In what was likely the first ever solo, unsupported thru-hike of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks, a Rochester man said he barely slept and should have changed his socks more often. Oh, and he added that he probably should have trained for the eight-day, 205-mile endeavor.
Josh Stratton, a massage therapist, started his quest at the end of June and finished eight days later after hiking for 15 hours and 49 minutes. His hike included almost 76,000 feet of total elevation gain.
While not the fastest recorded completion of all the High Peaks, Stratton could not find any record of someone doing all the High Peaks in a solo, unsupported push. Keene resident Jan Wellford is the solo record holder with a time of three days, 17 hours and 14 minutes, but Wellford had people helping him along the way.
“Driving between trailheads is the main thing, but also people meeting me with food and water, setting up a campsite for me, and occasionally hiking with me,” Wellford said of the support he had, adding that having hiking partners for some of the peaks made a big difference.
Wellford, along with Cory Delavalle, completed a similar route as Stratton’s in 2009, setting the standard for a High Peaks thru-hike of seven days, 14 hours and 15 minutes, but as far as anyone can tell, Stratton is the first to do it by himself.
When asked why he would attempt this arduous trip, the 36-year-old Stratton took a George Mallory-esque tone.
“Because nobody had, apparently,” he laughed. “I still find that so hard to believe.
“My roommate attempted it two years ago, and that was the first time I had heard about it. I looked into it and decided to do it.”
Stratton said in preparation for the thru-hike, he hiked all of the High Peaks last summer in a series of 13 day hikes. He added that potentially beating Wellford and Delavalle’s record was in the back of his mind, but just finishing was the main point.
“The goal was just to finish,” he said. “But I did want to break the record. I thought I could do it, so I sent Jan a message just in case.”
Stratton, although happy with the completion, said he was disappointed that he missed out on setting a new unsupported speed record.
“I’m going to be doing it again next summer for sure,” he said.
Stratton said that to complete his goal, he only brought enough food to keep from getting too hungry, writing in a blog post that, “I decided to go light with the food and not so much worry about inhaling massive amounts of calories as others have done in the past, but rather just eat a little when I was hungry. Just eat enough to make the hunger go away.
“My thinking was, ‘I have plenty of fat to live off of for many, many days, heck probably weeks or years.’ So I took peanut M&Ms, jerky, cheddar Chex mix, Fritos, a few Cliff Bars, Spring Energy gels, Energy Run Gum and, of course, Nuun tabs and salt tabs for electrolyte use.”
But despite the savings in weight, Stratton wasn’t sure if that strategy worked, because he had no frame of reference.
“I mostly felt more dehydrated, however I have nothing to compare that to,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s like to eat 3,000 calories a day, but it seemed to work.”
Stratton said his pack probably only weighed 10 or 15 pounds and contained his limited food, a bivy sack and tarp for shelter, rain gear and water. Starting his trek at the end of June, when a dry heat-wave was settling over the Adirondacks, played a role in his overall speed as well.
“The weather played a huge factor,” he said. “I had both extremes. It was raining and got really cold, so the first three or four nights I was shivering every night and just freezing.
“And then the last few days were like 90 (degrees). I handled the heat well, more so than the cold. I was happy with how I handled the heat.”
He wrote on his blog that the last 36 hours were hard due to the heat. He even had to backtrack a bit on Giant Mountain when he thought he took the wrong trail, but he said that was one of a very few problems.
As for next year’s attempt, Stratton said he plans to change some things up but will, for the most part, keep the same strategy and route.
“I’m probably going to take a better shelter,” he said. “That bivy sack was not ideal. Possibly take some layers, since Lake Placid has mountain weather, which I tend to forget.
“I think I would do the same food, that’s about it. I think I was pretty good with everything else. I might wear some different shoes and keep my feet a little bit dryer. I may try some different bushwhacks.”
Stratton said that earlier this year he tore an abdominal muscle, so his training was severely limited. He said that’ll probably be the biggest difference for next year’s attempt.
“I pretty much did a couple of pretty big day hikes leading up to it (this summer),” he said. “I was pretty much like, ‘This is stupid, I shouldn’t probably go do this.’
“(But) hopefully I’ll be in shape to where I can run some of it next year.”