Come along for the journey in hiking tales

“An Adirondack Portfolio-1902-1935: The Hiking Stories and Photographs of Francis Bayle”

Many of us may be fortunate enough to own photos taken by earlier generations; a few might also have some old letters. Bob Bayle, a former teacher from Glens Falls, had his own collection of pictures, plus journals and letters written by his father about Adirondack experiencesduring the 1920s and 1930s. He’s edited and published much of this material in a book titled “An Adirondack Portfolio-1902-1935: The Hiking Stories and Photographs of Francis Bayle.”

One aspect that makes this compendium special is the richness of detail on the hikes and the people who accompanied him along the way. Bayle was an engineer, so I suspect the attention to detail needed in that career spilled over into his pastimes. The book opens with a handwritten summary of all his major hikes and who came along on each one. If your record keeping is that good, I’d like to see examples!

In his preface, Bayle notes that since he considered his father a good writer, he made very few changes except for purposes of clarification. Indeed the prose is simple and compelling. You’ll wish you had been on some of these journeys.

The older Bayle’s first Adirondack experience was a three day journey by trolley and buckboard from Glens Falls, through Warrensburgh, then up to Lake Placid. But the real in-depth exposure begins with a twenty-day walk from Chestertown to Lake Placid in 1913. The narrative reveals the trio of adventurers to be neophyte campers but resilient and highly motivated ones. Their journey culminated, if such a word can be use in describing a rain storm, with a hike to the summit of Whiteface.

There’s a joy reading anecdotes about buying bread at farmhouses and sleeping in hay lofts, concomitants of hiking a century ago that make the old days looked appealing. Counterbalancing these, of course, was the struggle to erect cumbersome tents, then sleep on hard and somewhat wet ground in an era before down sleeping bags and air mattresses became commonplace.

In the final analysis, though, for most people this will be remembered as a volume of photographs. All in black and white, and excellently reproduced, they project a crispness that isn’t always easily accomplished in a digital era. Like Seneca Ray Stoddard, the Glens Falls native whose work likely most influenced Bayle, his breadth of scope for the Adirondacks is impressive. Mountains, lakes, waterfalls, campsites, individual personalities–they’re all represented.

The contours of Basin, Saddleback, and Nippletopare rarely rendered with such clarity. Avalanche Lake and its cliffs stand with the expected grandeur, though the “Hitch-Up Matildas” look a bit more precarious than they do today.

Plus, we get to see aspects of the Adirondacks that no longer survive, like the Lake Harris House, an unusual tall round barn near Newcomb and the stone block “hospice” atop Mount Marcy. A few formerlumber camps are included in the images. Tents, packs and cooking equipment will elicit feelings of nostalgia from some while younger readers will marvel at their primitiveness.

And then there are the roadways. Route 73, where it existed, was still packed down dirt. So was the path that would become Route 9. Every roadside shot looks like the prelude for a mishap, perhaps none more so than the treacherous run down Spruce Hill en route to Keene Valley.

Also included are Francis’ plea to leave some mountains trail-free, and a collection of camera tips subtitled “Helpful Hints for Hiking Kodakers.”

This volume is truly a treasure. We’re fortunate that Bob took the time to assemble and publish it.