Almanack Contributor John Sasso

John Sasso

John Sasso is an avid hiker and bushwhacker of the Adirondacks and self-taught Adirondack historian. Outside of his day-job, John manages a Facebook group "History and Legends of the Adirondacks." John has also helped build and maintain trails with the ADK and Adirondack Forty-Sixers, participated in the Trailhead Steward Program, and maintained the fire tower and trail to Mount Adams.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Taking Down a Bear with a Knife on Haystack Mountain

From my research on the history of Mount Matumbla:

The December 16, 1936 edition of the “Plattsburgh Daily Press” gave a riveting report of two local hunters who dispatched a 302-pound black bear with just a hunting knife during a hunt off Mount Matumbla.

Roland Rushford and Joe Weaver, both of Faust, recalled coming across the track of a black bear near their camp at Pitchfork Pond on December 8th. They followed the track for about four miles, upward towards the eastern end of the Mount Matumbla ridge. The newspaper called a point at the end of this ridge “Haystack Mountain.”

When the two men closed in on the bear on Haystack Mountain, the bear rolled onto its side, apparently weakened from exhaustion. Rushford recalls closing in on the snarling bear and ending its life with the thrust of his knife into its throat. Rushford told the paper that he intended to use the bear’s pelt as a rug. A photograph of the knife Rushford used to kill the bear is shown here.

As for Haystack Mountain, this news article was the only instance I found referring to the eastern end of the Mount Matumbla ridge by this name. Further inquiries on Facebook, which asked if Tupper Lake residents ever heard of a Haystack Mountain off Mount Matumbla, went unanswered.

Photo: Carrie Snye’s father stabbed a bear with this hunting knife in 1936. Photo courtesy of Carrie Snye.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Mount Matumbla: The highest point in St. Lawrence Co.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Mount Matumbla is its odd name which “tumbles” off one lips (some pun intended) when pronounced. At 2,688 feet, Mount Matumbla is the highest point in St. Lawrence County, and is about 5-1/2 miles north of Arab Mountain. The peak overlooks the Raquette River to the west, and the St. Lawrence/Franklin County boundary line crosses the Mount Matumbla ridge. There is no trail to the summit, which is on private land, so please respect private property!

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Hiker Permits? Turns out we’ve been there before

Over the past few years, articles in the Adirondack Almanack, Adirondack Explorer, and other  media outlets, in addition to posts on blogs and social media, has made quite apparent the issues facing the High Peaks Wilderness related to hiking and backpacking.

Matters of hiker education, the ever-increasing number of search-and-rescues, an overly strained and understaffed force of  Forest Rangers, parking, and litter have been brought to the forefront of the public’s attention.

A  variety of solutions have been proposed by groups such as the Adirondack Mountain Club  (ADK), Adirondack Council, and the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG).  A hiker permit system is one of the proposed solutions. In contrast to other articles regarding  hiker permits, this one does not opine on the merits of such, but to make readers aware that they were once implemented in the Adirondacks – albeit at a very small scale.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Belfry Mountain – Beyond the Fire Tower

Belfry Mountain is a 1,864-foot peak located in the Town of Moriah in Essex County, just over 0.6 miles south of the Moriah-Elizabethtown town boundary and near the old iron mining communities of Mineville and Witherbee.
This runt of a peak is a popular destination for those working on the Fire Tower Challenge. It is often combined with other hikes in the region given the short, 0.4-mile hike along a gravel road from the trailhead off Dalton Hill Road, in which one ascends an “incredible” … 137 feet! Although there is not much for views from the summit rock itself, the cab of the 47-foot steel tower lets one view a beautiful panorama of the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Champlain Valley, and the High Peaks region.

Much of the history given here is apart from Belfry Mountain’s historical role in fire observation. I discuss the name origin of peak and the people connected with it. Thus, like the trail to the summit, this historical profile is short and sweet. For a well-written, detailed history of the use of Belfry Mountain for fire observation, see Martin Podskoch’s “Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Northern Districts.”

» Continue Reading.


Friday, September 4, 2020

What’s in a name? Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain

I revisited Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain last spring, making it at least four ascents I have done of it, thus far, from both the north and south trails. The views of the Lake Champlain region from the summit never fail. Poke-O-Moonshine, located in the Town of Chesterfield in Essex County, just 3/4-mi north of the Town of Lewis
boundary, is a peak on the Fire Tower Challenge and whose east-facing cliffs are popular with rock-climbers.

This write-up is more of a historical “brief” on this peak, as there is a bit more history surrounding it than provided here. For those interested in the history of Poke-O-Moonshine in regards to fire observation and its tower, see Martin Podskoch’s book “Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, The Northern Districts” (2003).

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

HISTORICAL PROFILE: Treadway Mountain of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

Treadway Mountain is a 2,244-foot peak located in the Town of Ticonderoga in Essex County, about two miles west of Putnam Pond. Although not as popular a hiking destination as its big brother to the southwest, Pharaoh Mountain, I consider it a gem of the Adirondack wilderness which offers a big bang for the effort to reach the summit.

A portion of the 2019 U.S.G.S. Graphite, N.Y. quadrangle map showing Treadway Mountain and Putnam Pond.

Although there are three routes up to the peak, I have always started from the Putnam Pond Campground on the trail which heads towards Clear Pond. The hike along the open sections rock and moss, marked with cairns, is an enjoyable one, especially in the fall and winter. You will climb over stretches of beautiful rose quartz as you approach the summit. From the well-open summit, you can venture around and check out a panorama which exhibits the High Peaks, Pharaoh Lake, and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

This historical profile presents the first in-depth discussion of the history surrounding Treadway Mountain, primarily the origin of its name. I also discuss the gentlemen from Ticonderoga for whom it was named and their involvement in the affairs of the town.

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Azure Mountain – Beyond the Fire Tower

Azure Mountain is a 2,518-ft peak located in the Town of Waverly in Franklin County, about 1.5 miles west of the St. Regis River and almost four miles east of the St. Lawrence County line. Although it is a short, easy, one-mile hike to the summit, you gain about 1,000 feet on the ascent. On the summit is a steel, 35-foot Aermotor fire tower built in 1918 (pictured here). From the cab of the tower, you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of the northern Adirondacks, the High Peaks, and the hills of the St. Lawrence region. In regard to peak-bagging challenges, it is part of the Fire Tower Challenge. (Editor’s note: Fire towers are currently closed due to COVID-19.)

Much of the history given here is prior to Azure Mountain being established for fire observation in 1914. I delve into the history of its name, appearance on maps, its use in early surveys, and the lodge which once stood at its base: the Blue Mountain House. 

» Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 2, 2020

History of Arab Mountain – Beyond the Fire Tower

Arab Mountain (or, more often, Mount Arab) is a 2,539-foot peak located in the Town of Piercefield in St. Lawrence County, almost five miles west of Tupper Lake and nine miles east of Cranberry Lake.
The hike to the summit is relatively easy and short (a two mile round-trip), and one can climb the steel, 35-foot Aermotor fire tower (built in 1918) and enjoy the beautiful panorama of the Adirondacks from the cab. Just across from the fire tower is the old observer’s cabin which has been restored and turned into a museum. The museum, established by the Friends of Mt Arab (FoMA), contains a wealth of information on the use of Arab Mountain for fire observation. The cabin is open when the summit steward is on duty, from the late spring to early fall. In regard to peak-bagging challenges, it is part of the Fire Tower Challenge and the Tupper Lake Triad. (Editor’s note, fire towers are currently closed due to COVID-19, and the Fire Tower Challenge is temporarily suspended
Much of the history given here is prior to Arab Mountain being established for fire observation in 1911. I delve into the history of its name, appearance on nineteenth-century maps, and use in early surveys. I also briefly discuss a nearby peak that is virtually unheard of and is unmapped: Gull Pond Mountain.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, February 13, 2017

At Avalanche Lake The ‘Hitch-Up Matildas’ Have A Long History

Two spans of catwalks, known as “Hitch-Up Matildas,” are anchored along the cliff walls of Avalanche Mountain to allow hikers to safely traverse the edge of Avalanche Lake.  They offer dry footing, a breathtaking view of the Trap Dyke, and of the expanse of water sandwiched between Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain.

The “Hitch-Up Matildas” got their name from a story about Bill Nye  – for whom Mount Nye is named – guiding a hike for Matilda Fielding, her husband, and their niece, back in 1868. The story was first published by Seneca Ray Stoddard in The Adirondacks Illustrated (1874), which I encourage folks to read here. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Some History of the Famous Red Barn in Keene

In late December, the rustic red barn that stood at the intersection of Routes 73 and 9N in Keene was taken down by the Department of Environmental Conservation after it became hazardous.

Although not an officially-recognized historic landmark, many who have traveled through Keene saw the barn, with its majestic High Peaks in the background, as a quaint countryside icon.

Since it came down, folks have waxed nostalgic while mourning the abrupt loss of this unassuming structure. I decided to dig into the barn’s history and see if there was more to it than met the eye. » Continue Reading.



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