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Hiking the Adirondack High Peaks

The Ticonderoga Historical Society has been the beneficiary of many wonderful gifts so far in 2017.  From the accession records we share a selection of gifts that have contributed to the enhancement of our  collections.   Furnishings:  — a  truly significant and historical piece ~~ John Hancock’s  dining table.  Prints and Paintings ~~ two important oil paintings: one a “Hudson River’ style landscape of Lake George;  and, secondly an oil portrait of Lucius Callender Larrabee (1799-1856) ~ one the earliest steamboat captains of the Lake George Steamboat Co..  ( Very appropriately as they are celebrating their 200th anniversary this year.)  Military Records and Artifacts: A large collection of military track and wheeled vehicles from the WWI era to today.  And adding to an existing major collection from the family of  Arthur and David Carr  consisting of photographs, manuscripts and artifacts another bountiful gift of around twenty family journals.  (Before turning over this collection the family had the journals  professionally digitized. A digitized file copy is included with the original journals.)  All of these gifts were presented to the Society from family descents.

We are very appreciative that each of these families have chosen the Ticonderoga Historical Society to be the depository for, and stewards of, their family treasurers. In doing so they have made available these unique pieces of history to be enjoyed by future generations for public enjoyment, while assuring that each will be available for future historic review and research.

Earlier this year we recognized a Ticonderoga native,  Grace Leach Hudowalski, for her major contributions to promoting the Adirondacks.  Grace was the first woman to climb all 46 Adirondack High Peaks.  For several decades she was one of the central voices of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the principle contact to thousands of climbers that hiked the Adirondack  high peaks.

To follow up on this theme, we would like to share from one of Arthur Carr’s recently donated journals his recordings of a Adirondack High Peaks hike he shared  with another Ticonderoga native, Walter Johnson.  They took the hike in 1926:

Monday, Sept. 20, 1926 ~~

Like thousands of other mornings of other mornings before and since began with promise of clear sky only to yield to an early impulse and furnish clouds.

To Walter Johnson and myself clouds on this day were a disappointment for with food and blankets on our backs we were seeking the first high spots of a trip through the country of high spots.

With our packs we were carried into Heart Lake Sunday afternoon where we spent the night in the open camp shown here, whose only fault other than those common to open camps was the straw on which we were supposed to sleep.  In June mayhap the straw was cleaner, fresher and less dusty.  Certainly there was ample opportunity for it to have been.  Hart Lake seemed to be an outpost of Lake Placid Club.  A place where the city worn could get away from traffic, and rough it as much as comfort would allow.

Journal Photo – Arthur Carr

We mustered very little sleep and daylight dispelled even that. A fire was soon made which meant coffee and bacon. By six o clock we were on the trail leading up over Algonquin, the third highest peak of the Adirondacks. At first the sun shone brightly, glancing in level rays through the woods and across the trail. Mr. Hedgehog was also early astir on the trail where he kept just ahead of us for a while. He was the largest one I ever saw or perhaps he seemed larger because of his spreading his quills as a turkey gobbler spreads his tail. The protection this afforded was fine. From the rear at least.

The trail here leads up the valley of the Mac Intyre Brook through a country swept by fire 15 to 20 years ago. We remarked several times how many ages it would take for nature to erase the marks of horror from the landscape. Clouds gathered as we gained some height, in fact after we entered the evergreens above the line of the fire were enveloped in mists so that we had not an iota of view the rest of the way to the summit.

This picture of W.J. was taken as we began to enter the clouds and shows in some measure the heavy growth of conifers and the dark mistiness of the forest. On Algonquin, as on all the Adirondack peaks more than 4500 feet in altitude, the timber does not extend to the top which is a mass of badly weathered rock having every crevice filled with moss, sedge, or scrub spruce.

Walter Johnson

On Algonquin we stood at last and not a thing could we see but near rock and fog. All the evidence that our eyes could gather would prove but that we were on a rocky mound only a few feet above the rest of the cloud covered world. Everything reeked with moisture. The rocks were clammy. The depressions on there tops were full of water freshly distilled from the clouds. We did all there was to do, namely hung around wishing for a clear sky. Suddenly as if a giant hand had flung back the curtain the clouds just in front of us parted. Instead of the level rest of the world we looked down 2000 ft. at Lake Colden and the Flowed Lands glimmering darkly there way, way below. Such a quick change of perspective almost made us dizzy. It was somewhat like a chasm half a mile deep suddenly opening at ones feet. We stood entranced with the beauty and grandeur of it. Masses of cloud, white as steam poured up through Avalanche Pass. Grey clouds were shooting up over the whole length of the McIntyre range, curling and spiraling as they swept down into the great valley. The fragments that reached the other side were again raised by Mt. Colden and his companions to join the mass that obscured all the distant view. Only a few minutes could we stand there exclaiming. The clouds soon became thicker until even old Algonquin’s height failed to cut them through, then our curtain closed and all was level and misty again. For two hours we waited in the fog for another view but in vain. At times the cloud blanket would become very heavy giving us little freshly made showers. At others we could almost see the sun through and hope would spring eternal.

Heart Lake & Algonquin

Getting down from Algonquin was harder than getting up. On the bare rocks of the summit the feet of travelers had left little mark. Here the trail was marked by small piles of rocks which the fog made hard to find. It was case of find the next before losing sight of the last or we would have been in the paradox of being lost on the bare peak of a mountain. In the dense scrub which we soon entered the path was easy to follow in fact it was impossible to travel anywhere but in the path.

We were both agreed that the trail down from Algonquin to Lake Colden was the worst that we had yet traveled. Steep, wet, muddy and rough, without the compensation of beauty except for rare views of the stream we followed or of Mt. Colden as show. At this place a little more than half way, down the trail led out onto the smooth granite bed of the stream then unoccupied except in a small way in the center. Evidence was plenty however of a springtime fullness that swept everything before it.

But even this awful trail held much of interest. As usual the effect of altitude upon vegetation was very noticeable. The spruce ranging from foot high scrub near the top to magnificent specimens at Lake Colden.

This snap was taken in the deep forest just before we reached the shore of Lake Colden. There is something fascinating about these dark mossy woods. They are so dwarfing to man, so silent, so full of the mystery of growth. A true lover of the woods would no more shout or be uproarious while in their shade than he would in the aisles of a cathedral.

“Colden” a small and beautiful lake we reached about 3:30, having found that the clouds we were wishing away on the summit extended only a couple hundred feet down and that not a drop of rain had fallen on the lower country. Here we could look back at old Algonquin, serene in his proud loftiness and see the clouds still sweeping over his crest.

Mt. Colden being lower its peak was free from clouds most of the time, only the lower wisps dragging over the bare summit. One of these wisps I caught in the act with the camera as is here evident.

The Ranger at Colden was not at his cabin so we pushed on without even leaving cards. The trail closely skirted the lake on its western edge continuously giving us beautiful views of that wilderness water with Mt. Colden scarred by avalanches towering in the background. These avalanches from Colden I suppose have given the name to Avalanche Pass and the lake formed by their filling up the pass or rather damming it up in places.

This picture was taken near the southern end of the lake looking out through Avalanche Pass. At the outlet of Lake Colden it was necessary to descent a ladder and cross a low dam to reach the trail to Marcy that we wished to now follow.

Avalanche Pass

Here just below the outlet the beautiful Opalescent River joins the waters of Colden. Several open camps were built or in process hereabouts, lovely situations abounding.

The first excitement of this trail was crossing the Opalescent on the slanting trunk of a fallen giant. That may sound easy but with a heavy pack on your back and your legs weary with walking it requires rather close attention to balance.

This Opalescent we found increasing in wild beauty as we followed it up the valley. Properly named it is. Its many pools gouged from solid rock gave all the tints of the gem. Lovely greens and blues, soft yellows and pinks.

Man as far as we saw was absent from that entire territory but many were the traces of his marauding. Beginning a short distance up from Colden fire and the lumberman had combined to remove all the timber from both banks of the river. On the southern bank which the trail followed the trees had fallen victims of the axe in fact most of the way the trail followed an old lumber road. Berry bushes and young soft woods had sprung up thick all over the whole area making a haven for deer and bear. Although we caught not a glimpse of either, deer tracks were continually found in the soft dirt of the trail leading us to expect every new vista a turn of the way brought to contain a deer, head erect, all alert to see what might be disturbing his feeding.

We were still in this lumbered tract when we came upon an open camp which we decided to make our home for the night. Delightfully situated this shelter was. Not five feet from rocky bank of Uphill Brook about three rods from its merging with the Opalescent. Plenty of wood was to be found near in the stubs left standing by the lumbermen and our bed grew just across the stream. It was my first experience with a balsam bed. I found it much better that I expected. Not nearly as hard and fewer stubs to prod you between the ribs. Moreover what few discomforts it manifest were forgiven because of its perfume. It was necessary only to roll over on it to surround oneself with a fog of fresh soothing balm. There were two beings that night that needed not the soothing however to bring sleep. We were frankly tired. For some distance our packs had seemed very heavy. We found genuine relief in sliding them off although we were top heavy without them so used had we become to balancing them in our walking.

Our bed being cut and carefully layered down we made our fire and supper. This being over we made ready wood for the morning, spread our blankets, and were soon in slumber lulled by the monotone music of Uphill Brook. I remember just before dosing off of trying to separate the brooks gurgling bass notes from its trickling tinkling tenors.

Sleep was merely a disconnected series of naps. We kept track of the progress of the night by the shadows cast by the moon. About four o clock I stepped out and had a glorious view of Orion and his attendants newly risen ahead of the sun. The wind had turned sharply to the north clearing the air of mists.

This fact and because we were up where the air is thinner and purer the stars shone with unwonted brilliancy. The great nebula of Orion was easily to be seen with the naked eye. I also went out and carefully peeked up and down the brook in hopes of seeing a deer but of course they were elsewhere.

Six o’ clock came and we had eaten our breakfast, made up our packs, cleaned the camp and again were off still following the Opalescent no grown small with youth until we arrived at the juncture of Flespar Brook and that stream. Here the trail forsook the Opalescent to follow its new love, Felspar Brook keeping well out of sight of it most of the time. This brook is the outlet of Lake Tear the highest lake in the state as well as the highest source of the Hudson.

Up the steep valley we climbed, the sun warming the tops of the hills for a long time before we met it shining through the thick evergreens near the top of the pass. Here between Skylight and Marcy we struggled around the muddy and boggy edge of Lake Tear.

This photo shows the shallow lake in the background and one of the firmer patches of bog. The altitude of this spot is about 4400 ft. as the smallness of the spruces show. Marcy seemed very near and sloped steeply up to its peak a thousand feet above, where the calm morning sun was bathing the windswept rocks with pink light. An open camp near seemed to be the oldest and most used of any on all the trail. The carved and written names and initials on its logs proclaimed the feeble bids of many to fame.

Mount Marcy

We were on a water divide. Although we did not do it we remarked that we could carry a pail of water only a few rods and change its place of meeting with the sea from New York Bay to the Gulf of New Foundland, so sharply is the divide defined.

The descent from Lake Tear into the mouth of Panther Gorge gave us one of the surprises of the trip. From what we had seen of the land from Marcy’s top the year before we expected only a short descent. This we found far from true as we could plainly see when we were far enough down to overlook the country. Down, down through the usual gradation of growth, close pass the scar of one of Marcy’s old avalanches and finally on stepping stones across the stream that Panther George disgorges.

Lake Tear of the Clouds

The wilderness scene at that point stands out in my memory as one of the prettiest pictures I have yet seen. A broad rocky stream overhung with great spruces, balsams, etc. Marcy Brook tumbling with graceful cascades into it from the west. Ferns and young evergreens furnishing a dark background for the white and green water sparkling crystal pure from one rocky pool to another.

Haystack, the second highest peak and first in reputation for fine view arose abruptly ahead so we did not linger long to enjoy the beauties of the stream. A wonderful stand of virgin spruce kept us exclaiming for some distance up. This gradually dwarfed of course until after the usual and expected climbing we came through the scrub and out upon the bare rock of the peak. Algonquin’s top was fairly smooth but Haystacks was truly a stack, and a huge one of rocks as large as houses. If the trail was not marked I believe that one might have trouble getting on the very top. This picture was taken only a few hundred feet from the summit and gives some idea of the roughness of the way. The day was one in thousand for our purpose. A minimum of haze and no clouds gave us wonderful views on all sides. Once on the very highest spot we threw off our packs in exultation filling our souls with wilderness beauty to the brim. We heartily concurred with anyone giving Haystack first place as a perch for views. The view to the East was the most spectacular perhaps of all. Here a long range of mighty peaks including Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, Giant and Rocky Peak stretched away to the horizon. Marcy upheld finely its Indian name of Cloud Splitter. Its enormous bulk heaved into the sky far above its fellows.

This is as the way the Cloud Splitter looked from the top of Haystack. When on the giant itself one cannot see the giant as a whole. For this reason Marcy is more impressive when viewed from one of the near peaks than when climbed itself.

To the South east the upper Ausable gleamed black in its frame of spruces. The glint of water was to be seen in most every direction. Some of them pale blue with distance as Long Lake and Placid.

This phot was taken on Haystack looking over the range to the East.

We left the summit more from becoming chilly than from becoming bored with the attractions thereof.

The climb down from the top of Haystack and over Little Haystack was made in short order. A short distance down from Little Haystack we came upon the parting of the ways and were on the range trail. This range trail was I believe laid out either by an aviator, an antelope or a human with his eye only on the views. View there is a plenty of the most varied and wonderful kinds but it is rightfully earned by any one attempting it.

Haystack & Little Haystack

We had planned to stay overnight in a shelter between Haystack and Basin. If we had done this all would have been well. The reasons we did not were many. We reached the camp in the early afternoon. While there trying to decide what to do a young man came over the trail from St. Huberts who assured us that it was not hard at all to go out from there. The night at that altitude, 4500 ft. promised to be rather chilly so we were both hot for going through to St. Huberts that night. We were deceived as to the ease of the trail, were more tired than we thought and had heavy packs so that by the time we had made our first ascent, that of Basin we were exhausted. Sink- down upon the wet moss of that eminence, sheltered by the low growing spruces we realized our mistake. After eating some bread and dried beef which gave us renewed energy we pushed wearily on preferring to take our chances on shelter ahead than lose the distance we had made so difficultly by retracing our toilsome steps.

Struggling over the rocky crest of Basin our weariness was again repaid by the lovely grandeur spread before our eyes. Such scenes as this one over the mountains to the east would revive anything less than a corpse.

Down Basin, across a narrow pass, and up Saddleback we toted our sagging packs. More loveliness of thickly wooded valleys. More grandeur of far spaces and great hills.

It would take the saddle of a Cyclops to be at all adequate to the size of Saddle back but when on its ridge it was easy to see the wherefore of the name. It was as if we were on the back of some enormous petrified monster so narrow and long was the top.

Now to add to our troubles we were taken in by the map. This showed a shelter between Saddleback and Gothics. We had made up our minds that we must stay in that shelter for the night. Without rest we did not feel that we could climb anymore peaks.

Thus heartened by the nearing rest for we looked of course for the camp at the foot of Saddleback we started scrambling down. Scrambling is the best term that I can think of but even that does not convey the impression necessary to form an idea of the balancing on narrow shelves on the face of cliffs or the letting oneself down over rocks by clinging to roots and brush.

At the point this picture was taken a rope about a hundred feet long was necessary to get down the incline. Walt remarked that it was no place for ladies. Another narrow pass covered with the half-stunted spruce separated the foot of Saddleback from a sheer cliff about two hundred feet high. In these spruces we judged we should find the camp of our maps mention. Straight and narrow like the way to Heaven was the trail with no sign of camp. Alas the makers of the map had considered this height of land to trivial to indicate.

Taking another hitch in our pack straps and double one in our dispositions we were off. Straight up the side of the cliff the trail led, at times hard to discern because it was so much all rock. Even this added weariness was not without regard for from the top we had this our finest view of the Gothics. The camp of our searching we found snug and in place at the foot of the Gothics.

And now another question arose. Here close to the steep incline of the Gothics the trail up from Johns Brook by way of Orebed Brook joined the range trail on which we were plodding. We knew that not far from the meeting of Orebed Brook with Johns Brook stood Johns Brook Lodge. Here we might find a bath and warm shelter for the night that was fast approaching. The question was should we stay up under the clouds in the open camp or force our jaded legs a couple miles farther and have a bath and warmth. We decided shortly in favor of the latter but I am certain that if it had not been all downhill that the verdict would have been different.

Once more we saw a stream take shape from tiny rills and follow it until its tribute from the steps along its way combined to make it a beautiful tumbling mountain stream.

Weariness upon weariness but we keep on our legs moving mechanically and our packs sagging as if filled with rocks. How glad we were to see the roof of John Brook Lodge in the cool twilight needs no saying. How sound were our slumbers under ample blankets needs as little.

Among the guests at the Lodge that night were a Mr. and Mrs. Beal bound for Marcy by way of Slant Rock. In an early morning conversation Mr. Beal so interested me in a specimen of slime mold that they had found the day before that I went with them a mile or so up the trail to see it.

Returning we again took up our packs and sauntered away down the Johns Brook trail familiar to us from the year before familiar but not unappreciated. Rested form our over exertion of the day before and not being at all in a hurry we enjoyed every step of the way. During the five miles that brought us out to Keene Valley we drank many sweet farewell sips of pure mountain water and scenery. Both always loved and enjoyed.

Thank you for your interest in the Ticonderoga Historical Society.  To help maintain the Hancock House and its archival collections please consider being a member if you are not all ready one.  Your support is very much appreciated.

Historical Note:  Arthur Carr and Walter Johnson were Ticonderoga business men and active in community affairs for several decades during the 1900s. 

9/6/17 -wgd

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