In September 2015, then 22-year-old St. Lawrence University graduate retraced much of Nessmuk’s 1883 canoe trip from the Old Forge area to Paul Smiths and back.
At 7 pm on Thursday, Madison will talk about that trip and his ties to Nessmuk during a slideshow presentation at the Saranac Laboratory Museum in Saranac Lake. The presentation is sponsored by Historic Saranac Lake and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. It is part of Celebrate Paddling month in Saranac Lake. The event is free and open to the public.
Nessmuk was a lead writer for Forest and Stream magazine and frequently wrote about his Adirondack canoeing trips. He is credited for popularizing lightweight canoes made by J. Henry Rushton of Canton and was an early proponent of the go-light camping ethic. The canoe used by Nessmuk, the white-cedar Sairy Gamp, was a mere nine feet long and weighed just ten and a half pounds.
Madison didn’t attempt to use a replica of the Sairy Gamp on his trip because it would have been too small. Nessmuk was only five-foot-three and 105 pounds. Instead, the larger Madison got permission to use a thirteen-foot, thirty-five-pound white-cedar canoe owned by Tupper Laker Jim Frenette. Jim’s son, Rob Frenette, built the vessel in 1981 while he was at a boat-building school in Maine.
Madison works for Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake, owned by Rob Frenette and Anne Fleck.
During his 266-mile trip, Madison also enjoyed a visit with Tom Thatcher on Indian Point on Raquette Lake. Thatcher is the great-great-grandson of George Thatcher, who met with Nessmuk during his trip in 1883. Tom Thatcher wrote about the incident for the Adirondack Almanack, quoting from Nessmuk’s 1884 book Woodcraft: “There are enthusiastic anglers, however, whose specialty is trolling for lake trout. A gentleman by the name of Thatcher, who has a fine residence on Raquette Lake – which he calls a camp – makes this his leading sport, and keeps a log of his fishing, putting nothing on record of less than ten pounds weight.”
Like their ancestors, Thatcher and Madison met at the Indian Point camp.
Photo: Will Madison paddles Brown’s Tract Inlet in Raquette Lake as he retraces an 1883 trip by George W. Sears, also known as Nessmuk. Photo by Mike Lynch.