A Tribute to the Marshalls

Written by Cave Dog

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The Adirondacks is a six million acre park in Northeast New York.  It is half again larger than the combination of the two largest national parks in the continental United States, Yellowstone and Death Valley.  It is unique in that its land is preserved by the state constitution, giving it a solid foundation to be forever wild.  It is a region full of sparkling ponds, raging alpine brooks, dense evergreen forests, and the highest peaks of the Canadian Shield.  People come from near and far to enjoy the benefits this wild landscape offers them, fishing, skiing, paddling, hunting, and they enjoy the fresh water and air.

The Adirondacks is also a paradise for mountaineers.  Spectacular steep sided mountains with thick vegetation and occasional vast views of the contorted landscape dazzle the outdoor enthusiast.  Over the decades, huge landslides have stripped swaths free from soil and vegetation, uncovering the glacially smoothed mountainsides.  Oftentimes a mountain has linear stripes radiating down the various slopes caused by these slides that give the appearance of a great artist brushing delicate strokes of character on each peak. 

Mountaineers have hundreds of peaks to explore.  Forty six of these peaks are traditionally considered over 4,000 feet and dubbed the Adirondacks High Peaks or the Adirondacks 46.  Naturally enough, if there is a list, there will be those that desire to explore each of the peaks.  There will also be those that desire the adventure and the challenge of being the fastest to have climbed all of these peaks.  That adventure is called, The Marshall Mountain Madness Ultramarathon:  to climb all of the Adirondacks High Peaks in the least amount of time.

The Marshall Mountain Madness Ultramarathon has been named after the Marshall Family as a tribute to the tireless efforts made by the Marshalls for the preservation of the Adirondacks, for the conservation of the American wildernesses, and for the foundation of speed climbing.

Louis Marshall was a powerful advocate in New York City for the preservation of the Adirondacks; a successful lawyer with a strong appreciation of the Adirondacks.  He argued more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than anyone except U.S. Solicitor Generals, many of these being of major constitutional significance.  It was through his efforts, and the efforts of many others, that we now enjoy the splendid environment, saved forever wild, that exists in the Adirondacks.

Two of Louis's sons, George and Bob Marshall, grew up spending their summers in the high peaks.  It became an idyllic youthful environment, stomping around in the dense woods, learning the lessons of life.  Their father instilled in them his own solid beliefs in the environment and they were reinforced by those wonderful summer days in the Adirondacks.  George went on to give a long life of service to the conservation of the American landscapes.  He probably did as much or more over the years working with national organizations and through membership of various boards than his colorful brother, who caught the fancy of the American public.

Bob Marshall, a cult hero of the environmental movement, had a quirky personality and an indefatigable nature, a spark in American history.  His immense energy focused on the foundations of an idea, wilderness preservation.  As he gained more leadership at the U.S. Forest Service, he was able to influence government policies in ways that could never be achieved outside the system.  Yet, he worked outside the system, as well.  He was the cofounder of the Wilderness Society and essentially its covert leader and financial backer through the tough early years.  Bob wrote many articles and several books about the environment and about his adventures.  However, it was not all serious.  He had a healthy appreciation for humorous writings, often using his precise personality to count and record the foibles and idiosyncrasies of the people around him.  His exploration with Ernie Johnson of the Brooks Range in Alaska resulted in the naming of over six hundred locations on our maps today, including The Gates of the Arctic, a national park in Alaska.  We, as a nation, have a great debt of gratitude that we owe the Marshall family.

It was in 1918 when George and Bob, as teenagers, set out, with their guide Herb Clark, to do something original:  to hike all of the high peaks of the Adirondacks.  It was an incredible feat to climb all of the 42 peaks they considered over 4,000 feet, using current USGS data, in one summer.  Many of the peaks had never been climbed before and some had not yet been named.  Indeed, some of their names for these peaks are in use today.  They did not have the use of the extensive trail system we have today.  There were no guidebooks.  They did not have our modern maps.  It caused a sensation in the local media.  However, there was some disagreement to the number of peaks over 4,000 feet in the Adirondacks; so, in 1925, they did 4 more to complete the list we still use today.  Updated surveying techniques proved some of the peaks did not reach the required height limit, but the list was left unchanged in part to honor George, Bob, and Herb's original efforts.

The Adirondacks 46 High Peaks are the crown jewels of the Adirondacks.  Today to have climbed all 46 is an achievement much admired by the local mountaineering community.  It is in part through this first achievement that Bob Marshall gained a deep appreciation for the joys of speed climbing.  He loved the natural feel of vigorous exercise in the great outdoors.  He had no mentors because he was out there doing 30, 40, even 70 mile day hikes before anyone else.  He demanded that part of his job with the U.S. Forest Service include inspecting National Forest land all over the country, giving him the opportunity to do his long speed hikes of their lands.  He loved it.  It was an inherent part of what made Bob Marshall a champion of every endeavor he pursued.  Bob Marshall is an American original.

As a tribute to the Marshall Family's tireless efforts to preserve our wilderness (especially the Adirondacks) and to Bob's pioneering speed climbing achievements, and in the spirit of Bob's sense of humor, this mountaineering record has been named The Marshall Mountain Madness Ultramarathon.


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