Thursday, March 14, 2019
NY Legionnaire’s Adirondack Climb Lands Him on Cover of Legion Magazine
Legionnaire Keith Koster has been pursuing a goal of climbing all 46 Adirondack High Peaks to celebrate The American Legion’s 100th Anniversary, and the effort landed him on the cover of the national American Legion Magazine (March 2019).
by Paul Post
Climbing the Adirondack peaks was a feat Keith Koster thought might not be attainable a few years ago.
During a routine physical, doctors discovered the U.S. Navy veteran and Spa City resident had cancer, which required removal of his thyroid gland, followed by two more serious operations.
Now he has been climbing all 46 Adirondack High Peaks needed to become a 46er – for the third time! Plans call for completing the feat to celebrate The American Legion’s 100th birthday.
“I’m calling it the Centennial Challenge,” said Koster, 56, a past state vice commander and past county and district commander. “You just hear that word, cancer, and it sets you back. But I’m not any different than anybody else when it comes to what you can do. If I didn’t tell people, they wouldn’t know.”
During a trek last fall, Koster slogged through the mud on a rainy Monday to reach three summits – Panther, Couchsachraga and Santanoni – on a roughly 12-mile jaunt. At the top of each mountain, he unfurls The American Legion flag for a photo, with hopes one day of publishing a description of each hike.
“I’d like to present the flag to Legion officials at next summer’s state convention,” he said.
A member of Post 70 in Saratoga Springs, Koster also founded The American Legion Athletic Club, a local initiative designed to get younger War on Terror veterans involved in outdoor activities.
“There are a lot of things people can do as a family like 5K races and fun walks,” he said. “It gives veterans another option for getting involved in Legion and joining if they want to, which would build membership.”
Koster caught the hiking bug as a Boy Scout leader when his son, Joe, was involved with the organization. Like many people, one of his first High Peaks was Cascade Mountain, whose trailhead is on Route 73, about halfway between Lake Placid and Keene.
“Once I saw the views and the beauty of it all, that’s how I got hooked,” he said. “It’s an escape from the stress of work and everyday life. It just cleans your mind and recharges your batteries.”
For Koster, hiking was also therapeutic by giving him goals to achieve while battling cancer. A few weeks after his first surgery, he asked his doctor if it would be okay to get back out and start hitting the trail.
“You can do a short hike,” the doctor said.
So in true Koster fashion, he hiked the entire Tongue Mountain Range on the west side of Lake George, a “warm-up” before tackling the High Peaks again.
“I thought I told you a short hike!” the doctor said, on Koster’s next visit.
Koster was anxious to see how his body would react to strenuous activity, minus a thyroid gland, and the new medication he was on.
His last surgery was two years ago.
He’s not only climbed all 46 High Peaks, but has also done so in winter, a much tougher and more harrowing accomplishment, quite often in sub-zero temperatures. Koster began the Centennial Challenge March 17, 2018 and aimed to hit each summit within a year’s time for the Legion’s 100th anniversary.
It’s one of two big things in life that he looked forward to as he and his wife, Cindy, are anticipating the birth of their first grandchild.
Last fall he anticipated several more hikes that would likely be in extreme, cold-weather again. That’s why, despite sloppy trail conditions, Koster was trying to get a few outings under his belt before temperatures started to plunge.
He finished that fall day trip wet, tired and hungry, but with an ear-to-ear grin.
“I had a ball,” he said, smiling. “When else can you go out and play in the mud without getting yelled at by your mother?”