Book Review: Among the Cloud Splitters: Place Names of High Peaks Wilderness Area

The Adirondack High Peaks region in New York State is riddled with history.  In fact, Theodore Roosevelt was on the summit of Mount Marcy when he learned he needed to come to Buffalo, NY to become president in the wake of President McKinley’s assassination and death.  But do you know why it is called Mount Marcy?  How about the origins of Johns Brook or Calamity Brook?

Erik Schilmmer’s book “Among the Cloud Splitters: Place Names of High Peaks Wilderness Area” attempts to decode the meaning behind the names in the High Peaks.  Place names derived from topographical features are called toponyms.  “Among the Cloud Splitters” contains 224 descriptions of named features, or toponyms, encountered in the High Peaks Wilderness region.

The author became enthralled with the history of Northeast mountains after reading the 888-page “Forest and Crag” by Guy and Laura Waterman, a comprehensive history of the Catskills, Adirondacks, Green and White Mountains.  He saw a trend in names like Colvin, Emmons, Henderson, Marshall, Phelps and Redfield.  “Forest and Crag” inspired Schimmer to not only research the history of each named feature in the High Peaks Wilderness but visit each toponym.

Schlimmer has been called a “Mega-Hiker”. He has several thru-hikes under his belt and has summited every peak above 2,000 feet in the Catskills, every peak above 2,500 feet in the Adirondacks, every peak above 3,000 feet in New England, and every peak above 5,000 feet in the South.  He has visited every named topographic feature within several wilderness areas, totaling 800 features across 600,000 acres. He is also the creator of the Trans Adirondack Route, a thru hike traveling the length of the Adriondack Park. One could say Schlimmer is passionate about visiting topographical features.

Color Remote: Bushwhacking the Adirondack Mountains by Erik Schlimmer

Schlimmer is the author of five other books including “Cradle of the Union: A Street by Street History of New York’s Capital City,” where he decodes all 785 street names within the City of Albany; and “My Adirondacks: Ten Stories from Twenty Years,” a memoir chronicling 20 years of Schlimmer’s wilderness adventures; “Trans Adirondack Route,” a guide book describing the route and “History Inside the Blue Line: Place Names of the Trans Adirondack Route,” which describes the stories behind the 125 named features found along the route.  His latest book, “Color Remote: Bushwhacking the Adirondack Mountains,” a beautiful picture book I had the opportunity to review.

“Tahawus meaning Cloud-Spliter”

“Among the Cloud Splitters” contains 224 entries.  As Schlimmer puts it, “Every named feature told a story, and each story was surprisingly good”.  For example, it is common knowledge that Mount Marcy is named after NY Governor William Marcy.  If you have climbed to the top of Mount Marcy you have seen a plaque stating “Also known by the Indian name Tahawus…”.  Tahawus is supposedly a Native American word meaning “it cleaves the sky” or “cloud splitter”.  Guess what, the Tahawas story was fabricated by Charles Hoffman who wrote about his Adirondack adventures in 1830s and was known to create bogus Native American names.

You can guess that Mount Colvin, Mount Emmons, and Mount Marshall are named after explorers Verplanck Colvin, Ebenezer Emmons, and wilderness activist Bob Marshall, respectively.  What about Couchsachraga Peak, properly pronounced “kook-suh-krah-guh”,   which translates from the Native American term meaning “beaver hunting ground”.

Avalanche Lake

I bet you have you have been to or heard of Avalanche Pass.  This pass should not to be confused with Avalanche Lake, famous for its hitch-up Matilda bridges.  Many people speak about Avalanche Pass and Avalanche Lake synonymously.  In fact, Avalanche Pass is about a half-mile north of the lake and is named for massive landslides that came down nearby Mount Colvin.

“Among the Cloud Splitters: Place Names of High Peaks Wilderness Area” is available online at Beechwood Books (beechwoodbks.com). The book is $16 (includes priority shipping). Each copy is signed by the author.

“To experience the mountains, you have to pull over, get out of the car, and leave civilization behind.”

If you want to learn why it is called Opalescent River, Calamity Brook, Johns Brook or Ampersand Mountain, you need “Among the Cloud Splitters”.  Spoiler alert, Ampersand Mountain’s name has nothing to do with the “&” symbol.  

“Among the Cloud Splitters” is a must have book for anyone that hikes in the High Peaks or is an aspiring 46er.  The book has a “subtle and keen” humor that makes it an easy read.  You will be able to amaze your fellow hikers with interesting and obscure facts about the names of the trails, lakes, streams and mountains you will encounter along your trek.  I highly recommend this book if you are interested in history and visit the High Peaks Wilderness region.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: