In the autumn of 2017 the film, The 46ers, premiered on WCNY Public Television in Syracuse, New York. Following that launch the documentary became available to PBS stations everywhere and so began a coast-to-coast sweep across the country being broadcast from New York City to Seattle.
The documentary by Blake Cortright tells the story of the quest by hundreds of people since 1925 who have ascended the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondack Park of New York state to become 46ers, and why they climb them.
My son, Justin, and I first met Blake and his family at a book and DVD signing in Bolton Landing, NY, nearly a decade ago. Justin and Blake were still teenagers – Justin autographing copies of The Adirondack Kids® #10 and Blake autographing copies of his first documentary which was also broadcast on public television.
I actually became a 46er (#6202) in 2007 and was excited to see the film and even more excited to reconnect with Blake for an interview about his latest project.
Q. What first led you to hike these Adirondack mountains and inspired you to consider this ambitious project? Do you recall the moment?
A: In 2008, our Boy Scout troop decided to do a 10-mile hike in pursuit of the hiking merit badge. We hiked Giant Mountain, marking my introduction to the High Peaks. In 2012, with my first year of college under my belt, my Dad, my brother, and I decided to do a father-sons hike before I left for sophomore year.
We planned to camp out, summit Marcy, Tabletop, and Phelps the first day, and summit Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright on the second day. I think we chose them simply because of proximity to campsites and to each other, though we only hiked three of the six by the time we left.
On the first day, we summited Marcy before we crawled up Tabletop, and the next day we climbed to Wright and simply looked up at Algonquin before making the long descent to the parking lot.
The moment that started the whole project occurred when I got a corner of Mount Marcy to myself on that summer afternoon. Sitting there in the sun, looking out over the seemingly endless stretches of wilderness, I felt transported to a different place and time. I wanted to capture that sense of wonder and wild beauty on film, and so the idea really began right there.
Q. What surprised you the most while making the film?
A: I was most surprised by how much I enjoyed the days without a view. As a filmmaker trying to capture the beauty of the mountains, sweeping views were an expectation, and we were often greeted by them. But several of the hikes found us in a thick cloud, in a snowstorm, or in a downpour. Those days proved more memorable than most of the beautiful days.
In the film, Phil Corell says with a smile, “It’s always the ugly [hikes] you look back on.” I’ve found that to be very true in my own experience as the muddy grey days left a far greater impression on me than most of the beautiful days with blue skies.
Q. It appears you approached the mountains during several seasons and from many different angles, including from the air. What was your favorite location and which was the most challenging?
A: My favorite spot to film the mountains would have to be from the helicopter. I’d never flown over the Adirondacks before and the experience was truly unforgettable. That perspective is so different from standing on one mountain and looking over at another.
The most challenging location was probably Haystack mountain simply due to weather conditions. The wind and rain made for a very difficult shoot, but in the end I’m glad we went forward with it because the footage proved very useful when I went to edit the film.
Q. The film had an early limited release and there were a number of 46ers in attendance. What have you heard from members so far?
A. The response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive from 46ers and non-46ers alike. The 46ers share a special bond to the mountains and the love that exists between the hikers and the peaks. The stories of fellow 46ers in the film resonated with them and the stunning visuals inspired them. I always enjoyed hearing from 46ers who haven’t been able to hike for years due to age or injury. They spoke about how the film took them back to the place they love and it makes me glad to know this film could bring happy memories of hiking for them.
Q. Are you, yourself, now an aspiring 46er?
A: I definitely had the bug heavily when making the film, though I am still not up to 30 peaks and thereby not officially “aspiring.” When I set out to make the film, I thought I’d hike all 46 during the course of production, but now, it’ll be a longer, slower journey.
Meeting so many people who’ve hiked the mountains has changed my rushed perspective. I realized the beauty of taking in the mountains over a period of time, as well as the thrill of completing them in a short span of months, weeks, or even days. For me, it will be a longer journey that I look forward to continuing over the years with friends and family.
Q. For those who missed the PBS Television broadcasts, where can people still secure a copy of the DVD?
A. DVDs will be available through WCNY. For more information, visit www.wcny.org/46ers
*All photographs are © 2018 Blake Cortright with the exception of the photo of Gary, Blake & Justin together © 2018 Adirondack Kids Press, Ltd.
Do you aspire to hike in the Adirondack mountains and are unsure how or where to start?
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Islands in the Sky is the award-winning 5th volume in the best-selling children’s book series, The Adirondack Kids® and is an adventure set in the Adirondack high peaks!
The process of producing the new cover for The Adirondack Kids® #18 continues!
Artist Susan Loeffler is making color selections and putting the finishing touches on the characters. This is just a detail from the front cover. Artwork © 2018 Adirondack Kids Press, Ltd.
© 2018 Adirondack Kid Press, Ltd.