Northern Forest Canoe Trail || Chapter 1

August 25, 2019

The Journey Begins

This summer Brian Ross completed a self supported 740 mile thru-paddle along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in just 31 days. Follow with Eastward as we release his journal in segments over the next few weeks to recap his journey through remote NY, VT, Canada, NH, & ME.

- Know The Way -


6/18/19 - Date set to leave Old Forge, NY eastbound toward Fort Kent, ME.

Vessel: beat up ’07 Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 kayak. Borrowed from Will Larcom with a promise to maybe bring it back in one piece

Expected Pace: 35 days

Avg miles per day: 22

Equipment weight: ~85lb

Game time: 6 days out -The kayak I’m using is fourteen feet long and weighs in at 63lbs. It’s made from a roto-molded plastic and designed to take a beating, which I fully intend to give it. The biggest con is probably the weight factor. At one point during this trip I am expecting to carry this boat along with everything I have over my head for several miles. Despite the weight, it’s a fast and stable boat, and (nearly) unsinkable.

My kayak, although not unique to the NFCT, is not the preferred vessel for this kind of venture.


First Days

I left Old Forge, NY (the town at the trailhead) at 6:05 a.m. on 6/18 and paddled through the first lakes.

By the time I reached the lake on the other side I was covered in black fly and mosquito bites. I continued to Raquette Lake and camped in a lean-to on the northern shore where I built a fire to keep the bugs away.

Thursday, again calm and clear. The rain didn’t set in until the Indian carry into Upper Saranac Lake. Once it came though, it came with a purpose. My jacket wetted out after an hour and then only served as a warm layer against the onslaught of cold drumming raindrops. I put my head down and paddled. After several miles I came upon the hand-operated locks to move into the next lake. I could’ve carried my boat over the short embankment but I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity. It was marvelous to watch the water level rise and fall several feet while carrying my boat all the way.

My maps showed a lean-to after the south locks that I eventually gave up on. Instead, I pitched my own shelter and got out of the rain. It was a short mileage day but it was nicer to drink tea and watch the raindrops hit the lake from my tarp than to be out in the elements.

Once I reached Long Lake I plugged in for a slog of nearly 20 miles. That night I planned to stay on the northern branch of the Raquette River which turned out to be a mosquito breeding ground. The water was slow moving and the banks were grassy and sheltered. It was absolutely beautiful but as soon as the sun began to fall the bugs came alive. They got under my big net and ate the sides of my neck and ears where they were exposed. This section will not be a trip highlight.


Rapids

If David from St. Regis Canoe Outfitters is reading this: I’m sorry I didn’t heed your advice.

After leaving Saranac Lake village post resupply (and inhaling an 8” Italian sub) and meeting the St. Regis crew, I headed down about 15 or so miles toward the Franklin Falls Dam. In between the dam where I would be staying that night and the village, I had to navigate over a mile of sustained class II-III rapids. David recommended I carry the boat along the adjacent road but I sent it. Unable to evaluate the entire section from the shore, I ended up scouting by water, stopping my massive 14’ plastic behemoth at each calm pool along the way to see what lies down river. The rapids were exhilarating and falsely boosted my confidence for the day to come.

After this section I came to the Franklin Falls Pond before the dam where I upset a family of beavers who delivered near-simultaneous tail slaps before effortlessly slipping below the still surface. A slight breeze kept the bugs away this night as the sun painted the pond with reds, oranges, and purples.

1 portage, 2 portage, 3 portage, 4...

There should have been a 5 if I had listened to David and carried the boat down Silver Lake Road. Instead I lined the class IV-V rapids and waterfalls, and had a blast running the ~5 miles of sustained class II down the Saranac River. I’m proud to say that my boat never flipped! ...while I was in it. The rope got away from me down the staircase class IV, and instead of letting the boat carry me in as well, I let go of the lines. The hydraulic at the bottom of the drop completely ate the entire vessel. Thankfully, the water eventually ejected my poor boat and I was able to recover it downstream. No gear lost. The shores were all private land so I ended up stealth camping in Cadyville in a ditch on the side of the road.

"The hydraulic at the bottom of the drop completely ate the entire vessel. Thankfully, the water eventually ejected my poor boat and I was able to recover it downstream. No gear lost."

It's a wild wildlife

I had more problems with wildlife than people last night. Raccoons decided to rifle through my boat but couldn’t get to the food in the hatches. I scared them off on two occasions when I heard them putzing around. I started today at 5:15 a.m. thinking I could get to Lake Champlain early enough that the winds would be down. The four more portages I did today did not help me reach that goal. It was noon by the time I reached the mouth of the Saranac. Maybe I’ll stop for lunch or dinner on the shores of Plattsburgh while I wait for the wind to mellow.

Onto Swanton

"In order to incentivize myself, I emailed Ryan atEastward that I wouldmeet him in Swanton, VT the following afternoon.  

Now I had a goal."

The wind didn’t mellow until sundown as I arduously made my way up the western coastline of Champlain. My hope was to position myself to cross at sunrise when the lake would (hopefully) be placid. After capturing mileage sluggishly and one or two harried dashes around larger vessels, I reached Point Au Roche. I hoped to cross here and enter the northern passage which should put me on a direct route heading towards Swanton, VT. The bare minimum was done at this questionable campsite. I didn’t set up a tent or other shelter and slept in the open on the rocks facing Vermont. The day’s weather conditions had made me a bit more than anxious about the conditions that I might see in the morning. I could keep trying to make my way up the shoreline or lose another day of paddling all together. In order to incentivize myself, I emailed Ryan at Eastward that I would meet him in Swanton the following afternoon. Now I had a goal.

About

 

This summer Brian Ross completed a self supported 740 mile thru-paddle along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in just 31 days. Follow with Eastward as we release his journal in segments over the next few weeks to recap his journey through remote NY, VT, Canada, NH, & ME.

- Know The Way -


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