Archives For August 2015

Henry and Josephine.

August 30, 2015 — Leave a comment

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Today I hiked to Nye Mountain and Street Mountain, my 18th and 19th peaks on the way to 46. The hike was straight-forward and not that difficult. I left the parking lot at 8:47 AM, reached Nye at 11:00, had lunch on Street and was back to the car a few minutes after 2:00 PM.

Both peaks are covered with trees and the views are not as spectacular as the views from other nearby peaks. On the way down I catch a glimpse of Heart Lake and remember the story about how it got its name.

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According to the legend Henry Van Hovenberg left New York City in 1877 and visited the Adirondacks. He met a young woman, Josephine Scofield, and together they climbed Mount Marcy where he pledged his love to her. Looking out at the valley below them they saw a heart-shaped lake and decided that they would marry and build their home on its shores.

They returned to New York City together before Josephine left for a trip Toronto. On her way she stopped outside of Buffalo and was never seen again after taking a walk to the edge of the Horseshoe Falls.

Heartbroken, Henry returned to the Adirondacks in 1878, bought the 640 acres around the lake and built a hotel where he had planned to build his home with Josephine. He renamed the lake Heart Lake and a nearby mountain Mount Jo in honor of Josephine.

Recent attempts to verify this story have failed and many people now believe that Henry made up the whole thing as a marketing ploy to romanticize his hotel.

Even though there probably never was a Josephine, I suspect that at least once in the last 138 years a man and a woman hiked together to Mount Marcy and fell in love while looking down at Heart Lake and the beauty spread out before them. That is the true story of Henry and Jo.

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Last Thursday I hiked to Iroquois Peak.

Leaving from from the Adirondack Log trailhead just before 7:00 AM, I stop at the McIntyre Brook waterfall at 8:21 AM, pass over Algonquin at 9:55 and reach the summit of Iroquois just before 11. 

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While enjoying a sandwich on Iroquois I remember back to July of 1975 when I worked as a counselor at Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp. I taught merit badge classes and lived in a large canvas tent with a wooden floor. 

I was a pretty good instructor but what I loved most about that summer was the ceremony we held every Friday night to recognize scouts selected for the honor of joining the Order of the Arrow. It began just after dark in the middle of Lake Crumhorn where about twenty of us waited in the camp’s fleet of canoes. When the scout troops were all assembled in front of the mess hall, we lit torches made with strips of old tent canvas dipped in Kerosene and paddled to shore.

For the next forty minutes we told the legend of the Lenni-Lenape, a peaceful tribe that inhabited the Delaware River Valley long ago. When neighboring tribes started to raid their hunting grounds Chief Chingachgook asked “Who will go to the villages of the Delaware and warn them of the danger that threatens?” No one stepped forward except his son Uncas who volunteered and ran from village to village to provide the warning and recruit others who would volunteer their service for the good of the Lenni-Lenape.

In our ceremony Dave Jones played Chingachgook. I was Meteu, the medicine man, and Eddie Frazier played Uncas. I opened the ceremony by dancing around the council fire, pausing four times to chant a Lennai-Lenape blessing while shaking the large rattles I carried. Dave recited the legend of the Lenni-Lenape and then Eddie sprinted past the gathered campers tapping the new recruits on the chest as Uncas had done when he travelled from village to village to gather volunteers.

Try as I might I cannot remember the words to the songs we sang on those Friday evenings long ago other than the opening line Dave sang after I finished the blessing. I leave Iroquois singing it over and over again hoping that the rest of the words will eventually come to me.

They do not, but I smile anyways remembering that amazing summer in 1975 when I played a medicine man who danced around a council fire.

Vigil-new-dk red

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My hike to Table Top and Phelps starts later than usual and I don’t depart from the Adirondack Loj trailhead until 8:49 AM. I cross below Marcy Dam at 9:38 and follow the blue trail as it climbs along Phelps Brook before veering south towards Mount Marcy. My plan today is to hike to Table Top Mountain and then climb Phelps Mountain on the way back to the trailhead.

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Marcy Dam

It is hot and humid and I stop at the second to last crossing of the brook to refill my water bottles. A father and a son pass by me as I sit on a rock waiting for the Steri Pen to finish. We exchange hellos and they continue up the blue trail. The boy is a chatter box and appears to be about ten years old. His father is quiet. They are well prepared for the hike carrying day packs and wearing well-worn ankle high boots. I wait a while longer to give them space before rejoining the trail.

I pass the start of the trail to Phelps at 10:15, reach the start of the trail to Table Top at 10:57 and begin the steady climb to the summit. As the trail steepens I narrow the gap and can now hear bits of their conversation. The boy wants to know how much farther is left to climb. The father does not answer at first, perhaps realizing that with lots of climbing yet to do no prediction will satisfy the boy. When pressed, he finally replies, “I don’t know, but we sure have hiked a long way.”

I hear this exchange several more times as they continue the climb and think that there is no better answer to the boy’s question. When I reach the summit they are having lunch on a rock ledge. The father identifies by name the peaks that are spread out before them and the son asks about the trails to each and the father shares his memories from having climbed them in year’s past. After they leave I finish my sandwich as a storm gathers around Mount Marcy.

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Mount Marcy from Table Top

I start the climb to the Phelps summit at 1:25 PM. This trail is much harder than the trail to Table Top and I have to stop several times to catch my breath. I climb a section assuming that I have reached the top only to find that the trail heads in another direction and starts climbing again.

I get discouraged and want to check the map to figure out just how much more is left to climb. Instead I remember the father’s answer to his son and choose not to worry about what lies ahead but rather to be proud of what I have accomplished thus far.

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Wright and Algonquin from Phelps

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One of the reference books I rely on to plan my hikes is the 14th edition of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s “High Peaks Trails” (2012), edited by Tony Goodwin and David Thomas-Train.

Here is what the that book says about Esther Mountain, the peak I climbed on Wednesday:

This most northern of the major Adirondack peaks is named for Esther McComb. In 1839 at the age of 15, while trying to climb Whiteface Mountain from the north, she became lost and made of the first recorded ascent of this mountain instead. The Adirondack Forty-Sixers placed a tablet to her memory on the summit in 1939.

I decide to start from the trailhead just of route 86 after it crosses the West Branch of the Ausable River. I start at 7:00 AM by following the trail to Marble Mountain, much of which can be used by mountain bikes. There are no particularly difficult parts on the hike, just a steady climb. I have the trail to myself and reach the top of Marble Mountain at 8:25 and head southwest on the trail that leads to Whiteface Mountain. Soon I hear snippets of a conversation and realize that a couple is behind me, having started from a different trailhead. I reach the Esther Mountain trail junction at 9:33, pass over Lookout Mountain at 9:44 and am enjoying my sandwich on Esther when the couple finally catch up.

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We exchange hellos. They are from Connecticut and are surprised to hear that I regularly drive to Lake Placid from Baltimore. We gather around the plaque and compare notes about Esther McComb. My story is that she got lost trying to climb Whiteface. Her story is that Esther was never found. His has a happier ending; she was lost while trying to find her father who was surveying Whiteface but he rescued her. I like his story best.

I am amazed at the possibility of being lost on this mountain. It is desolate at the top of the peak. I have no idea what the forests here were like in 1839, but today they are impassable. Every inch is covered by the boughs of pine trees and the trail is very narrow and nearly overgrown. It is cold and very windy. A terrifying place even with a well-defined trail, a compass and a map.

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The hike down is easy and I am off the trail by 1:10 PM,

When I get back to the house I am intrigued about the story of Esther McComb and consult another reference book on my crowded bookshelf, “Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks” (2011). Starting at page 557, Tim Tefft recounts the various legends surrounding the naming of Esther Mountain and then explains, relying on the research of Sandra Weber in “The Lure of Esther Mountain, Matriarch of the Adirondack High Peaks” (1995), that Esther McComb probably never existed

None of the information uncovered by Sandra Weber was available in 1939 when Grace Hudawalski, for whom Grace Peak is named, and her husband decided to organize a celebration to commemorate the one hundred year anniversary of the legendary ascent with a plaque placed at the summit in Esther’s honor.

And although it turns out that some to the information set in stone at the summit is probably not accurate, there’s an even better ending to this story. As Tim Tefft explains:

For many years, at her summer home near Adirondack on Schroon Lake, Grace Hudowalski had on her porch a summit register canister which had once been fastened to a tree at the top of Esther. Esther Mountain meant a lot to her. After reading Russell Carson’s “Peaks and People” and having determined that she would climb the 46 peaks, Grace decided that Esther Mountain would be her finishing peak. Thus it was that she became 46er #9 on Esther Mountain on August 26, 1937. She was the first woman to complete the 46 and the first 46er to finish on Esther. She championed and celebrated Esther McComb….but is possible, just possible, that the first woman to climb the mountain “just for fun” was Grace herself.

11, 12 and 13

August 3, 2015 — Leave a comment

2015-08-03 14.10.03My plan was to climb three peaks to bring my total to thirteen. I thought I would finish in seven hours. Ten hours later I still had a few miles to go.

I started at the Garden trailhead and decided to take the Southside Trail ignoring the signs warning that it had been abandoned.

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The trail is an old forest road that for the most part is in remarkably good shape.

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But then it disappears, having been violently washed away and into the Johns Brook.

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The trail steepens after crossing Wolf Jaw Brook and I reach the Wolf Jaw Notch just before ten o’clock. I decide to turn right and head first to Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain. I am hiking alone today and am cautious at every tricky part. Others are not. I am passed by a young man running his way to the summit and I meet other groups heading up and down the trail at paces much quicker than mine.

I carry two forms of emergency communication, an ACR personal locator beacon and a signaling mirror that is a hold over from my days as a Boy Scout. It is doubtful that the mirror will be of much use in an emergency given the dense tree cover over head but I like having it and knowing how to use it. The locater beacon communicates with satellites. Although it is surprisingly heavy I always bring it because it provides me with the reassurance I need to hike these trails alone.

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In my earlier hikes I carried a day’s supply of water in a Camelback bladder. Now I bring two water bottles, a filter and a UV water purifier and drink water from the streams and brooks I pass along the way.

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There are two peaks on Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain, I reach the highest one at 10:56. It takes me another hour to reach Armstrong Mountain. I stop for just a minute and turn back, recrossing Upper Wolf Jaw on my way back down to the notch. I am very tired when I start the climb up Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. I reach its summit at just before two o’clock and stop to enjoy my last sandwich.

Peering across the valley I spot Big Slide Mountain and remember fondly my hike there with two friends last Labor Day weekend and how we sat eating lunch staring at the mountaintop where I am now.

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During that hike we came upon a young deer just as we entered the trail. I think I may have met her again today.

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