Hackensack River Canoe &
Indian Lake in the Adirondacks
by Jeff Bowen
June 16-19, 2006
The Adirondack Mountains in northern NY State are a paddler’s
paradise of streams, rivers and lakes nestled amid scenic mountains and arboreal
wilderness. They lie several hours north of where I live in NJ, and
opportunities to go there are infrequent. Therefore, I jumped at the chance when
trip leader Scott Hagaman announced that he had reserved island campsites on
Indian Lake, and was leading a trip there for an extended weekend. Scott
mentioned that he would have access to a motor boat which would be able to
shuttle equipment and boats if needed, thus providing an additional comfort
margin for us in the event of strong winds and long distances.
On Friday morning, six of us rendezvoused at a rest stop on the Thruway, and began the long drive north. The beautiful scenery we passed only heightened our anticipation.
When we stopped to refuel at the Town of Indian Lake, we were welcomed in the traditional Adirondack way, with the fragrance of pine in the air. We headed south along the west side of the lake to the DEC station and boat ramp where we checked in with the rangers. Then down to the lake to unload the boats.
Getting ready to launch is always one of the most hectic times on a trip like this. The gear we have brought, which looked so sparse and insufficient on the living room floor suddenly seems to have doubled or tripled in volume to the point where there is no way we can fit it all in our tiny boats. Last minutes are spent stuffing waterproof bags, and packing and repacking the boats to get the most efficient use of space, wondering what to leave in the cars and what to bring. Much of this hassle was relieved by the presence of Scott’s motorboat.
Scott and Ken Bald soon set out, heavily laden with firewood, food and various items of excess gear, towing Scott’s canoe and Ken’s kayak behind them. They would return for a second trip, as we had some very bulky items to transport.
Phil Brown had joined us by now, and he, Ed Breuel and Renee Potere were packing their gear into their boats. Marie Witt and I had our kayaks packed, and were anxious to set out on the three mile paddle to the campsite. We informed the others, and set out.
Indian Lake is a long lake, shaped much like a swimming otter with front legs tucked beneath him, two hind legs, and a long, skinny tail. We launched from what would be the left foot, our island campsite somewhere near the otter’s belly. The sun was playing hide and seek behind some fluffy white clouds, and there was wind, a lot of wind, steady, strong, and with plenty of open lake to build up speed and force. Oddly, it was coming from behind us, pushing us up the lake easily. I am unaccustomed to this kind of luck. There was almost no boat traffic on the lake, and we had gone a couple of miles when we saw Scott and Ken on the way back for their second trip. They pointed out the island we should head to, which saved us a bit of exploring. Another mile with waves quartering in from astern, and we were at the island.
As suggested by Scott, we headed for the north end of the island where there was a wide sandy beach protected from the wind…a great spot to land. Marie and I pulled our boats up and set off on foot to explore our home for the next few days.
Our island had 3 campsites on it, two of which were for our group, located on the northern and southern tips of the island. A short walk along a pleasant winding trail through the woods connected the sites. There was plenty of room for everyone’s tents and for common areas.
There were several good places to swim, take in some sun, and sufficient docking areas for our boats.
Before long the rest of our group had joined us, and we sorted out who would set their tents where, and got busy making camp. We soon were assailed by the other, less agreeable Adirondack welcomers…the black flies.
After camp was set up, it was time for dinner. A communal meal ensued, our hunger was amply sated, and we relaxed to enjoy the long Adirondack evening with jokes, conversation around a roaring campfire and general good humor and excitement. It had been a busy day, and we looked forward to the morrow.
Ahh, glorious sleep…vacation…and the sound of rain on the tent fly. With not a worry in the world, I rolled over to enjoy a few more hours of sleep.
Scott, however, sprang from his sleeping bag and started setting up tarps and canopies over our kitchen alone in the rain while the rest of us lay indolent in our nylon and fiberfill cocoons.
Eventually, even I was driven out by hunger…and a full bladder. The rain had stopped for the most part, and there was promise of a sunny day in the atmosphere. After a hearty breakfast, we split into groups and pursued our varied interests. Mine was fishing and exploring this lake and it’s islands and campsites. I set off south with Phil, Marie and Ken, but I soon fell behind to fish and explore. Heading south was good strategy; it put us right into the teeth of the wind, thus making our return easier.
It is far easier to recount the routes that each of us took in our tour of the “right leg” of the otter, and what we saw than to convey the feeling of being so deeply immersed in the beauty of the Adirondack lake environs. The very rocks, formed when the Earth was young, their roots reaching deep to her core. The stubborn refusal to yield to the harsh winter weather is evidenced by the gnarled habit of the trees, the joy of the lush grasses, ferns and water plants as they welcome the gentle spring and summer. The newts, fish and birds in their non-chalance acceptance of what is. And me, gliding along amid the placid waters in some protected bay or lee of an island in my kayak. If I could bottle that natural high…….
Sadly, I am unskilled in such Zen arts, and so I find myself back at the campsite before dinner. Enough time for a swim and an adult beverage, and some fun feeding a pair of ducks that seem to think our campsite is their own.
Another communal dinner and campfire, and a briefing of what each of us discovered or witnessed. Sunset, and then night, with a stunningly starry sky, replete with the slow, steady migration of man-made satellites, a slow paddle around the island. The wind has not died completely yet, in the dark, we must be careful of proximity to the rocks. It is a little too easy to get dizzy sitting in a kayak bobbing on the waves, looking up into the starry skies.
That night, sleep came easily again, the breeze sighing through the trees, the waves rhythmically lapping the shore, and the Loons, like lonely sentinels, their voices echoing across the lake.
Phil, Ken and Marie have to leave today. For breakfast: anything you want in any quantity, it seems we have too much food. Scott will provide an assist with the motor boat.
I accompany Phil part way out, we explore a few campsites, stop to have lunch, and then we say goodbye. He heads down the lake to the take-out, I head out to explore the tail of the otter.
The lake is very narrow here, and the wind is strong and right in my face. Well, I said I came here to paddle, here’s my chance. Through the narrowest part of the tail to where it widens out again, but still straight into the wind I paddle. It is getting to be late afternoon, I set a goal of reaching an apparent campsite on a point about a mile distant, and get into the paddling “zone”. Abruptly I am interrupted by a bass that has attacked my lure. I get blown backwards a couple of hundred yards while I reel him in, unhook him and release him. Back into the wind, I am determined to reach that distant campsite.
Reach it I finally do, and after a quick look around, a few swallows of water I head into the adjacent bay to check out the campsites that are indicated on the map. Exploring…it’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. By the time I finish, it is high time to head back to camp. I paddle out to the middle of the lake, the waves and wind coming in abeam on the left, then turn and head up the lake with the wind at my back. The GPS says I can do 3 mph with very little effort.
Back at camp, there are only four of us on the island now, and most of the few others we saw on the lake have gone. The evening is a quiet and sedate one, we have to eat the leftover food and drink the leftover wine. The resident ducks visit us, and all the loons on the lake whoop it up, probably glad that the influx of humans has mostly disappeared. I feel calm and serene. I think I’m ready to spend another week here now; I’ve adjusted, I’m in tune.
It figures. Tomorrow we gotta leave.
We woke up, and started packing, ate breakfast, and continued packing. It was sunny and warm, but clouds were building. We helped each other pack and load the boats. They were a lot lighter going home, less food, less water, no firewood.
I left first, figuring I would go slow, fish and explore some more campsites on the way out. The wind would be in our face again.
Scott caught up to me about a half mile from the put in. Ed and Renee were behind him a ways. The clouds continued to build, and when I was a few hundred yards from the take-out, I thought I heard thunder over beyond the mountains. A hundred yards from the take-out I saw dimples of rain on the water. Ten yards from the shore, it was raining. I landed, hopped out, grabbed my bag of Gore-tex, pulled on my jacket, and the heavens opened up and it poured.
Ed landed shortly after me, “Free showers!” he laughed.
After a few minutes, the rain let up enough, and we loaded the boats and headed for home.
It rained most of the trip home. We didn’t care. We had another Adirondack Paddle and Camp under our belts, and were looking forward to the next one.