Solo Canoeing



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Solo Canoeing
August 5, 2005
By Colby Munger

Carol was was off to a second Tai Chi camp this last week leaving me to my own devises.  So, on Tuesday, August 2 with a Hornbeck Black Jack canoe on the car-top I drove up into the Adirondacks for three days of solo canoeing.  I checked into the Sunday Pond B&B just after lunch and Dick Lyon, my host, went over the canoeing map of the St. Regis Canoe and adjacent areas

Just across route 30 northwest of Upper Saranac Lake there is a ten mile by ten mile area that contains 18 lakes interconnected by creek like passages and short carries.  The lakes are sprinkled with over 100 rustic campsites, many that can only be reached by boat.  Dick traced his finger on an eight mile route starting at a put-in at the north end of Floodwood Pond to the southeast and down Floodwood Passage, across the eastern end of Little Square Pond continuing down Fish Creek to Square Pond.  The route has great variety and no carries.

At 2pm the Black Jack Canoe went into the water at the north end of Floodwood Pond.  The wind was fresh and the sky was clear blue.  A little over a mile later we (the canoe and I) entered Floodwood Passage.  The picture above was taken in this passage.  A little over an hour into the paddle we entered Little Square Pond to find the wind up into the teens and white caps walking across the  pond from the west.  I pressed into the white caps for a few minutes and discovered two things.  One, the little canoe was handling the chop and staying dry.  Two, I wasn't going to have much fun pressing on.

So, we turned north and re-entered the passage.  The scenery was everything I expected.  There were no powerboats but I encounter a score of canoes and kayaks.  This route is recommended by every guidebook and outfitter.  When we got back on Floodwood Pond I landed on a nice beach and stretched my legs. The takeout was northwest and the wind was slightly challenging.  We worked close in to the lee shores and snuck around the points.  We found a still spot behind an island and poked close in.  I slid forward in the canoe, reclined resting my feet on the gunnels forward and had a relaxing float.  After a short stretch to the takeout the canoe was back on the car-top in a little over three hours having covered about seven miles.

In the evening I met a couple who had been guests twenty times at the B&B.  Allen works for the the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  They had two solo kayaks and considerable experience paddling the area.  They also liked short day trips that would appeal to Carol and I.  Allen went over the canoe map and showed me a half dozen promising outings.

The next morning was rainy but promised to clear after lunch.  I took the opportunity to visit Placid Boatworks where two guys are making a 12 foot light weight solo canoe called the Spitfire.  I got to try the canoe on the pond behind the shop.  It handled well and tracked nicely when pushed hard.  The boat was attractive and weighted 19 pounds.  Very nicely done.

After lunch it cleared and I headed to Polliwog Pond just two miles and two ponds east of Floodwood Pond.  Allen had showed me a six mile circuit through four ponds and four carries.  I wanted to try an outing with carries which are so traditional to the area experience.  None of the canoe carries were much longer than 200 yards.  The circuit going counter clockwise runs through Polliwog Pond, Little Polliwog Pond, Horseshoe Pond and Follensby Clear Pond returning to Polliwog Pond.

I put in at the north end of Polliwog Pond off Floodwood Road near three car accessible campsites.  A couple of families were enjoying the spot with the kids playing in the pond with numerous inflatable water toys.  As soon as we cleared the the first point to the south we were all alone.  At the southwest end of the pond I found the carry and within five minutes the canoe was in the Little Polliwog Pond.  There was no one here.  It could have been two hundred years ago.  A loon surfaced ten feet from the canoe and gave out a piercing call.  I'm wasn't sure of his meaning but I don't think he was giving me a friendly welcome.  After a short time he dove and I expected him to come up 30 or 40 yards away which is the behavior I had seen before.  But, up he popped along side the canoe and repeated his message again.  Nuts, the camera was in the dry bag.  I paddled on to the next carry leaving him to the center of the pond.

The next carry put me in at the northwestern tip of Horseshoe Pond.  True to its name we paddled east around a peninsula which had an enticing vacant camp site on the tip.  What a great spot for a lunch.  I will be tempted to bring Carol back here.  There was no one on the pond.  We are talking about serious quiet.  We passed the point and headed towards the south west tip of horseshoe.  There is an unmarked carry there and I had to pass close along the shore looking for the hint of a path.  On the second pass I found it and in a few minutes we were across to the southwest end of Follensby Clear Pond.  I was surprised that only an hour and half had passed since we started and though the carries were quite easy with the 11 pound canoe I had discovered that doing carries, though a tradition, was a highly over rated experience.  I would much rather spend the time floating.

Feeling rather good about myself, I decided there was time for an hour side trip.  We turned south to the Spider Creek Passage that departs through a corrugated culvert just wider than the double paddle.  The passage delivers you into Fish Creek Ponds and through another passage Fish Creek Bay.  This Bay is on Upper Saranac Lake where Carol and I rowed the our guideboat to Buck Island for lunch on our last visit.  This was treat for me because I was looking east out of Fish Creek Bay at the rock on Buck Island where Carol and I had enjoyed our lunch.  It was like the two legs had become linked into one summer experience.

This area has a thick population of powerboats and though polite in their behavior to paddle craft, it was time to retreat back through the culvert to the quieter waters on Follensby Clear Pond.  Follensby Clear Pond is the largest of the ponds we traveled today but it is well broken up with islands and narrows so the slight breeze was little trouble.  We were quickly on our way north to our last carry.  As a novice paddler I was able to verify one of the immutable facts of canoeing - That is when doing a circuit or an out-and-back trip the wind will be against you the whole time.

After a short search I found the last unmarked carry.  The carry dropped us just five hundred yards from the take-out on Polliwog Pond. In a few minutes I floated along side the kids swimming off the nearby campsites.  They told me they were having a great time and resumed their roughhousing as I pulled the Black Jack onto the sandy beach.

My third day dawned bright and clear.  There was a threat of late afternoon thunder showers but that was no issue as I had discovered after two days of paddling that for me, four hours paddling was a full day.  For a completely different experience I headed to Axton Landing put-in on the Raquette River.  This stretch of the river runs out of the north end of Long Lake which is about twelve mile south of lower end of Upper Saranac Lake.  The river passes over a nasty stretch called Raquette Falls and then for ten miles it meanders quietly north to Axton Landing just south of Upper Saranac Lake before taking a hard left and flowing on to Simon Pond and Tupper Lake ten miles to the west.  Axton Landing was conveniently placed for me about 25 minutes by car from the B&B.

After providing a great breakfast, Dick packed me a trail lunch and I was at Axton Landing put-in by mid morning.  Arriving at the same time were John and Gretchen Loase, two teachers with two vintage Hornbeck canoes.  Their canoes showed the markings of a lot of use including multiple strips of duct tape.  For the rest of the outing we would off and on be paddling in company.

A half mile south The Raquette River Monster  awaits the unwary paddler(see picture at right).  I'm sure legend has it that those paddlers failing to keep a close eye on the the dragon are never heard from again.  I can say that by keeping good eye contact while passing this fiend he will soon dissolve into nothing more than a large dead branch.  It worked for John, Gretchen and me.

On the map the direct distance to Raquette Falls from Axton Landing is only five miles but the river meanders to the extent that it easily ten miles by water.  It was interesting that when encountering paddlers at four miles they commented that the falls must be just around the next bend.  My GPS and chart said they were in for never ending disappointment or at least for six more miles.

After an hour and a half I pulled up to a campsite with an empty lean-to and enjoyed lunch.  After a good stretch and walk around, I headed back down stream.  The gentle wind and current was with us.  This was a paradox given my previous observation that the wind is always on the nose.  This led me to doing an imitation of Huck Finn.  I found the most comfortable semi-reclined position in the canoe and drifted using only an occasional touch of the paddle to steer the bends.

We soon came upon a maple tree uprooted and leaning over the river bank.  One by one pale green leaves dropped into the river and soon we had the company of a dozen leaves as we floated along.  It was curious to note that these leaves and their brothers were along side for miles.  As I looked into the water some were caught by the water grasses and remained in their grip.  Further down these leaves could be seen below the surface in shades of yellow and then dark brown as they saturated and decayed.

These outings in the 10.5 foot canoe provided some of the most intimate boating I have experienced.  See the picture at the left.  As we floated by, I could reach out and touch the petals of the closest lily.

My arrival back at the Axton Landing coincided with John and Gretchen's return.  They offered to have Carol and I visit them at their cabin on Lower Saranac Lake with a promise to show us the lake by canoe.  I remembered George Washington Sears (pen name Nessmuk) experience 125 years ago when he wrote about people along the lakes inviting him to stop at their camps during his outings.  It was a nice gesture.

I have been caught by that magic called Adirondacks. I brought home an additional Hornbeck Black Jack Canoe for Carol.

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