Wednesday, September 9, 2015

24-Hour High Peak Extravaganza

For the past two years, I've had this little dream of doing 24 Adirondack High Peaks in 24 hours. When this idea crept into my head, I had hiked a whopping two peaks. I had two and a half years left at St. Lawrence, so I knew my window to do this project was set to close soon. Last year, I had an ill-fated attempt at doing as many peaks as I could in 24 hours. Having only done about half the route before, I found myself struggling with inefficient navigation, bushwhacks at night, weather that turned cold and rainy, and being awake for nine hours before I even started. I managed to get 18, starting at the Elk Lake trailhead and hitting Marcy a little after 22 hours. Rain set in, and I pushed through three hours of talking to myself, dehydration, and some mild hallucinations as I hobbled to the Adirondack Loj. For obvious reasons, I didn't plan for that to happen this year.

In a brilliant stroke of luck, I searched "adk peaks in 24 hours" on google two days before I was set to start, and for the first time in two years there was a useful result! Turns on, Jan Wellford was planning to do almost the same route as me (though opposite direction), on the same day. We exchanged some emails, Jan helped me a bit with my route, and we wished each other luck. It was awesome to embark on this journey knowing someone else was out there striving for the same goal. Click here to read about Jan's attempt and the great charity he is raising money for!

Coming off of some fairly high mileage weeks, a summer filled with more vertical than I had ever done before, and a morning start time, I was far better poised in a physical sense than last year. I also had the benefit of having done 21 of the 24 peaks I would attempt, as well as having successfully done the bushwhack to get from the Dix Range up to the Leach Trail on the Dix/Nippletop ridge (where I had trouble last year). And so, at 8:48am on Friday, September 4th, I left the Elk Lake trailhead ready for a most excellent adventure in the mountains. Splits, data, gear, and map can be found at the end of this post.

Signing in at Elk Lake, getting jived up to boogie for the next 24 hours
I ran the approach to Macomb, and casually fell flat on my face about 17 minutes in. I was happy to get an inevitable wipe-out done early, before the trails became less forgiving. Things heated up fast, and I ended up going shirtless for the next eight hours. I cruised through the Dix Range, probably some of my favorite mountains. Though I must say, it sure felt like every other tree branch was attempting to harpoon me in the jugular, heart, and eyeball. A few succeeded, but luckily I prevailed and overcame the wrath of the trees. And it was getting dang hot. I realized staying hydrated would not be easy. A nice descent from Dix brought me to the Boquet River, where I continued along the trail until finding Gravestone Brook, where I would begin my bushwhack to Dial.

Last year, I hit Gravestone in the dark, without ever having been there before. Very poor planning on my part (I was attempting to hit it before dark, but the Dix took longer than I expected). I ended up ascending the wrong brook, fumbled around in the dark on some cliffs for a while, and lost tons of time. This year went very smoothly, and I found myself on the ridge and trail in less than 40 minutes. Dial and Nippletop flew by, and soon I was over Colvin and headed towards Blake. It was here that I started to get pretty dehydrated. I had managed to get through the Dix with 40 ounces of water, but by this point I had accumulated a bit of a water deficit, and was quite thirsty. Passing Colvin again, I was stoked to guzzle some water from Gill Brook. I had distinct memories of sitting in the cold and dark last year at this exact spot, rubbing my already-trashed, legging-clad legs. I was very pleased to be in much better condition this go around! Onward to the Great Range!

I descended to the Lake Road, backtracked to the AuSable Club boathouse and crossed the river. I ate some dinner (a fabulous microwavable burrito I had heated up with my sweaty back), pounded some water, and filled my extra bladder before starting the climb up to Lower Wolfjaw. After a sizable climb, I topped out on Lower Wolfjaw in just under 10 hours, three hours since I was on Blake. I was feeling good, soaked in the sun as it began to set, and then took off for the rest of the Great Range. The descent off of Upper Wolfjaw afforded some great sunset views, and, my personal favorite, a most excellent not-sunset. Those subtle pink hues are just the best!

Sweaty sweaty, but feeling good
What a wonderful not-sunset!
The actual sunset wasn't too shabby either
The Great Range cruised by, and I went under headlight shortly after Armstrong, 10:58 into my adventure. The spur off the Great Range to Sawteeth, where I majorly bonked last year, once again proved difficult. Coming back up to Gothics, I hit a pretty big low and struggled to push through. I had been under headlight for about an hour, and the prospect of having only my thoughts and the darkness for the next 10 hours was a little daunting. But what can one do but keep going? On my way up to Saddleback, I got my feet back under me and started to feel good again.

As I descended the exposed area of Basin, I looked up, and lo and behold, there were flashes of light over there on Haystack! I knew it could be only one thing, Jan! I was excited to meet Jan, especially given our situations. In about 10 minutes, we ran into each other on the trail and chatted for a few minutes. Jan had started aroun 3:30pm from the ADK Loj, and was making great time. We wished each other luck and both went our separate ways.

On the way to Haystack, I ran into a bit of trouble. I had timed my water situation perfectly, and was set to fill up on the stream between Haystack and Basin. Things had been very dry for weeks, and the stream was hardly even there. I opted to keep going, thinking there was a better water source coming up. Those thoughts proved to be unfounded, and I ended up dragging my sorry butt up Haystack, feeling terrible. I went to the bathroom, and my pee was the dark yellow that says "hey dude, you're killing it with the hydration thing." Damn did I hope the trail to Marcy was the stream it often is (it wasn't). Thinking I'd have to get over Marcy and down to Four Corners before filling up, I accepted my fate and hoped I could keep it together until then. Then, reflecting in the dark like a beacon of hope, was a puddle! Oh, sweet, sweet puddle! Maybe two foot by three foot and six inches deep, this little pocket of water proved to be salvation. I chugged a bottle of water, munched a snack, and filled up for the trip over Marcy. Now properly hydrated and feeling awesome, I cruised on to Marcy, Skylight, Gray, and down to Cliff without a hitch.

I had never been past Gray, but had no issues getting to the herd-path to Cliff in the dark. I thought I may have had a shot at 25 peaks, so I set off for Cliff at a run, slopping through the mud and scrambling up the cliffs at a good clip. But when I returned to the cairn marking the turn to Redfield, I took a minute to fill up on water and take stock of my mind, body, and how much time I had left. Was it worth risking the outing for one extra peak? Would I have time? Could my body do it? I was about 20 hours in, and had a giant climb up to the MacIntyres looming ahead of me. I decided I wasn't 100% confident that I could do four more peaks in four hours, so I took off for the MacIntyres feeling relaxed on time and ready to finish things up.

Standing at the trail sign to Algonquin, I felt my mind and body become cloaked in fatigue as I read: "+2,300ft." At this point, my mind and body didn't matter. Nothing mattered but to move. I was going up, and up I went. After 11 hours of darkness, I saw the sunrise and felt my spirits lift.

After staying up all night, sunrises rock
I finally got to the col between Iroquois and Algonquin, where I turned left to head over Boundary Peak and on to my 22nd High Peak of the day. Mentally and physically, I was not doing great as I left Iroquois, bumping into things on the trail and stumbling a bit. I hardly minded the climb to Algonquin, as anything was better than downhill at that point. From Algonquin, I looked over and saw my roommate Kealey waiting for me on Wright. I was so, so close. I had an hour and 20 minutes to get there. With the end in sight, I made decent time and did my best attempt at a jog as I came to the summit of Wright. After 23 hours and 14 minutes, I was done. 

I collapsed, giddily threw back some water, and laid in awe at the unbelievable landscape surrounding me. It was an honor to travel through those mountains for the past day and night, and I looked at them with new regard and respect. It was almost a little sad turning my back on the landscape I had just traversed, but I was more than ready to start my hike with Kealey back to the Loj.

In Lake Placid, we made the necessary stop at Stewie's, where I was pleased to down a pint of Happy Camper ice cream in about 10 minutes. Once in the car, I passed out, and didn't wake up until five minutes from campus. I guess I was a wee bit tired. But I don't think there's a better tired than one that comes from an exhausting journey in the mountains.

HUGE thanks to everyone who was watching my Spot map at St. Lawrence to make sure I was doing ok, ready to come get me if things got bad. And of course, mega thanks to Kealey for getting up at 5:30am to drive me to the trailhead, meeting me on Wright, and having my back through the whole thing. And a job well done to Jan Wellford, who also achieved his goal!

Numbers and details
Note: I did not go over Indian Head/Fishawk Cliffs as indicated here, but rather continued on the Gill Brook trail to the Lake Road Cutoff, then backtracked up the road to the boathouse. Map created using
Approximate miles: 53
Approximate elevation gain: 25,000ft

Start:8:48 AM @ Elk Lake TH
Macomb 1:02
South Dix 18.52 (1:21)
East Dix (Grace) 23.08 (1:44)
Hough 42.37 (2:27)
Dix 31.52 (2:59)
Dial 1:46 (4:45)
Nippletop 36.02 (5:21)
Colvin 1:01 (6:22)
Blake 31.27 (6:54) 
Lower Wolf Jaw 3:04 (9:58)
Upper Wolf Jaw 33.06 (10:31)
Armstrong 27.02 (10:58)
Gothics 23.06 (11:21)
Sawteeth 40.16 (12:01)
Saddleback 1:27 (13:29)
Basin 32.30 (14:01)
Haystack 1:01 (15:02)
Marcy 1:39 (16:41)
Skylight 32.37 (17:14)
Gray 33.50 (17:48)
Cliff 1:27 (19:16)
Iroquois 2:55 (22:11)
Algonquin 26.39 (22:38)
Wright 36.16 (23:14) End*

*I stopped my watch on my final peak, and did not count the hike out to the Loj in my 24 hours.

  • Ultimate Direction SJ Vest
  • 2, 20-ounce water bottles
  • About 12 Clifshot and Honey Stinger gels
  • Assorted granola bars
  • Two microwaveable burritos
  • Hypothermia blanket
  • First-aid kit
  • SPOT Gen 3
  • Petzl Tikka RXP headlight
  • Petzl TacTikka headlight (not used)
  • Extra batteries
  • Compass and map
  • Sawyer mini squeeze water filter w/ 16-ounce bladder
  • Iodine pills
  • Succeed S!Caps
  • The North Face Binary Jacket
  • SmartWool PhD Arm Warmers
  • Saucony running shirt
  • Nike dri-fit running shorts
  • Patagonia Duckbill Cap
  • Darn Tough socks (one extra)
  • Brooks running tights
  • Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes

I completed this run/hike entirely unsupported, carrying all of my own gear/nutrition for the duration of the 24 hours. I refilled my water bottles using filtered or chemically treated water taken from natural sources along my route.

If anyone has any questions let me know! 


  1. You're insane! Holy cow great job!

  2. Congratulations, Jeff! Really enjoyed reading about your adventure, that is wild.

  3. Congrats again on your amazing adventure - and loved reading about it!

  4. This is insane and I commend you. Absolutely incredible. I'm heading up to the high peaks and was looking for hiking recommendations...this however, I'm going to have to shorten haha. Awesome stuff.