Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Webb ring.... (or, Camping on Lake Lila)

Where to begin? A couple of months back, in early July, I posted a few pictures from a visit to the Shelburne Museum which was the creation of Electra Havemeyer Webb. Her father in law was William Seward Webb, who was named in honor of New York State's onetime Governor, who was also Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State. And the man who bought Alaska. He was a distant cousin of my family, a connection observed in the choice of my uncle's middle name.

William Seward Webb
Lila Osgood Vanderbilt
At any rate, William Seward Webb was from a wealthy land owning family. He married Lila Osgood Vanderbilt, the grand-daughter of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. After some trouble with one of their holdings, the Vanderbilts asked Mr.Webb to take over one of their railroads, which led to its expansion and the opening of upstate New York to commerce and travel. The general area includes Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, famous for its tuberculosis treatment. My great-grandfather had TB three times. He went to Saranac Lake back when. There is a family rumor of his having smiled at one of the nurses, causing a bit of a row with my great-grandmother. Part of the holdings Mr. Webb assembled included a 1,400 acre lake he renamed in honor of the missus. It was there he built what they used to call a "great camp" on the shore of the lake, part of his private 7,200 acre wilderness park. The family compound had its own private railroad station, which still exists in a state of splendid abandonment. The land was acquired by New York State in the late 1970's. Part of the deal called for the state to remove the lodge. The lake is now a wilderness camping area.

The Webb's family vacation home 'Forest Lodge' at Lake Lila - a vacation home away from their vacation home in Vermont.

Not long after I moved to New York City (November 1972) I became friends with a co-worker at a bookstore. We understood each other. It turned out that he had spent several of his growing up years in a town very near mine in the southern part of New Jersey. Rich has been trying to get me to go camping with him for about 20 years. Now that I'm retired, I was finally able to do it.

The area surrounding Lake Lila is still privately owned, mostly by the Whitney's from what I gather. Access is by a 6 mile plus dirt road posted with numerous 'Private Property' signs which also state a warning to travelers to not get out of their cars. One arrives at a parking lot with various other signs, a registration book, and a .3 of a mile portage to the lake. No motorboats are allowed.

A mutual friend gave Rich a huge tent, big enough for a family of 5. We've both (ahem) grown a bit over the years ("expanded" might be more appropriate); this tent promised plenty of room. Rich had studied the campsites using maps and online satellite images and settled on one as our goal as it seemed large enough to host the tent. We hugged the shoreline looking for it, which made the initial canoe trip a long one - it's a very big lake. As we were approaching our desired campsite, Rich pointed towards an old dead pine tree on our left. Sitting at the top was a bald eagle. We reached our site, and after checking it out decided campsite 16 was indeed suited to our needs. As we began to unload the canoe, I looked back at the eagle. Something else moved. "What's that?", I asked. At that moment, the something else lifted its head out of the water. It was a huge bull moose. In rutting season. I grabbed my little digital camera, wishing it was my trusty old 35mm with my telephoto lens attached. Here's a detail from the larger photo:

I can not express how wonderful it was to be out camping again, away form the noise of modern life. My little studio apartment is on a very busy road. Even in winter the sound of cars going by can drown out the tv or the radio. Speaking of which, there were no sounds of someone else's tv or radio. There were no drunks or drugged outs arguing with colorful terminology. There were occasional sounds of airplanes, and one day a park warden's helicopter. Otherwise, it was the sound of windblown waves lapping against the shore, the rustle of leaves, the crackle of the campfire, geese flying by, one lone loon (which I saw one evening at twilight), an occasional songbird, and a rather angry red squirrel.

I forget if that is Mount Frederic or Mount Frederica. We never got to hike to the top. I hope to go back and do that one day.

A visitor to our camp's shoreline
There were many gloriously misty mornings.


The strip of beach at our campsite.
Canoeing on Single Shanty Brook - accomplished somewhat warily, as this was where the moose headed.
Sadly, we were so busy scrambling over a number of beaver damns that I didn't take any pictures of them.

Moose tracks
That little sliver of beach just right of the center of the photo was the site of the moose tracks above.
This was a very short walk from our campsite. 

My shoes drying out after scrambling over beaver damns and the like.
This was at our campsite - look closely and you can see the ropes we used to hang food so bears wouldn't get at it.
I posted several of these photos on Facebook, where people can click on a "like" button.
Based on that informal poll, the above was the most popular picture of the series.

Rich's selection of Lake Lila for camping had two main purposes - both concerned identifying and judging portage sites used for what canoeists call "the Whitney Loop". One was a right of way around a privately owned (and blocked off) portion of Single Shanty book. A recently opened access to Harrington Brook (above - flows into or out of Lake Lila) was the other - but the portage to access it is still under development and too much of a hurdle for aging gentlemen.
Saturday it rained. A lot. Sometimes quite hard. Made for some good idle time picture taking, though.

On Sunday the rain stopped and the skies cleared. Rich used his radio to get the weather report. On Monday and Tuesday (the day we expected to leave) more storms were expected. Crossing Lake Lila back to the parking lot would be too dangerous, so we decided to break camp while we could. While we were hiking one day, we met a group of guys who had arrived for a few days of camping. They were leaving at the same time. After our first trip to the parking lot, we were on our way back to the put in when they came by carrying our canoe and most of our supplies. Thanks again guys. 

The return to our modern world has been a bit disconcerting as I find myself once again engulfed by the sounds and the noise of other people's living. Thanks, Rich, for keeping after me for all these years to do it, and Thanks for all the trouble you took as part of the process of including me. Next time we've got to get to the top of the mountain, and find that railroad station.

I look at these photos now, sitting at my computer, cars whizzing by in the rain, and they seem a remote dream. A dream I long to dream again.



Anonymous said...

What a wonderful place to glad you got to experience that. Love the reflection shots and the mist.

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Thanks, Delores! A couple of the mist shots I got are my favorites of the trip. They reminded me of the Monet paintings at Electra Havemeyer Webb's museum in Shelburne.