Summitting Santanoni on October 5th marked our halfway point to becoming Adirondack 46ers. Being halfway through our journey would have been reason enough to celebrate and reflect, but we had a more exciting reason to celebrate. Hiking is not just exercise, it's not just something to do....it kind of starts to define you and exists as a little subculture of your regular life. It improves your self confidence while strengthening your muscles and it gives you an outlet for stress management. It allows you to enjoy beautiful places. It makes you look at the world differently. I have never appreciated nature like I have since I began hiking. I have made connections with other hikers. You sort of need to make those connections because not a lot of people understand the importance of "doing them all". My point....on Santanoni, I got the chance to witness my new "hiking connection" Lynn Benevento become a 46er. It was an amazing moment because of the story behind her finish, but it would have been a special moment without the extraordinary circumstance of her completion. Climbing 46 mountains that are all over 4,000 feet is an enormous feat. The hikes are long and most are very challenging. None are EASY. If not for hiking and sharing that connection with Lynn, I would not have gotten to witness the awesomeness of what her finish meant to her.
We started out at the Tahawus trail head for Santanoni on the Bradley Pond blue trail at 7:20am. It was chilly but not raining so we were psyched. We walked quickly on the woods road; everyone chatting and getting to know each other a little. Soon it started sprinkling and only about 30 minutes into the hike it was a steady rain. We broke out the rain jackets. Lynn had just bought herself a beautiful North Face rain jacket- complete with "pit zips" to regulate body heat. We laughed about the "technology" and pushed onward. At about 8:20 we saw some blue sky and the sun came out. We became more optimistic about the day. Just then, another one of Lynn's friend caught up to us. "Jungle" Mosher is a 46er/winter too and was now joining us along with Lynn's lifelong friend and 46er Linda Ranado who started the hike with us. This was the first time my father and I hiked with such experienced people. There is never a lack of stuff to talk about between hikers and it made for a nice trip. EVEN THOUGH....the sun was only out for about 1 hour. It quickly became overcast and dreary again. We crossed two wooden bridges and climbed a big adirondack staircase. We took the "new old" herd path...which is the original route up Santanoni. The beaver flooding that you always read about can now be avoided with a re-routed path that is slightly confusing because it is not as "beaten" as the rest of the herd path. This route is moderately steep until one point where you are given the choice of using a rope that is dangling down the face of a steep rock wall that you can go up and over (no thanks) or continue on the trail which turns out to be an equally scary alternative. Especially in the wet and wickedly slippery rich mud that the trail is made of. Of course we made it...but not without a few one step forward and two slide steps back down. I slipped twice in the muck on the way out and have never been as dirty in all my life as I was at the end of this hike. My beloved Northface jacket needed two wash cycles in Oxyclean before it was recognizable. I can proudly say that HP #23 was the first time my boots had been wet through. I now understand my friend's description of cottage cheese filled boots. That is what waterlogged wool sock covered feet feel like while hiking. Anyway...Lynn was leading the way as we started the push to the summit. Jungle kept yelling behind us.."don't get summit fever too quickly". We proceeded along the ridge which was welcomed after the steep climb and finally through the fog and clouds we were hiking in we could see the last little bump we had to cover to make it to the big finish. Jungle cheered Lynn on by saying "there she is Lynn, #46, go get her". The lump formed in my throat. Lynn kicked in whatever energy she'd been saving and made it there with Linda a good 3 minutes faster than the rest of us. We joined her on the very small summit of Santanoni and there was not a dry eye among us. Being there was a powerful feeling and I know for Lynn it was one of joy and pain. But being with someone in that kind of moment is incredible. If not for hiking I would have missed out on an important life lesson of perseverance in the face of enormous loss. It hailed at the top as we ate our lunch. Lynn was awarded her 46er patch, t-shirt and a whole bunch of stickers and pins and other treats that only 46ers are allowed to buy. Jungle had carried champagne up the mountain and popped the cork way up in the air. We all took a swig from the bottle. Lynn got out the now famous 8x10 photo of her husband to pose with for her summit picture and for #46 she also had a second 8x10 photo of her two boys that she held up. (it was the boys on their first high peak..yup, this was where I really lost it). Lynn told us that Giant was the first high peak that they did. She said they had done all kinds of hiking as a family around Lake George and other local hikes to our area and that one night her husband said, "tomorrow we are going to do a high peak" and Lynn remembered asking "can we do one of those?" because she thought they had to be done backpacking and just wasn't sure about the difficulty. I thought that was a great story to share as she was standing on Santanoni having now completed all of those high peaks that she questioned being able to do. We had NO view at the top and became cold quickly which necessitated our start down. We had made it to the top in roughly 5 hours and planned another 5 to get to the cars because of the slippery conditions. We did not do the loop which would have taken us by Bradley Pond because it was a mile longer and the weather was not getting any better. A third of the way down the mountain the sun came out over the valley and we were treated to a beautiful (well deserved) view. The fall colors were at or near peak! Of course by the time we got to the road part of the trail we were all tired and thinking that the road had to be three times longer than on the way in, but with a group, the conversation helped pass the time. At about 5:30 we were signing out and everyone congratulated Lynn again...at the parking lot she was proclaimed "official". We changed into dry clothes, my father had a celebratory beer and we jumped into the car with the heat blasting on high as we head back over the Blue Ridge Road. 23 down, 23 to go. I can't wait to earn that patch...even with all the blisters, sweat, black flies and tears that might go along with it. That's life.