National Geographic : 1998 Jun
or sweater, just a short-sleeved blouse that billowed and flapped like a white flag in the gusting wind. There was a hint of Europe in her accent when she greeted us. She leaned on her walking stick. Would she care to borrow a sweater? Thanks, no-with a wrinkled smile. The walking stick tapped the hard gray skin of the mountain. Do you know how old these rocks are? she said. A billion years. Bedrock. Plagioclase feldspar. Rising from the basement of the Earth. Rising, still? Yes, she said. Several millimeters a year. Well, said the Jerseyman, if we stay up here another billion years, we'll be higher than Everest. The wind scratched that idea. We decided to head down. The woman wanted to linger on top a bit, and, besides, she'd be going back the other way, to Elk Lake. Thinking of her limp and the seven miles between the top of Dix and the trailhead, I foolishly asked, Are you okay? That wrinkled smile again. Of course she was okay. The leg? Broke it two years ago, she said. Skiing? No, snowshoes. About a quarter mile down that trail, as a matter of fact. She pointed south, toward Elk Lake. We had to pry the tale out of her. She was too fine to boast. This was the gist of it: A winter climb, solo, snow on the trail, ice near the top. Slip, slide, snap. High noon and seven miles to her car or a phone or the nearest help. Mygawd! How did you get out? She crawled. Strapped the broken leg to a stick and crawled out, bleeding hands and knees the whole way. The sun was halfway up the sky next day before she was safe. And today, we asked, you come back to Dix to show there are no hard feelings? Perhaps. But why? I had to, she said. You don't want to turn your back on a beautiful mountain. IT HAS BEEN SAID that the Adirondacks are divided into two parts-mountains and lakes-and that certain boosters of one will have absolutely nothing to do with the other. Here in the northeast quarter of this unusual park, the High Peaks; there, sparkling across the rest of it, the Olympian lakes: Placid, the Saranacs, the St. Regises, Tupper, Raquette, Big Moose. The Adirondack canoe country- surely the better known of the two subregions if only by virtue of its easier access, diverse A SPECIAL PLACE: ADIRONDACK HIGH resorts, and lakeside villages. It is a country I respect for its present character and cultural past, but my druthers lean toward the peaks. Besides, there's a sprinkle of smaller lakes right here in the mountains, and two of the finest are not far from Joe's place. On days when Young Jerseyman wasn't marching me up some precipitous trail, I'd head for a flat-water spot called the Ice Caves. The caves-crevices, actually-occur where the side of a mountain collides in a jumble of granite blocks with the edge of a fjord-like lake. Ice remains deep in these crevices for much of the summer, sometimes veiling the surface of the lake with mist and invariably cooling the adjacent waters, much to the satisfaction of wild brook trout and those who would prey on them. And beyond the caves, up the shore a way, sat a little three-sided lean-to and a fire pit sufficient for the brewing of black-kettle coffee and the frying of fresh-caught fish. With permission from its owner, the lean-to was also a splendid place to unroll your sleep ing bag on a bed of balsam boughs, to listen for loons, to welcome the last light, to watch the fire pit's embers fade as the stars or moon moseyed across the sky's dark stage, between the mountains. Sometimes you could almost imagine yourself in a bark shanty of the cen tury before, listening to the antique eloquence or foolishness of the region's first boosters. Now comes Samuel H. Hammond, who, in the year 1857, confesses in Wild Northern Scenes; or Sporting Adventures With the Rifle and the Rod that he goes to the Adirondacks to recapture his youth. Hammond has just met a gentleman on Raquette River who says he likes the woods because "one can do here just what he pleases.... drink whisky in the raw, chew plug tobacco... and not lose his position in society." Good heavens, yes! "The truth is, that it is natural as well as necessary for every man to be a vagabond occasionally." Now it is 1869. Hot off the press comes a little book titled Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks,by the Boston preacher William H. H. Murray. And what a lively sermon it is, all about the salubrious and recuperative powers of the North Woods and sporting made easy by the very nature of the country's interconnected waterways. "If there is one kind of work which I detest more than another," the preacher writes, "it is tramping."