Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Raquette River Reveries
Drawing on memories more than 25 years old, I have long extolled the joys of paddling the Raquette River in the Adirondacks from Long Lake to Axton: you start in a small town, I told listeners, paddle down an ever-wilder lake, and eventually find your way down a twisting channel that rambles toward the High Peaks. I returned to the Raquette recently with my son Max and two friends to find more houses than I remembered on Long Lake--and abundant wilderness once you get beyond them.
The northern end of Long Lake has been built up over the last two decades. While no one would mistake it for a suburban subdivision, the houses that you see every half to quarter mile maintain a relentless human presence. All that changes, though, once you leave the lake for the river that flows out of it.
The Raquette was running high this year, maybe five feet above normal, according to a ranger. Heavy rains--some of which fell on us--made for a full river and damp camping.
With Max and me in one canoe, and our friends Brian and Connor Taylor in another, we paddled down the Raquette and camped in a lean-to on our first night. Our second day brought bright sun, blue skies, and a short side trip to the mouth of the Cold River. Throughout the day, the Raquette's current pulled us onward.
With the lake behind us we found deep forests, friendly paddlers, and plenty of quiet. It was all fine with us.
On this stretch of the river, the east bank is protected state land and the west bank private land. The private land is posted against trespassing, but along the shore it otherwise looked untouched. I hope it stays that way.
We grunted our way through the Raquette Falls carry, paddled to Trombley's Landing, and made camp on a bluff overlooking the river. (Ernie LaPrairie at Blue Mountain Outfitters, who rented us out canoes, told us that the nearby state launch ramp on Route 30 was the best place to leave our car for the takeout. At the more remote Axton, cars have been damaged by vandals.) The next morning, we took our canoes out of the river just as rain began to fall.
In some 28 miles of paddling we saw one heron, a pair of otters, birches, and evergreens beyond counting. We joked with Connor and Brian. And we were reminded that the hardest effort usually yields the best scenery.
I'd like to get back to the Raquette and ascend the Cold River. Long Lake may not be quite what it used to be, but it's still the entry to a Raquette River of wild beauty.