Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lake Champlain - Plattsburgh to Swanton

I’ve been waiting all summer to get a good window of weather so I could do the Plattsburgh to Swanton section of the NFCT. Finally no important obligations and a weather report of warm temperatures, sunny weather, and mild winds saw me leaving for Plattsburgh on Friday night.

The plan was to paddle about 23 miles to North Hero Island the first day and then about 12 miles to Swanton on the second. I reserved a campsite at Cumberland Bay State Park and arranged for a shuttle to meet me in Swanton on Sunday. Carl and Shelly at the Swanton Motel are trying to increase business so they are offering a shuttle service for people canoeing locally. The shuttle issue has always been one of the most difficult things for me deal with on these trips and it’s good to have an resource in Swanton. The state park was quieter than I expected so I had a good nights sleep until my alarm went on at 5:15. I quickly packed up my stuff and was at the public launch on the Saranac River and on the water right about 6:00, just as the sun was rising over Cumberland Head. The water seemed calm as I paddled east directly across the bay.

After about 2/3 of a mile the water started to get choppy and the wind picked up out of the south causing the water to get quite rough. The first part of the crossing is protected buy a breakwater that I hadn’t notice before, I decided to go straight for Cumberland Head Light figuring that the worst thing that could happen was that I would dump and I’d have to hold on to the boat until the wind pushed me to land in about a mile and a half. The water grew steadily rougher, enough to make me slightly nervous but I felt stable enough in a kneeling position that I didn’t think I would tip. I don't think it would have been an issue at all if I hadn't been alone.

At Cumberland Head the wind hadn’t gotten any worse so I decided to go ahead and make the mile and a half crossing over to South Hero Island. By now it was about 7:00 and the sun was up and I could see where I was going and what I was aiming for. I also had much better depth perception in the full light of day. In low light conditions it’s hard to tell where the closest land is, of course if you look at the map you can tell.
I watched the ferries travel back and forth and in about half on hour I was near enough to the shore to turn north and look for a place to land for a late breakfast. Once I got near the shore I was protected from the southeast wind, the paddling was easier, and took a lot less concentration. I stopped at the public boat access about a 2.5 miles north of the ferry dock at Gordon Landing. I used the outhouse and had some fruit and water on the lawn.
I passed several Vermont public boat access points on this trip and they were all very clean with no litter, have a clean and well stocked outhouse, and pleasant place to sit and rest. This was nice because nearly all of the rest of the the shoreline is private property.

The next landmark was Nichols Point and the entrance to The Gut. Here I found many nice big expensive sailboats moored. It was quite pretty. At least half were from Canada, I asked if it was a usual thing and was told that on nice weekends it's common to see lots of sailboats anchored overnight in the protected area.

I passed through The Gut to the east side of the island into the Inland Sea and returned to the wind. The waves from the wind and the chop from the motor boats made the paddling difficult again but I made steady progress toward North Hero. Because I was close to shore there was no real danger but the rough water made going in a straight line difficult and I was constantly having to correct my course and pay attention the water. When I got to City Bay I stopped on a beach and had some food and water and took a nap in the shade. I was making good time and wasn’t worried about getting to the campground.

After I woke up I was got ready to fight the wind and waves for several hours on my way up to North Hero State Park. I was on the east side of the Island because that'swhere the NFCT map said to go. A careful reading of the trail description said it was possible to portage over or go under Rte.2 about a mile north of where I was. This would lead to more protected waters so I set out looking for the carry.

Rte 2 is obvious but the culvert was hidden, when I eventually found it there was just barely enough room for me to squeeze through. It was a little unnerving to hear and feel the cars go overhead especially because of a noticeable low point in the middle of the tunnel.

The paddling through Carry Bay was nice, now that I was out of the wind the heat was more of an issue so I made sure to drink plenty of water and I dipped my hat in the lake often to keep it wet. I rounded Blockhouse point and headed up the Alburg Passage toward the Rte 2 bridge.

If you read the Trail Updates on the NFCT website and look at the map carefully it’s not too hard to find the landing and trail to the campground. There’s a Lake Champlain Paddlers’ Trial sign at the spot. Since it was early I paddled up to the public beach and did some reading at a picnic table. I would have done this at the campsite but even at mid afternoon the mosquitoes were terrible. At about 4:30 I headed back to set up camp and cook dinner. After eating I walked the ¾ of a mile to the caretakers office to register for the night. The campground is only open to Paddlers and Bicyclers, I was the only one there.

The mile and a half walk felt good after paddling all day and I got to take a look around a bit. There is a large wasp nest in site 92 but it isn’t doing anyone any harm. The whole site looks like it was built in a swamp using fill for the roads and campsites. This explains the vast quantities of mosquitoes. I cleaned up and went to bed early and had an excellent nights sleep, there is a resident Barred owl that woke me up a couple of times but I love to hear them call.

I woke up shortly after 4:00 to go to the bathroom. I tried to get back to sleep but decided to get moving. I was on the water at 5:00 and the sun was just starting to lighten the sky as I left Stony Point and crossed north east to Clark Point, unfortunately the wind was also starting to pick up. I was surprised at the strength the wind but the crossing was only a hair over mile so I reached relative safety in less that a half hour. I followed the shoreline to the northwest and soon I was protected from the wind. I passed under the railroad trestle and then the new Rte 78 bridge and headed towards the mouth of the Missisquoi River just south of the border with Canada.
Since it was still early I decided to take the trip to the heron rookery and do a little exploring and in the NWR. I saw several types of ducks, some osprey, some herons, and lots of wildflowers. Purple Loosestrife is an unwanted invasive plant but is sure is pretty, the Arrowhead was also blooming . I was surprised at how colorful the Swamp maple was. I think we're going to have a great foliage season this year. the last 4 miles whereinto a stiff breeze and I reached the take- out at Louie’s Landing right before 10:00 and called for the shuttle.

Monday, August 3, 2009

NFCT Lake Memphremagog

The long day trip to Lake Memphremagog was to complete another fragment that I needed to do in order to reach my goal of section paddling the NFCT. My only realistic choice was to paddle from Newport, VT to Perkins Landing in Canada and back, about 24 miles. I got to see the trail from both directions on this trip. I was up at 5:30 and on the road by 6:00, I arrived in Newport at about 9:30 and was on the water by 10:00.

This isn’t my favorite type of paddling because it involves long monotonous stretches of shoreline without any surprises or changes of scenery. On the plus side the weather couldn’t have been much better. I suppose I could have had a tail wind both ways but that’s asking a bit much. The wind was out of the southeast as I started, just strong enough to be a help and not so strong as to cause a problem. The first 5.5 miles went by uneventfully and I soon reached the Canadian Custom station at Leadville Wharf. I used the phone-on-an-arm and called Canadian Customs and spoke to a nice woman who asked some questions, gave me a number and sent me on my way. I’m sure she was watching me on the little camera attached to the abandoned customs house. This is another great example of one of the quirky little things that you have to deal with on the trail. The shoreline becomes much steeper at the border and the number of houses decreases. For a while there were some modest lake homes, as I got closer to Owl’s Head Mountain there were some huge houses that reminded me of Lake Tahoe. One of them had some impressive topiary between it and the water.
There are some pretty obvious landmarks as you head north that I used as goals as I paddled. It seemed to break up the trip a bit. The boat traffic increased steadily as I progressed towards Perkins Landing. There were lots of fishing boats anchored at the narrowest and deepest part of the lake near Owl’s Head. Between there and the turn around point the water was very choppy from the heavy boat traffic. It was difficult to paddle in a straight line with the waves coming form all different directions. I hate jet skis. Perkins Landing was very busy probably due to the rare sunny weather we were having. It was overflowing with cars and trailers as well as people waiting in line to get in or out of the water but everyone seemed happy to wait their turn. There is a nice little beach that was being enjoyed by several families. I landed and used the restrooms, took some pictures, ate a light snack and started on my return trip. I always keep 2 or 3 PowerBars in my thwart bag just in case I need something to eat in an emergency. Since I forgot to bring the food I left on the kitchen counter it was a good thing I had them. I also keep a few single serving of powdered GatorAide for the same reason. Now have to remember to replace them.

The wind had shifted and was now from the southwest so by staying close to shore I had no issues with wind. The chop from the boats was worse on the way back. The trip north took me just over three hours of paddling with ½ hour of stopped time. I was figuring on about 4 hours for the trip back.

The return trip was pretty much the slog I expected it to be. The scenery was nice I enjoyed watching the Sailboats that were on the other side of the lake where the wind was better. I have some feelings about what is appropriate lakeside development and what is inappropriate and I took a picture that I think sums it up. I prefer lakes with no development but I understand that people are going to want to have lakeside houses. I strongly prefer modest buildings that at least make an effort to blend in with the surroundings. I have seen lots of buildings, even large ones, that are set back a little bit, have some landscaping between them and the lake and in general are pleasing to the eye. Others are really ugly. I don’t understand why some people have to be in your face so much. The last three miles into Newport seemed to take forever, part of this was that I lost much of my protection from the wind, my sunburn was starting to bother me, and I was getting sore and tired. I landed at 5:00 and was home by 9:30. I think this trip was good training for Lake Champlain.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

NFCT Jackman to Rockwood, ME

We left Carrabasett Valley at a reasonable hour and drove the circuitous route to Jackman arriving at about noon. Out first stop was at the local grocery store where I purchased some last minute lunch items while listening to Nancy Sinatra sing “These Boots Were Made for Walking” on the stores sound system. It was a bit surreal but the folks were all very nice.
I put-in at the Rte 201 Bridge over the Moose River. It took a few minutes to get all my gear ready and to do the last minute idiot checks to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I was soon off and paddling, after the first mile there are only a few camps along the river and it was a peaceful ride. The wild flowers were excellent and I saw several great examples of Canada Lily.
It’s about 7 miles to the west end of Long Lake, the drizzle and hopes of seeing a moose kept me going at a steady pace. Near the entrance to the lake the river opens up a bit and I got to see my first moose of the trip, a large cow who looked a bit bothered that I was on her river. She slowly climbed the bank and headed to the woods. Since it was alternating rain and heavy mist I didn’t have my camera ready to get a picture.
As the trees transitioned to wetlands I realized that I had been sheltered from the wind and that the trip down the lake wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped. The wind was out of the northwest and made the paddling strenuous as it pushed the canoe around. I made good progress mostly because I was alone and needed to continue paddling in order to keep the canoe going in the correct direction. Long Lake was very nice, it has camps sprinkled along the shore but it’s certainly not over developed. I was 1/2 way to the eastern end before I saw two kayakers near the Lower Narrows. They were the only two boats I saw on the 7 mile long lake. I didn’t see any of the marked campsites but I really didn’t look too hard. I got a little confused entering the Moose River again as there are some islands not shown on the map. The easiest way to find the outlet is to look for The current bending grass on the bottom of the lake. The 2 miles of river were great. It was nice to be out of the wind again, the scenery was fantastic, and the white water was either easy or just challenging enough without being scary. I got to see my second moose and if there had been more time I would've liked to have done some fishing because the trout were rising. The landing at the Demo Road Bridge was a little difficult because there’s a strainer at the take out which sort of forces you to head into the current, additionally the water was high due to all the rain. I wouldn't have wanted to get sucked into the drop below the bridge. I got all my gear up to the road and organized in the canoe and began the three mile Demo Portage. At least the rain had stopped. The NFCT map is incorrect and the description is misleading. The first fork is at .5 miles and then you go an ADDITIONAL 1.5 miles to the turn-off on the one lane track in the description. The turn is AFTER the Demo Brook at the top of rise and at the beginning of a gentle turn to the north. The turn-off was well marked. I then headed down the single lane overgrown dirt road, at one point I had to wade through knee deep water and the cart flipped. After getting everything back together I began looking for a good camping spot. It was late and I was tired and it had begun to rain again. I'm glad I did the portage on a cool cloudy evening rather than during a hot sunny day. I got the hammock set up and dinner cooked and I went to bed. About a 19 mile day with a 1:00pm start.

It poured rain during the night but stopped by the morning. I got the gear packed up and decided to wait until I got to the water to eat because the mosquitoes were horrible. After a short walk on the road I got to the final .25 mile section through the woods. Once again the turn was well marked, it’s on the right. I had to carry the boat for the final section which probably isn’t .25 mile and is relatively easy. Judging from the footprints on the trail it is very popular with the local moose. I didn’t see any human tracks. The put in was small but nice and the campsite at the opening to Brassua Lake looked excellent. I wish I hadn’t run out of daylight the previous night and had made it that far.

The wind was quite strong on the lake and I had to hug the south shore to keep out of the worst of it. As I headed around the final point I was headed straight south into the wind and had a hard time fighting the waves, I estimate the winds at 20 to 25 mph. I was averaging about 1.5 mph on this section. I could see the dam I needed to get to 1.25 miles away across open water but there was no way I was going to be able to do the crossing so I stayed near the shore and went the long way around probably about 5.5 miles. In calm waters the trip across Brassua Lake is about 7 miles, I estimate I paddled about 12 or 13 doing my best to avoid the wind and waves and taking the safest route. Sometimes solo paddling comes down to plain old hard work and conservative decision making.

I eventually got to the dam about when the sky cleared and the sun came out. An easy carry led to the river below the dam. I guess there was a front passing through because the air dried out and the wind died down as well. I took a brief 15 minute snack & nap on the grass by the dam. My wife had been tracking me on my SPOT messenger. She would call my father in law who would look on his computer and then relay my position to Patty. Unknown to me she was on the other side of the dam at one point but couldn’t get to the side I was on.

A couple of easy rapid lead to the heavily developed river at the entrance to Moosehead Lake. Mount Kineo is an impressive landmark to head for. I eventually met up with the family at out predetermined meeting point at the bridge over the river. We went downstream and had a snack and made plans. While I paddled the last few miles to Rockwood Patty and the kids took the boat shuttle over to Kineo and hiked to the top. I organized the gear, put it into the car and took another nap. The people-watching was pretty good at the boat launch. I can’t wait to go up to the area and do some more paddling.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NFCT Flagstaff Lake

The weather on the drive north from Sebago lake was partly cloudy and windy as we headed north up to our put-in at the rte 27 bridge just outside of Stratton, Me. We shared the launch with a pontoon boat, a very friendly driver gave us an flag which we mounted in the bow of one of our canoes. It blew straight out in front of the canoe for most of the day indicating the strength of the tail wind. The water level in Flagstaff Lake is up, I have been told that in drier years there are lots of big beaches but we saw none on our whole trip. The first few miles are relatively protected but we hugged the north shore in an attempt to stay out of the wind. Out in more open water the waves and whitecaps were growing as the wind gained strength. We saw our first moose in a cove, a big bull with antlers dripping with water. A classic moose sighting that unfortunately I wasn’t close enough to to get a good picture. He slowly ambled away, like most moose I don’t think he was really scared but perhaps the WindPaddle sail Patty was using bothered him enough so that he decided to head to the woods. We did a short crossing to a stump lined “beach” after about 3.5 miles. We decided it would be a good place for lunch so we landed and got the food out. Even though we were standing directly in a steady wind of about a 15mph the mosquitoes were bothersome. This caused me some concern about dinner time that evening but the bugs weren’t too bad later.
Flagstaff Lake is shapped lie a big frown so we chose to stay on the south shore until we got to Jim Eaton Hill and could follow it’s shore west. The afternoon consisted of 7 or 8 miles of paddling and dealing with various amounts of wind and waves. We were fortunate enough to see some bald eagles. The sky threatened with some ominous looking clouds but rain never materialized.

The weather was cool but we were comfortable in our PFDs. At the end of Jim Eaton Hill we paddled .5 miles across a bay with protection from the wind and then we headed southwest along the shore. From here we had to paddle with full exposure to a strong cross wind to get into the channel that leads to Hurricane Island, our intended campsite. We made steady progress while pitching, rolling, and yawing. Soon enough we covered enough distance to get into the protection of the southern shore. It figures that right about then the wind began to die down and the sky began to clear.

We saw maybe 5 powerboats all day and I lost count of canoes after about 25. We were the only non camp canoe trip, they were all headed into the wind, I hope they made their final destinations.

11 or 12 miles wasn’t a bad day. Although we didn’t cover a lot of distance I was tired from constantly correcting the canoes direction as we got pushed around by the wind. We circumnavigated the island to find the best landing spot which is in a little cove on the South side. As is our usual practice the kids were free to explore while Patty and I set up camp. I put up the tarp and Patty set up the tent and got the sleeping stuff out. I made an attempt to start dinner but I bet two minutes didn’t go by before I had to go help one of the kids get a fishing lure out of a tree or tie a new one on. Brad caught 2 perch which made him very happy. I taught him how to remove the hook figuring he was old enough and I didn't want to have to keep doing it for him. Sally is only seven so I spent lots of time undoing tangles and retrieving stuck gear. Eventually, in spite of many distractions, I got dinner cooked. Ramen with chicken breasts and veggies. After dinner I cleaned up and sent the kids out for firewood. As usual this results in enough wood for about a 10 minute fire so Patty and I did some additional wood collecting with the kids. At some point Brad fell into the lake and had to change his clothes. We had SMORES for desert and headed to bed under a clear sky and loon music.

It was great to get up to sunny skies and smooth waters. I got to have a cup o’ coffee before the kids got up and I also got a jump on organizing the gear. After breakfast we got camp taken down and packed up. I got mad at the kids for not helping at all, Patty pointed out that I need to communicate my expectations better. She’s probably right as usual. A pleasant paddle for 3.5 miles with spectacular views of the Bigelow Range led us to our final obstacle, a 1.2 mile open water crossing to the eastern shore. We stopped and the kids climbed on rocks for while Patty and I did some map and compass work to make sure we were headed to the right place. We were in time killing mode because we had a short day, probably only 7 miles from Hurricane Island to the new Flagstaff Hut. The crossing was uneventful except that the wind decided to pick up a bit to make it interesting. It wasn’t nearly as strong as the day before but it was a direct cross wind so we had to fight a bit to maintain a straight course. We ended up at 1 mile beach which was, because of the water level, 1 mile dry-ki. We swam and had a leisurely lunch, I would have napped if I could have. Our next objective was finding the hut. From doing research I generally knew where it was but I had heard that it wasn’t visible form the lake. We paddled north along the shore and headed into a cove where I thought I heard a generator. I later learned that it was the huts generator and they were doing some maintenance on their solar electrical system and were balancing the batteries. We paddled out of the cove, around the point, followed the shore and eventually discovered the dock. Sally and Brad headed up to check things out while Patty and I unloaded gear and got the boats up on shore. The kids helped carry gear up to the check in.
The hut is beautiful and well worth the stay. It cost us $185.00 and included a 4 person bunkroom, dinner and breakfast. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable and very accommodating. They have nice bathrooms and showers, the food was excellent and plentiful. After checking in and getting settled I read and took a nap, I’m not sure what the others did. My cousin and his wife and son shuttled our car and then walked in for 2 miles to have dinner with us. The staff let us eat on the screened in porch. After dinner we talked while the kids played hide and seek and generally had a great time. The next morning we got up and had a great pancake breakfast before loading up and heading north to the takeout at the boat launch just above Long Falls Dam, about a 2 mile paddle. We packed up, looked at the seaplane that was tied up and then drove to below the dam to look around and scout a future trip.