Back in the early 1970s there was a sudden desire (fad?) for all things natural, like organic food, hiking, bicycling, Earth Shoes, Earth Day, the Whole Earth Catalog, and backpacking. Even among New Yorkers. Especially among New Yorkers. And especially among Manhattanites. I was as guilty of this as any of my peers, even to the extent of joining both the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth.
This fleeting attraction to trees and little furry creatures led to the opening of a fashionable "outdoorsman" superstore right off Fifth Avenue on, I believe, West 45th Street. Its name was Krieger & Son, and it stocked the very best of everything you could possibly want for your return to nature. There was also a slick magazine called Backpacker that told you how to do it right.
So, drawing on my brief encounter with tents and knapsacks as a Boy Scout way back in 1946 and Army basic training in 1957, I made a list and went shopping. At around the same time my commercial photo studio was doing some fashion pictures on an outdoors theme, and this involved a really neat orange-colored nylon tent. I had to have it, but the client wanted it back so I ordered an identical one from L.L.Bean in Maine (photo, above). And some other stuff to go with it.
The aforementioned Krieger outdoors boutique furnished me with a huge orange backpack and dozens of things to stuff it with. I still have this, although it hasn't been used since. There was also a pair of German mountaineering boots that I still sometimes use.
Then I needed to plan a hike, and find someone to hike with me. One of our assistants, Bobby, expressed an interest and already had his own equipment, sans tent. So we picked a destination in the Adirondack Mountains, near Lake Placid and practically in Canada. New York State's highest peak is Mount Marcy, which rises to a height of at 5,344 feet, and we planned on conquering it as I had previously done with Japan's Mount Fuji.
That's Bobby on the left.
Taking a few days off from work, I rented a car and we drove north on the NY Thruway (I-87) for a few hundred miles, passing Albany and Lake George, to the intersection with NY-73. Heading west on this towards Lake Placid, we stopped near Keene, pulled off the road and prepared our backpacks. There we found a state-provided box with trail maps and a book to sign in, stating when we planned to leave the woods. Presumably, if we didn't sign out by then a rescue party would look for our remains.
We hiked along the trail until late afternoon, then found a nice spot to set up the tent. Dinner was mostly of the freeze-dry variety although I did bring along a bottle of wine. Nothing like a bit of civilization in the wilderness. Bobby at that time was a CB Radio fanatic (remember those?), equipped with a maximum-power set enabling him to converse with some trucks on the thruway — which quickly became boring.
That's me above, at a spring with my water purifier.
The next day we continued on the trail, heading south toward the base of Mount Marcy, where we again made camp for the night. After breakfast the following morning we began the long uphill climb to the summit. But this soon became too wearying, what with the heavy backpacks and all the useless stuff we carried along. I doubt if we got more than a thousand feet up before making the wise decision to turn around. After another night in the tent we finally got back to our car and fled south to the comforts of Manhattan.
Here we see Bobby crossing a stream on a shaky rope bridge.
A few months later we had another go at it, but this time in the Catskill Mountains, much closer to the city. We again drove north on the Thruway, getting off at Kingston and heading west on NY-28 past the Ashokan Resevoir (where Manhattan's delicious drinking water comes from) to a point past Phonecia. From there on it was on foot, climbing part of the way up Panther Mountain (3,760 feet) to a wonderful outlook spot with views all across the Catskills. Finding a good place to make camp, we pitched the tent and made a real dinner — this time no freeze-dry stuff. Again, I brought along a decent wine.
The next morning we headed back toward the car, then drove east to Woodstock, a favorite hangout for New York artists. This was originally supposed to be the venue for the famous Woodstock Festival held in August 1969, but the residents refused a permit and the show was moved several miles away. In town we had a few drinks and a good dinner before returning to the city.
That was the last time I backpacked, or slept in a tent. But I still hike.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
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