Amazing Places

You Can Camp Where a Famous Hermit Lived for More Than 30 Years

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In the early 1900s, the Cold River area of New York's Adirondack Mountains was a logging-scarred no man's land — the kind of deep woods that would have been easy to run to and hide from the rest of civilization. And that's exactly what the colorful hermit Noah John Rondeau did for 36 years, living above the river, miles from any other civilization as the "mayor of Cold River City, population 1." But the reasons Rondeau decided to set up shop in the region are the same ones that make the Cold River area one of the Adirondacks' premiere — and desolate — backcountry adventure destinations.

A Man of the Woods

An Adirondack local, Rondeau lived his early life in the Ausable Forks area but frequently visited the Cold River area to hunt and fish. Not much is known about Rondeau's early life (many of his journals were written in an indecipherable code), but in his 30s, he grew fed-up with his daily life and the Depression-era labor force — enough to move part-time to the Cold River area and build a cabin overlooking the water in 1914. Within 15 years, he was living there year-round.

Rondeau constructed a few different buildings for his "town," including a Town Hall (his residence), Hall of Records, and a number of teepee-like wigwams. While Rondeau was still a local, passers-by could have been treated to a tour or violin performance — hardly the unwelcoming attitude of a typical "hermit." In 1947, New York's Conservation Department dropped him a letter from the air asking if he'd be willing to attend a sportsman's show in New York to stand in as an example of the wilds of the Adirondacks. Rondeau readily accepted the invitation, bringing along a buckskin suit, a muskrat hat, and snowshoes when officials returned to pick him up in a helicopter.

But Rondeau's motivations for building his city in the woods weren't totally anti-societal. If the hermit loved this still spectacularly isolated area enough to decide to live there away from civilization for so long, it must be worth a visit.

Head into Hermit Country

Follow the blue blazes of the Northville-Lake Placid Trail (the 'Dak's 144-mile long path) north from a trailhead off Tarbell Road, east of the village of Long Lake. Duck through balsam fir with Long Lake on your left and enjoy a night at any one of the lean-tos along the snaking lake's wild eastern shore. At mile 12.5, Shattuck Clearing is an opening and trail intersection carved out of thick forest just footsteps from the Cold River itself, a wide, rocky stream of brisk mountain water tumbling from the High Peaks, only a few miles away.

Just under 14 miles from the trailhead, below a small waterfall, the river swirls around Big Eddy like a mesmerizing spiral perfect for jumping off the rocks into and cooling off on a hot summer day. Seward Lean-To, two miles later, is parked just behind the trees from cascading Millers Falls, the perfect base camp from which to explore Rondeau country, just a short distance away.

"Where Man Himself Is a Visitor."

At mile 19.4, beyond one more lean-to, the trail crests a small knoll that was once the site of the hermit's cabin. A storm in 1950 wrecked his camp, and after Rondeau moved back to civilized life, his cabin was taken to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake where it remains on exhibit. But it's easy to see why Rondeau would want to live here.

Stands of hardwoods stretch to the sky and the river quietly gurgles down a gully. On one of those trees, a plaque identifies Rondeau as "the last of the last," the 8-by-12-foot outline of his cabin sits under a collection of fallen leaves, and if you peer down the gully toward the water, you're likely to see a handful of old tin cans — pretty much all that remains of the hermit's camp.

Even Rondeau's final wish — to be cremated at his former home, in his teepee — wasn't honored. But by the time Rondeau died in Lake Placid in 1967, the Wilderness Act has recently passed and the woods that Rondeau called home, along with vast other tracts, were on their way to being classified as regions where even a man like Rondeau can only be a visitor at all. But for visiting backpackers in search of real wild, Noah John Rondeau chose well.

For more about this mysterious man, check out "The Hermit and Us: Our Adventures with Noah John Rondeau" by William J. O'Hern. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ryan Wichelns July 18, 2018

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