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Twenty-nine Mile Paddle on the Bog River Flow to Lows Lake
Adirondack Park, New York

TopKayaker.net's annual Fall Expedition By Athena Holtey

"Look, look! It's a bald eagle!"


bald eagle eagle 2 eagle 3

It swooped across the lake and perched on top of a tall pine, then launched again, this time soaring right over the bow of my kayak.

This was our first day of five on Lows Lake, a wilderness area of Adirondack Park, NY accessible only by paddling in through the Bog River Flow from Lows Upper Dam carry.

horseshoe lakeOur trip started the previous weekend at Horseshoe Lake, about a mile up the road from Lows Lower Dam put in.

Here Tom & I rendezvoused with the rest of our party: Long time friend of Tom's, Mike of Boston; long time friend of mine, Jody of Norwalk, CT; and a new friend, Shawn of New York.
While waiting for their arrival we set up camp for a cold windy Saturday night on the lakeshore. Photo: Riding into Horseshoe Lake

Sunday: Horseshoe Lake. Overcast, windy, 35 to 55 degrees f.

In the morning Tom and I took the brief ride to check out the Lower Dam put in. It was beautiful; perfect for the launch; nice parking lot; and, as fate would have it, we met two kayakers out for the day in Aquaterra/Perception Prisms.

aquaterra prismsJohn and Jerriann Aiken are owners of John's Outdoor Sports in Queensbury, NY. They are now Dealers for and fans of Heritage Kayaks; but today these "top kayakers" were out for a spin in two eight year old vessels that obviously had many miles under their hulls.

"There isn't any condition sit-on-tops can't handle," boasted John. "We've paddled them all over the Northeast."

Photo: John & Jerriann Aiken in veteran AquaTerra Prisms, Lows Lower Dam

We then returned to camp and launched the kayaks on Horseshoe Lake for a day paddle to investigate a stream we thought might bypass the dam and lead into the Bog River Flow. It appeared too narrow and shallow, so we paddled around for the rest of the afternoon.

TomTom was in the Cobra Expedition; I in the Islander Ventura. Staying in the lee of the South shore, we waded underneath the trees among the water lilies, eating our lunch, then continued around the perimeters of the lake.

We were used to windy conditions on the tropical coastlines of the Hawaiian Islands, but I gained a new respect for the inland winds that surprised us that Sunday afternoon. Twenty miles per hour with gusts up to forty-five! Photo: Tom & Cobra's Expedition

We were paddling in place! The tree beside me on shore didn't move for 20 minutes, and I was exhausted! But the boat performed beautifully! Stable and dry, and not being one to use a rudder, I was still perfectly secured in the choppy whitecaps and forceful winds.

horseshoe lakeTom was far ahead in Cobra's fast new touring boat, but finally, I began to make progress and upon arriving at our campsite, didn't mind a dip in the 55-degree water. A quick dip...a very quick dip!

That evening everyone arrived, set up camp and we planned out a launch schedule for Monday. Tom and I had prepared laminated topo maps of the planned route for each paddler. Jody had the flu, but insisted on going anyway. Shawn, a chemist, suggested she eat fresh garlic to kill whatever it was she had. Photo: Heritage's Expedition MK II

Needless to say, she spent the night, alone, in her car, sleeping it off...and it seemed to work. Of course her car has had a certain aroma ever since.

Lows Lower Dam: Monday: morning, 45 degrees; warming up to the 60's f. by noon.

viewWe got a late start, 1:30 in the afternoon, but the urgency to find a campsite before dark couldn't daunt our excitement over the beautiful eight or so miles of fall scenery we glided through along the way. Lows Lower Dam is a popular day paddle for locals of about 7 miles round trip to the Upper Dam. Mr. A. A. Low, original owner of the 40,000 acres he used for timber and maple syrup, began building the two dams in 1903. His company failed as a result of the fire of 1908. Nearly a century later, the forest is regrown; the wildlife abundant.

damWe had five kayaks and Shawn's canoe. Three of us were packing our gear into boats we'd never toured in before, so the large dry bags were a struggle. Photo left: Lows Upper Dam Carry

bridgeJody had her Heritage Nomad-II; Mike, Ocean Kayak's Scupper Pro; Tom, the Cobra Expedition; myself, Heritage's New Expedition MK II; and Shawn, a skilled canoeist and still not so sure about kayaks being able to do the job, brought the canoe as a cargo boat for his typical "everything including the kitchen sink" packing method and his photo equipment. By the end of the trip he was converted, claiming Islander's dry, stable Ventura as his favorite. Photo: Rail Road Bridge late 1800's

Loons called out to each other, sounding so lonesome and sad, even ghost like. There were two or three families of loons escorting us along the way.

The fall foliage was at about 80 percent peak; the water like glass; the weather clear and cool: just right for a long paddle.

on our wayWe stopped for lunch at the upper dam, unloading our boats and carrying them to the Upper Dam launch area. Behind stretched Hitchin's Pond bordered by primitive wild forest; before us, the next half of our journey down the Bog River into Lows Lake. Photo: Jody & her Heritage Nomad-II

The Bog River Flow area is dotted with 39 campsites; some located on islands in the lake. We preferred to look for an island campsite due to the threat of bears, as they are known to be abundant in the area. However, when darkness began to approach Monday night and our party became separated along the paddle route, any campsite would do.

Remember, when planning any adventure, always error on the side of too much time. It affords you the luxury of choosing the best campsites and of truly enjoying the journey, rather than just enduring a challenge.

Of course, if you are a Hobbit fan, you know the best stories told around the campfire are those that were the hardest to endure...but even without being unprepared or late in your launch the outdoors offers enough challenges to keep the most adventurous of us telling our tales. Now back to mine:

bogTom made sure we had fresh batteries in three radios. He, as lead kayaker took one; (see article: Group Paddling Techniques) Mike and Shawn as sweep took a second; Jody and I in the middle, the third.

bogA floating bog is an area of spongy marsh; a large one was recorded on the topo map, appearing to block access to the rest of the flow, about a mile from the Upper Dam put in; but a side stream allowed us to pass. We had to get out of our kayaks for maybe eight to 12 feet in order for them to float across the shallow river bottom. Photo Left: Guiding our boats around the floating bog; Above: Floating Bog, a "spongy" marshland.

Now late in the afternoon, the sun was glaring in our faces as we headed due West. I kept my compass out, but the sun was a dead give away for direction.

The less experienced tourers were enjoying the glide into Lows; but Tom and I were concerned it would get too dark to find a site, so he chose a "shortcut" through a break in the South shoreline. It looked on our topo maps like a clear path to site #14, our closest choice.

carryPaddling now eight full miles, interrupted only by a strenuous carry at the Upper Dam, Jody's flu symptoms began to return, and my head was pounding from paddling into the sun for the last hour. We were ready for a shortcut. Photo: Portage: You couldn't do this alone without good wheels

In preparation for the trip we had read that on July 15, 1995 a wind storm rocked the area flattening thousands of acres...after the Horseshoe event, I could imagine the kind of wind. A great effort has been made to restore the area, but "blow downs" still jam shallow areas of the lake. We were headed for such a jam.

Converted CanoeistTree stumps rubbed up under our kayaks; smaller floating bogs and beaver dams didn't help either. Our three kayaks made it precariously through; but no way could the cargo canoe survive. I radioed Shawn and Mike as soon as I realized this, unaware of how far behind they were. Photo: Shawn in Islander's Ventura

"Do you guys have your maps out? Don't come this way. We're stuck, the canoe will not make it through." The radio cracked as Shawn said, "Please repeat."

I tried, but there was just silence. We couldn't safely turn around, so hoped the combined experience of these veteran outdoorsmen would result in them applying their good instincts to the task. We weren't disappointed.

late arrivalSite #14! The sky was a baby blue and pink glow as the sun began to disappear behind a mountain; but the campsite was taken by an older couple fishing lazily off-shore.

"Keep paddling...." Tom was worried and tired, looking over his shoulder for the rest of our group.

"I'll sprint ahead," I said. "Just tell me what I'm looking for." I was happy to be in the Heritage Expedition this time, perhaps the smoothest maneuvering of the boats in our fleet.

"There should be a campsite on a point of land to the North, #13," he yelled. "Hopefully Shawn and Mike got your message. If they come around the other side they'll be able to see a light out there."

sunsetI swept around a beautiful protrusion on our North and found myself in a calm, pretty, little lagoon. The campsite was there; and it was empty! Unfortunately, as we would find out later, the campsite was also on a point of land facing into the wind; not a good idea in late September where the temperature could drop to 30 f. at night, and so far had only barely reached 60 f. during the day.

We quickly landed and began bringing our gear up out of the boats. Tom took his radio and sprinted across a beaver dam along the lagoon to the top of the next hill for a clear line of sight, successfully contacting our separated party.

"We just heard: 'Do you have your maps out' and 'don't come this way...' then nothing," reported Shawn. "It's a good thing, because I didn't have my maps out."

The campsite was surrounded by blueberry bushes with a scent about it that indicated that a bear may have claimed it as his territory; despite the fact that passing kayakers along the route had seen a bear, the ranger explained they "...go on vacation during hunting season. I don't know how they know," he said, "but they do." Photo: Mike spots our campsite

All weary paddlers accounted for we set up camp. Shawn warmed up some frozen chili he brought from home, and I crashed in our tent, falling asleep to the call of a loon, the low resonating hoots of a great horned owl and the contented hum of voices from around the campfire.

Tuesday: morning, 40 f. to 50 f. daytime, 70's f. water temp 59 f.

view from the topThe ski was blue and clear. Tom and Mike kayaked across the lagoon and hiked to a high point of land, "bagging a peak" as they have done many times growing up in the Northeast together. The rest of us took off on our own, exploring islands and inlets. Photo: View from a mountain top

wild woodWatching loons, and watching for bears, we took photos of a rare site, a bald eagle. The guidebook said one hadn't been seen here since 1985. Jody found a sandbar to practice her Yoga stretches; I explored a pretty little water garden of grass and fall foliage. Photo: Exploring a grassy pond

"I think if we asked for better weather we'd be struck by lightening," exclaimed Mike. They bathed in a shallow sand bar, heated by the sun; but the next day was even better; 80 degrees! This would be the day of our four-hour hike to the Oswegatchie River after paddling 4 or so miles from our campsite.

Wednesday: morning, 50's f. daytime, 80! f.

glassy morningWe had read about the portage to the Oswegatchie River from Lows lake as a well traveled path used as far back as the turn of the century. Originally we thought rather than go back the way we came, some of us could leave our cars at a small parking area called "Inlet" and then the paddle journey could end there after cruising the 16 mile downstream flow from the Lows portage. Boy, are we glad we decided to hike it first to scout it out for a future trip! Photo: Morning on glassy Lows Lake

crossing the lakeAgain, we failed to plan our time very well. From the beginning we were delayed when we found the landing at the Oswegatchie Carry to be a foot or more deep of mud soup! A dryer bit of beach in the center of it all, enough for one kayak at a time, would have been the cleanest and safest choice.

A clear, sunny day, most of us wore our sandals instead of paddling shoes, bringing our dry hiking boots in a zip lock bag for the 8 mile round trip walk. Two of us got our sandals caught under a branch in the mud and nearly went down. Very hazardous landing.

The windstorm of 1995 made it virtually impassible! As a hike, we'd rate it "difficult." Others before us signed a little book at the halfway point with cartoon pictures of a canoeist hefting his boat over trees, cursing the air. We now fondly refer to it as "The canoe portage from Hell."

mud soup landing
to big deer pond
blazing a trail
finally here!

Trail head: Mud Soup!

To Big Deer Pond

Detour from blow downs

The Oswegatchie!

Apparently, the entire Bog River area is easier to travel than it was in the 1800's. One guide back then called it "the confoundest crookedest consarns in the woods." Another, speaking of spring: "the gloomiest sheet the wilderness contains where each member of the insect tribe holds high carnival." (see Jamieson & Morris "Adirondack Canoe Waters-North Flow")

Big deer pondBut it was fall, most of the bugs were asleep and despite the arduous hike, there were some beautiful scenes: Big Deer Pond, the easiest and most beautiful part of the carry. We also saw Blue Heron, a silver fox, and startled several grouse. Photo: Big Deer Pond

Although there were no public roads into Lows at this time, floatplanes did make a seasonal business of bringing hunters into the area. On our way back to our campsite that evening, as red and orange clouds swirled in the sunset behind us, a floatplane took off out of a cove nearly missing our path. We thought for sure it would sweep us up in it's draft. He didn't seem to see us at all.

We later learned that the only thing keeping from completion the 2003 Bog River Unit Management Plan (UMP) - a goal to return Lows Lake to wilderness - was a petition to the Adirondack Park Service to hold off for another ten years its requirement for the elimination and prohibition of floatplane access to Lows Lake this year (2008), as called for in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

sunsetTom, always safety cautious, brought an assortment of lights for our kayaks and our life jackets. He insisted we put them on before launching to head home, even though it appeared we had plenty of time before dark. By the time we were halfway across the lake, we were grateful. Shawn made it back to camp first, having skipped the hike for an exploration and photo shoot of Grass Pond. Lanterns hanging on trees and his homemade Chili on the stove, we all arrived safely. Photo: "Paddling back to camp, darkness fell swiftly."

Sitting around the campfire looking up through the trees, the night was so clear; the Milky Way shamelessly showing off across the skies of this forest wilderness; but a check on our weather radio sent the guys with a renewed energy, securing everything in camp: a wind storm was coming.

Stringing tarps up to give us a wind block and shelter for cooking was a smart move. Tom and I secured all the kayaks on higher ground, tying them up to the trees; bringing the fiberglass boat ashore. We all tightened up the ropes and stakes on our tents and anchored anything that wasn't attached to the ground; banking the evenings fire.

kitchen prepThursday: morning mid 30's to 40's f., daytime, not much better!

The winds were 40 to 50 miles per hour with gusts up to 65! Thanks to the weather radio, we were ready. It rained most of the day; the wind was incredible and at one point took out the tarps in an explosion of plastic; but after our full lower and upper body workout the day before we were happy to weather out a day in camp. Photo: Tieing up tarps to brace our kitchen

Jody and I visited in her tent, read, rested; and Tom and Mike hiked to the top of a nearby hill to see the conditions of the waterway that would be our way home. "It's like glass over there," he said, relieved incase the wind should continue into Friday.

mike cooksshawn cooksIt was also our last day in camp before starting the eight mile journey homeward. This was the first trip that Tom & I relied on pre-packaged dehydrated foods. We tested the line of Adventure Foods; natural products that were surprisingly good...and cleanup was a snap.

But today we feasted on our perishables: fresh perked hazelnut coffee with bacon, ham and scrambled eggs for breakfast ala Shawn. Photo: Shawn: Master outdoor chef

Late in the afternoon Jody picked a bowl of blueberries from the bushes of our camps "vacationing" bear, while Mike stirred up a batch of his blueberry pancakes for our evening meal. Photo: Mike: Zen Master of blueberry pancakes.

The wind blew into the night. I woke about 2:30 a.m. absolutely convinced "the bear" was outside our tent. "Humph...thump...humph...thump...." Huddled frozen in our sleeping bag, with my heart beating out of my chest, covering Tom's mouth incase he should snore, I imagined "the bear" searching his bushes for the stolen berries, stalking Shawn's bacon pan sitting in the dish water, (a week of no bears made us careless) and pawing at the ropes that hoisted our food into the trees; but no bear. Jody & Shawn were just as convinced something came into camp; Tom & Mike slept through the whole thing. Apparently, so did the bear.

Friday: morning, overcast 40's f. daytime, clear & sunny, 65 f.

In the morning, nothing had been disturbed. We were grateful for our Bakepacker cooking system of dehydrated natural food. It made for a hearty breakfast and a quick clean up.

switching yaksThen, the tents and tarps came down; boats were drained of any water taken on in the storm; dry bags were packed and stuffed into hatches; layers of clothes went on then came off. We were up at 7 a.m. and still getting ready to launch by 10:30. The wind died, it was sunny and calm, so we were off. Photo Left: During the trip we tried each other's kayaks

paddle homeI didn't remember the paddle in being this beautiful. Great Blue Herons stalking the reeds, more loons, a Golden Eagle soaring overhead, and the golds of fall had finally arrived!

It was like paddling inside a Sierra Club calendar! We casually made our way, taking pictures or sometimes just pausing to marvel at it all. Photo right: Tom in the "home streach."

upper damArriving at the Upper Dam we stopped for lunch to finish off the last of our provisions. Noticing an older gentleman sunning himself on a grassy stretch of land, Shawn asked him to take our picture.

We then made our way back through Hitchin's Pond, down the Bog River to the take out at the Lower Dam.

The old gentleman was right behind us in his canoe.

Seth LowThe guys helped him and his godson with their gear and in making introductions discovered he was Seth Low, seventy-nine year old sole survivor of A. A. Low!

None of the land remained in the family, but Seth wanted to paddle up there that day to show his godson the remains of his great grandfather's house that he remembered visiting as a three year old. The beautiful stonework foundation still stands.
Photo: Trip end: Shawn, Jody, Seth Low, Tom, Athena, Mike

Ready for showers and a hot meal, we retreated to the small town of Tupper Lake at the Red Top Inn where we had reserved rooms for the night. A steak dinner at the local country club, a good bottle of wine, a great night's sleep, and that was it, our long anticipated expedition in the Oswegatchie Canoe Wilderness was over; but no one wanted to go home...that is until the rain began pouring down and the temperatures dropped.

Realizing how good Mother Nature had been to us that short, amazing week, we said our good-byes to new friends and old, driving off to our separate destinations.

Related Article:

Note: No photos or text to be copied without permission.
To read reviews of kayaks used on this trip click here.

Travel Information for the Oswegatchie Canoe Wilderness Area:

  • Paddling Season: When the waters are free of ice: May - October

  • Busy Season: July - August

  • Bug Season: May - June

  • Fall Foliage Peak: Late September

  • Hunting Season: September - October

Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co. rents kayaks and canoes. Touring sit-on-top kayaks are available for expeditions. Also for rent are tents, bags, cooking kits and lanterns. Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co. is a one-stop shop for a variety of camping and paddling gear. Two shops in the Adirondack Park: Inlet (315) 357-6672 & Old Forge (315) 369-6672. www.mountainmanoutdoors.com

Also, see our Nature Issues section: "The Oswegatchie Canoe Wilderness Proposal"

Books & Maps:

  • Quiet Water Canoe Guide: New York by John Hayes and Alex Wilson

  • USGS Quadrangles: Little Tupper Lake and Wolf Mountain

  • Adirondack Waterways Published by the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council PO Box 2149, Plattsburgh, NY 12901-2149 (518) 846-8016 or http://adk.com

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