Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Safe Paddling Alternatives on Lake George

Two recent paddling fatalities on Lake George show that the Adirondacks’ most crowded lake may not be the safest place to take a canoe or kayak.

On May 31, Stephen Canaday drowned only a few yards from shore when hie canoe was capsized by the wake of a passing boat. On June 9, Peter Snyder of Troy was run over by another power boat while in his kayak on the lake. His neck was broken, but the cause of death was ruled drowning. Neither men wore life preservers.

Even on low traffic days Lake George is not necessarily a friendly place for paddlers — strong winds often blow through the channel between the mountains, causing tough headwinds and choppy waters.

Still, one can see the appeal. Lake George is truly a highlight of the park, with its clear waters surrounded by high peaks, and its dozens of islands just begging to be camped on. So if you must paddle here, do it wisely.

The first plan to avoid traffic is to avoid the summer. Spring and fall are terrific times to come, especially in October when the foliage is at its peak. I’ve on the lake several times after September, and we always had it to ourselves. Islands in the Narrows that are chockablock with campers in the summer are nearly deserted in the fall.

Another plan is to avoid high traffic areas — and that means any spot south of Bolton Landing. Both deaths this year occurred in this busy zone.

The Narrows, located between Tongue Mountain to the west and Shelving Rock and Black Mountain to the east, is another high-traffic area. But with all the islands there it’s possible to choose a narrow path between land masses that will avoid the main channels.

Other ideas would be to launch in places other than Bolton Landing or further south. Northwest Bay, which is accessible via a parking lot near Tongue Mountain on Route 9N (a few miles north of Bolton Landing), offers a terrific paddle. First you glide through a narrow channel filled with wildlife. Eventually, you exit onto the bay, but because this is a nautical cul-de-sac, it gets very little boat traffic compared to the rest of the lake. You can paddle all the way out to the point of the Tongue peninsula and see very few boats.

The remote, quiet Huletts Landing on the lake’s east shore also provides a nice way to visit some of the lesser-known islands north of the Narrows. It’s also right near Black Mountain, one of the best peaks to hike on the lake (accessible from the road or the water).

Finally, the far north has some nice spots that are a little quieter. If you put a boat in at Roger’s Rock State Park, you can enjoy a view of the lake’s biggest cliff (and maybe even see some rock climbers on its slabby face). Or launch from the Baldwin Road dock in Ticonderoga to explore the rarely-visited northern tip of the lake.

Whatever you do, remember to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Power boaters don’t see canoes and kayaks as easily as paddlers see them. And remember to wear those life preservers.

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Photos by Lori Van Buren of Albany.

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