Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mansonville Quebec to Enosburg Falls

After a night in a motel we spent Friday morning driving up Rte 105 and scouting the Missisquoi River and some of the rapids and portages we would be doing in the next few days. We eventually found the take- out at Lawyers Landing in Enosburg Falls, left a car for the shuttle, and stuffed the four of us and all our gear into our little car for the ride north into Canada and eventually the put in. The border crossing was uneventful. The kids were a bit intimidated by the immigration officers, they were very friendly but you can tell they're observing your body language and they always look directly into your eyes. Since we were going to do this crossing four times I figured we might as well get used to it.

We stopped at Canoe and Co. in Glen Sutton to make sure we could camp there for the night. Francois is a great guy and he has a nice little business going. Since I forgot to bring a paddle for Brad so we rented one and headed up to Mansonville and the put-in. There were several other people putting in in kayaks so we chose to eat lunch and let them have a head start. I guess the trip from Mansonville to Glen Sutton is a popular half day paddle.

At the put-in we got our first experience with the incredibly slippery clay banks of the Missisquoi. The river runs through a layer of clay that makes even a small three or four foot sloped bank very difficult to go up and down. We slipped up and down while loading the canoes, an exercise that would be repeated many times over the next three days.

This section of river is very pleasant flowing through farmland with an occasional riffle or short class one rapid. There was a flood the previous week that left the bushes on the bank marked with grey silt several feet up. The water is muddy looking due to the clay, while the silting is natural the water is not drinkable or filterable due the agricultural runoff. If you paddle this section plan on bringing your own water. We

arrived sooner than expected at the beautiful stone steps leading to Francois's back yard. While we setup our tent the kids picked berries and played with the softball they found in the river. Patty and I cooked dinner. After dinner I cleaned up while Patty and the kids went into Mansonville for ice cream. When they got back they still had time to head up stream to the little rapids formed where Brock River inters the Missisquoi. The kids had a lesson in eddys and got to paddle the rapids several times. After a really nice sunset we went to sleep. usual we didn't get started until about nine the next morning. It was a beautiful day with a cerulean sky, gentle breeze, and puffy white clouds. The humidity was low and the air had a very autumn like feel to it. It was warm, in general a perfect day to paddle. After 5 or 6 miles of peaceful meandering paddling we passed under the international bridge, landed our boats and headed up the path to the border station. Once again the agents were very friendly and told us that they were not going to go down to the river to look at our gear. I was more relieved that we didn't have to bring it up to them for inspection. We went out on the bridge and took the standard pictures of the kids on each side of the border and spent some time scouting the rapids just downstream.

Once you enter theUS the river speeds up a bit and there are more sections of white water.
The first set of rapids was really fun, only Class I but there was some maneuvering required. We are not accomplished white water paddlers so even easy rapid like this provide us and the kids with some excitement and gratification. Quick water and riffles lead to Stevens Mills where there is a short class II rapid . We chose to scout and run these before we stopped on the stone bank for lunch. Patty got a bit sideways and I got a bit farther into the bigger waves than I wanted but we both made it through without tipping or taking on water. This rapid is about our limit with the kids. We chose to run it because it was short with a nice pool at the bottom, the water was warm, and we had one of us on the bank if anything went wrong. The kids thought it was great and wanted more. We had a great lunch and the kids got to play in the cold clear Stanhope Brook.

We had a lot more paddling ahead so we headed off towards Richford as soon as we cleaned up. More pleasant paddling with the occasional easy set of rapids, meandering through islands, and route finding trying to determine the channel with the most water. One of us occasionally chose wrong and we had to drag for a few feet to get to deeper water. If the water was any lower we would have had a lot more problems but fortunately it has been a wet summer.

It's interesting paddling this section of river. The banks are high enough to hide many of the signs of civilization from view. Occasionally you get a view of a road or farmhouse but in general you are protected from seeing much other than the edges of cornfields and large stands of silver maple and cottonwood. All this ends when you take out for the portage through Richford. This is a classic NFCT carry though small village. We stopped and got a treat at a convenience store and became the town oddity for about a half a mile as we portaged down the main street. The normal portage trail crosses a bridge but it is being repaired so we had to follow a detour which added only a small distance to the carry. You would think that the locals would be used to seeing a family of four, covered with clay, with two canoes, one on a cart loaded with gear, all walking through town eating chocolate.After the put-in at Davis Park the nice paddling continues with really nice views of the northern Green Mountains. Magoon Ledges was a bit of a letdown, according to the map a class II rapid can form here but at this water level it wasn't much more than a riffle with a strong current. We passed under twin bridges which confused the kids because the bridges are different; we ended up having a long discussion about this.

Both Brad and Sally spent some time in the water hanging onto the back of the canoes as we drifted downstream. This is an activity that they both really enjoy, it makes for slow going but it keeps the kids spirits up.

Soon we arrived at the Doe Campground, it's obvious when you get there because it sits up on a bank about 75 feet above the water. The take-out is just downstream and once you negotiate the four foot high slippery clay bank the walk up the hill is not as bad as you would expect. It was nice to use our leg muscles for a change ferrying loads up the site. This is one of the best sites that I’ve stayed at on the trail. It has great views, a big picnic table, it catches a breeze to keep the bugs away, and there were lot and lots of blackberries. I wouldn't want to watch a big thunderstorm approach from Lake Champlain but we didn't have to worry about that.

The kids had a great time playing while Patty and I set up camp and made dinner. After supper I cleaned up the dishes and got the tent and my hammock ready for the night. Patty headed down to the river to wash off some of the mud and go for a swim to cool off. It was a beautiful cool late summer evening, it doesn't get much better than this. You could do a great overnight trip starting at the border, spending the night at Doe Campsite and then taking out at
Enosburg Falls.I really overslept on Sunday morning, my alarm went on at 6:00 but I went back to sleep until 8:00. Sally woke me up with a cup of hot coffee. I had really wanted to get an early start so that we would get home at a reasonable hour, oh well. It was a cool foggy morning so everything was damp. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and we soon were packed up and headed down to the boats with our gear. Sally wrote in the register book during breakfast and cleanup. Brad usually sleeps until the last possible minute so he was a bit groggy until we got going.

It’s only a short paddle to East Berkshire and we chose not to stop because the weather was looking threatening and I wanted to leave plenty of time for any carries we might have to do. You do get some nice views along this section but the mountains to our east were cloud covered. Sally was getting cold so we stopped to get her something warm to wear. Soon we were approaching the broached dam at Samsonville. The map says that this is easily line-able but we couldn’t figure out how. Maybe in the spring when there is no vegetation but in late August there was no way we could line this easily or safely so we portaged/dragged out boats about 100 ft to a nice put-in below the breached dam. I think we all really wanted to give this first section a try but it was just a bit too dangerous and there was a good possibility one of us (probably me) would have tipped. The next quarter of a mile is great fun with just enough excitement and white water. The big S-turn around the island leads to a short class II-III drop that we easily avoided by a lift and carry on the left.

After this the river begins its impoundment behind the dam in Enosburg Falls. I promised Sally we would stop at the next available spot for lunch. The river follows a large meander away from the road and there is only a step clay bank for maybe two miles. At two different times some animal dove into the water from the thick undergrowth on the bank as soon as I had passed. I am suspecting they were muskrats but the kids were thinking otters or bank beavers. We eventually ended up having lunch on a flat rock only about 6”X10” near the shore. We tied one boat on each side an all climbed up on top to eat carefully avoiding the bird droppings. After lunch we proceeded down stream to the takeout into a steadily increasing headwind. We moved from shore to shore to try and stay in the protected water below the banks. This was mostly a waste of energy because the wind was headed pretty much directly up stream no matter which direction we were headed.

The river begins to be more of a pond and soon we were at the take-out at Lawyers Landing. After packing up all our wet and muddy gear we headed north to the border to get our car back from Canoe and Co. in Glen Sutton. On our final border crossing into the US they decided to look at our stuff but as soon as border agent opened the back of my car and saw and smelled the wet socks, shoes, clothes, and muddy pack he decided to let us go. We stopped for ice cream and coffee and headed south.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

NFCT Old Forge to Long Lake

Day One

I woke early on Friday 8/1 and ended up messin' around the house for a bit killing time before heading off on the drive up to the Adirondacks and my meeting at noon in Blue Mtn. Lake with the shuttle from Mountain Man Outfitters in Old Forge. Since I allowed plenty of time to get lost, take bathroom breaks , and get coffee I arrived an hour early and had time to do a little shopping to get the kids presents. All the shuttling went well and I ended up getting packed and pushing off in Old Forge at about 1:30. The Put-in in Old Forge is very public and I was a bit self conscious loading all my gear into the boat while answering questions from the curious tourists. I was very pleased to push off and get going on the first leg of the trip. It was a beautiful day and there was a nice tail wind that I was looking forward to enjoying on my way down the Fulton Chain of Lakes. A protected channel soon leads to First Lake which opens up to great views of the surrounding hills. The first four lakes in the chain are very settled along the shore and I had heard that they were very busy with motorboats. Probably because it was a Friday the boat activity wasn’t as bad as I expected and the paddling and scenery was very pleasant.

I ended up using my new sail as much as I could and with the steady wind I averaged about 3.5 MPH with very little effort. My max speed was 5.7MPH which is by far the fastest I have gone solo in a canoe other than in white water. The power boats were for the most part very courteous and either slowed down or kept their distance from me. The houses along the shore point where well kept and it was interesting looking at the architecture and landscaping. The Shoal Point Lighthouse is out of the ordinary to look at and the views along the north shore are really nice.

The channel between Fourth Lake and Fifth Lake is unique; it’s kind of like a side street with residential houses, a store, and a gas station all along banks. This leads to quiet little Fifth Lake which has a 5mph speed limit and no wake regulation which I obeyed. At the east end is the first carry which is hard to see but easy to find. Once you’re at the landing you can see an outhouse about a hundred feet up the trail. When you get to the outhouse there is a NFCT kiosk and registration box hidden off to the right. The outhouse was well stocked with reading material; I would recommend bringing your own TP. Just as advertised the carry trail leads to a busy road where you become the momentary attraction for the vacationers speeding by. The trail goes right by a convenience store great for any last minute food or chocolate you might need.

When I arrived at the Sixth Lake put-in there was a nice older couple sitting on the bench enjoying the warm evening sun. We talked for a bit about the area and the weather before I headed towards Seventh Lake. The trail immediately passes an Island with a nice house on it. I wonder what the island houses use for sewage, there was certainly not enough room for a septic system. I soon passed under a bridge and into Seventh Lake and began my search for a camp site.

I passed an occupied lean-to and soon found a very nice site that was marked by a large boulder on the shore. I t seemed like a quiet site so I set up camp. I prefer a site that gets morning sun but because of the general east west orientation of the lake I assume I wouldn’t find one. I set up the hammock and made some soup and Ramen noodles for dinner. After cleaning up I walked around a bit, talked to a passing kayaker, and then got in into the sleeping bag and read for awhile before falling asleep.

Sometime during the night I was woken to the sounds of a very vocal party going on at the public landing across the lake from me. The lake is quite wide here but because the water was so calm the noise sounded like it was right next door. They played some 80’s rock and fired off their guns a few times. I heard some arguing as well as sing-alongs and laughter. This went on until about two when they either passed out, went home, or went to sleep. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, I slept through a lot of it and they were just having a good time. I learned to be a bit more critical when choosing a site, besides I was sleeping behind a boulder which protected me form the gunfire.

Day Two

I woke up early but fell asleep again and didn’t get up until 7:00. I was a bit upset about this because I wanted to get to Raquette Lake early in order to avoid any wind. I forced myself to eat some oatmeal for energy and packed up quickly and headed out. The weather had turned overcast during the night and was threatening rain.

The carry from Seventh Lake to Eighth Lake Passes through a campground and even though it was about 8:30 not many people were up and around. It was nice to be able to get fresh water without pumping and to use a nice toilet. I did get some stares as I wheeled the loaded canoe past lots of elaborate campsites and tarp set ups. I passed one huge motor home aptly called “The Intruder”. I had the beach to myself as I put in for the trip down Eighth Lake.

Eighth Lake is quite nice but also short. There were no houses on the lake and the road that parallels the south shore is hidden although you can hear traffic occasionally. With almost no wind the paddle was very peaceful and I think the threatening rain was keeping people off the water. At the west end the 1.3 mile portage to Browns Track Inlet begins with a short and rough uphill section past the lean-to. After this the trail is pretty much flat and easily wheelable. It is hard to say where the highpoint of the carry is but it also the highpoint of the NFCT and I passed it. I really enjoy walking in the woods in rainy, cloudy, misty, weather and I really don’t mind portages at all. The woods were nice and I took pictures of wild flowers as well as the common Bunchberry and Clintonia. There is the occasional rough spot that you need to work around with the cart but it beats double carrying the portage. I was very surprised near the end to discover a tractor on the side of the trail, a short way up there was a very nice detour sign leading around some construction on the trail! I’ve never seen anything like this in the woods before. I followed the detour which led to a temporary put-in at a snowmobile bridge a bit upstream from the regular one. I heard later that they are redoing the put-in which I guess was a narrow slippery floating dock.

I enjoy very much the type of paddling that leads down Browns Tract Inlet. The stream winds through Lilies and Pickerel Weed, it smells a bit musty and there is great potential for bird watching. I saw an American Bittern and a Great Blue Herron as well as hearing many song birds. Right when I got to the regular put-in a very serious group of four paddlers with a Wenonah IV appeared obviously training for the “90 miler”. They looked at me but didn’t acknowledge that I was there. They sped off downstream occasionally running into the banks when they couldn’t make a turn in their 20’ canoe. The stream meanders through a marsh over several beaver dams that were all runable and eventually leads to Raquette Lake. At some point the rain started, very gentle at first but it steadily picked up.

By the time I got to Raquette Lake it was raining quite hard but there was very little wind. Raquette lake was my biggest worry of the trip because the predominate winds are west to east and no matter what you have to do a crossing at some point that leaves you very vulnerable to the wind especially in a small solo canoe. As I paddled steadily north the rain tapered off and eventually stopped. The up side was that the weather kept the lake almost empty of motor boats on a Saturday. I bet I saw only a dozen boats and all of them were obviously on their way to or from somewhere because they were traveling in strait lines with a sense of purpose. Most of them waved as they passed by well away form me. Very polite boaters on this lake. I stopped at Needle Island where I could get cell reception to check in with home and tell them that all was well. At Bluff point I turned east and headed to the end of Outlet Bay.

Outlet Bay seems quieter and less developed than the southern part of the lake. I saw no boats and few houses until I got to the end near the Forked Lake Carry. It’s about 4 miles from Bluff Point to the Carry and I enjoyed this section very much. The carry to Forked Lake Starts at a nice camp called Carry Side, the camp has been much improved by the current owners who are very friendly and enjoy seeing the paddlers going buy, not only have they improved their property but they’ve improved the landing as well. I was greeted by two large golden retrievers who barked and then immediately began begging for attention and beef jerkey. I spoke with the owner for a minute before I set off to Forked Lake (pronounced fork-ed). Halfway through the carry there is a phone booth. Really weird but it works, I checked.

Forked Lake was beautiful and had a very remote feeling to it. I saw two boats on the 4 mile paddle down to the east end both had fisherman in them and were fishing in the lily pads. There are no houses along the southern shore; I think this would be a great lake to spend a few day exploring. Back to reality as the portage start in Forked Lake Campground. People were scurrying around loading and unloading camping gear, I quickly passed through only stopping to top off on water and use the bathroom.

A very easy 1.5 mile carry around some class III rapids lead to a put-in with a lean to . There was a very nice local couple there just enjoying the site for the weekend. We spoke for awhile and I commented on how lucky they were to live in the area and they agreed and told me how they like to get out and enjoy it as much a possible. They’re getting married latter in August and I wish them the best. Eventually they had some friends join them so I set up the hammock, picked some blueberries, made dinner and eventually went to bed.

It rained during the night but I was dry and enjoyed the sound of the rain and river very much.

Day 3

Sunday I got up early and was very quiet so not to wake up the other campers and their dogs. I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal, packed up my gear, cleaned the slugs off of everything I left out, and headed down stream to Buttermilk Falls. It seems to be a banner year for slugs in the Adirondacks. It’s also a banner year for Cardinal Flowers. There were more than I have ever seen along the three mile section from the lean-to to the carry. Their crimson red really stands out against the faded green and yellow late season colors along the banks. I took lots of pictures. Some of my earliest recollections as a child are walking in the woods with my mother as she pointed out the wildflowers; I want her to see some pictures of the ones on my canoe trips. I think that the wet winter and summer have made this year especially good for flowers. The rivers are still high for the season and the small stream paddling has been great.

I could hear the falls well before I arrived at the carry, with the water up the falls were looking good and I can only imagine them in a full springtime flood. The carry is short but steep and I met a group of four about my age with a TON of stuff and two canoes. This was my first unwheelable carry of the trip. I got the boat loaded and then walked up stream to take some pictures of the falls. The folks camping at the falls were also getting ready to leave but they had a ways to go before they got everything packed up. They were worried that they had too much stuff for the next carry and were already complaining about all the weight they had to protage. I managed to twist my ankle a bit walking around the put in, not seriously but enough to bother me the rest of the day and remind me how important it is to be cautious and conservative when solo tripping.

The rains started again as I paddled down to the next .6 mile carry around some rapids. These rapids are marked as Class IV in Dave Cilly’s new guidebook and as Class II on the NFCT map. It doesn’t make any difference to me because I did the carry but I hope no one runs the rapids thinking they are Class II when they are really Class IV.

I took it easy on the carry because my ankle was a bit tender and met a group of three kayakers at the far end. They too were complaining about their heavy loads and were changing their plans so they wouldn’t have to do the 1.3 mile carry at Raquette Falls. On my way back to get the rest of my gear I met a person from the first group complaining about her loads, she was carrying a duffel in one hand and a cooler in the other. Back at the beginning of the portage I answered questions about packing light and then headed back to the canoe with the rest of my gear. I heard more complaints as I passed to woman with the duffel and managed to get loaded up at about the kayak group paddled out of sight.

I soon arrived into Long Lake and passed the kayakers who were sharing a ”cigarette” underneath a hemlock on the bank. The rain picked up and I soon discovered I was going to have to paddle into a headwind on the way up Long Lake to my take-out. A steady 4 miles through the rain and light head wind past some interesting homes and some cliffs brought me eventually to the bridge and takeout at the public boat landing. There were several groups putting in and taking out, I soon got my wet gear into the car, the boat on top and was on my way south back to the family.