Autumn is in the air and the mountains

Autumn has arrived, and it didn’t just sneak through an open door. This year, the season has barged right into town, flouting its grand colors with the accompanying chill and frosty coverings.

Although there has yet to be any sign of ice on the ponds, the High Peaks have already begun to sport winter’s white cap. So far, snow cover on the Whiteface toll road has been far too sparse to attract even the most diehard early-season skiers. But, any day now they’ll be there.

The big-game hunting season has already begun, and the first folks to enter the big woods were bear hunters who still had last year’s tag. They set off at dawn for the early bear season on Sept. 14 in search of a bruin.

Bear hunters had the woods all to themselves for more than a week before bowhunters with last season’s tags stepped off the pavement and into the forest on Sept. 27 for the early bowhunting season.

The regular big game hunting season for firearms does not begin until Oct. 26, following the muzzleloading season, which runs from Oct. 19-25.

It will be interesting to note if there is a significant increase in hunter-hiker conflicts this season as a result of the growing popularity of the Saranac 6er campaign.

In years past, these smaller peaks have not attracted much traffic after the conclusion of the tourist season in early October. However, there are a lot of hunting parties who frequent these areas.

There are several well-established hunting camps within easy striking range of Ampersand, Scarface, St. Regis and McKenzie mountains. There are only a few hunters that frequent Mount Baker or Haystack and, like most, they tend to avoid traveling on the hiking trails.

During the hunting season, hikers and climbers should take common sense precautions and dress in bright colors. Dogs should be kept on a leash and dressed with a red or orange handkerchief.

There really is no reason for hunter-hiker conflicts to occur. Each user group has a valid reason to be in the woods. A little bit of common sense and common courtesy can go a long way toward preventing any friction from developing between these autumn woodland wanderers.

Angling for pearls

In the course of my long career as an Adirondack guide, I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy the company of a diverse spectrum of “sports.”

I’ve entertained numerous families, couples, corporate groups and grandparents. I’ve strived to treat them all with due respect and a measure of good humor, even as my patience wore thinner than my hairline.

Many of the most memorable incidents occurred in camp, often while assembled around the dying embers of an evening fire, when even the adults begin to recognize their fears.

I’ve watched many adults sneak off with their children to the tents, where they snuggled comfortably in the mutual safety of each other’s company. Fear is a great equalizer, and it is most easily overcome in the company of family members.

In addition to families, I’ve also enjoyed providing special occasions for many couples which have included birthdays, anniversaries and retirement getaways.

One of the most unusual events I ever put together was a special retirement retreat for a couple who loved the snow. I arranged for a dog team to transport them to a small local pond, where a chef prepared a gourmet meal over an open fire.

While waiting for the meal to be prepared, the husband coaxed his wife to help him check some tip-ups that were set out prior to their arrival.

At the first hole, she pulled in a small perch. On the second hole, the flag was up but the hook was empty.

As they trudged through the deep snow to the third hole, they watched the flag go up. Quickly, they ran to it together laughing.

Again her husband allowed her to haul in the fish, and out of the hole came a fat 12-inch perch. Strangely, there was another line tangled around the hook.

Gently, he helped her bring the other line in, even though there didn’t seem to be much of a fight. As she got the line to the opening, he let go and allowed her to haul it in by herself.

From the depths of the ice-covered pond, she pulled up the line to discover a cherished, old pearl necklace. It was an old family heirloom that she thought had been lost many years ago.

Prior to the trip, the husband had discovered it hidden in an old suitcase in their attic. He sent the necklace to me to figure out a novel way for her re-find it.

They both loved to fish, and it was a moving scene to see the happy anniversary unfold on a cold, desolate pond.

On the return trip to the trailhead, her husband thanked me profusely.

“I guess I’ll be able to fish whenever I want to,” he chuckled.

I think they both got what they wanted.

A different approach

It was a much different situation the day I floated the Raquette River with a Washington beltway uber-lawyer and his young trophy wife.

He was a crusty old D.C. insider who was more interested in catching fish and yelling into his cell phone than he was in extending any common courtesy toward his wife. Of course, she appeared to be less than half his age, and maybe even mine.

We floated down a remote stretch of the Raquette River where the rapids kept bass active and the only sounds were from the roar of the waters. Most of my time was spent providing him with flycasting instruction, and he actually managed to hook into a few fat, healthy, smallmouth.

His lovely wife sat forlornly atop a big boulder on the riverbank reading a book. I checked on her often, but he rarely gave her a second glance. It was obvious his life was consumed by the chase, and he had already caught her.

This day, smallmouth were to be his quarry and he spared nothing, not even the rod.

He fished long and hard, stopping only on a rare occasion to puff on a truly foul-smelling Havana cigar.

It was late in the day when I heard the scream. Immediately, I went to see what was wrong. By the time I got to her, she was sobbing uncontrollably.

“My ring, my beautiful ring. It’s gone, it’s gone!”

I asked, “Where? What happened?”

Between the sobs and wiping away the snot, she explained, “I slipped and tried to grab the rock, but my ring scraped across it and, and, and …” She gathered her breath.

“That’s when the stone went right down there,” she explained pointing at the river bottom.

She was hyperventilating so heavily I could barely understand her, but I got the impression Jim had heard it all before.

“Awwh hell, honey, don’t you worry yourself about it now, I’ll just get you another one when we get home. Now, just settle down and enjoy the scenery.”

After this short, affectionate lecture, Jim immediately turned his attention back to the river and continued casting for bass, just as clumsily as before.

I had noticed the ring on her hand before. It was hard to miss, especially as the stone was nearly the size of her fingernails.

She was still frantic and pacing the shoreline while staring into the dark, tannin-stained waters of the raging Raquette. I kept questioning her between the sobs, sniffles and whimpers, until I finally managed to decipher exactly where the incident had occurred.

Together we returned to the exact location, and I spent the next three hours hanging off the rocks by my toes. I was completely upside down while trying to scour the rocky river bottom with my bare hands.

I pulled up pebbles, clamshells, glass, brass and nuts. But not a single diamond.

However, I did manage to achieve a screaming, pulsing monster of a bloodrush headache.

After sitting upright for a while in an effort to shake the cobwebs and dizziness from my mind, I dove back into the hole I had dug into the river bottom.

By now the slot canyon I dug into the river bottom was as long as my arm, and I could barely reach the bottom. I tried one last desperate plunge and nearly dislocated my shoulder in the effort.

But pinned between my fingertips and the moss-covered rock, I could feel something that felt like a bottle cap. Carefully, I managed to pinch it between my two fingers, and I slowly snaked my way out of the hole using only one arm and my elbow.

As I rolled out of that hole to hell, half dead in the head from the blood flow, I dared not look at my find. But, I had to!

It wasn’t a piece of glass, but it could’ve cut glass. It was clearly her diamond! It took me a minute or two to catch my breath before I handed it to her.

She was beaming, screaming and her tears had finally stopped streaming.

And as soon as I presented the rock to her, I heard Jim hollering.

“Hey Joe! Hey, can I get a little help too! Look over here at this is one, this is a really big bass.”

I would’ve agreed with him, but only if he had dropped the “B.”