Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:
Stories from Camp Read's Past
For generations, summer after summer, scouts have been making memories at Camp Read. In 2020, the pandemic may have forced regular activities to pause, but campers from years gone by are sharing their stories here in an effort to fill in the gap. Read on to get your fix of Camp Read hijinks until we can safely fill a parade ground once more!
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September 8, 2020
About the Scout:
Bill Daley started his journey through Scouting as Cub Scout in Yonkers Pack 14 in 1967. He joined Troop 14 in 1971 and continued his service as Assistant Scoutmaster until 1982. He is currently the President of the Camp Read Association and is the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award. Bill is well on his way to becoming a “Forty-Sixer”, with just three ADK 4000’ summits to go.
In 1974, he participated in a 2-week long specialty camp dubbed the “Mountain Men”, a high adventure camp that culminated in a five day backpack trip through the Adirondack High Peaks.
In 1977 Bill worked as a High Adventure Instructor and Canoe/Backpack Trek Guide. Bill was one of the first to be trained as an Association of Adirondack Scout Camps “Voyageur”. Here’s how this training paid off:
Adirondack Adventure ‘77
The year 1977 was historically significant for the Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation. It was the first year for “Camp Summit” in old Camp Tomahawk area. The previous summer it was running as a “High Adventure” program area in Camp Buckskin. I was the Buckskin Dining Hall Steward in 1976 but spent most of my free time at the area lobbying for my dream job at camp - a High Adventure Staff position. My diligence paid off as I was hired the following year.
I was a provisional camper in Tomahawk from 1971 through 1974. During that time, I developed a love for the Adirondacks fueled by the backpacking trips to Pharaoh and Whortleberry. The culmination of my camp experience was the “Mountain Men”, a specialty camp held in the Fourth Period of my last year (camp ran four 2-week periods back then). Much of the development for the High Adventure programs came from the Mountain Men and Aquatics specialty camps of that era. In 1975, I was selected to attend a month-long canoe camp in Northern Ontario, Canada as the guest of one of my Home Troop’s former Scoutmaster (story for another time). It was there that I honed my skills in canoe trekking.
In the spirit of the Specialty Camps of the early ‘70s, we wanted to do something big for the Fourth Period. “Adirondack Adventure ‘77” was the name given to a 2-week combination canoe and backpack trip through the heart of the Adirondacks. It was set up as a provisional troop and we ended up with about 10 participants. Area maps and guidebooks were consulted before coming up with the route. However, there was a flaw in our plan.
Tom Sensenig was the lead guide and I was his assistant. Tom is an outdoorsy type (think Grizzly Adams) who was brought on during the Second Period to iron out some “growing pains” that the Summit Staff was going through. He was a pleasure to work with and had a great sense of humor. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that without Tom’s help, Camp Summit may not have survived the summer and who knows what the future would have looked like. I digress… now back to the story.
The trip was to start paddling at Blue Mountain Lake after a visit to the Adirondack Museum. The plan was to work our way to Raquette and Forked Lakes and end up on Long Lake. There we would re-stock, drop off the canoes and start backpacking. The backpacking portion was the same route as we did with the Mountain Men in 1974: the trek would start on a portion of the Northville-Placid trail, traversing the various rivers, brooks and ponds into the High Peaks. The high point of the trip (literally) would be on top of Mount Marcy and the group would end at the Adirondack Mountain Club Lodge at Heart Lake.
Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake
I remember it was a cold and misty start to the trip, paddling into a head wind through Blue Mountain Lake (perhaps foreshadowing what was to come). The next few days went along without incident until we reached the end of Raquette Lake. Tom and I were in the lead canoe of our fleet of brand new canoes, purchased specifically for the program. At the start of the waterway that connects Raquette and Forked, we saw white water.
After scouting the rapids,Tom and I determined that it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate (even with our inexperienced crew - famous last words!) The most difficult section required passing through a small chute, immediately pivoting left to miss a large boulder followed by a hard-right thus avoiding the downstream eddy that followed. After taking our boat through unscathed, I proceeded downstream and waited as Tom stood on the large boulder to help guide the next boats through. The first two made it through but got soaked. The next two pairs made it through the chute and boulder maze but then managed to capsize their boats in the eddy despite Tom’s expert coaching (apparently there was some left side, right side confusion in all the excitement).
The next thing I saw was one of the packs floating downstream. Before I could yell “Didn’t you guys tie your packs in?”, it was obvious that they had because the center thwart of the canoe was still lashed to the pack (not a good sign). Next came the empty boat with the bow and the stern sticking high up out of the water, bent like a horseshoe. We dragged the canoes to shore to access the damages.
With Tom standing on the bow of the canoe and myself on the stern, we had the canoe balanced like a see-saw on a log. Just about this time, we noticed some people on shore taking pictures of our efforts as we attempted to straighten it out (I wish now I had asked them to send me copies of the photos). They then told us that there was canoe carry around the rapids that we’d (somehow) missed in our planning stages. Whoops!
We were able to get the aluminum canoe straight enough to paddle, re-attached the center thwart with nylon parachute cord and patched the holes with first aid tape and candle wax (at least we followed the Scout Motto - Be Prepared). The other capsized boat was also in need of some repair… and did I mention that these were brand-new canoes? We got underway after the repairs and thankfully no one was injured (other than the guides already questionable reputations). Everything got quite wet, including most of the sleeping bags but we had a remedy for that too.
Buttermilk Falls & Long Lake
A highlight of the Canoeing portion of the trip was swimming at Buttermilk Falls. It lies between Forked Lake and Long Lake and we knew of the carry around that section. The falls had some nice rocks and pools that were perfect for cooling off. It wasn’t that we didn’t get wet enough earlier that day, but this time had our bathing suits on and while less exciting, it was actually fun.
We arrived at our camping spot along Long Lake late in the afternoon but still had the problem of the wet sleeping bags. Tom and I decided to take the wet bags to the town laundromat while the rest of the group got dinner together. It was about a 20-minute paddle and another 15-minute walk up the hill. When we got to the place, they were just about to close. We explained the situation, they were nice enough to stay open for us. The “adventure” continued even on what should have been a nice quiet paddle back to the campsite. It was nearly dark when we got back to the boat and on the return trip we could hear a plane coming down the lake. The plane was heading for the village and just missed hitting us. We had dodged yet another bullet, and everyone had dry bags to sleep in.
The next day we met up with the re-supply truck and trailer that would take the canoes back to Camp Read. Bob Newton, the Camp Ranger was driving the truck. Earlier in the story, I had mentioned that the canoes we had wrecked were brand new. Bob takes tremendous pride in everything about camp and he makes sure that you will respect the camp equipment or there will be hell to pay. Knowing that, I was fearful of what Bob would say about the damaged canoes and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint him. When I told him about the incident and he inspected the boats, his first reaction was “Jesus!” and then after a pause, cocked his head to the side and said, “was anyone hurt?” I told him thankfully no and he replied, “well, that’s all that matters”. He never spoke to me about the incident again. It was then that I fully understood the kind of man Bob is and why so many hold him in high regard.
Northville to Placid Trail: Mt. Marcy
The Backpacking leg was less adventurous than the canoeing portion but none the less memorable. If anyone has ever hiked in the High Peaks during the 70s it can be summed up in one word, MUDDY! If I recall correctly our week was also quite wet. The fact that no one had properly bathed or done laundry (other than the sleeping bags) in more than a week and the wet conditions, most of our clothing, equipment, and crew started to smell like wet dogs. The only saving grace that we all were in the same condition. It also meant that we didn’t have much company when we camped.
Tom and I did decide to take one deviation from the intended course (here we go again!). The trail around Henderson Pond takes a sharp dip to the South before meeting up with the trail from the Upper Works and then heads Northeast up Calamity Brook. We figured we could save some time (again famous last words) by bushwhacking between the trails. The terrain was easy going by High Peaks standards and it also led to an awesome discovery.
Upper Works in Newcomb is an old iron mining community dating back to the 1820’s. During the bushwhack,Tom kicked something that had a hollow, metallic sound to it. He stopped to investigate and dug up an old cast iron kettle from the mid-1800s. He wanted to keep the artifact and decided to tie it to the top of his pack. The problem was whenever Tom would move the wrong way; the heavy metal pot would clunk him in the head. Nonetheless, he was determined to bring this trophy home and the bump on his head was a small price to pay.
The group ended up socked-in by the weather at Flowed Lands for a full day before we could get to climb Marcy. If the rain continued, we would be forced to abandon our plan to climb Mt Marcy. Fortunately, the weather cleared in time for us to summit Marcy. It was well worth the wait - it’s hard to match the awesome views from the top. It was all downhill from there (literally) and we made it to Adirondack Lodge (and welcome hot showers) without further incident.
I went on to become an Adirondack Voyageur and guided many canoe treks in years that followed. Never again did I miss a carry and consequently didn’t wreck any more canoes. I still love the Adirondacks and venture off in its wilderness every chance I can. Tom went on to work for the US Forest Service and still has the cast iron kettle in his possession.
I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed thinking about those days and writing about it.