Next> | <Prev | ^ToC | End

Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

By George Washington Sears ("Nessmuk") (1821-1890), 1880-3

Rough Notes from the Woods, 5

Forest and Stream, Nov. 18, 1880

YES. Let us leave the hot pavements, the baking, blistering walls and sweltering sleeping, or sleepless, rooms. Let us, i' God's name, take to the cool waters and calm shades of the forest.

For brick and mortar breed filth and crime,
And a pulse of evil that throbs and beats;
And men are withered before their prime
By the curse paved in with the lanes and streets.
And lungs are smothered, and shoulders bowed,
In the poisonous reek of mill and mine,
And death stalks in on the struggling crowd,
But he shuns the shadow of fir and pine.

It was on the morning of the last seventh of August when I started from Third Lake to fish for salmon, as lake trout are invariably called here. The weather could not have been fairer. I was well organized to fish a buoy of my own, with an informal permit to fish others, and I had not the slightest intention of doing anything else. And just here comes in the fascination of this happy-go-lucky, care-free sort of forest life. You never know, or care, one day what you are going to do the next.

After a delightful paddle through First and Second Lakes, I passed the Eagle's Nest and entered the Third. Then it occurred to me that I had a blanket-roll at Sam Dunakin's camp, consisting of gum coat, blanket, pocket hatchet and revolver. It was a good time to get the traps. Fourth Lake is at times rough. Now it was smooth. Sam is one of the oldest guides in the wilderness, and of course we had a chatty sort of visit, which made me a little late in paddling out for the Third Lake.

Now, a short mile below Dunakin's camp is the cold-spring, or Snyder camp, which I had a standing invitation to visit. As I was passing, Mr. M., the head man of the camp, hailed me with a cordial invitation to land. I did. Found the cold-spring camp rather a high-toned affair for a forest residence. There was an ice-house, a good boat-house and a log-house that would be a palace to an early settler. They had a guide who, like most guides, was an excellent cook; and of course I was not to be let off until after dinner. I wish to record the fact that the best lake trout I have eaten in the wilderness was at that camp. They were also capable of a glass of good wine, and people of culture, withal. What wonder if it was 4 p.m. when I said good-bye and paddled out into the Fourth?

Then it struck me that I had a seven mile start toward Blue Mountain Lake, with such weather as I might not get again for a month. True, I had no supplies, but they could be had at Arnold's, some two miles above, and I struck across and up the lake for Arnold's place. Got some lunch, arranged my duffle for a trip, and paddled out for a log camp I knew of at the foot of Fifth Lake. It was getting dusk when I struck the Inlet, and by the time I reached the camp it was nearly dark; but I found the camp in good condition. There was fresh browse and plenty of dry birch wood, with a roof invulnerable to rain.

I had no tea or coffee, or any sort of dish; but I foraged an old tomato can and made a pot of hemlock tea, had a glorious fire, and a night just such as a woodsman loves. There was not a soul within miles of me, and the shriek of the steam whistle was afar off, beyond the keenest ear-shot. The owls were plentier than usual, and in exceptionally good voice, while a loon, just above in the Fifth, kept up his strange wild cries at intervals through the night.

At daylight I repeated the dose of hemlock tea, finished the little lunch I had left, and paddled up the Fifth Lake, which is only a frog pond of some ten acres.

From Fifth to Sixth Lake there is a carry of three-quarters of a mile, which rather turned my hair, for it was a warm morning. But from Sixth to Seventh it is clear paddling. From Seventh to Eighth is a stiff carry of one mile and twenty rods, according to the best informed guides, and before I got over this I was pretty well winded.

At the landing on the Eighth I met a young man, one of a party of two engaged on the Adirondack Survey, who very considerately invited me to his camp for dinner. It was well. Like Falstaff when he took a foot command, I was "heinously unprovided," and I felt too weak and tired to make the tedious carry from Eighth Lake to Brown's Tract Inlet without food and rest.

I found the two young men encamped in a shanty tent on the south side of a point which makes out from the mainland, and their landing so hidden that they were not likely to be bored with visitors. Stayed with them two hours and got partially rested; also was feasted on pork and beans, and paddled around the point to the carry, not feeling very well competent to make it. To a strong, well man it might have been a trifle. To me it was most exhausting. I arrived at the landing on the Inlet so tired and beaten that I lay down on the leaves for more than an hour before launching out. I found the Inlet to be modeled after the letter S, with an occasional oxbow thrown in for variety, and a dull, sluggish stream, deep and dark, fringed with aquatic plants, shrubs and dank cold grass, with not a place in its course of four miles where I would like to venture a landing.

At last the broad Raquette lay before me, dotted with green islands, and with its quaint bays, points, headlands and islands so mixed and mingled to the eye that although my directions had been lucid I was puzzled just which way to steer. My destination was Ed Bennett's, and I was to turn a green island which lay to the left, when I was assured I would see his landing with a flagstaff and flag, which on the larger lakes is the usual sign of a forest hostelrie.

I saw no flag, but afar off what looked to be a new building and from thence came a sound as of one who drives nails into resonant boards. As I live, it turned out to be a new church in the course of erection on an island. Just where the congregation is to come from I can not say, but preachers are plenty enough here in the summer, and perhaps it is well that they should have a regular house of worship somewhere in the woods in order to keep their hands in while doing the wilderness.

At length, after much desultory paddling, I sighted Bennett's flag and made my best time for the landing. It was time; the wind was rising, and Raquette Lake can get too rough for a ten foot canoe very easily. I was surprised to find Bennett's as well furnished and more neatly kept than many a first-class hotel in larger towns on the direct line of railroad travel. Table, beds and rooms were furnished forth in a manner that left little to be desired, and when it is remembered that all supplies must be brought by a long and expensive route from the eastern side of the wilderness, his terms seem very reasonable. Two dollars per day, or ten to twelve dollars per week, are Ed's figures, and having been a guide for years he knows just what the tourist requires better than a greenhorn.

But alas! For the romance of paddling through the forest alone in an eighteen-pound canoe.

Before I was half rested my ears were pained, my soul was sick with the shriek of a steam whistle, and a small steamer rounded to and made a landing after the manner of small steamers outside the Adirondacks.

The little canoe serves as a letter of introduction all through the woods, and I soon struck up an acquaintance with the pilot of the steamer--she wasn't large enough to sport a captain--who said, "You don't want to paddle that cockle-shell over this lake. Put her on deck and come with us." And I did. I was very tired and far from strong. It seemed silly to do so much hard work needlessly, and I went the rounds of the little steamer with the unpronounceable name. Across the lake we made another landing--Kenwell's--and found another hotel, new, neat, well found and moderate in price. Kenwell's terms are $1.50 per day, $7 to $8 per week, and his place is very pleasantly located. From Kenwell's to the Forked Lake House landing, and here I struck tourists and guides in force. Leavitt was full to overflowing. I could find a place to sleep after some managing, and the table was excellent; but people were becoming too numerous, and I had a suspicion that I had left the wilder part of the wilderness behind me when I left the Eighth Lake.

Game and fish were by no means plenty. The Forked Lake House had a corps of guides employed, but they could not keep the house in fish or venison. I did not take either after leaving the Fulton Chain. All the same, every tourist had his breech-loading battery, and a full supply of rods, reels and lines, which is a great comfort to the average tourist and does small damage to trout or deer.

From Forked Lake I went by steamer mostly to the carry on the Marion, made the carry, and found another little steamer to make connections on the up-river side. Went on board of her and became resigned to steam and a teeming civilization that increased nearly every hour.

Passed up the Marion through Utowana and Eagle Lakes and saw an old settled farm and an ordinary farm house on the northern shore of the latter, which being the only imitation of a farm on the trip usually induces inquiry. You will be told that long before the grand rush of tourists and the advent of costly hotels this place was cleared and occupied by "Ned Buntline." Here he secluded himself during a part at least of every year for many seasons; here he did his literary work, and the place is, and probably always will be, known as the "Ned Buntline Farm."

A very clear and beautiful sheet of water is Blue Mountain Lake. It has often been called the gem of the wilderness. But its days of natural wildness are gone forever. There are three large hotels on its banks filled to overflowing with guests. Lines of stages leave daily for different points to the eastward. All luxuries of the season are to be found at the hotels, and billiards, croquet, boating, lounging through the groves, singing and piano-playing give the shores of the lake quite a Long Branchy air. Besides the hotels there are private boarding-houses, while many families have private residences on the prettiest sites on the lake, which they are pleased to call camps.

The Blue Mountain Lake House, kept by a genial, thorough landlord, once a guide, had a hundred and fifty guests, and, more coming in, the house was overcrowded. John Holland is not the man to turn anybody out of doors, and he worked hard until nearly midnight to stow the whole party away for a comfortable sleep. Chairs, sofas, lounges, and finally the dining room floor were utilized, and at last the ultimate citizen was quieted. I succeeded in getting a short lounge with a back-breaking bend in nearly the middle of it, but could not get so much as a cotton sheet in the way of bedding.

I went down to the canoe, got my tent cloth and gum coat, wet with the heavy dew, put the dry sides next me and turned in; soon got warm and slept soundly.

Of the other hotels, the American, just across the bay, had up eleven wall tents, all of which were full, and the house overrun with guests. The Blue Mountain House (Merwin's) was also full, as well as every boardinghouse; and some of the guides at 11 p.m. took their blankets and went out to seek a spot to camp in for the night. And little more than eight years ago there stood a bark shanty just above, the only sign of human habitation on Blue Mountain Lake. Speaking of this rush to the Northern Wilderness in '79, Colvin says, "Where one came last year, ten come this, a hundred the next." He is just well right. You meet them everywhere. They permeate every accessible lake and stream, and it is hard to say what lakes and streams are not accessible. You meet them in the most out of the way places, just where you expected to be alone, and always the breech-loader and fly-rod which they hang to like grim death.

Said an old guide to me, "If they averaged one deer to three guns there wouldn't be a deer left in the wilderness at the end of three years." Said another guide, one of the oldest and best, "What few deer are killed here had better be killed by parties who employ us; it encourages them to come again." And P. Jones, guide to the Stickney camp and one of the most intelligent, spoke thus: "We don't care to kill many deer ourselves, or to catch many trout. Just enough for use. When we hunt for market we go to Michigan, on the Au Sable. Killed twenty-five there last fall, and am going again when the guiding season is over. The deer in these woods are worth more to us guides alive than dead. They are worth fifty dollars a head as they run." That is about the view taken of fishing and hunting by the average guide in the North Woods.

As I had come to do the lake and the mountain, I concluded to go through. Climbed Blue Mountain on a hot August morning and on arriving at the verge found Colvin's lookout ladder, made by nailing cross strips to the trunks of two spruce trees. It was rather an old affair and looked shaky, but I went up and took in the view, which was really extensive and fine; and then I followed the trail which leads to the signal on the highest point of the mountain, climbed the signal and tried to make out the twenty-eight lakes I had been told I should see, but could only make out about half of them. As to mountain peaks, the number was rather confusing than satisfying. They ran together and over and by each other in a manner to throw an ordinary mind into a state of temporary imbecility.

I could dimly discern Marcy, and I thought I identified Mounts Haystack and Skylight. But they rose in such innumerable and unknowable billows, peaks, points and ridges, that the mind--at least my mind--can retain only a confused recollection of them. It had been hot work making the ascent. It was cold and windy on the summit of the mountain, and the immediate surroundings were cheerless and desolate. One entire summit had been slashed in 1873 to give an outlook for the signals of the survey, and the dead, decaying trees, lying just as they fell, were not pleasant to look upon.

There was an excellent bark shanty between the spruce ladder and the signal, and in a swampy depression near the summit under the edge of a boulder, I found a pool of cold spring water which rendered the bottle of water I had brought from the hotel quite superfluous.

I had done the mountain, and it seemed the proper thing to do the lake. I did it. I paddled in and around among the islands, landed up and launched out again, greatly to the delight of the youngsters, who were there in force with parents or chaperones and who were exceedingly taken with the little boat; and then I ignobly placed her on the deck of the round-sterned little packet and paddled by steam to Ed Bennett's landing on the Raquette. And then it came down to the double blade again.

After a night's rest and an excellent breakfast I started out to cross the lake, and rather got down on my muscle, for the wind was ahead and rising. By the time I got into smooth water at the mouth of Brown's Tract Inlet it was getting rough, and I was glad to be in the tortuous but safe inlet once more. A tedious paddle of four miles, a weary carry of one and a half, brought me to the Eighth Lake. Wind ahead and hard traveling. Another tiresome carry of a mile and over and I was on the Seventh, with the wind strong and the second largest lake of the chain to cross. I was a long time making it, and was almost too tired to make the next carry from Sixth to Fifth, but I finally shouldered the canoe and made the distance slowly and wearily to the Fifth, which at least ended carrying for that day. It was well that the wind went down with the sun or I could not have made the rough and stormy Fourth, which often drives the best guide boats to land. As it was, the canoe pitched and danced about quite lively, and it was nearly dark when I landed at Ed Arnold's, on the south shore of the Fourth.

The Fourth, by the way, is the largest lake of the chain and is famed for its lake trout. Arnold's is a central point for catching them, and he is an experienced guide. His terms are low, one dollar per day, or even less by the week. He has buoys at the best points near the house, at which you can fish as much as you please, and you are supposed to bring your fish to the house. A night's rest at Arnold's, a pleasant canoe ride down the Fourth, through the placid Third, by the Eagle's Nest into the Second, by the Stickney camp into the First, with its dead timber and long marshy outlet, and at 9 a.m. I hauled in at the Forge House landing, well pleased with my Blue Mountain trip, but with no idea of repeating it this season. I can do better.

Next> | ^Top