Raising a Raquette on New Year’s Eve!

Well, actually we were pretty mellow, enjoying the peace and quiet of the woods of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, as the new snow fell gently upon the existing foot of fresh powder. So why have I suggested in the title of this article that we “raised a raquette” ?  We did raise a raquette, but not in the usual sense. We took our raquettes into the wooded trails of the local mountains and ponds, to welcome in 2017 with an outdoor adventure.

Living as close to the Canadian ( Quebec) border as we do, we frequently  participate in outdoor activities north of the border, and follow many outdoor sites based in Quebec. From these sites we learned that in the French language of Quebec, snowshoes are known as raquettes….hence, our appropriation of the term!

Rather than spend the holiday weekend surrounded by noisy,  robust, and loud partiers, my husband and I decided to head to the mountains for the weekend. We were fortunate enough to be able to rent an off-grid Wheeler Pond cabin owned by the Green Mountain Club, located on the pond at the base of mountains with an endless variety of hiking and snowshoeing terrain. We are members of the GMC, Northeast Kingdom Section, and have stayed here many times before. Unfortunately, last winter, our attempts at snowshoeing weekends were major “fails”…the snow-less winter of 2015-16 had us do lots of ice-spiking and hiking around the cabin, but our snowshoe never left our vehicle. This year was different! December 2016 has been marked by nearly normal snowfall, and in the Kingdom, about 90 minutes northeast of us, there is always more snow. We also relish the chance to get out to some more remote ,less frequented, hiking destinations than are found in other areas of Vermont.

 

In addition to all our camping  gear, we each packed up two pair of Tubbs snowshoes, not exactly sure of what conditions we may find. We knew there would be snow, but we wanted to be prepared for any trail conditions, from packed and icy, to deep and fluffy. Our Tubbs framed snowshoes ( Wilderness 36’s  and Mountaineer 25’s) would provide us with a bit more flotation if needed, while still giving us a solid traction base.  Our Flex Alps are excellent for the often varied, and difficult, Vermont conditions we encounter on some of the area trails, so they came along, too. It was a pleasant addition to have my sister-in-law join us, with her more vintage Tubbs snowshoes. And of course, our two lab mutts, our regular adventure partners, were also with us. We arrived at the cabin’s location, in Barton, VT, early morning, ready to hit the trails before worsening conditions predicted by a winter weather advisory kicked in. We had a nice chat with the folks who were staying in the cabin before us, and they assured us they would vacate the cabin by noon, and that it would be left clean and spiffy for us. Nice folks!

Parking ¼ mile from the cabin, we geared up and headed up one of the many trails that are literally right out the door of the cabin. We headed up the newly rerouted Wheeler Mt. trail and found deep untracked powder, the perfect chance for my husband to initiate his Tubbs Wilderness 36’s. I used my Mountaineer 25’s, and they worked out great in these conditions.  The narrow wooded trail wound through the trees, and around snow covered boulders that looked like giant marshmallows. The dogs picked up on lots of wildlife sign, but the only living animal we saw was a partridge, flushed from a low pine bush by Gryphon…it flew away in quite a huff! The predicted overcast and snowy weather did not materialize, and we enjoyed blue skies, bright sun, and fabulous views.

 

My husband had no trouble negotiating the winding narrow trail with his large edition snowshoes…he even found some open areas to stomp through, much to the delight of his snow dog Edgar. Each of us found that our Tubbs provided nice flotation on the powder, yet provided great traction on the steep sections we had to climb.

We traveled for a few hours, and then took a break for hot lunch on the trail. We decided to skip the planned big lunch, and have just hot beverages and snacks instead, perfect energy boosts for the return trip.

By early afternoon, we were ready to get to the cabin. Now, each of us has a lot of experience in winter tent camping and backpacking, and there is a special attraction to that outdoor pursuit. However, as we get a bit older, the appeal of a cabin, however rustic it may be, increases. In fact, winter hut, yurt, and cabin camping has become quite popular with many folks. Some locations require backpacking, or hauling gear by pulk, while others have short equipment carries to the enclosures. Our delightful little cabin is only a few hundred yards from the parking area.  This makes it especially attractive for families, older folks, or those without the desire to really “rough it”.

We loaded our gear into our homemade pulk, and hauled it off to the cabin. Our five pairs of Tubbs snowshoes were placed outside the cabin, near the frozen lake, ready to go; there are 4 trails that are accessible right from the cabin.  My husband got the wood stove fired up, since that is the only source of heat. There is no electricity, running water, internet, or cell phone coverage here, and the bunks are nice flat plywood. The cabin is a bit rough, but it feels like a second home to us, and to our dogs, who settled right in. Some hut/cabin camping locations prohibit dogs…since our dogs accompany us on all our adventures, the dog friendly nature of this cabin makes it just right for us.

 

Late afternoon, as the skies began to cloud up and darken a bit, we made a nice fire in the outside fire pit. The snow then began to fall, gently upon us, as the temperatures hovered around a very acceptable 20 degrees (f).  Who needs Times Square, when you can be sitting around a fire, miles from the nearest civilization, enjoying the peace and quiet of northern Vermont?

Our evening celebratory meal was fondue, heated up on a camp stove. Of course we had the obligatory toast, from a bottle of champagne that had been kept chilled in the snow. We had brought only two camping “fancy” glasses, so my Tubbs camping mug became the third entry into the toast…how delightful it was, to raise a glass of bubbly among close family, in that setting. We did not, however, make it until midnight; early to bed were we, as we had more snowshoeing planned for the morning.

 

Outside, the snow continued to fall, and by looking upward, my headlamp illuminated a kaleidoscope of flakes…and not a sound other than my feet on the soft snow. I knew that the next day, the first of 2017, would bring us more great snowshoeing conditions.

Indeed, 2017 greeted us with a few more inches of snow, and moderate temperatures. Our dogs awoke at their usual 6 am time, well before any light was visible in the eastern sky.  The early rising time left us plenty of opportunity to make a nice breakfast to have on this holiday morning…not the usual quickie oatmeal and dried fruit we have while tent camping, but rather a nice spread of scrambled eggs, bacon, and maple donuts. Fully energized, we were ready to take advantage of the new snow, and head out on the short trail that goes around the lake. My sister in law decided to spend the morning drinking hot coffee and catching up on some reading, so it was my husband and me, and our two dogs, that went out to welcome the new year with a snowshoe trek. Having hiked this trail previously on wet leaves, rock, and ice, we knew it had a few tricky spots to negotiate…nothing steep or really challenging, but we decided our Flex Alps would be the best choice for this trip. And they were…we had deep untracked snow, often 20 inches deep, but also some narrow and windy passages around rocks and trees. We encountered a log bridge, 25 feet long, covered in snow, making determining the location of the log a bit uncertain. Our snowshoes provide a good stable base, and solid traction, as we slowly worked our way across. The rest of the trail obstacles were no match for our snowshoes, and we reached the end of the trail, with our cabin in sight.  One last challenge….this trail has a sometimes sketchy brook crossing at one end, consisting of ice covered rocks, with a foot of snow on top; neither of us wanted to start the new year with a dip in the frigid water. We opted to cross what is essentially an old beaver dam; unhooking our pack straps, we slowly stepped across the 20 foot distance, feeling secure with the base of support provided by our snowshoes. The dogs led the way, and once across, they received a nice doggie treat!

 

We took advantage of the snowy trails around the cabin to let my sister-in-law try out our newer version Tubbs Snowshoes. She absolutely loved the Flex Alps, and will most likely own a new pair before our next joint outing!

This trip was an exceptional way to ring in the New Year! I wish that every holiday celebration could be as peaceful and relaxing…maybe next year, we can get our adult children to join us. After all, the cabin does sleep 6.

If you are interested in hiking the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, the Green Mountain Club  https://www.greenmountainclub.org/    has all the information you need, from guidebooks, maps, and information on renting the Wheeler Pond cabins. In March, we will be back here, hoping to take advantage of some spring conditions up on Moose Mountain, another trail that begins near the cabin. There is a great variety of trails in this section of Vermont, many within 30 minutes or so from Wheeler Pond. The winter of 2016-17 appears to have the potential to be one of the best snowshoeing seasons in a long time!

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Snowshoe Hike Through History

Snowshoe Hike through History—Millstone Trails

Words and pictures by Tubbs Ambassador Sheila  | Day Hiker

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Here in northern Vermont,our location gives us quick and easy access to some amazing recreational opportunities in the nearby mountains and woods. We love heading out to a favorite remote trail, miles from the nearest paved road. But, in keeping with the somewhat quirky nature of Vermont, one of our favorite places to hit the trails for snowshoeing is actually near an industrial area. Wait, isn’t that a bit of a curious destination? Yes, it may seem so…but for a unique, amazingly scenic, and historically fascinating snowshoe hike, head to the Millstone Trails, in Barre, Vermont.

Barre is a very small city, whose title “ Granite Capital of the World” is well deserved. For well over a hundred years, the granite industry in Barre has produced world renowned granite for monuments, buildings, and spectacular grave markers. The granite industry began to flourish in Barre in the late 1800’s, when it was discovered that the quality of granite in the high hills outside the city is unmatched. Immigrants, from Scotland , Italy, and other European countries flooded the Barre area, bringing their craftsmanship and stonecutting skills to the hundreds of quarries that dotted the landscape.

The Millstone Trails network, managed by the Millstone Trails Association http://www.millstonetrails.com/ maintains over 90 miles of trails on the site of 75 abandoned quarries, high in the wooded hills over the central Vermont area. The network, only about 10 years old, is primarily a mountain bike mecca….however, in the winter, it is home to snowshoers, cross country skiers, fatbikers, and disc-golfers. Yes, there is a free year-round public disc golf course set amongst the quarry piles, right near the primary parking area, in the Barre Town Forest.

There are trails of varying difficulty, from narrow winding trails through the woods, to wide, groomed, trails that cross brooks and streams. There are some impressive lookouts, many situated over the 50 abandoned quarry holes, or on the top of waste granite piles. These lookouts are marked on the map, available from the association, or downloadable from the website. We love the Grand Lookout, where vistas can extend for nearly 100 miles. This is a great location for families !

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Along the trails you can observe relics of the granite industry, when the quarries were flourishing…derricks, cranes, sheds, and rock piles, “relics” being reclaimed by nature. Some of the old granite walls and deposit areas have incredibly detailed carvings in them. Each June, MTA sponsors a “Rockfire” festival, and the year’s new carvings are revealed during the festival, illuminated at night by torches.

There are interpretive signs in the network…not so many as to be obtrusive, but placed in such a way as to provide insights into the history of the area. The impressive array of trails means that each trip here can be different. We can stop by for a quick hour hike, or we may spend a few hours exploring new sections of the area. Snow conditions can vary, from crusty and firm, to deeper powder. Only the main, wider trails are groomed, so for snowshoeing, the wooded trails often provide access to some nice untracked snow. We have used Tubbs Flex Alps snowshoes here, as well as Tubbs Wilderness snowshoes…it all depends on what the snow conditions may be . There is often more snow here than in lower elevations nearby.

We rarely see any other folks here…the network is so large, that even on a winter weekend, you may feel you have the entire place to yourself. At present, MTA is not charging a fee for winter use, though they do welcome donations. The trails are closed to bikers from mid-November to mid-December (our hunting season). Though technically walkers and hikers are not prohibited, commons sense indicates that the trails are best avoided during that month.

If you are heading to the many ski areas in the mountains of Vermont, cruising along Interstate 89, consider stopping to check out these trails. Throw on your snowshoes, head back into history, and enjoy the views!

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Walking ( Hiking) in a Winter Wonderland….

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Wow, we have had a normal, typical, actual wintery December this year. Last Christmas, we were hiking in 60 degree temperatures, without a drop of snow visible, and it was December 29th before I got out on my Tubbs snowshoes.

December 2016 has been a pretty hectic month; lots of winter hiking and snowshoeing, some wild weather ( normal for Vermont!), a trip to New York City for this Country Mouse, family coming in for the holidays, new stuff from LL Bean and LuminAid to test out and review, another nice contest win from trailspace.com, phewwww, ready for a little break!

We are heading out in a few days to celebrate the New Year at the off-grid GMC cabins in the Northeast Kingdom. It looks like we will have plenty of snow for snowshoeing, and the temperatures are not going to be brutally cold. So here is a toast to the New Year…one which will undoubtedly bring new challenges and adventures. 2017, here we come!

And now, a brief video of our snowshoeing in December…so excited to actually be able to get some snowy photos this year!

“I have an affection for those transitional seasons, the way they take the edge off the intense cold of winter, or heat of summer.” ― Whitney Otto

Transitional season…or stick season…or shoulder season…Whatever you may call it, the month of November is marked by daylight ending at 4pm, temperatures fluctuations from well below freezing to near 7o degrees, and the sun’s deciding to make itself scarce for a while. Bright Orange becomes the color of choice for outings in or near the woods, for both humans and dogs. We are supportive of hunters and hunting, but do not want to end up the victim of an errant shot. The trail conditions can vary from wet heavy, slippery leaves, to enough snow to require snowshoes. This is November in Vermont, and we have survived it well this year, with lots of outdoor activity, and more hints of winter than we saw all of last year’s winter season!

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We have been hiking, both on dry and wet leafy trails, and on untracked snow and ice.  My new Tubbs Mountaineer snowshoes actually got tested within a few days of their arrival! We have also been joring…bike and kicksled only, since we have yet to get good skijoring conditions. I won a great Stormy Kromer hat from a twitter contest…those twitter chats, (such as #hikerchat and #trailtime) are a great source to make connections, learn about activities, and get advice for knowledgeable folks.

Here are some pics from our outings this month….given our attire,and the dogs’ vests and scarves, I think we are pretty visible!

Hiking!

Above: Burke Mountain, Waterbury Center State Park, Catamount Trail, and Cotton Brook canoe access

Above: Mill Trail, Stark Mt., Nebraska Notch Trail, and Waterbury Reservoir

Our snowy adventures have sometimes required us to hike up on the mountain,seeking man-made snow being stockpiled for the ski season. However, recent snowfalls have enabled us to take advantage of all-natural pure Vermont snow!

Above: Mt. Mansfield and Snake Mountain

Snowshoeing! Already I have a few entries in my 2016-17 snowshoe journal…maybe this year our winter trips will be highlighted by LOTS of snow….

Joring!  Just a few photos, and a funny video to show Edgar in his training mode….

So to wrap up this month’s installment of the adventures of the Paddle Pups, we present our own Edgar the Wonder Dog! Enjoy your outings with your dogs, keep safe, and we will be back after the holidays!

A Fond Farewell to the 2016 Paddling Season!

That’s a wrap! The season has come to a cold, rainy, and snowy end….but what a year it has been! Adventures, mishaps,wildlife, travel, and great plans in store for next year.

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If you have been reading my blog articles, you know that we have ventured further, paddled more, and seen more varied wildlife this year than in past years.  As the season comes to a close, we are a bit sad…the boats have their protective coats applied, and are in their storage locations. The canoeing flag is off the deck, and the wooden paddles will soon be on display (since they are works of art) in the living room. Gear has been cleaned and put away until next May.

We will spend the next 6 months snowshoeing,hiking, skijoring, and kicksledding…more winter cabin camping is on the schedule,and we HOPE that this season we will have some actual snow!  We can’t canoe during a Vermont winter, so we have our other favorite activities to help us endure.

We have already been bikejoring, and winter hiking ( spikes required) on snow and ice….having started that makes the end of paddling season easier to bear. And on those too cold,long, dark, boring winter weekend days, we ill be planning our itinerary for or Banff trip next fall.  That will certainly be some exciting preparation work.

So here is our 2016 Paddling Summary annual video…we tried to highlight some of the wildlife we saw this year. Enjoy!

Tumultuous Winds and Quiet Sands…a report from our Canoe Trip in Canada.

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An article in Canoeroots Magazine, published earlier in the season, had suggested that paddlers should challenge themselves each year, and get outside their comfort zone a bit when canoeing and exploring.  We felt up to the challenge, so after our Adirondack adventures, we headed north of the border, to Parc Regional du Poisson Blanc, in Quebec, about 60 miles north of Ottawa. This was the longest we had traveled from home for a paddling trip, and the first where English is not the primary language. We knew that the lake was quite large ( 24 miles long, 5 miles wide, with over 80 islands), much larger than the largest lake we had paddled to date, but it certainly seemed like a nice place to adventure…and it is dog-friendly too.

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Monday

Our first challenge was crossing the border into Canada; now, we have taken the dogs across before, but it is always a bit worrisome. We have all their paperwork in hand, but if the Customs official is having a bad day, or they request a secondary search, or the dogs begin barking because they expect a treat from the “drive-thru window”..well, these can make the crossing eventful, and we seek uneventful. Well, Canada Customs Agent Hamilton was a friendly fellow, and merely asked if we had the “paperwork for the pups”. It was a quiet 2 minutes while he reviewed our documents, and off we went.

Our first stop, to walk the dogs, was about 4 hours from home, in Ontario. Though our destination was in Quebec, we had to travel through a corner of Ontario to get there. The dogs explored a nice park, with some unusual sculptures, in Hawkesbury, ON…the wind was vicious, and there were whitecaps on the river. We were reassured knowing that the campsite for our first night was land-accessible, and not the boat-access island where we were to spend the rest of the week.

We arrived and checked in at the Bastion Base Area mid-afternoon, and then headed 10 km up along Reservoir Du Sable, to our campsite for the first night. The Parc maintains two very nice sites along the shoreline of this lake that is linked with Poisson Blanc…there are also some tent sites for “late arrivals” down at the base area.

The large sandy beach was 100 yards from the campsite ( which was located on a quiet marshy area), so we hauled one boat out for an evening solo paddle…accompanied by loons and ducks. We also took a hike (trailhead right near the campsite) up to an overlook, allowing us to see the lake where we would be heading the next day.

Dinner was great ( fondue), the Parc delivered a load of firewood for us, and we had a very peaceful night under the full moon.

Tuesday

We woke up to a glorious sunrise, and calm winds….a beautiful spot, but then it was time to load up and head bake to the base area, out to embark on our island adventure.

At the base area, we saw a few cars in the canoe access parking lot; the office did not open until 9am, but we wanted to head out earlier than that. We had obtained out parking permit the day before, so we could launch for our island campsite by 8am.

Peaceful and calm as we headed out…little did we know what awaited us!

Since we had been told that we were not permitted to arrive at our island site before 2pm, we decided to check out some of the islands used as day use areas. We landed at island site #8, cooked up some oatmeal for breakfast, and then began exploring the sandy,rocky, and wooded terrain. Gryphon had a great time, as he had lots of waterfront  for chasing frogs and minnows. Edgar found some great sticks to drag and play with….and in this peaceful setting, we noted that the wind was beginning to pick up.

By late morning, the winds were gusting pretty good…we started to see lots of chop and even some whitecaps. We estimated winds were up to 20 mph,and getting more gusty. The few paddlers we saw heading out were really working hard to proceed,even with large tripping canoes. Since we were not very far ( 1/2 mile or so) from our designated site, and it is a pretty large site, we opted to head over to our island earlier than 2pm…if we had to wait while prior campers packed up, so be it. I had read blogs that mentioned paddlers being stranded on these islands due to winds, and that did not sound appealing.

Our little boats ,loaded up with all our gear, headed out, as it seemed there was a lessening of the wind…the plan was to head downwind just a bit, go around another island as a wind-break,and head upwind to our island. Plan A was a dismal failure! As we got away from the protection of the day-use island, we encountered increasing cross winds,and winds funneling between the islands….my little solo boat was bobbing around like a cork, despite my best paddling efforts.  The heavier kayak was faring better, but it seemed unsafe to contionue to try to battle the challenging winds. We decided to return to our day use island, and wait for the winds ( now in the 30 mph range, per our anemometer) to let up.  So we spent most of the afternoon on this lovely island, in beautiful sunny weather, comparing our situation to   Gilligan’s Island, Robinson Crusoe, Castaway…we wondered how upset the park would be if we camped overnight on the island!

Well, at 4pm, we saw a solo canoeist appear, working her buns off, but actually making progress in the rough waters. The wind flags on my boat indicated that there were now longer periods of lesser winds, and seeing that paddler succeed seemed to be a sign for us…if she can do it, so can we! So we made sure everything in the boats was secure, we snugged down our PFDs, and put the dogs in down position, and we headed off. We have paddled in some rough water, and rock n’ rolled it a bit before, but this was probably the most challenging paddling we’ve done. Keeping the island destination in site, we worked it, and paddled for all we were worth…my fear was not so much taking on water ( we did), but that if we dumped, Gryphon would swim to the nearest island…which might not be the right one! Then we would have to retrieve him…and the canoe as well. But we made it,  safely landing on one of the 3 sandy beaches of our island site, relieved, with a prayer of thanks to St. Brendan!

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Once on the island, we expressed gratitude..we had earned this reward…the best site in the park!

The site, #6, is the only site on the island..there is a smaller island adjacent, which due to low water levels, had land access. Three sandy beaches, lovely wooded areas, and some of the most fascinating and abundant rock formations we have ever seen.

Since the wind appeared to lessen as we neared the end of the day,we opted to set up the tent on the sand…a good distance from the waters edge, and easily moved into the wooded area should the need arise.

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We had a nice fire ( they deliver firewood to the sites by boat!), and a relaxing dinner, and a quiet evening. Gryphon did not want to come out of the water (lots of minnows!), but Edgar was happy sleeping in the sand. Overnight,a lovely breeze was blowing through the tent…then about 2am, we started to hear rain on the fly. Of course, the wind began to get quite strong again, but at least we had not thunder and lightning.  Our LL Bean tent continues to perform exceptionally well! We awoke to strong winds blowing…glad we had each brought books to read, and chew toys for the dogs; it looked like it might be a long day!

Wednesday

While light rain continued to fall, and the skies were pretty grey, we decide to move the tent into a site under the trees. We un-staked it, and carried it about 50 yards into a wooded site, right on the edge of the beach, and with water views. Though the lake appeared angry on one side of the island, the other side was less agitated, and we actually began to see breaks in the clouds, and the showers and rain became intermittent. Breaks in the  weather allowed us to escape the tent, and explore the island…we found new trails to some of the rocky shorelines, and watched birds that had settled in on the edges of our site.

Well, as the day progressed, the skies became bluer, and the sun began to shine..winds kept blowing, gusting up to 30 mph, until early afternoon…then, we actually realized that we might get in some paddling! By 3 pm, the lake had calmed enough for us to take the boats out to explore the lake. It was still a bit windy, but we handled it well, and  it was fun to explore different islands and arms of the lake.

A nice fire on the beach, beautiful scenery, and the day came to a peaceful close….

Thursday

Our tent site in the woods protected us from overnight winds, but we certainly heard them gusting again, until 0400 am, when suddenly, calm rang out! The full moon illuminated the skies, which were beautifully clear, and the water, which was flat and calm…

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We got up at 6am, had a quick cup of coffee, and headed out to take advantage of the excellent paddling conditions. 40 degrees f., but it was glorious paddling to start the day! The rising sun soon warmed us up, and we ventured farther from our site than we had previously been able.

We returned after 90 minutes on the water…it was still only 42 degrees , so we had a nice hot breakfast, and sat on the warm sand and rocks for a bit. Griff was in his glory, having freedom to chase minnows and frogs, while Edgar decided to sleep on the warm sand. And…the wind remained practically non-existant.  This was to be the the day that we could paddle to our heart’s content!

And, of course, we had to take a photo by a certain rock on our site…there was just something about that rock….we suspect we are not the first to pose by it!

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Late morning, we headed out for a lovely paddle, to explore another of the day use islands. We put in to let the dogs stretch a bit, and to remove our paddle jackets…it was warm enough that they were no longer needed.

What a day! Warm sands, a beautiful quiet setting, endless views, and nice paddling conditions…almost made us forget the ” paddling drama” of our first day at the lake!

More paddling that afternoon. We watched loons, rode some powerboat wakes ( we only saw a few park motorboats, and they were not an issue), and  came back to our site to discover that a huge crow was feasting on our trash bag. He flew off in a huff, and after cleaning up the mess, we had a good dinner. We did have to pick up some small trash from inconsiderate prior campers, but amazingly, this was the first site in forever, where we have not found a plastic bread tab left behind!  One item of note…we found this park generally very neat and well kept. The benches, log tables, and fire pit were among the best we have found in our canoe camping travels. Even the outhouse was well made, clean, and pretty sanitary ( for an outhouse!). Unfortunately, for a reasons we could not fathom, many people had walked up the trail to the outhouse, but had then “done their business” in the woods within 10 feet of the outhouse, leaving their trash behind. Very odd, and we did mention this to park personnel upon our departure.

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Nicest outhouse we’ve found while camping!

Our last evening at the park was marked by a beautiful sunset, and then a colorful and impressive moon rise. We certainly hoped that our “paddle out” the next day would have the same easy conditions we had on Thursday.

Friday

We awoke to the sound of loons calling, and coyotes howling….and flat water and heavy fog. We grabbed a light breakfast, and packed up the boats. We really wanted to head out while the going was good…and we found nice calm waters, though the fog was a bit thick. Our compass kept us heading the right direction,and we could follow the shorelines around the islands and channels back to the base area. The sun began to shine through the heavy fog, and we ended up only paddling past the take-out by 50 years or so…a quick back-track, cross the narrow channel,and we were there, safe and sound!

We hauled our boats and gear up the steep, but short, trail to the parking area, and loaded up the car.  We managed to pack everything in the car without the use of the Thule Soft Bag we had put on the roof at the start of the trip….the dogs immediately curled up in the back seat, and dozed off.

It had been a fascinating week…we had overcome some wind challenges, explored terrain very different from what is familiar to us, and had taken us, and the dogs, a bit out of our comfort zone. We still have more paddling ahead this season, though the cooler temperatures and changing colors are telling us the season will soon end.  Hmm, time to plan next years adventures? Already started…”Paddling to Banff 2017″ is on the calendar!

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Vermont Paddle Pups, at Parc Regional du Poisson Blanc

“Still more exciting is it to lie at midnight by your campfire and watch the moon sailing up amid the trees or listen to the cry of the loon, wild and lonely, on the wild and lonely lake, or the hoot of the owl in the deep recesses of the forest.”

The past month has seen us out on the water quite frequently…paddling some new lakes and old-standbys; we have also been getting off the water to hike some old familiar trails. Most of our outings result in the posting of at least a few photos on our blog’s Facebook page ( check us out at Vermont Paddle Pups). So, rather than bore you with more monthly summaries, I will present a trip report from our most recent out-of-Vermont adventure.

We have just returned from a 5-day paddling trip to the Adirodacks. This was one of the trips we had to cancel in the summer of 2015, due to a family situation, so our anticipation for this year’s trip had been high. Instead of canoe camping, we decided to take a land-based approach this trip…that would allow us to have a  fixed base of operations from which we could head out and explore many of the canoe routes we wanted to check out. Of course, we always had in mind that we would be scouting potential sites for future canoe camping expeditions.

Our journey began on Monday,with a crossing of Lake Champlain, via the Ticonderoga cable ferry…a quick 7 minute crossing, over rather rough waters, with high winds blowing. Okay, so maybe we would not be paddling Monday morning….

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We entered NY state,and noted that the skies appeared to be clearing, but the winds were still pretty gusty. A majestic Osprey greeted us on the western shores of the lake, surely an omen for good fortune!

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Our campground for the first 2 nights was located in the general area of Saranac Lake, so we examined our map options, targeting spots where we could hike or paddle enroute. We had hoped to be able to meet up with our “Dog Paddlin’ ”  Facebook friends Roger and Mary for a paddle on their nearby 13th Lake, but our schedules just did not mesh. So we proceeded across Rt. 74, a path of travel we have taken many time over the past 6 years, while our son was a prospective, and then enrolled, student at RIT in Rochester,NY. On these trips we passed by Eagle Lake, a large, rocky-shored lake bisected by Rt. 74…the lake always looked inviting, so today, we decided to actually get on the water. Thankfully, the winds had died down, and we had a great paddle, crossing under Rt. 74, so we could explore the larger portion of the lake.

As we approached the take-out, a lone eagle flew over the kayak, only about 100 feet above….the first of quite a few eagles we would see on this trip, but certainly an appropriate way to end our trip to Eagle lake.

We picked up a few sandwiches, and headed off to the campground.  Now, we knew that our campground was near another NY state campground, but we did not realize that we had to drive through the first one, to get to ours. Both are large campgrounds, and apparently populated by folks whose idea of camping is very different from ours. Bringing all the trappings,noise,lights,and crowds of your suburban backyard into the woods does not seem like an enjoyable way to enjoy the outdoors….We managed to finally find our site, which thankfully was in a more quiet, tent-orientated section of the campground.

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Camping in a state campground comes with inherent risks, since you can find yourself a bit close to your neighbors. We were fortunate to meet a couple of nice kayaker and canoeist guys, one a former professor from RIT, as our neighbors the first night. They gave us some tips on the routes we had planned, and they allowed us to examine their beautiful new Swift Keewaydin 14 solo canoe. Our site was right on the water, which made some of the odd behavior of nearby campers a bit more tolerable. Griff and Edgar got to spend a lot of time playing in the water, we saw lovely sunsets and sunrise colors, and we could launch for the Rollins Pond loop right from our site.

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Late Monday afternoon, we decided the dogs needed to stretch their legs, so we took them off to Mt. Arab, a small mountain near Tupper Lake. This was a nice, if a bit muggy, easy hike, with beautiful views from the summit. The dogs were a bit concerned when their dad went up the fire tower, and I think they watched him every step of the way.

Though this was an easy hike, with only gradual grades, we each had a knee that began to act up…so we decided to stick to easy hikes, and loop trails for the rest of the week. After seeing the mobs of hikers and cars at many of the classic mountain trail-heads, this was not a tough decision to make.

We had a nice quiet Monday evening, resting up for our Rollins Pond Loop expedition on Tuesday…we planned to get out very early, to avoid crowds and the winds which tend to pick up later in the day.

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Peaceful ( despite nearby RVs , and campers that are not our kind of campers…)

Tuesday’s adventure began bright and early…heading out to complete the Rollins Pond Loop. A Bald Eagle stood guard over Rollins Pond ,across from our canoe and kayak as we launched.

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The fog was rising,and a mist fluttered over the lake as we paddled towards the first outlet creek. Since our starting point was about 2/3 of the way up the eastern shore of Rollins Pond, it took only a short time paddling through the early morning mist before we reached the first carry point.

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In the Adirondacks, a portage is called a carry, and so the indicator signs show the trails over which you can “carry” your boat. The first outlet is a narrow, winding stream…often too shallow to paddle.  A carry trail is located along the stream, and probably is 200-300 yards up and down through a wooded hillside. We opted to try to paddle, but soon realized the gravel and sand bars made that problematic. Since the current is slow and easy, we were able to sometimes paddle/sometimes walk the boats through this channel,safely maintaining control of the boats, and our somewhat bemused ride-along dogs.

This short adventure brought us out onto Floodwood Pond, a lovely lake, with a few remote paddle-in campsites, that looked very appealing. We were still the only boats on the water, and it was a beautiful, calm paddle along the southern shores. The dogs spotted a pair of deer, well before we did….

At the southeast corner of Floodwood, we entered a spooky, dark,green,and longer creek passageway….a slow current helped propel us past downed tree,rocks,and under a footbridge.

After this journey,we popped out onto Little Square Pond, where we found our favorite campsite..where we stopped to let the dogs stretch a bit, and have a mid-morning snack, while we watched the loons and heron.

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Little Square Pond led to a teeny pond called Copperas Pond. Here, we spotted a juvenile broad-winged hawk watching us from a dead tree. Well, Gryphon spotted it, and I photographed it!

Lovely little Copperas Pond led to the first our our real portage, oops , I mean carry. It is a trail 1/3 mile long, through woods, with quite a few rocks and roots, but thankfully, no long up or down hills.

We had brought along the canoe dolly, and we actually were able to use it successfully on the kayak….Took us only about 15 minutes each way to portage, as we were taking it slowly, and were in no rush. We had yet to see another boat on the water.

After getting the dogs back into their boats, we headed west on Whey Pond. Here, the wind was gusting strongly and blowing right into our faces. We just kept plugging away, and reached our final carry. This last carry was only about 200 yards, and was level and packed…we crossed the campground road, and re-entered Rollins Pond. Now, we had just a paddle up the eastern shore of Rollins, where we finally saw another few boats,until we returned to our campsite.

This was a great adventure for us…not too difficult, but lovely paddling some beautiful scenic waterways, and we came back dry and safe. Wildlife was abundant, and the dogs were well behaved. Of course,we immediately started searching the guidebooks  for descriptions of similar, yet perhaps a bit longer and more challenging, loop paddles in the area!

After a quick lunch, and a brief rest, we headed out for the Whiteface area, to hike some trails we explored last winter. The dogs enjoy the Flume Trails, and it was nice to get out and see the river when it was not frozen,and full of ice formations!

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Well, it was soon dinner time. We decided to splurge and hit up the Tale O’ the Pup, a Ray Brook restaurant, a typical summer joint, where we could get good greasy food. The dogs could have joined us at our picnic table, but we opted to let them sleep in the car. Unfortunately, one of us ( not me) left his Vermont Paddle Pups ball cap on the table….our schedule did not allow us to return to recover it, so I hope that whoever claims it wears it in good health.

We returned to our campsite to find that we had a vacant site next to us, as the RIT fellows had moved on. Unfortunately, that gave us clear view to a site of city campers, who obviously have missed out on the objective of camping. At about 9:15, we noted that they were playing a movie for their 4 kids…on a 6 foot screen suspended between 2 trees. Hmmm, not sure that is proper campground etiquette anywhere. I did have to yell at them to turn the sound down ( for which neighboring campers expressed gratitude), and as we checked out the next morning, I was assured that the ranger would have a chat with them.

Wednesday Transition day, as we pack up to move to a more southern campsite for our next two nights. But first, an amazing sunrise paddle as we bid farewell to Rollins Pond. We had the lake to ourselves ( except for a pair of eagles flying overhead, and loons fishing while surrounded by fog), and watched the sunrise over the trees.

After breakfast, we broke camp, and departed our site (feeling pity for the poor kayakers/tent campers on the opposite side of the Drive-In theatre RV). Heading south towards the Raquette Lake area, and our next campsite, we just had to stop at one of the classic ADK paddling spots. The canoeing guidebooks had warned of “close to 50 cars” parked on the roadside on a summer weekend…but I think they under estimated. As we approached Low’s Lake Dam, preparing to paddle the Bog River Flow, we counted 36 cars along the road,and 10 in the small parking lot..this, on a late summer midweek morning. Some folks with impressively lightweight and tiny Hornbeck canoes said that we should definitely paddle here, and that we would see very few boats out on the water. They were correct! This is an amazingly beautiful, and varied paddling location.  We paddled upstream, into a brisk wind, but it was getting pretty warm, so we cut the trip short. Since we did not get out on the water until mid-morning (unusual for us), we were concerned about the dogs getting too hot. However, we did paddle for a few hours, and spotted some very attractive remote campsites!

After paddling the Bog Flow, we headed down to Brown Tract Campground. This is also a NYSDEC campground, but much smaller, quieter, and more our style than the prior area. As we checked in,the ranger warned us that 3 of the 4 previous nights,black bears had entered campsites. One benefit of car camping? Your entire car can serve as a bear canister….even though we did still seal up all our smelly items.

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After dinner, we had a quiet evening paddle on the small lake. No motors at all allowed on this lake, not even electric motors. That sounds good to us!

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Our neighbors were quiet and respectful, and we had a nice fire to end a busy day. We saw some clouds rolling in late, and knew that the forecast for the next day might be a bit iffy…but we got through the night without any rain on our tent.

Thursday , (Our River Day) got off to a late start, as the dogs actually slept until 0630! We awoke to overcast and windy weather, with a forecast for showers arriving during the day. We took the time to make a hot breakfast, then drove to the nearest NYSDEC campground where there were free hot showers. Once we felt a bit more human, we drove to Old Forge to check out paddling possibilities in that area. First, we made a stop at Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, where we marveled at the impressive display of hundreds of canoes and kayaks ( for sale). From the folks there, we verified the location of the put-in for the Moose River. One can utilize the MMO shuttle service to paddle the 9-10 miles of the river ( which includes a 1000 foot carry around rapids), but given the very iffy weather, we did not want to commit to that option. We put our boats in at the half-way point, intending to paddle north/upstream to Rondaxe, and then turn around for a nice easy downstream cruise back to the car. The paddle started out great…the river is narrow, and serpentine,but the current, though definitely work to paddle against, was manageable. We avoided some downed trees and sand bars, and were really getting it the swing of this river paddling. Then, the sprinkles started…which very quickly became a downpour. Sine the forecast had called for T-storms, we decided that perhaps we should end our paddling before we had to find a place to take cover. A quick reversal, nice downstream paddling, and we were able to get out of the river without incident. Another day, we will return, and paddle more of this interesting river.

We returned to the camping gear portion of MMO, picked up a new dry bag for my keys, and more stove fuel. We also found a fascinating gear trailer/pop-up camper combo on display. Hmmm, might be nice for our planned 2017 trip to Banff!

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Continuing with our “Let’s Play Tourist” theme for the day, once the showers ended,we went to the waterfront of Fourth Lake, and checked out the western terminus for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. 740 miles long, from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine, the trail has 55 miles of portages. Maybe in a prior life, but not for us these days ( except for some of the sections).

After a sinfully decadent lunch at the local Pancake House, we stopped at the View Arts center…there, we found the only moose we saw on our trip. I also picked up a wonderful watercolor print, of two XC skiers in the snowy woods. Yes, thinking of snow. Since I have just placed my gear requests with Tubbs Snowshoes, for the 2016-17 winter, the realization that we could be skijoring and snowshoeing in 2 months has recently occurred to us!

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We drove back to the campground,and stopped at the village of Raquette Lake to pick up some firewood. The bundle of wood far exceeded our requirements for that evening, so after taking a goodly number of logs, we donated the rest to a Boy Scout troop that was heading out camping on the lake. Due to regulations, we cannot transport firewood across state lines, so it was nice to have the wood be used by a deserving group.

We gave the dogs some down-time at the site ( and we enjoyed a bit of rest time also). Since the skies were a bit lighter,and rain was not imminent, we took a few hours to hike on trails around our campground lake.

Our second night at Brown tract, we had vacant sites all around us…absolutely quiet and peaceful. An evening paddle discovered that there are loons on this lake, as well as mallard type ducks, with a blue band on only their left wing.We had an impressive fire, using all the great quality firewood we had picked up in town. There was one “Please God, no!’ moment, when at 6pm, a pickup truck, loaded with all sorts of trashy camping stuff (i.e.inflatables,large screen houses, huge tarps), with at least 4 kids under age 10 hanging onto the running boards and riding in the bed with all the “stuff”, backed in past our site, towards an adjacent site. Think of the opening of Beverly Hillbillies, with the overflowing truck! Thankfully, they were just checking out sites for a future visit, and once their loud truck left, we once again had the peace and quiet we cherish.

Our last night camping was uneventful…that is, until 0230 on Friday. The sound of light sprinkles on the tent fly soon became the pounding of torrential rains, which continued until sunrise,and beyond. No sunrise paddle this day!

Friday we break camp in the rain, taking advantage of lulls in the intensity to load the car. The dogs were fed, but we did not pause for our breakfast ( though the Pocket Rocket gives us a nice,quick, cup of hot coffee), and we are packed up and on the road at 0635. This day, the forecast was for clearing skies, so we had chosen 3 possible lakes to paddle on our way home, each located a bit further along the route.  We passed Utowana Lake and Lake Durant while the skies were still heavy and overcast….at Blue Mt. Lake, we stopped for gas ( at 2.69 per gallon!), and some fresh,hot, homemade donuts. With us, the dogs, and the car now suitably fueled, we targeted 13th Lake.

We found 13th Lake without any problems, and use the dolly to carry the 2 boats the 100 yards or so to the launch site. As we paddled around this very scenic lake the weather improved, and we finished under sunny, bright skies. What a great spot, and with some remote campsites as well…so glad that Roger and Mary had told us about this lake.

And so, after paddling the 10th different body of water on our trip, we headed back to Vermont. We crossed at the Crown Point Bridge this trip, and the road nicely lead to an ice cream stand on the Vermont side.  The dogs had behaved wonderfully this trip, and certainly deserved an ice cold treat!

Our trip was a great adventure, exploring places we had never before visited, as well as those we had seen only in the cold of winter. We only got wet twice, and neither time was a drenching. Our gear all worked well, and we lost only one item…the VPP hat. The temperature stayed mostly moderate,and we never received the very cold conditions predicted for one of our nights. This was a great week for the Vermont Paddle Pups!

After a few weeks of respite at home, we will be heading off again, on our next adventure,north of the border..stay tuned!