Peter Macfarlane's 2013 Solo Through-Paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft

NFCT's Map of Overall Route Peter & Sylva completing the NFCT

Day 3

35.1 miles

Tuesday 21st May

Stoney Creek - Franklin Falls Pond


Day 3 route on Google Earth imagery

I went to bed last night under a clear sky with a beautiful half moon. Shortly after 3:00 am I was rudely awoken by an enormous clap of thunder. Within a minute it was raining hard, and a squall blew through, releasing one end of my inadequately secured tarp. Water poured into the head end of my hammock while I fumbled in the dark and wet to fix it. I'm clearly not yet in a groove regarding camping, having been lackadaisical with tying the tarp and not having taken a headlamp into the hammock – more lessons learnt the hard way. Sleep is impossible after that, so I'm up at 5:00 am, trying not to wake my neighbours.

The rain has soaked all the firewood I carefully prepared yesterday and did not feel the need to protect, and it proves impossible to maintain a fire. Not wishing to consume unboiled river water, I dispense with breakfast, planning to make up for this in Saranac Lake. By 6:45 am I'm on the water; my neighbours have not stirred.

Entrance to Stoney Creek

Stoney Creek

The route up Stoney Creek is not easy to follow, and I take one or two wrong turns, even though I've paddled this several times before. At one point a huge – and yes, I mean huge – snapping turtle drifts past me, apparently unconcerned by my presence. Only when I reach for the camera does it submerge.

About an hour's paddling brings me to Indian Carry to cross from the Raquette watershed to the Saranac drainage. It's a straightforward carry, although my legs still complain at the uphill. By the time I reach Upper Saranac Lake, the sun is shining. Taping my heel is proving problematical, devising a system which will allow for flexing while walking and not be rubbed off when wet. I skirt across the south-east of Upper Saranac Lake; it seems a shame not to visit the rest of this jewel, but I've been there several times before. Even though I'm on the lookout, there's no sign of the new NFCT campsite in Huckleberry Bay.

Upper Saranac Lake

Lower Saranac Lake

The Bartlett Carry brings me to Middle Saranac Lake, where I once more experience a tailwind. The law of averages is looking ever less good for the future. Soon I'm paddling down the Saranac River to the Upper Lock, where the lock-keeper advises me that there's someone in a modified carbon fibre canoe a few days ahead of me. This must be Tom Holt, whose name has appeared in the various registers. Lower Saranac Lake is another jewel, and even though I know it well, I'm confused by an island, and nearly turn into Pope Bay, having to backtrack a little. It has now clouded over and, as I pass the Ranger Station by Route 3, the rain starts. It continues all the way to the Lower Lock. Out of curiosity, I opt for the carry, never having tried it before. To my mind it takes an unnecessarily long route and climbs too far for the distance it has to by-pass. Next time I'll go back to using the lock.

At this point I phone Mike Lynch of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, who contacted me before departure with an interest in my story, and who suggested meeting as I pass through. Rather rashly I predict arrival in an hour, and then realise that it's something more than 4 miles, so I set to some hard paddling and almost make the rendez-vous on time. He snaps pictures as I approach, and then, after I've signed in, records a brief interview on video. Having carried around the dam, I paddle to St Regis Outfitters, where Dave and Dennis are kind enough to let me leave my pack and canoe while Mike is so good as to drive me to a deli where I can have a belated breakfast. Dennis and Dave show an interest in my canoe – it's great for the ego to paddle a conversation piece!

Lower Lock from below

Lake Flower & Saranac Lake Village

Then it's time to push on down the Saranac River. I hope to reach maybe Union Falls Pond today. Traffic noise swells and fades as the river approaches and leaves Route 3, and then finally swings east, offering more peace. After being advised not to run Permanent Rapids, and having intended to carry around them, I find myself drawn into running them, not to save the carry, but to find out what I can expect from a class II rapid. Sometime I have to find out, otherwise I'll end up trying to carry around all of them, which could become tedious, and may not be possible.

Approaching Permanent Rapids

As the take-out comes into sight, I don my life-jacket, stow my long paddle and pull out my shorter white-water paddle, lower the front of my seat to adopt a kneeling position, and drop into the rapids. With some back-paddling to control speed, I'm pleased with my line, and have a clean run in the upper section. Approaching the gorge section, I make one mistake – that's all it takes – and am shunted sideways into a rock. The audible crack is deflating. I can't investigate yet, and must keep concentrating. I have a couple of other very light skirmishes with rocks, but emerge at the bottom after what was almost a very good run, but that ominous crack is at the back of my mind. I resolve to aim for an island camp-site in Franklin Falls Pond, not least because black clouds are gathering in the west.

Once camped, an inspection of the canoe reveals no significant damage on the exterior – the extra reinforcing fibreglass has done its job – but a 10-inch longitudinal split in the interior fibreglass. The hull, however, is not soft, its strength is not severely compromised, so I dry the interior and tape the split to keep further water out.

Having gathered stove-wood for dinner and breakfast, I cook an evening meal, and am just boiling water for more tea when an intense thunderstorm strikes, accompanied by a violent squall. It blows all the embers from the wood-stove, a fire-risk in other circumstances, but not with the volume of rain falling, and the intensity with which the rain hits the ground causes it to bounce up and soak the underside of my hammock. Meanwhile I'm hunkered down beneath the tarp and hammock, trying to enjoy dinner. Although I took the precaution of stowing wood for the morning under the tarp, it's now saturated. Breakfast is looking doubtful. As the storm passes, the sky lightens in the west, an eerie yellow contrasting with the blackness overhead, but this doesn't photograph convincingly. The rain has eased, but doesn't stop completely. There's little to do but retire to bed and write my journal by headlamp. I'm now one day ahead of schedule. As my plans included no spare days for being wind-bound, gaining a day on water I know well has been an early goal, now accomplished.


Website design & Photography © Peter Macfarlane

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