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Archive for April, 2020

Tarp City

The previous day, with a forecast of rain starting in the morning, we made sure to set up a couple tarps near the campfire and over the cooking area to make life easier when we woke up. Living in the woods is easier when one can prep food and have a place to sit out of the rain. Under one tarp we set up our Coleman kitchen-in-a-briefcase that converts into a small prep table and stove stand, with places for cooking gear. Under the other tarp were our chairs and our firewood. It worked.

By the time we woke up, it was cloudy but no rain had started yet, so we were able to start a little morning fire and have a comfortable breakfast. Most of the group decided to paddle over to the Indian Carry and take a hike to Upper Saranac Lake. Jean Marie said she was a little fatigued from the previous day’s paddle, so planned to stay behind and enjoy her book in the solitude of camp.

Trixie in her rain gear!

Just as the rest of us prepared to leave, the rain started, so everyone donned their rain-gear…even Trixie! The Adirondacks didn’t get its nickname of “Adiraindacks” for nothing! I had ensured prior to the trip that all participants would be properly prepared for any weather that would be thrown at us, so we were prepared.

The Portage Carry sign

Pretty much the heaviest rain of the day fell on us as we paddled the short distance across the top of the pond to the beginning of the Indian Carry, which is the name of the portage trail used by paddlers to get from Stony Creek Ponds (In the Raquette River watershed) to the Saranac Lakes (In the Saranac River watershed), so over the distance of a little over a mile we would walk over a height of land between two watersheds.

Steve and Jim paddling through the rain.

This is a very easy trail with no steep sections. In fact, half of the carry was along a wide gravel road once we reached and crossed over Route 3. As we walked, we were passed by a number of cars with canoes, and when we reached the lake there was a crowd of college kids waiting for their leaders who were going to be leaving on a three-night trip into the Saranac Lake region. It was good to see young folks taking part in canoe camping!

We ate snacks for lunch while we were at the lake, and the skies eventually started to lighten up with occasional patches of blue appearing in the sky.

Upper Saranac Lake-Chapel Island in the distance

Skies continued to clear as we started our trek back to the other end of the carry trail where we had left our canoes. It’s amazing how much more one notices while walking when it isn’t raining out! We found mushrooms, moss-covered rocks and stumps, and even one stump that had clearly been ripped apart by a black bear looking for grubs. Maple trees put out the red carpet for our return.

The red carpet

By the time we go back to the boats, the sun was out in force, warming up the air and cheering our souls. We were looking forward to some post-adventure beach time with Jean Marie!

Returning to camp under sunny skies!

After some gathering of some supplemental wood supplies, and a nap for some of us, dinner was cooked and enjoyed down by the pond. There’s nothing like dining al-fresco with a view! Jean Marie announced that she was not feeling very well, and was thinking of leaving the group the next day from Axton Landing, where we had left a vehicle for just such an event. The next couple days were predicted to be cool and cloudy, with some rain coming on on Monday, our planned day to exit the river.

But in the meantime, it was enough to just enjoy the moment given to us and contemplate a good day in the wilderness. Tomorrow would assuredly take care of itself.

Dusk settling in on our pond.

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The sky was glazed over with a thick haze when we all woke up, but experience told me that it would burn off pretty quickly. And it did. While we waited, we scrounged up some breakfast, coffee, and tea. I took my coffee down to the river (I always gravitate to the water) and arrived just a minute or so before a motorboat arrived with the ranger. We exchanged greetings and, when asked, I gave him the news that we were a group of 5 that arrived last night and were planning on camping in the area for the next few nights. He decided to disembark and come up to camp to see for himself. Over the next ten minutes, he used small talk to skillfully determine that 1) we were who we said we were; 2) we were appropriately equipped, particularly with life jackets (dog too); 3) we had not destroyed the camp during the previous night’s party and 4) we weren’t a bunch of yahoos unprepared for a few nights in the woods.

The previous night, after a discussion of our options, the group agreed that we would paddle upstream to Raquette Falls with empty boats, check out the area, and then return to camp, pack up, have lunch, and head to our next camp up on Stony Creek Ponds. So, after breakfast was checked off the to-do list, we got in the boats and started paddling.

Steve and Jean Marie bringing up the rear.

By the time we got on the river, the sun was beaming through a blue sky and warming the air. The Raquette River is a lovely waterbody, lined with pine trees, red maples and silver maples, with occasional backwater and marsh areas. It was an easy paddle with empty boats.

On the way, we took a short break at one of the other lean-to campsites on this stretch, a camp I like to call the Land of Rock-Eating Trees. Here, there are several trees that must have started as saplings growing on the rocks, eventually extending roots down the rock to reach the earth, slowly “eating” the rocks they were growing on.

I told a couple stories about a previous NFCT trip I had led here during which we had stopped at this very camp. It was one of the few trips on the NFCT that Jim was unable to join at the time, so he was happy to be here on this trip. After story time, we got back into the boats to continue a short ways up to the foot of Raquette Falls. One can hear the falls before one sees them, but it is still an impressive sight as one comes into view.

Jim approaches the bottom of Raquette Falls.

We spent some time walking around, going a little further up to see some more impressive sections of the falls and visiting another campsite located along the carry trail that allows boaters to safely bypass the falls. Maybe 45 minutes later, we were back at the boats. We returned to camp, broke down our tents and repacked, and then headed back downstream.

Heading up Stony Creek

About a half mile before we would have reached our previous night’s put-in at Axton Landing, Stony Creek flows in from the north. We all turned upstream and started our battle upstream. Stony Creek (which is not very stony) is a sharply meandering stream that, thanks to the previous day’s rains, was flowing pretty swiftly. If you ever have had to negotiate

Approaching Stony Creek Ponds

sharp meanders upstream with long boats that have essentially zero rocker, you know what a challenge this can be! Around every corner, the current would catch our bows and try to sweep them away from our intended direction. Up to this point, Jean Marie had endured some good-natured ribbing about being the only kayak in our small group, but it turned out she had the right boat for this segment! She managed to pass us all as we battled the dragon.

After about 4 miles of expending far more effort that any of us would have preferred (except Trixie, who just enjoyed the scenery), we paddled into Stoney Creek Ponds. Our destination was the pond furthest to the northeast where several campsites are located. We first stopped at a campsite at a point on the west side of the pond as we entered, but decided it wasn’t for us. So we headed east across the pond, past the island, to a campsite that had been recommended to us by the ranger we met in the morning. Jackpot! Tons of room, tons of firewood, and a nice beach with a view!

The first order of business was to set up some chairs, grab some beers or other beverages of choice, and take a break from our arduous paddle up the creek.

That accomplished, camp was set up and firewood was gathered. I can’t remember what we had for dinner, but I think we all would have scarfed it down no matter what it was. We had burned some serious calories for the day! Over dinner, we listened to the weather forecast, which called for some rather rainy and windy weather the next day. The day after that called for some cloudiness but less of a chance of rain. It was therefore decided that we would lay claim to this campsite for the next two nights, using the following day as a “down” day with an optional paddle and hike over the Indian Carry to Upper Saranac Lake.

So it was a happy campfire. Cindy and Jean Marie played some cribbage, while Jim, Steve and I traded canoe trip stories. Did I mention that it was a nice campsite with a view? I think I did.

Beach with a view

 

 

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The Gateway to Canoe Country

Sitting in my “home office” in this new Covid-19 pandemic world, it occurred to me that I had not posted any blog posts in a while. Sadly, it has been some time since I have managed to notch another segment of the NFCT into my belt. My wife and I have kept our travel “dancing card” full, leaving little extra time for the NFCT. Or at least for new segments.

But in 2017, I became the new Wilderness Tripping chair for the RI Canoe & Kayak Association, and in 2018 I decided to lead an easy “beginner-level” wilderness trip to one of my favorite canoe destinations: The Adirondacks. And of course a good part of the route would be on the NFCT. I chose this destination due to ease of access, quality campsites, zero portages, and opportunities to easily bail out early if anyone wanted, or needed, to.

The crew included me and my wife, Cindy; my longtime paddling companion and partner in many NFCT trips: Jim; Steve, another friend who I hadcanoe-camped once before; and a newbie, Jean-Marie, who had done some canoe camping in the past but had not had any opportunity in quite some time.

L-R Steve, Jean-Marie, Jim, me and Cindy

We caravaned up to the Adirondacks and arrived in the Hamlet of Long Lake around 1:30, in the rain. We decided it would not be the worst idea to stop for lunch at the Adirondack Growl & Grub, a great little deli behind Hoss’s general store that maintains a fine selection of craft beers. As lunch wound down, a check of the radar indicated that the rain continued…time for another beer! After the second round, the radar loop indicated that things would be clearing soon, so we took care of the bill and saddled back up to head to Axton Landing, our planned put-in on the Raquette River.

Loading out at Axton Landing

The sun broke out as we arrived at Axton Landing, and warmed the air as we unloaded and packed gear in the boats. Our dog Trixie, who was to experience her first extended wilderness trip, enjoyed walking around and investigating new smells. Jim paddled his solo Mad River Guide, Steve his Bell Magic, and Jean-Marie her Current Designs sea kayak. Cindy and I would tandem our 18-foot Wenonah Sundowner.

We shuttled most of the cars down to our planned take-out at The Crusher access further downstream on the Raquette, bringing one car back up to Axton Landing, which left us with a short-paddle access for anyone wanting or needing an early exit from just about anywhere on our planned route.

Stunning fall colors

It was getting late and the October weather was cooling down as we started upstream on the Raquette. The fall foliage that early October day was pretty much at peak, and the color along the river was beautiful! The current wasn’t difficult to paddle up, and we managed 2 or 3 miles upstream to a nice campsite with a lean-to. The skies had cleared nicely and we anticipated a cold night. At some points, mist rose off the warmer water into the cooling air.

River mist

By the time we got tents set up (except Jim who took advantage of the lean-to), it was really cooling off…time for hot food and a campfire! Trixie adjusted to the camp routine just fine.

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Warm clothes, hot food, and a watchful dog.

While inspecting the campsite earlier, we found that we were quite lucky to have a functional outhouse…it came very close to being creamed by a falling tree!

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A close call!

The rest of the site was clean and a little damp from the rain, but with the help of saws and a good axe we were able to split up a good amount of wood for a nice campfire, around which we discussed the various options before us for the next 4 days and 3 nights of our extended Columbus Day weekend.

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