Wednesday, August 22, 2007

All Is Good On The Osgood

The Osgood River is the purest sense of a dichotomy. The scenery, wildlife and feel of the paddling would make you believe you were deep in the heart of a boreal wilderness. Then the wind dies down, and you hear Rt. 30 with one of the longest straight strectches of pavement in the Blue Line, busling with speeding traffic from Paul Smiths, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake to Malone outside the Blue Line.

Buried with work, we got a late start Friday night. Pulled into the put-in at 2am to the sound of rain drops on the roof. No chance to set up my tent, and too tired to, we slept soundly, if not coldly, in the car.

I woke up Saturday at 6am to continued rain, fog and 40F temps. Back to sleep till 10am when it when it stopped raining, although still looked cold and dreary.

Aim wasn't too happy about putting in. She is the definition of a fair weather paddler. 75F and sunny, or turn the car around and head home. Unfortunately, in the Daks, rain and occasional barely 60F summer days are part of the game, otherwise, expect to paddle once or twice a summer at most.

Really it wasn't the rain, cloud cover or damp coldness that was disheartening, rather, the fact that you couldn't escape the bitter wind blowing from the north. It had the end of October crisp chill to it.

After we unloaded an older couple pulled up with a car top canoe. They came down to the water bundled up, looked at us shivering and shook their heads. "We're headed home, too cold out there for us."

Aim gave me a look when they said that like, "can we please go home!"

Not a chance. I told her this is good practice for October paddling and to suck it up.

Caney was already in the water swimming, he approved of the St Regis, and said this looked like a good river to paddle.

Admittedly it was darn cold. I was wearing my neoprene socks under my sandals, I had on my goretex shell, a t-shirt, and a long sleeve base layer under my PFD. Typically I don't wear this much even for October paddling and I was still chilly.

I stayed chilled all day, and was convinced my thermometer didn't work. 61F? I've never been cold unless I was wet in temps that mild. Yet, even after the sun decided to do it's thing, I was still never really warmed up all day.

Eventually we got on the water and the cool temps didn't seem so awful as we paddled upstream on the St Regis River towards Meacham Lake. Our destination was the the mouth of the Osgood River at the southern shore of Meacham Lake.

From the descriptions the Osgood looked like one of those 30 foot wide meandering rivers with a crooked course and beaver dams that I love so much. Even more so it looked like a place that didn't see much traffic. Really there was nothing super appealing in the descriptions for the average paddler. No great views, no amazing campsites, no waterfalls, just a nice meandering river surrounded by a boreal forest.

Most the the Adirondacks, which are part of the Candian Shield and not the Appalachians like the rest of the Northeastern US, straddle a transition zone of mountains and lakes that is unique toeastern North America. The region lies in the transition zone betweenthe eastern deciduous and boreal forest ecosystems. The Osgood is actually above the transition zone and almost entirely boreal. The fully boreal biome of the Adirondacks below 4000ft is rather small and isolated. Much of the public holdings are recent, and part of the Champion Lands purchases in the last few years. Paddling the Osgood, like the Jordan, you immediately see the difference in the nature of the forest compared to most other places within the Blue Line.

I'm pretty social out in the wilds but at times I like the peace of knowing I'm somewhat alone, even if only in theory. Sometimes it's nice to be the only boat on a particular body of water. Looking at the maps the Osgood looked like the ticket, and of course the weather meant there would be few day paddlers coming from Meacham Lake as well.

Well, the Osgood was exactly what I'd envisioned; other than the sound of the road.

When viewing the river corridor on a map, the west bank is within 3/4-1.5 miles of the river but not closer until below Barnum Pond. Yet, you could hear trucks, and motorcylces for that 3/4 mile minimum distance whenever the blustery winds died down. Now to the east the river is not bordered by a paved road for many many miles. Actually, it's all forest preserve land to the rivers east.

Perhaps on a less beautiful flow this would have been enough to spoil the paddle but the Osgood was simply too beautiful with flower covered boreal shorelines, and spectacular wildlife.

We saw at least 6 great blue heron, 1 egret, deer, a baby beaver on a giant beaver dam/lodge, countless whiskey jacks (gray jays), wood ducks, mallard ducks, and many more species of birds than I know the names of. This is all despite a 10am start Saturday and a late start Sunday as well.

While beaver activity in this area could be seen, there were very few dams. The fact that the boreal forest lining the shores was mostly conifers made it tough for the beavers to slow us down. Beavers prefer hardwoods and with the relative lack of options quickly eat themselves out of house and home before that can create too much trouble for paddlers.

Despite the lack of hardwoods, we saw one of the most innovative beaver dams I've ever seen. It was a dam and lodge built into one. As we approached it on the paddle out Sunday we saw a small baby beaver walking around on top and eventually go down into the lodge. Mom and dad must have been off looking for hardwoods to to repairs on the breached river left edge of the dam.

The flora on this river refused to be second fiddle to the abundant wildlife. I'd venture to say we saw nearly every type of equatic plant native to the northern Adirondacks. From carnivorous pitcher plants, to candy apple red cardinal flowers, to joe pye weed, to pickerelweed , water lily, water hemlock, and countless others.

Saturday we camped high on a narrow esker that separated the river from a pond. Our campsite, wholey exposed to the north wind, was a bit chilly but made for excellent camping. I commented to Aim that it felt like we were on a Adirondack alpine summit. The ferocity and coldness of the wind had that unmistakable alpine feel. The winds, according to the weather station in Saranac Lake, were gusting to 29mph.

Despite the previous nights rain we got a fire going faster than I've ever seen. The dry wind coming from the north dried out every bit of wood and fed the fire with enough air to have it blazing in minutes. Rarely have I seen a fire take off with such little effort.

The wind eventually died down enough that it was just a slight breeze at times. It actually felt warmer as we ate dinner despite the fact that the temperature dropped from 61F when we got to camp to 55F while we were eating.

Sunday after sleeping in late, we had a late breakfast including fresh blueberries picked from around the camp. Such a nice addition to my otherwise bland cereal.

Despite the less than perfect summer weather - it was perfect October weather, and our 5th rainless weekend in a row - the Osgood was truly a spectular river. Most of the shoreline is within the forest preserve and on the stretch we paddled we only saw a few posted signs, and 2 actual private residences. The rest of the river and shoreline was superbly wild in nature. With a set of earplugs, I'd paddle the Osgood over the Oswegatchie, an Adirondack benchmark for scenic wild rivers, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Whitney Wilderness

“I date from Little Tupper Lake, and a finer lake it would be hard to find. No desolate lines ofdrowned lands here. All as it came from the hands of nature. Have been out this morning deer hunting, so to speak. Laid off for four mortal hours waiting for a deer to attempt the crossing of Dukett’s Bay. No deer came. But there came a loon, and he settled within ten rods of the canoe, raised himself on hind legs (they are very hind, and he has no others), turned his white, clean breast to me and gave me his best weird, strange song. Clearer than a clarion, sweeter than a flute, load enough to e heard for miles...”

From Nessmuk’s Adirondack letters
Cruise of the Sairy Gamp, 6
Forest and Stream, Sept. 13, 1883

Acquired by the state in 1998-1999, Aim, Caney, and I were among the first legal public paddlers to use Little Tupper Lake and the Whitney Canoe Area in the summer of 1999. It wasn't in a guide book yet, and there was little info, we just happened to drive by the headquarters while going to Lake Lila.

I'd venture to say, over the years, we've logged more nautical miles in the Whitney Canoe Area than anywhere else in the park. Probably in excess of 200 miles. I'd further be willing to bet that every mile on Little Tupper is worth 1.5 miles on any other regularly paddled lake. The wind seems to blow southwest in the morning but in the evening (just in time for the paddle out) it seems to come from the east. I'm guessing this phenomenon is more than just bad luck. Most likely the wind is being generated by adiabatic cooling off the summits of the high peaks after the sun gets low on the horizon.

This weekend we added another 25 miles of paddling to our Whitney Wilderness odometer. In typical fashion we were the first ones in Saturday morning, and the last out after dark Sunday night. Headlamps safely packed in the dry bags we had no choice but to paddle in the dark on a moonless night.

Formerly part of Whitney Park, owned by the Whitney's (of Mary Lou Whitney socialite fame), Gov. Pataki acquired this well logged but fairly pristine tract of land using funds from the Environmental Protection Fund and Clean Water Clean Air Bond Act.

The Whitney's still have a presence in the William C. Whitney Wilderness that is more than the legacy of a name. They own the only two private residences in the wilderness. Camp On The Point, and Camp Francis. They also still own extensive tracts of land forming the southern border of the Whitney Wilderness which comprises the rest of Whitney Park.

In terms of land acquisitions this is about as big as it gets. The Whitney area was logged, lightly mined and has a (unimproved) logging road system, but is essentially pristine in nature.

It supports multiple types of recreation, including skiing, paddling, hiking and horseback riding. As a wilderness, it is motorless, and mountain bikes are also prohibited.

The Whitney Wilderness is so pristine in fact, that Little Tupper Lake is one of the last bodies of water in the northeastern US to retain it's original native trout population. It's an example to me, and hopefully to others, how logged land is far better than paved land with a mini mall on it. Left alone in 20 years only the astute hiker or paddler could tell the difference between land that was logged in a environmentally conscious fashion and native forest. In 50-100 years even they might have a hard time determining just how wild the land was when it was acquired. Those sandy hard packed and shadeless logging roads have a constant tendency to grow in and become the most pleasant grassy woods roads.

All the bodies of water in the WWW are natural and free of man made impoundments. The only dam within the wilderness is located at the Round Lake/Round Lake Stream outlet, and it only serves to raise the water level a maximum of 2-3 feet.

In itself the Whitney Area is an impressive acquisition but when combined with adjoining state lands the magnitude of this purchase really begins to take hold.

The Whitney Canoe Area adjoins Like Lila Primitive area, and as of 2007 also links to Bog Lake, Clear Pond, and the Oswegatchie via Lake Lila. This essentially opens up multi-day wilderness traverses within this part of the park and makes it far more than the weekend paddlers paradise it has been for many years.

It's now possible to travel for 40-80 miles in several directions with a few short portages. Linking rivers, lakes, ponds and streams, there are numerous options for long distance paddles. And with the exception of the Beaver River, all on Forest Preserve land, or lands with easements.

In 2001 the state began negotiations to purchase the Round Lake Tract from International Paper. Round Lake, a largely a undeveloped wilderness lake, adjoins Little Tupper Lake via a large navigable outlet.

The shoreline of Round Lake was leased from IP to various hunting clubs, but other than some dirt woods roads, and some old razed and largely removed hunting camps it is essentially undeveloped and primitive in nature.

While I'm not entirely sure when it became legal to paddle Round Lake (in 2004 the state still advised against it) this weekend was our first trip to Round Lake. With it's undeveloped irregular shoreline it is a great addition to the Whitney Wilderness. Furthermore, it adds a connection to Tupper Lake and the Bog River from the east via a technical whitewater paddle down the outlet to the Bog River.

Round Lake itself is about 1/3 the size of the 6 mile Little Tupper Lake but the shape and irregularity of the lake and the outlet offer quite a bit of paddling. Like Little Tupper, Round Lakes orientation and shape make it prone to wind. The lake is longest in a southwest direction and gets hit with the same winds as Little Tupper.

Various frogs, loons, beaver, bats, and fox were all seen on or near Round Lake. There were signs of racoons in a stump at Round Lake Stream outlet which was filled with mussel shells.

The state recently finished building primitive campsites on the lake, eleven in total, some of which have yet to be camped on. It appeared sites 1 and 11 were essentially brand new. Quite a treat it is to camp on squishy ground in established campsites, I remember back in 1999 many of the now hardened Little Tupper sites were so similar. Several of the sites were in a odd fashion built on the sites of the former camps. I note this to be odd because the state rarely uses old hunting camps or homesteads as campsites.

In 8 years we have a lot of fond memories of little Tupper, including the first time Caney put his head under the water to get a stick. It might seem trivial but it still amazes us when he essentially snorkels for sticks or frogs. This weekend he decided to fish for fresh water mussels while we slept. We know because he had mussels on up high above the shoreline as we were loading the boat.

Over the years we've explored every cove and outlet on Little Tupper. We've explored Rock Pond and it's outlets. We've hiked into Bum Pond and paddled most the the way to Charlie Pond. We've had a bear in our site once, and just this weekend a fox ran right up to me as I sat by the fire.

Of course some of our strangest memories of Little Tupper have to do with the winds. Little Tupper is a natural wind tunnel, shallow (about 18 feet deep), narrow and long it sucks the prevailing southwest wind up. It doesn't take much for this shallow lake to create white caps and strong winds can be dangerous. We've stood on the shore of our campsite quite a few times watching less fit and less experienced paddlers struggle to find refuge from the wind. Often they are in over loaded boats that ride low to the water line, or trailing a boat with children or enough gear for a month. Waves rocking the boat and wind pushing them into the shoreline, or worse, into the middle of the lake as they battle.

We've watched, and were prepared to go out and rescue, two young girls foolishly paddling around the lake on one of the windiest days I can recall. I sometimes like the battle the wind, paddle through the chop, but that day Aim and I got beat pretty badly and were lucky to be close to our favorite campsite when we called it quits. I was certain for a while those girls were going to swamp or just run out of energy before they made it across. The girls eventually did make it across the 1/2 mile wide section of the lake about 30 minutes later.

Although we've explored quite a bit over the years, we've still yet to link Lake Lila and Little Tupper. We've yet to hike to the summit of Antediluvian Mountain, or complete the paddle to Charlie Pond among many other things. Round Lake and it's outlet, Round Lake Stream, also beg for more exploration with tales of narrow gorges and Class V rapids. Now that the Whitney Wilderness is safely under the protection of Article 14, and part of the Forest Preserve, we can take our time knowing it will be there, as it is today, for generations to come.

William C. Whitney and his family were great stewards to this land, and now the public has the opportunity to enjoy it as well.

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Jordan River Recon

The Jordan River was once one of the most sought after paddles in the Adirondacks. Despite the fact that most of the river is entirely navigable flat water above the first mile of the Class II-IV rapids at it's mouth, it could not be paddled without tremendous risk.

The risk wasn't of dangerous rapids or wild forest, but men with shotguns guarding the mouth and patrolling the banks. The Adirondacks, a 6.5 million acre forest preserve in Northern New York State, are mostly owned by a relatively few groups. Currently a little more than 60% is state land (about 3.5 million acres), "forever wild" by the state constitution, and free for the use of all. This comprises the largest wilderness east of the Rockies, and the entirety of the wild lands within the Blue Line are bigger than Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Parks combined.

Of the 2.5 million private acres remaining most are owned by logging companies, or large hunting and game clubs. For the most part the Adirondacks are still sparsely developed, and wilder today than when Article 14 of the New York State constitution was originally ratified.

Of course, the patchwork of public and private land within the Blue Line can at times create problems. The state has an aggressive land acquisition fund, and pursues purchases of private land, to expand the public holdings within the Blue Line of the forest preserve. The patchy nature of the land rights within the Blue Line can be a problem for the adventurous.

The late Paul Jamison, professor of english and author of Adirondack North Flow, was one of most accomplished modern Adirondack adventurers on waters within the Blue Line. His short but compelling description of the Jordan River's wild nature made me want to paddle it. However, just like in Jamison's day the river was off limits because of the hunting clubs assertion that portage through the rapids and around the dam was illegal since they owned the land surrounding the lower portion of the river.

By common law this assertion is wrong. But by fear of death or imprisonment this assertion still stands today. Many "navigable" Adirondack rivers are off limits because of the landowners assumed power. This is despite the fact that common law states that travel on a navigable river cannot be impeded just because a section is unnavigable. One section (or sections) where a river must be bypassed using the minimum shoreline necessary is entirely legal. And while in most cases if a NYS DEC Ranger is called to the scene the paddlers rights will be upheld, if the NYS Police arrive on scene you might be taken to jail, even if no charges are actually brought.

This fear keeps many stretches of beautiful river free from public use. In Jamison's day, while the hunting and game clubs were active along the lower Jordan River, it was even more compelling.

The landowners actually know they do not have a right to prevent navigation on a navigable river, and it is why every trespassing case has been settled before court. Once in the courts this will be appealed to the state supreme court, where undoubtedly precedent will be set opening the way for not only a few brave paddlers here and there, but an onslaught of paddlers empowered by legal precedent and excited to find new adventures on once forbidden water.

In the case of the Jordan River, the state recently acquired easements, which now allow a legal portage trail from Carry Falls Reservoir to the Jordan River above the dam.

While this carry isn't easy due to it's length it is not a difficult portage. It's around 2.5-3 miles. Lots of ups and downs on a rutted sandy ATV road. Regardless, it certainly beats the alternative of tracking your boat upstream and portaging around the rapids. And certainly beats being shot or arrested for trespassing.

The Jordan River is not for everyone, but it is close to my ideal river paddle. It's about 20 feet wide on average and meanders north and south as much as travels east to west. It's shoreline is filled with giant pines, and lush vegetation. It has many many dead end coves. These coves can be like a river maze, sometimes you make a wrong turn and end up back where you were a few minutes before. At times you turn so sharply you feel like you are looking the at the back end of the boat. And dead fall? Well it's choked with sweepers and strainers. There are times you are lucky if you paddle 5 minutes between obstructions. Each time your precariously exit the boat, onto the downed trees and haul the boat, and it's cargo (about 120lbs) up and over the obstruction. Sometimes giant pines, sometimes smaller trees. Sometimes a combinations of both. Oh, and if you are lucky enough to not have a stretch of dead fall you just might encounter beaver dams one after another.

This might sound terrible but really it's what a wild river is. I'd compare it's scenery with that of the Oswegatchie which is very similar in nature, although a little wider.

While the Oswegatchie is filled with dead fall and beaver dams (last trip we hit 19 beaver dams over 14 miles) it isn't remote. Sure the interior above High Falls, some 14 miles in, is fairly remote, but because of the lack of portaging (it's a car top put in) the river at times can be crowded. Despite the long upstream paddle, any reasonably fit paddler can make it upstream to High Falls in a day, and blow down is often removed or carry trails around the larger strainers and rapids are established. There are also numerous pages of guide book material on the Oz, in contrast to the Jordan, which even in Jamison's book only has about 1 page.

Paddling on the Jordan is an amazing feeling, knowing you will most likely not see another person even if you spent weeks on it. Within a few minutes we saw almost every type of river flora native to the Adirondacks, a water skimming red frog, a great blue heron, snake trails over the sand, and just the beauty of an untrammeled river.

Unfortunately, we also ran into dead falls quite quickly. Our trip up the Jordan only netted us 1 linear mile of hard paddling. Not much cruising beyond the first 1/3 mile. We'd probably have only averaged about 1.5 miles per hour had we kept paddling into the darkness.

While we usually get a dawn start for our paddling adventures, Aim's been working a lot of overtime and didn't want to go up Friday night. Unfortunately, Carry Falls Reservoir is about the furthest location from where we live to paddle within the park. About a 2:45 minute drive, so even getting on the road by 6am just doesn't give you enough time for a location you've never been to before.

After we located the legal portage which is not currently listed anywhere on the web, nor in a guidebook, and then we scouted it (essentially walking about halfway to the Jordan without the boat), we killed an additional 2 hours. By the time we arrived at the river put-in it was nearly 4pm and we didn't get on the water till 4:15.

Caney was immediately at home. He loves these meandering rivers and creeks, complete with the dead falls and all the bugs. He'll swim endlessly chasing surface bugs after working his way up stream against the current and then shooting down with it. Dead falls don't bother him a bit either. Even at 8, those obstacles are the equivalent of a playground to a child.

We decided a little over 1 hour into paddling the Jordan that we were not going to make it very far with the remaining light. And considering the difficulty or the river and the length of the return portage, continuing further on upstream Sunday was not an option. We looked for a campsite on the Jordan but decided to head back to Carry Falls and camp on the beach.

Neither of us wanted to make that portage again that night, but I figured hard work Saturday night would pay off with a day of relaxing Sunday and short paddle out.

It was hard but seemed shorter than the way in, I think largely because it was slightly more downhill. We arrived back at Carry Falls in complete darkness, walking better than half the portage trail by the light of our headlamps. Between searching for the portage route and the actual portage we walked far more than we paddled.

When we got back to Carry Falls we loaded the boat and turned the headlamps off, paddling only by starlight on the perfectly still and silent water. It was a very peaceful way to get back in the boat and finish the active part of our day.

At camp we set up the tent, cooked dinner and watched this stars and meteor showers. Aim hit the sack early. I spent next few hours taking starlight photos in the cool summer evening weather.

The thing I love about Adirondack summer nights is the fact that unless you are hardy, most nights it's cold enough to wear a nice fleece and maybe even a hat. The bugs are usually long gone when the temps hit 50F and on this clear night on the Raquette it was 49F for the low. I never got cold enough to put on my fleece but I had just about everything else on as I sat on the beach watching the stars while my camera was recording timed exposures.

Sunday went as planned. Sleep late, swim, eat, swim, lay in the sun, swim, eat, swim, run around the beach, race the dog for the stick in the lake, swim, lay in the sun. While I walked more than I paddled Saturday, I most likely swam more than I paddled Sunday. The dog is fast, but I've got a text book Australian crawl, which is simply more efficient than his dogie paddle.

Packing up in the late afternoon sun and paddling out at a leisurely pace. At times there were so few signs of life from our beach front camp that I'm sure to the few passing paddlers and boaters it looked like our crew drank the coolaid.

When Jamison's description of the Jordan River instantly took hold when we both first saw the Jordan, it was clear this was a river worth the hard work to earn the satisfaction of it's wilderness beauty. I suppose some places charge you a monetary fee for access to the wonders they behold, it's clear the only fee to paddle the Jordan is the determination to put in a long day of hard work.

I'm looking forward to returning to the Jordan, with the foresight of the length of the portage and the difficulty of upstream travel we should have fewer problems paddling far deeper on our next attempt. No doubt it will be difficult, but we've paddled many creeks and outlets equally hard just for the fun of exploration, only to paddle back out the same day. Just the serenity and accomplishment of navigating such a infrequently traveled, remote (by Adirondack standards) and beautiful unspoiled wilderness river will be more than worth the effort when we return.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Whitewater On The Deerfield

Well I admit it. I turned fair weather paddler. The weekend called for hot and rainy conditions and I bailed on our planned trip to Little Tupper.

While we've explored almost every nook and cranny of Little Tupper, I've never been to Round Pound which was "sort of" private till about 2 years ago.

In the end though I had a lot of work the catch up on, so I worked Saturday and we planned on running a river Sunday.

Something easy, no harder than consistent Class II, but more than Class I and riffles.

The Schroon in the Adirondacks looked perfect, especially since we'd need to run a shuttle. Right off the Northway and about a 1 hour drive to the put-in.

As always nothing is simple. The Schroon has no gages except for one at the outlet of Schroon Lake.

It was at 1.90 Friday night before the rain, and I was hoping we'd get poured on all day Saturday.

Well, Saturday it hardly rained. And never very hard.

Saturday night came and I looked at the gage 1.93...Nooooooo!!!!!!

I read that minimum level on that gage should be 2.50ish. So we were way too low and running rapids in scratchy conditions is no fun.

Saturday night at 10pm I'm scrambling to find a place to paddle that both was moderate in difficulty and had some flow to it.

Looking at the American White Water Stream Gage Page and browsing by state it was looking bleak until I saw the Deerfield River running at 1300cfs. Minimum flow to run it is 450cfs and high water is well over 2000. So it was prime conditions.

Sunday morning it was down to 700cfs when we left, and I bet it was closer to 500cfs when we put in, but it was a fun stretch of a bout 6 miles.

The reason we did so little was that our intention was to put in above Dam #2. Problem is the power company doesn't allow access to the road near Dam #2 so paddlers must risk their lives to lower the boats off a loose steep ravine edge down to the water using ropes.

Well my 70lb boat and I decided that I wasn't going to fall into a ravine and so we shortened the trip to the next put-in.

This was the first time I'd paddled the Deerfield and I have to say it's a nice river by Massachusetts standards. It's in many spots out of the way, with few roads crossing it, it's bordered by rocky cliffs with waterfalls pouring down into it, and it's teeming with wildlife.

This really is an excellent river with lots of moderate whitewater below Shelburne. Mostly Class II-III.

We will definitely be back to paddle more of the Deerfield.

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