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"Black flies? What black flies?" Henderson Lake, Adirondacks

Oct 21, 2021
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Hudson Valley, NY
Somehow I always end the season wondering why I didn't get to the Adirondacks more often. The reason, upon reflection, is that it's too cold (I'm without wet/dry suit and 4-season tent), and then it's black fly season, and then it's tourist season, and then I get a fall trip in, and then season's over. So this year I resolved to brave the black flies and get up in May after canceling an April trip due to a forecast of rain and lows in the 30s (I'll brook one or the other but not both of those at once). The forecast was for passing showers Sat and Sun pm, but lows only in the mid-50s and highs in the 80s, so we decided to pack our raincoats and go for it. I headed up last weekend, spent Friday night at my buddy's cabin, and Saturday morning we headed to the put-in with my Old Town Penobscot 16 and a newly acquired (used) canoe cart. The cart worked great to wheel the canoe the 1/3 mile on a gravel road from the Tahawus parking lot to the put-in at the dam - we had our day-packs and locally-sourced firewood in the canoe, overnight packs on our shoulders, and the canoe wheeled right along with minimal effort.

Henderson Lake is beautiful with views of the High Peaks. There are several shrubby wetland areas/creek mouths to explore, and the surrounding mountains make the scenery a constant delight. Oddly, the black flies were almost nonexistent in the woods, but we hit swarms often while out on the water, especially close to shore. They were pretty persisent in following us into the middle of the lake, but never bad enough to put on our headnets or break out the DEET.

The weather forecast came back to haunt us - both afternoons featured frequent rumbles of thunder which lead to us racing back to camp, and Sat it absolutely poured on us from about 3pm - 5pm, and then again around 7-8pm. Thank goodness I packed an old leaky tarp, or we would have been eating leftover trailmix for dinner huddled in our tents instead of the campstove rice and beans we cooked under the tarp as the rain poured around us. It rained more in the night, we both guessed at least half an inch over 24hrs. When we got back to my friends cabin 20 min away, his rain gauge only showed <0.1 inches - we wondered if the High Peaks around the Lake didn't make rain and thunderstorms more likely than in the flatter terrain around the cabin. Things were still thoroughly soaked in the morning, with heavy mist on the mountains, and our rain flies hadn't dried out at all when we went to pack our tents around 10:30am on Sun after a morning paddle around the lake. Nevertheless, the flies weren't too bad, and the scenery was A+, so it was well worth the trip.

We snuck in a dusk full moon paddle at my buddy's pond

Blue skies over Wallface Mtn, earlier on Saturday.

Soggy but pleasant enough campsite.

Sunset after the first extended downpour. More was to come....

Mist hugged the terrain contours on Sunday morning.
Wow, great photos...fantastic lighting!
MDB and I sometimes paddle Henderson as a day trip, we stayed a couple nights at the (then) newly built lean to site. It looks like you stayed at the first site on the left, where the outlet arm transitions to the lake proper? The very scenic and steep shoreline at Henderson limits the flat spaces for campsites. Did you look at the other sites? Some are not so desirable.

Did you do any hiking? The trail up Adams to the restored fire tower has some of the best views in the ADK"s, IMHO.

Your last photo shows the tail end of that sloping rock ledge, which I always thought would be a premium swimming ledge...
BTW, when MDB and I camped there in a particularly cold August, I checked the weather history when I got home, yup, overnight temps were in the 30's!!

Here's the other end of that long, sloping rock ledge.

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Amazing photos!

What's your story? I mean, those photo's didn't happen by accident....
Story? On the photos? I'm out at dawn a lot and try to snap one good pic to share with the wife (generally still in bed, she works later hours), so I think that's helped develop my sense for good lighting. But mostly, it's being in the right places often enough to encounter good lighting conditions, and taking enough pics that some turn out OK. I've been working on keeping only the best and deleting 95%, which I did in this case. You all didn't see the mediocre pics.

@stripperguy yes, as we were getting poured on we thought about how we should have made it a day trip and gone back to the cabin for a dry meal and cold beer. It's definitely doable as a day trip. Agreed on the campsites - we checked out all 3 before picking one, and agree that the one closest to the put-in was best. The others were soggier, didn't have flat places for 2 tents, or both. None have great views since as you say there's not a lot of level ground on the lake shore. We tried for a hike on the Indian Pass Trail but got chased back to camp by thunder. Turns out we should have been filtering our water during the rain break instead of trying to hike, since we then had to filter water for dinner during the downpour. Rookie mistake. The trails were all pretty sloppy other than the gravel road in. Agreed on the swimming ledges - had the season been a little later, there are lots of good rocks for jumping off around the lake, it seemed to me (would of course check depths while swimming before jumping from any height). My buddy mentioned the Mt Adams hike - I hope to do it next time.
When you go back there (notice I didn't say IF), allow some time to hike Adams. I climbed it in '03 when the state first re-aquired the area and there was no evidence of the trail that was abandoned in 1974.
Climbed it again with MDB and our son.


There's another good trip through Henderson and the Preston's to Duck Hole, or maybe I should say Muck Hole. I'd like to go back to see how different it is now with the dam washed out, but have few takers in this house...
@stripperguy all sounds good! I sized up the portage to Prestons/Duck Hole and decided my back wasn't up to it with my royalex tandems and my current degree of fitness. Maybe later in the season when I'm a bit more in shape, or with a lighter boat....
I know the story...I waited for years until my son was strong enough to carry with me, we had some great trips, but now I'm getting smaller every year!
The state had just opened access to Henderson and the Preston's when he was 14 years old.
Three of us, including his school buddy, went in to Duck Hole.
His buddy and I carried my 17 ft tandem (38 lbs), and my son paddled solo in his 12 ft Snowshoe (10 lbs) SOF that he built.
This was before any formal or informal carries were marked. The trail from Henderson to Upper Preston was easy enough to pick up from the lean to site, but between the Prestons and Duck Hole (now Muck Hole) it was just short bushwhacks.
Between Upper and Lower Preston we split up, with my son carrying on the west side of the rock garden, buddy and I carried on the east side.
When my sons buddy stepped down off of a ledge, his foot plunged through a guideboat that had been stashed under an overhanging rock for who knows how long. This also happened during a heavy downpour, so I have no pics of the old guideboat.
Years later, Conk made a trip there and found the same boat, based on my directions and descriptions.
It's probably still there...
Just got back from a weekend up in Fish Creek Ponds and as long as there was a steady breeze the mosquitoes and black flys weren’t too bad BUT when it was calm the mosquitoes were biting. It was real breezy on Saturday afternoon and a brief thunderstorm early Sunday morning.