“Just one more step and you will make it, Ted—you will achieve your dream.” That is one of the things Ted repeated to himself while wrapped in the clouds on his way to reaching the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Ted Chittenden, a husband, father, grandfather and outdoor enthusiast, is a local here in the Adirondacks.
I never imagined that one day I’d be writing this piece on his life and achievements. I have known Ted since I was in high school. His only daughter, Katrina, and I were best friends, and I was quite the regular at his house. I remember sneaking into his office where he kept his collection of records, framed concert tickets from shows he’d been to and posters of old rock bands with signatures of the lead singers.
His office was a teenager’s paradise. Looking at his belongings, I wondered what an exciting life he must’ve had before becoming a father. Little did I know that years later, he’d continue to be someone of whom I was in complete awe.
Writing this piece motivated me to bring Ted’s story to you—my wonderful readers who love the outdoors just as much as I do.
Ted has climbed 14 of the 46 high peaks twice, and has climbed Phelps, the 32nd highest peak on the list, four times. Here in the outdoor world of Upstate New York, that is a huge accomplishment. For those of you who are unsure of what the Adirondacks are and what it means to become a 46er, make sure to check out my other articles.
When I returned to that same house I visited as a teenager, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Ted led me to the office I was fascinated with as a kid. It was just as cool as I remembered. Only now, it had a fireplace, wooden furniture, and Adirondack décor—the perfect place to get cozy and talk about hiking adventures in the mountains.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Ted grew up on the family farm in the small town of Granville in Upstate, NY. With plenty of land to run around, surrounded by lush forests covered with hiking trails and trees to climb, Ted developed his love for adventure early on in life. The farm was the perfect place to nurture this fearless, passionate young boy who wanted nothing but to push the limits and go on as many adventures as one could think of.
At 17, the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, he joined the US Navy, Submarine Force. He entered under a delayed entry program, allowing him to return to high school for the first half of his senior year. He completed all of the requirements for graduation by January 30, 1979.
With eight years in the military, Ted got out in 1986, and kept his nose to the grindstone to support his family. It was later in life that he made time for outdoor adventures.
First climb and the story of resilience…
“Ask any hiker, and they’ll tell you that starting on your hike is the easiest part of the journey. It is when you’ve reached the point of no return you need to find the motivation to go on,” Ted tells me as he gets comfortable in his chair, ready to share his climbing adventures.
He begins with his first big climb—Sleeping Beauty Mountain. Located on the east side of Lake George, Sleeping Beauty is a gorgeous mountain with a silhouette resembling a sleeping woman. While this trail doesn’t include any overly steep portions, summiting the mountain means you’ll be 2,347 feet above sea level.
The journey is 3.6 miles round trip, ideal for any beginner to test before going all in. Maybe that’s why Ted’s first real climb was this magnificent landscape.
While reminiscing about all he did on the trip, Ted tells me that he bought his first pair of hiking boots and hit the mountains when he turned 40. This was before cell phones became so advanced. He did not have an app to tell which trail to take, how long it would take, or give any information needed. He used paper maps to guide him along his journey.
Ted holds his folded-up map and laughs as he tells me how he started out hiking wearing jeans. If you are new to the hiking world, jeans, or any kind of cotton, are never a good idea. We recommend wearing polyester, nylon, or wool to keep you dry.
He recalls that during his initial days of climbing high mountains, he wore a thin yellow windbreaker instead of a coat. His buddies would laugh at this small windbreaker and refer to him as “Mr. Yellow Jacket.”
“So, what did you learn during your initial years of climbing?” As any dedicated interviewer who is deeply invested in how her subject’s story progresses, I ask Ted this question.
Seeing the twinkle in my eye, Ted couldn’t help but smile a little when he went on to say, “Patience and perseverance.”
I have to be honest here—many climbers I have spoken to over the last couple of years had similar answers, and it’s easy to see why. When you spend so much time waiting for the right weather window to climb, you learn a thing or two about practicing patience.
Perseverance, on the other hand, is an accomplished climber’s strongest suit. Lack of oxygen and temperature fluctuations are two of the many challenges you face while summiting difficult mountains. If you don’t have the mental capacity to go without resting for days and can’t stay calm and relaxed during the hike, the chances are that you’ll soon feel out of power and lack the motivation to go on.
Ted says, in his view, physical strength didn’t matter as much as mental resilience. Because he had the right attitude and the willpower to achieve his goals, he could climb all the peaks on his bucket list and push beyond his limits.
Setting challenges and pushing the bar.
After successfully surviving his amateur days as a climber (Honestly, Ted, I still wonder how you made it with your bare windbreaker and jeans), our leading man set on a mission to climb the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Including the likes of Wright Peak, Giant Mountain, and Whiteface.
And he didn’t stop at that; if there’s anything I know for sure about Ted, he loves a good challenge, so he set out to climb 14 of the high peaks twice! From Mount Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York, to Algonquin Peak and MT Haystack, the second and third highest peaks in the state! He did so camping out on cold winter nights on six of the high peaks!
Would you believe it if I told you that the man of the hour was 48 years old when he climbed his first High Peak on June 15, 2009? Yes, it really was an incredible journey for him. However, Ted’s expeditions weren’t free of challenges. As you’d imagine, he had to endure many hardships to acclimate his body to the high altitude.
So if you’re thinking of summiting a high peak soon, take a leaf out of Ted’s book and keep your morale high with good food, sufficient sleep, self-discipline, and sound health. Great company is important, too. When you have the right people to share your adventures, they can help you follow safety procedures and ensure effective communication to avoid common mistakes that climbers make.
Before every hike, have someone check the harness and karabiners. Ted says leaving your tent with a calm and confident frame of mind is essential.
During his many hikes to Nipple Top, Wright Peak, Saddleback Mountain, and Panther Peak, Ted was reminded of the importance of teamwork. He says anything is possible with the dream team.
Because of the support and encouragement of his group of friends and family, our star climber could make it to the top of all the 46 mountains on his list. On October 17, 2017, he climbed the last peak, setting a record for many aspiring climbers.
Living the quiet life now… but for how long?
Ted is 61 now and spends time trying to teach his two granddaughters about the outdoors. He hopes to see his offspring share his love for the mountains and is also in the middle of setting up his own campsites with places to set up tents and B&B cabins. With his venture, he hopes to help outdoor enthusiasts find a place to relax after a full day of adventure. His campsites should be ready by next year.