Rivers whet rafters’ appetite for adventure
By Paul Post
Action—that’s what we offer,” declares Pat Cunningham of Hudson River Rafting Co. “Within three seconds—bango!—you’re in the rapids.”
Hitting the current is like coming out of a rodeo chute. Our raft carried eight customers, not counting our guide, and it was all hands on deck paddling to stay on course right from the get-go.
After three and a half miles of jouncing along the Indian River, we entered the Hudson, the point of no return for those who dare to brave the whitewater of the famed Hudson Gorge. Although shooting rapids provided the most excitement, for me the most memorable moments came as we glided along on a swift, flat current. Leaning back to soak up the sun, I gazed in awe at 200-foot cliffs zipping past, some with a craggy tree clinging for dear life halfway up the precipice. It occurred to me that eagles once nested in this untamed place. Perhaps someday they will return.
The exhilaration of whitewater and the contemplation of wild beauty added up to one of my most enjoyable days in the Adirondacks. That sentiment was shared by my raft mates, judging by their frequent ear-to-ear smiles during the 17-mile journey. Who cares if we got a little soaked?
We took this trip on a sunny day in late April. Perhaps it’s good that spring, the peak rafting season, rolls around only once a year. This kind of adventure can be addictive.
Not that all rafting trips have to be an adrenalin high. Depending on the river and the season, the excursions can be rather tranquil, suitable for kids. What follows is a guide to rafting on the Hudson, Moose and Sacandaga—the three rivers within the Adirondack Park used by commercial rafting companies. All the outfitters provide shuttle service to and from the river.
If you’re after thrills, spring is the best time to run the Hudson Gorge. A dozen companies offer full-day trips from April 1 through mid-May. The journey starts in the Indian River in the village of Indian Lake and ends at the hamlet of North River. The scenic gorge features some of the most remote wilderness in the Northeast.
Rafting the Hudson can be quite demanding. Patrons are expected to paddle through every set of rapids. A guide barks orders from the rear of the raft. “You don’t just sit there,” remarks Eric Hammel, a guide with Hudson River Rafting Co. “It’s physical. It’s a team thing.”
Oh, yes. You can count on getting wet.
You will spend four to five hours on the water during the Hudson Gorge trip, but given the long shuttle, you should plan for an all-day outing. The rafters stop for a snack on the way, and the companies provide a dinner afterward.
Those seeking a less strenuous outing should wait until later in the year. In recent times, the town of Indian Lake began releasing water from a dam on the Indian River four days a week during summer and fall, so rafters can ride the “bubble” through the gorge. Whereas in spring the waters of the gorge reach Class 5 intensity—the most violent ranking—in other months they usually reach only Class 3, deemed moderately difficult.
Families with children may want to consider shorter, gentler voyages on one of the tamer stretches below North Creek. Companies offer a seven-mile trip from North Creek to Riparius and a six-mile trip from Riparius to the Glen. Both feature Class 2 and Class 3 waters. Although the setting is not as wild or scenic as the gorge, it may whet your appetite for more adventurous trips. Either journey takes two hours.
Prices range from $90 to $125 per person for a trip through the gorge and from $30 to $40 for the shorter trips.
You can expect to get wet on the Hudson, but if you raft the Lower Moose in spring, you can bet you’ll be taking a swim at some point. It’s the Park’s most challenging trip, with Class 5 waters guaranteed along much of the 12-mile route. This stretch of the Moose is a pool-and-drop river, featuring rapids followed by flat water and then more rapids.
“You can’t make a lot of mistakes on the Moose,” warns Kathy Beauchamp of Professional River Runners. “It’s not a place to find out how good you are.”
In fact, the outfitters take only experienced rafters who are over 18. “Customers want more and more of the extreme adventure trip. Then when they get it, it’s sometimes more than they can handle,” notes Gary Staab of Adirondack River Outfitters.
You begin a few miles west of McKeever and take out in Fowlers-ville. For most of the way, the river courses through private forests. The trip takes about four hours.
Rafting stops on the Lower Moose after mid-May, but that’s when easier trips, featuring Class 2 and Class 3 waters, begin on the Middle Moose, running into October. Patrons venture out in smaller rafts, escorted by guides in kayaks.
“Middle Moose is narrower, smaller, less powerful current,” Beauchamp points out. “The Hudson, even in summer, has drops where those little boats would be swamped.”
The eight-mile trip starts in Thendara, just west of Old Forge, and finishes in McKeever. For most of the route, the river passes through state-owned woodlands. It takes about two to three hours.
Another possibility in summer is to raft from McKeever, on Route 28, to the put-in for spring trips on the Lower Moose. This 3.5-mile trip is aimed at families.
Prices range from $90 to $105 for the Lower Moose trip and from $25 to $35 for the other two trips.
The Sacandaga is the Park’s most popular rafting river, with more than 30,000 visitors a year. This is probably because the trips are short and sweet. It takes only an hour to float the four miles from Stewart’s Dam, where water is released daily, to Lake Luzerne, where the Sacandaga meets the Hudson. This stretch of the Sacandaga features Class 1 and Class 2 water the whole way, except for a brief Class 3 rapids at the end.
The outing is ideal for families. Children as young as 5 are allowed. The rafting season runs from Memorial Day to October. Prices range from $12 to $25 per person.
Although thousands of people raft each year without incident, the sport carries real risks, especially in spring when the water is frigid. In the past five years, two people have died on the Hudson. So it pays to be prepared.
In spring, wear a hat, socks, gloves and underwear made from wool or synthetics. Unlike cotton, wool and synthetic fabric insulate the body even when wet—a very important consideration if the water temperature is often below 40 degrees.
All outfitters provide wet suits, and a few have dry suits available. They also supply paddles and life jackets.
“I think it’s safe as long as you’re in some kind of physical condition and mentally ready for what’s going to happen,” says Jack Steffek of Castleton, who has rafted the Hudson for years.
“I’ve used several outfitters, and the guides have always been very good and very professional. If people are really unsure, they should try the Sacandaga first.”
For a whitewater rafting guide, contact the Warren County Tourism Department at (518) 761-6366 or visit its Web site: www.visitlakegeorge.com
Adirondac Rafting Co.: Lake Placid. (800) 510-7238. Offers trips on Hudson and Moose. www.raftonline.com.
Adirondack River Outfitters. Old Forge. (800) 525-7238. Hudson, Moose, Sacandaga. www.aroadventures.com.
Adventure Sports Rafting Co. Indian Lake. (800) 441-7238. Hudson, Moose.
Beaver Brook Outfitters. Wevertown. (888) 454-8433. Hudson.
Hudson River Rafting Co. North Creek. (800) 888-2738. Hudson, Moose, Sacandaga.
Hudson Whitewater World. North Creek. (518) 251-3902. Hudson, Moose.
Middle Earth Expeditions. Lake Placid. (518) 523-9572. Hudson. www.adirondackrafting.com
Professional River Runners. Indian Lake. (800) 325-3911. Hudson, Moose. www.proriverrunners.com.
Sacandaga Outdoor Center. Hadley. (888) 696-5710. Hudson, Sacandaga. www.whitewater.com.
Whitewater Challengers. North Creek. (800) 443-7238. Hudson, Sacandaga.
Wild Waters Outdoor Center: Warrensburg. (800) 867-2335. Hudson, Moose, Sacandaga.