Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Backcountry magic

There are experiences that can add a wild and magical element to a backcountry trip.

I recall as a child coming across the first impressively large beaver dam I had ever seen in the backwoods. It was on a brook trout fishing trip in a canoe in the northern Adirondacks. The structure must have been 6 feet tall and 100 feet wide. After I climbed up the dam and stood on top, it felt like I had entered a new world. As I looked out over the calm pond full of fish and vegetation, I remember being in awe that beavers could have such a drastic impact.

Another time I remember hiking in the Hudson Valley with friends. It was winter and the temperature was hovering around freezing. As we ascended a hillside to get a view of the river below Bear Mountain Bridge, we came across a cave with hundreds of icicles hanging from the ceiling. That in itself was beautiful, but what was magical was the sound of the water dripping into the pool of water at the base of the cave. I’ll never forget that.

Another time I was paddling in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway on a two-month trip from the Adirondacks to Maine on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. That early August day it rained for hours, starting in late morning into mid-afternoon. Three inches of water fell. My wife and I hid below some evergreens waiting out the storm. Afterward, we put our canoe on the misty lake and paddled toward Churchill Dam and the river section of the Allagash. On the way, we came across a moose in the water eating aquatic vegetation as her young calf waited nearby on the shoreline. As we sat there watching the pair of animals, some loons drifted nearby, then some geese, then a family of otters came out and swam playfully nearby. An eagle swooped down and grabbed a fish from the water. Finally, as the sun began to set, we pulled ourselves away from this scene and glided down to our campsite below the dam, eventually falling asleep to the sound of the nearby Chase Rapids.

Last July I was reminded of some of these memorable experiences when I paddled Fishing Brook in Hamilton County with birding guide Joan Collins. I never had the “wow” moment of seeing a moose or coming across a cave full of icicles, but for a place so accessible it had a wild backcountry feel to it. There were plenty of large beaver dams, boreal birds and wildflowers. It was fun to find such a place without having to travel far from the road. If you’re interested in learning more about Fishing Brook, you can read about my trip by clicking this link.

Editor’s note: This originally appeared in Mike’s weekly “Backcountry Journal” newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

2 Responses

  1. Kevin says:

    Those “wow moments” are what draw me out time and again. They let me know I’m in God’s country; a majestic landscape with wonders in every season. The sounds, smells, sights, and wildlife encounters should never be taken for granted. Thanks for the post.


    My magic moment was on the shore of Mohegan Lake one late Fall/early Winter. The lake had frozen on the edges and then the wind had come up and broken up the ice into a million small pieces. The wind was pushing the ice onto the beach and the sound was like ten thousand crystal cocktail glasses of ice being filled.

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