The wail of bagpipes will serve as a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call for the 25 hikers who brave the Taconic Hiking Club’s May 17 End-to-End Endurance Challenge.
The biennial, 29-mile, 1-day hike pits entrants against backwoods trails that traverse three states: New York, Vermont and Massachusetts.
This year’s event already has a waiting list.
“This ranked up there with anything I did in the military,” said Colin Campbell of Albany, trail maintenance manager for the Taconic Crest Trail, who completed the challenge once, when he was 53.
“Once was enough. It’s enough for most people,” the 77-year-old said.
The endurance challenge begins in Massachusetts, with a bagpiper leading participants from Pittsfield State Park to Berry Pond, where hikers take to the trail.
“Everybody is happy to be led out of the park by the piper and it’s really nice,” said Gayle Fountain of Halfmoon, one of the event’s organizers.
Fountain and other volunteers put on a pre-hike breakfast that typically includes biscuits, eggs, sausage and oatmeal.
“We try to get some protein in them before they hit the happy trail, with a little carbs thrown in,” she said.
About 40 volunteers help out on the day of the hike, preparing food, filling water bottles, staffing checkpoints and serving as sweepers who make sure everyone makes it off the trail safely.
The End-to-End Endurance Challenge takes place on a portion of the 35-mile-long Taconic Crest Trail. Highlights include a steep climb up and around Rounds Mountain, the traversing of the three summits of Misery Mountain and a climb up Berlin Mountain, the highest point in Rensselaer County. The last eight miles of the hike lead participants through Hopkins Memorial Forest.
The trail passes the Snow Hole — a crevasse that holds snow well into the summer — before running along a ridge on the New York-Vermont border. The final mile-and-a-half is a steep climb down to the Hoosick River Valley along Route 346 in Vermont.
The hike includes a cumulative total of 7,836 feet of ascent and 9,470 feet of descent. Organizers say it typically takes between nine and 15 hours to complete.
WIDE RANGE OF AGES
Participants range in age from late teens to mid-60s, and typically one-third to one-half of the field is made up of people age 50 and over, said organizer R.J. Hydorn.
The only way to train for the event is to get out there and hike, said Campbell.
“It’s not like going to a gym and saying you’ve got to be able to do five miles on a treadmill, because this isn’t a treadmill. It’s rough, uneven ground,” he said. “After you’ve done the first nine or 10 miles, your whole world consists of a stretch of landscape that’s about 20 feet wide and going on in front of you. You stop now and then if there’s a view, to have a drink, but the secret is not to stop for more than a couple minutes anywhere if you’re going to do it within the time schedule.”
George Astle of Schenectady trained for three months before taking on the Endurance Challenge at age 57. He did practice hikes on the Taconic Crest Trail and also walked on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail.
“I got myself to a position where I was comfortable walking 20 miles and I figured that was enough that I could do this event and it would be fun,” the 67-year-old said.
Astle packed a bunch of gorp and a lot of water for the hike.
“I didn’t carry overnight gear but I did have extra energy bars in case I got lost. You never know. We had one lady who did get lost that particular year and she ended up hiking 37 miles,” he recalled.
Campbell stressed that the event is not a race.
“It’s you against the trail and if you finish it at all within the time limit, you’ve met the challenge,” he explained.
Astle said the hike is a great way to measure your physical fitness level.
“It’s an ideal thing to train for,” he said. “Mentally, if you have a goal that you’re shooting for, that’s more important than whether you actually do the event because it gets you up off your butt and makes you do things.”
According to Hydorn, the trail is a beautiful one.
“It doesn’t have the majesty of the Adirondack high peaks, but once you’ve hiked 29 miles on it, you realize just what a wonderful place it is. Add to that the fact that 25 or less people finish it every two years, doing so is a real badge of honor,” he said in an email.
The End-to-End Endurance Challenge has been held since 1966. According to organizers, it has drawn the attention of both “Backpacker” and “Adventure” magazines.
Spectators who would like to cheer on the hikers on May 17 are likely to get the chance if they wait at Petersburg Pass on New York Route 2 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.