Hudson River

Traveling the entire length of the Hudson River: Just another day in Wayne’s world

By Fred LeBrun

Spring rafting through the Hudson Gorge with Wayne Failing. Photo courtesy of Wayne Failing.

As signs go, probably the silliest is the one over the Hudson at Newcomb that states, “The river begins here.”

It’s already 50 feet wide with decent depth. I know this is a niggling detail, but it annoyed me, probably because we’d been on the river two days now.

Time to vacate Ruth Olbert’s Old Town canoe and place our lives in the hands of outfitter Wayne Failing, who will raft us through to The Glen, about 50 miles.

As Wayne loads up the raft with gear and grub for three days, I’m treated to a visit to the Newcomb school district, the state’s smallest. All 71 or so kids, plus teachers and staff, in a state-of-the-art facility. Computers everywhere, with a committed faculty. The kids have the best of all worlds, thanks to electronic links.

“A private school on a public school budget,” smiles District Superintendent Barbara Kearns. A half-dozen kids in the kindergarten, eight or so in a combined grades three and four. What a wonderful learning environment.

At any rate, the town of Newcomb showed us extraordinary hospitality. We moved on reluctantly. Wayne Failing, 46, with a big shaggy mane and beard, is the first individual we’ve run into who makes a living from the Hudson. He’s been guiding here for 20 years, starting as a guide for a state Division for Youth program.

He drifted over from the Utica area. His parents had a camp in these mountains, a familiar story. I heard similar tales from teachers at the school, the physician and others. They are lured back by the mountains’ call.

Catching breakfast on the Upper Hudson. Photo courtesy of the Albany Times-Union.

Wayne does about 50 float trips a year. This is his full-time job. Pity him. “Just another day at the office,” quips Failing as he oars us out to the current, such as it is. “The water is lower than it should be for this time of year, several feet.  But we’ll just have to make it up as we go along,” he said with a wicked grin. Who was I to argue, sitting in the bow, crutch by my side? I still couldn’t put much weight on my right knee, hyperextended yesterday in a canoeing spill in a section of rough water.

“Hey, this can’t hurt you, the raft is just one big stretch,” retorted Wayne. He is the smallest of 12 outfitters who run the Hudson Gorge, mostly in the spring when there’s much more water. These outfitters pay more than $40,000 to the town of Indian Lake for water releases on weekends in September, so we expect tomorrow’s run through real white-water country will at least approximate high-water conditions.

Today we will have only low water, mostly flat, and Wayne will earn his keep with the oars. “We’ll see wilderness, maybe a bear, some deer, osprey, eagles. Around us will be the forest of a hundred years ago, also a half-dozen rapids and some hunting camps. The land we’ll be going through is leased from Finch Pruyn,” he said.

Tonight we’ll camp where the Cedar River comes into the Hud-son, three miles from the nearest road by severe bushwhack. “That is fine brookie country. How does rib-eye steak and freshly smoked brook trout suit you? Oh, and a bottle of red wine,” he said.

Oh well, like he said, just another day at the office.

To the left, the humbling dark waters of the Cedar River. Before us, through a line of old white pine and hemlock, the Hudson.

Here, our river is all sound. A constant roar as it tumbles down an average of 80 feet a mile,
surpassing the drop of the Grand Canyon. Picking up speed and force as other rivers, including the Cedar, the Indian and later the Boreas join it, the latter 14 miles below, where we’ll camp for the night.

The Hudson now is intimidating even if it is a lion without teeth.  Water flow is five-to-nine feet lower than during the melt-out days of late April when white-water rafts go shooting through. The challenge for our guide today, ironically, was to find enough water in a few places to get the raft over huge boulders just below the surface. Even so, by day’s end, we are soaked by white water in a few good runs — the narrows below Blue Ledge pool and the Harris Rift.

But the morning began in the ideal setting for meditation. The river, the beauty and solitude of nature, overwhelmed us as our camp awoke amid witchhobble and other flora.

In fact, Mike slipped out of the tent at 4:13 a.m. just to sit by the river for an hour. He was back in the sleeping bag and asleep when I hobbled out at first light and lurched for a spinning rod. Having only one good leg after Thursday’s mishap, for someone used to scampering, this was humbling. Finally, though, I can put more weight on the knee, thanks to a stiff brace.

“The Cedar is excellent brook trout water. Why don’t you catch our breakfast?” Wayne  had said with a smile after dinner. I’m a sucker for a challenge.

I put on several silver and blue spoons and proceeded to cast away on the Cedar. And cast. Nothing. I worked my way painfully, slowly upstream to a good pool and cast some more. Still nothing.

Three men in a raft with Mount Marcy as backdrop. Photo courtesy of the Albany Times-Union.

Only somewhat daunted, I half walked, half hopped back to camp, then down to the shore of the Hudson. In the frenzy of fast water, I saw a few pockets that looked promising. I flicked the spoon in the roily water, and son of a gun, a trout slammed it. A fat, golden, 10-inch brown. Working other pockets, I came up with four others of about the same size and beautiful shape, keeping only three for the fry pan.

I hobbled back to camp as Wayne was pouring coffee and preparing French toast with real butter and real maple syrup. “Real food for real people,” our guide exclaimed. “Another day in paradise, and trout for breakfast, too.”

Three of us ate in blissful silence as the mist lifted off the Hudson and the warm glow of another perfect sunny day rose like a curtain. Tall white pines hiding us from the river, cedar and spruce forest as far as the eye could carry on all shores, neither a sight nor sound of another human.

“This is a scene for Winslow Homer to paint,” I remarked.

“This is a scene not even Winslow Homer could paint,” Mike responded. He’s right. Humbling is the word.

The rest of the day was a joyful, easy cruise in our raft with our expert guide snaking us through frothy runs. We had missed the “bubble” or extra water from a release of the Indian River.  I kept casting at likely water over the next several hours and hooked about 30 fish. No huge fish. But healthy looking browns, a couple rainbow, and smallmouth bass. Not fabulous but certainly good.

Tonight we camp at the Boreas with the sound of turbulent water roaring in our ears.

Tomorrow, we’ll do 20 miles in the raft, winding up at The Glen, below Riparius. This will be our last night in the bosom of the majestic Adirondacks, and already I miss this solitude. There is nothing like it.

[mappress mapid=”18″]

About Adirondack Explorer

The Adirondack Explorer is a nonprofit magazine covering the Adirondack Park's environment, recreation and communities.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your monthly donation now will support Adirondack journalism year round.

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Explorer!