Forgotten Voices:

Indian Pass  - from the pens of a scientist, historian and writer

Natural History of New York

Geology of New York Part II

Comprising the Survey of the Second Geological District

by Ebenezer Emmons, MD



Chapter X

Essex County

Pages 216 - 218

Adirondack Pass

In the midst of the mountains of Essex county, at the source of one of the main branches of the Hudson River, there is a deep narrow gorge, which has been denominated the Adirondack Pass.  In its general character, it is in keeping with what appears on all sides where this feldsparthic mass is the predominant rock, except that the scale on which this gorge has been formed is far larger and more magnificent.

This pass may be approached in two directions:  First, from the Adirondacks iron-works, from which it is distant about five miles.  In this route, the aforesaid branch of the Hudson is followed up the whole distance, even to its source, which will be found at the very base of the immense precipice that forms one side of the pass.  The other route is from the Elba iron-works, and is merely a footpath, the course of which is followed by the assistance of marked trees.  The general direction is south, and we have to thread up a branch of the Ausable near to its source.  The distance on this route is about ten miles.  The route which is to be preferred is certainly the shortest, or that from the Adirondack iron-works; and it is attended with as little labor to reach these iron-works, as those of Elba.  In either case the whole journey has to be preformed on foot, as it is impossible for any vehicle or domestic animal to reach this depression in the mountains which has been denominated as above.  The mountains which are concerned in its formation, are Mount McIntyre upon the east, and the Wall-faced mountain, as it is termed by some, on the West.

The route from the Adirondack iron-works is a rapidly ascending one; that is, the rise equals about two hundred feet per mile, so that the pass is one thousand feet above the level of the iron-works, and about twenty-eight hundred feet above tide.  The highest point in the pass is, however, some two or three hundred feet above the base of the perpendicular rocks.

The last half mile towards this place ascends with increasing rapidity; and on the part of the route lies numbers of immense rocks, thirty and forty feet high, scattered over the surface, some of which may be ascended, and upon their tops sufficient vegetable mould has accumulated to support a growth of trees fifty feet in height.  The sides of the mountain opposite the perpendicular wall are literally strewed with these rocks; and as they are not properly boulders, they are objects of great curiosity themselves.  Some of them have fallen partly over, or incline in such a position as would afford a safe shelter to a score of men.  Others stand upright upon a narrow base; and we wonder how, upon such a narrow foundation, so large and towering a mass of stone could have been places in equilibrium, especially upon a sloping surface.

But the object of greatest interest is the perpendicular precipice of a thousand feet - a naked wall of rock.  The face of this wall rises from the midst of an immense mass of loose rocks, which have fallen from its sides from time immemorial; and viewing them as they now lie, they seem to fill an immense cleft between the mountains; and probably the bottom of this perpendicular precipice is really as deep below, as its top is high above the surface; or at least its extent below the surface where we take the measurement, must be one-half as great as it is above.  Upon the perpendicular surface the rock is naked; but where there is a fissure, or a jutting mass, small stunted shrubs find a place for establishing themselves.  This wall extends one-half or three-fourths of a mile, and in no place is it less than five hundred feet perpendicular.  In viewing this great precipice, no feeling of disappointment is felt in consequence of the expectation having exceeded the reality. The conception of this imposing mass of rock necessarily falls greatly short of what is experienced when it comes to be seen.  Those who visit this Pass ought to by no means to be satisfied with seeing it from below; they should look down from above, and over the hanging precipice.  This may be done safely, by using due caution in approaching its edge.  No one, however, will attempt it without being supported, or venture to act under the impression that they have sufficient nerve to balance themselves over such an abyss, where all objects below become indistinct, and nothing remains on which to rest the eye, and thus certainty and precision to the movements of the muscles concerned in maintaining the equilibrium of  the body.  

The geological facts revealed in this great exposure of rocks, do not differ materially from those which are exhibited on all sides of the region.  We are taught, however, something of the dynamics of geology, and of the inconceivable powers of those agents once active beneath the crust of the earth; for this immense mass has not only been elevated, but broke from one once continuous with it, and probably we see only a small part of that which has been thus broken and elevated.  The whole rock exposed is the hypersthene; and on examining the surface as far as possible, only a few mineral substances were found.  I have not observed trap dykes any where in the face of this wall, but the whole is very uniform in kind and texture.

In conclusion, I remark that I should not have occupied so much space for the purpose of describing merely a natural curiosity, were it not for the fact that probably in this country there is no object of the kind on a scale so vast and imposing as this.  We look upon the Falls of Niagara with awe, and a feeling of our insignificance; but much more are we impressed with the great and the sublime, in the view of the simple naked rock of the Adirondack Pass.


Northern New York and the Adirondack Wilderness

Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester



Chapter VI

Mountain Passes


I. The Indian Pass


Among the stern and rugged features of the grim Wilderness, none are more awfully grand and imposing than the mountain passes over the highest ranges, and the dreadful gorges that so often furrow the mountain sides.

The most celebrated of these mountain passes is the Indian Pass over the Adirondack range in the town of North Elba, Essex county.  This pass was called by the indians Otne-yar-heh - "Stonish Giants," Ga-nos-gwah - "Giants clothed in stone." Da-yoh-je-ga-go - "The place where the storm clouds meet in battle with the great serpent,"  and He-no-do-aw-da - "The path of the Thunderer."

Through this pass ran the old Indian trail which led from the head waters of the rivers that flow into Lake Champlain to the head waters of the forest branches of the Hudson, and through it now runs the trail of the tourist and modern hunter.  The old Indian Pass is an appalling chasm of more than a mile in length, and more than a thousand feet in depth, cut through the solid rock between Mounts McIntyre and Wall Face.  The bottom of this awful gorge is a narrow ravine strewn with huge fragments of rock that some Titanic force has hurled from the towering mountain walls on either side.

On the westerly or Wall Face side, a perpendicular precipice or wall of rocks towers up to the giddy height of thirteen hundred feet; while on its easterly side is a steep acclivity which rises at an angle of forty-five degrees, more than fifteen hundred feet towards the lofty summit of Mount McIntyre.  Near  the center of this wondrous chasm, high upon the shaggy side of Mount McIntyre, two little springs issue from the rocks so near to each other that their waters almost mingle. From each spring flows a tiny stream.  These streams at first interlock, but soon separating, run down the mountain side into the bottom of the chasm, which is here 2,937 feet above tide. After reaching the bottom, one runs southerly into the head waters of the Hudson, and  the other northerly into the waters that flow into the St Lawrence.

Only a little while at mid-day does the sunshine chase away the gloomy shadows of the perpetual twilight of this awful chasm. and the snow and ice linger all summer in its deep fissures.

The towering precipice on the side of Mount Wall Face is  the most striking feature of the old Indian Pass.  It seems as if Mount McIntyre, suddenly, in some great convulsion of nature, or by slow degrees, had sunk more than a thousand feet below its former level, leaving this grand perpendicular wall of solid rock on the side of Wall Face to mark  the extent of the great depression.  The scene presented by this stupendous yawning chasm and awful is sublimely grand beyond description.  "In viewing this great precipice" says Prof. Emmons, "No feeling of disappointment is felt in consequence of the expectation having exceeded the reality."  "What a sight," says Alfred B. Street, horrible, and yet sublimely beautiful -  no, not beautiful, scarce and element of beauty there - all  grandeur and terror."


Letters from the Backwoods and the Adirondac

The Rev. J. T. Headley



Letter V

The Indian Pass 

The only object remaining for me to visit, before I returned again to civilized life, was the famous Indian Pass- probably the most remarkable mountain gorge in this country.  On Monday morning, a council was called of our party, to determine whether we should visit it. A teamster from the settlements had agreed to come for us this day, to take us out the next; but some of our number, fearing his inability to get through the woods in one day, proposed we should abandon all further expeditions, and make our way homeward.  But the Indian Pass I was determined to see, even if I remained behind alone, and we all together started off, some of us still lame from our excursion to Mount Tahawus.  It was six miles through the forest, and we were compelled to march in single file.  Now skirting the margin of a beautiful lake, now creeping through thickets, and now stepping daintily across a springing morass, we stretched forward until at length we struck a stream, the bed of which we followed into the bosom of the mountains. We crossed deer paths every few rods, and soon the two hounds our hunter had taken with him parted from us, and their loud deep bay began to ring and echo through the gorge.  The instincts with which animals are endowed by their Creator on purpose to make them successful in the chase is one of the most curious things in nature.  I watched for a long time the actions of one of these noble hounds.  With his nose close to the leaves, he would double backwards and forwards on a track, to see whether it was fresh or not, then abandon it at once if he found it to be too old.  At length, striking a fresh one, he started off; but the next moment, finding he was going back instead of forwards on the track, he wheeled and came dashing past at a furious run, his eyes glaring with excitement.  Soon his voice made the forest ring, and I could imagine  the start it gave to the deer, quietly grazing, it might have been, a mile away.  Lifting its head a moment, to ascertain if that cry of death was on his track, he bounded away on the long chase and bold swim for life.  Well, let them pass; the cry grows fainter and fainter, and they, the pursued and the purser, are but an emblem of what is going on in the civilized world from which I am severed.  Life may be divided into two parts - the hunters and the hunted.  It is an endless chase, where the timid and the weak constantly fall by the way.  The swift racers come and go like shadows on the vision, and the cries of fear and of victory swell in the ear and die away, only to give place to another and another.

Thus musing, I pushed on, until at length we left the bed of the stream, and began to climb amid broken rocks, that were piled in huge chaos up and up, as far as the eye could reach.  My rifle became such a burden, that I was compelled to leave it against a tree, with a mark near it to determine its locality.  I had expected, from paintings I had seen of this Pass, that I was to walk almost on a level into a huge gap between two mountains, and look up on precipices that toppled heaven-high above me.  But here was a world of rocks, overgrown with trees and moss, over and under and between which we were compelled to crawl and dive and work our way with so much exertion and card that the strongest soon began to be exhausted.  Caverns opened on every side, and a more hideous, toilsome, break-neck-tramp I never took. There was a stream deep down somewhere, but no foot could follow it for it was a succession of cascades, with perpendicular walls each side, hemming it in.  It was more like climbing a broken and shattered mountain than entering a gorge.  At length, however, we came where the fallen rocks had made an open space amid the forest, and spread a dreadful ruin in its place. N ear by was a huge rock, that, in some former age, had been loosened from its high bed, and hurled, with the strength of a falling world, below.  It was a precipice of itself, from which to fall would have been certain death.  This was "the church" our guide had spoken of, and it did lift itself there like a huge alter, right in front of the main precipice, that rose in a naked wall a thousand feet perpendicular.  The top of this "church" could be reached on one side, and thither we clambered and lay down to rest ourselves, while from our very feet rose this awful cliff, that fairly oppressed me with its near and frightful presence.  Majestic, solemn and silent, with the daylight from above pouring all over its dread form, it stood the impersonation of strength and grandeur.  I never saw but one precipice that impressed, me so, and that was in the Alps, in the Pass of the Great Scheideck.  I lay on my back, filled with strange feelings of power and majesty of the God who had both framed and rent this mountain asunder.  There it stood still and motionless in its grandeur. Far, far away heavenward rose its top, fringed with fir trees that looked, at that immense height, like mere shrubs-and they, too did not wave, but stood silent and moveless as the rock  they crowned.  Any motion or life would have been a relief-even the tramp of the storm, for there was something fearful in that mysterious, profound silence. How loudly God speaks to the heart when it lies thus awe-struck, and subdued in the presence of his works.  In  the shadow of such a grand and terrible form, man seems but the plaything of a moment, to be blown away with the first breath.

Persons not accustomed to scenes of this kind would not at first get the adequate impression of the magnitude of the precipice.  Everything is on such a gigantic scale-all the proportions so vast, and the mountains so high about it that the real individual greatness is lost sight of.  But that wall of a thousand feet perpendicular, with its seams and rents and stooping cliffs, is one of the few things in the world daguerreotyped on my heart.  It frowns on my vision in my solitary hours, and with feelings half of sympathy, I think if it standing there in lonely majesty.



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