Amid millionaire “camps” and scenic views of the High Peak, a small section of cliffs and ledges somehow manages to stand out along the shores of Lake Placid. Known as Pulpit Rock, these rock faces rise out of the east side of the lake and descend down into it for hundreds of feet.
Picturesque and impressive, it is hard not to take notice when you pass by.
But this area has a dark side as well. Years before we paddled out to it ourselves, our parents took a Lake Placid boat tour and came back with stories about Pulpit Rock that involved a perfectly preserved body… and a ghost!
The part about the body is true at least. In 1963, divers found the body of Mabel Smith Douglass, missing for 30 years, in 100 feet of water below the cliffs. The lake’s waters had preserved her body in a near perfect state – as if she had died the day before. This gruesome discovery helped solve the mystery of where Mabel Smith Douglass was, but it never quite answered the question of how she got there. Some believe it was likely a suicide, others believe foul play was at hand. Either way, stories of boaters witnessing her ghostly apparition near Pulpit Rock have persisted.
A book exploring this story was written by George Christian Ortloff, and published by one of our favorite Lake Placid stores, With Pipe and Book, in 1994. It is titled: A Lady in the Lake: The True Account of Death and Discovery in Lake Placid. The following video report from local news station WPTZ also gives some of the background:
However, haunted waters were not on our minds as we paddled out to this area recently. On a previous trip we admired the cliffs and couldn’t help but wonder how fun it would be to climb around on them, jumping off into the deep water below.
We imagined we were not the only ones to have had this thought, and noticed some faint trails leading up the sides of a few of the bigger cliffs. Turns out these trails are occasionally used by people looking to take in a view from the top or, for the really brave, to do some cliff jumping. This video shows a group of young boaters doing just that: Lake Placid Pulpit Rock Jump
Our itinerary was much less ambitious though. We just wanted to investigate the rocks a little, boulder around a few areas, and play in the deep waters underneath. So we found what looked like a decent spot to explore and took turns jumping out of our boats to take a shot at the rock face.
Starting a climb while half submerged, wearing crocs, and fighting wake, proved more challenging than I thought it would be (although when I spell it out like that, maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise).
We only felt comfortable bouldering a few feet up before jumping back into the waters to enjoy a swim, but the experience was thrilling… and the water was beautiful! It would be interesting to paddle out with a pair of rock shoes to adventure up the cliffs a little farther – heck, given the paths to the top I imagine top roping isn’t out of the question either. Maybe another time, when we are feeling more daring.
Climbing and cliff jumping aside, Pulpit Rock is an interesting and accessible destination for anyone looking to explore Lake Placid. It is a relatively short and pleasant paddle from the public boat launch on Mirror Lake Drive (off rt 86 – between Lake Placid and Mirror Lake).
- Hornbeck 10’5″ Kevlar Canoe
- Werner Cascadia Paddle
- Necky Manitou Sport Kayak
- Aqua-bound Sting Ray Paddle
- Pelican Micro Case – to protect electronics like our camera and mobile phones
- Stohlquist BetSEA PFD – Jess’ life jacket
- Astral Buoyancy LDB PFD – Dave’s life jacket