Tuesday, July 8, 2008

NFCT Long Lake To Axton Landing

Trip report Long Lake to Axton Landing 6/27/08-6/28/08

Patty, Brad, Sally and I arrived in Saranac early on Friday evening with enough time to visit St. Regis Outfitters who we arranged to have shuttle our car from Long Lake to our take out at Axton Landing. Great folks, very knowledgeable, and very easy to work with. They went over our itinerary with us to make sure we were both on the same page for the pick up and drop off. Of course the weather was beautiful on Friday; the forecast was for a chance of afternoon thundershowers on Saturday and the same on Sunday.

We arrived at the Long Lake put in at about 9:00am and immediately began assembling the PakBoat. The milfoil guard chatted with us for awhile and after about an hour we were ready to push off. Of course it began to rain, very gently, as soon as we put our paddles in the water. We only saw a few small fishing boats and one personal water craft the whole day: perhaps they knew something about the weather that we did not.

Long lake is divided into rough thirds buy two obvious islands that provided us a goal to paddle for. The first was Round Island. We have a GPS with us as well as the NFCT map and the much more detailed Adirondacks Paddlers Map. We could easily track our progress on the lake by our position in relationship to the islands. After about an hour and a half the rain changed from a pleasant drizzle to something a bit more forceful, not bad but we stopped at a lean-to for an early lunch and to change into rain gear.

The kids are used to rain and rarely complain, we make sure that they are at least semi comfortable and they just seem to accept it as part of the trip. They have some pretty good rain gear and good quality warm clothes to wear underneath. We have found it worth the expense to make sure they are warm and dry even if they grow out of the stuff in a year.

During lunch rain the got heavier but we decided that we were in no danger so we continued on up the lake. We did hear a few rumbles off in the distance but nothing ever got remotely close to us. With our sights on Camp Islands we paddled on though the rain, six year old Sally even took a nap! She had been to the doctor earlier in the week and we were told she had strep throat. She seemed fine so we decided to do the trip anyway, I was a bit worried but it was only a nap and nothing worse. We passed several more lean-tos and figured that we should keep on going because we were certainly not going to get any wetter.

Just as we got to the end of the lake and were deciding if we should call it a day the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a bit. Long Lake is 9.5 miles long and it rained hard for about 6 miles of it. It forced us to keep a steady pace and we made good time. We had a floating snack to get everyone spirits and energy level up and continued into the Raquette River. I will admit I initially went the wrong way and had to wade through some mud to get on route. Every route description I read said stay left, it’s no wonder I ran aground when I tried to cross from the right.

I don’t want to sound like we didn’t have a good paddle down the lake, we had several things working in our favor. We had no wind; I would rather have rain than a head wind anytime. We saw only one power boat on the lake once it started raining. It looks like this lake could be quite busy on a nice sunny summer day. The temperature was perfect for steady paddling I wore only a raincoat and tee shirt and was neither cold nor hot. Brad loves the GPS and kept track of our total mileage and speed as we went along and told us about landmarks that he saw on the maps. All in all it was a very enjoyable trip even though it poured rain for most of it.

Once we entered the Raquette River the bugs came out so we put on some bug dope and kept to the middle of the stream when possible. The river is very nice and there was more current than I had expected. I would have loved to have spent some time birding and fishing but we thought we should probably keep going to see if we could get a lean-to for the night in order to attempt to dry our some clothes. A side trip up Cold River looked interesting but will have to wait for another trip. We did let the kids get out and explore a little bit at one of the campsites.

Brad decided to do some fishing and caught a nice smallmouth bass. There are few things that make an eight year old happier that catching a fish. I wish we could have spent more time fishing but we had to move on to find a place to spend the night.

Due to a map reading error we went by the last lean-to thinking that there was one more between the us and the carry. We eventually discovered our error when it was way too late to turn around. We decided to push on and camp at the carry landing. At about 6:00pm the rain began to pick up again and this time was accompanied by much louder thunder. I could sense it was just a matter of time before we were hit by a storm and was very glad to see the signs for the carry. They would be very hard to miss. There were "no camping" signs at the take out so Patty headed up the trail to see if she could find a site or at least a place to wait out the storm.

She found the ranger and a father and son group camping at a site just up the hill from river and they kindly invited us to share the site with them. The storm was gaining on us so we did a fast set up of the tarp and got all the bags underneath as soon as we could. The kids were great and did a super job of ferrying some of the smaller items up the hill to the site. We managed to get the tent set up just as the meat of the storm hit. We shuffled the kids inside to get into dry clothes and draw in their journals. Patty and I started cooking dinner. She sent me filter water but the rain was coming off the tarp so hard I filled a six liter pot in about 2 minutes and then a couple of water bottles before the rain began to let up.

At one point a group of four in a Wenonah Minnesota 4 arrived at the carry. They were doing our two day trip as an afternoon outing. They had to take out for the thunderstorm but were still figuring they could make it to Axton Landing by dark. I was jealous of them, their trip something I would have done when I was younger.

We had a great dinner, a soup course followed by Ramen, olives, chicken chunks, broccoli, and cheese. Dishes were done and an attempt was made to organize our stuff once the rain stopped. Soon it was 8:30 and Patty read the kids some stories while I tried to figure out the best way to do the 1.25 mile carry in the morning. Usually I don’t sleep well on the ground and it was not helped by Brad who was next to me. He sleeps like a pin ball game.

I woke at dawn but waited till 6:00am to start the carry. On the first trip I took the PakBoat, all four paddles, and the adult PFDs along with some other stuff wedged under the seats. I did the carry with two stops, at one of them I watched a dear eating leaves along the trail. She looked my way several times and I moved a little bit to make sure she saw me. She seemed very comfortable with me so I rested a few minutes and eventually she ran off into the woods when I put the boat back over my head. At the far end I passed the lean-to and campsite where a group of college kids were just getting up. The walk back gave me time to take a good look at the trail, I was told not to bring a cart because the trail was to rough. I think I might have found the cart useful in all but a few spots. I’m glad I didn’t have a heavier boat. After a cool and pleasant walk back I found Patty just setting up for breakfast so I took my personal pack and the Wenonah Wilderness as well as some smaller things stuffed under the seats. No deer this time but a lot more action at the other end where everybody was up, cooking, packing, and complaining about the weather and the bugs. I spoke with Gary the ranger for a few minutes and headed back to the beginning again, hoping for only one more trip.

When we got to the put-in Gary the Ranger was there to talk to the kids and gave them each an Adirondack carry sign, one of those yellow disks that mark the carries. He’s a great guy and an asset to the park, I’ll bet he has some funny stories to tell. The camp group was just starting out for the day and looked like they might need a little work on their J-strokes. We packed up and headed out for the final 6 miles of our trip with the usual discussion of who got the GPS and maps.

Once again the current was stronger than I expected. I had read somewhere that the water was backed up to here from Setting Pole Dam so I thought there would be little or no current. After about ¾ of a mile we discovered that Brad had left his Fishing pole at the put in so we had to paddle back up stream to get it. I’m glad we are doing the NFCT in sections so we can avoid as much of the upstream stuff as possible. I have great respect for the folks that do the trail all in one direction and spend days going upstream in NH and VT.

We paddled lazily down stream with the added bonus of a tail wind. Brad and I tried to reconcile the GPS with the map and Patty worked on her sit and switch solo technique. At one point we spotted a Bald Eagle perched in a very tall White Pine that was leaning out over the river. It flew away before I could get the camera out. I think we have seen Bald eagles on everyone of our NFCT trips. The river changes a bit below the carry and the woods become predominantly silver maple, it must be beautiful in the fall. We stopped for lunch at a lean to and I nearly fell asleep as I worried about how my body would feel tomorrow after doing all the portaging this morning. I vowed to drink lots of water and took a couple of aspirin. The sun eventually came out and the kids did a bit of swimming.

The final few miles were uneventful, we passed a group of four canoes headed up stream, the only other paddlers we passed on the water in two summer weekend days on one of the most popular trips within the blue line. I made a mental note of the turn up Stoney Creek so I can find it when we return to do the next section. The bugs were bad at the take-out so we did a rush job stuffing the car and were soon off to find ice cream and coffee for the ride home.

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