The Adirondacks recently saw two new fastest known times (FKTs), as Syd Steger set a new standard on the Lake Placid 9er Challenge and Debbie McElwaine recorded a new FKT on the 46er Challenge. Keep reading to learn more about these two fast women and their excellent ADK achievements.

Lake Placid 9er

The Lake Placid 9er is the inspiration of James Appleton of The 46 of 46 Podcast and tasks hikers with ticking the summits of nine prominent peaks near Lake Placid, covering more than 30 miles and climbing 10,000+ feet of elevation. The nine peaks are:

  1. Cobble Hill
  2. Mount Jo
  3. Baxter Mountain
  4. Mount Van Hoevenberg
  5. Big Crow Mountain
  6. Bear Den Mountain (Wilmington)
  7. Pitchoff Mountain
  8. Catamount Mountain
  9. Hurricane Mountain
Syd Steger on the Lake Placid 9er
Courtesy of Syd Steger

On October 29, 2023, Syd Steger set a new self-supported female record of 10 hours, 35 minutes, and 42 seconds for the Lake Placid 9er. Her effort bested the previous FKT (which stood for three years!) of 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 9 seconds held by Laura Tuttle and Bethany Garretson. Steger, a resident of Lake Placid, took aim at the FKT after winning the female category of the Lake Placid Classic Half Marathon with a time of 1:27:34.

Steger—familiar with the route, having completed the Lake Placid 9er before her FKT—started her effort on Mount Jo due to her familiarity with it in the dark (she worked for the Adirondack Mountain Club for a few years and is currently an EMS Lake Placid team member) and continued to Van Hovenberg, Pitchoff, Baxter, Cobble Hill, Bear Den, Catamount, Hurricane, and finally Big Crow. 

Syd Steger FKT
Courtesy of Syd Steger

“My expectation going into the day was to get the FKT,” says Steger. “I knew if everything went well and I was able to hit all my predicted marks, I would finish in about ten and a half hours. The challenge was sticking to that plan and not having anything go wrong.” Steger used her car as a mobile gear cache, keeping key calories and gear close by. On her feet were HOKA Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX boots, and later HOKA Speedgoat 3s, because “the 3s are the best and they don’t make them like they used to.” Steger wore a Nathan Pinnacle 12L vest, carried ample Clif Bloks, and had to pack Microspikes in case of slick conditions on open rock faces. 

“If I was going to do an FKT it was going to be here,” says Steger. “This place means so much and an FKT is such a special thing that it just made sense to attempt my first one here.”

46er Challenge

Completing the ADK 46er Challenge is one of the great prizes for Northeast hikers. Created in the 1920s, the 46er Challenge requires hikers to tag the summit of all 46 peaks in the Adirondacks traditionally believed to stand above 4,000 feet—recent surveys have found four peaks to be lower than 4,000 feet and one previously thought less-than-4,000-footer to be above (MacNaughton Mountain). 

Debbie McElwaine 46er FKT
Courtesy of Debbie McElwaine

On September 16, 2023, Debbie McElwaine completed the 46er Challenge in 6 days, 19 hours, 14 minutes, and 20 seconds, setting a new self-supported, standard route record and the first-recorded FKT in the self-supported female category. Scoring an eight-day window away from work, McElwaine was originally planning to thru-hike the route, however, on day three and 65 miles later, her plans changed.

After a few bouts with the MacIntyre Range, McElwaine decided standard routes would be more fitting with the weather and conditions she was experiencing. “At the end of the week, I ended up doing more mileage and elevation than I had planned, but got more dry nights in the trade,” says McElwaine. Regardless, she was fast, nearly cutting Jeff Mullen’s multi-sport, self-supported record from 2015 (13 days, 11 hours, 45 minutes) in half.

The 46er Challenge is tackled in many different forms; some attempt it over a lifetime, others a year, and some even aim to complete the challenge several times in a year. Climbing a total of 74,249 feet of elevation in six days is no easy task, especially when combined with wet and sometimes foggy conditions, hiking through the dark, and physical and mental fatigue.

“It was a big difference in my planning for this trip to have Katie (Rhodes) and Bethany (Garretson)’s FKT record from 2020 and their trail report as a benchmark,” says McElwaine. “They were a great inspiration to me, so I’m glad to set the bar on this version of the 46 and hopefully pave the way for other attempts.”

Debbie McElwaine FKT on ADK 46er Challenge
Courtesy of Debbie McElwaine

McElwaine had help from key gear, like her five pairs of Adidas Terrex-free GTX hikers, Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles, and Garmin inReach and watches. She was prepared in case of an overnight as well, often packing necessary gear for days lasting 20 miles and more. 

“With the weather delays, I faced and two days of mileage in the high teens. There is definitely room for improvement, so I look forward to other women giving this FKT a try.”


Congratulations to Syd Steger and Debbie McElwaine for their incredible accomplishments and inspiring efforts in the Adirondacks!