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Old 12-26-2021, 06:45 PM   #1
DSettahr
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Valcour Island Explorations 9/14 - 9/16/20


(Authors note: This trip report is a bit belated given the time that has passed since. But it's a neat area and I gathered so much firsthand experience in addition to the photos I took that it seemed worthwhile finally putting together a trip report that might aid others planning their own future trips here.)

For years I've been eying a return visit to Valcour Island, part of the DEC's Lake Champlain Islands Complex unit of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Valcour is a location that is somewhat important to me as it was the site of my very first primitive camping experience, away from any developed car-camping campground. As a teenager, I'd paddled out to the island and spent several nights camped the west shore with my father and a family friend. That trip was primarily a caving expedition- we spent the time exploring sea caves on the island's south and west shores. The bulk of the island remained unknown to my perception, and in the decades since that trip I've often thought about making a return visit to explore the island more fully on foot.

In September of 2020 I finally had the opportunity to make such a trip work. I planned my visit for mid-week with the goal of minimizing the number of other users I'd encounter, so that I could especially check out (and photograph) as many of the 25+ designated tent sites as possible on the island. (Depending on which "official" DEC source of info is to be believed, there's somewhere between 25 and 29 designated tent sites on the island.)

I was a bit concerned about wind- I'd heard horror stories of groups getting caught in big waves on Lake Champlain, and even during my initial visit as a teenager I remember we had to battle some significant waves ourselves just to get back to the boat launch at the conclusion of our trip. I'd be paddling solo so this was even more of a pressing concern. The forecast called for similar wind speeds on both the day I planned to paddle out to the island, and the day I planned to return, so I figured I'd be pretty safe by at least going to the boat launch, evaluating the conditions in person, and making a go/no go call on the spot.

And when I showed up, it wasn't too bad at all. Moderate waves but nothing that couldn't be easily handled with a strong stroke. I loaded up my canoe and set off on the roughly half-mile paddle to the island.


Bluff Point is the obvious prominence on the west side of the island that dominates the view from the mainland, and this is where I landed first, on rocky shoreline adjacent to site #25. This is an open and mostly grassy site surrounded by cedars, with excellent views across the straight that separates Valcour Island from the mainland. This was once the site of the Raboff Great Camp, which included a main house, a guest house, and an ice house.


From this site it was a short walk up to the lighthouse atop Bluff Point. When I first visited the island as a teenager, the lighthouse was decommissioned- it had been replaced with a beacon atop a metal tower nearby. At the time, plans to restore the lighthouse had been announced but much of the work had not yet been undertaken. It was nice to see, 20+ years later, that the restoration had been complete and the lighthouse was once again in service. Now, the metal tower stood unused, except as a nesting spot by a local avian.


I was also delighted to note that Valcour Island has its very own DEC trail markers. How come the other management units don't get their own unique markers? (Apart, I suppose, from the CL50 and the NPT. Perhaps the North Country Trail will also get unique DEC markers? Although I have also noted that NPT markers especially are prime targets for theft by souvenir seekers.)


I briefly contemplated setting up for my stay in site #25, but there was a bit of daylight still and I instead elected to paddle south down the west shore of the island and look for space in one of the sites down there. So back down to the rocky shoreline I went to hop back into my canoe and continue onward.




It was immediately apparent upon arrival that site #4 at Indian Point was prime real estate- tons of flat ground both in a grassy clearing adjacent to the water, and in a sheltered grove of cedars set a bit further back from the shore. There was also ample camp furniture here, including several tables.


There was even a bar, with a post overhead to hang a lantern from, and a peg on the end to hang your empties bag from too. Apart from the fact that it seems likely that several trees were forced to die to make it happen, it certainly feels like high class camping.


As the sun had just about sunk to the horizon I elected to set up camp here. I enjoyed a beautiful sunset while I made myself comfortable for the evening.






My goal for the next day was to see as much of the island as possible on foot, so I was up early. While working on breakfast I took a few moments to wander about the vicinity of the campsite. Site #4 was very obviously once the location of a camp- I learned after my trip through research that it was Camp Penn, a summer camp for boys. The clearing in the cedars where I'd chosen to pitch my tend was clearly once a building; it was difficult to be certain but based on the online description of the site I think it was the former dining hall.


Designated sites #3 and #5 were both in close proximity to site #4. Site #3 especially was essentially on the opposite end of the clearing occupied by site #4. It was difficult to see it by any definition as a distinct, separate site- and I image often is the occasion when a single large group occupies both sites.


Site #5 at least was far enough away that there was a solid wall of vegetative screening separating it from site #4. This was a nice site in a stand of evergreens.


I also found some old foundations nearby in the woods- presumably remnants of that same summer boys camp.


While poking around in the vicinity some more, I stumbled across designated tent site #2 maybe about a tenth of a mile along the shore to the south. I wasn't sure how obvious the site I'd stayed in on my first visit decades prior would be upon my return visit- or whether it was even still an established and/or designated site. As soon as I set foot in site #2, however, the memories came flooding back- this was definitely the one. I remembered the south facing aspect of the site, and the short but steep rocky scramble up from the shore to the site itself.




I also noticed some confusing markers with respect to the stretch of the perimeter trail that runs between sites #3, 4, and 5 and site #2. At one point I observed two parallel trails, both marked with DEC markers, both running along the shoreline but following separate courses several hundred feet apart. At first, I thought maybe the interior of the two paths was part of the Nomad Trail, the southern-most of the two trails that traverses the interior of the island from west to east. But I soon located the junction with the actual Nomad Trail and determined that this was not the case. More likely it appears that one of these trails started out as a herd path that somehow got marked by a confused DEC employee at some point during a visit to undertake trail maintenance.

Satisfied with my explorations of the immediate vicinity, I returned to camp, put together a day pack, secured my food in my bear canister, and set out for the day. As both of the interior trails (the aforementioned Nomad Trail and the Royal Savage Trail to the north) were also on my itinerary for the day, I elected to get the Nomad Trail out of the way first. At just over a mile in length, this trail leads through mixed and evergreen stands to Smuggler Harbor on the east shore of the island, where I snapped a quick photo of Lake Champlain before retracing my steps back to the west shore. The trail was in decent shape but clearly gets little use.




Back on the west shore, I was ready to set out on my proper circumnavigation around the island. I'd decided to hike counter-clockwise, visiting the south end of the island first. I made quick time south along the shore, soon passing site #2 again and continuing onward. Valcour Island is a rare example of karst topography in the Adirondacks- topography marked by subterranean dissolution of soluble rocks- in this case, limestone. Stretches of the trail crossed rocky outcrops and small pock marks were visible- the very beginnings of solutional caves that will slowly expand over centuries.


Valcour Island unfortunately is also home to some healthy and thriving populations of invasive plants. Buckthorn is especially pervasive in some areas of the island- particularly those spots that were once cleared for camps and/or homesteads.




Soon, I'd arrived at designated tent site #1, located on a broad spur of the shoreline named Cedar Point. This was an open, grassy site located next to an embankment of bedrock that slowly sloped down into the lake.




Continued in next post…
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Old 12-26-2021, 06:46 PM   #2
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Continued from above…

Not far south of Site #1 was the old Seton House, the only other historic structure of note that still stands on Valcour Island apart from the lighthouse. Built in 1929 by Harvard paleontologist Henry Seton, I suspect that the main reason the building was never demolished was that it was constructed of stone- and therefore presented “too much effort” to dismantle after the state acquired the parcel on which the house sits.

The house is currently well boarded up and appears to be serving only as a roosting place/hibernaculum for bats. I know there’s been some discussion over the years about trying to fix the house up and use it for historical interpretation, or potentially as a ranger station/interior outpost akin to the outposts at Marcy Dam, Lake Colden, etc. (there is a caretaker assigned to Valcour Island in the summer season but they live on the mainland). Only time will tell the ultimate fate of the Seton House, however.




A short walk from the Seton House down to the waterfront brings one to the impressive concrete dock that still juts out into the water here. Seton really liked the idea of building things to last, apparently.


Whiteface and Esther Mountains were both plainly visible across the lake to the west from the dock.


Beyond the Seton House, the Perimeter Trail swings east to cut across the south end of the island. This stretch of the Valcour shoreline is characterized by high cliffs, and the trail tends to stay back a bit from the cliff edge as is traverses above. There's a few spots where views are possible, however- both of islands and the shore of the mainland as it stretches off to the south, as well as the precipitous drops down onto rocky and jagged shoreline below.






The parts of the trail that were set back from the cliffs passed through some beautiful stretches of open cedar forest.


"Site #28," on the south shore of Valcour Island, is a perfect example of the confusing nature of the various "official" sources of info regarding campsite locations on the island. The DEC's PDF map of the Lake Champlain Islands Complex shows it as a designated site, whereas this site (and a number of others shown on the PDF map) is missing from the DEC Info Locator interactive map. To further add to the confusion, nearly every supposedly designated campsite on Valcour Island is missing the gold standard of officialness- the yellow plastic "Camp Here" disc, although most at least have a numbered blue plaque that is a fairly affirmative substitute in addition to picnic tables and very apparently "officially constructed" fireplaces.

When I arrived at the supposed "Site #28," what I saw lead me quickly to believe that it's inclusion on the PDF map was an error and nothing more. There was neither a "Camp Here" disc nor a blue numbered plaque, the fire pit was clearly unsafe for use and had not been officially constructed (and any use of it has a high likelihood of starting a ground fire), and anyone using the site who'd arrived by boat (so pretty much all of the Valcour user base) would be faced with a steep and rocky scramble up the ledges ubiquitous to the south shore of the island.


I was able to make the scramble down to the shore here and it was doable- but I also wasn't repeatedly carrying loads of camping gear up and down the ledge, either. There were some nice views from the broad cove below.


After traversing the south end of the island, the trail brought me to Cystid Point on the southeast tip of Valcour- so named for the echinoderm fossils that are found in numerous quantities in the bedrock there. Designated Site #18, a small but otherwise nice designated site, is situated on the point and has excellent views.






From here, the perimeter trail swings northward along the east shore of the island. The trail passed through more beautiful open stands of cedars, while the rocky shoreline was rarely more than a few steps away for more excellent waterfront views.




Before long, I was arriving at Smuggler Harbor, a moderately-sized cove on the east side of the island. At the head of the harbor lies a number of monuments, all surrounded by a metal fence. Most of these monuments are in memory of various crew members of a private yacht that used to frequently visit the island- the Nomad. A number of the crew members of the Nomad were killed in service during the first world war, and a generation later a number of crew members similarly lost their lives in the second world war.






Designated sites #15, #16, and #17 are all situated on the shoreline of Smuggler Harbor, and as all were adjacent to the perimeter trail, they were easily visited. Site #17 was on the west side of the harbor, not far from the Nomad monuments, and was a nice and open site.


Sites 16 and 17 were both on the north shore of Smuggler Harbor. Site 16 was a bit more enclosed and sheltered, but still nice.


Site 17 was on the peninsula that forms the north side of the mouth to Smuggler Harbor and was accessed via a short social trail that branched off of the Perimeter Trail. This was a pretty open site, perhaps not the best spot to camp in inclement weather, but a phenomenally beautiful spot in nice weather. There was tons of open and rocky shoreline nearby.




Just north of Smuggler Harbor is Tiger Point. There was once a girls camp situated here, the Brown Ledge Camp. The camp is apparently still in operation to this day- after the parcel on Valcour Island was sold to the state, the camp moved it's base of operations to the mainland on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. The camp apparently conducts frequent overnight trips back to the island in the summer when the camp is in session.

Campsites #19 and #20 are both situated on Tiger Point, which itself was accessed via another social trail. Site #20 was a well sheltered site, enclosed by cedar trees on all sides and with plenty of flat ground.


Site #19 was nearby, and had some nice views but was a bit lacking in the flat ground department- but was nice in all other regards.


The Tiger Point vicinity also offered more excellent views across the lake as well as up and down the shoreline.




While poking around on Tiger Point, I also discovered a couple of spots where square-shaped pieces of rock had been cut out of the exposed bedrock. My best guess is that some geologist at one point had wanted to collected samples... and was not particularly concerned with the visual impact their chosen collection method would leave behind in the aftermath.


Satisfied with my explorations of Tiger Point, I returned to the Perimeter Trail and continued northwards. The trail took me through yet more beautiful open cedar forests as I cut over towards Sloop Cove.


Sloop Cove itself was another gorgeous pocket of somewhat sheltered water, and I paused here to take in yet more views and snap a few more photos before continuing on.




Continued in next post...
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Old 12-26-2021, 06:46 PM   #3
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Continued from above…

On the north side of Sloop Cove, a side trail cuts across the north side of the cove out to the peninsula separating Sloop Cover from the smaller Paradise Bay to the north. This peninsula was once the site of several private camps- the Hudson, Moore, and Yager Camps. The Hudson Camp was named for Dr. George Hudson, who was a photography buff and even operated a dark room in a cave nearby on the shore. All that remains is the chimney of the Hudson Camp as well as the concrete remnants of an old dock on Paradise Bay.




The peninsula is also host to designated tent sites #13 and #14. Site #13 was set pretty far back off the water, in a large clearing that I'd surmise was once occupied by one of the camps. It was a nice and sheltered site, with plenty of flat, grassy ground to pitch tents on.


Site #14 was right on the water. The front part of the site was not particularly level- rather, it sloped pretty steadily down to the shore. However, up in the cedar grove on the back end of the site was some nice level room for pitching tents.




From Paradise Bay I retraced my steps back to the Perimeter Trail and continued northward. Next up was Spoon Bay, which also had nice views. Supposedly, there is a designated tent site on the south shore of Spoon Bay- site #29- but I saw no established trail (official or social) leading in that direction. If the site does exist (and it's inclusion on the DEC's PDF map wasn't an accident as I suspect was the case with Site #28), I did not lay eyes on it.




Spoon Bay is also the eastern terminus of the Royal Savage Trail, the northern of the two trails that cut east/west across the interior of Valcour Island. The trail was named for a British ship that was sunk by Americans during the revolution, then raised and restored to service on the side of the colonies, only to be captured, burned, and sunk by the British during the Battle of Valcour Island. (Through a subsequently weird sequence of events, the city of Harrisburg, PA, now owns the remains of the ship.)

This is the longer of the two interior trails across the island, and it took me just shy of an hour to hike this trail and then re-trace my steps back to the eastern shore of the island. The trail follows a somewhat meandering course through overgrown farmland. As with the Nomad Trail to the south, it clearly gets very little use but was otherwise in decent shape.


I even spotted a couple of old tree stands along the way- apparently there's a resident deer population on the island, and hunters at least occasionally visit the island in the fall during the open season.


Beavers also made their presence visible along the Royal Savage Trail, and I passed a few small dams and impoundments along the way.


After having retraced my steps back to Spoon Bay, I continued northward on the Perimeter Trail. Beyond Spoon Bay, the trail climbs high to a rise above Beauty Bay, where I was able to take in more nice views from an overlook above the bay before continuing down to the bay itself.




The north end of Beauty Bay is the site of designated campsites #10, #11, and #12. Sites #12 and #11 were both nice sites, set back a little bit from the shore in the cedars.




Site #10 was on the smaller side and a bit less sheltered, but nice nonetheless.


All three of these sites shared an inmate-constructed outhouse that proudly displayed the prison name "Camp Adirondack." For an outhouse that was apparently constructed in 1975, it seemed to be holding up fairly well.


Beyond Beauty Bay, the Perimeter Trail swings around the north end of the island. In contrast with the rocky shorelines that predominate the majority of the eastern, southern, and western stretches of Valcour Island, the northern shore is much more tame in comparison- the shoreline is sandy and at times even grassy. It's still beautiful terrain to hike through nonetheless.




The vicinity of the appropriately-named North Point is occupied by designated campsites #6, #7, #8, and #9. I arrived at site #9 first, a nice site set adjacent to a sandy beach in a stand of evergreens.


Site #8 was equally as nice, apart from the partially uprooted tree hanging ominously over a portion of the site. Apparently this site is "Birdman's Paradise," as indicated by the large sign affixed to the picnic table here. Who (or what?) Birdman is, I cannot say.




Site #7 was also a phenomenal site. I can imagine that all three of these sites are popular spots during the busier parts of the season.


Site #6 was situated slightly away from the other 3 sites, to the west. It too was a really nice site that I'm sure gets no shortage of use during the summer.


As I continued along the north shore of the island, I was also able to take in more nice views. In particular, I got some nice shots of Lyon Mountain to the northwest.




It was getting to be late in the afternoon as I left the north end of the island and began to make my way down the west shore. Soon I was entering the vicinity of what was once the Harney farmstead. The Harney family owned some 600 acres on the north side of Valcour Island. While family maintained camps on the island well into the 20th century, the 19th century saw them using the land as a pioneer farm.

Designated tent site #21 was located at the edge of a field that was once part of the farmstead.


It took a little bit of poking around for me to located designated tent site #22, which was not obvious from the perimeter trail. It was located west of site #21, occupying the far end of the adjacent old farm field. There was also some "toilet humor" near the site- someone had stolen a DEC "Toilet" sign and hung it up vertically, pointing down at a hole dug in the ground not far from the campsite. Closer inspection revealed that as of yet, no one had put the toilet to use.




Site #22 was also in the vicinity of what had once been the Washborne Camps, a number of private camps owned by various members of the Washborne Family. I poked around a little bit and found some old foundations, as well as took in more excellent late afternoon views across the lake. A nice spot to have owned property, but in the modern era much of the broad peninsula here was well taken over by invasive plant species.




Continued in next post...
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Old 12-26-2021, 06:47 PM   #4
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Continued from above…

From Site #21, the Perimeter Trail continued southward through more open fields that had once been part of the Harney Farmstead. After the Harney family had ceased their attempts to farm the land, this was the short-lived location of what came to be known as the Dawn Valcour Agricultural and Horticultural Association. The Dawn Valcour organization was an attempt at facilitating an utopian society on Valcour Island. It was a spectacular failure and did not last even a full year. I don't think hippies were a thing yet in the 1870's, but it sounds like the Dawn Valcour folks would've felt very much at home in the spiritual movements common in American society in the 60's.

While poking around amidst the old farm fields, I was able to locate the remnants of some farming equipment, as well as foundations from the old house and barn. Apparently there is an old well hidden in the brush near the house/barn and hikers are advised to tread carefully lest they accidentally fall in... I kept my eyes peeled but saw no sign of it.




From the Harney Farmstead, the perimeter trail continue south along the shoreline of Butterfly Bay, a broad bay on the northwest side of the island. The shoreline stroll here also afforded more nice views.


The south end of Butterfly Bay is also the designated day use area on Valcour Island. Here, there's no shortage of cement fireplaces intended for use by those not overnighting on the island that may still want to get a fire going to cook lunch on. It's a nice spot with a beautiful sandy beach adjacent for swimming. Camping is, of course, prohibited here and there were no shortage of signs making sure this expectation was apparent.




It was also fairly obvious that the original management expectations for how much use the day use area might get were a bit off the mark. While many of the cement fireplaces showed signs of frequent and regular use, there were also a number set back from the shore that were well on their way to being overtaken by invasive plants in the absence of any use whatsoever.


At the west end of Butterfly Bay on the peninsula separating that bay from the smaller North Bay, are designated tent sites #23 and #24. Site #23 was the first site I arrived in, which occupied a grassy clearing set a bit above the rocky bluffs along the shoreline.


Site #24 was a bit more exposed to the western winds but still nice.


And again, North Bay itself was the site of more excellent views as I made my way along the shoreline towards Bluff Point. North Bay is a popular spot for folks to moor their boats during the summer months and it is easy to see why.


As with the south end of Valcour Island, Bluff Point is characterized by some fairly impressive ledges and cliffs the drop straight down into the water. Judging from some of the social trails leading to the edge of the cliffs, I'd surmise that this can be a popular spot for cliff jumping (although at some locations, it looks like you'd have a lengthy swim and lengthy hike just to get back to the same ledge for a second jump).


When peering down over the edge of the cliffs, it was also plainly apparent that one would be wise to pick their jumping spots very carefully...


I remembered also that during my initial Valcour visit as a teenager, the majority of the sea caves we'd visited were on Bluff Point. Many of these caves are at the waterline- and in some cases, even below the waterline. I have vivid memories of swimming into one such cave, only to have a motor boat come speeding past on the lake, and when the wake hit the cave we were forced to hold our breath for several seconds at a time as the water repeatedly sloshed up to the ceiling and back down again.

From above, one would have nearly zero inclination that these caves existed, apart from small and almost imperceptible sinkholes that dotted the ground atop the bluffs.


Soon, I was setting foot back into the clearing occupied by the Bluff Point lighthouse. At this point, it was getting to be quite late in the afternoon- the sun was very visibly settling onto the horizon, and I was treated to some nice views from the lighthouse clearing of the impending sunset.




I had about half a mile of hiking yet to return to my campsite, plus three more designated tent sites along the way that I'd wanted to check out before dark, so I didn't hang around at the lighthouse very long. The first site I checked out was Site #25, the same site I'd initially landed in the previous afternoon and briefly contemplated staying in.


Not far east of site #25 was site #26. This was an OK site... it was kind of lacking in level ground, and the picnic table was in pretty rough shape to boot.


And immediately adjacent to site #26 to the east was site #27. This site was well sheltered and nice. I was a bit surprised to find site #27 when and where I did... the DEC's PDF map shows it about a quarter of mile further south down the western shore of Valcour Island (and the site is missing entirely from the DEC Info interactive map).


Darkness was fast approaching as I hurried along the shoreline of Bullhead Bay back towards my campsite. Bullhead Bay itself was open and sandy, and looked like another nice spot to spend a sunny summer afternoon relaxing and swimming.




I was lucky in that I'd been able to visit just about every single designated site on the island while each site was unoccupied (apart from site #29, but again, I have questions regarding whether that site really actually exists or not). I was a bit surprised to find upon my return to site #4 that a motorboat had arrived and out of every single available site on the island, the group of two had picked one of the sites a stone's throw from mine for the night. In any case, I heard nary a peep out of the site's occupants all night long so no harm done.

I ate a nice dinner as the last bits of daylight disappeared from the sky. All day, the lake had been smooth as glass, and the calmness continued even into dark. I briefly contemplated breaking down camp and paddling back that evening to take advantage of the calm waters- I figured I could rig up my solar lanterns to the bow and stern of my canoe for the necessary visibility- but a quick check of the weather forecast on my phone indicated that winds the next day were still likely to be equivalent to what I'd paddled across in the day prior, so I confidently turned in for the night.


I was up early the next morning, and immediately after poking my head out of the vestibule of my tent I'd realized that I'd made a major error in formulating my expectations for the surface conditions on the lake- I'd completely neglected to take into account the wind direction. On the day I'd paddled out to the island, the winds had been out of the west- and accordingly, there was at most a half mile or so of open water for the waves to build up between the mainland and the island. It was akin to the worst anyone could expect out of any moderately-sized lake elsewhere in the interior of the Adirondack Park.

However, on this day, the winds were straight out of the south. While they weren't very strong by any measure, this nevertheless gave the wind tens of miles to build up an impressive wave train, as opposed to the half mile two days prior. What I stepped out to that morning was incredibly disconcerting- waves in the vicinity of 3 feet or more. Nothing at all to take lightly, especially given that I was in a small and open solo canoe.

I felt immediate regret at not having taken advantage of the calms waters the evening before, but did not dwell on this for long as doing so certainly did not help my present situation. Cutting across the wave train and back to the boat launch was clearly out of the question. I had enough food that if I had to, I could remain on the island for another day and evening and hope that conditions improved, and I did briefly consider this... but also began to think about other options.

After spending a few minutes watching the waves, I decided that I could safely traverse them downwind if I didn't have to cut across the waves at all. A quick glance at the map and I figured that north of the island, a downwind direction would still take me back to the western shoreline of Lake Champlain... just not to the boat launch. I decided that this was better than nothing, and quickly broke down camp and packed the canoe.

As I started out across Bullhead Bay from Indian Point, I found that my plan seemed to work alright. By placing most of my efforts towards keeping the canoe pointed directly downwind and focusing on balance, I was still able to make decent forward progress without much risk of tipping. Sticking to my directly downwind course meant that swinging around Bluff Point wasn't an option, and soon I was pulling up on the sandy beach on the north shoreline of Bullhead Bay.

Fortunately, a connector trail exists that cuts off the head of Bluff Point, connecting Bullhead Bay with North Bay to the north. A few minutes of portaging and my canoe and gear were both on the shoreline of North Bay- and soon, I was off again. North Bay was well sheltered that day from the wind and quite calm, but as I exited the bay I was soon back riding the wave train northward.

In contrast to the half mile between the boat launch and the island, over a mile of open water exists between Valcour Island and the mainland to the north. I was so focused on keeping the boat pointed downwind and maintaining balance that I really had very little perception of how long it took to make the trip back to the shoreline. I was quite thankful when I pulled up on a sandy beach and dragged the boat well out of reach of the waves.

The hard part was over but I was still faced with a bit of a quandary- figuring out how to get back to my car. I was a bit uncertain even about getting permission to cross someone's private property out to the road until I'd realized that I'd had the good luck to pull up on a shoreline owned by a golf course. A quick google search on my phone and I was calling the front desk, explaining my situation, and asking if they had any issue if I cut across through the course to get out to the road. I think they were genuinely a bit surprised that I'd even asked, and they were quick to respond with "not a problem, go right ahead." I did get a few funny looks from some golfers as I walked up through with my canoe slung atop my shoulders.

I did find some secluded bushes near the road to stash my canoe in, then began my mile walk of shame back down the road to collect my car before returning to load up the canoe. Lesson learned first hand- when planning paddle trips across large bodies of water, one needs to take into account not just the forecasted wind speeds but also the forecasted wind direction. Oops.

----------------------------------------

All in all, despite the planning snafu I'd endured at the very end, it was an enjoyable trip and I'm glad that I both got to return to Valcour Island and to explore it in detail. It's a spot that I could definitely see myself returning to again, albeit not during the busy season given how popular the island clearly can be. I've had some tentative discussions with friends even about selecting it as a destination for relaxed group camping trip. Given the ample space in most of the designated sites, it's a destination that would work well for that sort of experience, I'd think.

I understand that the DEC has proposed to close some number of the existing designated sites on the island. I can see why- a lot of the sites exist in clusters, and rare is the designated site on Valcour Island that doesn't have another designated site nearby in close proximity. While I don't think that anyone would reasonably expect solitude on Valcour Island during the summer months due to the islands accessibility by motor boat, I'm sure there's also no shortage of conflicts between user groups at times given how close some of the sites are to each other. I can imagine that even with my tempered expectations, I'd also be ready to strangle some of my neighbors if there were a loud and obnoxious group camped only a hundred feet away from my site. (Especially if they had bluetooth speakers...)

But at the same time there's also a lot of shoreline terrain on the island that is devoid of designated sites- and while I'm not sure you could get a 1 to 1 replacement of new sites to take the stead of the closed sites, I think there's definitely room for a few new sites while also still achieving that same goal of spreading the sites out a bit more than what exists at present.
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Old 12-26-2021, 08:09 PM   #5
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It's funny, as a westerner, I never even knew this place existed until I read about a ski tour in Tony Goodwin's book.

I've wanted to get to this part of the world since. TBH, it doesn't look all that Adirondack-ey. But it surely does have some interesting geology, something that I've not seen before in NY.

I have a little experience camping at places like this in the summer months i.e. motor boat access sites. You needn't worry about someone camping next to you with a bluetooth speaker, because even if they don't have one, someone will moor up their boat in your bay, get drunk and blast one. It was after experience with this, that I made my first serious efforts at canoe tripping...


I'm not 100% sure about this, but my hypothesis is you can determine if there are deer on an island by looking at the cedars/thuja/arbovitae. I think on the edges where they can get full sun, they'll keep their foliage down very low, unless deer are browsing them. I've noticed this on other islands where I don't think there are deer, and the cedars look like lawn hedges. It looks like every one in those pics you took is nipped right to the height a deer could get to.

But I'm realizing an issue with that thought is I bet those deer came out to Valcour on the ice, and I don't see why they wouldn't go out and browse any island like that during the winter.

Last edited by montcalm; 12-26-2021 at 08:37 PM..
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Old 12-26-2021, 09:22 PM   #6
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Haha, my "bluetooth speaker" comment was more of a subtle relay of my intense hatred of folks in the Wilderness hiking crowd who think it's acceptable to carry- and use- bluetooth speakers while hiking on trails in more remote areas. I agree that in the context of Valcour Island, it would not be unreasonable to expect that some campers will have music playing at a reasonable volume in their campsites during the day.

But some of the Valcour campsites are packed so close together that if a camper is playing music at any volume in one site, they very well may inevitably be providing the soundtrack for others camped at the adjacent sites.

The "browse line" phenomenon is will documented with deer and cedars. There's many Adirondack lakes where the browse line is plainly evident- deer will get out on the ice in the winter and eat any smaller cedar branches within reach, as this is one of the few forms of sustenance available to them in the winter.

Valcour Island did not generally have much of a distinct browse line that I saw. As you note many of photos appear to show such a browse line, but most of these photos were taken in campsites and I'd suggest that this apparent browse line is more anthropogenic in origin- it's caused by campers ripping lower branches off of the trees to use for firewood (and also to open up the views on the side of any campsite that faces the water).

I suspect that the deer population on Valcour is probably relatively small and therefore they don't have as much of an impact on the cedars as you might see elsewhere in the ADKS. In any case, though, the DEC webpage for the Lake Champlain Islands unit confirms that deer are present on Valcour Island.

I agree that this is a neat area that feels unique in comparison to the rest of the ADKs. Another area that has been on my "to visit" list for a while now that I've not yet made it into is Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest, further south on the shoreline of Lake Champlain.
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Old 12-26-2021, 09:33 PM   #7
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Split Rock has been on my short list longer than Valcour, only because I've known about it longer. Unfortunately, for me, there's a number of obstacles between me and that edge of the park, and mainly that's all the other areas of the park in between that are on my short list. In past years I was slowly creeping up from Lake George into this area, but my main interest has shifted back to Western High Peaks. It's area I've never been, and that desperately needs my attention.
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Old 12-27-2021, 08:06 AM   #8
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Yeah, apart from the Split Rock area a lot of the extreme western ADKs has remained foreign to me despite my extensive explorations elsewhere. Watson's East Triangle, the Pepperbox Wilderness, Independence River, and even some decent stretches of the Black River and Ferris Lake Wild Forests. When the list of places yet to be visited closer to you (for me in the eastern and central ADKs) is still never ending, it gets easy to avoid the extra hour or two of driving to other destinations elsewhere in the ADKs.
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Old 12-27-2021, 09:43 AM   #9
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Me too, really.

Unless you're local, there's probably some sort of hierarchy that most people follow in terms of popular, easy access to those things off the beaten path, and some never have interest in going that far.

It's kind of "cute", for lack of a better term. But a friend of mine recently "discovered" Rollins Pond campground for herself, and of course I was elated for her and had lots of suggestions how she should branch out. Although I went to PSC for a year, I was kind of limited in my range of that area. I didn't have a car, so I mostly remained within biking, hiking, paddling distance of the college - although I later realized if I was so inclined I could have paddled accessed a lot more than I did. Anyway, I later "discovered" Rollins Pond myself, did a lot of camping there and then eventually branched out to backcountry camping up there. The triangle between Saranac, Tupper and Paul Smith's still remains an area I like to get to at least annually, if not more. But really it was nice to see my friend so excited about this area, and push herself to do some paddling that was out of her comfort zone. I get excited about this, so I have to be careful not to smother her with suggestions, but it's always interesting to see how others progress in these ways.

But really the point is, if you're a person that only gets up a few times annually, there's so much easy access stuff, that you kind of need to build yourself up to get the obscure. I have the problem where I like to ski, bike, hike, paddle and backpack - and not necessarily all together, so even if I can get up for weekends throughout winter and shoulder seasons, and a few weeks in summer, I'm barely scratching the surface.
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Old 12-28-2021, 12:55 PM   #10
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Thank you for this.

I have family in Plattsburgh, was familiar with Valcour in name only. Great to see your detailed tour.

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Old 12-28-2021, 02:33 PM   #11
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The Valcour trip and photos were great - thanks DS. It gave me reason to brush up on my US history and the naval battle that took place in the bay - Benedict Arnold's pre traitor days.

Also, my brother's wife's family owned a island on Saranac and deer, and the rare bear would swim out to it - so they didn't necessarily cross over to Valcour on the ice. They can handle the 1/4 to 1/2 mile distance pretty easily.

Thanks again for the pot and exchange DS and Montcalm.

Bob
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Old 12-28-2021, 02:39 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobF View Post
Also, my brother's wife's family owned a island on Saranac and deer, and the rare bear would swim out to it - so they didn't necessarily cross over to Valcour on the ice. They can handle the 1/4 to 1/2 mile distance pretty easily.
I knew deer could swim, and I was going to mention that. I wasn't sure about how far they would swim though, especially in rough waters.

I've seen them swim stuff I would - a hundred yards or so of calm water. Beyond that, I don't know.
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Old 01-02-2022, 08:29 PM   #13
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Quote:
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I knew deer could swim, and I was going to mention that. I wasn't sure about how far they would swim though, especially in rough waters.
I once came across a small fawn curled up on the ground on an island on a backcountry lake. Mom was no where to be found on the island, and it was a small enough island that if she were there, I'd have seen her. I don't quite know that swimming was necessary for a full sized deer to traverse between the mainland and island- the water might have been shallow enough for a deer to wade- but it was still a neat find. Mom must've either swam or waded out to the island to give birth, and would then leave the fawn alone during the day while she swam/waded back to the mainland for forage.

Mothers leaving their young deer alone for the day is well documented behavior, but the added protection of leaving her fawn on an island is certainly smart thinking.

Another time while paddling on a backcountry lake, I observed... something swimming across the water, a solid quarter mile from the shoreline. I thought to myself, "what the hell is wrong with that beaver?!?" and paddled closer to investigate. It turned out it was no beaver, but a red squirrel, doing the doggy paddle across the lake as hard as its little paws would carry it.

I can't remember if I saw any squirrels on Valcour but I imagine they must be there too.
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Old 01-02-2022, 08:33 PM   #14
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That is something, I know I've posted the pic of the one my wife found in the slash of a clear cut. We heard it bellowing from our campsite. They surely do find clever places to hide them.

I've seen them swim right in front of me though, so I'm sure they can do it. I probably wouldn't have thought they could unless I'd seen them do it, they don't exactly look built for marine duty.
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