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Athlete Profile: Spencer Morrissey

By Alan Via

“Always follow the rule of up,” is a phrase I associate with Spencer Morrissey from our many off-trail hikes together. It refers to a bushwhack hike with no trail and answers the question “Where do we go from here?” It’s also a philosophy of life that Spencer’s adopted as an approach to his sports and all other activities in his life, and should someday be engraved on his tombstone.

Age: 39

Family: Corenne Black, fiancée; Son, Kole; Daughter, Emily

Residence: Lake Placid
Career: Assistant Manager, Eastern Mountain Sports, Lake Placid
Primary Sports: Hiking, Snowshoeing, Paddling
Secondary Sports: Trail Running, Backcountry Skiing, Bouldering, Ice Climbing

Spencer is likely one of the most highly travelled and experienced hikers and bushwhackers in the Adirondacks. He was born and grew up in the heart of the mountains, Long Lake. Growing up in the mountain and lake country, you’d certainly expect he would be comfortable with a pack or paddle, but he’s taken his outdoor pursuits to a whole new level.

The first time I crossed paths with Spencer was many years ago on an Internet hiking forum. Both of us were hiking the Adirondack 100 highest peaks and began trading information. This turned into a plan to do a bushwhack together, and that was the start of a long and exhilarating friendship.

The young Mr. Morrissey loved to go fishing with his father and grandfather, his first steps into an outdoors life. He climbed his first peak, Goodnow Mountain, in third grade at age eight, and then began hiking taller and taller mountains, like Blue Mountain, and the second highest in New York, Algonquin Peak. The real hiking bug didn’t hit him until his teen years when he fell in love with the sport and jumped in with both boots.

Spencer added paddling to his outdoor pursuits in his early 30s, kayaking and exploring ponds, with his good friend, Brian Yourdon. They had the idea of trying to hike into or canoe all the remote lakes and ponds throughout the Adirondacks, a pursuit they termed ‘pondhopping.’ Exploring the vast Adirondack network of waterways led to another activity, inspiring them to begin climbing the Adirondack 46 High Peaks of 4,000 feet or higher, to become Adirondack 46ers.

Not resting on their hiking and paddling laurels, Spencer and Brian set out on another almost impossibly difficult journey, the “Adirondack Quad Quest.” There are over 100 United States Geological Survey topographic maps that are either completely or partially within the Blue Line boundary of the Adirondack Park. Doing the ‘quads’ means climbing every named mountain, peak, ridge or mountain feature on each of those maps. The goal was to ascend every mountain feature that had a name. Some of these are summits, but could also have the name notch, cliff, ridge, hill, ledge, peak or knob.

Just selecting one of these USGS maps at random, I noted over 75 climbable map features, almost every one without a trail. Even a map quad with a modest number of destinations requires hundreds of miles of hiking and bushwhacking. Spencer has 30 map quads fully completed and he is nearing 700 climbs. I don’t believe anyone has even begun a project like climbing every destination on just one map, let alone taking aim at them all. Even with a two-year hiatus for school and another hiking project, Spencer is almost at 700, and is planning to pick up the pace this year.

The rest of Spencer’s hiking resume is equally impressive. He has hiked all over New England, has completed 32 of the 50 US State High Points, and all of the New York fire tower peaks. His achievements also include climbing the Adirondack 46 High Peaks multiple times and in winter. Since legendary John Winkler completed all of the 46 peaks by bushwhack, non-trailed routes 30 years ago, Spencer is only the second person to complete the peaks by hiking them all, even the trailed summits, by original off-trail bushwhack routes – something that required planning, perseverance, endurance and drive.

Our lives intersected when he and Brian Yourdon had begun hiking all of the Adirondack 100 highest summits. The three of us joined together to climb them, in heat, humidity, bugs and in all weather conditions. Spencer is the 23rd known completer of the ADK-100 list, which still has under 50 finishers. Climbing these mountains sparked an idea in Spencer, one that led to his publishing, The Other 54: A Hiker’s Guide to the Lower 54 Peaks of the Adirondack 100 Highest. Until the book was published, information on the 100 summits was largely word of mouth. The book has sold out its first two editions with a third edition due April 2013. One of my biggest regrets is having suggested to Spencer that The Other 54 would make a great book title. He gets a kick out of my having eliminated “The Other 67” as a possible title for my own hiking guide – his book and quest was its inspiration.

Spencer and his fiancée Corenne are the authors of another book, Adirondack Trail Runner: A Sample of More Than One Hundred Trail Running Destinations, and they are working on a couple of other as yet unnamed projects for outdoors enthusiasts.

What does a person like this do to stay in shape? Besides lots of gym work, weights and yoga, his outdoor fitness regime includes running on roads and trails, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, and lots and lots of hiking.

To round out his outdoors background, Spencer took a year off and enrolled and graduated from the SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry School, commonly known as The Ranger School. He is also a volunteer forest firefighter, member of the Champlain Valley Search and Rescue, and is a licensed NYS guide.

Spencer and Corenne are co-owners of Inca-pah-cho Wilderness Guides, a business that takes clients into the backcountry for a variety of mountain associated adventures.

Alan Via (be46@nycap.rr.com) enjoys hiking, photography and fly fishing. He is the author of many hiking oriented articles and his hiking guide, The Catskill 67: A Hiker’s Guide to the Catskill 100 Highest Peaks under 3500’ was published by the Adirondack Mountain Club in April.