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Old 06-28-2009, 06:31 PM   #1
ALGonquin Bob
Lake Lila - Low's Lake carry
 
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Canoe trip: Lows-Oswegatchie Traverse

RETURN TO “OS”
Bog River – Lows Lake – Oswegatchie Traverse
October 1991 & June 18-20, 2009

My PHOTOS:
1991 - http://tinyurl.com/1991Bob-OsTraverse
2009 - http://tinyurl.com/2009Bob-OsTraverse
Dan’s PHOTOS: http://tinyurl.com/DanOsTraverse09


October 1991: My first ever canoe trip longer than just a weekend. After doing diligent research in Paul Jamieson’s “Adirondack Canoe Waters North Flow” book, I borrowed my boss' boots and recruited my co-worker, Domenic, and a friend of his (I don‘t recall his name). The three of us drove to the Adirondacks in 2 cars for a 35-mile paddling adventure that would take us 5 days. Because we had to rent canoes from Dave Cilley’s St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, our first and last days would include the additional hours it took us to drive to the outfitter for the boats and back-track to the put-in. On our way through Tupper Lake, we paused for photos with the tall wooden lumberjack that stands in the lakeside park along Route 3.

June 2009:
In the 18 years since that big adventure, much has changed. For the area around the Oswegatchie, the biggest change came in the form of a severe storm, a microburst, that swept through the bordering Five Ponds Wilderness Area in the summer of 1995, leveling thousands of trees and changing the landscape for decades to come. Since then, I have done many more canoe and kayak trips, and beginning in 2000, I started hiking and backpacking. Last year, I began to have thoughts of repeating the Oswegatchie trip, but I would use the experience gained over the past decade, and perhaps be able to do it easier with my newer lightweight gear. After reading about other people’s trips on the Oswegatchie in various Internet forums and message boards, I decided to try this trip again in 2009. My co-worker, Dan, enthusiastically signed on for the trip to accomplish a long anticipated goal, and to check-off another adventure from his “Bucket List“. To save nearly three hundred dollars on the shuttle, Dan and I drove up in 2 cars, each with our own solo canoe. On our way through Tupper Lake, we paused for photos with the tall wooden lumberjack that still stands in the lakeside park, despite vandals’ attempts to burn him down a couple years ago.

1991: Looking back at my photographs of that trip, I see myself wearing jeans and a vinyl rain suit, and carrying lots of bulky gear. I carried a 2.5-gallon plastic jug for water and iodine tabs for purification. My old Coleman sleeping bag was huge compared to what I carry today, and my single burner stove required a small but heavy 1-pound bottle of propane as fuel. Our food would be hung from a tree or optimistically stashed in the woods overnight to hide it from bears or other hungry scavengers. We launched at Lows Lower Dam in the afternoon of a cold autumn day. When we carried up the trail toward the old upper dam, we passed the empty, windowless, wooden shell of Augustus Low’s Adirondack camp . Because of the extra driving for the rentals, we were still on the Bog River at the end of our first day. It was dark. We had paddled into a dead-end bay and out again. Heavy wet snow fell from the dark gray clouds above. We made camp on a small island that night, without even reaching the lake.

2009:
We wore our synthetic wicking clothes, wool socks, and Gore-Tex (or equivalent) waterproof breathable shells. Everything I had fit in or on a moderate-sized daypack. My small 40-degree bag and 2-pound tent helped make for a lightweight pack. Dan brought a small MSR canister stove, and I carried a single fuel canister as back-up. Dan had his compact water filtration pump, while I had iodine tabs as back-up. We both carried a combination of Nalgene water bottles and very lightweight collapsible Nalgene or Platypus water storage containers. My new 8-ounce “Ursack” bear proof bag would hold all of our food at night and be tied securely to a tree to prevent theft by the residents of the forest. Since we had our own boats, we simply dropped Dan’s car off at Inlet, loaded both canoes onto my car, and drove directly to the put-in at Lows Lower Dam, built in 1903. We were on the water around 1, and made good time up the Bog River under cloudy sky and a light, misty rain. I held out hope that we might see a moose on this trip, since their numbers have been increasing in the past few years. While carrying around the upper dam, we walked past the stone foundations, fences, and fireplace that are the only indication that a grand home once stood there. We explored the remains and appreciated the remnant flower garden that was in bloom. Lows Upper Dam, originally built in 1907 to form Lows Lake, was rebuilt in 1993. There was some activity around the dam, with obvious signs of use, including a truck that was grading the gravel road, and a “No Parking” sign across from the dam. The put-in is now around the corner from the dam on an adjacent road, at a low wooden dock. Paddling up river, we soon reached the floating bog mat. It doesn’t quite block the river, and we were able to paddle past it while enjoying the various types of flora that grow on it, including many beautiful blue iris. The main remnant of the bog mat resides farther down on Lows Lake - we had a good view of it from campsite #28, just a short paddle across the lake from the carry trail. We stopped, the light rain persisted, and up went the solo tents. My green 8x10 tarp served as our dinner shelter, with my red canoe as a back rest. As darkness took hold of the day, loons provided a soothing melody.

1991: The next day, we left our emergency impromptu camp and paddled up the Bog River until we were stopped by the floating bog mat that blocked the channel. We were able to pull our loaded canoes over it and continue onto Lows Lake, where we headed up to Grass Pond at the far end and camped on a proper site. I recall that we stopped early enough that we all had time to go for a walk along a road that ran behind the campsite.
Day 3 was “The Carry”; a 3-mile portage interrupted only by a small pond near the beginning of the long walk. After breaking camp, we paddled out of Grass Bay, and across Lows Lake into the bay of stumps to find the carry trail. We hauled all of our gear to Big Deer Pond, then went back for the canoes before paddling across the pond for the start of the 2.2-mile portage to the Oswegatchie headwaters. I recall a high canopy of mature trees, with open views of the esker that parallels the trail for a while. At one point, we saw a man up on the esker who was carrying an axe - a quite unusual sight to us, and we weren’t thinking of Paul Bunyan as our imaginations ran with that image. Sometime in the midst of all that, it began to rain. Again, we carried all of our gear the full distance to the Oswegatchie and walked back empty-handed to retrieve the canoes and the remaining gear. By the time we had carried everything from Lows Lake to the headwaters, we each had walked 9 miles, and it had been dark for a while. We made camp in the rain on a not-so-nice site adjacent to the river. I wore my vinyl rain suit, Dom had a nice poncho, and our other camper, who had not thought to bring a rain jacket, wore a trash bag with holes punched out for his head and arms. But we were (sort of) enjoying ourselves.


2009: Day 2 was “The Carry”. We paddled across Lows Lake in a fine misty rain on a windless flat water surface. I remembered that we would have to paddle through a watery field of old tree stumps to the landing where the 3-mile carry to the headwaters of the Oswegatchie River, or “Os”, begins. We assembled our gear in and on our packs, tied the paddles into our canoes, and began walking toward Big Deer Pond, just eight-tenths of a mile away. We were both able to do the walk without stopping to rest. At the put-in, we tossed our packs into the boats and paddled about .5 mile toward the other end of the pond. I couldn’t see the portage sign, but paddled toward a shiny disc that turned out to be part of a helium balloon that stuck there in a tree. Perhaps not coincidentally, the metallic balloon was immediately in front of the carry trail. Once again, we put all of our gear onto our backs, secured our paddles inside the canoes, and set off walking another 2.2 miles over the rainbow to the land of “Os”.
I had heard that there is a registration station (a mailbox) on the height of land, but we didn’t see it. Although my 15-foot Wenonah boat weighs about 18 pounds more than Dan’s 12-foot Old Town, the combined weight of pack and canoe was quite bearable - almost comfortable. For me, the key is to get as much as possible on my back, so the weight of the canoe on top of my shoulders was minimized. We stopped to rest just twice on the 2+ mile walk. Our first stop was to carry across a broad, well-established beaver dam, with subsequent very short walk/paddle across its outlet. While stopped for our second brief rest, I opened a large package of Planter’s peanuts, ate a few of them, and stuffed the open package into my pocket (remember this - it will come up later). The forest scenery looked quite different from my memory of 18 years earlier. I never did see that esker (elevated glacial remnant of a river bed), and the trail had many open areas where low bushes grew and intertwined across the path. Soon, we were looking at the headwaters of the Oswegatchie; we had succeeded in 1-timing the carry! I recalled camping in an open site next to the trail back in ‘91, but the site there today is a short walk away and much different than I remembered; I think the campsite was moved. It was early afternoon, still misting, and we had most of the day remaining to paddle down the river.

1991: Thankfully, the rain ceased overnight. Day 4 was looking like one of those great sunny October days that we all hope for, and I changed into my last full set of dry clothes (wool, cotton, denim, and no Gore-Tex). We launched onto the Oswegatchie, and headed downstream. Soon after putting-in, we passed by campsite #6, and standing next to his large canvas tent (poles cut on site) was Paul Bunyan, drinking his morning coffee. We later learned that mid-October is big game hunting season in the North Country, and many hunters head up the river to erect base camps, complete with huge tents and wood-burning stoves. Many trees lay across the river, and we were able to lay back onto our canoes to slip beneath a few of them. Most of the beaver dams were low enough for us to paddle or push across. We carried over 2 of the higher dams, and should have carried over a third. I was paddling solo in a rented Mad River Malecite tandem boat (Royalex) when I decided to paddle over one of the higher dams. The canoe made it part-way across, then teetered precariously on its keel. I jumped out of the boat in order to avoid dumping everything, and succeeded in preventing a swamp. The canoe continued upright over the dam, while I swam and walked to shore. Luckily, the rain had long-since stopped, and the sun made things just a little nicer while I changed back into my still damp clothes from the previous day; my boss’ nice clean boots were now completely broken in. Without further incident, we reached High Falls, scouted the final pool, paddled through the Class 1 chute just above the falls, and took out on the rocky shore. A Forest Ranger greeted us on the carry through the open woods and asked if we were carrying fishing gear (we weren’t). Near the base of the falls, the sun shined through a smoky haze coming from the nearby lean-to, a high forest canopy providing a majestic scene all around us. We launched below the falls, took some pictures, and continued down river. Our last night’s camp was on a nice open site across from a flat, treeless area called “The Plains”. Fair weather allowed us to dry our wet gear, and we had a good view as well. As we were setting up our tents, a string of four hikers walked past on a trail, accompanied by a pack animal - a llama! I scurried for my 35mm camera, but was too late to capture the unusual image on film. We enjoyed our final night in the wilderness and gazed up at the stars.

2009: Immediately after launching, we came to a fallen tree (strainer) across the river. Dan noticed the remains of a crude wheeled cart that was broken and just left there. The large gray plastic wheels looked like they had been adapted from something else - a garden hose caddy, perhaps. They were joined by a slimy wooden plank and rusty metal brackets. Since we are both proponents of the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, we felt the duty to haul out the trash. I dropped the broken cart into my canoe. When it came time for me to duck under another fallen tree, the large wheels of the cart were too high, so I had to exit my boat and break the cart in half. As we padded by campsite #6, I looked up and recalled the lumberjack I saw there many years ago. Because of recent rains, we enjoyed high water, so most of the beaver dams were submerged and passed over as if they weren’t even there. A few dams were high enough to make us think about it, and we were able to drop through a narrow chute on 2 of them. Most of the Oswegatchie’s obstacles were masses of trees and limbs that blocked the channel and required us to get out, haul our canoes over or around them, and climb back in. On one of the occasions where we had to pull over a large tree that blocked our passage, I was standing on shore and slipped off the high bank into water about 3-feet deep. The result of that was water inside my high waterproof neoprene boots… and I got my nuts wet (remember?). Because the shore was high above me, I couldn’t climb back out. I ended up clambering up onto a fallen tree, maneuvering my canoe across the obstacle, walking across the log, and carefully stepping back into my boat. Soon enough, we reached the familiar sight of High Falls. Remembering my previous route combined with Dave Cilley’s new Adirondack Paddler’s Guide book comments, we ran the Class 1 chute into the small pool that feeds the top of the falls, taking out at the rocks on river right. We hauled our gear over the boulders and onto the trail, then carried the boats one-by-one down the trail that now has a thick undergrowth and fewer large trees. The landscape below the falls that provided the beautiful smoky scenery back in ‘91 is now merely a thick growth of a few tall evergreens, along with young trees, and shrubs. We reentered our canoes and paddled onward. A Great Blue Heron flew silently overhead. By late afternoon, I was growing tired - quite justified, I suppose, after 1-timing the long carry and paddling most of the way down the Oswegatchie. Dan checked out a potential campsite as we heard a spruce grouse’s rhythmic wing-beating in the distance. We passed on that particular site because of the ditches full of mosquitoes there. As he attempted to re-enter his boat, Dan slipped and swamped his canoe.
In his own words: “I had my swamp as a result of a scouting trip into a mosquito infested campsite (complete with breeding ground ditches). I recall a large bobbing log that served as my docking point and my desire to perform a gravity and buoyancy check. I had a feeling that we may have transpired into another reality where the laws of physics did not apply. After confirming that we were indeed in the prime material universe, I decided that it would be an opportune time to clean out the inside of my canoe.” In my words: Dan slipped and swamped!
We had already discussed alternate plans, since we had originally expected to need 4 days for this route. If we had pushed a little, we could have made it out by nightfall on the second day, with just one night of camping. By 1-timing the traverse, the route can reasonably be done in just 2 days. But we weren’t in any hurry, so we stopped to camp around 6pm at site #33. Just after we pulled our canoes up onto the high shore, we heard a loud crash - the sound of wood snapping - coming from the area just behind us. There were no large trees there, so we assumed a large animal was nearby. I yelled something to the bear (or whatever it was), and we didn’t hear anything else from that direction. The mist had finally stopped falling, so we just had to deal with the black flies, mosquitoes, midges (no see-ums), and all the other biting bugs that live there. Our first order of business was to get a smoky fire going, and Dan prevailed. That seemed to help - we set up our tents and my green tarp. With nothing to do except swat bugs, we went to bed by 9. As soon as we had zipped ourselves into our tents, we heard a loud splash from the water in front of us - the sound of a beaver tail slapping the water.

1991:
We rose to more good weather for our fifth day on the water. As I stood by my pack that morning, the hikers and their llama came by again. This time, I had my camera ready and got a couple photos. We paddled down the final 3 or 4 hours on the Oswegatchie, and I remember feeling disappointed when I saw the landing where we would end our trip at Inlet. After loading the 2 canoes onto the car, we drove up to Floodwood Road to return the boats, then back to Lows Lower Dam to retrieve the other car, and finally were able to head back to Buffalo. I drove alone in my ‘87 Pontiac, and popped “No Doze” all the way home on the very long day.

2009: Day 3 dawned without rain. I wasn’t hungry and knew the car was just a few hours’ paddle away, so we skipped breakfast, drank some water (with added electrolytes), broke down our small camp, and hopped into our canoes for the final stretch on the river. On one narrow winding stretch, we heard a very loud splash from not too far away. A beaver tail? We like to think it was that elusive Adirondack moose that we never saw. There were no microburst storms on this trip, nor were there any twisters, and it went pretty much as planned. Maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-50’s now, or maybe it was the two big days of paddling and portaging in the land of “Os”, but after that final 2 ˝ hours of paddling Saturday, it was good to finally reach the ramp at Inlet and know I was a little closer to that special place called home. - BVH


Field Notes: While paddling out, I noticed the Buck Brook lean-to at site #34, as indicated on the Paddler’s Map. But while floating past site #38, I saw another lean-to that is not indicated on the map. If you decide to camp there, note that there is a large clearing big enough for several tents next to it, and adjacent site #39 is very close, making this area a likely location for large groups. We noted that according to the map, site #45 was the last camping spot before the take-out, but were surprised to see site #46 just downstream from that - another omission on the map.
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Old 06-28-2009, 07:58 PM   #2
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Great report Bob. We (I) have yet to do this trip, and this fall may be the time-thanks
Bill
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Old 06-28-2009, 08:18 PM   #3
ALGonquin Bob
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Nice writeup Bob,can you post a picture of the llama?
Thanks. I had several photos scanned this week, and the lab missed that one and a couple others. I'll get it done and post it soon.
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Old 06-28-2009, 10:46 PM   #4
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Wow!! Great stuff, Bob. You really wrote a thorough description, for a few minutes, I was there.
I too, enjoy alternate perspectives, whether in time, geographical location, or through others' perspectives.
That's what so great about the wilderness...you can go back every 20 years or so and see minor changes, sure, but mostly the wilderness stays the same. It's us and our perceptions that change.
Again, really nice write up!
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Old 06-30-2009, 08:21 AM   #5
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Canoe trip: Lows-Oswegatchie Traverse

Great report, Bob!

An experienced paddler told us that Bog River Flow was one of the prettiest places in the Adirondacks, so one afternoon last fall my husband and I put in at Lower Lows Dam to have a look. It was beautiful, and we saw a bald eagle within about 5 minutes. Having gotten a late start, we only made it as far as Hitchins Pond and had to turn back since we were only out for the day. I appreciate your detailed report; now we know what to expect when we go back for a longer trip. Your and Dan's photos are great, and novices like me can learn a lot by checking out your boats and gear, too.

If other readers haven't checked out the link to your blog, they should! Your Grand Canyon trip report was candid and we can all learn a lot when an experienced outdoorsman like you is not afraid to admit your mistakes. We all like to plan trips that will challenge our abilities and take us to the next level, but sometimes those trips turn out to be endurance tests, rather than enjoyable experiences. (But then, some people actually enjoy endurance tests!) Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to know our own limits, and always be prepared, especially in unfamiliar terrain. Anyway, glad you made it back safe and sound so we can read more of your terrific trip reports!

Have a safe summer, everyone!

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Old 06-30-2009, 09:01 AM   #6
Stephan26
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Love the report! You got me planning out a little trip down in that area...I've never been paddling in the ADK. Maybe i should get a book or two about paddling in the adirondacks...

I am not an experienced paddler, so i might just do a little trip like Blackflybait and head out from Lower Lows dam towards Hitchins pond and the area...

thanks!
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Old 07-03-2009, 12:13 AM   #7
ALGonquin Bob
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Just added a short video to my photos of us driving down the access road to the lower dam.
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Old 07-24-2009, 12:15 AM   #8
ALGonquin Bob
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Alright Bob,it's been damn near a month. Where's the llama pictures?
I made it up. No, I took the photos to have them scanned and the images were supposed to be e-mailed to me. I promise to call the lab tomorrow!
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Old 07-25-2009, 07:45 PM   #9
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Just added 5 new photos to the 1991 photo album (see link in post #1). There really was a llama (I'm not lion!). Here is a cropped version of one of those images:


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Old 07-28-2009, 05:16 PM   #10
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Llamas

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Thanks Bob!
I'm gonna get me one of them
While I agree the llamas might be good for carrying gear on a portage I don't think they would like being in the canoe for the trip down Low's Lake or on the class I on the Oswegatchie.
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