Photograph courtesy of Erik Schlimmer
For mega-hiker Erik Schlimmer, 46 peaks just aren’t enough
I n some circles the term “peak-bagger” is disparaged, the belief being that checking summits off a list in record time distracts from appreciating the natural world. But there are folks out there, like Erik Schlimmer, whose brains are wired to systematically experience the great outdoors while still marveling at every detail.
“I’m a methodical person,” says the 45-year-old, who calls Rensselaer, near Albany, home when he’s not in the Adirondacks. “It’s just my personality. Lists of mountains or named features or long-distance trails give me direction and a goal, so when I draw up a list of peaks, I have a focused mission.”
Schlimmer has checked a lot of challenges off his list, among them Pennsylvania’s 132-mile Baker Trail, New Hampshire’s 162-mile Cohos Trail, Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail, the 357-mile Long Path from New Jersey to New York, the 1,000-mile Florida Trail, Lake Tahoe’s 165-mile Rim Trail, the Catskill Park’s 320-mile trail system, the 235-mile Trans Adirondack Route, twice, and the 133-mile Northville-Placid Trail four times.
He’s also created some of his own “unofficial” feats, like mountain-biking 2,300 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border and then 2,700 miles from Canada to Mexico, paddling the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers from source to sea, and climbing the 451 3,000-footers of New England, the 387 2,000-footers in the Catskills and the 198 5,000-footers of the South. In the Adirondacks, he’s visited every topographic feature—peaks, ponds, ridges—within Lake George Wild Forest, Hammond Pond Wild Forest, Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, Shaker Mountain Wild Forest, Giant Mountain Wilderness Area, Hoffman Notch Wilderness Area and Wilcox Lake Wild Forest. Recently, Schlimmer finished hiking the 601 mountains in the park that are 2,500 feet or higher, including the 217 highest peaks—Mount Marcy being number one—during winter.
“The reward at the end is sweeter than just picking a handful of random peaks or trails,” he says. For one, “I know what I’m getting myself into, and when I reach that last peak, the end of the journey, I’m half elated and half depressed that the chase is over.”
Schlimmer has explored the Adirondacks since the mid-1980s. In the 1990s he was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army, enlisting during the first Gulf War. He went on to college, graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh, and later returned to the classroom, last summer finishing a degree in clinical social work at the University of Albany. As a licensed therapist he hopes to work with veterans.
For now, Schlimmer is on the book circuit, promoting Cradle of the Union, about the history behind each name of all 785 streets in Albany, and Among the Cloudsplitters and History Inside the Blue Line, which decode Adirondack place names. And he’s often in the woods. “I’m just in love with the wilderness,” he says. There, “life is pretty simple. I eat when I’m hungry. I drink when I’m thirsty. If I’m cold and wet and need to get dry, I put up a shelter. There’s something so psychologically rewarding about that—a reward I’ve never experienced in the civilized world.”
He has convinced a dozen hikers to take on the Trans Adirondack Route, a trek he founded in 2013 that runs from the northern boundary of the Blue Line to its most southern border (and earns finishers a certificate and patch), but Schlimmer says he’s yet to find anyone interested in becoming a 601-er. He says that as soon as people hear what’s involved—hiking about 2,500 miles and climbing 500,000 vertical feet across mostly trailless peaks that require relentless bushwhacking, where a map and compass and the ability to use them are critical—“they quickly lose interest.”
But for those who want just a taste of a Schlimmer challenge, he recommends the Sawtooth Mountains, south of Lake Placid. “They’re the largest trailless mountains east of the Mississippi. They’re an expansive range and very difficult to navigate through.”
Or, he says, if you want remote wilderness ponds, there’s the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. In this southwestern part of the park of almost 200,000 acres, the mountains allow “very easy, off-trail travel.” Best of all, says Schlimmer, “You’re in the middle of nowhere, seeing a beautiful area and having fun while doing it.”
Learn more about the Trans Adirondack Route at transadk.com or about Schlimmer and his other projects at beechwoodbks.com.