When bushwhacker Neil Luckhurst sets his sights on a goal, there’s little that can stop him. His objective may seem unattainable to many of us but a broad vision and years of experience help him sculpt adventures that explore his limits along with the mountains up which he treks.
His most ambitious outings are unique in that they are fundraisers that directly benefit the Adirondack region. Such is the case with his latest winter fundraising effort — Project 100. The endurance hike entails summiting the Adirondack’s 100 highest peaks between December 21 and March 21. While many of the trails leading to the summits of the High Peaks may be trampled into icy sidewalks, the Lower 54 peaks will be mostly untracked and guarded by a deep snowpack. If Neil is successful, he may be only the second person to hike the Hundred Highest during winter.
The origin of this project draws inspiration from the 2001-2002 winter ventures of Alain Chevrette (aka Pin-Pin) and Tom Haskins (aka Randomscooter). Pin-Pin climbed the Hundred Highest as well as an additional 30+ lower peaks. Randomscooter climbed the Lower 54 and most of the 46 High Peaks.
Neil states, “In my opinion, their efforts stand out as some of the most monumental achievements ever done in the Adirondacks and has rolled around in the back of my mind for years.” With other fundraising projects behind him including Project Full Deck, a 15-day trip over 47 peaks (of an attempted 52), and Project 46, a trek over the 46 High Peaks during ten days in February of 2014, he was looking for a new goal.
One of the most amazing things about what Neil does is that he is 61 years old. With age comes wisdom and ambitions that grow stronger with each passing year — a seemingly counter-intuitive combination from which many fellow hikers draw inspiration. He learned long ago that such goals keep a person’s body healthy, mind young, and serve as a coping mechanism for stress.
How did Neil build up to attempting such endurance efforts? He’s no stranger to the mountains. Neil has hiked, snowshoed, skied, and winter camped in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, the French Alps and extensively in the Adirondacks. His Adirondack accomplishments include bushwhacking the Hundred Highest peaks (including the 46), bushwhacking another 50 peaks from the 3,000-footer list, friction-climbing roughly 50 slides, and completing eight rounds of the 46.
He’s been hiking about once per week for the last ten years but augments it to two or three days per week months ahead of an endurance hike. His base fitness level is well-cultivated. Neil approaches training scientifically using his knowledge of the human body (he’s a chiropractor by trade) and first-class advice from modern alpinist books. He considers the aerobic base to be the most vital element but also incorporates strength training into his regimen. Specifics may be found on his blog.
Fitness is only a part of the story. A support team consisting of his wife, Sylvie, and various hiking comrades is also crucial. Sylvie is an avid hiker, so she understands Neil’s needs during these endeavors. During Project Full Deck, she used Tmax-n-Topo’s Hostel in Lake Placid as the command center for two weeks. From there, she managed the complicated logistics necessary for success. “Without her support, the project would have fallen apart,” Neil asserts. Dozens of others have also helped through the years by breaking trail, providing on-trail companionship, resupplying key checkpoints, driving him from one trailhead to the next, etc.
Let’s circle back to the fundraising details. The Adirondack High Peak Foundation, formed by Neil and Tim Dubois, has a long track record of giving back to the region. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity for the express purpose of raising money to donate to wilderness projects in areas within the NYS Forest Preserve. Neil describes the grass-roots beginning of what would become the foundation. “We started as a simple group of forest preserve hikers and recreational users that cared deeply about the wild places where we choose to spend our time. Over time, we came to realize that it is up to us to help improve the public lands that we enjoy, making them better for those that follow us. We get so much joy and life-enriching rewards from these places that it seems only fitting that we do our part to return the favor anyway we can.”
Project 46 raised $15,000, and Project Full Deck raised about $5,000 for the Foundation. Proceeds from the second venture were given to LASAR (Lower Adirondack Search and Rescue). They used the funds to purchase, among other items, canine satellite tracking equipment for rescues. The Foundation has given over $61,000 of grants since 2008. Recipients include the Keene Valley Fire Department Wilderness Rescue Team, the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, the Mt. Adams Fire Tower Restoration Project, the Adirondack Summit Steward Program, Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks, Beyond Ktaadn (for a study on one of the most endangered alpine plants in the world, Boott’s Rattlesnake Root), ARCHE Productions (sponsorship of “The 46ers Film” by Blake Cortright) and LASAR.
So why does Neil turn his projects as fundraisers? It is his way of giving back to an area that has given him so much. He states, “Over the years that I’ve been hiking in the Adirondacks, one thing that has struck me is how much hard work is done by volunteers — trail work, lean-to restoration/construction, SAR, public education, privy construction, maintenance, etc. My way of giving something back for all the hiking I do is to raise money for the Foundation through these Projects and via our Web Forum activities.”
The root of his ambitions is more profound than fundraising, however. “My son Dominic and I hiked the 46 High Peaks together as father and son. He lost his life to an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies ten years ago. The outpouring of sympathy and support from the Adirondack hiking community was incredible. These projects enable me to give back as well as keep the memories of our hiking adventures alive. It’s also during these projects that his loss is most keenly felt.”
The fundraising, training, and history behind the projects don’t portray one of the primary characteristics of Neil—how much fun he has exploring the terrain. His attitude is infectious. One must hike with him to appreciate the zeal with which he immerses himself in even the most straightforward outings. He’s endured some of the harshest conditions that the Adirondacks can throw at a hiker. He’s always prepared for the worst, so it matters not if the wind is driving the temperature down to -40F or whether he’s falling through the ice in a backcountry stream. He meets adversity with an intelligent quip and a smile. He then chronicles the outing on social media and the Adirondack High Peaks Forum. Not one to skimp on details, he usually weaves navigational and fitness specifics into the trip report with a splash of humor.
Neil’s blog follows his progress and accepts donations for Project 100. You can follow his progress by clicking on the image of the SPOT device (a personal tracking unit) to access a topographic map with incremental updates. His blog will also feature an updated route map at the end of each day.
Photos: Top, Neil with Gothics in the background (courtesy of Project 100). Middle, Neil in the notch of Kilburn Mtn. Bottom, Ascending the icy dome of Basin.