Posts Tagged ‘Adirondacks’

I don’t have any photos of our paddle the final day because, as you will read, my mind was otherwise occupied.

We woke up on our final morning to cloudy skies. Cindy got up before me to go walk Trixie, but she returned not to long afterwards to suggest that I get up and check on Jean Marie, who was not feeling well. Cindy sounded concerned, so I quickly got dressed and went to see Jean Marie.

She appeared a bit pale, but otherwise seemed OK on first sight. I went in to EMT mode (I had been a volunteer EMT for many years) and I asked her a series of questions about her condition. Without getting into the gory details, I was able to confidently determine that she was suffering from a moderately severe internal bleed, something that could only be treated in a hospital.

And here we were, out in the wilderness. Shit!

When I had been planning this trip, which was my first leading a wilderness trip for the RI Canoe & Kayak Association, one of my considerations for selecting a destination-besides being remote enough to offer a good wilderness experience-was that we have cell phone coverage for most, if not all, of our route just in case we needed to call for help. Never have I been more thankful that I made that choice for our route, as well as planning our campsites to offer a quick exit if needed.

I got out my phone and called the emergency number listed on an NFCT map that I always bring with me on such trips. This put me in touch with a dispatcher for the rangers and first-responders for the Adirondack State park. What I had not anticipated, though, was that he would not necessarily have access to the same map info that was readily available to me. So when I let him know what our emergency was and described our location as “campsite no. 19 on the Raquette River just upstream from The Crusher” he had no frigging clue what I was talking about. Probably a damned rookie. But he asked for a GPS coordinate, which I was fortunately able to quickly get him from the GPS unit I was also carrying. Bingo, he could see exactly where we were! I suggested that he get a boat in the water at The Crusher access downstream of us and have them come up river to us, informing him that we were going to pack up and start paddling downstream as soon as we could.

Jean Marie was given the job of staying seated and not doing much of anything. Cindy was our only extra hand, so she helped to take down Jean Marie’s tent and pack her gear. Jim, Steve and I each packed our own tents and gear, and everyone pitched in to pack the rain tarp. It was probably the quickest I have ever seen a camp broken down.

We did not want Jean Marie to do any paddling, so her foot pegs were readjusted with Jim’s help so that Cindy could paddle her kayak. We put Jean Marie in my canoe and headed downstream. Around every bend, we hoped to hear a motorboat approaching. As the big beach at Trombley Landing came into view, we finally heard it. What a stroke of luck! This beach was literally the only easy place to land both my canoe and the ranger’s boat so they could work the patient without any tricky mid-river patient transfer maneuver to get Jean Marie out of my canoe and into their boat! They took a set of vitals and started Jean Marie on portable oxygen. Her systolic BP was 90 at that point. If you know anything about emergency medicine, you know that is low enough to make any EMT get a move-on so an IV could be started.

Jean Marie was transferred to the ranger’s boat and they tore off downstream. The rest of our group continued our paddle downstream. I found out what it was like to paddle an 18 foot tandem canoe solo with a full load of gear and a dog. Thankfully Trixie was well-behaved and did not panic with no one in the bow seat in front of her.

The rain began again in earnest as we arrived at The Crusher. Jean Marie had left her keys with us, so we were able to pack all of her gear and get her boat onto her car. I shuttled Jim back up to Axton Landing so he could retrieve his car. From the rangers that were still at the access site when we arrived, we were able to get the name and location of the hospital Jean Marie was transported to: Adirondack Health Center in Saranac Lake. That was our next stop.

We found Jean Marie in the emergency room, which was a first-class facility. It was clear that she was in good hands! We left her the keys to her car, made sure she had her phone, made sure she was able to contact her family, and wished her well.

She went into surgery that afternoon and was in the hospital for 4 days. She is doing perfectly fine now.

One of my original ideas for a RICKA wilderness trip was to go up to Lobster Lake and the West Branch Penobscot River. What a bad idea that would have been! If we had been there instead of the Adirondacks, she likely would have died. If not, it would have been damned close.

The next trip I planned and led for RICKA was indeed to the West Branch Penobscot and Lobster Lake (a trip I will write up soon). But before that was planned and committed to, I implemented some lessons that I learned on this Adirondack trip. First, I would be sure to have a means to communicate to emergency responders no matter where in the world I was. A SPOTX satellite communicator that allowed two-way text communication with responders was purchased. I required more detailed medical histories for any people who signed up for the trip. And I required signed waivers, and contact information for next-of-kin or another immediate family member.

This trip ended up with a happy ending, and I hope by reading this account you have also learned something that will improve the safety of your next trip.

I leave you all with well-wishes, and a picture of Tupper Lake that I took as we headed home.

Tupper Lake View

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Packing up and moving on

The expected forecast for the day was cool weather and gray skies, with an occasional shower. But it wasn’t raining when we got up, so camp was packed quickly before the clouds could change their minds. Jean Marie woke up feeling better and refreshed by her rest day yesterday and decided that she would stay with us for our final night on the trip. Our plan for the day was to canoe back down Stony Creek to the Raquette River, and then take the river past Axton Landing and make some miles downriver to a camp that would leave us a short paddle to get to our cars the next day.

We were on our way around 9:00 or so, but before we were able to leave Stony Creek Ponds they left us with a departing gift: An adult bald eagle in a pine tree that we paddled past!

Bald Eagle!

We found the sharp meanders of Stony Creek to be much easier to negotiate going downstream, so the current quickly propelled us down Raquette River. Although the clouds stuck around all day, we avoided rain the entire day other than an occasional light mist. And the fall colors we passed were stunning. In fact, I am going to devote most of the rest of this post to photos so you can follow along with us down river.

Flame red maples!

Steve and Jean Marie

Jim leads the way

After a few hours we started checking out campsites, and at Campsite No. 19 found a nice site with plenty of flat spaces for tents and a nice privy. The first order of business was to set up a community tarp since rain would be expected in the morning.

Tarp, with log table.

After camp was set up and firewood gathered. we kicked back to enjoy the rest of the day and the evening, reflecting on the trip we had nearly completed. it would be an easy couple miles or so to our cars the next day.

Settling in at the end of the day.

Supper was cooked and eaten, and we settled by the fire. Jean Marie and Cindy played some more cribbage; Jim. Steve and I traded more canoe trip stories back and forth, and the Sailor Jerry made some rounds. The night settled peacefully around us and gave us no warning of what was to befall us the next day.

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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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