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Saranac Lake 6er Ultra Challenge
Aug
14
2018

Meet Tyler Merriam. He paddles, hikes, bikes, swims, skis, runs. He is a guide, an instructor, an avid outdoorsman. And on July 26, 2018 he added Ultra 6er to his list of accomplishments!

Follow along as Tyler recounts his Ultra attempt with us.

The following is submitted by guest writer Tyler Merriam.

Allow me to share the personal experience of my hiking/running partner Chris Makowicki (lets call him “Mak”) and me, as we tackled this challenge July 26, 2018. 

As I pulled out of work at 7:05 p.m. on July 25 and turned my steering wheel toward Aldi to purchase some final food and drink items, the sky opened and shed a mass of water not yet seen this summer in Saranac Lake. I wondered what this would do to the trails, and if it would be a significant impediment to making good time and remaining blister-free. Later that evening, after several careful hours of packing and going over all the details for the 50th time, I crawled into bed hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before driving to pick up Mak. For those of you who have planned a weekend adventure in the High Peaks, or spent months organizing a wilderness paddling trip for your summer vacation know, sleep before the big day is often impossible. Therefore, I found myself lying in bed texting Mak to find out if he wanted to begin a few hours early. Shortly thereafter I received a text back, “Dude, I can’t sleep either, lol, let’s just start.”

After signing into the register at Berkley Green at exactly 12:00 a.m. I drove to the trailhead of McKenzie and Haystack. We decided to begin early in the night to beat the outrageous heat and ravenous deer flies that have plagued us this summer. This proved to be a good plan, despite my headlamp batteries taking a downward spiral mere minutes into the hike. At 12:50 a.m., after a final snack and quick questioning of our sanity, we hit the trail, power walking to get the blood flowing and warm up our sleepy limbs. 

Luckily the trails were drier than I expected, and we made good time on the mellow terrain into McKenzie. As we hit the steep part of the trail the low clouds began to obscure the pale spotlight from our headlamps, and the further we climbed the more obscured our view became. It’s an eerie feeling walking through a cloud, especially in the middle of the night on a trail already difficult to follow. Despite this challenge, we made it over the false summits with little problem and arrived at the summit of McKenzie at 2:14 a.m. As we hiked back toward our next peak a light breeze caressed the summit ridge, providing a welcome rest bit from the humidity of the evening. The breeze was soon accompanied by a light rain which, soon after it began, turned into a steady flow that stayed with us to the intersection of the main trail. 

The rain let up soon after the ascent up Haystack, and by the time we reached its zenith the clouds had cleared just enough for us to have a clear view of village lights below. The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts as they view the earth from orbit, a testament to the defamiliarization of seeing our planet from a different perspective. I think a similar experience happens when viewing a town from a mountaintop, and for me, every such view expands my narrow view of life and reminds me of life’s bigger picture. This feeling lasted with me as we descended Haystack and jogged back to the car, though it was mostly overshadowed by the muscle pain and fatigue that soon hit as we arrived at 4:16 a.m. 

Half an our later we were back at it, feeling revitalized by some watermelon, peanut butter-stuffed pretzels, and a brief session of stretching. During the Scarface hike the earth itself awoke from its slumber, and with it came sunrise, bird songs, and…of course…deer flies. The climb up Scarface was the only time during the Ultra 6er that I felt mentally distant and “out of it,” caused, presumably, by lack of sleep and my body’s anomalous brush with marathon hikes. Nevertheless, we reached the summit at 6:13 a.m., and before I knew it were running back down the peak and toward the parking lot, which greeted at 7:20 a.m. 

By the time we pulled into the St. Regis parking lot at 8:20 a.m. the sun was glowing above us, and other people less crazy than ourselves had also begun to hike as well. Thankfully we had ditched the deer flies at Scarface, and they must have remained there since they didn’t grace us with their presence for the rest of the day. In retrospect, it might have made more sense to do Ampersand before St. Regis since, despite its length, the mountain itself felt rather easy compared to the peaks before and after (Scarface tends to trick you with “we’re almost there” feelings on the second half of its trail). When we reached the summit of St. Regis at 9:40 a.m. the clouds were just beginning to clear. Both Mak and I felt surprisingly sharp and energized at this point, a testament to the training, nutrition, and pacing that had gone into this trip. 

During the jog back to the car we talked about our next adventures and other “objectives” we hoped to complete this summer and winter. I felt a renewed gratitude for living in this area and was thankful that after 10 years of exploring the surrounding mountains, lakes, rivers, and trails there was still a practically unlimited amount of new landscape to discover. This enthusiasm carried me from St. Regis (we arrived back at the parking lot at 11:10 a.m.) to Ampersand, and after spilling both of our electrolyte drinks, stepping on my sunglasses, knocking over an entire tray of watermelon, and tripping over my own feet while trying to lock the car doors, I felt a renewed sense of humility as we jogged up the trail at 11:45 a.m. 

The Ampersand climb was uneventful, and we reached the summit at 12:45 p.m. with little fanfare. By this point the clouds were gone and we were rewarded with the spectacular views for which Ampersand is known. In what seemed like no time at all we were running back down the trail, our thoughts turned toward Baker where several friends were waiting to join us for the final ascent. After an hour climb down and a short drive into the heart of Saranac Lake, we met the crew of cheering friends, and at 2:00 p.m. struck a relaxed pace toward the zenith of the final 6er peak. 

At 3:02 p.m. we arrived at the summit, 15 hours after begging this epic journey. It was both refreshing and invigorating to sit on the summit ledge and watch the clouds roll by over McKenzie Pond, so much so that I almost forgot about hiking back down to ring the 6er bell! At 4:30 p.m. we were met by Saranac Lake village employee, Jamie Konoski, who graciously handed each of us a Saranac Lake 6er patch and sticker. Wet trails, blisters, and lack of sleep had been minimal factors in the end, and I felt thrilled to spend the day with a great friend completing just one of the many activities that makes Saranac Lake decidedly different!

Interested in becoming a 6er? Plan your stay today. There's plenty to explore in Saranac Lake!

This week in ADK news:

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