Ice Blockade on the Ammonoosuc
EARLY IN the spring, I was again called to return to the Profile House. Bitter experience, in former seasons, had taught me that I might expect snow-storms and wintry weather, and so I took the precaution to be provided for such contingencies. A thick riding-blanket and warm mittens are excellent companions on such a journey.
Arriving at Franconia by stage, from Littleton, I was not a little amazed to find solid cakes of ice, large and small, scattered all over the town, in the fields, gardens, and orchards, not omitting the open doors of barns and sheds. Some of the front doors of the dwellings were completely blocked up, and the whole appearance of things generally was most singular. It appeared as if the spirits of the Mountains had been having a grand mélée, the weapons being cakes of ice. I am not sure which side beat. Upon inquiring into the cause of this strange appearance, I learned that a sudden freshet had taken place on the Ammonoosuc River, caused by the snow melting along the ravine of Mount Lafayette, and the water had rushed down, breaking the ice in the river into fragments, which were carried all over the town when an ice-jam occurred, which kept the water back, and submerged the town some three feet. This accounted for the ice in such unusual places. The road had been cleared out to make travelling possible.
While we were preparing to go forward, we were suddenly overtaken by a violent snow-storm, which came almost unheralded. We were prepared for it—our stout blankets keeping us comfortable—but the snow very soon became too deep for the stage to proceed on wheels, so we were obliged to halt, and hold a consultation.
We determined to go on, in spite of the storm, provided we could find some sort of a sled large enough to take us all along. There were about a dozen of us, all told, and not afraid of the weather. After considerable search, we procured a wood-sled belonging to a farmer near by; and having hitched our horses to it, and enveloped ourselves in our blankets and buffalorobes, the driver cracked his whip, and off we started in high glee. The way was rather uncertain, but soon the storm ceased, almost as suddenly as it commenced, and we had a splendid moonlight ride through the gloomy forest, arriving safely at the Profile House. Here a rousing fire and a hot supper soon put us to rights, and the evening passed in great good humor. The next morning’s sun revealed snow-drifts reaching twenty feet in height.
A Visit to the Other Side of “Cannon Mountain”
I started off, one day, with the intention of visiting the scene of the great conflagration caused by a fire kindled by some careless company of gentlemen, in the woods, years ago, on the other side of “Cannon Mountain.” Ascending by the path which leads to its top, I soon reached it, and struck into the pathless woods, coming out, after a while, directly upon the place I sought. It was a desolate waste, of fifteen square miles; a wilderness of jagged and shattered rocks, charred stumps, and tangled briars, upon which the sun beat down in unobstructed fervor, making the place a very purgatory. The purgatorial appearance of the place was much increased by the presence of clouds of midgets (wood-flies), which pursued me with unrelenting vigor throughout my visit, obliging me to keep one hand continually in motion, to defend myself from their attacks. I had intended to explore the place sufficiently to obtain a fair idea of it, and then retrace my steps. I picked my way up and down, over and among the rocks, many of which were of immense size, and all looked as if rent and scattered by some great convulsion of nature, for angular shapes were universal; there not being a round, naturally-shaped rock within the range of my vision. Coming to a place where the rocks shot sheer down for several feet, I jumped off without due calculation, and the impetus of the leap carried me much farther than I had intended to go. When I finally brought up, I found myself in a sort of amphitheatre, the open side of it being directly ahead of me in the direction I had been pursuing, while above and behind me, the steep ascent forbade return. I had, therefore, to keep on, and trust to reaching the woods at the foot of the Mountain, through which I must find my way, in a roundabout direction, to the hotel.
The rocks around me abounded in remarkable resemblances to such things as tombs, pulpits, water-wheels, etc., and but a slight stretch of the imagination was necessary to conjure up many other things, even animals and persons, from the maze of fantastical shapes around. It was impossible to make haste, so I proceeded at a slow pace, stopping now and then to examine whatever attracted my attention; sending rocks down the steep places, to see them fly to splinters at the bottom, and otherwise amusing myself. I finally reached the woods, after a tiresome tramp, and, in their cool shade, I stopped to rest and eat my luncheon. Having duly refreshed myself, I took observations, and plunged into the woods in the direction of home. After getting several falls, tearing my clothes to tatters, and being several times at fault, I found myself in a familiar locality, and had no further trouble in getting home.
An Avalanche on “Bald Mountain”
In reviewing my visit to the desolate region referred to above, my rolling of rocks down the steeps, and the effects thereof, made me desirous of witnessing the same thing on a grander scale.
I remembered, in one of my visits to “Bald Mountain,” so called from its lofty top being round and bare, to have seen an immense boulder of granite standing upright, quite near the brink of a long, steep incline which shot clear from the top of the Mountain to the line of forest, and far below it. I thought it would be fun to roll that boulder down the steep; but, how to do it? I paid two or three visits to the spot, to calculate the possibility of starting it, and to ascertain what implements were necessary, and how many hands would be required. Having completed my arrangements, I broached the subject to some of the workmen. It was a Saturday afternoon, and work was dull. The idea was readily taken up, and a party of seven men, besides myself, started for the top of the Mountain, distant about five miles. We carried wooden levers. Arriving at the spot, we arranged our implements, and applied them at the proper place, having first tried our united strength on it, and found it immovable. As the lever was steadily applied to the rock, it gradually yielded; and, as soon as its balance was sufficiently disturbed to insure its going over, a sharp, quick jerk was given to the bar, and we scattered instantly, turning, as soon as we reached a safe distance, to watch the effect. The rock turned over slowly once or twice, and then, gathering headway at each revolution, it thundered down the slope at a tearful rate of speed, raising great clouds of smoke and dust, and drawing streams of fire from the rocks over which it tore its way. We saw it reach the forest line, and we saw the tall trees go down before it like grass before the mower’s scythe. It disappeared from view, leaving a long, broad avenue behind it. That rock was the most speedy and effective path-maker that I ever saw. After all was over, I followed the trail of the rock down the slope, and was astonished at the ruin it had wrought. It was exactly as if a tornado had been along.
Retracing my steps, I joined the rest in a lunch; having finished it, we went leisurely back to the Profile House, well satisfied with the result of our afternoon’s frolic.
These Falls, although well worth seeing, and comparatively easy of access with a competent guide, are yet neglected by the great majority of tourists. In fact, judged by the general practice of visitors, to have been to the Mountains is one thing, to have been over them—to have “done” them—is quite another.
I have already related how I went in search of the gentleman who got lost in the attempt to find these Falls without a guide, and the incidents connected therewith. The next spring I went with a gumming party to guide them to the Falls. The Mountains are covered mostly with spruce-trees, on which chewing-gum can be found in abundance, especially on the sunny side of the hills. Parties often go after gum. They carry poles about eight feet long, having chisels fastened to the smaller end, with which to cut off the gum when found high up the trees. The return of such a party, and the distribution of the gum, causes an amount of chewing that would astonish a cow. The distance from the Profile House was about five miles. There was enough snow still on the ground to render it difficult to find the true path, and leaves and dead branches had been strewed around so thickly the previous winter, as to increase the perplexity of a first passage, to the extent of making the way rather devious. I was several times at fault; and, most of the party getting tired out, voted to return, which they did, and got lost, caught in a heavy shower, and were thoroughly soaked long before they struck the road leading to the hotel. Two of the party pushed on, taking me with them; we soon found the path, and shortly arrived at the Falls, in viewing which we found ample satisfaction for coming. Sated with views of the rushing waters, and the surrounding scenery from various points, we finally turned into the woods in search of gum. One of us struck the fresh track of a deer, and, entirely forgetting the coming storm, which had been gradually darkening the air for some time, we gave chase, hoping to see the animal. We continued the pursuit until the heavy pattering of the rain brought us to our senses. Halting on the top of a slight elevation, we saw that we were completely lost. My two companions now wished that they had returned with the main body of the party, although, as it afterwards appeared, had they done so without me they would have been no better off. After some search, I saw a landmark which had a familiar look, and was sure that, by taking a downward direction, we should strike the bridle-path. The other two, however, insisted on going in the opposite direction, and I deferred to them so far as to let them try it, although I was morally certain that we should become still more involved in the mazes of the forest. They went up and down for two hours, without success, and then gave it up. By this time we were thoroughly wet and tired. Turning about, and bidding them follow, I sped down the side of the mountain as straight as possible, through mud, mire, and bushes, over rocks, stumps, and logs, dodging here and there to avoid the trees, and gaining impetus at every step, until we reached the low lands, where I looked about for a running stream, knowing that if I could find one I could easily tell, by the direction in which it ran, which way to go. Finding one, we followed it down, and soon came to a familiar path, which led us safely out of the difficulty. Had the two men been left to themselves, it would probably have been a “gone case” with them.
A few weeks after this I went out again, with the intention of examining the Falls, and more thoroughly exploring their neighborhood. I was advised not to go, as the weather threatened to be bad; but, even while admitting the fact, I went. I reached the foot of the Falls, and had commenced the ascent, when I discovered a violent thunder-storm approaching. There was a cave situated in the side of the cliff, which was called Lion’s Cave, some eighty rods above my head, which promised shelter if I could reach it in season. I hastened up the steep ascent, much of the way on my hands and knees, until I had nearly reached it, when my progress was barred by a chasm, not visible from below. One side of the chasm was higher than the other; and, taking my hatchet from my belt, I felled and roughly trimmed a stout sapling, which I laid, across the chasm, and which, half-ladder, half-bridge, enabled me to cross and gain the coveted shelter. I had imagined it to be a huge cleft in the rock, but it proved to be only about six feet deep, and not high enough for me to stand up in, although I could sit comfortably, and be perfectly sheltered. The shower burst soon; the rain drove in sheets across the valley below me; it poured down from the Mountain above, forming a thick, unbroken curtain before the mouth of the cave; a miniature Niagara, in fact, which tossed and tumbled down the slope into the brook below, now swollen to a river. I enjoyed the scene vastly; but the omnipresent midgets soon found me out, and attacked me, seriously interfering with my pleasure, and forcing me to make a fire and smoke them out. In the course of an hour, the shower ceased as suddenly as it had begun. Descending from my elevated perch, and deferring my intended explorations to a future time, I went home, and was jeered and laughed at for my folly, until they discovered that my clothes were dry, when they stopped laughing, and desired particulars, which I gave them.
At another time, an old lady insisted on visiting the Falls, and engaged me as guide. In company with several men and two ladies, she hired a team, and set out. When the party reached the spot where persons wishing to visit the Falls must alight, and take the foot-path, all except the old lady had changed their minds, and decided to keep on and visit the Basin. She adhered to her original intention, and, after ordering the team to wait for her on its return, she jumped out, and I followed her, the rest of the party going on. Looking up, previous to entering the woods, I saw that one of the sudden storms peculiar to Mountain regions had stolen upon us unawares, was rearing its crest above the tree-tops, and would soon burst upon us. If those who had gone on should see the storm in season, they would return at full speed; but that would not save any of us from a drenching, and I determined to risk being left for the present, and shelter my companion. Calling her attention to the storm, she readily comprehended that we could not visit the Falls, and signified her willingness to go wherever I chose. I led her away some distance into the woods, to a broad, overhanging rock, which I had noticed in a previous ramble, underneath which I fixed seats for her and myself, and got snugly settled just as the shower came on. The thunder roared; the lightning flashed; the tall forest-trees bowed and writhed under the violence of the wind, and the rain fell in torrents; but we were safe and dry, and could calmly look out and enjoy the really sublime spectacle. The old lady was in high glee at the thought of the miserable plight in which the rest of the party must necessarily be, without protection of any kind. After the rain had passed away, she listened for the team, and when she heard it coming up the road, we proceeded to its side and waited for it to come up. It was a sorry-looking company that we beheld—all wet, draggled, and woe-begone; and we laughed heartily, both at their appearance and at their unfeigned astonishment at our dry and comfortable condition. We got in, and dashed away for the hotel, where our wet companions hurried off in search of dry clothing and fires. The old lady stood up all the way, declining to sit down where everything was soaked, and she chuckled right merrily, to think that insisting on going to the Falls had saved her from a wetting.
Fireworks on Profile Lake
It had become a regular custom for those guests who had passed the season at the Profile House, to get up some sort of a party or picnic before separating, as a fitting close for their holiday season. I almost always had a hand in the arrangements, for the hotel-keeper generally recommended me as a handy-man on such occasions. Being somewhat ready-witted, and withal not afraid of a little hard work, I usually managed to give satisfaction.
Once I had been requested to make preparations for a jolly good time at the old Flume House, which was then unoccupied. A party of about fifty ladies and gentlemen proposed to have a supper and ball, and I was somewhat nonplussed to arrange for their comfort, as there was no furniture in the building, and it was six miles distant from the Profile House. However, at it I went, cutting up fence-boards for tables, and made seats by the aid of work-benches. The dining-hall I decorated with evergreen as well as I could, and made it look quite respectable. Many delicacies had been sent all the way from New York, and the other viands were procured from the Profile House.
By dint of hard work, I managed to get all ready for company; and in the afternoon a long line of carriages appeared, with flags flying and music playing. The party was received with due ceremony, and ushered into the parlors, where they deposited their extra clothing. Then came a hop, and afterwards a large fire was built outside, where some green corn was roasted in a primitive manner. When all things were ready, the party was ushered into the dining-hall, and were much surprised at the appearance of the tables. Everyone seemed to enjoy the scene, and made the hall ring with their jokes and laughter. Then came toasts and speeches, the leader of the party occupying an old wagon-seat which I found in the barn. Their merry-making lasted until midnight, when all returned to the Profile House, highly gratified with their entertainment, and unanimously voting that the whole occasion was a decided success, even if it was improvised by a deaf-mute.
But there was another occasion which, while the management of it bothered my brains somewhat, yet proved to be a very agreeable and brilliant affair.
At a distance of about eighty rods from the hotel is a pretty sheet of water, called Profile Lake; or, more properly, “The Old Man’s Washbowl.” Surrounded by high hills and a dense forest, it has a most somber appearance, particularly at night. The idea was started by a gentleman from New York, connected with the Journal of Commerce, and another from Philadelphia, of having a row on the lake at night, with a grand display of fireworks. When asked if I understood how to manage the rockets, etc., I had to plead partial ignorance; but did not doubt that I could make a proper display with a little instruction. So the whole arrangement of the night’s display was left to me, and a busy time I had of it for two days; the fireworks had been ordered from Boston, and arrived in due time. Procuring all the boats that could be found on Echo Lake and Profile Lake, eighteen in all, we had them cleaned, and fitted up with a Chinese lantern at each end. I went to the other end of the lake, about a quarter of a mile from the boat-house, and prepared a big pile of dry and green boughs, twigs and brush, all ready for a bonfire. Then I had a large ball, some two feet in diameter, made of rags, well smeared with tar, fastened to the top of a pole about twelve feet high, which I set on a float made from an old barn-door, and anchored it in the middle of the lake.
When the evening came, I was all ready for our grand celebration. Before the select party who were to occupy the boats arrived, with the assistance of one man, I had all the Chinese lanterns lighted up with sperm candles, presenting a very pretty spectacle. Then came the party down the road, headed by a band of music, and followed by nearly all the guests from the hotel who wished to witness the novel scene. Our brilliant fleet of boats was quickly filled by the ladies and gentlemen, with the band, while I had gone out into the lake in a boat, with one assistant to help me about the rockets, which I fired from time to time amid the cheers of the spectators. The effect was very brilliant, for the night was very dark, and no stars appeared to interfere with the general effect. The glare of the rockets and Roman candles presented a magnificent, yet peculiarly somber appearance, which quite astonished the spectators, who fairly yelled with delight. I could see by the light of the lanterns, that the party in the boats were quite excited, waving their handkerchiefs and huzzaing.
I now pushed off to the pile of brush and lighted it, and quickly rowed away, so that I might not be seen. It soon worked up into a strong blaze, causing the flames to ascend some forty feet; this had a novel effect, lighting up the whole lake. After this had subsided, I set fire to the grand illuminator on the float, which I did by means of a rag saturated with oil, at the end of a long stick; at the same time setting the raft to rocking, so that the pole appeared to wave to and fro, like a vessel on a high sea. The effect of this was very brilliant, also, and it burned quite a while. The performance closed with another display of fireworks, the various colors having a peculiarly beautiful effect with such weird surroundings. The party appeared to be satisfied with the entertainment, and rowing back to the boat-house, they landed, taking the Chinese lanterns for company, marched back to the hotel, enlivening the way with songs and cheers. On arriving at the hotel a sumptuous supper was in readiness, and a hop in the grand saloon closed the evening’s amusement. I received many thanks for my part of the performance, and I look back with much pleasure upon that evening spent on Profile Lake.
One incident somewhat marred the enjoyment of one of the party—a lady, who disdained any assistance on leaving the boat. Being rather stout and solid, she contrived, while standing upon the edge of the boat and trying to spring upon the platform, to push the boat away from it, and her ladyship fell plump into the water. She was quickly rescued, but thoroughly soaked; and quite disgusted with the sudden change of scene. Hurrying to the hotel, she was quickly arrayed in dry clothing, and means to be a little more careful next time.
The next morning one of the guests, seeing the preparations for leaving by so many of his friends, concluded to attempt one more piece of fun; and so, before the stages were ready, he called me to his aid with half a dozen others of the employees. He rigged us up in grotesque costumes, consisting of the oldest and oddest garments that could be found. Guns, brooms, or wooden swords furnished our armament; and with huge pieces of tin upon our breasts, we presented an appearance much like Falstaff’s brave army. Thus equipped as genuine country police, we waited in a side-room until the stages began to fill up, when we suddenly marched out, and going directly into the office of the hotel, pretended that there had been some pickpockets at work. We arrested several of the most prominent of the party, and took them into one of the public rooms, where we searched them, and made a pretense of finding the lost wallets. A mock trial was commenced at once; and it being soon discovered that it was all a sham, the evidence proceeded, to the great amusement of the bystanders. The jury finally acquitted the prisoners of any positive act of wrong-doing, and they were dismissed by the learned judge, with an injunction to be careful and never do so again, or the majesty of the law might visit them with some punishment awful to contemplate. This farce over, the departing guests gave us a round of cheers, and they rolled away to the duties and cares of life in the outside world.
After so much fun and amusement, I found it rather hard to settle down again to daily labor; but the summer was passing, and there was work to be done before cold weather should put an embargo on our labors. So I soon settled down to it, and gave my brains a resting-spell, while my hands and tools found plenty to do to keep off any sense of loneliness.