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Saranac Lake 6er Relay: Trials, ‘goats’ and pies

October 20, 2017
By AARON CERBONE - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - One-hundred-and-fourteen people gathered in Berkeley Green on a chilly Saturday morning, Oct. 14, waiting for the signal to spread out and conquer the mountains surrounding this village.

The first ever Saranac Lake 6er Relay race drew hikers from British Colombia, Canada, Elmira and around the North Country to put together teams of six and see who could race to the peaks of six mountains first.

The rules were simple: one runner, one mountain. At the peaks of Baker, Scarface, Haystack, McKenzie, St. Regis and Panther a box tied to a tree carried the coveted hole punch needed to knock that peak off the list.

Ampersand, one of the Saranac 6ers, was not included in the relay as the Department of Environmental Conservation notified the village on Tuesday that the mountain is a part of the High Peaks Wilderness and is not allowed to be used for competitive races.

"A DEC management goal is to refer these activities to Wild Forest Areas," according to the 1999 High Peaks Unit Management Plan.

Panther Mountain was a substitute for Ampersand as an honorary 6er, cutting the steep 5.4-mile trip to a 1.2-mile dash.

With 19 teams competing, the peaks were busy as teams of veterans, students and college presidents raced up and down the mountainside, handing their cards off to the next runner and peeling off toward the next mountain.

One of those teams, the Mountain G.O.A.T.S. (Greatest Of All Time), was comprised of five family and friends I invited from Rochester. My younger brother, Stephen Cerbone, Jordan Hosmer, John Pappano, Anthony Curletta and Josh Baranello came to Saranac Lake with one goal: finish the 6er relay within the deadline.

After rules were clarified and several teams performed their Haka, an intimidating war dance of the New Zealand Maori people and New Zeland rugby team the All Blacks, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau sent teams running for their cars with a rousing "On your mark, get set, go!"

Pappano took Baker first, reaching the box Rabideau placed the day before and ticking off the closest of the 6ers within the hour. At the Haystack and McKenzie trailhead, off state Route 86, the excitement was evident as people in tutus waited for their costumed teammates to return while cars pulled in and runners dashed out.

After accompanying Hosmer, our Haystack climber, and my brother to the closer peak, the long trail to McKenzie from the Haystack trail was grueling, but knowing the Mountain G.O.A.T.S. were relying on me and seeing other contestants with the energy to sprint on the return kept me going.

We did not have any delusions about setting any records or placing first. That was left up to the David Gomlaks, trail runners and the guy wearing a "The Flash" T-shirt. However, we did want to set the best time we could and if we were going to do that I had to keep my head up and feet moving.

Leaving the orange and purple hues of the leaf-covered trail, relay runners ascended into the vibrant green pines as they approached McKenzie's summit, disappearing into the cloud capping the highest of the 6er peaks.

With thick cloud cover there was not much of a view from the summit, but we were not there to take in the sights. The slippery, technical decent banged me around a bit but once the land leveled I was back to my old mantra: head up, feet moving.

A mere three hours after I summited McKenzie, the first finishers rang the bell in Berkeley Green. The Paul Smith's College team, made up of students representing the forestry-focused college, arrived at 1:48 p.m., keeping their time short because one member had to be at a wedding in the afternoon.

Paul Smith's College found itself in second place as well when the Bombers rung the bell at 2:07 p.m., completing six peaks in just over eight hours.

Twenty minutes later, Mountain Venture Guiding Inc. earned its place on the podium with 17 more teams clocking out between 2:36 p.m. to 9:05 p.m.

At the trailhead of each mountain, teams tailgated and waited for their runners to return while eating, chatting with other teams and preparing pies.

The Hills Have Pies, a band of Canadian and U.S. servicemen, welcomed their triumphant peak conquerors with a whipped cream pie in the face and a drink from a hollowed pumpkin. I had the honor of participating in this custom when I pied Nick Kerr after his return from the St. Regis summit.

The Hills Have Pies won the Novel Team-Building Concept award, a last-minute addition to reward the team's willingness to take a pie to the face in their most exhausted hour.

The relay, conceptualized by village clerk Kareen Tyler, had such a positive response from runners that the village has already announced next year's relay will take place the Saturday after Columbus Day weekend on Oct. 13.

"I have to tell you, yesterday was probably the most fun we've had in all the events," Rabideau told the crowd at the Sunday morning award ceremony.

The Saranac Lake 6er Facebook page has opened a forum on a Sunday afternoon post for suggestions to improve the relay next year and said it will look into the possibility of including Ampersand the next time around.

"Perhaps we could petition for a revision of the state constitution," the Saranac Lake 6er Facebook page wrote in response to a request to include the mountain in next year's relay.

The 6ers have been the scene for several races and challenges since their designation in 2013 and have inspired other peak designations, such as the Tupper Lake Triad, which will have an ultra-challenge of its own hosted by Big Tupper Brewing Oct. 21 with the ascents up Mount Arab, Coney Mountain and Goodman Mountain starting at 9 a.m.

And the Mountain G.O.A.T.S.? We staggered to the bell at 6:54 p.m., placing 16th out of 19 teams, after bagging the final three peaks. While we did not make the 6 p.m. cutoff, we still had our time recorded by staff who stayed late, and we received the Youngest Team award the next day.

The G.O.A.T.S. will climb Saranac Lake's mountains once again next year, better prepared and well trained to tackle the 6ers. Until then: head up, feet moving.



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