Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Camp report: Here’s what it’s looking like on Middle Saranac

camping at middle saranac lake

Courtesy of: Your Friendly Neighborhood Adirondack Outlaw

Greetings! As I made a quick trip out from camp for a food/water re-supply before heading back in for a long stint in camp through the Memorial Day holiday with our family, I thought a quick scouting report might be something folks find useful as they prepare to head into the Adirondacks for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

As usual, our family’s camp is at the lean-to on site #63, Middle Saranac Lake. The site known as “Bull Rush Bay.”

I began portaging most of the gear in via canoe from South Creek early on Friday, May 21st. I use two canoes, my 2 man Grumman, which I row, towing my 4 man Grumman, both loaded with gear. It took me two trips & all morning.

Then I met my wife and daughter, who had more gear & their dogs, at the walk-in from Ampersand, with more gear. I towed the empty 4 man canoe over behind my 2 man. So, by the end of the 3rd trip, early afternoon, we had most of the gear for a 2 week family stay in camp.

camp fireIt went pretty smoothly, thanks to calm weather, all except for my 2nd solo trip in. As I rounded 1st Island in my 2 man, towing the 4 man, loaded down heavy, a bass boat came screaming out of the channel with two backwards hat scraggly beard young knuckleheads, who blasted by my going just shy of Mach 12. I managed to turn my 2 man into their wake, but the loaded 4 man behind me on a tow rope responds much more slowly, and got broadsided & almost flipped!  I watched helplessly as my reclining Cabella’s camp chair (my bed, I cannot lie down to sleep due to post cancer complications- it is what allows me to spend nights in camp), which was on top of the load, slipped from the canoe, and disappeared into the lake.

Luckily for me, the whole canoe did not follow. Also luckily for me, it was bright out, and the chair was visible on the bottom in about 7 feet of water. I marked it off a nearby danger buoy, and returned for it later. I did manage to retrieve it, using my canoe umbrella anchor as a grappling hook. So it eventually dried in the afternoon sun and was still usable as my camp bed that night.

The lesson here-Boaters- SLOW DOWN! No wake for canoes. Yes! Your wake can capsize a canoe, and those in it. Quicky! Even when you go by 50 yards away- YOUR WAKE TRAVELS!!!  And the water is still very cold. That could easily have been a disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Though I suspect I taught everyone on the lake, including my daughter, who heard me curse, a few new “camping words.”

On the water, the blackflies are voracious! Bug Dope is a MUST & head nets are recommended, especially for those fishing.  Most bass boats & fishermen I passed were wearing head nets. I wear a complete upper body head net suit while in the canoe for long stints.  Thankfully, on dry land & in camp, we had no bugs, of any kind, to speak of. Not even along shore Only ON the water were they a problem for us. Especially when the wind died down. They were a real factor.

The water is still quite cold. We used it as a drink cooler initially, though it did warm up some. We did swim, quick dips. But use proper precautions, life jackets, etc. on the water, especially for kids & dogs! Know your limits. Watch the weather, plan accordingly.

pitching a tent

The air is still spring chilled as well, especially with a wind, and at night it got downright COLD!!!  Pack cold weather gear, hats, warm shoes/boots, a good jacket, warm sleeping gear, etc. It got into the 30’s Sunday night for us.

The bass were biting. ON the water, so were the blackflies! My son caught a nice 14 inch large mouth. I had a HUGE pike throw my lure just shy of shore.

We saw no sign of bear activity (knock on wood) in our camp.  We did see bald eagles. I had one swoop down and Splash! Pluck a fish from the water 15 feet in front of me while I was fishing myself! We had loons, ducks, I saw a painted turtle swim by my feet on shore. Canada geese seemed to be everywhere, and BOY! Were they noisy!

I also almost stepped on & flushed a fledgling ruffed grouse while I was out gathering firewood. It could only fly a few feet at a time. That was neat to see.

We did have windy rain Sunday. Nothing colder than wet, windy rain in 40 degree temps. Luckily my son & I enjoy stocking up a good firewood pile. So we were pretty well prepared.

camp breakfastWe also set up two canopies, one over the fire place, & the other over the picnic table. I also made a make-shift windbreak using my old army rain poncho. That worked great!

I made a venison roast, we ate Hunter’s Stews, had Jiffy Pop, bacon/sausage/egg & cheese breakfast bagel sandwiches, S’mores, hot dogs, and drank lots of hot coffee & cold bottled water. We invested this year in a propane coffee percolator. It gets 18 thumbs up! Other than the glass carafe. WHY on GOD’S EARTH would any outfit make a camp coffee percolator with a glass carafe?!? Beyond me. Sometimes I think the folks who make camping stuff have never camped themselves.

There wasn’t a ton of boat traffic on the lake, but I expect that will quickly pick up as we approach Memorial Day weekend. So- be aware of those around you, your surroundings, & most of all, stay safe out there, and have a great weekend!

Okay! Time to pack up my supplies & get some rest. Heading back into camp early for a long stint with family through June 4th.

If out on Middle Saranac Lake, guests are always welcome! I’m cooking up a batch of Wild Turkey Soup on Friday. Always plenty. Stop by!

All photos courtesy of Richard Monroe

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A veteran north country writer & story teller raised in Saranac Lake, Dick enjoys “Living in the Day I Am In”, and then writing about it. A severely speech impaired 3x cancer survivor, his pen is his voice. He shares many of his Adirondack Outlaw adventures & tales here. Read the rest on his blog @

18 Responses

  1. Joseph M. Dash says:

    Thank you for the update on what to expect this weekend. Your report does highlight the need for more DEC enforcement of the safety practices of motorized boats. My girlfriend and I were paddling our canoe on Lake Placid last July 4 when a motorboat controlled but a fat, ugly and stupid guy obliviously talking on a cell phone, came whizzing by at top speed and almost capsized us. People on shore were astonished by the idiot’s lack of common sense and courtesy. There have been fatalities involving motorized watercraft and canoes on other Adirondack Lakes. Let’s practice common sense and slow down around paddlers.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      My apologies to everyone for the belated responses to your comments. Just got back in from camp last evening. Packed out and came in 2 days earlier than planned, as the weather report for today & tomorrow looked ominous & Weather is a key factor when in camp, especially when the weather is still cold & travelling via canoe. that Middle Lake gets rough fast!
      John, Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely correct. I haven’t spent much time on Placid in recent years (Used to when we lived there), but boaters everywhere really need to pay more attention to speed safety & courtesy on the water. I doubt any of them want to be responsible for injury or fatality, but that is what could happen. Folks scream up & down the Saranac River from the Lower to Middle lake all the time. My wife & I had another encounter in my small 2 man on a windy day last week with a guy bombing out of the channel full bore. Blew right by us. In the river! Personally, more & more I am becoming a fan of the idea of motor size restrictions on the Middle Lake. Way too much drinking and boating as well. It’s a motor vehicle! Drive sober & practice safe boating at all times, & for GOD’S SAKE-SLOW DOWN!! Have a great summer John. Thanks again for your comments.

  2. Frank M. says:

    More than 3 days at the same lean to? I know a permit can be requested, but I find it unlikely one would be issued for two weeks during prime season.

    • Marc Wanner says:

      He’s in the Saranac Lake Islands campground. The sites can be reserved for up to two weeks, just like Fish Creek or Rollins Pond.

      • Richard Monroe says:

        Marc is correct. Middle Saranac Lake is part of the DEC reservation camping system. Sites on the lake, including lean-to sites, can be reserved for up to two weeks, which is what I did. May 21-June 4th. When I was a boy growing up, there was no reservation system, but two weeks was still the “recognized” time allowed at one site on the lake. It may even have been a regulation back then, I’m not sure. I think the reservation system on the lake came into play late ’70’s early ’80’s maybe? I don’t recall the exact year, but it seems to work fairly well. We were visited by the DEC twice during our stay. Apparently there were some illegal campers further up the lake that had not reserved sites for Memorial day and the DEC had to go police that. A nice pair of young employees out patrolling the lake- though their motor wouldn’t start as they left our site. We see that a lot. Boy! The DEC sure could use funds for some new equipment- and more Rangers! I thought we might have to rescue the DEC for a few minutes there. they did manage to get it started though, and continue their patrol.


    Too bad you cannot publish this everywhere to give people a clue how their thoughtless behavior impacts all who use the woods.
    Thanks for your piece and enjoy one of the Adirondacks most beautiful lakes.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Maralyn, Thank you for reading, and for your comments. I love that lake. It’s a gem. We are blessed. I say a prayer of thanks to God every day I get to spend time out on it. Have a great summer!

  4. Bob Meyer says:

    Great narrations by a vital survivor !
    Thank you Rich!

  5. MAC says:

    Back in the 70’s & 80’s we used to camp a lot on Middle Saranac – probably have been on every site including Weller. It was a beautiful place to camp but out all changed by the late 80’s when the small fishing John Boats were replaced by the large power boats coming in from Lower Saranac. The style of camping changed and the respect that the campers had for each other changed. Never had to have a reservation it was first come first served and I never had a problem finding a campsite and nobody abused the length of stay rules but all that changed. Middle Saranac is not the peaceful spot it once was and I feel sorry for those who only no it as it is today.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Mac, Your memories are very much the same as mine, same time frame in fact. I think you are correct- there are more bigger/faster boats now coming up from the lower lake, and jet skis! I know last 4th of July (our camping dates last summer) – the Middle lake became an absolute zoo! I said in an earlier comment- more & more I am becoming a fan of the idea of motor size restrictions on the middle lake. I think that would solve some of it. I know the other day I was at the Ampersand walk in and had to help push a guy on a big fiberglass boat with a big 80(?) horse engine off the beach, he was mired. Nice guy- beautiful boat, but I think that was just way too big a boat for the Middle lake. That’s a lower lake or Placid boat. It is not what it once was, but it’s still a beautiful lake and my favorite place to spend time in camp. Have a great summer season. Thanks again for sharing your memories & comments.

  6. Jack Delehanty says:

    Get out yur fir-lined PJ’s!! Cool nights are comin’!! (Fewer bugs) Enjoy camp and family. And thanks for your service and for all who served, ditto.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Roger, Jack- Ditto. You sure are right! It got downright cold a few nights! I passed people on the Ampersand Walk In toting in propane heaters. I don’t think they are safe in tents, so I don’t bring mine. We just bundle up. It’s funny you mentioned “fur lined PJ’s”- that’s exactly what I wear. My fleece lined hunting pants were a life saver up there for sure. My collection of old Army poncho liners were also a fan favorite in our camp. I’ve had mine since Ranger School, never head into camp without it. Have a great season- stay warm & safe out there! And yes- the cold weather did knock down the blackflies- but now here come the mosquitos! 1st hatch just coming out at night my last 2 nights in camp.

  7. David Pietkiewicz says:

    Great story! Love it!

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you David, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading. Have a great camping season!

  8. Gregg Spindler says:

    According to my scientific son, ammonia will “smell” until it dries thoroughly. Then nothing is left to deter a bear.

    We grew habanero peppers, dried them, then crushed them in a food processor (gloves and an n95 highly recommended). They are sprinkled on our blue bear resistant barrel. A pinhead sized flake is pretty darned hot for humans. A nose full for a bear or a dog (or any mammal) is painful. Then it degades when you leave.

    Chili powder won’t work. We tried it for squirrels in our bird feeders. You can eat a spoonful yourself. Can’t do that with habaneros.

    Knock on wood, it seems to work. Yogi didn’t show at Indian Lake last week. Hoping for a bear free season at Little Tupper, Lila, Lows, Oswegatchie, Cranberry and points TBD!

  9. Richard Monroe says:

    Greg, your scientific son is absolutely correct. Ammonia smell does dry off. we re-sprayed frequently, went through almost 2 gallons. BUT, based on the reaction of the bear that dragged our ammonia drenched cooler from its perch and bit into it- I strongly suspect that there is a residual foul TASTE that stays on sprayed items and deters (or helps to deter) intruders beyond the 1st bite. I do not know this for scientific fact, just from casual observation of bears in action during in camp field study.
    I bet your habanero peppers work great though!
    1st 2 week trip for us- no bears. So, further non scientific study shows….bear dances work too!
    Have a great bear free summer season!

  10. Tim Krone says:

    The NFCT map indicates there is a free campsite with Lean To in the area of Site 63 on Middle Saranac Lake. Is there a Lean To on reserved Site 63 as well as a second Lean To shelter for those paddling the NFCT?