Tuesday, July 8, 2008

NFCT Island Pond To Salem Lake

NFCT Island Pond to Salem Lake 7/4/08-7/5/08

This is the first section of the trail that I would be doing solo and I looked forward to it for many different reasons. I was very curious to see how many miles I could comfortably travel in a day when by myself. I was also looking forward to doing everything on my own terms without having to plan and accommodate the kids.

I spent Thursday night at the Clyde River Hotel after doing a bit of scouting on the drive up from Massachusetts. I was able to take a look at some of the sections of the trail as I drove east form the highway to get to Island Pond. I spoke with the owner Dave and he arranged to have a very nice local guy shuttle me and my car the following morning. I had dinner in the bar with a through paddler who told me about some of the adventures he had had on the trail. I told him about the sections he was about to do since I had done them the previous month.

I was up at six, got breakfast to-go at the store next door and ate by my boat along side the river behind the hotel. I watched a small trout have its morning meal, rising and sipping bugs off the water that flowed underneath the hotel as it came from Island Pond. After shuttling my car to the take-out at Salem Lake I loaded up my gear and headed down stream.

I immediately floated through a section of cattails that reminded me of a scene out of “The African Queen”. The morning fog still hadn’t burned off and it was a very pleasant cool temperature for canoeing. The birds were still very active and I heard and saw many different warblers as well as other birds. I soon passed though the reeds and as the fog cleared I entered a section of river lined with alders and cedar.

I soon came to the short class two drop mentioned on the map and decided that I could run it. I immediately grinded to a halt as the boat got stuck on the remnants of the dam. I got out, decided not to look at the bottom of my Kevlar boat, dragged the canoe to deeper water, got back in and continued on. Someone has cleared a way through the strainer mentioned in the map so it is no longer necessary to carry around it. This will probably change next spring when winter provides a fresh set of wood to clog up the river.

This is a really nice section of river, shaded and cool with clear water and few signs of any use by people. Along the way I heard two large animals take off through the woods when they obviously heard me approaching. I suspect moose or perhaps a bear but I only heard them and couldn’t see anything.

The next landmark was “The Tubes”. I was expecting something exotic with a name like that but it’s only a couple of large culverts underneath a road. There were some wild irises along the bank and I spent some time taking pictures. The flowers on this trip were incredible. Maybe I hit it just right but it seems that there were wild flowers everywhere and lots of them. Nothing that I hadn’t seen before but the roadsides and fields were full of different flowers in bloom; I really enjoyed it and took lots of pictures. The weather was also perfect. Blue sky, puffy white clouds, low humidity, and a gentle breeze, perfect for canoeing.

I was now entering the rare intermediate fen mentioned on the map. The river bottom was covered with grass that slowly waves in the current and the banks gradually open up to reveal vistas of the surrounding hills and farmland. I can’t really describe how pleasant this was but I wish I could visit it at different times of day, different seasons and in different weather. The river meanders in and out and splits into smaller streams that rejoin each other as you head west. It was occasionally difficult to decide which channel to take. There were lots of birds including several Great Blue Herons, an Osprey, ducks, and many smaller birds associated with wetlands. I also saw signs of otters, beavers and muskrats. This area would be a great place to spend several hours exploring. I looked up fens on the internet when I got home and there is lots of interesting information for anyone who is interested.

After passing underneath the VT Rte 105 bridge the Clyde becomes more typical of other rivers I have paddled. The banks are lined with maples and there are pastures alternating with woods. I startled several duck families along the way and the mothers did excellent wounded duck imitations trying to lure me away from the ducklings. I rate wood duck mothers as the best at this. The ducklings eventually figured out how to hide along the banks instead of constantly scurrying downstream in an attempt to outrun me. I hope the hens had no trouble gathering them back up again.

The river began to meander more and more as I approached East Charleston, at one point I went in a straight line toward a distant church steeple only to do a U-turn and go in the opposite direction before turning again to head back toward the village. I took out at the bridge in town and walked the short distance up the road to the general store as suggested in the NFCT maps route description. I ordered a BLT on toasted wheat, bought a cold drink and a candy bar for desert and headed back down to the river bank to enjoy my lunch. This is a very civilized way to dine while on a canoe trip and I recommend it to anyone who paddles the section.

I contemplated a nap but decided to push on in case I encountered anything unexpected in the afternoon. As it turns out I did encounter several of the infamous Clyde River strainers two of which I had to drag my boat over. The others had a way through or around them although it is not always obvious until you got close enough and looked from different angles. I was very careful getting through and over these logjams because of the potential to twist an ankle or impale myself on the jumble of wet logs and sharp sticks. I think I would have been more aggressive in several parts of the trip if I had not been alone.

I passed a pair of guys in a canoe fishing as I entered Pensioner Pond, the only other canoe I saw on the whole trip. I saw two kayaks further up stream. It’s a pretty little pond that I sort of rushed though because I thought there was a toilet at the boat landing. I was wrong and had to wait until I reached some woods farther along. Vermont keeps very neat and clean boat launches and they are a pleasure to visit. This one had a NFCT marker on the bulletin board so I knew I was on route.

A short paddle from the boat launch let to a section of river that soon leads to the first real carry of the trip. There is a nice little clearing full of wild flowers to organize your gear in before starting the portage. I hid some of my baggage for the second trip in the bushes and headed over the bridge and turned left up the hill past the dam and gorge. After a short steep downhill section I followed the road to a parking lot and the trail a couple of hundred feet to the put-in and the campsite. I dropped the gear and headed back for the second load. If I had brought my cart I could easily have done this in one trip, this is a perfect portage to use wheels on.

I had both loads at the campsite at 4:30pm and spent some time looking at the map to see if it I should continue on to Salem Lake and finish a day early. I figured I had at least four hours of daylight and only about 5 or 6 miles left. I decided to spend the night so I took a nap for about an hour. This turned out to be both a good and a bad decision.

I will leave out the details but that evening there was group of local youths who had a loud party on a nearby island. They had to walk by my site to get back and forth with wood for their fire and everything else you can imagine. At some point past midnight they stole my canoe and dragged it up to the parking lot. I suppose I could have been brave but I was alone and they were young and very drunk. I was very happy to leave in the morning.

Day Two

After a nice but short paddle across West Charleston Pond I found the portage trail around the dam and rapids. This is an almost ideal take-out. There was a little stone step to put your foot on when exiting the canoe so your feet don’t get wet, after 50 feet there is a nice shaded grass clearing that you can use to organize your gear, and there are plenty of bushes to hide stuff. This probably isn’t necessary because the first part on the trail is on the edge of a farmer’s field and I doubt it gets visited much. There is a great view at the top of the field and I stopped and took some pictures. After following the road a bit I ended up at the put-in where I discovered a section of white water I was not expecting. On the way back with my second load I took lots of pictures of roadside wildflowers and waved at a couple of cars who I don’t think have ever seen a canoer before. The put-in is right next to an old electrical generating plant that I pretty sure has a skunk living underneath it.

I took a bunch of pictures and then headed down stream ferrying to river left. The map states that there is a river wide ledge here so I landed and lined it. This turned out to be a good decision. I am not a very good white water paddler and I don’t think I could have paddled this drop and stayed upright especially with a loaded boat. I decided to keep on lining mostly because I was in a Kevlar boat and there was no way I could do this section without banging on a lot of rocks. There is a second and bigger ledge right above a bridge which I also lined on the left. Below here are several hundred yards of class I or easy class II water that I lined in order to protect my boat. I read somewhere that there is a lot of limestone here and I can concur. It is amazing how sharp the rocks in this section of river are.

This is the first time I have done any extensive lining and I was surprised at how difficult it is. I shouldn’t have been surprised because I have done a lot of wading in streams while fishing and I am aware of how slippery it is and how much energy it takes to keep your balance. At one point I was on the edge of the river and I found an old rusted horseshoe. I thought it would bring me good luck but I almost immediately slipped, fell in, and got totally wet. I eventually got to a section where I felt comfortable getting back in the boat and for awhile I just drifted in the current admiring the scenery.

As the river flattens out I came to a section that has an incredible amout of old tires in the bottom. This was the first time on the whole trip where I saw significant evidence of the misuse of the river. It wasn’t too bad but I began to see more man made stuff under water and along the banks. As I approached Little Salem Lake I passed a motor boat headed up stream with some fisherman, only the 4th boat I saw the during the 2 days on the water.

Little Salem Lake is quite nice, as I looked west in my direction of paddle I saw only a wall of reeds with no sign of the outlet. The GPS and map pointed where to go so that’s where I went and soon found a channel that angled off to the west and was not visible from where the Clyde River entered. I spent some time paddling through the reeds just because it was fun. The short section of river to Salem Lake leads to a point of land where several young children had waded out quite far and were only up to there waists in water. This is the first time I really missed Brad and Sally, I knew they would have had a great time here. I got stuck on the sand bar but quickly dragged the boat to deeper water and was soon at the boat landing where I had left my car the previous morning.

After a brief conversation with the milfoil guard I was on the road and headed back south thinking of what section I would do next.

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