Jackson doesn’t like champagne. He also doesn’t like being home alone, being inside or being woken up from a nap. That’s because Jackson’s a dog. But don’t tell his owner that.
I met Jason Christopher after a series of serendipitous events: First, I started following his dog Jackson’s legendary Instagram account (@jacksonsjourneys)—which documents Jackson’s adventures scaling all of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks with Christopher at his side—only to find out that Christopher is my sister’s boyfriend’s friend’s brother. Then, I wound up playing against Christopher in my summer volleyball league. As of May 2017, he’s been “Junker Jay” to me, a nickname derived from his volleyball team’s name, Junker Jay and the Scrappers (he works in construction and always has scrap materials in his yard on Saratoga Lake). After I told Christopher that I wanted to write a feature in saratoga living about his possibly record-breaking dog—the Adirondack 46er Club keeps track of human High Peak summiters, not canine ones—he invited me on a sunrise hike of Mount Marcy, New York’s highest peak, to celebrate Jackson’s 11th birthday and 250th and counting (yes, you read that right!) High Peak.
Personally, I’m not one for middle-of-the-night hikes—I actually trekked all of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks myself, almost exclusively during daylight hours—but for Jackson, I made an exception. As did nine other humans, including my boyfriend, Nick, my sister, Chelsea (Christopher’s brother’s friend’s girlfriend) and Jen Lynch, Christopher’s pal and the creator of the @jacksonsjourneys account. All 11 of us gathered at the South Meadow Road trailhead at 2am on a drizzly October morning, and individually, we all wished Jackson a happy 11th birthday, as if he could’ve actually responded (he did give me what Christopher called a “hard lean,” when he rests most of his body weight against your knees). Christopher signed us in to the trailhead logbook, and we went on our way—but not before I glanced at the sign-in sheet. Under “number of hikers in party,” he’d written “12.”
The Adirondack High Peaks are 46 mountains that pepper New York’s sprawling, 6 million-acre Adirondack Park and rise more than 4000 feet above sea level (with a few exceptions). Since 1918, according to the Adirondack 46er Club, approximately 11,000 people have become registered “46ers”—climbers who have summited all 46 peaks—and countless others have hiked the mountains without registering with the Club, like Christopher and Jackson. As of August 2018, the Club has also awarded 853 hikers the honorary title “Winter 46er”—that is, someone who’s hiked all 46 High Peaks between December 21 and March 21, not necessarily in the same year. Of course, Jackson and Christopher did do it in a single season—that’s a High Peak almost every other day for three months. “After that winter I thought I could leave Jackson out in the mountains, and he’d be fine,” Christopher says. After someone has become a 46er and a Winter 46er, the Club stops keeping track. But Christopher hasn’t. He keeps a detailed log of both his and Jackson’s summits, including the date of the hike and the other hiker(s) with whom they summited. Hence the 250th High Peak celebration.
Christopher adopted Jackson in January 2007, about six months after he and his former girlfriend’s rescue puppy, Porter, died at just nine months old. Determined to find another furry companion, the couple returned to the same rescue organization in Albany and found “Jason,” the last in a litter named after the Miami Dolphins’ Hall Of Fame Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Jason Taylor. The attendant working at the rescue shelter accidentally introduced “Jason” as “Jackson,” and the name stuck (not to mention, it helped Christopher avoid the confusion of sharing a name with his dog). “The handwritten tag that he was wearing said ‘Jason,’ so I only had to, like, squeeze in two letters,” Christopher says. In the first few months that they had Jackson, they actually considered putting him back up for adoption, Christopher tells me. “He was so mellow and lazy, and he didn’t move for a month straight,” Christopher says. “We were making all these comparisons to Porter, who was smart and obedient but hyper. We were like, ‘Oh, maybe Jackson would be better off being with a senior citizen or someone who’s not so active.’”
But what Christopher had mistaken for laziness turned out to be the opposite—for Adirondack High Peak hiking, at least. Jackson’s even temperament made him the perfect companion for 15-plus-mile hikes, mostly in the winter, usually at night, and sometimes for days at a time. Just take the sunrise hike of Mount Marcy: Jackson stayed in the middle of the group, not running ahead like every other dog I’ve ever hiked with, and frankly, looking uninterested in anything other than getting to the top. And at the summit—which, alas, was completely surrounded by clouds, a tragedy typical of sunrise hikes—when Christopher poured champagne out near the Jackson’s snout and said, “Jackson, you did it! What you always wanted to do: hike 250 High Peaks!” Jackson just looked away.
Not only has Jackson’s calm demeanor allowed him to endure grueling hikes that may or may not span multiple days (when you’re a dog, you don’t exactly know how long you’ll be walking for), it’s also made him the perfect rugged, outdoorsy Instagram model. A quick glance at the @jacksonsjourneys account, which has nearly 3000 followers, reveals Jackson in a number of different poses: waking up from a power nap under a snowy tree; standing, alertly, in chest-deep snow; or majestically, against the backdrop of a deep-orange sunrise—not to mention getting comfortable in a canoe (a dog needs a break from hiking sometimes!). “Jay’s captured every single hike with Jackson, and all the photos are so incredible,” says Lynch, who originally launched and managed Jackson’s Instagram account but now is just a devoted follower. “I started the account, and when it got a few hundred followers, Jay decided he could take over. People were chatting with him and commenting, and it really became an engaging platform.” Now, when Jackson and Christopher go on hikes, they’re often recognized by people who follow Jackson on Instagram.
Lynch is herself an aspiring 46er and has hiked most of her 27 High Peaks with Jackson. “He was on the first hike I went on, which was not an easy one, by any means, and he just kept circling back, making sure I was OK,” she says. “Jackson really treats everybody like they’re in his pack, even if he doesn’t know you that well.” As for Christopher, Lynch says, “He’s kind of just like this big brother. He definitely pushes me, but he always pushes me to the right limit. I’ve definitely pushed myself further than I thought I could go, thanks to him.”
Although Christopher and Jackson do hike in a group fairly often, a lot of the time, it’s just the two of them out in the woods for an entire weekend, battling inclement weather, rough terrain and fatigue. Last summer, there was a 2-month period during which the duo hiked 18-25 miles a weekend—that’s 160 miles and 26 peaks in eight weeks. To put that into perspective, consider the fact that Mount Marcy, the highest High Peak, is only 16 miles round trip—the long way. I ask Christopher to delve into his 11 years of memories hiking with Jackson and come up with the most “Jackson” memory: What story most embodies who this dog—which Christopher claims is part wolf, part Sherpa—is? Fairly quickly, he recalls hiking in the Santanoni Range, near Newcomb, NY (just over two hours north of Saratoga), during his and Jackson’s single-season 46er tour. It was nighttime, naturally, and Christopher knew they were coming up to a particularly icy and steep section of the trail. He was nervous about Jackson being able to scale it, and in trying to boost himself up, lost sight of him. “I yelled for him twice, and I’m slipping and sliding,” he says. “And I look up, and he’s just standing there, looking down at me with a look like, ‘What the heck are you doing? Look at yourself.’”
When he’s not hiking, Christopher is, of course, working like the rest of us—but he tells me he’s always looking forward to his next big hike with Jackson. Jackson, on the other hand, “lays around the house and complains that we’re not doing something,” says Christopher. He admits that Jackson has slowed down a bit in his preteen years—but he’s become all the wiser: He’ll wait for a butt-boost up a steep rock face rather than trying to do it on his own. But as long as Jackson’s healthy and capable, Christopher plans to keep bringing him on his epic hikes. In an Instagram post from last October celebrating Jackson’s and Christopher’s fifth run of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, Christopher wrote: “I could go on forever about how proud I am of Jackson, or how many memories we’ve created together, but for now I just want to thank you for being the best damn friend I could ever ask for.” I’m fairly certain that if Jackson wasn’t a dog—or at the very least, could talk—he’d say the exact same thing back.