Like the Roman god Janus, the Boreas River has two faces. The lower part, from Lester Dam to its confluence with the Hudson, has some of the most exciting and difficult whitewater in the Adirondacks. During the spring runoff, when water levels are high, it provides a wild ride through Class 3 and 4 rapids while it makes its way to the Hudson.
But that’s not my destination for today. Instead, I’m headed for the Boreas’s other face: Lester Flow, the tranquil quietwater section that flows downstream of Cheney Pond.
Getting to the pond is an adventure in itself – I drive a few hundred yards down a rutted gravel road that is a challenge, but my minivan negotiates the hazards without incident and I arrive at the parking area near the water’s edge. I launch my canoe and paddle across the half-mile pond to its eastern shore, bringing me to a lean-to that is easily seen during stick season, but nearly invisible in mid-summer when it’s enveloped by thick foliage. Immediately to the left is the pond’s outlet, where Cheney’s waters flow into the Boreas River. The outlet begins as a wide channel, but after passing the first of two small beaver dams, it becomes a trickle that’s three feet wide and a few inches deep, forcing me to walk alongside the canoe for the short distance to the river. From this point on, the water is rarely deeper than my waist, so comfort wins out over safety and I remove my life vest.
For two miles downstream of the Cheney Pond outlet, the Boreas is mostly slack water with just a few minor riffles, allowing me to paddle downstream, then return upstream with a minimum of walking. Lester Flow is little used and little known, so I always have the place to myself, even on blue sky summer weekends. Today, I share the river only with ebony jewelwings, the iridescent green damselflies that are ubiquitous to Adirondack waterways. Unlike my hiking trip from the previous day, there are no encounters with mosquitos or other flying nasties.
The tea-colored water is lined with the usual bouquet of pink and red Adirondack wildflowers – Joe Pye weed, cardinal flowers, swamp milkweed, steeplebush – as it meanders through a flood plain dotted with tamaracks and alders. The serpentine course produces numerous sand bars to use for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Two miles downstream, I come to the eroded wood pilings of Lester Dam, sticking above the surface like a giant row of jagged teeth. The dam is my turnaround point. It’s possible to line a canoe down the short rapids (or paddle through at higher levels for those with some whitewater experience) to access a bit more quietwater below the dam, but the schlep back upstream makes it more trouble than it’s worth.
I paddle back up the river, enjoying the great views of the Gothics while thinking about where my next canoe trip will take me.
If you go: From Northway exit 29, go west on Blue Ridge Rd for 13 miles, crossing the Boreas, and take the gravel road on the left (look for the Lester Dam – Cheney Pond trailhead sign). The Boreas generally has sufficient water even during the dry summer months, but will be more enjoyable in late spring or after some rainfall. Be sure to wear shorts and flip flops so that you can walk your boat up the few riffles on the way back.
Photos, from above: Marty Plante on the Boreas; the ruins of Lester Dam; and the Cheney Pond access road.