Saturday, January 31, 2015

Finding Solitude In A Canoe At Ledge Pond

Ledge Pond - Lorraine at carryI wanted to find an excursion in my solo canoe that provided solitude and where I’d feel challenged, but not in danger. A big order, as in 1993 I had no friends, or even any colleagues, in the Central New York area I could consult who had knowledge of remote areas of the Adirondacks. So I read guidebooks and studied Adirondack maps.

Descriptions of the headwaters of the Saranac River caught my interest, as my first canoe adventure had been through a Girl Scout trip on Upper Saranac Lake many years before.

Ledge Pond, described in one of the guidebooks as “perhaps the prettiest of all headwater ponds,” intrigued me. The round trip was only 2.5 miles, included canoeing on remote ponds, and is entirely within the St Regis Canoe Area where no motor boats are allowed.

Ready to venture to Ledge Pond, one summer weekend I loaded my canoe and gear and drove to the Village of Saranac Lake. I stayed with friends, Chic and Judy, who owned the Adirondack Motel. Friday night Chic and I studied the map of the Saranac River headwaters, reviewing, in detail, my planned route to Ledge Pond. I wanted to make sure someone knew where I’d be just in case I did not arrive back at the motel that night.

Chic provided driving directions to Long Pond, the starting point for this trip. Following the route the next day on Forest Home and Floodwood roads in my car was an adventure in itself. Winding, and at times, gravel roads, surrounded by woodlands with little sign of civilization, unnerved me. I liked searching out ways to fulfill this desire to experience peace and solitude in the wilds of nature. But at what expense? Was I foolishly putting myself at risk? I thought not. I was being careful. The potential of a transformative experience made it all worthwhile.

Long Pond is accessible via a short carry from Floodwood Road. The route called for traversing two connecting streams, a paddle across Pink Pond, then a carry via a trail to Ledge Pond.

I settled in my canoe from the beach at Long Pond on a warm summer day, glad there was a slight breeze, strong enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but not enough to cause any problems crossing open waters.

I easily found the stream that connects Long and Pink Ponds. I enjoyed paddling on this narrow stream, surrounded by plants growing on the nearby banks and in the water. Only later did I learn about these “plants” and how the floral and fauna ecologically help to balance the purity of the water.

Solitude engulfed me as I entered the pristine waters of Pink Pond. My enjoyment lasted just minutes, though, as I had to get to work, to be vigilant. I kept turning around, taking snapshots in my head, to help in my return journey, to find my way back to Long Pond. The clusters of trees were all beginning to look the same.

The guidebook contained explicit instructions for finding the way to Ledge Pond – to bypass the first stream on Pink Pond and head for the second, the one from the North West. However, I had a hard time finding this second stream, as it was overgrown. I needed to learn the identifying clues for finding the inlets and outlets between ponds and lakes – such as to watch for valleys where the horizon is readily visible with no trees to block the view.

Once on the waters of the stream that led to the trail to Ledge Pond, I ran into a few beaver dams (engineering marvels) that I could paddle over, if I got a good run and rammed into the wooden branches. (I hoped it would be easier on the return as I’d be paddling downstream.) The stream widened into another small pond, ending at a crevice at the bottom of a wooded rise, at a bank with easy canoe access. I got out of my canoe to explore the area, encouraged to see an obvious path up the hill.

I considered just walking to Ledge Pond, leaving my canoe at this spot – it would be easier. I talked myself into carrying the canoe, thinking, Lorraine, the main reason you bought this light-weight canoe was to have the freedom to explore out-of-the-way places. Now is your chance.

So I hoisted my solo canoe on my shoulder and began walking on the trail to Ledge Pond. I hesitated as the path became less clear when I entered a wetland area, afraid of loosing my way, questioning my judgment to try such an exploration by myself. My confidence returned when I once again saw a discernible way through a wooded area. To my surprise and delight a beaver dam came into view as the sky opened up over the Pond in the distance. I marveled at the beavers’ ingenuity – at the beauty of how they weaved the natural materials available to them to construct an environment in which they could live. How much this dam contributed to forming Ledge Pond, I did not know. I only knew that a combination of the dam, the widening of the stream, and the expanse of this wildness pond fulfilled my aspirations of experiencing the wild lands and waters of the Adirondacks.

Ledge Pond was more than I could have hoped for, secluded and enchanting. An outcropping of a smooth rock on the shore provided a perfect place to set down my canoe and relax, while taking in the rolling hills to my left and a line of cliffs of boulders on the opposite shore.

I did not get the full glory of this wondrous place until I paddled across the Pond to a hidden bay that exposed more of the palisade of rocks. They formed a sun-lit steep wall protruding into the Pond. Gratitude swelled in my heart as I experienced the expanse of the rock face boldly towering over the crystal clear water. I sat in my canoe in the middle of Ledge Pond engulfed in a state of wonder, feeling solitude with all that nature encompasses.

It was difficult making the decision to paddle to shore and return to civilization.

I landed on the beach on Long Pond thankful that my earlier attentiveness on the way to Ledge Pond allowed me to enjoy the return, to retrace my steps with ease.

I knew this experience would be with me forever – that the wonder of the solitude I felt on Ledge Pond was a part of me.

A version of this story was first published in the July/August 2006 issue of Adirondack Explorer.

Photo Lorraine at Ledge Pond.

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Award winning author Lorraine Duvall writes of her paddling adventures in the book, In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks. Some experiences from her memoir, And I Know Too Much to Pretend, led her to research a woman’s commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, Finding A Woman’s Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks. Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.




5 Responses

  1. Big Burly says:

    Thanks Lorraine.
    Has a similar adventure to Vly Pond years ago. Your story brought back great memories.

  2. Randy says:

    Thanks for letting me relive that memory of a couple of years ago, when a small group of us did the same thing, except we left our boats at the trailhead and walked to Ledge Pond. Really a beautiful area. Looking at replacing my heavy touring kayak with a solo pack canoe this spring and doing more carries (and more exploring) with it.

  3. Ann Gearhart says:

    Thanks for letting me re-live the pleasure of the summer ADK’s with your post. Look forward to floating this summer when the ice is gone and there is space for new memories. Yes, these experiences last a lifetime and often crowd out the darker days – thanks for that!

  4. Marco says:

    Ledge pond is quite the chore to find. My daughter and I took a canoe up there looking for a good camp spot. It was a bear because of the weeds and the small stream into Pink Pond. We could not turn around, just follow the stream. Rather unnerving at the time. Good memories!

  5. Dan says:

    Now I am inspired. I have camped on Long Pond several times but never ventured beyond its shores except to climb the mountain. I resolve to do the Ledge Pond trip next year. Thank you for a great article.