Camping with guides was the primary way city people experienced the Adirondack Wilderness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the 1920s, the prevalence of automobile led to a move towards car camping, instead.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, July 9, 1869
OUR NORTHERN WILDS,
A Trip through the Saranac Lakes and down the West Branch of the St. Regis River.
FRIEND LANSING:—Thinking that, inasmuch as the west branch of the St. Regis is comparatively little known, some general information in regard to this stream might be interesting to a portion of the readers of the "Sentinel," I have thrown together a few hasty reminiscences of a trip through that region.
Allow me to say, however, at the outset, that I have no wonderful personal adventures to relate as I believe such to more interesting to the heroes themselves than to the public. Not but that our party had experiences—tremendous ones too, in our own estimations, but we draw the veil over torn trousers—ears startled by the howls of panthers, and bold sailor boys running rapids with hair erect—one eye open and one closed that they might not see two rocks when there was but one.
None of the party were yanked around with his ancestral grip upon a deer's leg or tail with a forty pig power, in the light of a patent jack—none of us were lured down to the brink and over fearful cataracts by the ghost of an Indian maiden in her light canoe—we heard no mountains jawing each other in a thunder storm, though there is no telling but we might if we had been over in the vicinity of Whiteface, Marcy, Pitchoff and the rest of those terrible old fellows, but being in a comparatively level country, we were spared all these fearful sounds.
Our party started from Plattsburgh, June 16th, 1869, on the 8 A. M. train of Whitehall and Plattsburgh R. R., arriving at Ausable Forks, at about 9 1/2 A. M., at which point we found the stage waiting and were soon "all aboard" for Martin's hotel, on the Lower Saranac Lake.
Dining sumptuously at Franklin Falls with our old friend, Fletcher, formerly of the Silver Lake House, we went on ; arriving at oar destination at 8 P.M.— Good supper, good beds and reasonable charges. Long may Martin feed and shelter weary, hungry, pleasure and health seekers. On the morning of the 16th, we embarked in our own boats, for oar "Grand Tour" through the Saranac Lakes and down the West Branch of the St. Regis. Our party numbered 6, including the guide, whom know to be staunch and true, else we should have hesitated even then, before going on, after hearing old experienced woodsmen assure us that we never could go through —that our boats would be smashed up on the rocks or logs, &c, &c, but at every fresh croak we anxiously scanned the face of our leader, and could detect nothing but signs of confidence and pluck, and we said among ourselves—"we care not to follow beaten paths, therefore these boats and this party, Providence permitting, are going through to the Northern R. R." All aboard at 10 A. M—three "good men and true" to each boat with, a plentiful supply of provisions. Dined at the shanty near Boot Bay, on trout of our own catching. Passed through the lower lake and up the river through Little Falls, where we found good fishing—arrived at the outlet of Round Lake. A bark shanty is soon completed—a bed of spruce and balsam boughs "made up," and after a plentiful repast we turn in, with fear and trembling—three of us at least, to whom it was a new experience to sleep outside four walls and a roof—expecting wake up stiff with, rheumatism, or some other one of the ills the flesh is heir to, but instead of this, wonderful to relate, two of the party who had started from Plattsburgh with horrid colds and sore throats, came out of camp next morning, cured of every vestige of their disease, and all fresh as larks. Henceforth we must believe what old woodsmen tell us: that we cannot take cold "camping out."
On Thursday, the second day, we passed through Round Lake, arriving at Bartlett's about 10 A. M., where we found a "carry" of eighty rods around the falls, to the Upper Lake. We caught some fine trout at the foot of this lake, fishing from the booms which run across to the opposite shore, after which we started on our way. This lake is twelve miles long, and nothing exceeds its beauty, begemmed with islands, and fringed to the very edge of the water with fresh green woodland, with its numerous bays and capes.
On through the lake we go, at the head of which stands Hough's hotel, a convenient stopping place for sportsmen, but which being out of our way, we did not visit, but pushed on into the outlet of Big Clear Pond. This outlet is about five miles in length and very tortuous, but cleared so as to be easily navigable. At the upper end is a "carry" of eighty rods and here we got our first taste of black files, or rather, they got their first taste of us; and, judging from the manner in which they persisted in tasting, we concluded they liked our flavor exceedingly. And here let me pause a moment, and, once for all, briefly review, and have done with, this formidable BLACK FLY QUESTION.
The black fly is a lovely little insect about one-fourth the size of the common house fly, but here all resemblance between the two immediately ceases ; for while the house fly merely tickles, the black fly bites —not in the genteel style of the mosquito, who, insinuatingly—after a nice little solo— sticks his delicate proboscis into your flesh —takes what blood he wants, and leaves you a little lump of raised cuticle, over which you take such extreme delight —scratching and swearing. Yes, after mature deliberation and minute microscopical examination, I pronounce it as my opinion that this little cus--tomer does actually bite—he not only draws blood, but blood flows from the wound after he leaves what is more, the marks remain for days, and sometimes weeks. Horrible! you say, and I echo horrible! most horrible!! But thank Heaven! there is a balm in Gilead and that balm is T-A-R.
Tar is death to all insects which bite and devour people who go to the Adirondacks. Tar mixed with sweet oil—the proportions vary in different localities. For Instance, the sleek dapper clerk at the drug store will sweetly inform you that about one part of tar to ten or twelve of oil, well shaken together, and applied to the cuticle immediately after breakfast will be amply sufficient to keep all insects away through the day. At Martin's or Bartlett's, where we saw a lady, whose face and neck had recently afforded delicate feeding ground for these abominable pests, and who was tearfully relating the tale of her deeply interested and sympathizing listeners, here they will tell that the proportions one to five ; while at Big Clear Pond, we were told by two urchins, who said that they lived "just over in the edge of the timber," to mix it half and half, keep smeared with it and not wash it off at all.
Our own experience teaches us that tar and sweet oil mixed in the proportion of one to five, and applied occasionally through the day, as it evaporates or is removed by perspiration or other causes, will keep all these black flies, mosquitoes, and gnats at a proper distance. They will sooner light upon a live coal than upon flesh which is smeared with this mixture. But woe to the man, woman, or child who goeth into the great wilderness without this or some other compound equally efficacious. I do not say this is the only or best remedy, only that it is sure.
But let us resume our journey. The "carry" of eighty rods takes us to Big Clear Pond, on the banks of which we "camped." The second night, after supper, one of the party was observed to be in close consultation with the guide. Nothing transpired, however, until next morning, when the same individual mounted a stump, and in a neat little speech, (which I wish I had space to report,) expressed his determination to take, then and there, a certain timber road to the nearest settlement in the direction of Plattsburgh. Circumstances, he said, over which he had no control, rendered it imperatively necessary for him to return immediately to the banks of the beautiful Saranac; besides, he added, "my health is perfectly restored— why then should I longer linger." Sobs, lamentations and tears from himself and the rest of the party drowned farther utterance, and after embracing all around, and singing "When shall we six meet again," we parted —five embarking upon the crystal waters of Big Clear, and one taking the timber road for Baker's, his pack upon his back, and singing—
"Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way,
And merrily kent the stile-a:
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a."
Across the pond to St. Germain's hut— The old hunter has numerous dogs and two tame deer, and what is more interesting to us, he has a horse which hauls our boats and baggage over the two mile "carry" to the shore of St. Regis Lake. He we take our leave of the old hero, well aware that hereafter no horseflesh will assist us, but that we must now "carry" as well as paddle own canoes.
We skirt along the south shore of St. Regis Lake for a short distance, when we come to a carry which leads us to the first of a chain of five ponds. This carry is like the roof of a house—three rods up, and three rods down the other side—It is speedily accomplished, taking us to the first pond, covering about ten acres. Carry No. 2, like the first, taking us to the next pond of forty acres, with two islands ; carry No. 3, four rods—pond No. 3 ten acres; No. 4, forty rods, leading to a pond covering two hundred acres—then a carry of fifty rods to pond No. 5, whose waters are unmistakably blue, and which we christened Indigo Pond. These ponds are evidently fed by springs, as the waters are perfectly pure and fresh. They have no visible connection with each other, but it is thought that they must be connected by streams passing under ground.
This is a beautiful region and but little known.
Third camp between Indigo and St Regis Ponds, which are fifteen rods apart. On way next morning through St. Regis Pond (covering about 1000 acres) into the outlet, which is a stream one mile in length, very well cleared, leading into Ochre Pond, covering 60 acres,—thence through another stream two miles in length to Fish Pond, 75 acres, and from this into a small pond nearly adjoining, of about five acres, at the head of which, where the inlet ripples over the stones—shade of Izaak Walton, what fishing!! But never mind that. Let us push on down the West Branch of the St. Regis, for we are now in that stream, going in a north-westerly direction. Here we begin to find the barriers which Nature has set up against the inroads of the tourist and fancy fisherman ; barriers which will never be removed except by the axe of the lumberman, which, alas, will too soon be at work here also.
From the outlet of Fish pond to the point where this stream intersects with the outlet of Bay Pond,—a distance of, perhaps fifteen miles-there is a region which I will guarantee has never been trod or navigated by pleasure-seekers to any great extent— Guides cannot be hired at any price to traverse it. For miles and miles boats must be dragged over stones, over, under, through and around logs and alders, lifted and "shot" through rapids, and in fact, made to do all manner of preposterous things in a style which would make any but a thorough backwoodsman stand aghast.
Here we pass a crane's nesting place— counting ten new nests upon one tree— probably one hundred nests upon half an acre of ground.
Now we come to the beaver, this being their last foothold in the State. We counted nine in a space of three miles, most of them exhibiting fresh signs of beaver, trees eight inches in diameter having been cut down and carried away piecemeal to their houses —all fresh work, made this summer. One dam set back over one-fourth of a mile and had a fall of two and one-half feet. Here trout run in shoals, and I verily believe a man could catch a barrel of them in a day, if his powers of endurance were sufficient.
Down past Bay Pond outlet, plenty of water now—a magnificent river—(but still occasionally a log or two to haul the boats over) very tortuous—going four miles to progress one, and at each turn a new scene of beauty.
Plenty of fresh signs of deer, now miles of marsh so trod up by them that you would think a hundred or two of sheep had been turned loose there. Here one plunges in and crosses the river in front of the boat, and there stands another peering out at us through the alders.
Here are Little Falls, near the St. Lawence county line— a splendid cascade, falling about fifteen feet in ten rods; around this a carry, then comes the eight mile stillwater. Then more rapids three miles long, down which the boat mast be taken—a man wading at the stern, keeping firm hold of it—one false step and away goes boat and baggage. Next comes the five mile stillwater—then more falls, around which is carry of forty rods; one mile rapids—another fall—carry of 20 rods—a mile stillwater—falls again—carry of fifteen rods— then five miles of good rowing takes us to the mill seven miles above Parishville, and our Grand Tour is closed.
We have camped for nine successive nights, traveling over a distance of not less than one hundred and twenty-five miles with the boats, and from St. Regis Pond to Parishville through the primeval forest, which the axe has never touched, of the most magnificent pines which ever grew. Very soon, however, a dam will be built at the outlet of St. Regis Pond,—the willows which now so beautifully fringe the banks of this wild and lovely stream will be cut the floodwood will be cast loose, the rocks blasted, the flood-gates above will be opened, and all these barriers, together with these wild beauties, will be swept away forever. B.
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