It is a cold day in the Adirondack mountains. The sun is hiding behind dark, hovering clouds. Giant snowflakes are falling from the sky and have no intention of stopping anytime soon. How does climbing a 70-foot fire tower sound? To the average person, it may sound a bit crazy, right? But to these fearless locals here in the Adirondacks, it’s just another day, another adventure.
First, you may be wondering precisely what a “Fire Tower Challenge” is. Back in the 1900’s forest rangers initially used fire towers to spot deadly wildfires and call for help. The towers eventually became a way for locals and tourists to get a wide view of the majestic mountains, luscious plains and wandering wildlife down below.
There are 25 fire towers that stand atop the Adirondack summits, and five more that are located in the Catskills. To receive a patch and make it official, you must summit 18 of the 25 Adirondack fire tower peaks and all five Catskills tower peaks. Hikers must document their experience during their ascent of at least 23 of the summits.
For more information on the Fire Tower Challenge, check out the book, Views From On High, where you will find all the rules, tips, tricks and best scenic routes
Who are these climbers and what drives them to climb these fire tower peaks? Why do they do this? What is their story? Here in the Adirondacks, we have a lot of outdoor enthusiasts—how can there not be? Have you seen our mountains? Being a local outdoor enthusiast myself, it wasn’t difficult to find some locals to talk to and get their stories.
Jacob C. Wilde
I was lucky enough to come across this guy. He is actually one of the authors of the latest tower guide, Views From On High. Fire Tower Trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills. If anyone knows about Fire Towers, it would definitely be him. Jacob C. Wilde has climbed all 30 towers. In fact, his partner in crime during most of these hikes was his then-girlfriend and now wife and mother of their two boys! A family of adventurers.
He told me he and his wife started the challenge as something fun and adventurous for them to do as a couple. Later in their relationship, he even proposed to her on Hunter Mountain! The Hunter Mountain Fire Tower is the second highest in the Catskill mountains! To say Jake is a big fan of the Fire Towers is an understatement.
A fire tower enthusiast since 2015, he has finished all the fire tower challenges. He did a few of those solo in the winter, and on those same trails, Jake has done numerous sunset and sunrise hikes. Solo hikes in the winter are not easy, let me tell you. The winters here are no joke. We get hammered with snow. Especially up in the mountains.
As you can probably imagine, doing a very strenuous solo hike this time of year can be rough. Jake, being the outdoorsman he is, happens to be one of the only four Winter Fire Tower Challenge finishers. He knows the importance of outdoor safety and is always prepared with an emergency kit and an extra pair of dry socks. This is what he had to say about his winter hiking experience.
Jake: “Challenges in the winter—I was sometimes chest-deep in the snow. On more rugged trails, like the ones near Mount Adams, it was quite snowy. But with proper snowshoes and some layering and patience, you get through those days. I always used hand warmers in my gloves and a wool winter hat over my baseball cap to keep my ears warm.”
During his solo winter hikes through the towers, it was just him alone with his thoughts, the cool air on his face awakening his senses and the crunching of snow beneath his feet. Watching this stranger wander lightheartedly through their woods were the deer, porcupines and the occasional Martin.
Jacob now lives with his wife and two boys, who he takes out on adventures whenever possible.
If you make it out to the Adirondacks on September 2, 2023, stop by the fire towers for the annual LIGHT UP THE NIGHT. At this event the towers are lit up to pay tribute to the fire rangers who stood watch to protect our forests from wildfires. You may even have a chance to say hello to Jake! He is an illuminator for the tower events.
Laura Perry Housewright
I was thrilled to chat with Laura, another local Fire Tower lover, and hear about her adventures on the Fire Tower Challenge. One day as she was shopping at Hoss’s Country Store in Long Lake, she came across the book, Views From On High—the same book Jacob helped write. It put a fire under her to start checking off more of those Fire Tower Challenges—five of which she completed in January of this year!
Being a solo female hiker does come with its challenges. As a female hiker who likes to make a lot of solo trips, I know plenty more ladies out there who do the same. I wanted to hear what Laura did to stay safe as a lone female out on the trails.
Laura: “I was originally signed into the registry with my full name and saying I was a party of two. That way, anyone signing in behind me wouldn’t know I was alone. Then I realized if Search and Rescue ever had to come find me, they would be looking for two people. So, I used only my last name in the registry, so it wouldn’t be known if the solo hiker was a male or female. While hiking, it was rare to see another lone female on the trails.“
As a safety precaution, Laura left an itinerary with loved ones—which all solo hikers, male or female, should do.
After finishing just a couple of the peaks, she was eager to achieve her goal of doing all 30. She had officially caught the “Fire Tower Fever.” With the year half over, and October being a little warmer and full of fall foliage, she was ready and eager. Laura downloaded some audiobooks to keep her company, packed her bag and went off on an adventure. She checked 11 more peaks off her list, completing those in just one month!
Laura completed all of the peaks on November 20th of this year, finishing with Azure Mountain. She tells me that she was elated, but also a little sad that it was over. But don’t worry—she has just started a new challenge! She will be completing 30 seven-day hikes of peaks, ponds and waterfalls. Plenty more adventures to come.
Now 52 years old, Laura has two grown children and two grandchildren, who she hopes fall in love with the outdoor life as much as she has.
Here is how you can get started:
You do not need to be a local or a member of any club. To get started on this adventure:
- Print out a list of all the Fire Tower Peaks in the challenge.
- Finish 18 of the 25 Adirondack Fire Tower Peaks and all 5 of the Catskill Park Fire Tower Peaks, for a total of 23.
- Have a notebook handy, and be sure to document by date at least 23 of the Fire Tower summits. Each of those summits should have a standing fire tower. Document your adventure details—wildlife sightings, favorite fire towers, weather conditions, etc.
Send in your summit list and your documented adventure details, along with your name, address and a check for $5.00, made out to ADK Glen Falls—Saratoga Chapter ($5.00 covers your official Fire Tower patch. Kids 15 and under are free)
ADK Fire Tower Challenge
Glens Falls—Saratoga Chapter of Adirondack Mountain Club
PO BOX 2314
Glens Falls, NY, 12801