Despite visiting the summits of the hallowed 46 High Peaks over the years, I believe it’s still hard to beat the view from lowly Bald Mountain just north of Old Forge. I know it’s officially known as Rondaxe Mountain today, but I still call it Bald Mountain in the way that old people still call NYSEG “the light company.”
I first climbed it when I was 6; at that time it seemed quite the mighty massif, but by the time I was 10, scooting up the gentle slopes barely took the edge off of a mischief-seeking boy.
It was at about this age when two summertime friends and I made the round trip with plenty of gas left in the tank for greater adventures. Our respective camps were on Third Lake, so on the way home we stopped off at the Bald Mountain Colony gift shop, a tourist trap on Rt. 28.
We got drinks and played a few rounds on the sawdust-encrusted Shuffle Bowler, until someone’s eyes came to rest on a cardboard display in back of the counter.
The knickknack being sold was a small knife, maybe three inches long, flimsy in appearance, but aggressively named the Cub Hunter. It was shaped like a miniature dagger, with a blue handle and leather sheath carelessly branded with BALD MOUNTAIN COLONY in block letters.
But what really caught our eye was the artwork on the cardboard backing. Safe to say, some marketing guy really knew his mark, because it showed a ferocious bear, eyes aflame, teeth gleaming and hot saliva dripping from his bloodthirsty fangs. Surely the enraged beast was about to destroy the town and maybe take down all of America—and he would have, except in his way stood three small boys (like us!) all brandishing Cub Hunter-brand weaponry.
The message was clear. It was our job, nay, our duty, to each fish the 79 linty cents from our various pockets to invest in three spanking new Cub Hunters and protect our loved ones from a good mauling.
It should be noted that at this point in time, the only bears in the vicinity were the exceedingly non-dangerous specimens that had grown fat and lazy by hanging around the Old Forge dump, a perpetually smoldering heap of artifacts that, to be honest, we generally found more interesting at that age than mountains and lakes.
But no matter, we went stomping off into the woods in search of ursine outlaws. Almost from the beginning there was contention. We argued over where the bears were most likely to be, along with the proper stratagem for taking them down. But more urgently, whatever gum-popping twit had been responsible for branding the leather sheaths had missed the mark on one, leaving it to advertise the BALD MOUNTAIN COLON — and we fought over who would be made to take ownership of the defective product.
Our mood further darkened when it became evident that the knives were so dull that they wouldn’t have sliced Jell-O, they just would have smeared it around. Plus, we had been at it for an hour and hadn’t gotten a whiff of a single bear. After caucusing, we agreed we might need to set our sights on smaller game. A puma would do, or maybe even a fox. But another hour passed, and we hadn’t seen any of them, either.
Further discussion ratcheted down our standards so as to include squirrels, rabbits and the like, but even here, we tramped and tramped without seeing anything resembling wild game. As we walked, our moods blackened and the tension and disappointment broke out into angry accusations over tactics, strategy and whose idea it was to buy the glorified letter-openers in the first place. As our voices raised, the suppressed bloodlust and pent-up rage at our failure to do violence can scarcely be described.
And that’s when we first saw the frog.
He was on the breakwater, just outside our neighbor’s boathouse, and this poor amphibian’s last thought on earth must have been to wonder what he had done to deserve the three screaming banshees who descended from the sky wielding tiny little blunt blades like they were Samurai swords.
Do not judge me, I have judged myself more than you ever can. There are few things I find more regrettable in life that the anger we took out on that innocent little thing, and it haunts me to this day. All I can say, is that, if the frog cares, it probably started me down a path of respecting all creatures great and small—and by vacation’s end I had tossed the Cub Hunter into the trash where it was bound to rest, with actual bears, at the Old Forge dump.
Photo: An old postcard of Bald Mountain.