Thru-Hiking The Adirondacks

It was the spring of 2005, and I had planned my first long-distance bushwhack: an off-trail journey across the entire Adirondack Park. I dubbed it the "Great Adirondack Traverse." The plan was to hike from Blue Line to Blue Line – a route spanning more than 200 miles. This is a route designed on the premise that there is more to the Adirondacks than hiking in the mountains.

Erik Schlimmer

My family moved to the Adirondack Mountains in 1986, and since then I've lived in Chestertown, Saranac Lake, Long Lake, and Lake Placid, in addition to other communities throughout New York State and the U.S. I've worked as a trip leader and seasonal backcountry ranger in the Adirondack Park and gained one of my degrees within the Blue Line.

I've completed a lot of backcountry trips in this range, including more than 400 peaks, the Northville Placid Trail (four times), every named feature in Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area and, of course, establishing the Trans Adirondack Route.

What I love most about the Adirondacks is the large tracts of untamed land. I've traveled throughout the U.S., and climbed mountains in New England, the Southern United States and the American West. I've seen a lot of mines, a lot of grazing lands, a lot of roads, a lot of ski centers and hut systems. For the most part, the Adirondacks are nearly devoid of these. Instead, we have large tracts of wild landscape, and that's something to be proud of.

The Birth of the Trans ADK Route
It was the spring of 2005, and I had planned my first long-distance bushwhack: an off-trail journey across the entire Adirondack Park. I dubbed it the "Great Adirondack Traverse." The plan was to hike from Blue Line to Blue Line – a route spanning more than 200 miles – without setting foot on a road or trail. For manliness, this adventure ranked right up there with killing a bear or felling an oak for me. But as the start date approached, I realized something: bushwhacking for more than 200 miles straight didn't sound fun at all.

The plan was to hike from Blue Line to Blue Line – a route spanning more than 200 miles.

However, I still wanted to travel from Blue Line to Blue Line. A few years later I revisited this idea. Instead of traveling off-trail, I pieced together snowmobile trails, abandoned pathways, roads, standard hiking trails, and a few off-trail sections to get from one end of the park to the other.
In August 2010 I found myself standing on the northern Blue Line facing south. The rest is history.

Originally, I had no intention of naming or sharing my route, let alone authoring a guidebook and releasing a map set. That was never my intention. But the first thing I said when I reached the southern Blue Line was, "I bet someone else would like to hike this route." And here we are.

Since the Trans Adirondack Route is not a trail, I didn't have to work through any red tape with state agencies. I wasn't constructing new trail or marking my route. Instead, I made the best of what was on the ground already, which turned out to be a lot. I did work with the Department of Environmental Conservation, particularly their foresters and forest rangers. These kind men provided valuable feedback on Forest Preserve boundaries and private land boundaries to ensure the route is on public land (just one mile is on private land, this section open to thru-hikers via a handshake agreement).

The writing project was the most involved part of Trans Adirondack Route development. Think about it. Hike 235 miles across the largest park and forest preserve in the Lower Forty-Eight? Twelve days. Write a guidebook? It took three years.

The Trans Adirondack Route
The main difference between the Trans Adirondack Route and other long-distance trails is that this route is mainly a valley route, not a mountain route. For example, the 270-mile Vermont Long Trail is approximately the same distance as the 235-mile Trans Adirondack Route, but the Vermont Long Trail climbs nearly three times as many vertical feet as the Trans Adirondack Route.

This is a route designed on the premise that there is more to the Adirondacks than hiking in the mountains. Even so, the route does give people a taste of the high country with climbs up Catamount Mountain, Whiteface Mountain and Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The Trans Adirondack Route follows the spirit of two Western long-distance routes that I am a fan of which incorporate off-trail segments: the 195-mile Sierra High Route of California and the 800-mile Hayduke Trail of Arizona and Utah. Like the Sierra High Route and Hayduke Trail, the Trans Adirondack is not for beginners, and this can be proved in its prospective thru-hiker success rate. We're now at eleven thru-hike attempts, four successes; a 36% success rate.

At first I was a little hesitant to share my route with others. I wasn't sure what people would think of me encouraging others to follow in my footsteps. But most people I conferred with just said, "That's really cool." I have yet to meet someone who is not supportive of the route.

My Favorite Hikes
I have always liked to be out in the wilderness alone. Though the route includes Whiteface Mountain, Avalanche Lake, Lake Colden and other scenic destinations, I really enjoy the southernmost forty miles – the Foothills section of the route – in Hamilton and Fulton counties. When I hiked that section in 2010, I saw no one. How about that? No one else on a forty-mile stretch of trail. I'll take it.

If I were in the Adirondacks right now, I would probably be hiking solo up a peak, one of the gems between 2,500 and 3,000 feet. My first hike in the Adirondacks was up Crane Mountain in the Town of Johnsburg in 1987. That hike started it all!

My favorite times in the mountains center around climbing remote mountains in March, one of the best times of the year to be in the woods. Firm snow, cold and clear air and blue skies – it's difficult to beat. A close second place is actually the High Peaks though. They're too scenic not to love.

Before Hiking the Trans ADK Route:
1. Leave all your technological gizmos at home
2. Go light
3. Always know exactly where you are
4. Leave as little impact on the natural environment as possible
5. Do not follow or listen to incompetent leaders
6. Never exceed your abilities
7. Be aware of your surroundings at all times
8. Be nice
9. Stay dry
10. Have fun

Gear of Choice
• GoLite Jam pack
• Vasque Pendulum trail runners
• Western Mountaineering sleeping bag
• Homemade beer can stove
• Thermal shirt
• Darn Tough socks
• My cameras
• Topographic Map
• Silva Ranger Compass

Post hike, I'm a man of few needs. Give me a shower, a Laundromat, and a cup of coffee.

About the Author …
Erik Schlimmer
Erik has many miles under his belt. From the Adirondacks to world-wide treks, he is most passionate about this region and establishing the Trans Adirondack Route. Visit transadk.com for more info!
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