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May 2005

America’s Hardest Dayhikes

Push yourself on any of these challenging hikes

3. Great Range Traverse
Adirondacks, NY

90 Miles: 25 Elevation Change: 17,600 feet X Factor: Endless ups and downs

There’s no small irony in the fact that New York’s tallest peak is merely the last challenge on this classic loop-and far from the toughest. The route scales nine peaks, including six 4,000-footers and the aforementioned 5,344-foot Mt. Marcy. But numerous cols and false summits, plus heinously eroded trail beds, wear you down physically and psychologically. From Keene Valley, the murderer’s row of peaks includes Rooster Comb, Hedgehog, Lower Wolf Jaw, Upper Wolf Jaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Haystack, and Marcy, from which you descend the Phelps Trail. Gut-check moments include a half-mile of teetering above a 700-foot drop on a knife-edge between the Wolf Jaws-inevitably followed by a steep climb-and the southeast face of Gothics, a scary-steep, exposed descent over open slab rock. (The face used to have cables to aid hikers, but, fittingly, they’ve been removed.) There are long stretches of scrambling and ladder-climbing, and you’ll need to carry enough water for the day. Contact: Adirondack Mountain Club, (518) 668-4447;

4. Windom Peak
San Juan Mountains, CO

85 Miles: 20 Elevation Change: 11,600 feet X Factor: Violent thunderstorms

Once you commit to Windom, there’s no dawdling over views: In summer, the lightning risk is so great that climbers should top out by 11 a.m. That isn’t easy, given the 10-mile, 5,800-foot hump through increasingly thin air to the precarious 14,082-foot summit. You’ll likely hear the clock ticking as you maneuver through a talus field halfway up, solve off-trail scrambling and route-finding problems, and tackle the crux: a brutal ascent from Chicago Basin to the summit that climbs 2,900 feet in just under 2 miles. Wind, hail, and snow often enter the picture, even in summer, and then there are the daunting logistics. Windom lies deep in the heart of the San Juans, part of the aptly named Needle Mountains, so it’s tougher than most 14ers to bag in a day. In fact, you’ll need to catch an 1880s steam locomotive that follows the Animas River Canyon just to get to the trailhead, then camp nearby (no hardship-it’s lovely aspen country) for the compulsory alpine start. Contact: San Juan National Forest, (970) 247-4874;; Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, (970) 247-2733;

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