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‘Adirondack Roots’ makes mountains accessible

“Adirondack Roots: Stories of Hiking, History and Women,” The History Press, 2011. 128 pages. $19.99

October 12, 2011
By BIBI WEIN - Special to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise , Adirondack Center for Writing

It would be gratifying to imagine that Sandra Weber could develop into another Barbara McMartin, charting our route along the easiest and most challenging trails and bushwacks throughout the Adirondacks, feeding us delectable bits of botany, geology and history along the way. And it seems likely we're going to need a new McMartin to guide us along trails and herd paths radically altered by Hurricane Irene throughout the High Peaks.

With all due respect to the late McMartin, who is no more replaceable than the shattered pottery of a vanished tribe, Weber's potential for the job is suggested in several of the most rewarding essays in her latest book, "Adirondack Roots: Stories of Hiking, History and Women." In "Passed By," she takes us from the Adirondak Loj through a remote notch called Caribou Pass, an all-but-vanished route to Lake Colden and Mount Marcy, long replaced by Van Hoevenberg's improvement of the Avalanche Pass trail. The reasons are obvious in Weber's description of the climb:

"What isn't cloaked in moss is covered by green plants or olive green leaves or lime-colored algae - except the holes between the rocks, which are black and fifteen feet deep. I step, and my right leg plunges into space, my thigh wedged between a boulder and a root while my foot dangles in midair."

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In this informative piece, originally published in Adirondack Life magazine, Weber offers a history of early travel through Caribou Pass and Avalanche Pass as well, spiced with quotes from Verplanck Colvin, some evidence that Caribou probably never existed in the Adirondacks, and an intriguing section about T. Morris Longstreth's use of the Pass as a setting in a 1920 novel.

This is a diverse collection of essays, all previously published or adapted from Weber's longer works, most notably, "Mount Marcy, The High Peak of New York." It includes historical pieces on the naming of Lake Tear of the Clouds, the Hudson River and Mount Jo at Heart Lake, a brief study of the great Adirondack forest fires at the turn of the 20th century, and vivid portraits of Martha Reben, Grace Hudowalski, and several other tough, iconoclastic women Weber wrote about with co-author Peggy Lynn in Breaking Trail, Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks.

The volume would have benefited from some judicious editing to avoid repetition and fill in some gaps, and the title, "Adirondack Roots," is not only overused but, to this reader at least, neither enhances nor describes the book. But these quibbles are at least as appropriately addressed to the publisher as to the author. Weber, a 46er, is as fearless an explorer as any of the women she writes about. And she has an insatiable curiosity: Dhe even made one of her many ascents of Mount Marcy in a mid-19th century-style dress to get a feel for her predecessors' experience.

Her enthusiasm for everything, past and present, that might illuminate her beloved mountains makes them more accessible - not only to accomplished trekkers like herself, but to armchair hikers as well.


Bibi Wein is the author of the award-winning Adirondack memoir, "The Way Home: A Wilderness Odyssey" (Tupelo Press). She divides her time between Olmstedville and Manhattan.


This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.



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