Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Man Who Named the Mountains


I asked two good friends to come to my house for an evening of sitting around the table drinking hot cocoa and working on a jigsaw puzzle. They both seemed delighted by the prospect.

(We are not lame. We are tired mommies, and the thought of just sitting peaceably, working on a puzzle seems… peaceful.)

Unfortunately, one of my friends came down with the stomach bug. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that while she was watching Ben on Friday (to give me a break from while I was otherwise preoccupied kneeling at the porcelain throne), Ben threw up grape juice all over her white rug. I mean, the stomach bug is everywhere right now. She could’ve gotten it somewhere else. Her husband might have brought it home, since he is also puking. Or her son. (I have massive guilt.)

So, Janet and I worked on my Carl Heilman puzzle; a gorgeous picture of the Adirondack peaks taken from Mt. Van Hoevenberg.

My goal is to climb the 46 peaks within the next ten years. Completing this puzzle is my backup plan.

The names of the mountains are written along the border of the puzzle.

“Nippletop Mountain?” guffawed Janet. And how often does an opportunity like this come along? I got to say the following:

“My great, great grandfather named that mountain.”

I am not putting you on. My grandfather’s grandfather was Orson Schofield Phelps, the legendary Adirondack guide who took many an explorer and hiker on wild adventures through the backwoods and up the high peaks. His nickname was “Old Mountain Phelps,” and legend depicts him as a primitive, rustic character. (That’s him to the right; he was a handsome devil.) Truthfully, Phelps exaggerated his backwoods personality to gain the attention of tourists. Tourists preferred a colorful, stereotypically provincial backwoods guide to the more polished and professional alternatives.

Phelps forged trails to the tops of Mt. Marcy, Hopkins Peak, and Giant Summit. He is credited for naming a number of the Adirondack high peaks, including: Haystack, Skylight, Basin, Saddleback, Sabale, Gothics, and Allen. Phelps Mountains is of course named for him.

As for Nippletop Mountain? A pragmatic man, Phelps said this about the controversial name: “Nippletop was named by its Creator; the name suggests itself at sight.”

Phelps was born in Vermont, but was enticed by the beauty of the Adirondack mountains when he accompanied his father to the Schroon Lake region (where my grandmother lives) as a child. He eventually settled, of course, in Keene Valley, amidst the mountains he so loved. His daughter, Avis, married Merton Roblee. Merton and Avis were the parents of my grandfather, Hilton Bishop Roblee (nicknamed Joe), who grew up in North Creek.

I tried to keep it from you but now you know- I am famous.


There will be no living with me now.


Here's great-great grandpa as depicted by American painter Winslow Homer.





The infamous Nippletop Mountain. Picture brazenly stolen from http://www.manhattantransfer.blogspot.com/.

Information about Orson Schofield Phelps was found from my copy of The High Peaks of Essex: The Adirondack Mountains of Orson Schofield Phelps, By Bill Healy.

8 comments:

hokgardner said...

My dad's family has a mountain, pond and road in the Adironacks named after it. Unfortunately, the surveyors spelled the family's name wrong on the original map, and it stuck. It's just north of Saratoga and west of Lake George. The family still owns the property, which used to be a working farm, and now uses it as a summer retreat.

Janet said...

Did I really "guffaw"? The cocoa was great and I enjoyed the conversation, company and puzzle as well as finding out that one of my dearest friends is famous! What a night!

Holly said...

What's the name on the map?

Janet- you did not guffaw. I thought about how I was kind of lying as I wrote that... but I so wanted to use the word guffaw.

hokgardner said...

It's O'Keefe Mountain, just outside of Hadley, on the Hudson. My dad's family name is O'Keeffe, with 2Fs, but no one ever gets it correct, not even surveyors.

Holly at Tropic of Mom said...

Wow, you are famous. Can I have your autograph?

Just one Holly saying hi to another....

MGBR said...

Cool! I don't have any famous ancestors that I know of, but some of my great-greats sported similarly wild appearances, minus the clever marketing intentions.

Holly said...

Hello Holly! Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you all for the acknowledgment of my fame. I will sign autographs at a future date, TBA.

Anonymous said...

Like.