Peter Macfarlane's 2018 Solo East-West 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 23

24.3 miles

Tuesday 5th June

North Hero - LaPierre Camp-site, Saranac River


Day 23 route on Google Earth imagery

Yesterday my body took a beating, a severe beating. Despite a comfortable bed, I could not make myself comfortable, and the extent of the beating became fully apparent when I started paddling – I had no strength.

I emerged for breakfast about 7:45 am, and combined eggs and bacon with pancakes, home fries and toast – a good mix of protein and calories. By 9:00 am I was on the water, paddling gently, very gently. The wind was in my face as usual, but light. Not able to make my shoulders comfortable, it took a while to settle into the rhythm of paddling. In fact, not until I had passed through The Gut between North and South Hero, about 5.5 miles into the day, did I start to move more freely, to relax and to paddle well.

Relative calm off North Hero

Crossing to Cumberland Head

After staying close the shore of South Hero for a while, it became apparent that the wind was beginning to swing from the south to the west, so I abandoned the shoreline and made a long crossing to the southwest, arriving at the western shore near the ferry dock. A brief stop to use the bathroom there offered an opportunity to send another SPOT waypoint, confirming that I had successfully crossed the lake. Then I rounded Cumberland Head and angled towards the MacDonough Monument in Plattsburgh, dealing now with a west wind, not strong as such but irritating.

When emerging from the Saranac River, the target of Cumberland Head is easy to see, if there is no mist, but, coming the other way, I found the mouth of the Saranac to be rather obscure. Initially I searched north of the marina, but totally failed to find it, so I turned to the south and searched there, equally to no avail. Returning to the north, I dug deeper into a hidden cove and found my target, a rather well hidden river mouth. A hundred yards against the current and dodging fisherman brought me to the boat landing, my take-out for a carry through Plattsburgh.

About this time I received a text from Viveka, saying that she had heard news of a body found floating in Cumberland Bay, and asking me to confirm that this was not me. My reply “Still kicking” had been pre-empted by my SPOT waypoint.

I had planned various options of where to put in again, but deliberately chose the longest carry, considering how weak I was feeling for paddling. This is the person who prefers to paddle a canoe, rather than take it for a walk, so that probably gives some indication of how wrecked I was. I carried south on Green then Peru St, turned right on Broad St, then left on Steltzer St to pick up the Riverside Trail, following this to its end, and then turning left to the George Angell Bridge. I fashioned a path where none existed down to the water, put in and started upstream.

Saranac River – smooth and fast

Approaching Imperial Mills Dam

It immediately became clear that this would be hard work. There were no real eddies, and the river was flowing well – indeed, it would have been a wonderful downstream run at this level, flowing at maybe 3 mph. I once more gravitated to the edges of the river, paddling a little, poling a little, and then adding wading into the mix of techniques. Progress was slow, but I eventually reached Imperial Mills Dam, found the carry trail, and put in through a gap in the fence, the same unconventional gap that through-paddlers have been using for many years. The deadwater above the dam allowed some faster progress with more rhythmical paddling for a while, but not for long. The rapids resumed, and I waded much of the way to the Indian Rapids Dam (Fredenburgh Dam). The steep take-out and put-in tested my now tiring legs – they had been slipping and sliding on algal-coated rocks, and I had picked up a few bruises on my shins from uncontrolled collisions with rocks. There was even less of a deadwater above this breached dam. A mix of paddling, poling and wading took me under the I-87 bridge to the take-out for the carry around Treadwell Mills Dam. The carry follows a new route, easy to find and good underfoot, but the gate through the fence at the end was too narrow to admit even my narrow canoe. I had to turn it sideways, but then couldn't fit with my pack on, so had to discard the pack temporarily in order to manoeuvre the canoe through.

With 3.5 miles remaining to reach the new LaPierre Lane camp-site, it was now 5:00 pm. I put on speed in the deadwater, but that gave out after about 0.5 mile. With my rate of travel up rapids, I would be struggling to reach camp by dark. There was no option but to continue, so upstream I waded, ski pole in hand to act as a third leg for stability, saving me from some, but not all, duckings, the other hand dragging the canoe by the bow-line. Rain, which had been intermittent through the afternoon, now became continuous. I focussed just on the next step. Houses appeared along the bank. Eventually, maybe 200-300 yards shy of the camp-site, I espied someone on a deck and hailed him. He was happy to give me permission to take out across his land to access the road. He even offered me a beer, but my priority was to make camp, get into dry clothes, and consume hot food and drink.

Approaching Treadwell Mills Dam

A fortuitously strong post

A fairly short walk brought me to LaPierre Lane, which I followed down to the river where I found a clear grassy area with a picnic bench. The hammock options were extremely limited – I used the sign-post and a tree, rather too close together, but better than any other option. I changed clothes in the rain, after which the sky cleared briefly as I cooked dinner. Looking at the river, the only way to make progress was to walk, either wading in the river, slow progress with slippery, unstable footing, or carrying along the road. Once more, carrying looked like the preferable option. I would make a decision in the morning.


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