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November 30, 2012

There's always something to climb

The Daily Star

---- — I got an email the other day from one of my readers. She told me about two women in their 50s who had some amazing achievements this year. So I checked it out.

Nancy Macdonald and Cheryl Pellets spent a lot of spare time cycling. All of us who ride find it a little saddening when we have to put our bikes away for the winter. When that happens, I hunt and ski, but others find another way to be active.

These two adventurous women decided to climb all of the 35 Catskill Peaks that rise above 3,500 feet. This would be a feat in itself, but they decided to do it in the winter.

Well we all know how little snow we had last winter, but there was enough cold and ice to make it a real challenge. Some of the climbs have no trail to the summit, so they had to bushwhack their way through brush and forest to reach the peaks.

Living in Delaware County made their climbs much easier, and they completed their quest between January and March. Four of the peaks were even summited twice.

As spring rolled around, they decided to head north and take on the Adirondacks. After all, “the bug bit.”

They needed to continue. The Adirondack High Peaks offered a slightly different obstacle, however. They weren’t in their backyards anymore. A climb in the area around Lake Placid was several hours away from Hamden.

One of their climbs in the spring was Giant Mountain. Summiting Giant was a daunting task, but they were unable to get to the adjacent Rocky Peak Ridge. They would have needed snowshoes to get there, so they’d have to check off Rocky Peak at a later time.

Nancy and Cheryl decided to make a change in their hiking and climbing plans for the summer. They chose to hike the Northville-Placid Trail. This is a wonderful, 125-mile stroll through some of the most outstanding wilderness in the entire northeast. So with packs on their backs, they left the Benson trailhead and started north.

Before long, they felt the effects of Hurricane Irene. Where there were once bridges in some places, there was now just a log. Other places required wading through deep and sometimes swift water just to continue. Lean-tos were damaged and blowdowns sometimes blocked the trail, but they finally arrived at Averyville, just a few miles south of Placid.

The beautiful summer weather soon changed into a cold, wet fall as their quest to finish the 46 High Peaks continued. Many of the mountains were summited in the rain. It was relentless, but their determination was never dampened.

It’s difficult, though, when you get up in the rain, hike all day in the rain and go to bed at night in the rain. When Nancy and Cheryl summited the five peaks of the Armstrong, Wolf Jaw and Gothics area, all they saw was rain, mist and fog. But looking on the bright side, it gives them a reason to go back.

One of the joys of climbing in the Adirondacks is the treeless summits. Unlike the Catskills, they usually offer magnificent views.

They soon discovered the real difference between the Catskills and the Adirondacks: People.

You hardly ever see another hiker when you climb the Catskill peaks, but in the north country, the lean-tos are full, the trails are congested and the summits are always crowded. In the Catskills, you often struggle to find your way to the tops of trail-less peaks. In the Adirondacks, though, you climb on herd paths that a blind man could easily follow.

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, Cheryl, Nancy and her little dog became 46ers. So after such an eventful year, what’s left?

That’s simple: The Appalachian Trail next year. That will be a 2,200-mile, six-month hike from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine. They plan on leaving the last week of February.

From the Catskills to the Adirondacks is quite a step, but when you take on the entire length of the Appalachians, that’s a giant leap.

Before next summer has passed, they will know what Robert Frost meant in his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” when he wrote this:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at