(This 1013th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on August 22, 2010.)


The Adirondacks from Whiteface Mountain

Wikipedia photo


Adam Federman has written an interesting article in the current issue of Adirondack Life. Its title is simply "Lost" and it summarizes information about seventeen hikers who disappeared in the Adirondacks over the past sixty years. The bodies of ten were found, the other seven have never been recovered.

To those who do not know the Adirondacks, getting lost anywhere in New York State seems impossible. We have almost 20 million people living here and we're almost tripping over each other. An English friend once asked me, "Is your state all urban?" Of course, the answer is no, and the thinly populated Adirondack Park represents the opposite extreme.

Federman's article reminded me of one of the times I was lost in the Adirondacks and I will admit to that embarrassing story here. In retelling it I may encourage others to be more careful. Most of the details of our experience are hazy - this was not a trip to remember with affection - but you will see how foolish but very fortunate we were.

Duke Colborn and I were amassing peaks toward our goal of joining the Adirondack 46ers, those who have climbed all of the peaks in the park whose summits are over 4000 feet. We had climbed all of the mountains with marked trails and were well along on the list of trail-less peaks.

Trail-less is not quite accurate as those peaks have what are called herd paths where earlier hikers have passed. Those paths are still not well marked and quickly get overgrown, but they do occasionally offer at least suggestions that you are on the right course. You are also guided by topographic maps, reports of earlier hikers, occasional views of the peak ahead and reference to a compass.

On one late summer expedition we set out to climb Panther Peak and Santanoni Mountain. We parked our car at the trailhead and hiked in several miles along level ground to where we set up our tent at an established camping area. Once that was done we loaded light backpacks and headed off up the trail toward the two peaks. It was still only about 9 o'clock in the morning when we set out.

I recall that it was a beautiful day, temperature in the 70s and with no threat of foul weather. But foul weather would not be our problem on that day.

We would really have to climb three peaks: Panther, Santanoni, then back over Panther. That would make for a long but still reasonable day.

All went well through the morning. We signed the register atop Panther and Santanoni before 1:00 p.m. We were in good shape.

But then on the way back toward Panther we found ourselves lost. And that is when we made a serious misjudgment. We decided not to retrace our steps to get back on the ridge trail but to continue downslope through the forest.

The going was rather easy and after a mile or two of hiking we came to a well-marked trail. Well-marked indeed: we soon arrived at a sign that indicated that we were on the opposite side of the Santanoni range from our campsite. We had to hike all the way around the base of Panther Peak to get back to our point of origin.

At least we were on a trail and no longer simply lost. Our problem was that it was now mid-afternoon and we had at least a dozen miles of hiking ahead of us.

Off we went across a beaver dam, through an abandoned campground, but mostly just tramping on and on.

Then came the real trial. Night fell and we had no flashlight. You know the drill, "I thought you were bringing one." But we were blessed with a full moon and we were able to make our way. It was 2:00 a.m. when we reached our campsite and fell onto our sleeping bags, as tired as I will ever be.

We were indeed fortunate. Apparently at least some of those lost hikers who didn't make it simply gave up trying to find their way. At least we didn't do that. Please learn from our embarrassing mistakes.-- Gerry Rising