Climbing on the Falls
in "the Gulf" at Hammondsport
from Wild Northern Scenes, 1857
It happened when I was a boy, at the old homestead, in the valley that stretches to the south-west from the head of Crooked Lake. That valley is hemmed in by high and steep hills, and at the time of which I speak, was much more beautiful in my view than it is now. There was no village there then, and the farms which stretched from hill to hill were greatly less valuable than they are now; but the woods and pastures, and meadows, lay exactly in the right places, and had among them partridges, and squirrels, and pigeons, and cattle, and sheep enough to make things pleasant; besides, there were plenty of trout in those days, in the stream that flows along through the valley midway between the hills.
On the north side, coming down through a gorge, or "the gulf," as we used to call it, was a stream which, in the dry season of the year, was a little brook trickling over the rocks, and which, in the spring freshets, or when the clouds emptied themselves on the mountain, was a wild, foaming, roaring and resistless torrent. In following this stream into "the gulf," you walked on a level plain between walls of rock, rising two or three hundred feet on either hand, and a dozen or more rods apart, until you came to 'the falls,' down which the stream rushed with a plunge and a roar, when its back was up, or over which, in the dry season, it quietly rippled. These 'falls' were not perpendicular, but steep as the roof of a Dutch barn, and it was a great feat to climb them when the steam was low.
Ascending about fifty feet, you came to a broad flat rock, large and smooth as a parlor floor, and which in the summer season was dry. Well, one day, in company with a boy who was visiting me, I went up to the 'falls,' and we concluded to climb the shelving rocks to the 'table'; and taking off our shoes and stockings, entered upon the perilous ascent—for such to some extent it was. Hands and feet, fingers and toes, were all put in requisition. My friend began the ascent before I did, and was half way up when I started. I ought to have said, that at the foot of the 'falls,' was a basin, worn away by the torrent, and in which the water, clear and cold, then stood to the depth of three or four feet.
We were toiling painfully up, when I heard a rush above, and in an instant my friend came like an arrow past me, sliding down the shelving rocks on his back, or rather in a half-sitting posture, his rear to the rocks. I won't undertake to say that the fire flew as he went by me, for the rocks were slate, and therefore such a phenomenon was not likely to occur, but the entire absence of the seat of my friend's pantaloons, and the blood that trickled down to his toes, showed that the friction was considerable. As he passed me, I heard him exclaim, "Thank God," and the next instant he plunged into the cold water at the base of the falls. What there was to be thankful for in such a descent over the rocks, I could not at the time comprehend, as the chances were in favor of a broken back, or neck, or some other consummation equally out of the range of gratitude, in an ordinary way. He came up out of the water blowing and snorting like a porpoise with a cold in his head, and waded to the shore.
"Come down," he shouted, which I did, not quite so far or fast as he did, but fast enough to make an involuntary plunge, head foremost, into the pool at the bottom. The occasion of his catastrophe was this: he had ascended so near the table rock, that his hands were upon it, and was lifting himself up, when, as his eyes came above the surface, the edge upon which his hands with most of his weight rested, gave way, and he started for the basin below. But he had a view of what satisfied him that to this accident he owed his life, and it was a sense of gratitude for his escape, that prompted the exclamation I heard as he went bumping past me. Coiled on the rock above, and within reach of his face, were several large rattlesnakes. And he always insisted that one made a spring at him, as his hands gave way, and he put out for the basin into which he plunged. He was good deal bruised, but his escape from the poisonous reptiles reconciled him to that.