These are my mountains

Recent editorials and letters in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise have suggested I stay off hiking trails, start fishing and canoeing, don’t mountain bike and stop riding my road bike, and to even stop using my hiking poles. I’m not buying it.

I moved here 18 years ago from the Mid-Hudson. I fell in love with this place almost immediately. I have no desire to live anywhere else. The people are the best; the village of Saranac Lake here is the best. We have a good hospital and great arts scene. But it’s the outdoor recreation that is incomparable. There are so many things I have done here that most people will never ever experience — because I live in the Adirondacks. I’ve raced skeleton on the bobsled track. I’ve summited Marcy. I’ve done Ironman. I’ve raced snowshoes in the Empire State Games. But what keeps me are the trails.

Down in the Mid-Hudson (Newburgh area), it’s a different world. You might find a park. NOPE! Only locals can use the park. Get out. Go to Bear Mountain State Park for a picnic. A lawn seat at SPAC is less crowded. Hike at Minnewaska. Well, after paying for parking and walking a mile up the road to the trails, the only trails to use are huge, wide carriage trails. And tons of people. I could drive my Impreza on these and never get stuck. With the lack of good mountain bike trails in the ’90s, you also shared these trails with careering mountain bikers. Now with good, purpose-built mountain biking areas, I’d probably never see a mountain bike at Minnewaska. (The trails are no fun for a biker anyway.)

I moved to Saranac Lake in 2000. I can just go hike Baker 24/7/365 for free? No residency requirement? Yeah, there are more people on the trails since Trudeau moved here, but I’ve never felt crowded on Baker. (I have been up at least 100 times.) One day, I had a particularly bad day at work. I took off at 10 a.m. and hiked Big Slide and some others. Saw almost no one. No reservations. Just me and the mountain.

I don’t fish. I don’t hunt. I’m indifferent to boating, although my wife loves to kayak. But unlike the ADE editorial, many of our lakes (such as Little Clear Pond) do get plenty of kayakers/canoers. My wife, like many others, must search out little-known and remote lakes to have a solitary experience. Whereas on a trail, you might pass and see someone for a few seconds, on a lake you’ll see the other boaters the whole time often.

I’m a 6er. Darn proud. Ran ’em all dozens of times. Did the two 6er races. With my microspikes and my trekking poles. I love these six mountains. And when my friend Beth told me about the 6er challenge, our first reaction was, “We gotta be the first!” But we’ll also go over to Jay Mountain (way off the typical beaten path) for a unique high, easy traverse on rocks. Nowadays, Phil and I will be trail running and see some big rock a couple hundred yards off. We’ll head over to check out the rock for fun, rather than worrying about our time up some peak we are “bagging.” I use my poles almost all the time. Mostly, I use rubber tips. But that’s not the point. Hiking up, I don’t need them much, but as all hikers know, it’s the downhill that hurts you. These poles keep me able to hike by removing stress from my joints, as well as helping me keep safe in cold snowy and icy weather. My microspikes (the actual reason for the scrapes on the rocks, Abe Simpson/Glynis) are significantly safer than hiking an icy Baker without them. Or for my younger kids. I’ll never trade scaping one of 1,000 rocks for the safety of my children, and I won’t give up the mountains. Plus, by using microspikes, crampons and poles, I can walk right on the ice or rocks in winter without creating a wider, more eroded trail. Telling someone not to wear microspikes or to use trekking poles is like trying to convince people not to use their seat belts because they are uncomfortable.

Several recent articles also complain about a seeming garbage pit on the trails. This is just not the case. A single wrapper on the ground is easily spotted — because of the almost complete lack of any litter on the trail! The trails are kept up incredibly well, and often rebuilt with more smart building than many of the trails just 20 years ago when it comes to mud and erosion control. Just check the rebuilt trails on Hurricane and Lyon Mountain.

Yes, I play on my bike. Both my road bike and mountain bike. I’m not home on my computer. I’m not binging Netflix. Most all the mountain bike trails are purpose built and double as great running trails and cross-country ski trails in the winter. The mountain bike trails keep people off the congested roads up here and off overused trails. Lots of my friends are 50 and over. They used to be hard drinkers, smokers and/or overweight. Now many are runners, bikers, hikers — you name it. I’ll take getting my buddy Wes and his 300-pound frame off the couch watching NASCAR to running seven straight Ironmans in his 50s, and put up with ignorant people who complain about too many bikers on the road and too much damage to trails with our bikes, poles and crampons. These are my mountains, and I’m going to enjoy them.

John R. Stack lives in Saranac Lake.


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