and Dotty Schnure
Hiking 410 miles of rocky creek beds, sheer rock faces and wooden ladders … ascending 70,000 feet of elevation … dedicating more than 415 hours. That’s what it takes to hike the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, and that’s what Hinesburg sixth grader Elijah Aguier and his grandmother Mary Beth Harris completed this summer.
It requires an enormous amount of physical and mental energy to do these hikes and they are grueling.
But that didn’t stop Elijah and Mary Beth from doing them all. The idea started when Elijah was six and was inspired by a lifeguard who said he was a “46er,” which refers to an elite group of hikers who have completed all 46 High Peaks. Mary Beth and her late husband, Terry, had done the hikes in 1982, and Mary Beth saw the value in tackling them again with Elijah.
“I saw this as a gift to Elijah,” said Mary Beth. “He learned that you can do really difficult things if you break it down and do a little at a time. What was amazing to me is that although it is really hard, Elijah just did it without complaint — through days with rain and miserable conditions. He just did it.”
The hikes brought both joys and challenges. The most difficult day was when Terry injured his leg and had to be lifted out by helicopter, while rangers accompanied Mary Beth and Elijah on the seven-hour hike down the mountain in the dark. The joy was in the hours spent talking and experiencing things together.
And a lot of the fun was in meeting so many interesting people along the way.
Mary Beth remembers many special moments. One was this past summer on Skylight Mountain, when they were the only ones at the peak. “It was phenomenally beautiful to have the summit to ourselves, looking out over mountains and mountains and mountains. Elijah seemed to feel it deeply when he said, ‘This sure is humbling.’”
Sometimes funny things happened — like when Elijah found what he thought was a lost water bottle, but it turned out to be filled with whiskey! Luckily, the owner of the whiskey was spending the night in the same lean-to, so he greatly appreciated Elijah’s find.
Both Elijah and Mary Beth learned a lot from the experience. Many of the peaks don’t have clear paths to the top, and Elijah became very observant and was able to keep them on track. After Terry’s leg injury, Mary Beth learned to leave clear information about where they were going and when they were expected back. She brought equipment to survive should they need to spend an unexpected night on the mountain. And she always brought a strong headlamp with extra batteries.
Mary Beth commented on how dedicated you have to be to complete these hikes. “You need to have incredible stamina. We’d start by 6 a.m. and our longest day was 19 miles. By the end, we were telling stories and singing ridiculous songs to distract us from the fatigue.”
Reflecting on his six summers of hiking, Elijah said, “I liked it. It was kind of sad to finish — I’ve been doing this half my life. I might miss doing it, but I’m glad I’m done.”
When Mary Beth and Terry completed the peaks in 1982, they became the 1,797th and 1,798th people to do so. Forty years later, Elijah earned his number — 14,266, one of only a handful of kids this year to achieve this feat.
Two impressive people and an impressive accomplishment!