Next> | <Prev | ^ToC | End

Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

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

Cruise of the Sairy Gamp, 8

Forest and Stream, Sept. 27, 1883

IT was on the morning of August 17, at S a.m., that I paddled out from the Whitney camp, intending to make the Forge House by evening, distance twenty-seven miles, about four miles of it carries. I made the first eight miles before stopping for breakfast, but was caught in a shower and spent a couple of hours drying out.

I had stopped at Alvah Dunning's island on Eighth Lake and had depended on finding the key to his camp, as he told me where to look for it when I met him at Raquette Falls. But the key was gone and I was obliged to take an outside ticket. So I stole a couple of Alvah's shooks, improvised a dry platform, made a rousing fire on the lee side of his camp, also a pot of green tea--the kind that raises the hair--got out the old shelter tent for a bed, and, having had breakfast, was lounging and smoking, when, at the landing above, I saw a blue boat on a pair of blue legs walk down to the water and prepare to launch out. The legs had the balance of a guide-looking man above them, and the man shipped his oars in a businesslike way, headed for the island, and came speedily abreast of the camp.

I hailed, "Would he land?"

He resitated for a moment, backed water, and came to the landing. He proved to be Fred Loveland, landlord of the Boreas River House and one of the old-time guides. He was bound for the Forge House and was in no hurry. That was just my case. I proposed that we keep company, and he readily agreed. And so, by the bright green solitary shores of the Eighth Lake and over to the clean sandy landing, we went together, or rather he went ahead, and I followed after with such speed as a nine-foot canoe can make, with a head wind and a short snappy sea to beat with the broad double blade.

At the landing he tied in and asked me to hold up the stern while he crept under and adjusted the neck-yoke. "She is a brute of a boat," he added. "In twenty-five years of guiding I never carried but one such boat, and I never will carry another. Once I get her to the Forge, she may go to--the fool that built her. She weighs over one hundred pounds." And she did. Once we stopped to rest on the mile carry from Eighth down to Seventh, and, as I held up the prow again, his remarks were terse and sharp on a "boat that it took two men to shoulder."

Over the carry, down the dismal swamp (where I hung up all night two years ago), sometimes in the channel, sometimes out, and we began to feel the swell at the head of Seventh.

I had kept good pace with the guide down the crooked channel, but when I saw the white caps on the Seventh it struck me as rather an unsocial way of traveling, that one should go ahead with a long, sharp boat, and his companion come puffing along in the rear with a canoe little larger than a bread tray. Wherefore I fell in readily with the suggestion that the larger boat would "trim" better with two than one. Also, I may have had some doubts as to whether I could make the opposite shore at all.

Loveland adjusted his seats for two, I got into the stern and took hold of the bit of fish-line that serves the Sairy for a painter. She danced along like a cork, and we crossed the Seventh, with its dreary shore lines of dead timber, with scarcely a spoken word. Down the crooked outlet to the more dismal Sixth, with its accursed, ill-smelling dam. Here we "took out" for the last carry, from Sixth to Fifth. It is nearly three-quarters of a mile, but is rocky, tortuous and hilly. One thing can be said of the Fifth: it is still about as nature formed it. Also, it is good "frogging" ground, but only a pughole of nine acres.

Coming down the shallow outlet of the Fifth, the wisdom of having good company became very apparent to me at least. There was a stiff topsail breeze blowing directly up the lake, and the white-crested waves at the head of the "Stormy Fourth" were piling up in a way that would have made it impossible for the Sairy to advance a rod in an hour. Not that I think the sea would have swamped her. But every wave would have lifted half her length out of water, the wind would have caught under her full bearings, also on the broad blades, and any progress would have been out of the question. Even the sturdy guide, with a well-handled pair of oars and a sharp, narrow boat, was sometimes brought to a standstill as we rounded an exposed point. Then there would come a lull and we would go ahead again. I think we were nearly two hours making the first three miles. There was no boat in sight but ours. Boats mostly avoid the head of the Fourth in a stiff wind.

When about half way down the lake we swung into a shallow bay to avoid the wind, and I saw, on the port bow, a neat, fresh-looking bark camp that appeared unoccupied. I called Loveland's attention to it, and, giving it one look, he turned and pulled straight for the landing without a word.

In ten minutes the boats were hauled up, I had a bright fire burning, and we had cleaned up an empty quart can for tea. He went to his boat and took out an oblong package which I noticed he had been very careful of, and the package developed into sandwiches, bread and cheese. My knapsack was capable of tea, sugar, butter and bacon, with tin-ware for cooking. There was a bed of fresh browse in the camp, and a fine spring nearby, with a rough table outside. Best of all, we were both wolf-hungry.

It was one of the impromptu, wholesome woodland dinners that are remembered through life, while the memory of more pretentious feasts have

Gone, like the tenants that left without warning,
Down the back entry of Time.

After dinner I suggested that we spend an hour or so smoking, lounging on the browse, and waiting for the wind to go down with the sun, and we did. There was no hurry. We had all the time there was, and the evening was almost certain to be fine, with a full moon. So we possessed our souls in patience and took turns smoking the only pipe we had between us.

"When the sun was very low, and wild winds bound within their Cell," we pulled over the remaining three miles of the now-placid Fourth, and I stopped at the foot to land at my old camp of three years ago, while Loveland rowed to Perrie's camp on Third Lake.

At Third Lake I found him and he urged me to take a seat in his boat to the Forge House, just for sociability; but I declined. I wanted to visit a little with old acquaintances, and also I had a fancy for taking in the lower three lakes by moonlight once more; for I had a presentiment that I was likely to go over them no more.

And when the moon rose, orange-red and large and full, I paddled, very quietly and a little sadly, over the Third, by the Eagle's Nest, across the Second, by the Stickney camp and over the First, and so down by the Indian Rock and down the channel until I made the lights of the Forge House. I landed at the boathouse, tied in, and at 8 :30 o'clock the Sairy was resting by the maple tree where my canoes have so often found a safe resting place.

It had been a part of my programme to take in about two weeks of deer hunting on the branches of Moose River: wherefore I had left the old hair-triggered, nail-driving muzzle loader at the Forge House in charge of Charley Barrett.

For the first twenty-one days after leaving the Forge House for Paul Smith's I had nineteen rainy days, and all cold. This, with an accident that nearly paralyzed my right arm, made the cruise a slow affair. And it was not strange that I found my vacation of six weeks all gone. But I still lingered, stealing one more week. I had been just one month crossing the Wilderness and returning. It was as well so. I was not running on time. I stopped wherever and whenever I found objects of interest, or saw a chance to pick up useful knowledge of the noted North Woods. And now my time was up.

On the morning of August 24th I picked up the Sairy at 5 a.m. and started for the last day's cruise I shall probably make in her. By way of the Stillwater and Jones's camp, it is twenty miles to Moose River Tannery. And the route is not what it was three or even two years ago. It has fallen into disuse. The bridge at the old Arnold place has succumbed to time and now blocks the course, a dismal looking wreck. Huge trees have fallen across the stream and remain as they fell. And there are two ugly flood-jams that are so many terrors to a light canoe.

Cautiously and slowly I worked by all these, and then there was the Little Rapids. Two years ago I paddled the Nipper up these rapids, and never took out until I reached the Forge House landing. It was not so now. The gate at the foot of First Lake was raised, and a black and white torrent was rushing and roaring over the ragged sandstone boulders, looking a trifle dangerous for such a light craft. While I was hanging on at the head of the rapids, back-paddling and making up my mind whether to "shoot" them or carry around, fate decided the question. One of those colorless boulders caught the prow of the canoe, whirled her broadside on, and the next instant I was shooting the rapids, stern foremost. I think it was not five seconds until I was safely by the rocks and on the level, foamy current below. One bump and a jump on a rock that nearly threw me out, and I was calmly floating on deep, clear water.

Feeling a little faint I headed down stream and paddled leisurely to Jones's camp, thinking what a neat adventure it would have been had I been capsized, and the canoe gone down the river without me. Aye. But you see, she couldn't do it. The double-bladed paddle was tied to her ribbing with six feet of strong trolling line. I never let go of the paddle in an upset. I hang to the paddle. Paddle holds the canoe. See?

Jones's camp was deserted and desolate. A lively red squirrel was the only live thing in sight or hearing. He had wired his way into Jones's horse barn and was living at free quarters. I was glad of it. I hope he will eat up ten bushels of chop-stuff and oats and call in his sisters, his cousins and his aunts. For Eri Jones flatly declined to "put me on" to the hiding place of his camp key. I stood about one chance in fifty of needing it. But if I did need it, I should need it badly. Luckily, it would have been of no use.

I took a half-hour's rest, nibbled a bread crust, and tied in for the last long carry of nine miles. Up and down, rocks, fallen trees and mud holes, brush and briers, slippery corduroys and slimy logs. It was a wearisome carry, but I made it. I had started at 5 a.m.; I sighted the Tannery at 1:30 p.m.

Declining the offer of a friend to "set" me across, I took out, launched, and ferried myself over, landed in the Tannery ooze, drew the Sairy up into the fresh, green grass, wiped her frail siding clean and "tied in" neatly and carefully. Then, amid the questions and congratulations of a dozen good-natured friends, I mounted her on my head for a last short carry to the hotel and walked wearily up to the hospitable door of the Moose River House. I laid her down carefully on the shady porch, as a mother would a tired infant, and the cruise of the Sairy Gamp was ended.

I have little more to add. I had cruised her, by paddle and carry, 118 miles on the outward trip, and, by a different route, 148 miles on the return. She had been a surprise to me. It required care and caution to get into or out of such a light, limber boat. But, once seated fairly, she was steady as a whole-boat. Her builder thought her too small and light for a working boat. He was a trifle mistaken. I would as soon take her to float a deer or handle a large fish as any canoe I have ever owned; but her carrying capacity is, of course, small. She "trims" best at 140 pounds. Say 110 pounds at the seat and fifteen pounds at each stem.

At another time and place I shall have more to say on the open canoe and double-blade. But my outing is over for this year. I have brought the Sairy home without a check in her frail siding. She sits lightly on a shelf, where I can rest my eyes on her, as

I turn and raise the load,
With weary shoulders bending;
And take the old, well-beaten road,
That leads--unto the ending.


P.S.--To the oft-recurring question of my friends, "What luck fishing and hunting?" I answer I have not been fishing and hunting. I fished a little, incidentally; hunted not at all. To those who assume that I have been straggling and cruising through the Northern Wilderness for six weeks, that I may say I have cruised the lightest working cedar canoe ever built, I can only say they are badly mistaken. I don't know that she is the lightest, and there are scores of canoeists who can handle her as well or better than her present owner. The few who call me a "canoe crank" and "hobby rider" come nearer the mark. I think myself it is a hobby--but a mighty pleasant one to ride.


The editor of Forest and Stream added the following postscript to the above letter:

Mr. Rushton sends us a letter received from "Nessmuk" from which we quote: "To-day I send you back the Sairy Gamp. She is of no further use to me. There is not a lake in Tioga County, and I am not going to rattle her over the stones of Pine Creek. She has astonished me; she will be more of a surprise to you. Remember the advice you gave me about bracing, etc. Remember you said you 'would not warrant her for an hour; she may go to pieces like an eggshell.' That's what you said; she don't go to pieces worth a cent. I have snagged her, rocked her, got her onto spruce knots, and been rattled down rapids stern foremost; and I send her back, as tight and staunch as the day I took her at Boonville. There are more than a hundred cuts, scratches, and abrasions on her thin siding, there are red and green blotches on her strips, from contact with amateur boats, and longer streaks of blue from collisions, with the regulation guide boat, but she does not leak a drop. I once said in Forest and Stream I was trying to find out how light a canoe it took to drown a man. I never shall know. The Sairy Gamp has only ducked me once in a six weeks' cruise, and that by my own carelessness."

Next> | ^Top