Getting to the top of Haystack, a 4,960-foot-high peak deep in New York’s Adirondack mountain range, requires some careful maneuvering on rocky terrain near the summit. “It felt like something out of Lord of the Rings,” says Jake Kobrin ’19, who conquered Haystack with his twin brother, Sam Kobrin ’19, in the summer of 2013. “It was my first High Peak, and it’s still my favorite.”
Over the next four years, the Kobrin twins climbed all 46 of the Adirondacks’ “High Peaks,” a name given to them by the first climbers to ascend them all in the 1920s. (All 46 were believed to be at least 4,000 feet above sea level, but more accurate measurements showed four of them are just under that elevation.) Their combined elevation is 202,643 feet – seven times higher than Mount Everest – and the combined length of their trails is 578.4 miles.
What motivated two guys from Williamstown, MA, to conquer the highest mountains in the Adirondacks? The Kobrins say their love of hiking began when they were in the fourth grade and took a family trip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, It blossomed at a summer camp near Lake George in the Adirondacks when they were teenagers. “I first heard about the ‘46ers’ from a friend at camp while we were on a three-day hike,” says Sam. “He had already become a ‘46er’ with his family and I stayed up late into the night at our campsite asking him questions about the challenge.”
The following Memorial Day, Sam climbed Giant and Rocky Ridge, his first two High Peaks, with his father, and obtained a guidebook that contained the history of the 46 High Peaks Challenge. When Sam showed the book to Jake, his brother was somewhat skeptical. “I thought this was something too big for us to do,” Jake says, “but Sam convinced me.”
Two months later, they ascended Haystack and seven other High Peaks during a three-day trek in the northern Adirondacks, and the race to 46 was on. They climbed most of the peaks together, and Sam completed the challenge on June 20. Jake finished eight days later with treks up Giant and Rocky Ridge, the two peaks Sam had done with his father four years earlier.
While they did most of their hiking in the spring or summer, the Kobrins took two trips in the winter, ascending two peaks, Dial and Nippletop, last January and another, Colvin, in March. The Colvin trip proved to be quite a challenge. “There was a road that we thought we’d be able to ski on to start the trip, but there was a big snowstorm just before we arrived and we were the first people to get there after the storm,” Jake recalls. “We broke out our snowshoes, not knowing if were going to have time to make it to the top.”
Soon, the Kobrins met another hiker. “He introduced himself as ‘Dave,’ but said he preferred to use his trail name, ‘Top of Gothics,’” Sam says. “We later learned the guy is sort of a legend in the 46er community. He caught up with us and helped us break the trail and motivated us all the way to the top of Colvin.”
The Kobrins say climbing those 46 peaks has instilled a deep reverence for the wilderness in both of them. Jake worked this summer at Double H Ranch, a free summer camp in the Adirondacks for children and their families who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses. The camp was co-founded by philanthropist Charles R. Wood and actor Paul Newman. Sam volunteered this summer with the Maine Appalachian Mountain Club, building stone staircases and maintaining trials.
Both are spending the fall semester abroad. Sam, an economics and political science double major, is studying at the Australian National University in Canberra. Jake, a biology and political science double major, is enrolled at the University of Glasgow. But before his classes started, Jake found the time for a nine-day, 192-mile hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea.
The Kobrins say they’ll always cherish the experiences they shared conquering the Adirondacks High Peaks, even when the going was tough and the scenery was something less than spectacular. “There are some beautiful views at the top of some of them, and there are others where you can’t see anything at all,” Sam says. “But ultimately, the achievement is secondary; it’s more about the journey itself.”
Do the Kobrins have their next challenge lined up? “Well,” says Sam, “I talked to this guy recently about all the peaks over 4,000 feet in New England…”