Maybe this was another over-ambitious canoe trip, like the one that I had undertaken with the same naturalist friend in late June. At mid-seventies and late sixties perhaps we two women should have been following a strong young person pulling our boats, or more sensibly, home walking the dog. But modern, light-weight canoes and carriers tempted us to test our limits. We have never been serious sports enthusiasts, I myself never using anything more than boots and sticks of one kind or another for exercise, so our limits were set fairly low.
The plan was to meet at Bonnie’s house at 8:30, but neither of us could sleep in the early morning, from excitement – or fear? So we left her house an hour early in her husband’s truck, luckily, as much of the 3.2 mile road to the parking area for the Boreas Ponds was rough.
By 8:30 our solo canoes were strapped onto our small, new and untried carriers and we were ready to start down the newly opened-to-the-public hardened dirt road. After 2.5 miles of pulling our carts to the LaBier Flow we hoped to canoe north and save a mile of walking. We had been warned at the parking lot that they had seen canoeists debarking at the take-out in thigh deep mud. Our ongoing drought has also affected this area of the Adirondacks east of Newcomb.
After our last experience to Pillsbury Lake on a very rough former road with a home-made carrier (and food and gear for two nights), we were delighted by how easy this was. With my boat balanced by my vest, paddle, and waist pack, and carrying the backpack with lots of water and other gear, I was able to pull the boat on the flat parts of the road with my little finger alone, with no stress to it! (This was just for show—I usually pulled with my hand.) Uphill was a little work, and downhill I had to hold the boat back, but that was easy too.
Along the road was a monotonous forest, not recently logged, but without big trees and with few interesting plants (at least at this time of year). After 2.5 miles we weren’t tired, but we put in at the first steel and concrete bridge and paddled the length of LaBier Flow.
I was sometimes stopped by running into the peat bottom when short-cutting through the water-shield and water lilies; but the celebrated views of the High Peaks soon started and it was our kind of vegetated (with native aquatic plants) paddle. A naïve beaver was disturbed enough to splash his tail a few times, to scare us and/or to signal his family about danger from the odd ducks on the water. We did not find a good take-out; possible places looked deep with black mud. So we paddled back to the bridge and started pulling on the road for the last mile to Boreas Ponds.
At a second bridge, another concrete and steel one built on mine tailings, there was an easy put-in with a bit of view and we happily started paddling toward the wilder north, away from the road and bridge. Around a corner or two and the High Peaks really started showing up, a few at a time. Eventually there was a continuous view from Colvin and Blake in the east, to Sawteeth, up to a spectacular Pyramid and Gothics, then Saddleback and Basin, Little and Big Haystack, Marcy, Skylight and on to Allen. An outstanding view!
We took our time, following shorelines around islands and hoping for orchid capsules or real bogs — with sphagnum moss, many carnivorous plants, cranberries, and a slew of blooming shrubs adapted to soggy, cool, acid conditions. An iconic sedge – cotton grass – was there in small amounts. (We wondered if they are along the massive inlet to the north.) Loons called for a while, and a brown young of the year dove but never reappeared. (They have an uncanny way of hiding along the shore.) A great blue heron, kingfisher, a duck or two, and a bobbing spotted sandpiper were also evident. In spring there would be undoubtedly more to see and hear.
We saw our three fellow canoeists only from a distance, no other boaters and only three hikers. It looked, felt and sounded very wild and wonderful, until we had traveled the whole length of the three “ponds” and came to the culvert under the road which circles the ponds. It was jarring, though not as much as the low flying helicopter we encountered.
We had seen enough of the ponds to settle down and eat lunches in the well needed shade of a couple tiny coves. The only real natural irritants were the “stable flies” (they look like small house flies) that bite through clothing quickly. It’s impossible to slap them, they are so fast!
There didn’t seem to be a place on the whole trip suitable for swimming; we saw no sandy beach and no rock ledge. During the fall foliage season the red maples would brighten some of the shores, but most of the shorelines are covered with thick conifers. There is no place to camp without moving into the more open forest away from the shore. It will be difficult to develop campsites with a view of the water except at the site of the former guest lodge, which is now off-limits for reseeding.)
By the time we had paddled back to the bridge we were getting tired (we had taken the long route by hugging shorelines, including around the many islands). But it was going to be more downhill going out than coming in, right? Wrong — not only did it seem longer going out, but the hills were mostly up! Back at the parking area however, my younger paddling partner was able to get the boats in the truck, and I managed to get my gear and myself into the truck. It was a very satisfying day, with perfect weather – sunny and sharply clear, but not too hot and little wind.
We two women were glad to be among the first paddlers on the motor-free mostly-wild Boreas Ponds, since we New Yorkers bought the property. Now we all need to make sure the management of this tract increases its wildness, not diminishes it by letting motor vehicles come too close to the water. The culvert for the road at the north end of the ponds needs to be removed so that a continuous connection to the High Peaks Wilderness can be made.
Allowing horses and wagons to LaBier Flow might be a conforming use that could get most people within walkable distance of the view, and camping with a boat might be possible for everyone. Roads and automobiles can get even the least physically able to Newcomb’s impressive view of the High Peaks on Route 28N and closer views from the east of the High Peaks are spectacular too (and of course Whiteface has a road and elevator right to the top). So if views are what people are looking for, it would be better if it were not so easy to get to the Boreas Ponds that they the area gets overused (something that’s happening to the High Peaks despite the major effort it takes to hike into and up them). Big parking lots and roads next to the ponds would destroy a first class wilderness experience and the natural conditions that would heal the forest in the future.
All New Yorkers should be proud to own such an outstanding piece of the natural world. We should also be ready to study proposed management plans, comment on them and join others to advocate for iron-clad protections that will make the Boreas Ponds one with the High Peaks Wilderness. This will create a huge area native plants and animals can use to survive our changing climate and one our children’s children (and maybe their grandparents!) will use to create their own challenging adventures.