A few years ago, a friend of mine and I decided to keep some horses in the southeastern Adirondacks and run summer camping and fall hunting trips into the backcountry. One of our favorite places was above the eastern shore of Lake George.
Our normal routine was to pick up some "campers" from the Painted Pony Dude Ranch in Lake Luzerne and take them for a three-day adventure into the mountains. Neil and I would trailer the horses and our clients to the Hogtown trailhead just a few miles away.
After saddling the horses and loading all of the gear on the pack horses, we started up the side of the mountain. It was a beautiful ride along the old carriage road that switch-backs its way up the steep, rocky side of Sleeping Beauty Mountain.
The "road" up Sleeping Beauty was built back in the late 1800s in order for the son of a very affluent family to take his wife up to Bumps Pond to a cabin for their honeymoon. At that time, it was carved into the side of the mountain to accommodate a horse and wagon. Many of the sharp turns on the ever-upward road feature some spectacular views of Lake George.
As we finally approached the pond, we could see the old stone chimney that remained from the long-forgotten wedding-night cottage. After reaching the tiny, pristine lake, the trail turned north toward Fishbrook Pond.
On one of our trips, everything was going fine until the horses suddenly stopped dead in their tracks. They refused to take another step. There on the dusty trail were the pad marks of a bear that had recently crossed.
I had an old trick to solve the problem. In my saddle bags was a little, blue jar of Vicks Vapor Rub. A small dab in each of the horses' nostrils ended any apprehension that our trusty steeds may have had about the black ghost of the forest.
The trail to Fishbrook Pond was far different than the carriage road we had just traveled. It was a narrow, twisting path along a brook and across the crest of the mountain. On the far side of the pond was an Adirondack lean-to, our destination.
I had an old quarter-horse that I used to pack all of the sleeping bags and foam pads. Everything light went on that horse, securely tied to the cross-buck saddle. A rope or lead was never needed for that near-black horse. He would just pick his path and follow along as we made our way to camp.
The remarkable thing about that old horse was his ability to pick a path through the trees that would always accommodate his extra-wide load. He never lost a thing until the day we tied him to a tree with an unknown ground nest of yellowjackets beneath his feet.
As the angry bees attacked him, he kicked and bucked until I cut the rope. Then he was gone, scattering his load for nearly a half-mile through the forest and brush.
We camped at the lean-to on the edge of the pond and grilled steaks over an open fire. It always amazed our downstate guests when we sat around the campfire in the dark of night. They had never seen a sky so full of bright, shiny stars. We had a lot of fun that summer and shared a small section of wilderness with our newfound friends. I'm sure that they took many wonderful memories of the trip back home to their much duller life in the city.
Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.