Jack Coleman below Algonquin’s tree line
Jack Coleman just below Algonquin’s tree line

While the rest of us plan our June to October weekend activities to get the most enjoyment from short summers, several hikers volunteer as Summit Stewards and spend a number of days above tree line, weather be damned. During the 2013 season eleven individuals* brought the right combination of enthusiasm and stamina to climb Algonquin, Cascade, Marcy and Wright back to back days, again and again! These volunteers provide a necessary complement to the eight-member, full-time, Professional Summit Steward crew**. And a special mention to Frank Krueger whose 2013 volunteering season made for a total of 12!

One of our new and enthusiastic volunteers is Jack Coleman.  Jack’s exhilaration is so contagious that on Saturday, September 12, as he was sharing with me stories of his 2013 summer of Summit Steward volunteering, I did not notice the steep Algonquin climb despite our brisk pace! Nor that it was misty, windy and just above freezing when we reached the summit already in its fall magnificence. Mind you it was balmy compared to Jack’s first trip as a volunteer this past Memorial Day weekend, when climbers were greeted by three feet of snow above 4000’.

Daniel Martin and Josiah Beatty at treeline with Jack.
Daniel Martin and Josiah Beatty at treeline with Jack.

Upon reaching treeline, two young men who in my opinion represented the perfect image of how not to prepare for a hike were delighted to start a conversation with Jack. They gave me permission to mention here that they will never again wear jeans and bring a large knife instead of the usual minimum necessities!

Once on the summit, Jack immediately changes to warmer clothes and makes sure to eat often during his shift because standing and talking with visitors for a minimum of six hours per day can take a physical toll. While on the summit, Jack meets and introduces climbers to the tallest mountain in the MacIntyre Range and its “old” and not so old but ever so fragile arctic alpine vegetation. The dedication of the volunteers who each give from 6 to 12 days to the program per year is supported by a full day of training before the season starts. They learn about alpine ecology, safety for themselves and others, the philosophy behind the Summit Steward Program and its objectives, interacting with climbers, and much more. Once out of the parking lot in the morning they are in constant radio contact with the Department of Environmental Conservation who can provide immediate support in case of an emergency.

300 year old bearberry willow
300 year old bearberry willow (Salix uva-ursi)

Who better than Jack himself to tell us why he values the time spent with over 600 Adirondack High Peaks visitors, 80% of them first timers? Jack states,

“Being a volunteer to me has never been about personal gain. It has always been more of what can I do to help in any given situation, be it restoring a fire tower, leading hikes, trail work or summit stewarding. However, once I think about it, perhaps I am not completely altruistic. I do get something in return. Through summit stewarding I have gained a hands on knowledge and recognition of the many species of alpine plants and why it’s so important to protect them. But what I discovered through my shifts on the summits is that a majority of people want to share their celebration of reaching the top and are eager to learn more about what makes these alpine peaks so special. I get to share the knowledge given to me so that they can do the same. On Cascade, I get to relive the excitement of my first peak with those who are making their first high peak. We all have a responsibility to share our experience and help protect the mountains we are so passionate about.”

One will not find solitude on the most visited summits, unless the weather is horrible. As Summit Steward Coordinator Julia Goren notes, “Despite a snowy Memorial Day, drenching June, and black fly ridden July, this year broke all prior records for visitor contacts with 23,804”. Total contacts from 1990 to 2013 inclusively number 349,660. There is still much to accomplish but the result of the combination of visitor contacts and alpine zone trail work can be marveled at by anyone hiking above treeline.

Volunteers provide coverage both before the seasonal stewards have started and after their season is over. This insures that while the plants and trails are at their most vulnerable, there are Stewards on the peaks, educating hikers. In the height of the summer season, the coverage volunteers provide allow the seasonal staff to work on conservation and research projects. Additionally, volunteers make it possible for summit stewards to be on more peaks, encountering more hikers.  To learn more about the Summit Steward Program and its generous sponsors visit ADK’s Summit Steward webpage and also the 2013 Summit Steward Report.

* Volunteers Summit Stewards: Azaria Bower; Mike Cady; Jack Coleman, Ian Ellbogen; Frank Krueger, Ethan Collins; Cynda Lamb; Mary Lamb; Bob Rock; David Warfield;  John Wood.

** Professional Summit Stewards: Jaime Barrett; Kevin Berend; Samantha Brooks, Julia Goren; Sylvia Gwozdz; Tim Moody; Patrick Murphy; Tyra Olstad;