AUG 2015 - KAYAKING, CANOEING & SUP
Rivers Amongst Mountains
Paddling the Upper Hudson and Opalescent Rivers
By Rich Macha
In April, New York State purchased the 6,200 acre MacIntyre East tract from The Nature Conservancy (formerly owned by Finch Pruyn). This parcel contains over five miles of the upper Hudson River not far from its source, as well as seven miles of the Opalescent River. It is located east of County Route 25, the dead-end road that ends at Upper Works, and a popular trailhead accessing the Adirondack High Peaks area from the south.
An area with clear water rivers surrounded by mountains that rise up to 3,600 feet above those waters makes for a very attractive paddling destination. On a hot day in July a group of us from the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club drove up to see what the area has to offer.
From Boreas Road (CR 2) we drove north on CR 25 for 4.4 miles, took a right onto Opalescent Road, and very quickly reached a locked gate ahead of a bridge over the Hudson River. There was room for several cars to squeeze in off this dirt road. As I understand it, the public is currently allowed to walk this dirt road for 1.75 miles past the bridge; beyond that, access is allowed only for private logging operations and to camp lessees.
I carried my solo canoe across the bridge and launched below it. Launching above the bridge might have been a better option so as to avoid the quickwater that flowed under the bridge. A few mosquitoes bothered us here but once on the water we were bug-free. Our first goal was Sanford Lake, a widening of the Hudson River, which is a mile upstream from the bridge. We soon passed the mouth of the Opalescent River and paddled against a moderate current in water that was only a foot to a foot and a half deep.
After going 0.8 miles and a little before the lake we enjoyed an excellent view of Mount Adams with its fire tower, and peaking over its shoulder was Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York. Mount Colden and mighty Mount Marcy, the state’s highest, were also clearly visible. From the south end of the lake, we could see the cliffs of Wallface to the north, and the Santanoni Range to the west. We spent a few minutes sitting in our canoes admiring our surroundings.
We then headed back down the Hudson and turned into the Opalescent River. As is typical of Adirondack streams, the Opalescent takes a convoluted course, but uniquely characteristic of the Opalescent are the many sand and pebble banks that seem to exist at every turn – these make for great spots to take a break or to go for a swim. The current was light to moderate and I had to get out and walk my canoe through pebbly shallows several times, but for the most part, the water ranged from one to five feet deep.
At 1.7 miles from the Hudson, we paddled under a railroad bridge that used to serve the titanium mine at Tahawus, where operations at the mine ended in 1989. I was happy to find a few ripe blueberries as I was clambering up to the tracks. The views of the river from the bridge upstream with Allen Mountain in the background and downstream were lovely.
At the two-mile mark we stopped on a sandy bank for lunch; the shade of an overhanging maple provided respite from the sun. The North River Mountains rose up in front of us to the southeast. Most of us also went for a cool swim at the sandy-bottomed pool below.
We pushed on upriver and had to get out to walk our boats over more shallow areas. After traveling 3.75 miles from the Hudson the east shore grew steeper, a sloping rock was at river’s edge, and just past that was a dune-like sand bank – the largest that we encountered on our route. At this point we were perhaps only a quarter-mile east of the tailings at the old mine, but we could just as well have been in the middle of nowhere.
After studying maps and satellite images I knew that the river’s gradient started to increase above this point. I was happy getting up as far as we had gone and it was time to turn back. Paddling downstream, my canoe lightly scraped rocks in the shallows, and I only needed to get out once. It took us one-and-a-half enjoyable hours to ride the current back out to the Hudson. I did not see much wildlife but the sounds of white-throated sparrows and hermit thrushes emanated from the mostly deciduous woods.
Back at the start, after traveling 9.8 miles to this point, the explorer in me wanted to experience the Hudson River below the bridge. I persuaded a couple of companions to continue downstream while others drove the cars a mile south on CR 25.
The Hudson River here arcs away from the road before returning toward the road after about two miles. The river is wider than the Opalescent and travels between coniferous shores of cedar, black spruce, and the occasional tall white pine. Black-capped chickadees called out from the woods as we passed by.
Not seeing the cars we continued at least a half-mile past where the road came nearest to the river, but after consulting maps and GPS we felt it best to paddle back upstream against a light current. We explored two routes back to the road, neither of which we liked; at best expect a 100 yard uphill bushwhack, at worst a wet mucky bushwhack thru a tangled thicket. I was very glad to have seen this section of the Hudson though.
Our total distance for the day was 13.4 miles and we spent over seven hours exploring this very scenic area. The Hudson River gauge at Newcomb was at 2.35 feet this morning – I’m not sure how this relates to the water levels upstream of Newcomb, but I would not want to do this trip when levels are much lower. Just a few days after this trip the level at the gauge was well below two feet. I would guess that a gauge level of 2.5 to 3.0 feet would be ideal for a trip up the Opalescent – perhaps I should plan a return trip in the fall.
Rich Macha (firstname.lastname@example.org) leads trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club’s and is owner of Adirondack Paddle ‘n’ Pole in Colonie, a store specializing in canoeing, kayaking and cross country skiing. For more trip reports visit onewithwater.com.