End of Summer Adirondack Adventure Old Forge To Saranac and Back Again

Scott Rowe

Random Adventurer
Traveling up the Fulton Chain of lakes from Old Forge I encountered an uncommon but agreeable northeast breeze, a final nod from tropical storm Lee. My first carry between 5th and 6th lake brought home the reality of struggles to come. I was too damn heavy. I brought too much stuff. Too much food. Some beer :eek: and a canoe that was probably ten pounds heavier than the one I really wanted. Paddling up Sixth and Seventh Lakes I tried to adjust to the tracking characteristics of the Wenonah Advantage. For a canoe with no rocker I was surprised to only get 3 strokes per side in order to kept her straight.

Eight Lake goes by quickly and I prepared myself for the anticipated grueling mile and a quarter carry. I decided to double carry due to my load and this swallowed up valuable daylight. As I put in at Brown's Tract the sun had dropped below the horizon and I worried about navigating the two miles of sharp bends in this stunning section of water in the dark. It turned out to be a magical experience with the moonlight casting its unique glow on the water. The numerous beaver dams had been temporarily submerged by high water and I concentrated in trying to spin the Advantage through the many bends. I found that the stern was easy to loosen up with a couple powerful sweep strokes when needed.

Moonlight paddling is a special thing and I wanted to continue but made camp at Tioga Point on Raquette Lake at 9:30 pm. The double carry threw my timing off and I was determined to eat my way to a lighter load (if that makes any sense). I drank my celebratory beer, crushed my cans, ate the rib-eye steak and settled in for the night by a fire in a fine Adirondack lean-to.

I awoke late the next morning after a fitful sleep and noticed "The Needles" already poking through the mid-morning fog. Hurriedly I wolfed down four eggs with spam, doused with Tabasco and chased with coffee. Past Boulder Bay, around Bluff Point and up through Outlet Bay the gentle headwind persisted and picked up some. A short carry brought me to Fork-ed Lake. As I paddled I was entertained by a Bald Eagle playing a noisy game of musical chairs with a family of Loons. The Loons of course making all the music.

At the carry at the end of Fork-ed my anxiety level picked up. If I chose not to paddle the fast water connecting Fork-ed to Long Lake I'd be looking at nearly three plus miles of carries. I was very concerned about the current and water level above "Buttermilk" Falls which at these levels is certainly a misnomer. I carried down to the put-in above the falls and lost my nerve; new boat, new paddle, high water, heavy load etc. I proceeded to return to the rough tarmac road and bump my plastic wheels along the long carry. Shortly I met an old man out for a walk. He gave me the courage to head back up the road to the put-in and paddle the river. I took out just yards from the roiling waters lurching over the head wall of Buttermilk Falls. I actually never felt in danger of careening over them. I carried and passed by the falls. My knees weakened as I witnessed the powerful water. I paddled the next section and with the falls behind me I was less anxious. Hours later and with the sun getting low I found a small flat point on Long Lake adjacent to a couple small private islands. I pitched the tent and lightened my load with a hearty meal and an Oskar Blue Yellow Mellow Pils.

It was a cold night and I slept poorly once more, awakening to another later than desired start. The headwind had not abated, a slow moving low for sure. I made it down the lake and flew downstream in the quick current. I spun out on one bend in the Raquette, accidentally sticking the bow into an eddy. I paddled a bit more carefully. I met a couple guys in a aluminum boat and we commiserated up and over the nasty carry at Raquette Falls. On the other side of the falls a couple from Tupper Lake, who had traveled up stream, observed the sweat poring down my face.The gentleman reached into a large cooler and produced a very cold lager.I looked over and spotted my friends with the Grumman.They had big smiles on their faces as they sucked down the ice cold suds.Let me just say that you meet some pretty cool folks in the Adirondacks!

The Mitchell Leader paddle literally smoked in my hands as I took advantage of the current and flew down river to the Stony Creek junction. I needed to allot plenty of time for the upcoming Indian Carry and I paddled quickly up through the creek at one point being startled to nearly an unsolicited bowel movement by a massive snapper just waiting around a sharp bend in the creek. My paddle hand inches from his toothy jaws. Collecting myself I smiled at the encounter and was taken by the beauty of this waterway just starting to show it's red fall color.

Indian Carry was as anticipated. Long. The trail section involving some double carrying goes rather quick but just when you think you've got it licked and start your single carry down the road to the launch on Upper Saranac Lake, you realize that the road section is longer than you thought and wish you'd double carried as I did on the way back.

I camped at Indian Point on Upper Saranac with a nice group of younger folks. When I asked permission to camp nearby, one young man politely pointed me down the lake to another potential camp site, but a perky young girl chimed in and said "there is plenty of room here, we're quite spread out but pick any where you like". Thank you thank you. Tortellinis with a nice pesto sauce filled my gut. A Dale's Pale Ale crushed down to a small aluminum wafer after I emptied its bitter contents. I was getting lighter all the time. That night there was a stiff wind blowing through the pass but the following morning produced fine paddling weather and I cruised through Upper, then Barlettes carry, Middle Saranac and the locks with ease. I entered Lower Saranac Lake and was taken by its beauty. The summer crush now over, the waters placid and dotted with small islands poking up high above the water. I decided I'd relax here and that this would be my turning point. Tomorrow I'd paddle back to the start.

I had Pirate Island all to myself and pitched my tent high on its apex, a hundred feet above the water looking off at the west sun. It was my earliest camp of the trip and I enjoyed myself with some fishing and a nice bonfire. The lake, unfamiliar to me and dotted with small islands did not prevent me from enjoying a moonlit paddle. My carbon fiber blade made the coolest sound in the quiet of the dark smooth water; the sound rhythmically interrupted by the wooden carrying handle tied to my bow, knocking against the Tuf-Weave hull. I pulled the canoe though the water and around the islands, slaloming around small white buoys with the word "danger" written on them, occasionally glancing over my shoulder keeping the still burning fire on my island in my peripheral vision. Relaxed I returned to my precipice loft on the island and enjoyed a very peaceful night.

The return trip started nice and early the next morning. Paddling down Lower Saranac Lake, a high cirrus cloud with attached cumulus clouds caught my eye, a Golden Eagle swooped overhead and directed me down the lake as if encouraging me to hurry. The wind picked up before I could reach the end of the lake and persisted the ENTIRE return trip. I stopped at Norway Island on Middle to examine the wind and wave conditions. I eyed Plymouth Rock in the distant and slowly made my way there, finding that the canoe handled the wind and waves well. The currents I anticipated but not the weather. My mistake. :(

My overnight at Raquette Falls presented the worst weather of the trip. The rain doused my fire but the thunder and lightening more than made up for the loss of a nighttime glow. I felt like someone was outside the tent with buckets of waters and dumped them atop the tent repeatedly. I was camped just yards from the lower falls. The thunderous sky all but drowned out the calming sound of them resulting in yet another restless night.

Over an inch of rainfall was added to the already high levels of Raquette River. I had a couple scary moments in the current above the falls, where I paddled hard but couldn't move. Through Long Lake and below Buttermilk I welcomed a very well maintained Pinebrook lean-to. I awoke to rain and increasingly dropping temperatures in the morning as a cold front approached. At the Big Island lean-to on Raquette, I had difficulty getting warm and shed wet clothes for dry. The nighttime temperatures dropped into the upper twenties.

The large dam on Brown's Tract which had been absent just a few days earlier had been built back up by the beavers. Just when you think you've conquered one problem the Adirondacks throws a couple more at you. I precariously hauled around the dam both annoyed at my misfortune and marveling at the beavers' energy. On Sixth Lake I found my new friends with the Grumman who had arranged a ride back from Fish Creek campgrounds on Upper Saranac. They were surprised to see me and even more surprised that I attempted the return trip. Wrapped in Gortex and a wool cap, red faced from the headwinds, they treated me to hot coffee and fresh fruit at their place. I turned down a hot shower knowing I had hours of paddling left to the day. One more stop on Fourth Lake to visit with an acquaintance at Camp Monroe and I fought the wind and waves all the way back to First Pond in Old Forge. Unlike the 90 Mile Classic, there was no one there to cheer my return. It was forty one degrees with the water front nearly vacant. Back home seven days from my departure, a full day ahead of schedule, the family was out busy with their Friday night. It was all so anticlimactic. I was tempted to put the canoe back on the car and start all over again but instead raided the fridge and got heavy!:D
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Sorry, no pics - it didn't happen.:p
We need proof. :D

Seriously, nice trip report.
Sorry, no pics - it didn't happen.:p
We need proof. :D

Seriously, nice trip report.

I sooo wish I had a camera. But the digital camera is down and out. I guess its back to Craigslist for a camera. Then I'll have to do the trip again!
Sorry, no pics - it didn't happen.:p
We need proof. :D

Seriously, nice trip report.

Oh yea...check me out now! I just rec'd the pic above from friends Rich and Dave that I met on the trip. They had the Grumman canoe. Pic was taken near the put-in below Racquet Falls after that refreshing lager! It really did happen. Didn't it? lol

Duh...my shirt was inside out. Bummer no one told me. Probably had a goober in my nose. Thank goodness it wasn't a close-up!
Hey Fits, Sounds like a typical Adirondack Adventure. Full of weather changes, water level changes, & lots of should ofs. LOL. My son and I did the Raquette Lake to Tupper lake canoe trip several years ago. We had a blast. I would like to try it again but this time with my Adirondack Guide Boat that I made. But age and thinking about , I probably will stick to just rowing in open lakes. Great story.