PLATTSBURGH — From bear encounters to tornado warnings, Peruvian Justin Schultz and his daughter Kailee Corcoran’s five-year journey to the Adirondack 46ers was one they will never forget.
“We had been hiking for a while and just started hiking in the mountains and I thought it would be fun to climb one of the big ones just for a little credit or whatever you want to call it and that’s how we ended up hiking giant ( Mountain). Along the way we met families with other kids and she said, ‘I want to be a 46’.” said Schultz.
“And I was like, ‘What is this?'”
Make the dream come true
Corcoran, who was just seven when she made the request, was quick to inform her father that it is a special club reserved for those who climb all 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks.
After that conversation, Schultz acted quickly to make his daughter’s dream come true.
“When she said ‘I want to be a 46er,’ all I knew pretty much was that Whiteface and Marcy were two of her… so it was a huge learning experience the whole way. She said she wanted to do this and that made my job of being the navigator: the guy who plans everything and hopes it goes according to plan. I didn’t know anything” he said.
“I’ve been educating myself on all these things, like what you need to bring … I have a bunch of friends who are 46s and I’ve made a lot of friends who are. I’ve always turned to them and been able to get good information from them, which has always been just amazing to pick people’s minds and learn what you can.
For supplies, Schultz and Corcoran tried to pack on the lighter side, but always carried headlamps, first-aid kits, water, spare clothing, proper shoes, and most importantly, a map for these hikes.
“Take a card. Get a map. Get a map. learn to read it” he recommended. “And realize these are rugged roads — know it’s okay to turn back and come back on a better day.”
Corcoran also had a ’46 correspondent with whom she communicated by mail and who gave her hiking tips; Schultz said he would recommend anyone who wants to become a 46er do the same.
By the end of summer 2017, the year their excursion began, they had already crossed three high peaks off their list – Giant, Porter and Cascade.
“Actually the classic starter pack for many people who hike on the high peaks.” he said, “It was trying to make her happy, to keep it going.”
However, Corcoran could not overcome her obsession with wandering Whiteface.
“Of course when I was younger I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do Whiteface,’ so that was definitely one of them I was looking forward to.” She said.
“I’ll support her enthusiasm for Whiteface early in this whole thing.” Schulz added. “Whiteface has an appeal and I get it. For her, that was the big thing from an early age. Marcy was another one that she looked forward to in advance.”
To prepare for the ultimate challenge of hiking Whiteface and Marcy have turned their focus to lower mountains after the winter and early spring of 2018.
“So I said we’re 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 with the most perfect conditions for April… so I was like, ‘ Why don’t we move on a bit just to see what’s ahead?’ and we went on and finally came to Lookout Mountain. From there it is less than a mile to the summit of Esther.” said Schultz.
“We ended up marking it in a meter of snow, which was like, ‘Wow, we really weren’t out here climbing a high peak today,’ but that definitely set the tone.”
In the summer of 2018, the father-daughter duo would complete another 17 High Peaks; Whiteface was completed the following summer of 2019. Mount Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York, was removed from their list in 2020.
“She really impressed me with her skills” said Schultz.
“We went out to climb a high peak but then we went away with two or three, we got really lucky with lots of weather and good conditions.”
However, there were times when the Adirondacks showed just how unpredictable they can be, which slowed the two’s progress.
“During the summers of 2020 and 2021, we were crushed by a lot of weather conditions and the Adirondacks showed us a bit of their ugly side, making two planned peak days into one. A planned peak day turned into none a couple of times,” said Schultz.
“Last year we were flipped three times and only had three peaks left.”
The kind of weather that turned them around, Schultz said, was always either rain or thunder.
In 2020, a sudden, very violent storm sought shelter in a shelter for the night after a hike up Mount Redfield near their campsite in the Flowed Lands.
They were told the next morning that a tornado warning had been issued in the area they were in.
“Branches were flying, fallen trees were falling, lightning was everywhere and we were like, ‘Wow, that’s fucking crazy.'” said Schultz.
“The storm lasted a good five hours at this altitude. We wake up the next morning, pack up our things to go hiking, these two guys come down from Lake Henderson and say, ‘There was a tornado warning in this area last night.’ I thought, ‘What? Absolutely not, but (also) yes, that’s totally believable.’”
Encounter with bears
Aside from the weather, the mountains are unpredictable in other ways that all hikers should be aware of as they traverse the lonely, forested Adirondack Mountains, he said.
Schultz recalled a tense altercation they had with a bear while descending Mount Marshall.
“I’m coming down this hill and this huge bear was just lying on the path, snapped up on all fours, I had a five minute standoff with him. It wasn’t fun. I was screaming, clapping… the bear had none of it, and he started pounding the ground, and he was doing the bluffing attacks, and I sat there and I was like, ‘This isn’t going to be good.’ My thoughts were not with me, but with her.” he said, pointing to Corcoran.
“Eventually he made his way. He made it known that he wasn’t happy about leaving because he was snorting all the time. We sat and waited to make sure he was gone, then made our way back to the lodge.”
Schultz said it was a learning experience for her. From then on, they tried to be as loud as possible during their migration to warn the wildlife that they were in their territory.
Needles in the haystack
But all the challenges and adversity were worth it in the end for Schultz and Corcoran, who scaled their last high peak in August – five years after they began their journey.
Corcoran, now 12 years old, wanted to finish it on Mount Haystack, a more challenging high peak.
“I’ll guess I guess because it looked really cool and I just knew I wanted to be done with Haystack.” She said.
“I liked the hike and the summit. When I say the hike I mean when we started climbing the rocks.”
“In terms of the High Peaks, it’s a mini roller coaster, and it’s definitely intimidating.” Schulz added. “Lots of fun sections and the summit of Haystack is definitely one of the best – hands down.”
Now, with the challenge of the High Peaks at their backs, they are already looking to their next adventure.
“I’d like to go back to New Hampshire” he said.
“I wanted to say New Hampshire.” added Corcoran.
Schultz also said he would not rule out climbing some of the 46 High Peaks again in the future.
“There’s definitely a list of high peaks that I want to revisit soon… I’m glad to just be done with the lists for a minute and not have to focus on lists and just hike what we want – for the love of it.” – instead of the self-imposed self-challenge”, he said.
“I couldn’t have had a better hiking partner (although). I’m really proud of her and like I said, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”