"W" Mountain Sparks Much Interest, by Fay Welch

Editors Note:

No greater authority or better interpreter of forest recreation can be found than Fay Welch. He started his outdoor experience as an Adirondack guide and later graduated from the College of Forestry at Syracuse University where he served as a special lecturer in forest recreation for many years. These lectures covered camp counseling, camp directing, camp consulting and on directing outdoor leadership programs. He is the author of over 100 articles and booklets dealing with camping, skiing and other outdoor activities.

In the middle 1920s Fay came to Chateaugay Lake and established Tanager Lodge on Indian Point. At the present time Fay, Mrs. Welch and two sons Jim and Tom make their home at Erieville, New York and in the summer operate Tanager Lodge, an outdoor camps for boys and girls.

A recent letter from Fay Welch to Dr. Sweet

Erieville, NY, 2/8/70

Dear Doc,

When I receive the “Record” I always look at the Rotary news, and the recent notes about the “Caves on W Mountain” are responsible for the following remarks:

Charlie Merrill guided 3 or 4 of us from Tanager Lodge to the vicinity of the so-called Bat’s Caves in the latter ’20s. (I say vicinity because one of us actually located the entrance). The caves are not on W Mountain but are located on a shoulder of Norton’s Peak, about one mile east of the easternmost peak of the W.

With our campers and counselors we (Ted, “Wiggie”, Him or I) have made trips to these caves almost every year since the 1920s — sometimes 2 or 3 trips in a single season. I have only been down in the caves as far as I can walk upright, but some of our staff have slithered around in the mud to a distance of three times the length of a 60 foot rope, or 180 feet. We also discovered a second entrance – only possible for a thin man to get through.

In chapter 45 of Charlie Merrill’s “Old Guides Story”, which appeared in the Malone Evening Telegram in 1930, Charlie tells about his father, Darius Merrill, discovering a cave on W Mountain.

Personally I believe the “Bat’s Caves” we know are the “Caves on W” for several reasons. 1) Charlie Merrill guided us to these caves and never said anything about any other caves. 2) These caves we know are on a high ridge connecting Norton’s Peak and the W – and might be considered as on part of the W range. 3) I have never found any signs of caves on the 3 peaks of the W., which I have climbed repeatedly (3 times one summer), nor have any members of our staff. I have also, on two occasions, walked the ridge from W. past the Bat’s Caves, to Norton’s Peak, and saw no signs of other caves.

From Indian Point I can point out to you a spruce on the ridge that is within a hundred yards of the entrance. My son, Jim, says that from the top of Norton’s you cannot miss seeing the cave entrance. He and some of our older campers marked the trail to the caves from the top of Norton’s with tin can tops painted red last summer.

So much for the facts about these caves. There is also, as you know, a lot of fiction.

Our best to you and Phyllis,

As ever,

Fay

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A Day Off, by D. S. Kellogg, MD

CHATEAUGAY LAKE, is forty miles away. The railroad goes up, up–for seventeen hundred feet, winds along the mountain, through a pass and circles out on the other side. It crosses a mountain spur at a place called “The Gap.” This, the beginning of a trail nearly a mile long, is sixty feet above the waters of the lake.

Starting one morning in late August, “The Gap” was reached in two hours. A dense, smoky haze filled the air. There had been no frost; still on the way up the sumac was scarlet, and Thoreau’s “small red maple” that “deserves so well of mapledom” was waving its banner at the edge of many a grove. From “The Gap” the surface of the lake was a veiled expanse of silver. The train accommodatingly stopped for us to get off, though there was no station or platform or building of any sort. The conductor pointed out the trail, and in a few seconds the cars were moving away and we were in green woods. The path leading down was sometimes across a little lap of open pasture or bushes on the hillside, and again beneath an arch of forest trees.

The spring and summer growths remained, bound to hold out until the autumn frosts should paint them and cast them off. The foliage of the tail birches and maples was exuberant, and nearer the ground was there a lavishness of plant life. The green of the bunchberry was dotted red and white with its own fruit and flowers. Fresh raspberries, nature’s effort at a second crop in one season, hung on bushes grown this year. The brown eyes of the life- everlasting looked out from the velvet smoothness of the “everlasting’s” own whitish green leaves and stalks. Ground pine crept over mossy banks, and occasionally a violet, a remnant of earlier summer, showed its face. Now by glimpses the lake was revealed more distinctly, and the opposite wooded points and high banks.

After a time we reached the shore near a vacant summer cottage. The wind blew from the other side, not violently, but in moderate gusts, making the water rough in places. Sometimes a wave broke off in a white crest, not angrily. Going along the shore to some log houses it was found that the “men folks” were not at home. However, a muscular, bareheaded, copper-colored woman agreed to row across for fifty cents. She did not like to leave her bread baking for a cottager, but a neighbor consented to look after that. and her light boat was soon making good headway against wind and wave. She explained that she did not row us over for the money, only to do a favor, as she wanted to be kind.

Once on the other side, the proprietor [Eb McPherson or Richard Shutts] at Indian Head took his own boat and rowed three miles to our destination, the site of an ancient Indian village. During this part of the journey a storm threatened. The thunder rolled and echoed in the mountains as loudly as the ninepins of Hendrik Hudson’s company in the Catskills. A greater darkness settled down through the haze. A large and beautiful island near the center of the lake looked higher, more beautiful and farther away. The quieted waters became black and began to ripple again.

A few drops of rain fell and the storm retired, throwing back rumblings and reverberations as if laughing at its own stratagems. Some years ago this lake was raised by a dam at the outlet, but owing to lack of rain its surface at this time was lower than for seven years. Yet even now the relics were under water. So, after beaching the boat, off came boots and stockings and a wading search was begun.

Probably no one has attained the greatest enjoyment of collecting Indian relics, unless with bare feet, in water halfway up to his knees, he has found them on the lake bottom and picked them out with his hands.

Our search was quite successful. Flakes, firestones, arrow and spear points, drills, knives and five stone axes, one of them massive and of granite, were our rewards.

After a time we heard the paddle of wheels of a small steamer. Soon the boat itself came in sight, circling around from cottage to cottage, then through the narrow outlet near us, and across to the post office on the other shore, with the mail, which it was the duty of our guide to get. Consequently our searching had to end. While coming back a rain, a “dry rain”, fell for a few minutes, and then ceased.

The surface became glassy, our boat gliding along as if in a silver sea.

What is there about this lake that so much attracts one? We put our hands into the limped water, enjoying its warmth and softness. We felt like speaking to it in low tones, like confiding in it.

At Indian Point a dinner was waiting, to which justice was done. Afterwards we returned to the opposite shore and went up the trail, slowly walking, talking and gathering leaves and flowers by the side of the path. “The Gap” was reached long before train time. Sitting down, one could feel the stillness. It was silence that prevailed. The few sounds that came were intrusive and faded out in the great quiet.

A woodpecker drummed on a dead limb. The tinkling of a cowbell came up the valley. A hawk sailed majestically overhead, so near that the rustle of his wings was heard, and lighted on the branch of a tall birch. On our turning to see him he showed his non-appreciation of human society by flying away. There came a rumbling round the curve and a handcar rolled by, taking the men home for Saturday night.

A young man came up the track and disappeared down the trail.

After a long silence and longer waiting there was a louder rumbling–long continued–and our express train came along, stopping at our signal. Once aboard, there were greetings: “Where have you been?” “What did you find?” And we were in active human life again.

Our day off was ended.

But we have only to shut our eyes to see the silvery lake through the haze, to feel the limpid water with our hands, to hear the echoing thunder roll and die away over the mountains, or the tinkling cow-bell down the valley, or to find ourselves so near the hawk as to hear his wings and to be almost in his shadow.

Plattsburgh, N. Y.