Russell Carson and The Origins of the FOrty-Six

In 1923, Russell Carson began corresponding with Bob Marshall, George Marshall, and Herbert Clark, who would soon become the first three Adirondack forty-sixers, to help determine which mountains would be considered high peaks. Clark and the Marshall brothers created the initial list of high peaks with three criteria: the mountain must be above 4,000 feet; follow the Prominence Rule, requiring a 300-foot rise on all size; and fulfill the Distance Rule, meaning the peaks must be three quarters of a mile apart along the ridge line. The trio yielded an initial list of forty-two high peaks from this criteria, though Carson encouraged them to add four more: Gray, Cliff, Blake, and Couchsagraga, bringing their total to forty-six.

Interestingly enough, many of the forty-six mountains Clark and the Marshall brothers deemed high peaks explicitly violate their own criteria. Five peaks fail to meet the Prominence Rule and the Distance Rule: Gray, Wright, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw, and Carson (South Dix). To further complicate things, several summits above 4,000 feet satisfy the Distance Rule yet were denied high peak status, including Little Marcy, Yard, Boundary, and an unnamed peak southwest of Redfield. Four of the high peaks also fall under 4,000 feet: Blake, Cliff, Nye, and Couchsagraga (though this can be blamed on faulty early geologic surveys). It appears this list of forty-six mountains is a lot more abstract than most people realize.

So why were Clark and the Marshalls willing to disregard their Prominence and Distance Rules for some peaks and not others? The answer seems to lie in the historical significance of each mountain. For example, even though it violated both rules, Carson strongly advocated for Gray Peak to be added out of respect for Asa Gray’s North American botanical research, to which George Marshall responded it could be added due to its “special interest.” In the case of Little Marcy (which Carson referred to as “No Man’s Peak”), Carson and George Marshall agreed to drop the peak the list due to its lack of significance, even though it stands 0.77 miles away from Mount Marcy. With Boundary Peak, though legend suggested that this mountain formed the boundary between Algonquin and Iroquois territory, Carson could not find any historical data to back up this assertion, and thus did not consider it an individual peak. Carson, therefore, not only helped uncover the history of each high peak but helped define the list as we know it today.

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Carson’s Map of the Forty-Six High Peaks. Note the four name changes: Marshall (Hough), South Dix (Carson), East Dix (Grace), and Herbert (Marshall).

Carson, Russell M. L. and Adirondack Mountain Club. Peaks and People of the Adirondacks. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1928.

Sasso, John. “Rise of the Adirondack High Peaks: The Story of the Inception of the Adirondack Forty-Six by Robert Marshall, George Marshall, and Russell M.L. Carson.” The Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, Article 8, 2018, pp. 88–103., .