May 2016 - CANOEING & KAYAKING
Marion River and the Art of the Carry
By Rich Macha
Spring arrived early this year and I was anxious to get out and paddle in the Adirondacks before blackflies made their presence known. I chose to start out on Utowana Lake, then carry 0.4 miles on a trail to the Marion River.
In most of North America, the act of carrying a water craft over land, either between two bodies of water or around an obstacle in a river, is referred to as a “portage;” in the Adirondacks it is simply called a “carry.”
From a gravel pull-off on NY Route 28, between the hamlets of Raquette and Blue Mountain lakes, I shouldered the canoe and walked about 200 feet on a path, which led past a huge boulder to the shore of Utowana Lake. I do not like to carry a canoe, even a lightweight one, for longer distances on my shoulder because the gunwales tend to dig into the shoulder and hip bones.
Not long after I pushed off from shore, a pair of loons swam nonchalantly past before diving out of sight. The lean-to on the north shore was, unsurprisingly in late April, unoccupied; most of the rest of the Utowana’s shoreline is private, yet there is very little development on the lake.
After paddling 0.6 miles, I reached the west end of the lake, and the start of the 0.4-mile carry to the Marion River. From 1899 to 1929, over the same route as today’s carry, a 0.85-mile railroad carried vacationers who were traveling on steamships that arrived from Raquette Lake and the Marion River to the west, and Blue Mountain Lake and Eagle Lake to the east. The carry trail is perhaps one of the easiest in the Adirondacks, with minimal elevation change and fairly smooth surface.
I seldom use a cart to wheel my canoe along Adirondack trails – most trails are just too rough and bumpy, often with roots, rocks and mud along the way. I would, however, consider using a cart on a relatively smooth road-like trail. For instance, I have wheeled a canoe four miles on a dirt road to Newcomb Lake a couple of times, reaching the lake with canoe and camping gear in two hours. Folks have also been wheeling canoes and kayaks into Third Lake in the Essex Chain Lakes Complex by skipping Deer Pond and staying on the dirt road.
Carts should have either wide tires (wheels at least 10” in diameter) or taller bicycle-style wheels (at least 15” in diameter) to help smooth out the ride. The wheels should be fairly wide apart, to prevent a tip-over when one wheel hits a rock, and there should be good ground clearance between the wheels.
I attached my canoe to my fat-wheeled cart making sure the canoe and cart were aligned properly and the canoe was centered over the cart. One strap went around the front thwart of the canoe and another strap around the rear thwart to prevent any shifting. Paddles and pack were left in the canoe and off I went enjoying the view to my left of the Marion River cascading over rocks. Things went smoothly until I arrived at two trees that had fallen across the trail, and I had to lift the canoe high enough so that the wheels would clear this dead-fall. Soon after, I reached the end of the carry.
My cart folds down and is stored easily in the canoe. Sometimes I have just hidden the cart in the woods and picked it up on my return – kayakers might want to use this strategy if there is little storage space available in or on the kayak.
The Marion River here was fairly shallow and had a little current. As the river wound its way for four miles toward Raquette Lake, it grew wider and deeper, and the current became less noticeable. A hill to the northeast had rocky cliffs and I made a mental note that maybe next time I should climb to the cliffs for a view. The river meandered through an expansive marshy area. There was also some cedar swamp and a variety of conifers on drier land.
Three whitetail deer swam across the river well ahead of me; then my illusion of wilderness was interrupted by a small motorboat coming in slowly from Raquette Lake. The boat was soon out of earshot; serenity returned, and I was back in my wilderness. At the lake I turned around and headed back enjoying some views of Blue Mountain in the distance. A handful of blackflies greeted me back at the carry but these “early-birds” were, thankfully, not biting.
For a comparison of carry styles, I had also brought along my usual carry set-up: a removable clamp-on yoke. Most tandem canoes have a permanently-installed carry yoke but solo canoes, including pack canoes, do not come with yokes because the paddler sits close to the center of the canoe. A wooden yoke is usually sufficient for a short carry, but on longer carries some sort of padding is desirable, even on the deep-dish contoured yokes often found on better tandem canoes. There are several yoke pad styles commercially available – I’ve happily been using CVCA pads for years.
After clamping the yoke at or near the balance point of the canoe (slightly stern-heavy is good), I tuck my paddles between front and rear thwarts and the yoke without the need to tie them in – Velcro or shock cord could be used to tie the paddles in, if needed. My life jacket and any other loose items get attached to my dry pack, then I hoist the canoe up onto my shoulders and go. I wrap my bow painter rope around the thwart in front of me, and hold on to the dangling end to keep the canoe balanced overhead; some folks use a rope that goes from front to back, and hold onto it at their hip.
Packs made for the canoeist do not rise above the shoulders like ones made for backpacking – this keeps the pack from interfering with the yoke on a portage. If the pack has a hip belt I leave it unattached so as to keep the pack below shoulder level. My day dry pack is about 35 liters in capacity and my overnight dry pack is over 100 liters.
Carrying the canoe and all the gear in one trip is referred to as “singling” the carry. I’m usually in no rush to get anywhere so I sometimes will “double” the carry, making two trips. On the first trip, I might carry the pack and paddles to scout the route, then go back for the canoe. On this walk back, I can take more time to enjoy my surroundings, since visibility is compromised somewhat when there is a canoe over your head.
In the case of two paddlers in a tandem canoe, the ideal is to have one person carry the canoe and a small pack, while the other person carries a large pack with shared items like stove, cookware, tent, etc., plus the paddles. In many cases, especially when using a heavy canoe and/or bringing the kitchen sink, doubling the carry might make more sense to avoid injury.
Stepping over the downed trees was easy. Back at Utowana Lake I removed the yoke, detached the cart from my pack, and got on my way back to the put-in. It was a very enjoyable and scenic spring paddle.
Rich Macha is owner of Adirondack Paddle’n’Pole, a paddlesport specialty store in Colonie (onewithwater.com). When Rich is not helping customers or instructing, he is out there in a canoe or kayak testing the gear, and exploring the region’s waters.