Clearing the dust
Given a forecast of sunny skies and mid-50 degree temperatures, we decided to take an afternoon off last week and revisit what we recalled as being a super paddling adventure.
I looked back at my photo library, and realized that we had not paddled the Schroon River since 2010. Then I looked at my kayak, hanging in its storage rack on the side of a building, and realized that I hadn’t really paddled much last year at all, either, as was indicated by the amount of dust and pollen that had settled on the up-facing side of it.
My husband Kevin and I have matching 13-foot Necky Manitou kayaks for casual lake and river outings in the Adirondacks. They track well, and are great to take out on bigger lakes, but are maneuverable enough to navigate around rocks etc. on easy to moderate river runs.
I’m guessing that we prioritized alternate sports last year, as I only remember going paddling once or twice, and using our smaller whitewater boat for those outings. Hence the layer of dust stuck to the side of the boat.
I figured I’d let nature clean the boat as we paddled, and we prepped for departure.
Gear up, Put in
We loaded the boats on top of Kevin’s van, and donned our spring paddling attire.
Even if the sun makes the air feel warm, the water is still quite chilly in April, so insulating gear is a necessity, even if you plan to stay dry. For me, that consists of thermal underwear under a wetsuit (including neoprene gloves and booties), with layers of fleece jackets on top. This attractive ensemble is topped off with a personal flotation device (PFD), and of course, sunscreen (SPF). We also packed a water bottle and snacks for a planned break.
This is a two-car situation. The put-in for this adventure is located where the Blue Ridge Road crosses the Schroon River in North Hudson off exit 29 on Interstate 87. Access is via the former Frontier Town parking lot. We met there, and dropped the boats under the bridge, drove to the Schroon Lake beach/boat launch area and left the van with its kayak-carrying roof rack there, and headed back toward the put-in location with my car.
We stopped on the way at what I clearly remember being the crux of the paddle when we did this in 2010; the Schroon Falls at the Route 9N bridge crossing. That time, we paddled through this whitewater - a technical little drop off that would have filled my boat with water had we not used our spray skirts. This year, we decided to carry our boats at that point, as the water is a little bit higher, the air cooler, and we wanted to remain as dry as possible. Given this, we stopped to evaluate the best place to land our boats for the carry, in advance, from a land perspective.
We decided that the best plan was to paddle quickly to the right under the bridge, avoiding the falls, and carry the boats to reenter the calmer water just below them.
And, since in our memories the rest of the paddle was fairly easy, we left our spray skirts in the van.
To Schroon Falls
I parked my car and we put on our PFDs, grabbed our paddles, food and water and launched our boats at about 1:30 p.m.
The first section of this paddle, from exit 29 to Schroon Falls is about 4.75 miles on the water. This time of year, the current is fairly swift, and we paddled at a leisurely pace, enjoying the gorgeous tree-lined waterway’s scenery.
The water was so CLEAR. A couple of times, we could see schools of huge fish. At first we thought they were trout, but concluded that they might be carp.
Not long after we left, though, we could hear the distinct sound of rushing water ahead. We were about to learn a lesson in planning and depending entirely on 6-year-old impressions.
According to a map I consulted AFTER we got home, what we heard was Linsey Falls.
Class II.- Moderate. Medium-quick water; rapids with regular waves; clear and open passages between rocks and ledges. Maneuvering required. Best handled by intermediates who can maneuver canoes and read water.
Though the sound was at first a bit daunting, Kevin paddled ahead and I followed the line he chose. There were certainly some quick moves required to avoid rocks and to steer straight, and there was definitely one dip that dumped a few gallons of river into my boat.
So much for staying dry. (But we were wearing the wetsuits, so I remained comfortable on this bluebird sky day.)
I wasn’t able to both frantically paddle AND take pictures while in the Falls themselves, so we decided to paddle backwards toward that section and I took a picture of Kevin “eddying out” behind a rock.
We had a bit of a break from pay-careful-attention whitewater for a short bit, then heard the sound of rushing water again. This time, it was a dam that we remembered we could fairly easily paddle over. It is comprised of wood, and includes a sort of water-covered ramp down to the next level. I followed Kevin’s line again, near the center of the dam, and easily slid down to the water below.
By now I was comfortable with the faster sections, and we navigated a few more of them before arriving at the Schroon Falls, where we planned to take-out and carry. And eat a snack.
I watched as Kevin headed way over to the right, and paddled fast to enter between some boulders to land on the rocks where he could pull his boat out. I copied everything he had just done, but he stepped into the water up to his knees in order to help steady my boat while I got out of it. His report: the water. is. definitely. cold.
Running Schroon Falls way back in 2010
We then shuttled our boats past the falls to the area we’d put back in, and stopped for snacks.
Schroon Falls to the Lake
That first section took us about 1.5 hours. After a very short break, and after Kevin sponged all of the excess water out of our boats, we got back into the boats for what turned out to be about 9 miles of twisting, serpentine water. There were sections with camps right on the edge of the water, and we passed the Medcalf Acres Riverfront campground, which is not yet open. The current was still substantial, though slowing as we progressed toward the outflow into Schroon Lake.
There were fallen trees all along the river, and at one point we feared we would have to carry around, but found a kayak’s-width section to squeeze through.
As we got closer to the lake, the landscape became far more remote-feeling; wild. All along the river we encountered a variety of wildlife. Wood, mallard, and common merganser ducks, fish, kingfishers, a small weasel-like animal that dove before we could identify it, and a deer.
May the Wind be with you
The winding river was very serpentine - in fact that 9 miles was only half that by car. Every now and then, there would be a substantial headwind, and though I didn’t consult the compass on my phone I was sure that it was a north wind, and that once we arrived at wide open Schroon Lake, we’d have to paddle against it.
When we finally arrived at the mouth of the river and onto the open lake itself, we were in for a surprise. We were treated to a miracle tailwind, which is a good thing, given my out-of-paddling-shape arms. We paddled the last bit around the first peninsula on the right to land on Schroon Lake Town Beach near the boat launch.
Getting out of the boats, we realized that our feet, though covered in neoprene, were very cold from getting wet and sitting on the bottom of our boats - essentially “on” the cold water. It’s important to prepare for these conditions, and a wet or drysuit is definitely recommended.
This is a terrific spring paddle, and though I imagine the upper section likely gets very “bony” later in the warm season, I bet the Schroon Falls to the boat launch section is popular during summer and fall, too. We arrived at the van at around 6 p.m. - for a total of 4.5 hours of paddling.
Happy to arrive at the van and change a few layers, we put the boats up on the roof rack. And after all that, they were still dusty.
-Kim Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
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