High Peak number thirty-two was named after the most renowned Adirondack guide of the nineteenth century, who named many of the mountains himself. Orson Schofield Phelps (1817-1905) moved to Schroon Lake with his father in 1830. Phelps often assisted his father, a land surveyor, by drawing lot lines, which gave him a glimpse of the mountains he hoped to soon live amongst. A year or two later, he got a job at the Adirondack Iron Works, where he worked until about 1845. Phelps then moved to Keene Valley, where he earned the nickname “Old Mountain” Phelps because of his passion for climbing. Phelps cut the first trail to Mount Marcy (which he claims he climbed over a hundred times) and several other High Peaks.
In May of 1878, Charles Dudley Warner published an article about Phelps titled, “The Primitive Man,” making Phelps famous overnight. Warner described many of Phelps’s eccentricities- his rumpled clothing, long matted hair, charming smile, refusal to use soap- drawing contrast between his disheveled physical appearance yet refined personality as a philosopher and passionate lover of nature. Phelps also gained notoriety as a nature writer and poet, allowing him to share his love for the Adirondacks through both his career as a mountain guide and his beautiful descriptions of the wilderness.
Colvin first awarded the name “Mount Phelps” to a sub-peak of Mount Marcy in 1870, while North Elba locals called the present-day Phelps Mountain “South Meadow Mountain.” In Colvin’s 1886 report, the name is shifted to the 4,161-foot peak, though it’s unclear if Colvin himself made the switch himself. Timber cruiser Charles Wood accomplished the first known ascent of the peak in 1904. Carson laments that Colvin chose a relatively insignificant and unpopular High Peak to honor one of the most important figures in Adirondack Mountain history. Today, the peak’s close proximity to the Adirondack Loj makes it a popular destination for hikers seeking to climb an “easy” High Peak. Despite its limited summit views, the mountain does provide a great, up-close look at Mount Marcy and some other surrounding peaks.
Donaldson, Alfred L. (Alfred Lee). History of the Adirondacks, Vol. 1, 1921.