Finding Adventure on the Winding Waters of the Osgood River
Our route on the Lower Osgood River into Meacham Lake
Adventure is often defined by danger, suffering, risk, and uncertainty. A scary, runout, multi-pitch rock climbing route is an adventure. Escaping dangerous storms on a winter mountaineering trip is an adventure. Taking shelter beneath an overturned canoe during a downpour, while lightening flashes and winds howl is an adventure. Often, the trips and experiences that we describe as adventures are characterized by an element of fear or the possibility of harm, or when all of the worst-case scenarios that you imagined become a reality.
Many of the trips that I’ve taken that fall into the “adventure” category for me are not dangerous or scary, but have moments that are equally unexpected and exhilarating. A side trail leading to a heart-wrenching view near the summit of a tree covered peak, paddling through flickering sunlight in a narrow tunnel, formed by gently encroaching pines, reaching the anchors on a climbing route and turning to see the beautiful valley below —these experiences are adventures too and can take your breath away just as readily as any danger. Stacked against my outdoor experiences, my paddling trip down the Lower Osgood River into Meacham Lake was certainly an adventure —and an enjoyable one at that.
A Back Road, A Trudge Through the Woods, A Precarious Launch
We began the morning slowly. My Aunt Sue was driving up from central New York to stay with us at Fish Creek Ponds campground for a night, so we had plenty of time to wake up late, cook a big breakfast, enjoy a cup of coffee (or 2), and assemble our gear for the day. Micky Mouse shaped pancakes, sausages and cups of orange juice fueled us, while the warm sun that trickled through the trees overhead built silent anticipation for a day on the water. Aunt Sue arrived in the area at 11:30 and my mother, Donna; father, Dan; sister, Kelly and our dog, Belle hopped into the truck and drove out of camp to meet her. We drove on route 30, through the town of Lake Clear, past Paul Smith’s College and various waterways and lakes that seem to stretch endlessly through the Saint Regis Canoe Area, until at last we turned onto Slush Pond road. We continued down this dirt path, branches raking the side of the truck and bumps sending us bouncing around our seats until we reached a wide, circular section of the road that marked turn-around point.
Belle eagerly awaits the day’s paddle
We unloaded our boats, paddles and gear, then my mother, sister and myself began our trek through the forest to reach the launch point in the river, while my father and aunt drove a few miles up the road to leave the truck near Meacham lake before returning to join us. The trail was not well traveled and lead down a muddy hill covered in thick trees. The trail flattened at the bottom of the hill and ran beside the river until it terminated at an accessible section of the river with a fallen log across it. Once the rest of our party joined us, we launched from a slippery, rocky bank into the swift current of the Lower Osgood River. The launch was particularly tricky, since the river was only a few feet wide at this point and winded through sharp branches and shrubs that protruded from the banks. Luckily, we are all experienced paddlers, so we made it safely into the flowing waters without capsizing. The only one of us who had trouble was Belle, who wouldn’t sit still as my dad launched his boat and almost tipped them! Luckily, she has her own life vest so she would be safe even if she were to fall in. We set out onto the Lower Osgood around 12:30, with the warm sun on our faces, each of us excited to see what sights, sounds and adventure lay ahead!
Hornbeck boats provide a lightweight, compact paddling experience
The five of us paddled gently, our paddles cutting the ripples in the water only to steer, as the current carried our boats downstream. We all paddled solo canoes, designed in the pack canoe or “lost-pond” style, which are typically between 10 and 13 feet long with a single seat located on the floor of the boat and are optimized for double bladed paddles. My mother, father and aunt all paddled 10 foot Hornbeck boats, constructed by hand in Olmstedville, NY using ultra-lightweight Kevlar for the hull, wooden gunwales and weighing in at 16 pounds. My sister paddled a classic fiberglass boat with a hull-shape nearly identical to the Hornbecks, that a family friend had found and refurbished years ago. I paddled the heaviest boat in our miniature floatilla: A 30 pound Dagger Tupelo solo canoe, which shares similar hull lines to the Hornbeck boats, but with a slightly narrower gunwale width and multi-layer polyurethane laminate construction. These small solo canoes allowed each of us to travel down river easily, since they maneuver easily while remaining quick and stable.
Into the Flow
We moved through the river carefully, keeping an eye out for any ripples or “V”s in the water that warned of shallow water, rocks or submerged logs that would scratch the bottom of the composite or Kevlar boats. While there were a few scrapes and bumps along the way, we were able to move through the early sections of the river without issue. We floated downstream, carried by the moving water, admiring the beautiful green vegetation that hid the earthy banks from view, as well as the grey trunks of tall, thin pines that towered above.
While the adventure on this paddle came mostly from the unexpected, the beautiful and from spending time with my family, there was one climactic moment of tension, excitement and even a little bit of danger. We came around a bend in the river and Kelly shouted back to warn us of a blockage in the river. A large tree lay in our path, so we each had to exit our boat, climb over the log, then carry our own boat across before continuing on. one hundred yards down the river, another blockage hindered our progress, this time made up of a few large pieces of wood and branches. Kelly went first, then myself, and we were dismayed to see that immediately following the blockage was a section of shallow, rocky water that scraped out boats and funneled us to the left toward large, dead branches that hung out across the river at neck level. Kelly and I navigated this difficult section of the river and were carried swiftly down the river by the current while the other three in our party climbed over the blockage behind us.
Navigating debris in the river
We had just stopped our boats around the corner, when we heard the ominous sound of my dad shouting, telling us to come back and help Aunt Sue. She had put her boat back in the water after avoiding the debris in the river, but the current had carried her straight into the dead branch that hung precariously over the left side of the flow. We paddled against the strong current and when we reached her, Aunt Sue was bent backward against her seat holding the dead branch with both hands to keep it away from her neck. Her paddle was floating downstream and water was rapidly rushing over the stern of her Hornbeck and sinking it to the riverbed, which made it impossible for her to move herself out of the position that she was now trapped in.
I jumped from my canoe and quickly dragged it onto a grassy shoal, then waded through the shallow river to her. I lifted the heavy branch until she could duck beneath it, then helped guide her boat to the sandbar on the right bank of the river. Aunt Sue was safe and, other than a few scratches on the bottom of her canoe and a wet map, unscathed from the experience.
Natural Wonders and Signs of Civilization
After the second cluster of debris, we were beginning to feel uneasy about the Lower Osgood. We had only paddled a mile and already we had encountered shallow rock-fields, over-reaching branches that stabbed at our arms, and fallen trees or jams of natural detritus that repeatedly impeded our progress. We knew that we still had miles of river ahead of us, so if the terrain continued as it had, our relaxing paddle would quickly become more exhausting and difficult. Seemingly as soon as doubt seeped into the collective mind of the group, the river widened, the current receded, and the water deepened.
The exposed roots of a fallen tree form a skeletal sculpture
As the grade of the river mellowed to a calm, consistent flow and the path of the river curved and wound around grassy marshland and small floating islands, we began to notice the sheer beauty and wildness of the landscape around us. Large pines rose from the banks and staggered up the slopes of glacial eskers to our right, while lily pads blanketed the water, broken only by a thin glassy trail where boats had gone before. Occasionally, upon turning around a tight bend, the river would again narrow into a tight tunnel of soft plants that arched overhead. Bending forward and rotating our paddles horizontally to a position parallel to our canoes, we let the soft current tow us through shadowy paths. The light from the sun twinkled softly through the barely porous canopy overhead, creating an atmosphere both magical and mysterious.
As we progressed down the river, we saw a few old canoes, either stashed by local fishermen or lost and forgotten. A few rustic bridges to remote camps and homes crossed overhead during our paddle as well. Rather than signifying a negative impact that people have on the wilderness, these relics were a reminder of the fact that others had traveled and explored these waters, which imparted in us an awareness of the passage of time and the quiet history of the mountains. The ghosts of human presence were juxtaposed with the ancient eskers and pines, which at times rose on either side of the river. The slow current of the river carried us onward.
A few cardinal flowers along the river
The landscape of the river seemed to replicate itself and it was as if we were experiencing déjà vu. The winding river was easy to paddle and the warm sunlight gave the act of steering around curves a cathartic effect. The Lower Osgood featured three small ponds, spaced about a half-mile from each other, which connected to the main body of the river by short turn-offs. Alternate routes, dead ends, and islands in the stream provided endless opportunities for spurts of exploration. We also notices bright flashes of red, contrasting sharply with the various shades of green on the banks of the river. Aunt Sue investigated and excitedly announced that they were the fairly rare cardinal flower. These vibrant red flowers appeared in patches along the riverside and in pockets formed on the banks.
The river eventually opened up and flowed into Meacham Lake. We paddled around a bend in the river and suddenly an unimpeded view materialized before us, with the expansive water of the lake drawing our eyes to the pointed summit cone of Debar Mountain (3,305 ft) in the distance. From the mouth we only had a leisurely paddle across Meacham Lake to the parking area.
On our week of vacation, my family and I paddled or did something active nearly every day. We paddled a long loop from Fish Creek to Copperas Pond, paddled a 4-man Wenonah Minnesota III canoe on the St. Regis “seven carries” route, paddled the West branch of the Ausable River, the Chubb river and hiked the 14 mile round trip of Seymore mountain. However, our paddle on the Lower Osgood was the clear highlight. Adventure presents itself where you least expect it. Sometimes it appears in the form of a dangerous experience in the outdoors. Sometimes it is when bad weather breaks and the sun lights up a view from a mountain summit. Yet often adventure is simply experiencing the wonder of the outdoors while surrounded by the people that you care about the most.
The author at the mouth of the Osgood River
5 Gear Highlights:
1) Sea To Summit Lightweight Dry Sack (2 Liter)– I bring my 2 liter Sea to Summit dry sack with me anytime that I paddle, as well as anytime I’m hiking or camping in the winter or in wet conditions. The Lightweight Dry Sack is a lightweight, packable option that features a nylon outer laminated with a waterproof inner construction to cut weight and cost, while adding durability. The 2 liter size is perfect for holding my phone, keys, wallet, camera and a snack, yet compact enough to put between my feet in a canoe or in the brain of my hiking pack. The bright blue color of my dry bag also helps my find it quickly when I see a loon or blue heron while paddling and want to grab my camera.
2) Arc’teryx Alpha SL hardshell (size M)- While we had great weather windows throughout the week, there was a constant threat of rain. I brought along my Arc’teryx Alpha SL on all of our paddles due to its versatility, light weight, and amazing packability. The Alpha SL is technically intended to be a climbing piece and has climbing specific features like foam inserts at the hem to keep the jacket in place under a harness, a helmet compatible hood and articulation under the arms for a full range of motion. However, the Alpha SL is a great all-around shell jacket that is great for hiking or paddling as well. Featuring a Gore-Tex PacLite 2.5 layer laminate construction combined with a 40 denier ripstop nylon face fabric, the Alpha SL is one of the lightest shells on the market at just 10.8 ounces and also packs down smaller than a water bottle into its own included stuff sack. The sublime Acr’teryx fit is unbeatable and I actually found that the articulation in the arms was beneficial while paddling!
3) Adirondack Paddler’s Map North– Anyone planning to do any paddling in the Adirondacks north of Long Lake should own the Adirondack Paddler’s Map! Now in its 7th edition, the Adirondack Paddlers map has been a staple piece of gear for paddlers in the St. Regis Canoe Area, the Saranac Lakes, the Raquette River/Tupper Lake, the Five Ponds, or the Bog River. The map is fully waterproof and features a scale that allows paddlers to plan longer trips, while also navigating specific sections of water. This is one of the most extensive paddling maps out there, with geographic information, hiking trails, portages, parking areas and whitewater class ratings clearly marked. For the 7th edition, the map name was changed to Adirondack Paddler’s Map North, while a new map covers the southern Adirondack waterways.
4) Chaco Z1 Yampa sandals (size 9)- One of my favorite pieces of gear is my Chaco Z1 Yampa sandals. These sandals are the most comfortable pieces of footwear that I own. I rarely wear anything else in the summertime and I even bring them to work in colder months to slip on once I’ve taken off my snowy boots. For paddling, the Z1 is a perfect sandal with a quick drying nylon webbing that holds your foot in place and wont slip off in muck, as well as a supportive, durable sole that stays comfortable on portages. The Yampa patterned Vibram outsole has a water specific design that grips wet rocks and docks, while handling mud and root filled trails with ease. I’ve worn these sandals on canoe trips to the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Raquette River, as well as all 90 miles of the Adirondack Canoe Classic. These can’t be beat.
5) Werner Camano Paddle– Werner has established a reputation as one of the finest kayak paddle makers in the world —with good reason. Until this trip, I had never used a Werner, but I was extremely impressed by how light and stiff the paddle was, as well as the precision and efficiency gained by the blade shape. The Werner Camano paddle with a carbon shaft and fiberglass blades weighs in at just 28.25 ounces and is a great paddle for touring. The low angle blade shape is optimal for the pack canoes that we used, while the light weight was great for portages. Additionally, the bright red blade color is a nice aesthetic match for the Hornbeck canoes, which have a red stripe under the gunwale. This paddle was so good that we ended up trading it back and forth throughout the day!
- Dagger Tupelo Canoe
- Werner Camano Paddle
- Lotus Designs Rio Grande PFD
- Black Diamond Bullet Pack
- 2 Liter Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack
- LowePro Tahoe camera pouch
- Canon PowerShot digital camera
- Nalgene 32 oz Wide Mouth water bottle
- 2 Pro Bars – Superberry Greens & Superfruit Slam
- Adirondack Paddler’s Map North
- Arc’teryx Alpha SL
- OGE Kavu Strap Cap
- Patagonia Pataloha Hawaiian Shirt (Purchased on consignment at the OGE!)
- PrAna Mojo Shorts
- Chaco Z1 Yampa sandals