PLATTSBURGH — From bear encounters to tornado warnings, the five-year journey of Peru’s Justin Schultz and his daughter Kailee Corcoran to become Adirondack 46ers is one they will never forget.
“We had been hiking for a little while and had just hiked in the mountains and thought it would be fun to hike one of the bigger ones, just for a little credit, or like you want to call it, and so we finished hiking Giant (Mountain). Along the way we met some families with other kids and she said, ‘I want to be a 46er'” Schultz said.
“And I was like, ‘What is this?'”
Realize the dream
Corcoran, who was only 7 years old when she expressed the desire, was quick to inform her father that this is a special club for those climbing the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks.
After that conversation, Schultz acted quickly to make her daughter’s dream come true.
“When she said ‘I want to be a 46er’, pretty much all I knew was Whiteface and Marcy were two of them… so it was a great learning experience all the way. She said she wanted to do this and it made my job the navigator: the guy who plans everything and hopes everything goes as planned. I didn’t know anything” he said.
“I inquired about all this stuff like what you need to bring…I have a number of friends who are 46 year olds and I’ve made a lot of friends who are. I’ve always reached out and been able to get good information from them, which has always been just amazing, grabbing people’s brains and learning what you can.
For supplies, Schultz and Corcoran tried to go on the lighter side, but always had headlamps, first aid kits, water, extra clothes, proper shoes, and most importantly, a map with them for those hikes.
“Take a map. Get a map. Get a map. Learn to read it,” he recommended. “And realize these are rough trails – just know it’s okay to turn around and come back for a better day.”
Corcoran also had a 46er correspondent she communicated with by mail, who gave her hiking tips; Schultz said he would recommend anyone looking to become a 46er to do the same.
By late summer 2017, the year their excursion began, they already had three High Peaks crossed off their list – Giant, Porter and Cascade.
“The classic starter pack, really, for a lot of people hiking the High Peaks,” he said, “It was to try to keep her happy, keep it up.”
However, Corcoran couldn’t get over his obsession with Whiteface hiking.
“Obviously when I was younger I was like, ‘Oh, I want to go do Whiteface,’ so that was definitely one of those that I did (I’m looking forward to it) “, she says.
“I will support his enthusiasm for Whiteface from the start,” Schultz added. “There’s an appeal to Whiteface, and I get it. For her, it was big, big at first. Marcy was another person she was excited about in advance.
To prepare for the ultimate challenge of hiking Whiteface and Marcy, after the winter and early spring of 2018, Schultz said they are focusing on lower elevation mountains.
“So I said we were going to climb Marble Mountain, which is on the way to Whiteface, to get a little taste of what we were coming back for, and we ended up having the most perfect conditions for April. .. so I was like, ‘Why don’t we just carry on a bit and see what’s next?’ and we went on and finally got to Lookout Mountain. From there it’s less than a mile to the top of Esther,” Schultz said.
“We ended up going there and tagging it in three feet of snow, which was like, ‘Wow, we really weren’t here to hike a High Peak today,’ but it definitely did. set the tone.”
Summer 2018 would see the father-daughter duo complete an additional 17 High Peaks; Whiteface was completed the following summer in 2019. Mount Marcy, New York’s tallest mountain, was dropped from their list in 2020.
“She totally impressed me with her abilities” Schultz said.
“We were going to hike a High Peak but then we were coming back with two or three, we were very lucky with lots of weather and good conditions.”
There were times though, where the Adirondacks showed just how unpredictable they could be, which slowed the progress of both.
“The summers of 2020 and 2021 we were beaten by a lot of weather, and the Adirondacks showed us a bit of their ugly side, and so two planned peak days ended up becoming one. Planned peak days ended up sucking a few times,” Schultz said.
“Last year we turned around three times and we were down to three peaks.”
The type of weather that transformed them, Schultz said, has always been rain or thunder.
In 2020, a sudden and very intense storm after hiking Mount Redfield caused them to seek refuge in a lean-to for the night near their campsite in the sunken lands.
The next morning, they were told that the area they were in had been under a tornado warning.
“There were branches flying, downed trees collapsing, lightning striking everywhere and we were like, ‘Wow, this is really crazy'” Schultz said.
“The storm lasted a good five hours at this level. We wake up the next morning, pack our things to go hiking, these two guys come up from Lake Henderson and they say, “This area was under a tornado warning last night.” I was like, ‘What? No way, but (also) yes, it’s totally believable.’”
Besides the weather, the mountains were unpredictable in other ways that all hikers should be aware of when traversing the desolate, forested mountains of the Adirondacks, he said.
Schultz recalled a tense confrontation with a bear they had while descending Mount Marshall.
“I’m coming down this hill and this huge bear was just laying on the trail, grabbed on all fours, I had a five minute standoff with him. It wasn’t fun. I was screaming, I was clapping… the bear had none of that, and he started pounding the ground and he did the bluff charges and I’m sitting there going, ‘It’s not gonna be Well.’ My mind wasn’t on me, it was on her. he said, pointing to Corcoran.
“Eventually he left. He let it be known that he was not happy to leave as he was snoring the whole way. We sat and waited to make sure he was gone and then we continued our way to the lodge.
Schultz said it was a learning experience for them. From then on, they tried to be as noisy as possible during their hike to warn the fauna that they were present on their territory.
Needles on the haystack
But all the challenges and adversity were worth it for Schultz and Corcoran, who hiked their last High Peak in August – five years after beginning their journey.
Corcoran, now 12, wanted to finish it on Mount Haystack, a harder High Peak to climb.
“I’ll guess I think because it looked really cool and I just knew I wanted to end up with Haystack,” she says.
“I liked the hike and the summit. When I say the hike, I mean when we started scrambling up the rocks.
“It’s a mini roller coaster in High Peaks terms, and it’s really intimidating,” Schultz added. “Lots of fun trails, and the top of Haystack is definitely one of the best – hands down.”
Now, with the challenge of the High Peaks behind them, they are already looking to their next adventure.
“I would like to go back to New Hampshire” he said.
“I was going to say New Hampshire,” Corcoran added.
Schultz also said he wouldn’t rule out hiking some of the 46 High Peaks again in the future.
“There is definitely a list of High Peaks that I would like to repeat soon…I’m glad for a minute that I’m done with the lists and not having to focus on the lists and hiking what we want – out of love for it – instead of imposing ourselves, of challenging ourselves”, he said.
“Couldn’t have had a better hiking partner (however). I’m really proud of her, and like I said, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.