July 2017 - KAYAKING, CANOEING & SUP
Paddling Northern Lake George
By Alan Mapes
Lake George is a top pick for paddling in eastern New York, but the waters there are often rocking and rolling with motor boat traffic all summer. To escape some of the power boats and the ruckus they create, two friends and I recently chose to paddle the north end of the lake. We launched from the beach at Hague in late June. The north end is usually quieter, and it boasts some of the most spectacular scenery you can view anywhere from the seat of a hand-powered boat.
The launch ramp was not yet open for the season on a Wednesday morning, so we carried our gear across the lawn to a spot next to the swimming beach. We planned a route looping to the north, hitting some of the highlights on that stretch of lake. We started out along the shore, working our way past the hamlet of Hague waterfront and to a small group of beautiful islands not far away. I’ve heard this island group referred to as the “Waltonians,” though I’m not sure that’s an official name. In any case, Waltonian Island is one of them, along with Temple Knoll Island, Flirtation Island and several others. The three I’ve named have state campsites on them – a total of 10 sites. They are the furthest north of the many state island campsites.
Passing by the islands, we rounded Friends Point and set a straight course for Rogers Rock State Campground and Day Use Area, two miles away. My companions Julie Elson and Michael Kalin, both from Albany, know this stretch of the paddle well. They had volunteered with a swim event from Hague to Rogers Rock, serving as safety and support paddlers. For this kind of distance swim event, each swimmer has a kayaker accompany them.
Landing at Rogers Rock, we heard a chittering from above and saw two merlin birds chasing each other through the tops of the huge white pines. My guess is we were seeing an adult and a young one, recently out of the nest. These small falcons are superb fliers and have become a fairly common nester in New York State over the past 30 years. Before that, none nested in the state.
After a stretch and rest stop at the campground, we continued north past the cliffs of Rogers Rock, then past the steep slide face of the mountain. That smooth rock face slopes dramatically right down to the water. With a southwest wind pushing us along for these first four miles of the paddle, we knew we should think about turning back south and into the wind before too long. A tailwind like this makes paddling so easy that it lulls you into going too far. Then you have to fight your way back home against the breeze.
We could see some white-capped waves popping up in the center of the lake, so we crossed the narrow part from Coates Point over to Black Point. The Ticonderoga Black Point Beach near Turtle Rocks offered another good landing and stretch spot. We found no turtles on the rocks, but they were covered with ring-billed gulls, their chests showing bright white in the sunlight.
Launching again and working our way south along the east shore, we paddled along another pretty rock face and approached the point at Anthony’s Nose. The waves and wind were the strongest of the trip at that spot, and the waves seemed to be coming from two directions and combining in unpredictable ways. It was hard to anticipate which way your boat would be pushed next. This often happens where waves hit a hard vertical shore. In this case it was a natural rock wall, but the same effect applies with a manmade bulkhead. Waves reflect back off the hard surface, interacting with new waves coming in and creating confused water. I actually seek out these spots, using them to practice my rough water skills.
Rounding the point, we swung into Blair’s Bay and followed the shore past a nice group of shoreline camps at Glenburnie. From the point at the south end of Blair’s Bay, we took a straight shot back across the lake to Flirtation Island. From there, it was just a grind back against the wind to Hague beach. As we approached the landing, I was really feeling my lack of paddling this spring. It was my first paddle longer than six miles for the season. I usually paddle for a solid month down south in the late winter, but it did not happen this year. Julie and Michael on the other hand, had been paddling several times a week since March. I managed to keep up, but felt it in my shoulders and legs the next day – actually, the next two days.
Our trip totaled about 14 miles, longer than many people may want to undertake. Further, you must respect the power of the big lake, making open crossings only if you have the proper skills and experience. Serious waves can blow up in a hurry on Lake George, and weather predictions anywhere in the North Country are very subject to change.
If You Go – Three public launches serve the northern end of the lake: 1) Hague Town Park has a nice boat launch next to their swimming beach. Kayak, canoe and paddleboard launching is free, as is parking. The visitor center here has restrooms. A short walk brings you to the wonderful Hague Market, with beverages, snacks, sandwiches, and other takeout food; 2) Rogers Rock State Campground, on the west shore north of Hague, offers motor and hand launching for a nominal day-use fee; and 3) Mossy Point State Boat Launch on the northeast corner of the lake, south of the hamlet of Ticonderoga.
Happily, you have a number of shorter paddle options for the north end of the lake. Following the shore from Hague to Rogers Rock Campground and back will cover 8-10 miles. Starting at the campground will allow for much shorter paddles, but some of the same spectacular scenery. Give the north end of Lake George a try!
Alan Mapes (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sea kayak instructor and guide, certified by the American Canoe Association and Paddlesports North America. He lives near Delmar and offers kayak instruction through the Capital District Kayakers Meetup Group.