The days were long and balmy in early August when Union College student Ben Bucinell made his way up Giant Mountain and Rocky Peak Ridge.
Those neighboring summits were the first he reached in his quest to hike all 46 Adirondack high peaks in four months, a challenge he took on to raise funds for charities that support war veterans. He calls his effort Hike4Heroes.
Lately, it’s been downright frigid on the mountaintops and snow is starting to cover the trails, but the 2010 Niskayuna High School graduate is not wavering in his mission.
As of Nov. 11, the experienced hiker had just 10 mountains left to conquer. He said he aims to have them all under his belt by Dec. 1.
Bucinell is collecting pledges per mountain and one-time donations, too. So far, he said he’s raised between $3,000 and $4,000, which will be divided between the Wounded Warrior Project and the Navy Seal Foundation.
Along the way, he’s also trying to raise awareness.
“Ever since I was in fourth grade, when 9/11 happened, we’ve kind of been in this perpetual state of war,” he explained. “I’ve had friends and family who have served, but if you don’t have a personal connection, it seems a little, like, detached and I feel like my life really hasn’t changed that much despite us being at war, so I wanted to do something to kind of help out those people who are making these sacrifices for us and almost bring it to the front of people’s minds that there are people making these sacrifices, and hopefully people will help give back to make their lives a little better.”
The Adirondack high peaks range from close to 4,000 feet to more than 5,000 feet, and Bucinell is taking on up to four of them at a time. His longest hike so far has been about 26 miles.
“They take me all day. I usually, especially now, start before the sun rises and I usually make it out after sunset,” he said.
Bucinell’s brother, Ryan, a software engineer who designed the website for the Hike4Heroes fundraiser, considered hiking with him, “until he told me that he was basically running up and down the mountains,” he said. “He’s got quite a large task ahead of him and the only way to keep on task is to actually run up and down these mountains.”
Now that winter is setting in, running is definitely not a safe option. Last weekend, Bucinell hiked East Dix, South Dix and Macomb mountains and ran into some tricky conditions.
“On East Dix, there’s this granite slide and it was covered in a sheet of ice. It was pretty scary. Unfortunately, I only had Microspikes,” he said, vowing to add crampons to his gear for his next trek.
In the first weekend of November, he was forced to spend a night in the woods during a hike up Mount Marcy, Mount Haystack, Mount Skylight and Gray Peak when daylight failed and his head lamp batteries did, too.
“I’m supposed to bring extra batteries, but I just replaced the batteries right before I went,” he said. “Unfortunately, the batteries were really old, apparently, so they didn’t work too well. But I was able to still stay warm and alive, so that’s good.”
Bucinell’s an Eagle Scout and well-prepared to spend extended stretches in the woods, according to his brother.
During his chilly night on the mountain, Bucinell said he used sticks to elevate himself off the ground and also put his pack beneath him while he slept. Extra clothing and a down coat he had packed helped him to keep warm, and he used a shell he wears while hiking to shelter himself.
Realizing the added danger associated with solo, late-season hikes, Bucinell said he has now started to bring companions with him.
Friends have been with him all along on the project, if not necessarily on the mountains. Bucinell’s fraternity, Chi Psi, and others at Union College have made donations and spread the word about the fundraiser.
Other donors have been generous in their support of the endeavor as well. Darren Miller, who runs the website Custom100.com, donated server space for Bucinell’s website, and Union College alumnus Peter Mugford gave hiking equipment to the cause.
Follow Bucinell’s progress and donate to his effort by visiting his website, http://hike4heroesproject.us. Donations can also be mailed to Hike4Heroes, PO Box 9561, Niskayuna, NY 12309.