Adirondack Paddler’s Guide

Paddlesports Press $28.95, softcover, 195 pages
Paddlesports Press
$28.95, softcover,
195 pages

Some of my favorite canoe trips are included in Adirondack Paddler’s Guide, a highly welcome guidebook by Dave Cilley, the owner of St. Regis Canoe Outfitters in Saranac Lake and Floodwood.

The Lower Osgood is one of them. I’ve paddled and written about it many times, though only once did I choose to start from the highest navigable point, encountering, as Cilley warns, considerable brush-whipping from alders whose branches had grown across the river. It can be a little disconcerting when faced with a brisk spring current. The branches sting, they tear off eyeglasses and hats, and there is little chance of turning around to retrieve them. The sudden appearance of a downed tree would not be a pleasant experience.

Cilley warns of all this. The book is full of useful information about water conditions, portages, put-ins and takeouts, the danger of wind and waves, and sweepers—trees that have fallen into the waterway and that can easily flip a canoe and trap the paddler, holding him underwater. “You can not breathe there,” Cilley cautions. “Think about it.” I have. I now choose to start lower down on the Osgood.

I plan to use this book a lot. But I’ll take along Paul Jamieson’s and Don Morris’s Adirondack Canoe Waters— North Flow to flesh out my knowledge of the area.

Unlike those authors, Cilley does not reflect on the literary, historical and cultural aspects of the region, but he compensates for this by giving us some of the best maps of trips that I’ve found in a book of this sort. It must be pointed out, however, that maps do not accompany all of the route descriptions. The book is meant to be used in tandem with Cilley’s “Adirondack Paddler’s Map,” which can be purchased separately ($16.95) or bundled with the book ($44.95).

Cilley’s book is restricted to paddling trips in the northern Adirondacks, where there is an abundance of navigable rivers, ponds and lakes. Some of these trips are now open to the public as a result of state land deals in the past decade.

A canoeist practices his balancing act on the Jordan River.
A canoeist practices his balancing act on the Jordan River.

Quebec Brook is one such paddle. I made this trip in 1999, the year after the state acquired a large tract from Champion International, land that was logged beginning in the 1870s. To remove the timber, railroads were built through the forest, and so old rail beds cut through the region. Portions of a long-abandoned spur line paralleling Quebec Brook have been adapted for carry trails.

When I arrived, the parking lot had just been completed and the portages were still being worked on. I had to haul my solo canoe a hundred miserable yards through thick stands of spruce. One of our members refused to go this route, instead pushing himself up the rapids with his hands, an impressive feat in its own right. The access to Madawaska Pond had not yet been approved, so I look forward to making the trip again, using Cilley’s explicit directions as a guide.

The author dispenses with the Onion River, which flows into Quebec Brook, in 11 words. It deserves more. At the confluence of the two flows there is an open wetland of grasses and cattails that stretches hundreds of yards in every direction, unusual topography for the Adirondacks. (It’s been said that the Onion is the only Adirondack “river” that is a tributary of a brook.) One of my paddling partners tells me of seeing an otter on the Onion—a fine turn of phrase.

The landscape on lower Quebec Brook is open and rolling with sedge grasses backed by the massive wall of Jennings Mountain. On our trip, when the woods were ablaze with color, we saw goshawks, kingfishers and a huge, prehistoric-looking great blue heron, the largest of these birds I’ve ever seen. Annoyed at our passing, it alighted heavily onto a dead tree, whereupon the branch snapped, sending the bird squawking off again into the distance.

There are so many wonderful trips in this book: the Bog River, Low’s Lake, Little Tupper Lake and its connecting ponds, the Oswegatchie Traverse, the South Branch of the Grass, the Jordan, and on and on. Finding your way with this guide (and “Adirondack Paddler’s Map”) will make your paddling days a pleasure.

Cilley says the Long Lake-to-Tupper Lake paddle may be the most popular trip in the Adirondacks. I once recommended this trip to a friend who wanted to take his wife along for their first trip as a couple. When asked how long the Raquette Falls carry was, I said offhandedly that I thought it was about half a mile. In fact, it’s closer to a mile and a half, with a steep climb and descent. The air was blue, as they say, and it reinforced for me why I take the coward’s way out and will never be a guidebook author.

Cilley mentions the Oxbow, farther down the Raquette, as an interesting place geologically but says nothing about how confusing it can be to paddle here should you miss the narrow opening through which the nearly indistinguishable current flows. Canoeists who passed it have been known to paddle in a circle and start heading upstream. The Oxbow is the site of Noah John Rondeau’s run-in with a game warden that resulted in the Adirondack hermit being jailed for three weeks.

Imagine if my friend and his wife had taken a wrong turn on the Oxbow. It could have had disastrous results for their marriage. On the other hand, I can hardly imagine anyone getting lost or overextended using Adirondack Paddler’s Guide. Dave Cilley can take pleasure in the certainty that he will save marriages in the long run.