When Bill Clock goes looking for some genuine wilderness, he heads south, not north.
A Rotterdam native and Glenville resident, Clock has been hiking in the woods and climbing mountains in both the Adirondacks and the Catskills since 1965. And when he feels the need to really get away from the Capital Region and civilization, it's south down the Thruway he goes, not up the Northway.
"The Catskills are just not as populated with people like the Adirondacks," said Clock, who turns 81 later this year. "When you do a trailess hike in the Adirondacks, there's still a path because so many hikers have been there before. Everything is totally worn out."
That's not the case in the Catskills he says.
"In the Catskills you can end up in a place and you'll feel like you're somewhere where no one has ever been before," said Clock. "If I'm looking for real wilderness, I go to the Catskills."
While Clock may be passionate about the Catskills, he also has plenty of love for the Adirondacks. He is not only an ADK member, he also belongs to an elite group of hikers called Adirondack 46ers. These people are the individuals who have scaled all of the 46 peaks in upstate New York that are over 4,000 feet. But there's more. Much more. Clock is also a member of the Catskill Mountain 3,500 Club, the New England 4,000 Footers, and the Northeast 111 Club. He is not an official Adirondack Winter 46er, but he has done several of the High Peaks when they're deeply covered in snow.
Clock has been up Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York, four times, he's climbed Mt. Washington in New Hamsphire six or seven times, and he's hiked up to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine three times. For the record, Marcy's elevation is 5,344 feet, Washington is 6,288, the highest point in the Northeastern U.S., and Katahdin, where the morning sun first shines on the U.S., is 5,269 feet.
Clock says his favorite mountain hike might be Katahdinn in Maine.
"When you walk along the Knife's Edge on the top of Katahdin, well, it's just an incredible experience," he said. "It's quite a climb. And I also enjoy doing Mt. Washington and Marcy. I haven't been up Marcy in a while now, but my son and I did five peaks in the Catskills that were eight-mile hikes. So I'm feeling pretty good and still doing a lot of hiking."
A 1953 graduate of Draper High School, Clock went into the air force for four years before heading to Hudson Valley Community College and then Union College. He ventured into the Adirondacks and the Catskills as a kid on a few occasions, but he didn't get serious about it until he was raising his own family.
"I was a young father, so I took my young family on a hike and I discovered that I had a real appetite for it," said Clock, who worked at GE Global Research in Niskayuna for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2004. "So we started doing it more, then I started hiking with a friend, Mike Zollo, and then I really got serious with a colleague at work, Fred Turnbull. He was really my mentor when it comes to hiking.
"I had done a few of the High Peaks and he wanted to know if I was keeping track and I told him, 'not really'" remembered Clock. "He was already a 46er so he kind of took me and said, 'come on, let's do this.' I figured out that I had done 18 before I started hiking with Fred, so he got me going more and more, and eventually I was a 46er and a member of the Northeast 111 club."
Clock estimates that he has averaged around 15 hikes a year since he started keeping a log of his travels in 1965. That's about 660 hikes.
"If I didn't get out and hike somewhere my whole mind starts to deteriorate," he told the Gazette earlier this year. "I get fidgety. Getting outdoors clears my mind and gets me away from my problems. It's a psychological boost, and it's even more so in the winter. The cold weather doesn't bother me. My father told me, 'if you're gonna do something, don't let the weather stop you.' And as far as I'm concerned, you haven't really been out in the wilderness until you're out there in the winter."
Clock's favorite hike is not a mountain climb. Instead, it's a relatively flat trip through the mountains up near Keene Valley, New York.
"I think my favorite place is Indian Head and the Lower Ausable Lake hike," said Clock. "It's not a peak, but it's just a beautiful, lovely spot in the High Peaks. My son and I have been there quite a few times."
Clock's favorite Catskill hike is probably Overlook Mountain.
":Most people do it from the Woodstock side, but I do it from the Eastern side," said Clock. "I might do Overlook a couple of times each year. It's a lovely, eight-mile hike, and it's one of the few 35s that has a fire tower on it. It's beautiful up there with a great view of the Hudson River."
The mention of a fire tower reminds Clock that he's also a member of another club.
"I've done all the fire towers in the Adirodacks," he says, proudly. "People are really interested in doing that. Then the old fire towers get adopted by some club, they restore them, and that means you gotta go do that mountain to stay a member of the club. I think we're up to 32 or 33 now."
Balsam Mountain in the Catskills was Clock's most difficult climb.
"I did it in the winter during a snowstorm when I was trying to qualify for the Catskill 35 winter club," he said. "It was very difficult because it's trailess and you have cliffs you have to climb. I didn't get out until 8 at night for that hike. But it is a great hike, and another interesting thing about it is that there's a crashed B-25 on Balsam. That's another thing you see on your way up."
Clock is also a fan of the Indian Lake area in the Adirondacks. The main peak in that neck of the woods is Snowy Mountain, measuring just over 3,900 feet.
"It's not a High Peak but it's a great hike with wonderful views," he said. "I've been up that a few times. It's lovely."