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Old 02-14-2021, 04:13 PM   #5
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,300
Continued from above...

Less than an hour of additional paddling from the bridge brought me to my destination for the night- the Cage Lake Springhole Lean-to. It was still super early- well before noon, even- but again, part of my goal for the trip was to bag a few additional lean-tos as part of my endeavors towards finishing the Lean-to Challenge, so I intended to spend a night in each of the 3 lean-tos on the Oswegatchie that I'd yet to camp at.

The Cage Lake Springhole Lean-to is really nice. It sits on a bank on the west side of the river, with excellent views out over the river and surrounding marshes. The lean-to itself was maybe only a foot or two above the water level, however- and in spite of the fact that the water was still running quite high from the heavy rains a few nights prior, I couldn't help but wonder if there'd ever been flooding bad enough to put the lean-to in the water.

A year prior, I'd attempted to reach the Cage Lake Springhole Lean-to on foot following the old trail from Cage Lake without success, while on a backpacking trip into the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness. The old trail was followable up until the last tenth of a mile or so, just shy of the lean-to (and the river)- where it disappeared into dense and epic beaver marshes with no easy way through that didn't involve wading through deep water and muck. Now that I was armed with a canoe and plenty of free time once I'd completed unpacking and setting up camp, I was determined to finish the connection. Some navigational trial and error through the marshes, and some hauling over beaver dams brought me to the end of the old trail where I'd been forced to turn back the year prior.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in camp, reading and enjoying a small smudge fire to drive away the bugs. The moisture from the heavy rains was still working it's way out of the area- while parts of the afternoon were sunny and brilliant with no shortage of blue sky, there were nearly always billowing clouds somewhere in view. A couple of drizzles did pass through overhead during the afternoon but for the most part it stayed dry.

The next morning brought with it more bright sun and blue sky, and as the lean-to was perfectly oriented for the rising sun to shine right in my face, I was up and breaking down camp early. Before long, I was on the river, once again headed downstream.

My destination for that evening- the Griffin Rapids Lean-to- was so close that a mere 40 minutes of casual paddling was all it took to traverse the distance from the Cage Lake Springhole Lean-to. And thus mid-morning saw me once again unpacking the canoe and setting up camp for the night in yet another lean-to.

There was a plaque inside the lean-to commemorating a Jim Williamson- indicating that he'd lost his life on the Oswegatchie River. In the moment I was left only to wonder about the story, but after the conclusion of my trip I looked him up. He'd apparently been paddling the river with friends during a period of high water when his canoe capsized and he was caught in a strainer and drowned. A sobering reminder that even "flat water" can at times be dangerous- especially given that my visit also coincided with high water. I'd seen a few hefty strainers along the way myself, and was glad that I'd given extra effort towards giving them a wide berth wherever possible.

The Griffin Rapids Lean-to was set back a bit further form the river, and had some solid vegetative screening all around, making it a bit more private of a site than Cage Lake Springhole had been. With some strolling along the banks of the river it was possible to take in some nice views nonetheless. And the screening did cut down on the breeze somewhat so it was a noticeably buggier site- although not horrendous in this regard, and nothing that another small smudge fire couldn't handle. I spent another pleasant afternoon in camp, reading and enjoying the solitude.

At one point, I did hear voices, and soon a group of 4 folks in two tandem canoes paddled into view. I thought maybe they'd stop to see if the lean-to was open but they continued up river without any hesitation whatsoever- clearly their main goal was further on. Their canoes were filled to the brim with gear- they clearly intended to set up camp in comfort and/or remain for a longer duration.

The next day was the final day of my trip- and all I had left to do was paddle the last stretch back to my car at Inlet. I spent a leisurely morning at the lean-to, and didn't hit the river until the sun was already high in the sky. The river was still running quite high but had come down a few inches overnight- a few of the beaver dams were just starting to broach the surface of the water, but even the worst of these had enough flow spilling over that I was able to easily scoot by. Most were still deep beneath the water, and I glided over these effortlessly.

About 45 minutes of paddling brought me to High Rock, a rocky nub sticking up over the river on the east shore. I remembered from my previous backpacking forays into the area that there was both nice views from High Rock, as well as a somewhat popular tent site there, so again I hopped out to revisit the area.

It turns out there's actually two designated tent sites on High Rock. They are officially numbered "41A" and "41B" so the second site must've been an afterthought, added in response to the popularity of the initial single site. In addition to their desirability (due to the views), alternate options in the vicinity are limited for backpackers traversing the High Falls Truck Trail/CL50.

The first site is pretty obvious- it's the site that both paddlers and hikers will encounter first. It's a moderately large and well-used site with plenty of flat ground.

The second site isn't as obvious, and despite being decently nice appears to get less use. It's located right on the summit of High Rock, and the only way to reach it is to pass through the first site. I think once the first site is occupied, most looking to camp at High Rock elect to move on instead, rather than disrupting the occupants of the first site- and so they don't ever realize that the second site exists.

The views from High Rock itself had grown in a bit since my previous visits (again, my last visit was nearly a decade ago!), but were nevertheless still nice.

As I continued downstream, the campsites grew both more obvious and more well impacted. Clearly the sites closer to the put in at Inlet get a lot more use than the sites further upriver- and undoubtedly a lot more use by larger groups in particular. Nevertheless, even the most well-used of these appeared to be quite nice. I was tempted to get out and take more photos for the purpose of sharing with the community, but at this point I had one goal foremost in my mind: Stewart's pizza and a milkshake. I continued onwards through beautiful sections of the river.

Just shy of an hour downstream of High Rock, I rounded a bend and found myself face to face with the canoe launch at Inlet. My 8 day, ~50 mile trip through the heart of some of the most remote terrain in the Adirondack Park was over.

All in all, it was an excellent trip in just about every aspect. Even the heavy rains and general wetness I'd endured at Big Deer Pond turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as they enabled me to float over nearly ever single beaver dam on the Oswegatchie- fortitude that is nearly unheard of outside of the spring freshet. And while I already had some familiarity with much of the route, gained through shorter trips over the years, I was glad to have the opportunity to traverse such a wide swath of the Adirondacks in a single trip and gain intimate familiarity with the entire route.

It's unlikely that I will ever retrace my steps exactly along this itinerary- if and when I have another full week available I'd much prefer to tackle something new. But I will undoubtedly be back again to revisit portions of it- certainly to camp at Grass Pond again. The Five Ponds area has also been high on the list of proposed destinations for our annual Duck Hole trips. In particular, a paddling trip has been considered and we've talked about the Low's-Oswegatchie traverse as one option (although as much as I'd love to share this trip with them, I also know without a doubt that some of my idiot friends would show up with royalex- or even worse, aluminum- canoes no matter how much I encouraged them to borrow or rent something lighter).
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