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Climbing quenches thirst for adventure

Each September school children return to their classrooms where they are inevitably met by a well-intentioned teacher who assigns the first writing topic: "What I Did on My Summer Vacation."

As a child, my family summer fun included an occasional Sunday afternoon at Niagara Falls or Fatima Shrine. This certainly didn't compare to the trips to Disneyland or visits to grandma in Arizona that my classmates were always able to report on.

Scarred by my feelings of inadequacy, I am now determined as an adult to make my summer vacations into memorable adventures that I can proudly share.

This summer I learned about the 46 Adirondack mountains designated as "high peaks." To climb all 46 qualifies a person to become a member of an elite club called the Adirondack Forty Sixers. This sounded like a summer adventure worth pursuing.

Since I had never done anything like this before, I first did some research on the 46 mountains. How difficult is the climb? Are the trails well marked? Will I run into any bears? I also spoke to several people with mountain climbing experience. They were my inspiration and encouragement. Julie Andrews from "The Sound of Music" was probably not the best role model for me to choose but, like her, I was determined to "climb every mountain."

Next I purchased supplies. Clothing that keeps moisture away, trekking poles and insect repellent were necessities. I added a first aid kit, flashlight and waterproof matches to my list of things I couldn't do without. I bought a compass to tell me which direction is north. However, I'm still clueless as to how that would help me if I got lost on the mountain.

I stocked up on bottled water and energy bars. I bought a whistle to scare off bears. However, I got the feeling that the young salesman at the sporting goods store may have been mocking my over-zealousness when he suggested using my new trekking poles to beat off any attacking bears. The last of my equipment to carry would be my binoculars and digital camera. I would at least be able to document my last hours on earth in the event that I got lost or attacked. More than $200 later, I felt prepared for anything.

Finally, Labor Day weekend arrived. I set out early in the morning for the Cascade Mountain trail head, where I signed in. I took little comfort in knowing that if I didn't sign out later in the day, someone would eventually come looking for my body.

Everything I had read described Cascade as one of the easier mountains to climb. Easy is a relative term. As I struggled up the steep sections of the ascent, I kept letting other climbers pass me by as they sprinted uphill. I told myself that these people had much more practice and conditioning.

The only conditioning I had was a bottle of beer and bag of chips the night before. It was a little embarrassing when those same people who had passed me on the way up reached the summit and passed me again on the way down!

After three hours, I finally reached my goal. The summit was as awe-inspiring and spectacular as I anticipated. The view of nearby mountains made me even more determined. Only 45 more mountains to go.

The experience was well worth the effort despite my aching feet and legs. Because even now as an elementary school assistant principal, I walked into school on the very first day and was greeted by a teacher who asked excitedly, "How was your summer vacation?"

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