Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bushwacking the 46 High Peaks

A short while ago Spencer Morrissey completed a decade long quest of bushwhacking to or from every one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Although when he got started he had not heard of John Winkler, he eventually met him at book signings and had the rare privilege on several occasions of exchanging hiking stories.

John E ‘Bushwhack’ Winkler (1941-2007), who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, preferred bushwhacking to trail hiking and over a span of 30 years climbed just about every bump, scaled most of the slides and visited many of the ponds and bogs of his ‘Cherished Wilderness’, the Adirondacks. Nevertheless his most famous accomplishment is climbing all of the 46 (over a 5 year span during the late 70s early 80s), from one direction or the other following a set of rules he had established himself but bushwhacking in at least one direction between each mountain base and its summit. A talented photographer, he came back with two volumes of extraordinary pictures. The volumes sport little text but one can guess many of his routes easily since every picture is worth a 1000 words.

John’s first reaction upon learning decades later that another climber knowing the terrain would embark on the same quest was incredulity. Why would at someone want to do the same and, as he did, risk losing all of his friends along the way for the misery he put them through. Nevertheless John B46 was happy to share memories, “rules” and routes with Spencer.

During the same time span Inge Aiken was herself and with her own set of rules -but basically quite similar to those of John and Spencer- hacking away at bushwhacking the 46 High Peaks. Having four (4) more to do she has not quite reached that particular goal but the very last day of this past winter (March 2011) on the summit of Sawtooth Number 3 she completed a winter round of the 100. Just like with Winkler, it will likely be a long time before another woman accomplishes the same feat, if ever!

Regarding criteria, both Inge and Spencer (as with John earlier) feel that bushwhacking the 46 is a personal adventure that is not recorded by anyone whose rules have not been dictated yet by any club and which in any case seems impossible to set precisely because of the nature of the beast. Therefore they decided that either up or down and from wherever at the base of the mountain or laterally from one summit to the next would work just fine for them.

Photos: Above, Spencer Morrissey provides guide services and is just about to publish the second edition of his book The Other 54; Below, on Cliff Mountain, Inge Aiken and husband Carl.

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Christine Bourjade is a member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. She is a lean-to adopter and long time trail steward.

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