B y Derek Liebig
By morning Dave Senecal is a rural mail carrier. By afternoon he is an accomplished hiker who has conquered some of the most challenging peaks in the Adirondacks.
For the past three years the Fair Haven resident and Whitehall native has spent mornings delivering mail and afternoons trekking through the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, considered by some to be one of the most remote and rugged wilderness regions in all New York.
In fact, last summer, Senecal became an Adirondack 46er after he scaled the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks, a distinction many aspire to and few earn.
Middle aged and about six feet tall, Senecal doesn’t possess the physique of Paul Bunyan, the lung capacity of Lance Armstrong, or the endurance of famed Kenyan long distance runner Paul Tergat; it’s his passion for reaching a mountain’s summit that gets him through each hike.
“I’ve always loved mountains and enjoyed being on top of them,” Senecal said.
That love of mountains was cultivated by family hikes as a youth.
“Every year, my family used to go up to Black Mountain. It created that spark and it’s stuck with me ever since,” he said.
While he was in his 20’s, Senecal had the opportunity to hike Giant Mountain, a popular hike just south of Keene Valley. It was his first “high peak” experience and he returned numerous times over the intervening years, but never had the time to hike as much as he wanted.
But as Senecal got older, he could feel some of his youthful vigor escaping him and decided to try and take up hiking on a more regular basis.
“I felt myself getting softer as I got older and I didn’t like it,” said Senecal. “It was partially a health thing.”
So in the summer of 2009, Senecal really began taking up hiking on a regular basis, climbing 16 mountains, including some more than once for a total of two dozen high peak excursions.
When he started that summer, he didn’t aspire to become a 46er, he just wanted to get some exercise in the outdoors.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a 46er. I read the ADK Mountain Club book, and some of the hikes were overwhelming,” he said.
But as he continued to put on mileage, his hiking took on a life of its own.
“Last spring, it kind of took me over. I got really determined to hike them all. The goal was nice because it fit into the physical challenge of getting in shape,” Senecal said. “It’s fantastic exercise.”
Last year, as soon as spring started, Senecal started hitting the trails, reaching the summits of different peaks a total of 51 times.
The health benefits were immediate.
Senecal lost 20 pounds and has noticed a considerable difference in his endurance. A softball player, he said he used to be short of breath shagging balls but now he can sprint after them.
“My legs are in better shape now than they were when I was 40. And the residual effect hangs on for a long time.”
Some of his favorite hikes are Gothic’s and Haystack, both part of the Great Range.
“The views from Little Haystack are some of the most glorious in the Adirondacks and the Dial, Nippletop, Colvin route is one of the most underrated hikes in the region.”
Of all the hikes, most of which he has done solo, his most memorable is a trip up Cascades with his father.
“I dragged my father (Wayne Senecal) up there and he enjoyed it. He said it’s the last mountain he’ll ever climb.”
Senecal has already hit the trail several times this year but admits some of his motivation is gone now that he’s a 46er.
But don’t expect him to stop hiking anytime soon.
“I’m trying to hit different trails this year. I like them rugged, you feel so proud of yourself the next day. It’s has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and I would encourage anyone, of any age, to explore this fantastic wilderness that is so near to us.”