that turned them around, Schultz said, was always either rain or thunder.
In 2020, a sudden, very intense storm after a hiking trip to Mount Redfield had them seeking shelter in a lean-to for the night near their campsite in the Flowed Lands.
The next morning, they were told the area they were in had been under a tornado warning.
“There were branches flying, downed trees crashing down, lightning hitting all over the place and we’re like, ‘Wow this is freaking crazy,'” Schultz said.
“The storm went on for a good five hours at this level. We wake up the next morning, pack our things up to hike out, these two guys come in from Lake Henderson and they go, ‘This area was under a tornado warning last night.’ I was like, ‘What? No way, but (also) yes way, that’s totally believable.'”
Besides the weather, the mountains were unpredictable in other ways that all hikers should be aware of when traversing the desolate, wooded Adirondack Mountains, he said.
Schultz recalled one tense standoff with a bear they had as they were descending Mount Marshall.
“I come down this hill and this huge bear was just laying on the trail, snapped up on all fours, I had a five-minute standoff with him. It was not fun. I was yelling, clapping … the bear was having none of it, and he started ground pounding and he did the bluff charges and I’m sitting there going, ‘This is not going to be good.’ My mind wasn’t on me, it was on her,” he said gesturing toward Corcoran.
“Finally, he did make his way off. He made it known that he was not happy about leaving, because he was snorting the whole way. We sat and waited to make sure he was gone then we continued on our way back to the lodge.”
Schultz said that was one learning experience for them. From then on, they tried to be as loud as possible during their hike to give the wildlife a warning that they were present in their territory.
Needles on the Haystack
But all of the challenges and adversity were worth it in the end for Schultz and Corcoran, who hiked their last High Peak in August — five years after they began their journey.
Corcoran, now 12 years old, wanted to finish it on Mount Haystack, a more challenging High Peak to climb.
“I’m going to guess, I think, because it looked really cool and I just knew I wanted to finish with Haystack,” she said.
“I liked the hike and the summit. When I say the hike, I mean when we started climbing the rocks up to it.”
“It’s a mini roller coaster in terms of the High Peaks, and it’s definitely intimidating,” Schultz added. “A lot of fun stretches of trail, and the summit of Haystack is definitely one of the best — hands down.”
Now, with the challenge of the High Peaks behind them, they are already looking toward their next adventure.
“I would like to get back to New Hampshire,” he said.
“I was going to say New Hampshire,” Corcoran added.
Schultz also said he wouldn’t rule out re-hiking some of the 46 High Peaks in the future.
“There’s definitely a list of the High Peaks that I would like to repeat soon … I am happy for a minute to just be done with the lists and not have to focus on lists and just hike what we want — out of love for it — instead of the self imposed, self challenge,” he said.
“I couldn’t have had a better hiking partner (though). I’m really proud of her, and like I said, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”