Friday, March 8, 2013

A Journey to a Peak Experience

Charlotte with her grandchildren

By Charlotte Buehler

I’m an aspiring Adirondack 46er.  It is my hope to become one of the many people who have climbed all 46 High Peaks above 4000 ft. in the Adirondacks. Many people can identify what it means to become an Adirondack 46er but what does the “aspiring” part mean?  The thesaurus suggests “hopeful” is a good word but, my favorite of all is “wannabe”.  That’s what I am- a “wannabe”.  When I retired from my career as a school psychologist, I wondered what do I wannabe now?  I was a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, sister and daughter – not necessarily in that order – all very satisfying experiences.  Yearning for another satisfying challenge I chose to work toward becoming a 46er.  The real challenge proved to be how to do this safely especially with one or two eager grandchildren in tow.  The Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) Education Department had the answer for me.  Ryan Doyle was my contact and what a gem he and his team proved to be.

Nine high peaks pins are now on my backpack and what a wonderful and satisfying experience it has been.  My first ADK led guided trip was with a group. I knew before that day that there was justifiable apprehension that a seventy year old grandma had the hike in her and would actually complete the day sans injury.  Ryan was willing to take the risk and, of course, figured out who I was the minute he walked into the great room of the Adirondak Loj.  I was the only lady with grey hair and a fourteen year old granddaughter by my side.  “You must be Charlotte!” said Doyle.  He was supportive and encouraging and right away I knew that my granddaughter and I were in good hands.

Incredible is the only word I am able to use to describe what the experience of hiking the high peaks with a leader from ADK’s Education Department is like.  From the outset it was clear that the goal was not merely to make it to the top and down again in one piece.  I learned right away that the purpose of this trip was to fully experience the journey.  We started the hike learning how to read the map and going over the planned route for the day giving me a greater appreciation of the skills that were being shared.  On hikes with ADK leaders, one takes the time to stop for a moment and listen to a tiny critter who was living his life in a fallen tree, learn the names of birds by their call, enjoy the view from points familiar to the leader but new to us, how to conserve energy when climbing over a fallen tree, making sure you keep enough “stable points” on solid ground in precarious places, keeping hydrated and energized and/or, what to wear and pack.  Very early on one learns that every point in this list is important in its own right.  Hiking can be an exhausting experience and sometimes I wondered why I was doing this and yet, at the end of the day there was a feeling of accomplishment and joy that can’t be taken away by any glitch life may have in store.  Regardless of the gender of my grandchild or whether they were 12, 14 or 17 they came away from the experience with ADK leaders feeling respected, confident and eager to hike again!  This is a gift that ADK’s Education Department has given me

Charlotte with friends on Phelps this winter
The challenge of the high peaks was initially viewed through a rose colored lens – something my family has brought to my attention a number of times regarding how I see things.  The leaders of the trips I participated in with my grandchildren and daughter were amazing and helped me to see the realities and the rewards of the high peaks experience through a more authentic lens.  Ryan and his colleagues, reasonably and respectfully challenged, encouraged, educated and most importantly coached me to be safe in the high peaks region on my first and subsequent hikes.  I am eagerly looking forward to new experiences including my first winter high peak hike and hopefully enjoying one of next season’s overnight ADK Education Department adventures.


Charlotte is a retired school psychologist and aspiring 46er.  She lives with her husband Gary in Pultneyville, NY and together enjoy canoeing, reading, theater and traveling.  Whether she is hiking, canoeing, reading or traveling, savoring the journey is more important to her than the destination.