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Posts Tagged ‘Saranac Lakes’

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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Judging on the number of empties scattered about camp, it had been a wildly successful party the night before.  We cleaned it all up during breakfast, and packed up all our gear for the last time on this segment.  The sun was up and warming things up quickly, but nobody else seemed to be in a hurry.

Photo copyright Erik Ekilson

Starting out towards the Lower Locks

We all left at rather wide intervals, each boat headed downstream to the lower locks at its own pace.  Having paddled this stretch already the night before, I enjoyed being able to see where I was going and what I was passing rather than having to navigate like some sort of aquatic bat.  I was struck once again by the prevalence of the many rocks and ledges that framed the river and the marshes.  Soon enough, the locks came into view.  It looked

l-r: Me, Erik, Tommy & Jeff lock through

l-r: Me, Erik, Tommy & Jeff lock through

like Mike and Billy  had already locked through.  Tommy, Jeff and I entered the lock and another motorboat squeezed in behind us.  I noticed that the wheel system Jeff and I had observed the night before would not be needed…some guy and a booth was able to control the whole thing electronically.  The gate closed behind us and the water level started dropping.  In no time we were paddling out the gates, and around a corner into Oseetah Lake.

Oseetah Lake was a busy place.  After the relative quiet of the last few days, it was a bit jarring to see so many motorboats on the water.  They followed us down the river, they passed us going upriver, they appeared at our left coming out of Kiwassa Lake, and they arrived up ahead from the general direction of Saranac Lake Village.  We proceeded to the northeast with a freshening wind coming from the southeast and building clouds to our back.

Beautiful Oseetah

Beautiful Oseetah

Soon after we left the main portion of Oseetah Lake behind, we gathered together for an official muckle.  Inexplicably, some beers had escaped our onslaught of the night before and it was high time they were finished off.  Over the next half hour or so, I think we managed to float a total of about 50 feet.  It was nice to sit back and reflect a bit on the days past and the quality canoeing that the Adirondacks always offers up.

copyright Erik Ekilson

Hotel Saranac across Lake Flower

After we broke up the muckle, it was clear the trip was over. There was nothing left but to paddle past the many houses now appearing along the shore, through Lake Flower, and onward to Saranac Lake Village.  Re-entry was abrupt.  One minute we were paddling merely past cabins and houses, and then around a corner we were face to face with Route 86 and all the hotels and restaurants along it.  Around the next corner, and there was the Saranac Hotel.

loaded up and ready for the ride home

loaded up and ready for the ride home

Just before the dam, on the left, we found the small park with the NFCT Kiosk and took the boats out on the lawn.  Those of us with car keys then walked down the riverwalk to the parking lot we had left our cars.  We lined the cars up along the road and packed everything up.  Unless one counts the stretch of the NFCT in Quebec, this was the first state we had completed so far.  One down, three more to go. Thank you, New York!

Total Mileage for the day: 5.4 Miles

 Total Mileage for this Segment:  42.6 miles

 Total NFCT Miles to Date: 520.7

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A misty morning

A misty morning

I really missed my friend Jim on this trip, and especially waking up on this morning, because I knew this was going to be a long day.  Jim loves long days. And big lakes, LOL!  This entire day was planned around the desire to avoid the Saranac Lake Islands Campground, so that we did not have to go through the extra steps of 1) reserving a site (without even knowing if the site was suitable), 2) paddling PAST the site to check in at the ranger station, and then backtracking to the actual site and 3) actually paying for a campsite.  To accomplish this, we would need to leave Upper Saranac Lake (our campsite was the last free site before reaching the campground), paddle across the notoriously windy Middle Saranac Lake, down a stretch of river to Lower Saranac Lake to cross its southwestern end, and then down past Route 3 again to the first lean-to located out of the campground downstream of Second Pond.  It would be about 11.2 miles for the day.  Not bad under favorable conditions, but it could be difficult if we had any significant wind.

Mike and Bill lead the way

Mike and Bill lead the way

Bartlett Carry

Bartlett Carry

Ground fog was lifting from the lake surfaces as we got up and mobilized.  It was a short 1.2 mile paddle to what we sincerely hoped would be the last portage of the trip, the Bartlett Carry that would take us into Middle Saranac Lake.  This carry is entirely cartable without much difficulty, other than a hairpin turn that may send you sliding down a steep hill if you aren’t paying attention.  The trail ends in a narrow bay that feeds out to the main portion of the lake.

Entering Middle Saranac Lake

Entering Middle Saranac Lake

Fortunately, once we hit the main body of the lake, the wind only teased us and never made any serious threats.  We were able to set a more direct course across the lake, headed to the obvious beach and marsh that pointed the way to Bull Rush Bay.  Two navigation buoys pointed the way into the channel that would lead us to Lower Saranac Lake.

Approaching the Class II sneak past Upper Locks

Approaching the Class II sneak past Upper Locks

Here we went back to the wildly meandering course that we had experienced on Stony Creek, albeit with the totally unnecessary red and green navigational aids.  It felt like purposely coloring outside the lines as I cut the corners. Can’t stop the Children of the Revolution! Scarcely over a dozen corners later we reached the Upper Locks, a place I had visited once previously.  As I did the first time, I took the Class II chute to the right of the island, as did most of us.  Mike and Billy decided to lock through with the assistance of me and Erik operating the gates.

Billy & Mike enter the Upper Locks

Billy & Mike enter the Upper Locks

The Saranac River continues on, with the deepest channel duly marked out by the red and green navigation buoys, which keep people from gashing open their motorboats on the many boulders lurking under the surface.  The surrounding geology definitely gets rockier, with genuine cliffs starting to rise from the water.  One last left turn, with the massive “Pulpit Rock” on our right, brought us into Lower Saranac Lake.  It was getting to be about lunch time, so we set course to a likely spot to the left, across a small bay.  It turned out to be an unoccupied campsite with its own collection of rocks and a picnic table and no real convenient way to get out of your boat without getting wet.

Mike & Bill Enter Lower Saranac Lake

Mike & Bill Enter Lower Saranac Lake

As we ate, the wind started picking up a bit, and freshened up to the point that we thought we may have some interesting water to deal with.  The wind was coming right out of the south-southwest, which turned out to be favorable direction.  We remounted our canoes and headed out into the fray.  The wind played around with us as we crossed Loon Bay, but once we reached the narrows along Norway Point we were in the wind shadow of the land and things were a lot easier.   Pope Bay likewise sent us a bit of wind, but nothing really to worry about, and we soon turned southwest and headed to First Pond.

Dodging Boulders into First Pond

Dodging Boulders into First Pond

Once again we entered the land of green and red navigation buoys, and we made our way past even more rocks and boulders.  If you seem to be missing some boulders, I bet I know where you can find them.  The route 3 bridge was soon before us and then behind us, and we passed the big boat ramp at the Saranac Lakes Islands Campground Headquarters.   Second pond wasn’t much different than first pond was. We passed a few fishermen in boats, and the channel narrowed once again. And about a half mile later, we found the lean-to that was our goal for the day.  Much to Billy’s consternation, it was 20 minutes past 2:00, and he wasn’t getting any overtime.

Memorial Lean-To. Yep.

Memorial Lean-To. Yep.

It turns out this was the memorial “Douglas A. Beck” (1960-2004) lean-to. Friends of his had erected a memorial plaque to “The King”, as he was evidently known.  They did not see fit to maintain the lean-to, however, unless they were the ones that installed the blue and brown auxiliary tarps on the roof.   But, it did look over a nice stretch of the river, and hey, no rain was forecast, and it had been a long friggin day, so we called it home and commenced drinking.

The invisible paddler surveys his domain

The invisible paddler surveys his domain

It must have been a popular site nevertheless, because we had to range farther than usual, amongst the usual collection of boulders and ledges, to procure firewood.   One could range an impressive distance upstream and downstream with nary a dead or down branch in site.  But as usual, we managed OK.  Of course we were helped by the previous occupants who had left us a few branches that they evidently could not cut.  Anyone who heads out to camp in the backcountry without a good saw and/or an axe is a fool.

Towards dusk, Jeff decided that he wanted to do a night paddle, which sounded good to me.  We each mounted our canoes and headed downstream.  We had good light going downstream, and we had no problem spotting all of the navigation buoys even without the aid of the rising moon.  We slipped past some more impressive boulders and paddled by the mouth of Cold Creek where the river widened out a bit and became more marsh-like.  A few minutes later, the riverbanks closed in again, and as we passed the narrows and turned left the lights of the next locks came into view.  Jeff pulled up on the ledge to the left of the entrance to the lock, and I went further left to a dock, and we both went up to see what was what.  Nobody seemed to be home.  This lock seemed to be quite a bit more advanced than the upper locks, with a series of wheels controlling all of the gates instead of using levers and manpower to operate the gates.

Paddling at Dusk

Paddling at Dusk

After confirming that we had really learned nothing that we couldn’t have figured out the next day, we headed back upstream to camp.  The sun was definitely down now, and darkness had seriously started to fall.  It was really difficult to see the navigation markers now.  I stained just to keep Jeff in sight, who was working equally hard not to bash into anything unyielding.  I love night paddling.  Everything is quiet, and all of your other senses sharpen to compensate for the reduction in visual cues.  The smell of decaying marsh grasses and leaves was sharp, and the drips from the paddles and burbling water at our bows sounded crisp and clear.  We managed not to run into anything important, and made it back to camp ready for some campfire shenanigans.

Tarp Inspections

Tarp Inspections

Jeff broke out the reflection oven again, and busted out some righteous cinnamon rolls.  You wouldn’t think they would go so well with a cold beer, but believe me, they do.  Especially with some Sailor chasers.  It was our last night, so war was declared on the remaining beer supplies. This required some bad jokes and some even worse singing, as well as an impromptu inspection of the auxiliary tarps on the lean-to roof to check for beer can damage.  None was found, although a number of OSHA regulations were flaunted during the exercise.

As noted, it was a long day, and soon enough the day came to an end for everyone.  We looked forward to a short, uneventful paddle into Saranac Lake the next day, thus finishing up the whole length of the NFCT in New York.

Total mileage for the day:  11.2 miles (not including the late dusk paddle).

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We awoke the next morning to brightening skies and a little more water in the river.  After the morning routine of coffee, breakfast, breaking camp, farting around, visiting the privy, and cleaning up the beer cans scattered about camp, we hopped back in the boats and continued down the Raquette River.

Clouds breaking up on the Raquette

This stretch of river is one of the few sections of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail that I had paddled before I even knew such a trail existed.  My wife and I frequently visit the Adirondacks, and had paddled up from Axton’s Landing up to Raquette Falls and back on one of our visits.  The river winds its way past striped maple forests and many backwaters and oxbow channels that invite exploration.  We weren’t here to explore, however…we were here to finish another section, and Billy had decreed that he expected us to be in camp before 2:00 every day.  And with one sizeable and potentially tricky upstream segment to finish this day, our schedule did not permit dawdling.

Fall colors on Stony Creek

The mouth Stony Creek was easily found thanks to my GPS and thanks, also, to the big useful sign that someone had hung up in a tree.   It was quite a bit narrower than the Raquette, and significantly more meandering.  Tommy’s Bell Magic, which absolutely loves to go in straight lines, was a mite difficult to maneuver around the curves.  I had read of many tales how upstream paddlers on this stretch missed a critical turn and ended up mistakenly paddling a few miles up Ampersand Brook.  One piece of advice I remember reading stated that when in doubt, go left.  This turned out to be good advice and I highly recommend following it.  We did just that, and despite having to paddle upstream we were soon entering the Stony Creek Ponds.

Entering Stony Creek Ponds

I was a bit surprised at how many homes were on these ponds, but figured I might as well get used to it, since the Saranac Lakes would have plenty more to

Tommy passing the island in the upper pond

look at.  The skies were bright blue and reflected nicely on the smooth lake surface.  We headed right, and entered a narrow channel that led past a gaggle of geese and under a road bridge to another of the ponds.  Keeping the island to our right, we easily found the beach at the beginning of the Indian Carry leading to Upper Saranac Lake.  We paused on the sunny beach for a while to have some lunch and mentally prepare for the carry.

This is a good place to talk about the next big thing in paddle sports. No, I’m not talking about that ridiculous SUP craze.  First descents have been popular, as have source-to-sea excursions.  The latest thing with creek boaters has been descending a vertical mile in a day by lapping a steep creek.  What’s left for us normal people? We suggest it is paddling up to the head of one watershed, carrying over into another watershed, and descending down a different river.  An extreme example of this may be ascending a river that ultimately flows to the Atlantic Ocean, carrying over the continental divide, and paddling a river that eventually empties into the Pacific. Mike has dubbed this pursuit as ‘watershedding”, and the NFCT provides ample opportunities to rack up numerous watershed hops.

Jeff makes the carry his beeyotch.

The carry from Stony Creek Ponds to Saranac Lake is one such hop, trading the Raquette River for the Saranac River. As had been reported, this carry is mostly cartable.  Mostly.  Just before one reaches Route 3, there is an old plank bridge over a drainageway, portions of which are too narrow to accommodate the cart.  Fortunately, Erik was right behind me, so we were able to help carry each other’s canoes across without detaching the carts.  Using Mike’s tire pump as necessary, I was able to roll the whole portage without much problem.  In fact, no one really had any serious issues with the carry, especially after Route 3 where it was an easy roll down a nice gravel road to a public boat ramp on Upper Saranac Lake.  And just like that, we had made a short jump from the Raquette River Watershed to that of the Saranac River.

Arriving at a breezy Upper Saranac Lake

The winds had freshened up a bit when we reached the lake, but not anywhere near to a problematic degree, and our short paddle to the point just past Corey Island was quick and uneventful.  The rocky shoreline made landing a little tricky here, but we all managed to get out of the water and onto one of the rockiest campsites we’ve seen since Seboomuk Point on Moosehead Lake in Maine.  The glacier really dropped a lot of blocks here! Some of the rocks were the size of small cabins, and one nice block of rock served nicely as a kitchen.

Rocky friggin campsite.

The one thing that this campsite lacked was a lean-to, so we all had to set up tents.  I had decided not to bring a tent this time, which really simplified both my packing system and my set up…just a tarp and a bivy sack.  It worked well, but I think I would have set it up a bit different if any serious windy rain was forecast.

Hi Neighbor! Have a ‘Gansett!

Once again, we were in camp well before 2:00, and once again we decided that bringing a lot of beer had been the right call.  I mean, what else is there to do on a nice sunny day?  Set up tents, have a beer, gather some firewood, cut it up and split it, have a beer, change into warmer clothes, have a beer, take portraits of your beer against a blue lake, drink it, get the fire going…you get the idea.  This is why campfires are so entertaining.

Reflector Oven Cookies

At this night’s campfire, Jeff treated us to a nice surprise…fresh baked cookies in his reflection oven! These go incredibly well with Sailor Jerry.  We spent a happy few hours around that campfire as the night wrapped its cool arms around us.  Tonight we finally heard loons in number.  Later that night I heard a barred owl and a pack of coyotes.  I feel sorry for people who never experience these things.

Total Mileage for the day: 9.7 miles.

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