Adirondack Tales

During the early 1960s, my friend Sidney and I took two week-long hiking excursions during the summers in the Adirondack Park in the High Peak region. It was his favorite place for hiking – he grew up in the Philadelphia area and his family took regular summer camping vacations there. We backpacked all our supplies and stayed in or near the lean-to shelters. We were both in our early 20s. In addition to the amazing depth and beauty of the forests, and the views from the peaks, we encountered a number of amusing people and situations. The following is a description of several Adirondack Tales that we came back with.

1. The Montreal Talk-Show Host

The first night out we pitched our tent and slept inside. Sidney was spooked by the silence and turned on a portable radio that he had brought. We received exactly one station, apparently from Montreal. We listened to the jolly host talking with people calling in, although we didn’t follow the French, and noticed changes in the host’s manner depending on who called. If a man called, he would talk cordially for a short time and then end it. If a person called who sounded like a young woman, the host would sweeten his voice and carry on an animated conversation that extended for some time. It was an amusing evening.

2. The Late-Night Disturbance

It was a Friday night; we arranged our trips when possible from midweek to midweek. We were sharing one of the lean-to shelters with a family whose two children were around age 10. We had a friendly evening, and Sidney and I yielded the shelter to the family. It was a warm and fair moonless night, and I think we laid out our sleeping bags next to the shelter. The children decided to sleep out also and ended up being out on the trail. The family had washed some clothes and put them on a clothesline to dry.

About 1:00 am I heard a voice “there are people here”. Then someone stumbled over one of the sleeping children. We were all awakened; the party was a boisterous group of four or five young adults. We yelled “There’s no room; keep going.” Their flashlights weren’t working well, so someone stumbled into the clothesline. Then they started down a path and we yelled “That’s to the latrine! Go the other way!” Off they went, laughing and singing on the continuing trail.

We were all stunned; I know it took me at least an hour to get back to sleep. We assumed they had come directly from New York after work, parked their car and started out on the trails.

3. The Very Fit Hiker

On another Friday evening, we met a single black man with a huge pack on his back coming in to the hiking areas. He told us that he had taken the bus from New York, had gotten off at the nearest point to the Adirondack trails, and started walking. He must have traveled many miles to get to our location. We were impressed and wished him good hiking.

4. The Professor

We had stopped at a shelter and were ready for dinner when an older man and a strong young man came by, and we said we could share the location. The man was Ed Ketchledge, a professor of botany at the State College of Forestry in Syracuse, and the young man was a graduate student in the program. 

Ed was a frequent climber in the Adirondacks, with a specialty of studying the health of alpine plants high on the peaks; these plants were remnants of the Ice Age. He told us of his concern that too many hiker boots on the mountain tops were destroying the plants. This turned out to be a lifelong concern; he is credited with developing a program of protection for these plants, which included volunteers on Mt. Marcy and Algonquin Peak, the two highest peaks, to educate hikers about why they should stay on marked trails.

Ed didn’t carry much food, said it was too heavy. He had some energy powder that he mixed with water (in those days we got water from running streams, we didn’t know about giardia). However, instead of food he carried beer. He put the beer in a nearby stream to keep cool. He teased his assistant who carried heavy cans of baked beans and meat. I asked him how he got enough nutrition, and he said that his trips lasted only four days and he would catch up on meals when he returned.

We stayed there two days with them, and the second day he and his assistant did not return until quite late. Ed was dog tired and cursing; they had climbed one of the 46 High Peaks that Ed wanted to climb as a life goal. This one had no trail so they had to bushwhack their way up. He slept on an air mattress, which he blew up in the evening and deflated and rolled up in the morning. That night he was too tired to blow it up!

They were fun companions. Ed Ketchledge finished climbing all the 46 High Peaks in 1968, becoming part of the club known as the Adirondack 46ers. He died in 2010 at age 85, was well liked and won many commendations. I did not know until a web search that he had been seriously wounded in World War II, taking a bullet through his lung, leaving him with impaired lung capacity. No wonder he got tired that day, and it is remarkable that he continued to do frequent climbing for the rest of his life.

5. The Jolly Priests

Once we shared a shelter with two priests on vacation. They mostly talked with each other and had brought quite a supply of liquor with them. They seemed like old friends catching up together. They behaved in a jolly fashion and enjoyed being “off duty”. The next day we all went climbing in the same direction, and the priests up ahead were telling jokes in Latin!

6. The Foolish Boy

We had returned to a shelter after a hike and were preparing our dinners, when a boy about 12-14 years old walked by. He was wearing sandals, and it was about 5 pm. We knew something was wrong and asked him what he was doing. He said he was going to climb Mt. Marcy (the highest Adirondack peak). He was on the right path, but we told him forcefully that he could not climb it and get back in daylight. He said he was staying with his mother in the Adirondack Loj, which was some distance back – apparently got bored and thought he would do some climbing. We told him to first, have some dinner with us while we thought about what he could do. 

We offered to have him stay with us overnight, but he said his mother would be “sending a posse” to find him. Of course we had no mobile phones then. Luckily, there was a ranger station a little further on the trail. We told him to go to the station and have them telephone the Loj and talk with his mother. He should stay there overnight and walk back to the Loj in the morning. 

We did not see him again but we believe that he followed that plan. Fortunately the weather was fair. 

7. The Gun

We were on our last day of a week in the back country, on our way out and expecting to reach our parked car within an hour or two. We came to a family camping along the trail, relaxing in the morning. The father was somewhat suspicious of us, asking questions as to where we had been and what we had been doing. We were cordial and went on our way. After we were out of earshot Sidney said, “Did you see the gun?” There was a pistol prominently displayed on a stump in the middle of the camping area. We realized that we looked terrible – dirty, unshaven, unwashed and wearing the same clothes for a week. No wonder the man was suspicious!

We never got together again for hiking – I went to California, later to the Boston area; Sidney stayed in the Philadelphia area. We both married and had families. Sidney continued to take family vacations in the Adirondacks, and my wife and I had a couple of drive-through vacations there. 

My Adirondack experiences were great and memorable. It is such a vast and beautiful area of wildness. And you do meet characters there.

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