Source of the Hudson
In our journey from Albany to Plattsburgh, we have indicated various routes to the Adirondacks: By way of Saratoga and North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake following the course of the Hudson which might there for be called “The Hudson Gateway;” via Lake George, Westport, and Elizabethtown, suited for carriage and pedestrian trips, and via Plattsburgh, which might be termed “The Northern Portal.” In addition to these it has been my lot to make several trips up the valley of the Sacandaga to Lake Pleasant and Indian Lake, and via Schroon Lake to Sanford and Lake Hendersonand four times to ascend the mountain trail of Tahawas to the tiny rills and fountains of the Hudson, but one trip abides in memory distinct and unrivalled, which may be of service to those who wish to visit in fact or fancy the head waters of the Hudson.
The Tahawas Club
The Tahawas Club.We took the cars one bright August morning from Plattsburgh to Ausable Forks, a distance of twenty miles, hired a team to Beede’s, some thirty miles distant from the “Forks;” took dinner at Keene, and pursued our route up the beautiful valley of the Ausable.
From this point we visited Roaring-Brook Falls, some four hundred feet high, a very beautiful waterfall in the evening twilight. The next morning we started, bright and early, for the Ausable Ponds. Four miles brought us to the Lower Ausable. The historic guide, “old Phelps,” rowed us across the lower lake, pointing out, from our slowly moving and heavily laden scow, “Indian Head” on the left, and the “Devil’s Pulpit” on the right, lifted about eight hundred feet above the level of the lake. “Phelps” remarked with quaint humor, that he was frequently likened to his Satanic Majesty, as he often took clergymen “up thar.” The rocky walls of this lake rise from one thousand to fifteen hundred feet high, in many places almost perpendicular. A large eagle soared above the cliffs, and circled in the air above us, which we took as a good omen of our journey.
After reaching the southern portion of the lake, a trail of a mile and a quarter leads to the Upper Ausablethe gem of the Adirondacks. This lake, over two thousand feet above the tide, is surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains. Our camp was on the eastern shore, and I can never forget the sunset view, as rosy tints lit up old Skylight, the Haystack and the Gothics; nor can I ever forget the evening songs from a camp-fire across the lake, or the “bear story” told by Phelps, a tale never really finished, but made classic and immortal by Stoddard, in his spicy and reliable handbook to the North Woods.
The next morning we rowed across the lake and took the Bartlett trail, ascending Haystack, some five thousand feet high, just to get an appetite for dinner; our guide encouraging us on the way by saying that there never had been more than twenty people before “on that air peak.” In fact, there was no trail, and in some places it was so steep that we were compelled to go up on all fours; or as Scott puts it more elegantly in the “Lady of the Lake”:
“The foot was fain
Assistance from the hand to gain.”
The view from the summit well repaid the toil. We saw Slide Mountain, near by to the north, and Whiteface far beyond, perhaps twenty-five miles distant; northeast, the Gothics; east, Saw-teeth, Mt. Colvin, Mt. Dix, and the lakes of the Ausable. To the southeast, Skylight; northwest, Tahawas, still foolishly styled on some of our maps, Mt. Marcy. The descent of Haystack was as easy as Virgil’s famous “Descensus Averni.” We went down in just twenty minutes. The one that reached the bottom first simply possessed better adaptation for rolling.
Haystack and Camp Colden
One mile from the foot of Haystack brought us to Panther Gorge Camp, appropriately named, one of the wildest spots in the Adirondacks. We remained there that night and slept soundly, although a dozen of us were packed so closely in one small camp that no individual could turn over without disarranging the whole mass. Caliban and Trinculo were not more neighborly, and Sebastian, even sober, would have been fully justified in taking us for “a rare monster” with twenty legs.
The next morning we ascended Tahawas, but saw nothing save whirling clouds on its summit. Twice since then we have had better fortune, and looked down from this mountain peak, five thousand three hundred and forty-four feet above the sea, upon the loveliest mountain landscape that the sun ever shone upon. We went down the western slope of Tahawas, through a driving rain, to Camp Colden, where, with clothes hung up to dry, we looked like a party of New Zealanders preparing dinner, hungry enough, too, to make an orthodox meal of each other. The next day the weather cleared up, and we made a trip of two miles over a rough mountain trail to Lake Avalanche, whose rocky and precipitous walls form a fit christening bowl, or baptistery-font for the infant Hudson.
Returning to Camp Colden and resuming our western march, two miles brought us to Calamity Pond, where a lone monument marks the spot of David Henderson’s death, by the accidental discharge of a pistol. Five miles from this point brought us to the “Deserted Village,” or the Upper Adirondack Iron Works, with houses and furnaces abandoned, and rapidly falling into decay. Here we found a cheery fireside and cordial welcome.
Had I time to picture this level, grass-grown street, with ten or fifteen square box-looking houses, windowless, empty and desolate; a school-house with its long vacation of twenty-three years; a bank with heavy shutters and ponderous locks, whose floor, Time, the universal burglar, had undermined; two large furnaces with great rusty wheels, whose occupation was gone forever; a thousand tons of charcoal, untouched for a quarter of a century; thousands of bricks waiting for a builder; a real haunted house, whose flapping clap-boards contain more spirits than the Black Forests of Germanya village so utterly desolate, that it has not even the vestige of a graveyardif I could picture to you this village, as it appeared to me that weird midnight, lying so quiet, “under the light of the solemn moon,” you would realize as I did then, that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that Goldsmith in his “Deserted Village” had not overdrawn the description of desolate Auburn.
By special request, we were permitted to sleep that night in the Haunted House and no doubt listened to the first crackling that the old fire-place had known for years. Many bedsteads in the old building were still standing, so we only needed bedding from the hotel to make us comfortable. As we went to sleep we expressed a wish to be interviewed in the still hours of the night by any ghosts or spirits who might happen to like our company; but the spirits must have been absent on a visit that evening, for we slept undisturbed until the old bell, suspended in a tree, rang out the cheery notes of “trout and pickerel.” We understand that the Haunted House from that night lost its old-time reputation, and is now frequently brought into requisition as an “Annex,” whenever the hotel or “Club House,” as it is now called, happens to be full. The “Deserted Village” is rich in natural beauty. Lakes Henderson and Sanford are near at hand, and the lovely Preston Ponds are only five miles distant.
Resuming our march through Indian Pass, under old Wall-Face Mountain, we reached a comfortable farmhouse at sunset, near North Elba, known by the name of Scott’s. The next morning we visited John Brown’s house and grave by the old rock, and read the beautiful inscription, “Bury me by the Old Rock, where I used to sit and read the word of God.”
From this point we went to Lake Placid, engaged a lad to row us across the lakesome of our party had gone on beforeand strapped our knapsacks for another mountain climb. We were fortunate in having a lovely day, and from its sparkling glacier-worn summit we could look back on all the mountains of our pleasant journey, and far away across Lake Champlain to Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump of the Green Mountains, and farther still to the faint outlines of Mount Washington. We reached Wilmington that night, drove the next morning to Ausable Forks, and took the cars for Plattsburgh. The ten days’ trip was finished, and at this late hour I heartily thank the Tahawas Club of Plattsburgh for taking me under their generous care and guidance. We took Phelps, our guide, back with us to Plattsburgh. When he reached the “Forks,” and saw the cars for the first time in his life, he stooped down and, examining the track, said, “What tarnal little wheels.” I suppose he concluded that if the ordinary cart had two large wheels, that real car wheels would resemble the Rings of Saturn. He saw much to amuse and interest him during his short stay in Plattsburgh, but after all he thought it was rather lonesome, and gladly returned to his lakes and mountains, where he slept in peace, with the occasional intrusion of a “Bar” or a “Painter.” He knew the region about Tahawas as an engineer knows his engine, or as a Greek professor knows the pages of his lexicon. He had lived so closely with nature that he seemed to understand her gentlest whispers, and he had more genuine poetry in his soul than many a man who chains weak ideas in tangled metre.
Since that first delightful trip I have visited the Adirondacks many times, and I hope this summer to repeat the excursion. To me Tahawas is the grand center. It remains unchanged. In fact, the route I have here traced is the same to-day as then. Even the rude camps are located in the same places, with the exception that the trail has been shortened over Tahawas, and a camp established on Skylight. With good guides the route is not difficult for ladies in good health,say sufficient health to endure half a day’s shopping. Persons contemplating the mountain trip need blankets, a knapsack, and a rubber cloth or overcoat; food can be procured at the hotels or farm houses.
In this hasty sketch I have had little space to indulge in picture-painting. I passed Bridal-Veil Fall without a reference. I was tempted to loiter on the banks of the Feldspar and the bright Opalescent, but I passed by without even picking a pebble from the clear basins of its sparkling cascades. I passed the “tear of the clouds,” four thousand feet above the tidethat fountain of the Hudson nearest to the sky, without being beguiled into poetry. I have not ventured upon a description of a sunrise view from the summit of Tahawas, of the magic effect of light above clouds that clothe the surrounding peaks in garments wrought, it seems, of softest wool, until mist and vapor dissolve in roseate colors, and the landscape lies before us like an open book, which many glad eyes have looked upon again and again. I have left it for your guides to tell you, by roaring camp-fires, long stories of adventure in trapping and hunting, of wondrous fishes that grow longer and heavier every season, although captured and broiled many and many a year agotrout and pickerel literally pickled in fiction, served and re-served in the piquant sauce of mountain vocabulary. In brief, I have kept my imagination and enthusiasm under strict control. But, after all, the Adirondacks are a wonderland, and we, who dwell in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys, are happy in having this great park of Nature’s making at our very doors.
It has charms alike for the hunter, the angler, the artist, the writer, and the scientist. Let us rejoice, therefore, that the State of New York is waking at last to the fact, that these northern mountains were intended by nature to be something more than lumber ranches, to be despoiled by the axe, and finally revert to the State for “taxes” in the shape of bare and desolate wastes. Nor can the most practical legislator charge those, who wish to preserve the Adirondack woods, with idle sentiment; as it is now an established scientific fact that the rainfall of a country is largely dependent upon its forest land. If the water supply of the north were cut off, to any perceptible degree, the Hudson, during the months of July and August, would be a mere sluice of salt water from New York to Albany; and the northern canals, dependent on this supply, would become empty and useless ditches. Our age is intensely practical, but we are fortunate in this, that so far as the preservation of the Adirondacks is concerned, utility, common sense, and the appreciation of the beautiful are inseparably blended.
To those persons who do not desire long mountain jaunts, who simply need some quiet place for rest and recuperation, I would suggest this: Select some place near the base of these clustered mountains, like the tasty Adirondack Lodge at Clear Pond, only seven miles from the summit of Tahawas, or Beede’s pleasant hotel, high and dry above Keene Flats, near to the Ausable Ponds, or some pleasant hotel or quiet farm-house in the more open country near Lake Placid and the Saranacs. But I prophesy that the spirit of adventure will come with increased strength, and men and women alike will be found wandering off on long excursions, sitting about great camp-fires, ay, listening like children to tales which have not gathered truth with age. If you have control of your time you will find no pleasanter months than July, August and September, and when you return to your firesides with new vigor to fight the battle of life, you will feel, I think, like thanking the writer for having advised you to go thither.
I have written in this article the Indian name, Tahawas, in the place of Mt. Marcy, and for this reason: There is no justice in robbing the Indian of his keen, poetic appreciation, by changing a name, which has in itself a definite meaning, for one that means nothing in its association with this mountain. We have stolen enough from this unfortunate race, to leave, at least, those names in our woodland vocabulary that chance to have a musical sound to our imported Saxon ears. The name Tahawas is not only beautiful in itself, but also poetic in its interpretation signifying “I cleave the clouds.” Coleridge, in his glorious hymn, “Before sunrise in the vale of Chamouni,” addresses Mount Blanc:
“Around thee and above
Deep is the air and dark, substantial, black
An ebon mass. Methinks thou piercest it.
As with a wedge!”
The name or meaning of Tahawas was never made known to the great English poet, who died sixty years ago. Is it not remarkable that the untutored Indian, and the keenest poetic mind which England has produced for a century, should have the same idea in the uplifted mountains? There is also another reason why we, as a State, should cherish the name Tahawas. While the Sierra Nevadas and the Alps slumbered beneath the waves of the ocean, before the Himalayas or the Andes had asserted their supremacy, scientists say, that the high peaks of the Adirondacks stood alone above the waves, “the cradle of the world’s life;” and, as the clouds then encircled the vast waste of water, Tahawas then rose”Cleaver” alike of the waters and the clouds.