They started put being paid $60 a month for their half-year, all-weather stints in the fire tower. Overall, there were twenty-one Fire Observers on Poke-O-Moonshine from 1912 through 1988. Most came from nearby Keeseville, and the first three worked in the original wooden tower before the current one was built in 1917.
That makes the fire tower 100 years old. It was part of a crop of standardized steel towers that New York State built in response to the catastrophic forest fires of the early 20th Century. Drought, high winds, lightning, heaps of logging slash, and sparks from lumber-hauling trains had combined to burn almost a million acres of New York forest over two decades. » Continue Reading.
As part of the Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower Centennial (1917-2017), this summer, The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine, Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH), and Ausable Brewing Company will be hosting an Exhibit and Silent Auction of artwork related to the mountain, its human and natural history, and its fire tower. This is in place of the exhibit that was to be held at the 1719 Block Gallery in Keeseville.
The auction will be held from 7 to 9 pm on July 28 at the AARCH offices at 1745 Main Street, Keeseville, and on July 30 during the Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower Centennial Celebration at Ausable Brewing Company, 765 Mace Chasm Road, Keeseville, from 4:30 to 8 pm. 2D works of Poke-O-Moonshine-themed art, including works on paper or canvas and photography, are eligible for entry. » Continue Reading.
As part of this summer’s Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower Centennial (1917-2017), The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine and the 1719 Block Gallery of Keeseville will be sponsoring a juried art exhibition of works related to the mountain, its human and natural history, and its fire tower.
The show will open on July 28 and run for a month, closing with the presentation of awards on September first. 2D works of art, including works on paper or canvas and photography, are eligible for entry. There will be cash prizes for 1st , 2nd and 3rd places. The deadline for entry is July 1. » Continue Reading.
Jeff Lowe is one of the greatest American mountaineers of his generation. A native of Utah, he has climbed all over the world and put up hundreds of first ascents — on rock, ice, and alpine peaks. So when asked for his favorite climb in North America, he had many to choose from. Such as Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park, Bridal Veil Falls in Colorado, or the Keeler Needle in the High Sierra.
He chose Gorillas in the Mist, an ice climb on Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain right here in the Adirondack Park.
Since Lowe did Gorillas in the Mist in 1996 with Ed Palen, the owner of Adirondack Rock and River in Keene, the route has attained near-mythic status. It has been repeated only once, just a few days after the first ascent. That was twenty-one years ago. “Everyone wants to do it. Anyone with the skill set, of course they want to do it. It’s famous,” said Matt Horner, a Keene resident who is one of the Adirondacks’ strongest ice climbers. » Continue Reading.
Election Day started out beautiful. Mild temperatures. Not a cloud in the sky. After voting, Will Roth and I drove from Saranac Lake to Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain to climb one of the cliff’s mega-classic routes, Gamesmanship.
There was just one other party at the cliff: two guys were roping up for Gamesmanship as we arrived at the base. Two parties, with more than 300 routes to choose from, and both opted for Gamesmanship. » Continue Reading.
For those who climb, Accidents in North American Climbing, issued annually by the American Alpine Club, should be required reading—not because climbers are morbid, but because they can learn from others’ mistakes, too many of which are fatal.
The 2016 edition, which was published recently, describes dozens of rock-climbing and mountaineering accidents from the previous year. Most occurred out west or in Alaska. The only incident in the Adirondacks involved a climber who fell on Wallface, a large and remote cliff in the High Peaks Wilderness.
I wrote about the Wallface accident on the Almanack soon after it happened. The climber, a 23-year-old man from Carmel, NY, plummeted 60 to 80 feet after his protection failed to hold on a popular route known as the Diagonal. State forest rangers and volunteer climbers carried out a complicated rescue and managed to get the victim to a hospital that night. He was knocked unconscious in the fall and suffered a deep head gash, but he was able to leave the hospital early the next day.
When shooting a sunset don’t feel like you need to stick to shooting directly at the sun. Sometimes the more interesting colors and compositions can be found just to one side or the other. That’s the case with the photo above. The light yellows and purples in the sky would be washed out if shooting directly at the sun and over powered by the sun itself. The varying blue tones in the mountains give the landscape depth. The end result is an image that better conveys the feeling across the landscape at sunset than a more traditional shot would have.
The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine have been working since 1997 to restore the fire tower and trails on that mountain. The group is a coalition of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the town of Chesterfield, Champlain Area Trails (CATS), the Mountaineer, local summer camps and businesses, several Adirondack Mountain Club chapters, and hundreds of individuals who know and love the mountain.
The fire tower was fully restored as an interpretive site in 2005. Educational displays showcase fire-tower and local history and the land uses within the viewshed of the mountain. Since 2002, the Friends have employed tower stewards for the summer hiking season.
We have redeveloped the Ranger Trail as an interpretive trail with eleven numbered stops keyed to a brochure on the human and natural history of “Poke-O.” We also worked with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy to guarantee access to a second trail, the Observers’ Trail, which was the original vehicle route to the fire observer’s cabin below the summit. » Continue Reading.
The Open Space Institute has announced that a private landowner has donated a conservation easement that will protect a nearly 1,400-acre forest in the northeast corner of the Adirondack Park. The property borders the western shore of Butternut Pond and is bisected by several brooks, most of which feed into Auger Lake, which in turn empties into the Ausable River and eventually into Lake Champlain.
The parcel, a largely wooded Essex County tract owned by the Johanson family, buffers state lands, including Pokamoonshine Mountain, and sits within the viewshed of the historic firetower on the summit of Pokamoonshine, a popular destination for rock climbers, hikers and cross-country skiers. » Continue Reading.
“Thatcher’s Peak Finders for Ten Historic Fire Towers in the Adirondacks” is now available. The new Peak Finder deck identifies the summits and landmarks seen from ten popular Adirondack fire towers: over 8,000 square miles of mountains, lakes, history, and watersheds, including 42 of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks.
“Steel fire towers were installed on these ten Adirondack peaks almost 100 years ago, and they have been a destination for hikers of all ages ever since,” said Thatcher Hogan, designer and publisher of the popular series of Peak Finder guides. “But only now is there a guide to help hikers identify what they are looking at.” » Continue Reading.
Untouched scenic vistas and natural landscapes are treasured in the Adirondacks. Seventy years ago, a popular landmark, since admired by millions, was nearly transformed into something far different from its present appearance.
It all began in 1937 with the editor of the Essex County Republican-News, C. F. Peterson. Formerly a Port Henry newspaperman, active in multiple civic organizations, and clearly pro-development and pro-North Country, Peterson was a force to be reckoned with.
Just how influential was he? The Champlain Bridge that was recently blasted into oblivion probably should have been named the Carl F. Peterson Bridge. In fact, efforts were made to do exactly that. Peterson originated the bridge idea, and as Vermont and New York debated whether to locate it at Ticonderoga, Crown Point, or Rouses Point, it was Peterson who put his all into promoting the Crown Point site. Still not convinced? This should help. At the grand opening of the bridge in 1929, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned him to the reviewing stand and said, “Peterson, you have done a great work. I am proud of what you did and you have every reason to be very happy. This is your bridge because, without your zeal, it is very doubtful whether it would be here. You sold the bridge to New York State and Vermont, both of which should, and do, feel grateful.”
When Peterson talked, people listened, and eight years later, when he urged the Essex County Board of Supervisors to action, they took him at his word. The 200th anniversary of the birth of New York State’s first governor, George Clinton, was approaching. To honor the occasion, Peterson pushed for an appropriately lasting memorial to an undeniably great American.
The board responded with a succinct message to state leaders: “The resolution requests the legislative body at Albany to name a commission for the observance next year, asking that the group should consider the feasibility of perpetuating the memory of Governor Clinton by the carving of his likeness on the side of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain.”
Seeking support for his proposal, Peterson framed the idea in patriotic terms, and it worked like a charm. Among the first to jump on the bandwagon was Senator Benjamin Feinberg of Clinton County (the library at Plattsburgh State -— Feinberg Library -— was named in his honor).
A man of great power and influence, Feinberg wrote this in a letter to Peterson: “Your suggestion … is a good one. Undoubtedly, some action will be taken by the Legislature to fittingly observe this anniversary, and I shall be glad to aid in carrying out such a plan. The carving of the likeness of Governor Clinton on the side of Pok-o-Moonshine would not only be a great attraction to visitors, but would commemorate the birth of the first Governor of the state in a magnificent manner.”
With Feinberg on board, the idea gained momentum. Soon the Essex County branch of the American Legion adopted a resolution in support of the memorial. The idea also received the unanimous backing of the Adirondack Resorts Association.
After all, it sounded like a great cause and a fine way to express patriotism. Widespread approval was expected, and it didn’t hurt that the idea coincided with the pending completion of a national monument—the one on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
An editorial by the Plattsburgh Daily Press added this supportive comment: “We can think of no son of the State who has deserved better from the hands of the people, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the Legislature will show its recognition of this by providing for this statue on rugged old Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain.”
The gung-ho beginning preceded a period of thoughtful consideration; then, dissent began to surface. In January 1938, a Ticonderoga organization passed their own resolution, stating in part: “ … it is the considered opinion of the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club that the forests, streams, lakes, and mountains of Essex County constitute the county’s greatest asset … and that unnecessary artificial alteration of the natural state of these resources irreparably diminishes their value to our citizens … Be it hereby resolved that the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club is unalterably opposed to the said requested legislation and to any attempt to alter or deface the natural beauty of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain…”
The letter was sent to several officials, including Governor Lehman and Senator Feinberg. The Kiwanis were soon joined by Ti’s Chamber of Commerce, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Keene Valley Garden Club. All supported the observance of Clinton’s birthday, but opposed the altering of Poko’s steep cliffs. One alternative proposal was a “super-improved highway through this region, to be known as the Governor Clinton Memorial Highway.”
Though many protests against the plan had surfaced, the danger to Pok-o-Moonshine was real. In March, among the final rush of bills passed by the legislature was the Feinberg-Leahy bill (by Feinberg and Assemblyman Thomas Leahy of Lake Placid). It called for a $5,000 funding package to prepare a celebration in Clinton’s memory.
With the state and the nation still struggling to recover from the Great Depression, many bills were vetoed, and that same fate befell Feinberg-Leahy. In April, Governor Lehman vetoed a second bill “designed to bring about the carving of a memorial to Governor George Clinton, the state’s first chief executive, on the face of Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain in Essex County.” Supporters were disappointed, certain the carving would have been a great tourist attraction.
No one in opposition was suggesting Governor Clinton wasn’t worthy of such honor. He was widely revered as one of the state’s greatest citizens. After serving under his father in the French and Indian War, George Clinton practiced law and held various public offices. A staunch defender of the colonial cause for independence, he was selected as a member of the Second Continental Congress.
Clinton voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, but missed the signing, and for good reason, having been urgently dispatched to serve as brigadier-general of the militia by his good friend, George Washington (so good, he named his children George and Martha).
Clinton saw action at White Plains and other locations. He eventually served as governor of New York for 18 consecutive years, and 22 years in all, the longest of any New York governors. He was vice-president under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, one of only two vice-presidents to serve under two different presidents. He also became the first vice-president to die in office, succumbing to a heart attack in 1812.
Perhaps the governor’s carved likeness would have been a great tourist attraction, but Poko today gets plenty of attention for other reasons: spectacular cliffs clearly visible from Interstate 87; its peregrine falcon nests; the climbing trail leading to magnificent views; the preserved fire tower; and a reputation as one of the most popular rock-climbing sites in the Adirondacks.
Photo Above: The cliffs of Pok-O-Moonshine.
Photo Below: NYS Governor George Clinton.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Learning to ride a bicycle has as many stages as learning to walk, though walking seems to come with less drama. First the scooter stage (quad-cycle,) then on to the tricycle, which leads to training wheels. Finally that two-wheeled sense of freedom is achieved. Each stage brings a different challenge. For my family, each stage was clung to with white-knuckled intensity.
While learning to ride a two-wheeler, my children weaved their way through parked cars and were incredulous that I would ask them to look both ways when crossing the road. Surely, they felt, looking one way was enough.
For anyone living in or visiting a rural community following an inexperienced biker on a busy road can be daunting. While the New York State fine-tunes its budget and decides which campgrounds and historic sites are slated for closure, off-season campgrounds are still a good way for a young or old person to learn how to ride a bike.
Fish Creek Pond Campground in Saranac Inn features a 5-mile paved loop that circles the campground. In the summer it can become a literal parking lot of cars and movement as RVs and day visitors swarm for the perfect waterfront real estate. Spring though finds it pleasantly empty with an added bonus of no parking fee.
If you do not have a bicycle and want to learn to ride try the website Freecycle. This nonprofit network asks people to recycle and reuse. It is free to register, just look for a place near your community. List what you have or see if someone in your area is looking for something that has been collecting dust in your garage.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has a complete list of campgrounds and the amenities. Some campgrounds are slated for closure in 2010. Below is a partial list of NYS Adirondack campgrounds that promote bicycling.
Brown Tract Pond, Raquette Lake Buck Pond, Onchiota Eagle Point Campground, Pottersville Fish Creek Campground, Saranac Inn Lake Durant, Blue Mountain Lake Lake Eaton Campground, Long Lake Lake Harris near Newcomb Poke-O-Moonshine, Keeseville (was closed for camping in 2009 but a portion remains available for Forest Preserve public access. Nicks Lake in the Black River Wild Forest Rogers Rock, Lake George Rollins Pond Campground Sharp Bridge, Schroon River
A few days after we had climbed the Chiller Pillar, a one-pitch ice route near Whiteface Mountain, my ice-climbing partner Steve Goldstein of Latham called me up.
“If I had seen this article in Rock and Ice, I might not have led that route,” he told me.
“A climber was critically injured in Colorado. He was climbing an ice pillar and it collapsed under him.” “Oh. Would that have kept you from climbing the route?”
“I dunno,” he said. “Maybe.”
It’s easy to ponder the transitory nature of ice when you’re climbing it. Rock-climbing routes rarely change. You can climb a face once, come back ten years later and the holds will still be the same. In fact, a critical hold breaking off a popular route often makes news in climbing circles.
Ice routes change not only year to year but week to week. In fact, ice can change even as you’re on it, turning softer and wetter from the sun. And it’s quite common for large pieces of ice to fall off as you ascend, hacking and skewering your way up the face.
Ice climbing is surely more dangerous than rock, and never more than when the temperature goes up. In February, 2002 a climber was killed at Pok-O-Moonshine while climbing the Adirondack classic testpiece Positive Thinking. The route detached from the wall when the climber about a hundred feet off the ground.
The first pitch is thin to begin with. It’s more of a veneer of ice, pasted to a featureless rock slab for a hundred feet. It also faces east. “A few hours of strong sunshine causes the ice to detach from the smooth, crackles rock,” reports Don Mellor in the book Blue Lines, the region’s ice-climbing guidebook. Even in the best weather, he adds, “the first pitch is often a frightening, crackless shell.”
As the weather warms, ice routes disappear. At this point, there’s only a few routes left – thick, protected from sunshine and at higher elevations, according to Rock and River’s climbing site. We climbed at Pitchoff Mountain’s North Face last Saturday, in fact, and Central Pillar was in fine condition, albeit soaking wet.
Warm-weather ice climbing has its advantages. Pick placements are easy to make in the soft ice, and you don’t risk frostbite while belaying. On the down side, you get sponge-wet gloves from dripping routes. And routes tend to disappear quickly.
Yet with an end to the season well in sight, it’s hard to say no to one more trip.
Which brings me back to Steve and the article he saw in Rock and Ice, a popular climbing magazine. The article told of a severe injury on The Fang, a freestanding pillar of ice near Vail, Co. A climber, who had spent 15 years preparing to ascend this Rocky Mountain jewel, fell a hundred feet when the six-foot-wide ice formation collapsed beneath him.
It was a dangerous route, but very different from Chiller Pillar. Still, it was just as well Steve hadn’t read the story yet. And we approached our route with caution.
The Pillar had a strange look to it – more like white frosting than blue water ice. And there was a horizontal crack only a few feet from the top, which meant the climb had settled at some point, detaching from the final few feet.
Yet is was a cool day, with no sunshine to cause undue melting. The route was thick, and tapered from the bottom to the top. The wall around it looked dry, and the ice itself held the test-screws we placed at the base.
“You can top-rope it,” I told Steve. That meant we could scramble up an easier way and set up a rope on the top, which would hold him in case the ice collapsed.
“I should be OK,” he said, and began to tie into the rope to prepare to lead.
Safe ice climbing is about knowing the conditions, and making judgment calls. At the end of the day, though, there’s a bit of faith involved. You believe you are strong enough to climb to the top, and you believe the ice is strong enough to hold you up.
In this case, both climber and ice rose to the occasion. But I stood far back from the route as I belayed him. Just in case.
Two new land deals were announced this week closing to the public 1,700 acres returned to Finch Pruyn, and protecting 1,400 acres in an Open Space Institute (OSI) conservation easement deal.
In a deal announced late last week, Finch Paper re-acquired from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) a 1,700-acre tract in Indian Lake, Hamilton County that was part of the 161,000 acres TNC purchased in 2007. Finch retained the right to re-acquire the parcel as a condition of the 2007 agreement. The land will not be open to the public.
In a second deal, also announced late last week, the OSI acquired through donation a conservation easement on 1,400 largely wooded acres in the northeast corner of the Adirondack Park from the Johanson family. The parcel includes lands along the shoreline of Butternut Pond and on Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain, a popular destination for rock climbers, hikers and cross-country skiers. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has released online a 24-page supplement to its guidebook “Adirondack Trails: Eastern Region” which features twelve additional trails at ten locations in the eastern Adirondacks, mostly along Lake Champlain; half of the routes are in Wildlife Management Areas. The routes traverse marshland, woodland, meadow and island habitats from the Lewis Preserve Wildlife Management Area in the northeast to Cat and Thomas Mountains Preserve in the southeast. According to an ADK media release “some, like the alternate access to Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain, are relatively new; others, like the bucolic Lewis Preserve north of Chazy Lake, are visited only infrequently. Noblewood Preserve offers spectacular views of Lake Champlain; other sites have special appeal for birdwatchers, paddlers and skiers.”
The supplement was written by David Thomas-Train and is available as a free downloadable PDF file online at www.adk.org (downloadable PDF file), or for $1 at ADK’s Lake George and Heart Lake properties. It may be ordered by sending $1 to Eastern Region Supplement, 814 Goggins Road, Lake George, NY 12845. The supplemental material will be included in the next printing of the Eastern Region guide.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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