The 6ers are what we call the six hike-able mountains that ring the village of Saranac Lake. The Adirondacks are known for its mountain hiking, and it's human nature to create "sets" for achievement purposes. There's the 46 High Peaks that are over 4,000 feet in height. Thus inspired, we have created what has turned out to be a very popular way for people to enjoy our kinder, gentler peaks.
Climbers can register at the sign-in on Berkeley Green off Main Street and then check off the six peaks in any order to earn a place on the roster, a patch, a numbered certificate, and a 6er sticker. Children as young as nine have become 6ers. Like becoming a 46er, there's no deadline to climbing these peaks.
Unless, that is, one wants to go Ultra.
If you finish the six peaks in a continuous 24 hours, you will become an “Ultra 6er.” If you finish the six peaks in a continuous 24 hours, in the winter, you become a “Winter Ultra 6er,” and can be in the running to play Superman in the next movie reboot.
6 PEAKS IN 24 HOURS
The six peaks are McKenzie and Haystack, Scarface, Ampersand, St. Regis, and Baker, which is right in town. It works out to be a total mileage of a bit over 33 miles, with an elevation gain totaling about 8,400 feet. But, of course, this isn't just about the mileage. While a marathon is 26.2 miles (just to put it in perspective), the 6er mileage is up and down. It also starts and stops at different trailheads throughout the area.
There, indeed, is one of the tricky parts.
Many Ultra 6ers have relied upon a "wheel person" who will drive them to and from the various trailheads; keep water, food, and fresh socks handy; and serve as encouragement and a time keeper. This is a great way for a non-hiker to join in the experience and the celebration afterwards. They are a vital cog in the Ultra machine.
We always advocate sharing the hiking experience with a buddy. It's quite the bonding experience, too.
The Raybrook Trio
It helps that half of the trailheads are within two miles of each other, on or near the easy access along Route 86.
McKenzie is an incredible mountain in the center of its own, self-named wilderness which fills the vast space between the villages of Saranac Lake and Wilmington. The trailhead is five miles from downtown, in the even smaller village of Ray Brook, easily recognizable with a large parking space, just past the Saranac Lake Golf Club. It's a well recognized Ultra move to head for McKenzie first, and knock off the 10.6 miles round trip and elevation of 3822'. Yes, it's the longest trail, and it's also the most rugged.
McKenzie is the 55th highest peak in the Adirondacks, but also one of the most remote in the area. That's why Ultras tackle it when they are fresh. The key to successfully sumitting this peak is to get past the two false summits; the balcony looking to the southwest and the trail dip beyond presents another view, which can fool the unwary. The summit is 0.1 mile past the balcony, so continue to follow the red trail markers. The true summit has breathtaking views in all directions.
On the way back, off the same trail, take the side trail to Haystack. This one will seem like a piece of cake after the rigors of McKenzie. It's a 6.6 mile wooded walk with several stream crossings and a final steep climb (elevation of 2864') up and onto a rock face and ledge. There is no question about this summit! There are 180-degree views of Whiteface, the High Peaks, and the Saranac Lakes chain.
Then, get back on the road, and just across from the State Trooper barracks, 0.1 mile down the Ray Brook Road, is the trailhead for Scarface.
People often head for Scarface for the sheer variety and varied terrain of its trail. It is first composed of old roads before it becomes a steady climb. While this mountain has side trails to an open ledge with fine views, the summit itself is treed and does not have a view of its own. So please do not turn around at the first landing (once the unofficial summit). Continue through the much denser patch of forest to wind up at the true summit where there is a humble white trail disk on a tree marking the top. This is a 6.8 mile round trip, reaching an elevation of 3054'.
The Twin Outliers
Three mountains down, and we are facing two mountains with trailheads rather far apart. At this point, it makes sense to head back to, and through, Saranac Lake, taking Route 3 to the trailhead for Ampersand Mountain, 10.7 miles from the Scarface trailhead.
This is a local favorite for its amazing 360-degree views from a bald summit, with a relatively short hike to reach it. However, while that trail starts out as a path through the woods, the ascent is rugged and steep. As the peak draws near, there's a maze of glacial errata (keep watch for yellow paint blazes and trail markers) that then opens out to an extraordinary view from the High Peaks to the chain of Saranac Lakes.
This is a 5.4 mile round trip with an elevation of 3353'. The next trailhead is 22.3 miles away, along Routes 3, 30, and Keese Mills Road. Park in the generous parking lot, walk out to the right, up a short distance along an access road (over the dam), and we are at the trailhead for St. Regis Mountain.
This trail is a long and lovely wooded walk with a short steep climb to the summit, which is easy to find and has very impressive views in most directions. The fire tower is closed until repairs can be made, but the mostly rocky summit offers many great vantage points to find McKenzie, the High Peaks, and the lakes and ponds that surround the mountain.
Once we return from the summit of St Regis, a 6.6 mile round trip, with an elevation of 2874', our last mountain's trailhead is 16.7 miles away, back in Saranac Lake.
The One Right in Town
Baker Mountain can be a case of leaving the easiest for last. This mountain's trailhead is only 1.3 miles from Berkeley Green, which is where the bell and 6er register await.
The Baker trail is short and steep, or, by taking the left hand trail, a bit longer and gentler. It is a 1.8 mile round trip, and though it is only 2452' of elevation, it offers a wonderful view of some twenty other peaks and assorted lakes.
I asked one Ultra 6er if he had any words to pass on from his experience. “Just keep walking. That was my experience.”
Ring the Bell
Experienced hikers who vied to be the first Ultimate 6er on the inaugural event of May 25, 2013, speculated that the total time to hike all six peaks would take from nine to sixteen hours. At that time, rain dampened hopes and slowed hikers down. One team made the 24 hour deadline by less than a couple of hours.
That was the day we started a new tradition. Once a person finishes climbing the Saranac Lake 6 they then can ring “The 6er Bell” that hangs in Berkeley Green. Ring once for each peak! It brings good luck.
Don't think about faking it, though. Such pretenders will suffer the Kiwassa Curse. What is that? Don't ask.
Now there's a line of six distinct wines to go with the 6er experience. (Summiting not required.) A fine accompaniment to a fine day of hiking, no matter where you go. They are available at Saranac Lake Discount Liquors, downtown Saranac Lake. For a souvenir that will last longer, Bear Essentials, a custom screen and embroidery store that is right by the bell, sells a variety of 6er apparel including hats, t-shirts, patches, and pins. This is another great way to celebrate!
Getting ready for another summit on the way to another 6er? Getting together a group to become Ultras? We wish you the best.