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What Some People Call Pleasure
by [?]

My readers were promised an account of Spaniard’s Cave on Nipple-Top Mountain in the Adirondacks, if such a cave exists, and could be found. There is none but negative evidence that this is a mere cave of the imagination, the void fancy of a vacant hour; but it is the duty of the historian to present the negative testimony of a fruitless expedition in search of it, made last summer. I beg leave to offer this in the simple language befitting all sincere exploits of a geographical character.

The summit of Nipple-Top Mountain has been trodden by few white men of good character: it is in the heart of a hirsute wilderness; it is itself a rough and unsocial pile of granite nearly five thousand feet high, bristling with a stunted and unpleasant growth of firs and balsams, and there is no earthly reason why a person should go there. Therefore we went. In the party of three there was, of course, a chaplain. The guide was Old Mountain Phelps, who had made the ascent once before, but not from the northwest side, the direction from which we approached it. The enthusiasm of this philosopher has grown with his years, and outlived his endurance: we carried our own knapsacks and supplies, therefore, and drew upon him for nothing but moral reflections and a general knowledge of the wilderness. Our first day’s route was through the Gill-brook woods and up one of its branches to the head of Caribou Pass, which separates Nipple Top from Colvin.

It was about the first of September; no rain had fallen for several weeks, and this heart of the forest was as dry as tinder; a lighted match dropped anywhere would start a conflagration. This dryness has its advantages: the walking is improved; the long heat has expressed all the spicy odors of the cedars and balsams, and the woods are filled with a soothing fragrance; the waters of the streams, though scant and clear, are cold as ice; the common forest chill is gone from the air. The afternoon was bright; there was a feeling of exultation and adventure in stepping off into the open but pathless forest; the great stems of deciduous trees were mottled with patches of sunlight, which brought out upon the variegated barks and mosses of the old trunks a thousand shifting hues. There is nothing like a primeval wood for color on a sunny day. The shades of green and brown are infinite; the dull red of the hemlock bark glows in the sun, the russet of the changing moose-bush becomes brilliant; there are silvery openings here and there; and everywhere the columns rise up to the canopy of tender green which supports the intense blue sky and holds up a part of it from falling through in fragments to the floor of the forest. Decorators can learn here how Nature dares to put blue and green in juxtaposition: she has evidently the secret of harmonizing all the colors.

The way, as we ascended, was not all through open woods; dense masses of firs were encountered, jagged spurs were to be crossed, and the going became at length so slow and toilsome that we took to the rocky bed of a stream, where bowlders and flumes and cascades offered us sufficient variety. The deeper we penetrated, the greater the sense of savageness and solitude; in the silence of these hidden places one seems to approach the beginning of things. We emerged from the defile into an open basin, formed by the curved side of the mountain, and stood silent before a waterfall coming down out of the sky in the centre of the curve. I do not know anything exactly like this fall, which some poetical explorer has named the Fairy-Ladder Falls. It appears to have a height of something like a hundred and fifty feet, and the water falls obliquely across the face of the cliff from left to right in short steps, which in the moonlight might seem like a veritable ladder for fairies. Our impression of its height was confirmed by climbing the very steep slope at its side some three or four hundred feet. At the top we found the stream flowing over a broad bed of rock, like a street in the wilderness, slanting up still towards the sky, and bordered by low firs and balsams, and bowlders completely covered with moss. It was above the world and open to the sky.