Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:

Stories from Camp Read's Past

Bill Langham

Rye, NY - June 29, 2020

Limp

It had to be 1957, maybe 1958, but it was my Ganoobie year at Camp Read. Troop 1 White Plains went to camp each year on the bus from County Center as Provo Scouts. Back then few troops attended as home units.

 

Each camp session was two weeks long. The highlight of the second week was a 3-day backpack into the Pharaoh Wilderness area. As far as this 12-year old kid knew, Pharaoh was a mythical land far beyond the mountains bordering camp - Stevens, Little Stevens and #8. The only entrance was through the fabled Farley’s Gap. The staff at Read talked about ‘the Gap’ as a challenge to even the most experienced hikers with its boulders, intermittent steam, slippery rocks, mosquitoes and other creatures too numerous to relate. I couldn’t wait to go!

 

Our troop, the Voyageurs, would leave Monday morning after breakfast in the Buckskin dining hall. In the wee hours Sunday, I made a trip to the larry, its red kerosene lantern a beacon in the night and the only light available for navigating the rocky path from my tent. On the way back, I stubbed my toe on a rock. On investigation, I’d torn the end off my big toe. First aid for cuts called for application of antiseptic (stinging merthiolate!!!) and bandaging up the hanging flap of skin as best I could in the limited middle of the night light, all without waking my tentmate. With departure just hours away, I certainly did not want to alert staff and miss out on this Camp Read rite of passage. 

 

My boots were hand-me-downs from my Great Aunt Mary’s gardener - a short-statured man with small feet. My feet were pretty big for a 12-year old and the boots were a tight fit, especially in the toes. With my bandage-job, they were really tight. I managed to hide my hobble down to breakfast. We picked up our packs and equipment set off for the Gap.

 

If you’ve never been through Farley’s Gap, it is steep, winding among huge rocks and boulders, often slippery when wet. It threads a narrow path between #8 and Little Stevens mountains, rising all the way from Rogers Lake (now Buckskin Lake) to reach a plateau. The trail passes Crab Pond, Whortleberry and then the magnificent Pharaoh Lake reveals itself. About half way through the Gap, my toe was killing me and it became apparent that it was time to let someone know of my condition. Pretty sure it was Ron Luna, our Provo Scoutmaster, who interceded, re-bandaged my foot and understanding my motive to not miss out on the hike, encouraged me to continue on. Whether Ron made this decision clothed as a teachable moment for me or whether he simply had no desire to return to the now deserted camp, I will never forget the next few days - exploring Whortleberry and my first time visiting the shores of Pharaoh.

Lost

On a Fourth of July in the Aught-Twos, as Summer Scoutmaster for my troop, I was determined to take my son and several older Scouts on an overnight to Pharaoh through the Gap. In desperate need of an 18-year old ASM to satisfy 2-deep regs, I agreed to take a visiting Eagle Scout, alumni from another troop who was camping with us in Frontier. This unusual scout had arrived with several large cardboard boxes which he stashed under the spare cot in my tent. I later learned that the boxes contained a complete set-up for a Zip line. I discovered this when returning from some errand to Buckskin Office, I heard the sound of an axe and timbers crashing. Curious as to who was chopping trees down in a scout camp, I soon discovered that it was my Eagle scout pinch-hitter ASM. He’d already cleared a 15x60-foot alley through the trees and erected the headend of his zipline project, a lashed-up pioneering tower of 15-feet. Somewhat taken aback, I asked whether he’s lost his mind and also, was he a certified climbing instructor (or whatever BSA credential you need to run such an operation. Hearing no response but that he thought the kids would enjoy it, and desperate in my need for “2-deep” later in the week, I relented, if that’s the word, and said go ahead and finish your project. And insisted that there be no ‘freelancing’ on our upcoming trip to Pharaoh.

 

We took equipment from Summit for our expedition including some out-of-date 50-feet of climbing rope, tents, and cook gear. And set off on the 4th of July. The trail from CSR to Pharaoh had fallen into neglect and we had trouble locating the trail head out of Voyageur. We took what I thought was the right bearing and set off on a very warm morning. 

 

I had not been through Farley’s Gap since the 50’s as described in Limp. Needless to say, we got quite lost, somewhere encountering the Reservation boundary fence halfway up #8. Who even knew there was a boundary fence! It did provide us with a hiking guard rail and we followed it until we reached the Gap, sometime well after lunch. When we exited the Gap, there were no markers or blazes and we again set off bushwhacking our way through a hot afternoon, eventually reaching not Pharaoh Lake but a hunter’s deer camp late in the day, bushed and ready to resign. We pitched camp, had our supper and crashed at dusk.

 

It was a night to remember as nearby towns rotated their 4th of July fireworks. We couldn’t see anything but the reports surrounded us in Quadraphonic sound. We left in the morning, never got to the lake and took the long way home, out Pharaoh Lake Road to Beaver Pond Road to Palisades and back to camp. Oh, and my hand-picked 2-deep Eagle Scout/Woodsman had failed to securely attach Summit’s climbing rope to his pack and it was lost on the way out.

 

And Found

Troop 2 Rye spends two weeks at CSR - Week I at Buckskin, Week II at Waubeeka. During the transition weekend one year, we decided to head out for Pharaoh, on the lake road, rather than the Gap as we had a lot of ganoobies. I hooked my college freshman son up with a dad coming up from Rye to visit his son for the weekend.

 

Our hike in was uneventful - we had a pleasant picnic lunch at the outlet end of the lake, crossed the foot-bridge and headed up the western shore trail, looking for a good spot to go swimming.

 

Finding an appropriate entry point, we tied our safety line to a tree and set out our lifeguards in deference to Safe Swim, and everybody went swimming. As near as I can reckon, this was most likely the 50th anniversary of my first time at Pharaoh Lake. What a joy it was to swim with my son at my favorite place in the world.

About the Scout:

Bill Langham, Star Scout 1959, was a member of Troop 1, George Washington School in White Plains. He has been active in most of the roles in Scouting as an adult volunteer. He is currently editor of the Camp Read Association Stories Project.

Camp Read and Pharaoh Lake Wilderness are among his favorite places on earth.

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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