Close Encounters of the Lean-to Kind

by Adirondack Life | August 2019, From the Archives

My father loved fishing and would go anywhere, by any means, to fish in new places. My mother, not so much. Many years ago he talked her into flying to Fourth Lake for an overnight fishing jaunt. At that time there were planes that took off from Lake Abanakee at Indian Lake. Now, my mother was not a fan of flying either; in fact this may have been the first time she had ever been on a plane.

They brought all the things needed for a night in a lean-to: sleeping bags, food, cooking gear. He fished and she probably read or sketched. Then they had supper, it got dark and they went to bed.

During the night, loud noises by the open side of the lean-to woke them up. My  mother sat up and said, “What’s that?”

My mother wore glasses and couldn’t have seen anything without them. My father calmed her down by saying, “Oh, probably just a raccoon walking by,” even though he could make out a larger-than-a-raccoon shape moving around beyond the lean-to. “Shoo, shoo, get out of here, you dang raccoon!” he yelled, and the noises shuffled off.

In the morning a loaf of bread was missing and the tracks in front of the lean-to were much bigger than a raccoon’s. My mother never slept in a lean-to again.

—Barbara Peduzzi, Chatham, NY

Warning Sign

My lean-to, on the National Register of Historic Places because it was once part of the Great Camp The Uplands, holds many memories. But a few years ago I stopped letting my family and friends sleep there since it is on the path of bears that cross our property. It was difficult convincing my son that the bear threat was real, so after he got married in the Adirondacks, I put an inflatable Saranac Beer bear, which he and his friends had at the wedding, in the lean-to as a reminder.

—Jery Y. Huntley, Keene Valley, NY

Bear with Me

Long ago, on a family vacation to Cranberry Lake, my buddy and I were given permission to paddle the canoe up the Oswegatchie River on an overnight springtime fishing excursion. We had some success with the trout at Griffin Rapids and then at the Cage Lake spring hole. Finding a campsite and lean-to at Buck Brook, we decided to stay there for the night.

After we unloaded the canoe, fished some more, kindled a toasty campfire and devoured supper, the Land of Nod soon called. My friend took the conventional route and retired to the lean-to, while I thought it would be cool to sleep under the overturned canoe, which was under a stately white pine that graced the riverbank.

All was peaceful until sometime in the middle of that pitch-black night, when I was suddenly jolted awake by a tremendous thump and violent shaking of the canoe, scaring the wits out of me. The disturbance was loud enough to have also awakened my friend, who called out, “What was that?”

“I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “Something jumped on the canoe!”

Quickly, our flashlight beams knifed through the darkness searching for the presumably furry culprit, who evaded our detection. We could only guess what had leaped from the tree onto the canoe, but with my nerves rattled, I hastily relocated to the security and sturdy shelter offered by the lean-to.

Blair Woltjen, East Stroudsburg, PA

Dancing Bears

The summer of 1999, I was a fairly new Adirondack hiker and also pretty new at dealing with the unexpected things that can happen in these woods. I hiked in from Adirondak Loj with the intent of camping near the junction for Lake Colden and Avalanche Pass, and then getting up early the next day to hike some nearby peaks.

When I arrived at the junction, I ran into a forest ranger, who asked what my plans were. I said that I had my tent and planned to camp at a nearby site. He suggested I use the Avalanche lean-to (now long-since removed) since the nearby sites were taken and no one was in the lean-to. Great! I had it all to myself.

Not too far away was a place where everyone camping in the area was hanging their food bags (still used back then) and one bear canister. I settled into my sleeping bag and dozed off.

Later that night I awoke to a strange thump, thump, thump sound. I turned on my head lamp, slowly looked over my right shoulder and saw two black bears staring back at me from the far side of the fire pit!

I had just been reading about what to do when encountering bears in the woods and the suggestion was to talk softly and/or to sing a song to them. I was really big into the Grateful Dead at the time and, out of fear, I could only remember one song, “Friend of the Devil.” So I sang it over and over again. It seemed to work, they didn’t seem startled. They were probably Deadheads too. They proceeded to try to break into the bear can with every tactic they could think of for what seemed like the entire night. They stomped on it and pushed on it. It would often take off, rolling away from them and they would lumber after it.

It was pretty hard to sleep, but eventually I did get a little rest. By sunrise, they were gone. I recall finding the bear can unopened and in the woods near a stream. It turned out that the bear canister worked great and kept the bears out. I just wish the bears had figured that out a little sooner.

—John Mackey, Keene, NY

Bearly Sleeping

The first time I ever slept in a lean-to, my young son and I spent a rainy night with two strangers. One snored loud enough to vibrate the floorboards, while his two dogs kept walking over and sniffing my face.

The next summer when I took my daughter to the Adirondacks, I was glad to have a lean-to all to ourselves—until I woke at one in the morning to something creeping around the shelter. I spent a sleepless night wondering if it was a bear about to pounce on us. As that night wore on, I decided I’d prefer the snoring stranger.

—John Fisher, Buffalo, NY

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