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High Peaks Give St. Lawrence Student a New Sense of Home

CANTON — It makes sense that R. John “Monty” Montgomery ’14 will complete his quest to become an Adirondack 46er during St. Lawrence University’s Peak Weekend, the same event that motivated him to take advantage of all the region has to offer.

“When I was a first-year student, upperclassmen encouraged me to go on Peak Weekend, and it was a true bonding experience,” Montgomery said. “It was a big moment in my St. Lawrence career because it was the first time I felt comfortable and at home in the North Country.”

Peak Weekend is a 31-year running event organized by St. Lawrence’s Outing Club, where St. Lawrence University students, faculty and staff of all walks aim to have a foot on each one of the Adirondack’s 46 High Peaks in one weekend-long excursion. Last year, it was estimated nearly 500 St. Lawrence students —about 20 percent of the campus student population — took part in Peak Weekend.

Thomas Costello ’14 is president of St. Lawrence’s Outing Club, which, he said, is one of the oldest outing clubs in the United States. Peak Weekend, being one of the club’s biggest events, is an opportunity for St. Lawrence students to get acquainted with the Adirondacks as well as nature in the North Country.

“It amazes me that people can spend four years at St. Lawrence and never spend any time outside or in the Adirondacks,” said Costello, who is from Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “For me, it’s great to take first-year students out who are unfamiliar with what’s here. And, it’s even better to hear them say they want to finish all 46 peaks before they graduate.”

Montgomery, of Parkton, Md., first hiked 10 of the High Peaks during the summer of 2012. As a result, he said he fell in love with the Adirondacks and began to understand what hiking the mountains would mean to him, his time at St. Lawrence and his personal growth.

“It inspired me to apply for a Tanner Fellowship St. Lawrence offered that would fund my goal of hiking all 46 peaks and write about what I reflected on during my journey,” he said. “It was my way to really connect to the area.”

Montgomery went into the Adirondack Park alone for two months to tackle the peaks and kept a daily journal. He invited family members and friends to take part in some of his adventures, including his mother, Meg Friske Montgomery ’79, who joined him despite never having climbed a High Peak before. He also made other connections throughout his journey, meeting Canton and Potsdam natives as well as several St. Lawrence alumni along the way.

The trip in its entirety taught Montgomery a lot about what he needs and wants in life: “The biggest thing I learned, after being alone for much of it, was how important the relationships I have are and how much those in my life mean to me.”

The former Thelomathesian Society president never expected to get what he has gotten out of St. Lawrence’s location.

“It’s not at all why I came here,” Montgomery said. “Now I feel like I’ve taken part in the quintessential St. Lawrence experience. I hope that during Peak Weekend, I’ll encourage other students to get active in the outdoors as well as explore other trips and options. It’s part of who we are as St. Lawrence students.”

Montgomery’s feat will conclude with a hike across the peaks of the Dix Range, which he will take on Friday, Sept. 20 and Saturday, Sept. 21, and he’ll maintain a tradition he started this summer on each of the last five hikes.

“I had a routine where I took the St. Lawrence flag out of my backpack, set up the camera tripod, and captured the moment at the top of each peak,” he explained. “It just felt right to do that because of the funding I received for the project and because everything was so deeply connected to St. Lawrence. I would not have thought to do this if it wasn’t for St. Lawrence.”