The Winter 46ers

a snowy slide on the way to Dix Mt

A snowy slide on the way to Dix Mountain.

By Casey Normile

Winter is usually the season where people try to stay indoors as much as possible. The cold, wind, and snow usually drive us into our sweaters and onto our couches.

But not the Winter 46ers. This elite group of fewer than 600 people have climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks during winter (December 21 through March 21).

They are, in a word, hardcore.

ed sheridan noonmark mountain
Ed Sheridan atop Noonmark Mountain.

Ed Sheridan is one of the Winter 46ers. In fact, he's #331. Now 67 years old, Ed climbed his first winter High Peak in 1985. He started with the highest peak in New York, Mt. Marcy. And as is often the case, after one peak, he wanted to climb them all. It took him 15 years to complete his "regular" 46 -- and he finished his winter 46 in 2006.

"We had a business in Bolton Landing, a restaurant, so I could only really hike in the late fall or winter. So on my first go-round with the 46, 15 or so I did in the winter," said Ed. "I realized I had quite a few done in the winter, so why not? I might as well keep going."

from the summit of Dix Mt winter
From the summit of Dix Mountain.

Records tracking winter high peak climbers date back to the 1890s, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the Adirondack Forty-Sixers started to recognize people for it. Back then, the club awarded a "V Badge" to hikers who had managed to climb just five High Peaks in the winter. It was no small task.

Each peak is over 4,000 ft in elevation. The ascent to the summit can require anywhere from 3 to 8 hours from the trailhead -- and that's in perfect warm weather, enough water, and some experience in hiking. Add to that freezing temperatures, waist-high snow, steep ice-covered rock, and high winds above the tree-line. Hands and feet get cold and lose feeling, water bottles freeze, and unpacked snow can leave you sunk or trapped waist deep. It's quite the journey.

the view of the great range from the summit of Dix Mt winter
The view of the Great Range from the summit of Dix Mountain.

The first person on record to complete all 46 High Peaks during winter was Edgar B. Bean. In 1962 he finished on Blake Mountain, which is 13.4 miles round trip and can only be reached by climbing over another mountain, Colvin.

As equipment and gear have improved, winter climbing has become a little more comfortable -- and the the number of winter hikers has grown quickly. The Adirondack Forty-Sixers didn't originally want to encourage hikers to climb the High Peaks in the winter because of the risks involved. But the club eventually decided to award people a "Winter 46er" patch to place below their regular 46ers patch and a "W" next to their name on the 46er roster.

"Some of the major trails are actually easier to do in the winter because they're packed down with snow from other hikers," said Ed. So the snow becomes a sort of flat padded road instead of the uneven rocky road of the summer.

But not all of the trails are so kind. One day that stands out in Ed's mind was his ascent on Esther Mountain. She stands off to the side of the greater Whiteface Mountain and is usually not considered that challenging of a climb.

"But that day it was cold, windy and miserable -- probably 15 or 20 below and windy. We did the mountain, but it was awful," said Ed. "We got wet from sweating on the steep ascent and got tired so we slowed down, but then we got cold from going slow. Then the summit was windy so we just froze. We should've just turned around and had a beer at Lake Placid."

For the most part, Ed has strict rules for winter hiking:

+ He always starts at 7 am at the latest. The sun sets at around 4:30 pm in winter, so he makes the most of daylight.
+ His turn around time is always 2 pm. No exceptions. If he's not at the summit by 2, he turns around and heads home. To him, it's not worth hiking the cold trail in darkness.
+ He always takes extra... everything. Gloves, socks, water, layers, etc.
+ If his hands get cold, that's not a good sign. "If I'm near the top I'll keep going, but if not, I'll be miserable. I'm going home."
+ He doesn't go anywhere without his MSR snowshoes or crampons. In fact, in the High Peaks Wilderness, snowshoes are required if snow is 8 inches or deeper. Not having them can result in a citation from the rangers.
+ That Esther hike aside, he won't hike in the extreme cold. "15 degrees is the perfect temperature. You won't sweat enough get wet and cold and the activity will keep you warm. But if it's 15 below, I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying home."
+ He did some of the peaks solo, but doesn't encourage it. "That was really stupid. If anything happens, you're done, you're alone. It's just not safe."

Ed's final winter High Peaks were the trail-less peaks of Seward, Donaldson and Emmons with some friends. And he says he preferred the experience to the regular 46. "It's not hot or muggy, there are no mosquitos, no bugs, the air is clean and crisp and the views are better most of the time."

He hasn't stopped with the High Peaks. Ed just took part in an expedition to Mt. Everest's Base Camp last fall, and he's hiked Kilimanjaro with his wife, Carol.

Though the numbers have grown, compared to the 7,000 or so regular 46ers, the Winter 46ers are a close clan. They meet every year for an annual dinner to catch up, swap stories, and congratulate the newbies.

"Quite a few times you get home after a hike and you're beat, you're tired and you ache all over," said Ed. "And then the next day you think, 'Eh it's not that bad' and you do it again."
____

the view from Pyramid Peak winter
The view of from Pyramid Peak.

+ There's a book about the history of the Adirondack 46ers called Heaven Up-h'isted-ness!

+ Winter hiking can be dangerous. From the Adirondack Forty-Sixer website:

Only those who are in excellent physical condition, properly equipped and skilled in winter techniques should attempt this, as winter climbing can be demanding and exhausting. Parents should be particularly careful in assessing the abilities of their children. Winter climbers should be familiar with the peaks, weather and seasonal hazards.

Here's an Adirondack Forty-Sixer guide to winter hiking. Also, the Adirondack Mountain Club sponsors a winter mountaineering school that covers skills needed for safe winter climbing.

Earlier on AOA:
+ For the rest of the year: How to hike the High Peaks and not be That Guy

Ed Sheridan photo courtesy of Ed Sheridan

Comments

I'm a regular 46R, and that's plenty good for me! The guys that do it in the winter just have to be their own special breed...

I do not consider myself elite, hardcore or a special breed. I enjoyed hiking the 46 high peaks and when my husband and I finished on October 7 & 8 we had winter like conditions. Since he would be leading hikes for the Shenectady Chapter of the ADK, we decided to be more prepared by taking a weekend course at the Loj. As part of the course we hiked Wright Peak and that led to our hiking in the winter - one of the most wonderful times to hike.

Very interesting article, thanks for sharing it. Question though: does anyone have any information about (winter) hiking in the Catskills to complement this?

I'm a winter 46er and Catskill winter 35er. It's a great way to stay in shape during the winter and beat the cabin fever. Unlike Ed from the article, I don't have such strict rules. I don't mind hiking in the dark and don't usually carry crampons.

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

Capital Region high school graduation rates 2014

The state Department of Education released its annual collection of data about high school graduation rates around the state on Thursday. The statewide graduation rate... (more)

Holiday gifts: Daniel B.

Gifts and giving are on most everyone's mind this month. So we thought we'd ask a few people to share some thoughts on presents, past... (more)

Warmth with flair

Historical object gawking: We came across this photo of a 19th century stove in the Albany Institute collection. It was made by a Troy company... (more)

Crisp Cannoli storefront closing

The Crisp Cannoli in East Greenbush -- you know, the bakery that makes croissant donuts, including an apple cider version -- is closing its storefront... (more)

Local food gifts

We're into the stretch run for December holidays, so we asked Deanna for a few stocking stuffer-type local food gift ideas. Stockings are my favorite... (more)

Recent Comments

... I tend to ask questions that make the person think about what they just said. I ask it sweetly and in a tone that notes confusion on my part. I have been called honey in the office and asked the person, " Can I ask what you mean when you call me honey? Because you don't call John honey." It calls out that he's treating you differently for being a woman. If he still doesn't get it, you can be more direct: "I appreciate that you respect my work and treat me equally, but I wouldn't want others to think otherwise based on how you address me."

Fracking to be banned in New York

...has 3 comments, most recently from Mike

Holiday gifts: Erin Pihlaja

...has 1 comment, most recently from Jennifer

New Amsterdam State

...has 5 comments, most recently from Ellen

Local food gifts

...has 3 comments, most recently from Ellen

Where to get latkes?

...has 10 comments, most recently from E