Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lorraine Duvall: A Trip To The Essex Chain Lakes

Lorraine & culvert--Photo by Jeri WrightI had been pining to experience the waters of the Essex Chain Lakes ever since hearing of the purchase by the Nature Conservancy in 2007. But now that the Lakes are open to the public seven years later my ability to carry a boat, even a lightweight Hornbeck solo canoe, is limited. I could have done it at the age of 68, but not 75. I wanted to do it with my canoe buddies, who were even older than me, ranging in age from their late seventies to ninety.

We are a group of six women from the High Peaks region who like to independently explore the wild waters in our solo boats. Our paddling explorations began 11 years ago during a camping trip on Little Tupper Lake, returning the last day during a hurricane. Every year since we’ve scheduled trips around hip and knee replacements and family caretaking duties – ranging from three day camping excursions on Lows Lake and Lake Lila to one day trips on Henderson Lake to an afternoon on Lake Everest in Wilmington.

During these trips Jeri usually stays at the back of the group to take photos. Ruth and Gail explore the shores while I paddle in the middle to experience the freedom that comes from open waters. Marcia forges ahead in the front with the determination of total involvement. Monique is our most daring explorer. One dark night as we all ventured out from our campsite on the Bog River, Monique, unbeknownst to us, paddled up the river to search for a beaver dam she had seen earlier in the day. We did not know she had left the group until we saw her flashlight upriver as she paddled back to the campsite.

This September I talked my fellow canoe buddies into hiring Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb to schlep our boats to the Essex Chain Lakes. The owners, Ruth and Dave Olbert, helped to take our canoes off our cars at the DEC Parking lot strapping them on their two sets of wheels. They rolled the entourage on the gravel roads over one mile to the put-in on Third Lake while we walked slowly to meet them on this cold fall drizzly day. We put-in on Third and paddled through the lakes to Sixth Lake where we had lunch. Then we retraced our steps (strokes) to Second, returning to Third Lake. We were on the water for six hours.

Once on the Essex Chain Lakes, we followed the same pattern of going our own way as we had done on previous trips, much to the surprise of Ruth and Dave, given the dependence we placed on them in schlepping and helping us in and out of our boats.

My favorite stretch was on Fifth Lake – large enough to provide an open view of the wild areas and small enough to get the feeling of protection from the chill of the day. The loons were all around my boat, not seeming to care that I was there – calling to each other, splashing the water with their wings and, or course, diving – always a mystery as to where they will surface.

I pulled myself away from my engagement with the loons as most of the group had already returned to Fourth Lake. Except for Jeri. She wanted to get a photo of me going through the culvert from Fifth to Fourth Lake.

The joy of spending six hours on the Essex Chain after years of longing more than compensated for the other six hours of driving from Keene to the DEC parking lot and walking to-and-from Third Lake. A trip of twelve hours with aging bodies makes for a long day. But it was worth it.

Governor Cuomo touts the economic benefits of the land acquisitions for “struggling mountain towns.” I’m all for supporting the towns. Preserving and enhancing these environmental gems is a way to support the near-by communities, and all of us in the Park and the State. How many jobs this addition to the Forest Preserve will support, I do not know.

What I do know is that five Adirondack women (one could not make the trip) with physical limitations were able to experience these wonderful lakes through the help of a local Newcomb guide service. And we bought lunch at the Country Store.

Photo: Lorraine negotiates a  culvert (by Jeri Wright).

Related Stories


In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks won the 2016 Best Memoir Award from the Adirondack Center for Writing. This second book by Lorraine Duvall is a collection of personal essays centered on her experiences paddling Adirondack lakes, ponds and rivers; the history of these waters; and the advocacy of the many men and women who helped save and preserve them. Her memoir, And I Know Too Much to Pretend, won the 2014 Best Memoir Award from the Adirondack Center for Writing. Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.




15 Responses

  1. Dale Jeffers says:

    Lorraine, this is a great and inspirational article and trip. I am much impressed with the Essex Chain and so glad that all of you enjoyed it.

  2. Susan Gaffney says:

    A great and well-written story, Lorraine. I really wish I could have been there!

  3. Angela Beddoe says:

    A truly inspirational story. Thank you so much, it made my day!

  4. Fabulous story Lorraine! I have heard of this chain of lakes and was told it was cathedral like in its pristine awe and beauty. I am intrigued and would love to go there to paddle and paint. Your group is most inspiring. Thank-you for writing about your adventures.

  5. I know most of these ladies and hope to follow in their footsteps (and paddle strokes) as I grow old in the Adirondacks! Sounds like a wonderful trip and makes me want to get down there with my paints. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Charlie Morrison says:

    Nice article, Lorraine! It encourages all of us to take that trip, maybe on a warmer day.

  7. Holly,
    I attended your workshop this summer at the Wild Center about the use of Social Media by artists. Very inspiring.

  8. Nicely done. I can’t wait until next spring to explore the area, both by kayaking the lakes and taking my horse to explore the trails. Great group you have there.

  9. Marcia Mosey says:

    Oh Lorraine!!! Great article, I’m so proud of you for your writing. What fun to be here on a Florida Sunday afternoon and be reminded of another of our great adventures.

  10. Kathy Kernan says:

    Great story Lorraine! Hope to get my Hornbeck boat next Spring, one season before retirement. The Isabel Six are my inspiration! Here’s to many seasons of paddling ahead!

  11. Terry says:

    Extremely inspirational! Keep up the good writing and advocacy for our beautiful Adirondack Park!

  12. Betty Bird says:

    What a wonderful inspiration to those of us women who are getting older but would still like to experience the beauty of the Essex Chain Lakes!

  13. Amy Godine says:

    You make me want to do this same adventure.
    And you sure don’t look 75!

  14. Karen G says:

    Thumbs Up Ladies! Awesome inspiring adventures! A few years ago, my husband & I started our own ADK Paddle list of 50 different lakes, rivers & ponds. Got to the halfway point this year. Chain Lakes will be in our sights next year. May you continue to paddle on with your wild waters excursions!!

  15. Ann Gearhart says:

    Thank you for giving hope to those of us still stuck in the city life. As a canoe counselor in the ADK’s in my youth I wanted to paddle all the by-ways – hasn’t happened, yet, but you give me hope. Thanks for your words and the photos.