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We first met Sam at Cycle Adirondacks, where he was showing off his skills as a trial rider. Sam Perkins is an experienced hiker with plenty of great stories to share, especially regarding his journey to become a Winter 46’er.
What was your favorite day of winter hiking?
Reaching the summit of MacNaughton was one of my favorite days. It’s not one of the official 46 High Peaks, but it stands at 4000’, so I wanted to get it done. It took me and Jay two separate trips, within five days, to finally reach the summit. No one had been up there all winter, so we had to break trail and bushwhack through shin to shoulder deep snow. Between the two trips, we logged 32 hours in the woods and 38 miles total. Seeing that summit sign was so rewarding! It was well worth it. When we put our minds toward something, we go get it. I’m thankful to have a friend who is determined, strong, stubborn, and just as crazy as I am. That mountain definitely made us better friends.
What was your most challenging day? Can you describe some moments of adversity?
My first attempt at Marshall, which would have been my second Winter High Peak. Marina and I went from the Loj, toward Indian Pass, then up through Cold Brook Pass. We started breaking trail at Scott Clearing and the snow only got deeper. As we climbed up the pass toward the Marshall herd path, we kept falling in waist-deep spruce traps every ten feet. No one had been up there in months, so there was no sign of the trail. Even after starting in the dark, we were already running out of daylight. We never saw the herd path or plane crash. Our priority was to get out of the woods! Instead of backtracking, we went down the pass toward Lake Colden, where we knew there would be a solid trail back to the car. It was now dark and no trail markers could be seen. I fell off of a large rock and hurt my knee while searching for a marker. I was mentally and physically drained. I knew we would get down to the trail one way or another, but I just wanted to get out of there. Finally, after nearly 6 hours in the pass, we reached the trail near Lake Colden. It was like a packed down sidewalk. I have never been so happy to see a trail in my life. At that point, we just had to walk back to the Loj… That day was tough. I learned a lot from it and I’m super grateful I went through it. I’m glad Marina was by my side. Our friendship grew that day. She ended up saving Marshall for her 46er finish because of it. Her finish followed the same route, but was much more enjoyable!
What have you learned from this experience?
I have learned so much over the years, and I continue to learn each time I go for a hike. I could go on and on about gear, trails, mountains, clothing, etc. A lot of it has been trial and error. I have spent a lot of time reading, looking at maps, learning more about weather, researching different gear… the list goes on. I enjoy learning. There’s always something new to learn and that definitely keeps me going.
Who joined you during your Winter 46 climbs? Did you meet new friends along the way?
I did a large amount of them by myself. Marina joined me on some of them, especially the earlier ones. At the time, we were both still learning a lot about winter hiking, so we never wanted to be out there by ourselves. We had some good days in the woods. Jay joined me on a few, and our friend Sean joined us toward the end. Our new friend Scott joined us on Redfield and Cliff. There were some days where it was nice to not see anyone all day, and there were days where the hikes wouldn’t have been possible or nearly as enjoyable without some good friends.
Did you have any unique wildlife encounters or sightings?
Surprisingly, I didn’t see too much wildlife in the winter months. Plenty of animal tracks, though. I did see a flying squirrel at Marcy Dam late one night, which was pretty cool to see. Marcy Dam was also the first time I had a Chickadee land on my hand.
Of your winter gear, what’s your favorite gear item?
My gear has changed over the years, but three things have been with me since the beginning: Atlas snowshoes, Vasque Snowburban boots and my Delorme (Garmin) InReach GPS. Having gear that I can trust, which could potentially save my life, is very important.
What was your go-to trail snack?
Mixed nuts, blended with Kit Kat’s and Reese’s. Winter is nice because you can bring real food, so a nice sandwich, cheese, and pepperoni are always in my pack.
Your first winter high peak & the date?
Phelps on December 27th, 2015. I received a new pair of snowshoes for Christmas and couldn’t wait to try them out! The weather had different plans, though. It had been abnormally warm that whole week, so the trail was full of mud, running water, and a lot of ice. My snowshoes never left my pack. The warm weather was enjoyable, though.
Your final winter high peak (#46) and the date?
Skylight on March 3rd, 2018. The weather wasn’t ideal, but we still went for it. This was the only weekend that all of my friends could be there. We went over Marcy (44) first, where we got slammed with some super strong winds, freezing fog, and low visibility. “Are you sure we should be doing this?” was on repeat in my head. We pushed on to Gray (45). We were still in the clouds, but being below tree line certainly helped to block the wind. After a little break at Lake Tear of the Clouds, it was time to go get Skylight for my Winter 46. As we were climbing up, the sun was slightly visible through the clouds. That was the first time it had shown itself all day. We could also hear the wind. Just below treeline, we added on some more layers and headed toward the summit. The wind was unreal. I would say it was sustained at 50mph, with gusts pushing 70mph! We were getting blown all over the mountain. It was a challenge to stay on our feet. As I reached the giant cairn that marks the summit, the wind blew me over. I literally had to crawl to the summit and brace myself just to stand up. It was amazing! A beautiful, sunny and warm day would have been nice, but I enjoyed feeling the raw power of nature just as much. It was a day I’ll always remember.
What advice would you give to someone else that is interested in taking on the challenge of hiking all the Adirondack High Peaks in winter?
The High Peaks in the Winter are a completely different than in the summer. Some days are easier, but many are harder. I would highly recommend starting on smaller hikes, and if you would like to cross a challenge off of your list, work on the Winter Saranac Lake 6ers. Never wear cotton and focus on gaining the proper gear. Always wear your snowshoes when there’s more than 8” of snow on the ground, not just on the trail. Postholes are the worst. It can be expensive, but you want to make sure you’re comfortable and safe. Always carry enough gear to spend the night, or even a few hours. There is very little room for error out there in the winter. A rescue could take hours to days. Safety is always my number one priority. I would rather carry extra gear and never need it, rather than need it and not have it. Once you fine-tune everything, the High Peaks can be very enjoyable in the Winter. Have fun and be safe!
To follow along more of Sam's adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, you can check out his Instagram page (@thesamperkins) to see his latest photos.