OCT 2015 - PADDLING
ROCKing the Boat in the Central Adirondacks
By Rich Macha
There are at least three Rock Lakes and four Rock Ponds in Hamilton County alone. On two days at the very end of summer I explored Lake Durant, Rock Pond, Rock Lake, and the Rock River by canoe – these are found just east of the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake.
The first three weeks of September 2015 were hotter than normal, but someone must have told the weather gods that fall was fast approaching, and that some temperatures more appropriate for the season should be experienced. I was presented with cool mornings and warm sunny afternoons, while fall colors were beginning to show themselves.
I had paddled all of these bodies of water before, but I went this time with a couple of goals in mind. One goal was not to fall in the water and get hypothermic (more about that later), and the other was to see if I could get further upstream on the Rock River than I had before.
Lake Durant and Rock Pond
Lake Durant can be accessed via the state campground at its eastern end, where there is a good boat launch next to the swimming beach. There is also access from Old Route 30 on the northeast side of the lake. On this trip, I used a small beachy launch spot at the end of a dirt road off Durant Road that goes past the trailhead for the Cascade Pond hiking trail.
I first paddled west toward Rock Pond; a wide channel connects the two bodies of water. The leaves of pickerelweed were starting to turn brown and had lost their lovely purple flowers of summer, and there were lots of flowerless lily-pads floating atop the clear but weedy water. A great blue heron kept watch on top of a rock.
After paddling 0.6 miles, I arrived at a long and low bridge that carries the Cascade Pond hiking trail across the channel. I landed next to a rock on the north shore, got out and pulled the canoe over the bridge, and placed it back in the water on the other side – mission accomplished successfully.
Many years ago, when I first paddled here, I reached this footbridge and tried lifting myself out of the canoe pulling myself up directly onto the bridge. The canoe rolled under me and I fell in the cool water. It was a typical late September day with temperature in the 60s. Unfortunately, I was wearing cotton jeans and shirt, and had no change of clothing with me. I was camping at the state campground, and had to paddle 2.5 miles back to my site. In that time, I started to shiver uncontrollably, and I knew I was experiencing early hypothermia. Once back at the campsite I changed into dry clothes, got in my car, and drove around for an hour with the heat on at full blast before the shivering diminished. Since that day I have never worn jeans while paddling in any season, and have avoided wearing anything made of cotton, even on the hottest days of summer. On most of my paddles, I bring a full change of clothes in a roll-top dry bag – lesson learned.
As I pulled away from the bridge, four wood ducks took to flight in front of me. Rock Pond is a small, isolated and peaceful pond with boggy islands. If it was up to me, I would have been more likely to name it Bog Pond, there are rocks about but no more than at any other average Adirondack pond.
I paddled into the pond’s inlet on its west side, and soon reached a beaver dam, which was fairly easy to lift over. Soon after, a second beaver dam was bigger and more of a challenge to get past, but I managed. A short distance further, the deeper water ended, and the inlet was just a rocky woodsy brook. This brook is referred to as the Rock River on some maps, and it drains the marshes near Wilson Pond to the southwest.
Back at the footbridge, I was able to get out and slide the canoe under the bridge, then get back in. If I had tried to stay in the canoe, shallow rocks would make that maneuver impossible. Dragonflies flitted by and chickadees chattered as I stopped for lunch.
Back out onto Lake Durant, I passed my put-in after having paddled 2.75 miles. I continued along the south shore with Blue Mountain looming to the north, its summit at an elevation of 3,759 feet, more than 2,000 feet above the lake. The only negative factor was the traffic noise from NY Routes 28 and 30, which runs between the lake and the mountain.
Rounding an attractive rocky point, I turned south into a wetland looking for a possible inlet, but instead got mired in muck and had to back out to escape. As I approached the Lake Durant State Campground, I could make out Dun Brook Mountain to the northeast. Lake Durant is a manmade lake along the Rock River with a dam at the lake’s east end. Below the lake, the Rock River continues for a few miles dropping more than 50 feet before entering Rock Lake, and finally flowing into the Cedar River.
Turning back, I paddled behind a small island near the north shore with one tall white pine and one colorful maple on it. Just beyond, an adult loon dove along with a juvenile loon perhaps teaching it to fend for itself before having to fly to the seashore sometime within the next month. Another loon further out, beat its wings on the water, as if to strengthen them before migration.
The remote and trail-less Blue Ridge could be seen to the southwest, before finishing up my trip after having paddled a total of 7.3 miles.
Rock Lake and Rock River
Continuing on my Rock-quest, the next day I drove east on NY Routes 28 and 30, and parked at a turnout. A foot trail with red markers and the typical Adirondack roots, rocks and mud heads past balsam fir, then red pine woods for a half-mile to a snowmobile trail. I carried my canoe to here, took a right on the snowmobile trail for a few feet, then ahead of a wood bridge turned left on a narrow path that led another 0.2-mile to Rock Lake.
The water here was shallow and the bottom mucky. I was glad I wore my knee-high neoprene mukluks because I had to wade in a few feet before there was enough depth to the water to float my boat with me in it.
Traveling up the marshy west shore, I found the opening where the Rock River enters at the lake’s northwest corner. Paddling west past marshy shores, I soon reached a large beaver dam that raised the water level behind it over two feet. Luckily, there was some good solid ground below the dam, and getting over it was easy. As I moved upstream, the shores became more wooded and dominated by spires of black spruce, but also some white pine and red maples. The river here remained close to 50 feet wide, and snaked gently for about a mile, before reaching rocky rapids. I parked the canoe and continued on foot, bushwhacking along the south shore for a quarter-mile, hoping to find more flatwater upstream or a 15-foot waterfall that I had heard about. Unfortunately, all I found was a 200-yard stretch of still water, before seeing more rocky rapids.
On the way back to the lake, after passing some dead spruce trees with Spanish moss hanging from their branches, I poked into a couple of marshy backwaters. A pileated woodpecker cackled in the woods. At the lake, I pushed past the Pac-Man-like leaves of fragrant whitewater lilies, and stopped at a lovely piney campsite for lunch. The Rock River exits the lake not far from where it enters. I explored it for a short distance, but a long stretch of shallow rapids with a minefield of rocks was soon encountered.
I then paddled around the lake, going clockwise past some sandy beaches, and stopped to check out a couple of campsites. Again, Blue Mountain dominated the view west. At various times I could make out the nearby Stark Hills, as well as Dun Brook, Sawyer and Snowy Mountains – and I never tired of observing flashes of fall color on the hillsides!
The carry back to the car took 18 minutes, my GPS showed that I had traveled 7.5 miles – including almost two miles on foot – in over five hours. I had thoroughly enjoyed my day.
Rich Macha leads trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Albany Chapter 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.