Grace’s love affair started when she was sixteen, in June, 1921, not far from home in Minerva.
She was wearing, and then ruined her Oxfords. Black flies were everywhere, and the weather was drizzly and foggy.
Her father invited her to go on a three-day hiking and climbing trip up MT. Marcy. It was tough with all the flies and the drizzle and very little of defined trails, but she persevered – even to the point of crawling on all fours. Briefly, the wind blew away the fog and Grace could see, down below, Lake Tear of the Clouds. The ordeal was worth it.
It was then her affair began. She was hooked on climbing.
A few years later, she had another affair, (a real one) and married Ed Hudowalski. Whenever they could get away, they traveled to the Adirondacks from their home in Troy and built friendships with other climbers. In 1937, her pastor at the Grace Methodist Church organized the Forty-Sixers of Troy. At first, this social club was small. It was for only people who successfully climbed all 46 of the mountains over 4000 ft. Grace was the ninth person and the FIRST woman to accomplish this feat, climbing Mt. Ester in 1937.
By 1948, the Troy club expanded to become the Adirondack Forty-Sixers with Grace Hudowalski serving as the first president and as historian. She established a recording system to monitor to the progress of hikers as they were seeking membership in the 46’er club. She corresponded with many hikers and as they told her their stories, she gathered more information about the characteristics of these mountains. Her philosophy was that “any mountain worth climbing was worth writing about”. She evolved as a mentor, a coach, for the young and old. For more than fifty years, Grace devoted herself to building relationships within this growing community as she personally answered thousands of personal letters, offering encouragement, advice, support, and friendship. Many of her letters exist in the New York State Manuscripts and Special Collections.
Not only was Grace devoting her talents and energy to exploring the mountains, she was an employee of the New York State Department of Commerce from 1946 and her retirement in 1961. She represented the state at travel shows throughout this country and in Canada. Because she was an expert on folklore, she presented local history programs on radio and television. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Grace assumed her much acclaimed public speaking talent, using her dynamic writing and storytelling.
Grace served as executive secretary of the Adirondack Association; contributed her writings to High Spots and Adirondac and the Cloud Splitter; and was a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America; and past president the New York Folklore Society.
She turned her love of the mountains to become an advocate for building trails and shelters; opening more wilderness to recreation; encouraging reverence for mountain wilderness.
In 1995, she established the Adirondack 46R Conservation Trust, which is a private endowment to support conservation and educational efforts in the High Peaks. This trust focuses on many of the principals Grace valued, including stewardship and respect for the lands.
In addition to writing her own adventures, Grace encouraged others to share. She drafted the rule that all new Forty-sixers must write accounts of their ascents. What did they see? Who were they with? What was special? This was how she collected folklore.
One special person who entered her life was the hermit, John Rondeau. The Adirondack Life magazine asked Grace to do an article on him. Ed knew where to find John up in Cold River. Grace was wearing shorts and her husband exclaimed, “You can’t go in like that. He hasn’t seen a women in years. You better put some clothes on.”
She never forgot meeting Noah John and every year the Hudowalskis brought him a decorated birthday cake and some gifts such as a new pipe or shirt. He appreciated the Sunday NY Times, especially the advertisements.
After a good 68 years of hiking and climbing the Adirondacks, Grace retired, completely, to go off and find Ed. She died at age 98 on March 13, 2004 in a nursing home in Guilderland, NY.
Today, it is taking 20 volunteers to continue the correspondence with new members of the club.
Remember, she was number nine in 1937 and today the membership is over 14,000.
In 2014, the mountain then known as EAST DIX was renamed GRACE PEAK.