Several years ago, I was lucky enough to go hiking in the Alps with my family. One day we came over a rise, in whose background were the Alps - huge, snow-capped and majestic - and in whose foreground was the field, full of bright green grass, wildflowers and, of course, the ubiquitous herd of Swiss cows.
A sudden thought came to me: In person, the Alps looked as beautiful as they did in all the fabulous photographs of them.
And that was followed by another thought, namely that the Adirondacks look as beautiful as their finest photos of them, too.
And of the two, I prefer the Adirondacks.
Sure, the Alps are much bigger, but I think that only matters if you're a size queen.
The Alps are also far more famous than the Adirondacks. But is it an advantage if every jamoke on God's green earth knows who you are? In my book, there's a whole lot to be said for anonymity.
Plus, from a strictly selfish perspective, the Adirondacks have something the Alps'll never have - their location in my home region.
And beyond all that, my favorite mountain in the world is here in my backyard. And in case you haven't guessed, that mountain is Mount Baker.
Why is it my favorite mountain? Good question; now read on.
Why Baker is better
First, consider its location right in My Home Town. Getting there from anywhere in Saranac Lake is literally a matter of minutes. And once you're there, you're on the trail - no need to tramp through the tulies; just start the actual climb.
Certainly, it's a wee bit of a mountain, but its size is a great asset. For one thing, it can be climbed by practically anyone, regardless of age or condition, without any special clothes, equipment or training.
And whoever said the only mountains worth climbing are big ones? Not me. Yeah, I climb bigger mountains from time to time, but when I've only got a free hour and want some exercise but don't feel like busting my hump, Baker fits the bill perfectly.
And speaking of exercise: Baker rises 900 feet in nine-tenths of a mile, a short trek but with a rate of incline that'll give you a fine workout - great bang for the buck.
As for aesthetics, Baker offers beautiful views - of the town, Kiwassa and Lower Saranac to the west, Ray Brook and Scarface to the south, Pisgah to the north and McKenzie to the east.
And perhaps best of all, you can climb Baker any season and any time - night or day.
Winter is my favorite season on Baker. Because so many people climb it, the trail is always packed, and because there are no leaves, you can get good views from all over the mountain.
In fact, I owe my life to a winter climb on Baker, which ironically took place 13 years ago this week.
I started out as usual, but after a very short time I was sweating and gasping for breath. That had never happened to me before, but I thought maybe it was due to lack of sleep or something, so I took a break and got my breath back. I started up again, but almost immediately was even more wiped out than before.
I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I knew, whatever it was, it wasn't normal. Now, let me tell you, I've never been a great fan of "normal," but I have to admit there are some areas in which normal is a great thing - perhaps foremost among them is cardiac fitness. And what I was experiencing was a textbook example of subnormal cardiac fitness.
As it turned out, my coronary arteries were as clogged as a Calcutta streetcar. But after a triple bypass, I was replumbed, recuperated and, if not as good as new, then at least as good as it gets. And within a few months, I was on, and up, Baker again.
Lately, I've been hiking Baker more often than I ever have - at least three times a week. This is because I can't stand running in the winter anymore. Between the icy roads, biting wind, slush, sleet and Lord knows what else, winter running is less an invigorating experience than it is a pain in the prat.
But not so hiking up Baker, where I not only get exercise, but solitude and a beautiful landscape besides.
I have, however, made one major change in my winter Baker ascents: I now wear crampons. Crampons? Isn't that just too much? Aren't crampons for serious mountain and ice climbers? Yes, they are, but they're not the only people who can, and should, wear them. It's like saying the only people who should wear seat belts are NASCAR drivers.
Over my years of winter climbing, I've had my share of falls but luckily have never gotten hurt. And while I won't say I've fallen a lot of times, I will say I've fallen all the times I want to.
I still have good balance and am in decent shape, so if I don't wear crampons, my odds of falling are small, and my odds of getting hurt are even less. However, if I wear crampons, it's a sure thing I won't fall at all.
So deciding to wear crampons wasn't just a good choice; it was also a matter of education - in the largest sense of the word. Because let's face it, if I ignore a sure thing and take only good odds, then I really haven't learned a whole lot over the years, have I?