Saturday, April 25, 2015

Searching For Quiet Waters In A Solo Canoe

Chapel Pond Cliffs 2(1)Moving to the Adirondacks in 1998 offered new opportunities to explore the lakes and rivers in my solo canoe near Keene. I first tried Upper Cascade Lake and Chapel Pond, the lakes visible from Route 73 near Keene Valley on the way to Lake Placid. I had admired those lakes for decades while vacationing in the High Peaks.

Launching my Hornbeck at the Upper Cascade Lake was easy as it only weighted 15 pounds. Hugging the south shore, admiring the small streams cascading over the moss-covered rocks at close range was magical. But the noise from the traffic on Route 73, amplified across the lake, caused such an annoyance I soon paddled back to shore in disappointment.

Next on my list was Chapel Pond, a freshwater jewel, with soaring cliffs on the south side and a sandy beach on the eastern shore, accessible after parking on the side of the road and walking through a marshy area. I decided to launch my canoe at the parking lot on the north side, carrying my canoe on down a steep embankment.  The pond is about a half mile across, with a total area of 19 acres, though it looks smaller from the road because the pond narrows as it approaches a dam that forms the pond. The narrows and the dam are not visible from the road. I was happy to discover this part of the pond and relaxed in the narrows away from the traffic noise.

A few years ago I sat on the shore of Chapel Pond after a swim admiring the cliffs across the water dropping 700 feet straight into the water. A couple carried their canoes down the bank near where I was sitting, announcing, “These are our new canoes, it is fitting that we take them out here first.” Mirroring my excitement of years before, and understanding theirs, I said nothing to ruin their experience by pointing out the traffic noise. They deftly launched their canoes and paddled across the pond. I was gone before they came back to shore.

I’ve learned to love Chapel Pond in spite of the noise, finding the water to be the purest for swimming than any other body of water near my home. We go with our grand-kids to play on the sandy beach and to learn how to paddle solo canoes. They love splashing around in the canoes as they capsize them, too young to realize that they are getting a lesson on boat safety. After I first bought my Hornbeck I visited Third Lake, on the Fulton Chain near Old Forge, and tested the stability and buoyancy by turning the canoe on its side and filling it with water. I learned this safety practice years ago in a Red Cross water course.

After my early disappointment with the traffic noise on the easily accessible ponds, I sought out other venues near my home. A new friend offered, “A lot of people like paddling on Lake Everest, on a damned up portion of the West Branch of the AuSable River, in Wilmington.” I gave it a try, even though the thought of taking my solo canoe on a river unnerved me, at first, until I arrived at the Wilmington Town Beach and saw the placid water of the river lake, and others paddling up-stream.

Lake Everest with I-6(1)What a gem of a place. After launching off the Town Beach, I paddled up the West Branch, thrilled with an open view of Whiteface Mountain across the river water and wetlands. Paddling against the current was easy until the river narrowed and ripples impeded any further progress. I turned the boat around and floated downstream, which required easy strokes, just dipping my paddle into the river to keep in the main current. Some houses were visible with attendant docks on the rivers edge. And small motorboats principally used for fishing.

A lovely paddle without traffic noise.

Often I’ll go alone on the West Branch of the AuSable River, or with some paddling buddies, three or four times a year, usually in the spring or fall when the water level is high. A week or so after the flood in August 2011 from Tropical Storm Irene, a few of us paddled the West Branch to observe the change in the river. The power of the water evidenced by the eroded riverbanks and the debris caught in the bushes and trees six feet above our heads was humbling. We paddled in awe, imagining the torrential waters just a short time before.


A quiet place to paddle with no signs of civilization still eluded me in my search in 1998.


A tributary of the East Branch of the AuSable River flowed right by my house. Daily I’d watch the ebb and flow of the river while driving to town on Route 9N. Possibly the East Branch had some placid water to explore, I thought. After getting advice from veteran river experts, I scouted out the shore about ¼ mile upstream from Hulls Falls. As Hulls Falls drops about 15 feet, with Class II to V rapids downstream for six miles, I knew I needed to be vigilant about staying a good distance upriver. An abandoned overgrown farm road provided easy access to launch my canoe, near a town road and bridge by the Falls.


The level terrain above the waterfall made for a pleasant paddle upstream through the tree lined river path, with no houses visible and no traffic noise. I stopped at a sand bar and submersed myself in the cool water, enjoying a float down the river, then maneuvering to shore and walking back in the sand to my canoe. I sat on the sandbar, engulfed in the magic of the swirling water as it effortlessly flowed around the rocks and sand, with the contentment that comes from experiencing solitude in nature.


After drifting back down the river and returning to the shore, I hoisted my canoe on my shoulder and walked up the abandoned farm road to where the car was parked near the bridge. To my astonishment, a full-sized luxury tour bus stopped just as I reached the main road. The tour bus driver opened the door, stepped onto the dirt road in front of me, and helped the passengers down the stairs. I stood there with my canoe on my shoulder not quite believing what I was seeing – one by one middle-age men and women stepped off the bus, just glancing at me without much expression on their faces, seemingly bored. I was taken aback by their sudden presence.


Then, a devilish internal voice said, Let’s have some fun!


“I’m an Adirondack woman, part of the tour,” I shouted to the tourists as they walked over to the bridge to view the waterfall. “And I take tips.” A few got the joke.


While exchanging words with the tourists from the Midwest (they were on their way to Lake Placid to see the fall colors,) I came to the realization that yes, I was an Adirondack woman, living an independent life, taking on challenges most women only dream of, enjoying the natural environment, fulfilling my dream to live in this sacred, protected place.


I felt free and filled with gratitude – pleased to add to the visitors’ Adirondack experience.

Photos: Above, the beach and cliffs at Chapel Pond; and below, Lake Everest on the West Branch of the AuSable River.


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Award winning author Lorraine Duvall's newest book contains stories about where she has lived in the Adirondacks for the last 24 years, titled "Where The Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home." She 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.

4 Responses

  1. Alan Cole says:

    Nice article, thanks. But did you get any tips?

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      The article should have ended with: “A few got the joke and gave me some quarters.”

  2. Virginia Phillips says:

    Having had experience with canoeing, I thoroughly enjoyed this article

  3. Victor Forbes says:

    Wonderful story – !