Plenty to learn in Lake Everest trip on the Ausable River
By Tim Rowland
Lake Everest is wilderness, cleverly disguised. Never mind that it’s in the heart of the hamlet of Wilmington. Overlook the lifeguard and the kayak concession. That concrete boat launch and pavilion? It’s all in your mind.
You are, in fact, just a few swift paddle strokes from a wild setting amidst towering peaks and flowering marshlands that could stand up to anything witnessed by Jim Bridger. Oh all right, there are a few camps, but for much of this easy, 3 mile (round trip) paddle you’ll be too distracted by the mountain majesty to notice.
For Adirondack Water Week, we were actually inspired to paddle this twice, once on our own and once as part of an Ausable River Association group led by Carolyn Koestner, GIS and science communications fellow and river steward Vy Duong.
Sponsored by Paul Smith’s Adirondack Watershed Institute and its partners, Adirondack Water Week both celebrates the water and advocates for its protection.
The Wilmington paddle is a classroom of water goods and bads. There is erosion and a mudslide or two, where tree roots hang on for dear life, along with invasives including non-native honeysuckle and the occasional purple loosestrife, a beautiful bully whose overbearing behavior in the ecology cannot justify its striking spiky flowers.
Even without the loosestrife, the paddle this time of year is a symphony of purple and gold — or as I like to call them, Minnesota Vikings colors — courtesy of the goldenrod and tall bobbing lavender heads of Joe Pye weed.
Whenever a pretty flower catches my fancy, I hold my breath to see if I’m allowed to like it or not, and fortunately the spectacular Joe Pye weed is native, a strong pollinator and is believed to have medicinal qualities too.
According to scholarly research, it’s most likely named for a Mohican chief and herbalist, Joseph Shauquethqueat, who lived in Stockbridge, Mass., and later took the name Joe Pye. Stockbridge, of course, is home to Norman Rockwell and the scene of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” If any small New England town has a better one-two cultural punch than that I’d like to hear about it.
Joe Pye’s tribe was loyal to the Revolutionaries, and he was a correspondent with his “brother,” George Washington. It’s believed, but not confirmed, that he used the weed to treat typhoid.
It thrives in the lush marshes of Lake Everest, which is an impoundment created by a Wilmington dam. These flats, Duong said, are essential to slowing and sopping up flood waters.
They make a striking foreground to the mountains, which begin to appear around the first bend of the river — Esther, Lookout, Marble and then Whiteface itself, lording it over the lesser peaks and ridges like a gray-bearded Zeus. To the north (back over your right shoulder as you’re heading upstream) is the Stephenson Range and its high point of Morgan Mountain.
As Koestner and Duong explained, the marshy shrubs and old snags are rich habitat, and a kingfisher, pileated woodpecker and bald eagle showed up at various points in the paddle to prove the point.
After a little more than a mile of calm water, Lake Everest begins to look less like a lake and more like the river from which it was created. Riffles and low water put an end to our progress, but there are plenty of little channels and coves for exploration and a sandy spit should you care to beach the boat and eat lunch in a quintessential Adirondack river setting.
Heading back to the launch is current-assisted, but barely so. A couple of hours is sufficient for the journey, and the happy splashing and shouts from the Wilmington beach will remind you that you are not alone in this world, even though just a short time before it might have seemed like it.