Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow

$16.95, Adirondack Mountain Club

Paul Jamieson’s Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow, first appeared in 1975 and quickly set the standard to which most subsequent guides adhere. It has gone through many editions and picked up a co-author, Donald Morris, who has expanded the book’s reach, in part as a result of his greater experience as a whitewater paddler.

But the writing by Jamieson continues to shine even a quarter-century later. This is to be expected from a professor emeritus of English at St. Lawrence University and the editor of The Adirondack Reader, the acknowledged source book of fine writing through three centuries of Adirondack literature. Jamieson’s prose flows with precision and clarity. And it informs, blending a wealth of information on the Adirondacks, from the early pioneers and loggers to the fantastic wilderness estates of William West Durant, Augustus Low and Marjorie Meriweather Post.

Here is the geology of the region described by one obviously fascinated by the lay of this land—its eskers, kames, kettle holes and glacial erratics. The St. Lawrence River Basin is the largest of the five major drainage systems in the Adirondack Park. Its major rivers, the Grass, Raquette, Oswegatchie, St. Regis, Salmon and Chateaugay are considered “young” rivers geologically, their courses altered 10,000 years ago by the last ice age. The action of retreating glaciers left the region covered by glacial till (clay, sand, gravel and boulders) and created the many spectacular waterfalls, gorges, lakes, ponds, eskers and swamps. The rivers of the Lake Champlain Basin, the Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac and Great Chazy, complete the so-called North Flow.

There are some 40 well-designed sketch maps covering the nearly 800 miles of canoe routes described. And Jamieson provides colorful descriptions of the flora and fauna, such as this graphic sketch of one denizen of the Oswegatchie: “Sapsuckers hammer out a rhythmic territorial code on metal no-trespassing signs.”

Nor does the author hesitate to slip in a word about his own pet concern, the regrettable posting of many of these historic canoe routes over the past 100 years by private landholders. These pointed barbs have themselves become a part of Adirondack lore, for they document the author’s 25-year crusade to roll back the posted signs and barbed-wire fences that stymied access to wilderness streams. It is a crusade that has made great progress in recent years through a series of court victories that promise to make the Adirondacks once again a draw for paddlers as it was in the 1800s.