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Old 07-30-2009, 10:15 AM   #1
Rockledge's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 11
Lows-Oswegatchie Traverse 7/24-26

A buddy and I have been talking about this trip for quite some time and finally made the commitment to go through with our plan. We had both paddled the lower Oswegatchie and a portion of the Bog River flow before and wanted to see what lies in between.

I had to pick up a rental boat in Tupper Lake on Thursday afternoon so we got the canoe and headed on to Inlet to station a vehicle for our return. Our plan was to camp at Horseshoe Lake on Thursday night after dinner in Wanakena. This would allow an early start at the Lower Dam on Friday. The prediction for heavy rain Thursday evening had us alter our plan to instead stay at my cabin in Minerva and at least start the journey dry.

We got up early Friday to find that the rain, if any, was by no means heavy. Oh well. Made the drive back toward Tupper Lake and into the lower dam and we were on our way.

Although I kayak frequently this would be my first time ever in a solo canoe, and my first time in any type of canoe in about twenty years. Got the hang of it quickly and made the upper dam in short order. After the short carry around the upper dam we were on our way toward Lows Lake. Saw an eagle and an osprey along the route. We met the Ranger along the way who told us it was a nice calm day to be out on the lake in canoes. She said to expect some light rain but that the front predicted to dump a lot of rain on Friday had stayed to the east.

We stayed to the north shore of the lake stopping at Frying Pan Island for lunch. This is when the wind picked up. It got nasty for a bit with plenty of little whitecaps but not so bad that I felt threatened in the canoe. Then shortly before our planned turn into Grassy Pond the rains came. We found a nice campsite, quickly threw up a tarp to protect our gear, got the tent up without too much trouble and prepared for a wet evening. Then the rain stopped. Turned out to be a beautiful night to enjoy some Wild Turkey from a Nalgene bottle by the campfire. By the way that bottle is now labeled “high-test” because I don’t dare put anything else in it.

We awoke to sunny skies on Saturday morning, cooked breakfast, broke down camp and did the short paddle to the start of the dreaded carry, dreaded by us anyway. We got the gear organized, put the yokes on the boats and, after several adjustments, we were on our way…very slowly on our way. Although I had said, “it’s only three miles” within a few hundred yards I realized I brought too much s..t. Despite both having plenty of hiking experience three miles with a heavy pack and a boat over your head would prove to be formidable, plus it was getting very hot.

The carry to Big Mosquito (Deer) Pond was accomplished without too much trouble, but the heat and pack weight was already starting to take its toll. We paddled across the pond where we saw a blue heron and a huge turtle that got off his rock as we were passing by. After stopping for a quick lunch we were back to the misery of the carry. The trail is grown in very thick in sections with ferns and berry bushes grabbing at your legs as you pass by. The bugs were horrendous, which help limit the duration of our rest stops. I was a very happy, albeit tired, man when I finally saw the Oswegatchie.

We rearranged the gear in the boats, got on the water and paddled about fifty feet before we got out to portage the first of the seemingly countless obstructions. The bugs swarmed us every time we had to exit the boats. Some of blockages required thoughtful consideration and interesting strategies to navigate over, under or around. At one point I had to throw a leech out of the canoe. I’m assuming it came in on me. This was shaping up to be a very long day.

Hoping to get as close to High Falls as possible we were finally driven from the river by impending darkness and settled in a site that had undoubtedly seen its last occupants sometime in the twentieth century. The bugs were brutal and relentless. I tore through my pack looking for bug spray, a headlamp and my head net. Our gear was now spread out all over the ground and it starting raining. We again pitched the tent in the rain, gobbled down some dry rations, foregoing dinner, and dove in the shelter followed by a fine selection of the regions little flying vampires. As we swatted bugs we deemed this the “day in misery” and tried to pin the blame on each other for deciding to do the stupid, ridiculous trip.

We awoke Sunday morning to gray skies and damp surroundings. Being very short on water we decided to skip coffee and breakfast until we got below High Falls. With all the damp gear packed up by 7:00 am we got in the boats and headed downstream. Two more beaver dams to negotiate and we where at High Falls where a kind gentleman, the first person we had seen since leaving Lows Lake, was vehemently pointing out that there was a waterfall ahead.

We stopped to take some photos above the falls, including some of the blue heron patiently waiting for breakfast to come by. Moving on we did the quick carry around the falls, chatting with a bunch of campers along the way, and stopped to brew some coffee and eat breakfast below the falls. At this point our only option was to filter some very brown water from the river and treat with iodine as an added precaution. Despite the appearance of the water this was one of the most anticipated and welcomed cups of coffee I’ve ever consumed.

Refreshed and fed we set off for the final leg of journey on the Oswegatchie. No obstructions from here on out, except that we did line the boats through the couple of small rapids. I wasn’t about to run a rented Kevlar canoe through the rocks, although it looked like fun.

The paddle out was pretty uneventful. We took a short break at campsite 38, checked out the accommodations and headed for home. Just to remind us who’s really in control Mother Nature blessed us with a pretty nasty thunderstorm just before the takeout, forcing us to briefly take shelter in my truck as if to say, “you guys aren’t quite done yet.” When the rain passed we took a brief swim to wash off some of the prior day’s grime, loaded up the gear, had a congratulatory high-five and headed for civilization.

I’m very happy I finally did this trip but the upper Oswegatchie is a true test of patience and perseverance. We lost count of the beaver dams and other blockages somewhere in the upper thirties. I don’t see myself headed back to that part of the river anytime soon. May try to revisit Lows Lake in the fall for a relaxing overnight paddling excursion.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein
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five ponds wilderness, oswegatchie river

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