On July 13, 2017 at approximately 2am I received a phone call that would change my life forever - my mother was in cardiac arrest and they were performing CPR to try and save her life. As a Paramedic, I was instantly aware that this would almost certainly result in her death, and I would never see her alive again. Healthy patients rarely recover from cardiac arrest, and unfortunately my mom was not very healthy.

Mom had been admitted to the hospital with complications surrounding her stage four metastatic bladder cancer, and while we suspected that she may have only a handful of months left to live, nothing had indicated that my visit a few hours earlier would be my final chance to say goodbye. The hours that followed that phone call seemed to drag on forever as I drove my sister Destinee to the hospital, where we were informed that the woman who had raised us was no longer alive at the young age of 57. In an instant our world was turned upside down, and our lives would never be the same. 

In the days leading up to my mom’s final hospitalization I had been on a photography trip to the Adirondacks. On the second day of my trip I received a phone call from Destinee that mom had been taken to the hospital by ambulance because she suffered a fall, but she assured me that it seemed minor and there was no need to cut my trip short. I was due home in two days anyway, so I elected to continue with my plans. The following day I hiked Indian Head for the first time, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. I was extremely out of shape at this time and the hike back to my car took everything I had, but it also motivated me and made me feel a sense of accomplishment that lit my soul on fire. The next day my feet were too sore to complete another hike, so I elected to relax, drive to the top of Whiteface, and explore a few nearby stores. While walking through The Mountaineer in Keene Valley I found a small orange book titled, “Adirondack High Peaks Summit Journal.” Picking this book up was the first time I had ever heard of The 46 Adirondack High Peaks or the challenge that surrounded them.

Unknown subject atop whiteface, July 11, 2017

Unknown subject atop whiteface, July 2017

The idea of climbing 46 mountains that tall seemed like an impossibility, though I was intrigued enough that I purchased the journal on a whim. I walked out to my car, threw the journal in the glove compartment, and went on with my day. Before I knew it my time in the Adirondacks was over. On the drive home, I was so excited about my new found love for the mountains that I honestly didn’t think too much about the fact that my mom was admitted to the hospital. Honestly, at this point her medical situation had become routine, and Destinee didn’t seem too worried back home, so I didn’t really think that anything acutely serious was going on. When I got home, I took a shower and met up with Destinee to go visit mom. It was already late in the day, so we didn’t stay long. Mom was tired and wanted to get some sleep anyway, so not much was said, but it was nice to be there with her. Several other family members were at the hospital that evening, and as I was about to walk out of the hospital room my Aunt Bev stopped me and said “You give your mother a kiss goodbye, mister!”

Unknown Photographer, Whiteface Mountain, July 2017

It was the kind of order that you find annoying in the moment, but you can’t say no to, so you listen anyway. I gave my mom a forced kiss on the cheek and hugged her goodbye for what would turn out to be the final time. I don’t know that I’ve ever told her this, but I’m so thankful that my Aunt Bev pushed me to say a better goodbye to my mother that evening. I’ve often wondered if she sensed something that I didn’t at that moment, or if she was just doing what aunts do. 

In the days and weeks following my mom’s passing, I completely forgot about the Adirondacks. Life had changed rapidly, and my priorities shifted to funeral planning, cleaning out her apartment, and just trying to make it through the day. About a month after the funeral I was cleaning out my car when I found a small orange book in my glove compartment: The High Peaks Summit Journal. I thumbed through the pages, remembering my Indian Head hike and the stunning natural beauty I had witnessed. I also remembered how my mom had taken me on small hikes at local parks as a boy, and how much she loved being among nature. Despite having never climbed a mountain or even researched the difficulty of doing so, sitting in my car at that moment, I made a promise to myself that I would climb all 46 high peaks in honor of my mother. I pulled out a pen, and wrote the following words on the inside cover of the journal: “These hikes will be completed in honor of my mother, Terry Koegl, who passed away shortly after I purchased this book but before I hiked my first high peak. I will carry her with me on the mountains and take her places that she never made it.”

Fenway Battles the Wind on Cascade

Ryan & Fenway on Cascade

Destin on Cascade

I hiked my first high peak in February of 2018 when I made a winter ascent of Cascade with my good friend Ryan and his dog Fenway (@fen_the_aussie on IG). Admittedly, we were completely unprepared and had no idea what we were getting into. We wore heavy winter jackets, didn’t have snowshoes, and orphaned Porter despite being only about half a mile from the summit. We achieved our goal of reaching the summit of Cascade, however, and we made it back to the car safely. We had a great time doing it, and I had officially started my journey as an aspiring 46er.

That initial hike was over 5 years ago now, and at the time of writing this I’ve climbed 25/46 high peaks. Some of the mountains have come easier than others, and I’ve orphaned more than I care to admit. The mountains have made me many friends, and helped me to bond with the woman who eventually became my wife. My fitness has vastly improved and I’m a healthier, happier person as a result of the promise that I made to myself in honor of my mother. I still have a long way to go to become a 46er, but I’m excited to see the ways in which the remaining hikes continue to change my life for the better.

This blog post and my entire 46er journey is dedicated to my mother, Terry D. Koegl, who instilled a love for nature in me at a young age. I know that she’d have loved every moment of chasing the high peaks just the way I am, and I’m proud to be hiking in her memory. 

My mom and I at my Paramedic School Graduation, 2016

My Mom, Terry Koegl, Age 43.