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Old 08-29-2011, 09:29 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 85
Lows Lila LTL Cranberry loop

Cranberry-Lows- Lila-LTL- Lows-Oswegatchie figure-eight
Paul Conklin (Hemlock Kestrel)

This adventure was an 80-mile trip utilizing five major lakes, the numerous ponds and streams connecting them and the entire length of the east branch of the Oswegatchie River. There were 21 carries for approximately 15 miles of portage. I have previously paddled all segments of this route and have long wanted to put them together to create one big looping odyssey. I deemed this journey doable in four days but allowed six for the inevitable delays and/or secondary wanderings that would undoubtedly attract my attention.

The journey started mid morning from the small village of Wanakena. The first leg was a 7-mile paddle through Cranberry Lake. I was in South Bay when the clouds opened up and it started to rain. It was a warm and pleasant shower, raindrops fell from straight above hitting the lake with a plop; the resulting recoil produced tiny short-lived columns of water on the lakes surface. I was pleased by the way the moisture beaded on my freshly oiled rails… sweet summer rain!

The carry between Cranberry and Lows was the longest on my trip, 258ft. of elevation gain and a full complement of consumables assured that it is the most grueling as well; it took 2½ hrs. to reach Grass Pond Bay. I would be passing through Lows twice, so 2 days or approximately 3lbs. of provisions were stashed in a rodent resistant manner on the large island at the mouth of the bay. I continued south through Lows into Bog Lake. There was a suitable camp (two well spaced hammock trees) near the site of the old Robinwood lodge so it became my home.

It rained through most of the night, by morning the precipitation had stopped but the sky was still overcast and gray. I was underway at 7am with a short paddle through Clear Pond. I shouldered the canoe for my third carry, a mile-long walk adjacent the Adirondack Division Railroad. While portaging I pondered a mathematical formula for calculating the added weight of a wet canoe. There are many variables to take into consideration, the absorption/desorption rates of the canoes various components will vary greatly and are affected by the relative humidity. The physics of surface tension and the cohesive forces of liquid molecules and how they react to an adjoining surface is a complex calculation, to make it even more difficult there was a fresh application of 303 on the hulls exterior. It seemed I had only just started before the carry was over and it was again time to paddle. I think I shall defer and leave the portage weight dynamics of a wet hull to the likes of Wilson and Winters.

After a pleasant paddle through a segment of Harrington Brook there was another short carry to reach Lila. I had my second cup of coffee on one of Lila’s beaches before venturing into Shingle Shanty Brook. A couple miles upstream on Shingle Shanty a paddler must make a decision on whether to use an overland carry of approximately .8 miles to Lilypad Pond or to continue upstream to the confluence of the outlet of Lilypad and use it to reach the same destination. There is some debate to the legality of the waterway route but I understand that the State of New York upholds the right of the public to navigate waters that are deemed navigable-in-fact.

When I arrived at Lilypad it was time for lunch; I made a Spam sandwich while floating amongst the dense aquatic vegetation from which the pond gets its name. There was a short carry to Little Salmon; some beaver activity on the outlet has improved the water depth at the put-in. By this time the clouds had cleared and the sky was blue; the section of Salmon Outlet between Little Salmon and the next carry were most pleasant. I made a decision to paddle up the Hardigan Outlet instead of the .4-mile carry. The allure of a water route is difficult to forgo but in this case it should be. Beaver and log obstructions were numerous; the outlet became so narrow that even the Kestrel was a tight fit. After the paddle through Hardigan came another carry of 1.7miles. The final approach to Rock Pond is sometimes a mire of pedal sucking muck. The water level was low and I had no difficulties.

It was mid-afternoon and I was tempted to select one of the prime campsites on Rock Pond but continued down its outlet towards Little Tupper. There is a short portage around a culvert that I wanted to be beyond to avoid an early morning carry. One of the reasons I enjoy solo tripping is the flexibility it allows to my sleep schedule. I very much enjoy the mornings and it is often my goal to be on the water well before sunrise. Such departures require careful planning; in fact the date of this trip had been scheduled solely on the lunar cycle and the predawn illumination the full moon would provide. Site #24 was vacant, it possessed the critical tree spacing for the hammock and there was a nice seat with a view under a white pine from which to cook my supper. I crawled into the hammock at 6:30pm.

My early bedtime assured an ample period of sleep. I was up and ready to start the day by 3 o’clock. Floating down the outlet the moon was full and bright; I could see the grassy sides of the channel without the use of my lamp. The only sound to be heard was the gentle draw of air through the mouthpiece of a burning pipe of tobacco, that is, until a beaver objected to the intrusion of his nocturnal domain with a loud slap of his tail.

I soon entered the main body of Little Tupper; a low fog clung to the surface of the lake obscuring any chance of detecting the shore. I knew that paddling ENE would take me down the center of the lake. I could verify that heading by glancing starboard and putting Orion’s belt 90 degrees off my bow. My celestial benchmark was keeping me on course until it too was obscured by the accruing fog; a half-mile of condensed water vapor now blocked light that had traveled for over 800 years to guide me through Little Tupper Lake. I sought another means of navigation. Although there was very little wind I observed that smoke from my pipe would drift off to the left when I was pointed in the proper direction. The westerly wind wafted tobacco smoke lead me to the north end of Little Tupper. I stopped at Whitney Headquarters to make use of the modern facilities and to fill up on potable water; a picnic table on the beach was used to brew coffee. It was after 7 before I moved on but the fog had not yet lifted.

Paddling in the shallows of the inlet on Round Lake disturbed tiny black and white moths that were perched on the reeds above the water. Dozens of them would flitter about before settling back down as I passed through. It was the insect highlight of the trip… Well almost, there was the time I took out seven deerflies with a single swipe of my Filson, gratifying but not nearly as cool as the flittering millers.

My tongue was still burning from puffing on a pipe the full length of Tupper so I resorted to a magnetic needle to navigate the fog on Round Lake. By the time I reached the outlet hints of blue were detected in the sky. The rest of the day was a journey down the Round Lake Stream and then up the Bog River. There would be a total of seven carries on trails that are better defined as herd paths. They are slowly becoming more trodden and definable as more folks make the journey through this newly opened area. The scenic beauty and remoteness outweigh the difficulties encountered. The Bog River has a great volume of flow; the aquatic grasses that grow in its depths wave to-and-fro with the current and have a hypnotic affect on the paddler. The final carry of the day was at Lows Lower Dam; the number of vehicles parked here led me to believe I should take the first open camp I encountered. There were two good trees at #5 on Hitchens Pond so it became home for my third night in the woods.

An early morning rain disturbed my slumber. It was not a violent storm that kept me wide eyed through the night but just a gentle shower. The sound of pooled water on the tarp suddenly releasing a rivulet spilling off the edge onto the ground kindled a similar need of my bladder. The last nature call came at about 3am when I decided it was time to decamp. It will typically take me about an hour to break camp. I was quicker this morning because I skipped breakfast knowing that there was a picnic stop along the channel above the upper dam. There I would have the use of a table and the semi-modern facilities out back. I needed to use my headlamp to boil water at the breakfast stop but by the time I was back on the river darkness was releasing its grip on the day. Entering the main body of Lows I was reminded why I like to go solo and keep the schedule that I do. The lake was smooth and quiet; the sun reflected a warm glow off the clouds that matched the amber color of my Sitka Spruce rails. Lows was indeed crowded; there were overturned hulls at every landing but on my three-hour paddle through the lake I was aware of zero activity. I do love the morning!

I retrieved my cache of provisions on the island near Grass Pond Bay. Before proceeding west I made a peaceful foray into the bay to view its granite cliffs. While circumnavigating the bay I came upon a floating but very dead shorebird. Many of the diagnostic clues to the identity of shorebirds are behavioral; not of any use in this case. So a shorebird in the bush is worth two in the hand. I believe that I found a very unfortunate nonbreeding or late season Spotted Sandpiper but can’t be certain.

At the start of the headwaters carry I took a moment to brew coffee and dry out my wet tarp. I couldn’t determine its exact weight gain from dampness but because I was about to begin the second longest carry of the trip I wanted to eliminate as many ounces as possible. It was a good time to organize me gear and put away the new provisions. I had neatly packaged two days of food in my stash but failed to include additional rations of rum. What was I thinking! I don’t know how one of yellowcanoe’s self inflected “dope slaps” might differ from one of my own palm to the forehead blows but I know that if I was traveling with companions I would have received several idiot whacks to the back of the head as well; another advantage to going solo.

In my opinion the headwaters carry is one of the most enjoyable portages in the Adirondacks. Maybe it is because of the welcome midway break at Big Deer Pond or perhaps it’s the knowledge that at the end awaits one of the most scenic paddles you can have. I know that since its opening sometime in the 80’s I have thoroughly enjoyed every traverse I have made, even when carrying my old Grumman. I was devastated after the big blow in 1995 and the loss of so many mature trees. Today one of the things I enjoy the most is bearing witness to the dramatic regeneration of the forest. On this trip I had the thrill of reuniting with a White Pine that I had assumed was lost to the microburst storm. A pine that measured amongst the largest in the state; I first came to know this tree on a bushwhack from Nick’s Pond in 1985.

On the carry I stopped at the mailbox (a receptacle that holds a register) to leave an entry in the journal; before leaving I noticed some orange flagging off the to west. Always curious I followed the bits of bright plastic. It will sound silly to most but I was flushed with emotion when I discovered where the trail took me. After 26 years I had stumbled upon an old friend who I had given up for dead. She is probably no longer a New York State contender as a portion of her crown is missing. I was able to measure her circumference to be 12ft. 9in. still an impressive tree.

After lunch I resumed the trek to the Oswegatchie. It was a little late in the season but I was able to glean a few thimbleberries from the bushes adjacent the trail. At the end of the carry is a spring with some of the nicest water one might find in the wilderness. It was very early in the afternoon; I could have easily gotten many miles down river but I decided to camp at site #4 at the end of the carry and use the remaining daylight to explore further upstream.

I can’t recall how many beaver dams were crossed but I got to a point where the river made a very obvious split. I elected to continue on the westerly fork. It is difficult to know for sure how far I got but I continued to a point where the left bank and right bank alders were shaking hands. I will assume I was within a half mile of the State Forest boundary. It had always been the goal of my late friend Wesley Hammond to make it to Partlow Milldam. I’m not sure if it would be possible or not but it would please me to one day accomplish his unfulfilled dream. I returned to #4 with enough daylight for supper and a swim in the river. I had many miles of privacy in all directions.

I slept late on Friday and didn’t rise until 5am. I still had two days to be in the woods and was contemplating additional exploration. I moved my camp down stream near to the confluence with the Robinson River. I have twice hiked south from High Falls over Partlow Mountain and down the Robinson to Sliding Falls. The easterly flowing portion of the Robinson from the base of Partlow to the Oswegatchie are virgin territory for me and were part of the day’s agenda. I was also eying West, Gal and Cracker Ponds.

From the Oswegatchie I pulled the canoe a short distance up the Robinson and set out on foot, rock-hopping its boulder-strewn bed. I took my time and made frequent stops to take in the wildness of the river. There were moments when thousands of dragonflies occupied the open zone of space above the river and below the canopy of the trees. Dark green ferns and soft mosses grew on the larger rocks. Somehow a Kingfisher found enough flying space to swoop by giving its ruckus chatter. At each bend of the Robinson was another cover photo for fly-fisher-mans monthly. After a mile of babbling brook the gradient levels and the river could be better negotiated with a small canoe. Lacking that I plotted a compass course for West pond to the south. In route I happened upon some very fresh moose tracks; they were headed in the same direction. My Bullwinkle sensors were turned up to eleven. I made a stealthy approach of West believing that Mr. Moose would be near shore snacking on some pickerelweed but alas no moose was seen. I turned to the east and made my way to Gal. It was an equally beautiful pond, sans a moose but it did have one of the most irritated beavers I’ve ever encountered. It must have slapped a warning splash with its tail a dozen times. I assumed that he might not get many two-legged visitors and viewed me as strangely unique. The third pond in my crosshairs was only a mile further south. Several times I calculated the feasibility of pushing forward for Cracker but distance, daylight and terrain did not add up with a comfortable margin of error for making it back to camp. Cracker would be saved for the return visit. I made my way north over Greenfield Mountain and back to the Robinson River. I encountered numerous piles of moose poop along the way. Back at camp it was the same routine of wash, eat and retire.

I got the earliest start on my last day in the woods. I view this as a testament to the quality of sleep from a hammock; I was about the chores of breaking camp at 1:40am. My paddle began with negotiating a 4½ft. beaver dam. I floated more than paddled; there were many obstacles to my journey but my headlamp was not needed. I enjoyed the mystery of what might lurk in the darkness beyond each bend. At High Falls I made another cup of coffee and took it to the center rock in the river. There were dozens of tents pitched near by but no one was awake to share my crepuscular moment at the brink of the falls.

The reminder of the trip was very familiar being my second journey on the river in two weeks. I never tire of the Oswgatchie and its endless meanders. I’ve never counted the number of bends on the river but I read somewhere that there are 192 points of inflection bellow High Falls alone. I should again defer my knowledge of math and physics to CEW but I believe that a point of inflection cannot exist without having at least two curves in which to stick it. The sharpness of some of these curves is so acute that if a bowman should paddle really hard he can sometimes see the back of his sternmans head or so I’ve been told, I am strictly a solo paddler.

A trip down river usually ends at Inlet but I was faced with one last 2-mile carry back to the village of Wanakena. My looping figure-eight odyssey was complete when I walked across the footbridge.

Last edited by Conk; 03-14-2017 at 11:20 AM.. Reason: spelling
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Old 08-29-2011, 09:50 PM   #2
Join Date: Jun 2008
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That's awesome. I really enjoyed reading that. Thank you for posting. Very cool.
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Old 08-29-2011, 11:47 PM   #3
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In the short time I've been visiting this forum I've really come to appreciate your colorful (and humorous) writeups and lovely pics. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 08-30-2011, 07:20 AM   #4
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A very enjoyable TR about an impressive solo trip.
Particularly liked some of those early morning photos, they really captured the essence of quiet water and soft light...
Stripperguy's Photos (sort of)
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Old 08-30-2011, 07:44 AM   #5
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Very nice!
"There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go." -from "The Call of the Wild" by Robert Service

My trail journal: DuctTape's Journal
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Old 08-30-2011, 08:04 AM   #6
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nice TR Conk! thanks. loved the photos too. glad your Filson's good for something other than "looking cool"!
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Old 09-12-2011, 01:20 PM   #7
Sir Rhosis of the River
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As always, I enjoyed this trip report, Conk. And I have to say, given your daily paddling and sleep schedule, I'll satisfy myself with reading about your trip rather than in partaking in one!

That looked like a pretty large chicken-of-the-woods. I assume you left it there, but boy, them's good eating!! I have no idea what the other mushrooms were.

Thanks for sharing!

In the haunted house of my life, paddling is the only stair that doesn't creak.
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Old 02-13-2019, 05:00 PM   #8
paddler, baker, hiker, guy
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As a new member, I'm just reading this in 2019 and found it inspirational. Thanks!
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Old 02-17-2019, 02:27 PM   #9
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Thanks Conk. Great trip report! Wonderful read for a cold snowy Sunday afternoon. Must say I admire your "Early Morning" routine.
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