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.


CIIcanoe said...


I just saw you made a comment on my blog. I replied to it there.

I see you have a blog and I will check it out when I get back.


Mike said...

Enjoyed the read, Chuck. Helpful insights on the NFCT trail leg of Old Forge to Long Lake, which I will do in mid/late summer '09.
Portage info was especially useful.
Thanks for sharing!
Mike (aka mjmkjun)