A different kind of guidebook

Review: ‘History and Legends of the Northern Adirondacks’ by John Sasso

Author John Sasso, a Winter 46er, is pictured on the snowy summit of Gray Peak, the highest (4,840 feet) trailless summit in the Adirondacks. (Provided photo)

The Adirondacks have generated guidebooks galore. The newest does not, for the most part, give trail information, describe summit views or tell how to find a trailhead. What it does do, in considerable and exquisite detail, is present aspects of the histories of nearly 30 specific locations, from the hikers’ cables on Gothics and trail junctions (Times Square in the Santanoni Range) to the famous Hitch-Up Matilda bridges along Avalanche Lake and how Shattuck Clearing, a rendezvous point on the Northville-Placid Trail, got its name.

This is the essence of John Sasso’s “History and Legends of the Northern Adirondacks” (High Peaks Publishing, 2023). Sasso, who by weekday is a GIS developer, is the rest of the time an independent Adirondack historian; trail, fire tower and lean-to care-giver; Winter 46er; volunteer for trails, fire tower and search-and-rescue organizations; manager of the Facebook group “History and Legends of the Adirondacks”; and contributor to regional journals, periodicals and public forums. An ardent and conscientious researcher, evidenced by the 331 footnotes in his book, he has written 150-plus papers on Adirondack history. Whew!

Almost all of Sasso’s chosen locations are in the High Peaks and immediate environs, although only a handful are actual High Peaks, half of the Saranac Lake 6 for example. But the volume’s title says “Northern Adirondacks,” which to most people means the isolated low summits, wetlands and vast rolling hunters’ and snowmobilers’ forests out beyond Onchiota. What gives?

Sasso explains that this book is intended to be volume 1 of a four-volume set. “When High Peaks Publishing and I were discussing, I proposed Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western. May that change? Perhaps,” he says.

“Leaving geography aside,” he adds, the book has “content which has been little expounded upon by other authors.” He cites his first chapter, “Rise of the Adirondack High Peaks,” for which he “discovered things written about the Marshalls (the first 46ers) and the (46er) list to be inaccurate. That chapter (is) an effort to correct those mistakes.”

Author and fire tower fan John Sasso is seen here in the Pillsbury Mountain tower’s cab. (Provided photo)

Fair enough. Still, it would have been good to discover, for example, why the fire tower mountain near St. Regis Falls had its name changed from Blue to Azure, or which Franklin County river is tributary to a brook.

But it’s Sasso’s book; he can call it what he wants. And he does specify in his Introduction that although he embraces the High Peaks region, he zeroes in on landmarks that are “not the oft-publicized High Peaks” themselves. You won’t find Mt. Marcy here.

But you will find Pough (pronounced “Puff”) Peak, a hogback in the Dix Range. Ever heard of it? Neither had I. It’s near Hough (“Huff”), thus Huff and Puff, which is what most High Peaks climbers do. We learn of Ampersand’s hermit, of how many names and spellings MacNaughton Mountain (“the 47th 46er”) has had, of how Kempshall Mountain and gambling are connected. Conversational in tone, this is a thoroughly educational yet highly entertaining book.

Elegy 2.0

We reviewed Wright Peak Elegy in this space on Sept. 20, 2022. The book probes the devastating crash of a Plattsburgh Air Force Base B-47 into the summit of Wright on a stormy night in January 1962.

Author Alan Maddaus has released a revised, slightly expanded edition, available from online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or via googling the book’s title. Maddaus says, “It also can be purchased from me directly, at ADMADDAUS@aol.com, with the advantages that I can provide a signed copy and my price, including domestic shipping, is less than the online retailers’ without shipping ($30 from me, with shipping, vs. $34.95 without from Amazon).”


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