The Robinson River (Adirondacks)

Oct 5, 2012
Genesee Valley, Western NY
The Robinson River - Fulfilling a dream
Paul Conklin (Curtis Mayfly)
August 7-11, 2014

My first visit to the Robinson River was in the summer of 1971. Wesley Hammond, our high school shop teacher invited me and three of my schoolmates to join him on an Oswegatchie canoe trip, it was the first of many subsequent Adirondack adventures. We established a base camp above High Falls and made exploratory wanderings from there. One of our trips was to the Oswegatchie headwaters. Along the way, Mr. Hammond pointed out the mouth of the Robinson River. It did not look like much, obscured by alders you would not know you were paddling past a major tributary. He said a journey up the Robinson would put you in the middle of some of the most remote country there is, I suppose, it was at that moment I began dreaming about my most recent adventure.

In the past 43 years, I have been to the Robinson several times. I have hiked the first rocky mile from the Oswegatchie, bushwhacked to the ninety-degree bend from Little Shallow and by hiking over Partlow Mountain. When it was legal to do so, Mr. Hammond hired a pilot to drop us off at Oven Lake, we hiked to Sliding Falls and out to Wanakena. All of these trips involved only brief encounters with the river; most of the Robinson's course is through wet, boggy terrain that is densely vegetated making terrestrial travel difficult. That difficulty became worse in 1995 when a severe storm leveled many acres of timber in the region.

Far too late in my short life, I became a fan of the dedicated solo canoe. My paddling skills have evolved and with the help of Dave Curtis and Dave Yost, I have built a canoe that is suited to bushwhacking and paddling rivers like the Robinson. On this trip, it will be my goal to stay with the river and follow it as far upstream as possible.

From its confluence with the Oswegatchie the first mile of the Robinson is not canoeable. It is a demanding rock-hopping ordeal. Through satellite imagery I could see that just past the Oswegatchie's intersect with the county line a chain of beaver ponds could provide passage south to a point much closer to the first navigable water of the Robinson. The paddle through the ponds was interesting and another new territory of the Five Ponds to have conquered. From the southern most pond I began the half-mile bushwhack to the Robinson. Unfortunately my heading did not take me far enough west to intersect the wide canoeable valley. I fell short and had opportunity to experience several hundred yards of arduous rock hopping. It was late afternoon before the canoe was under me and not on my shoulders. A large pink granite boulder at the beginning of the open valley invited me to climb atop; it was a beautiful spot for evening contemplations and a good starting point from which to launch my adventure on the Robinson River. I found two adequate hammock trees and made camp.

Tripping alone I am accustom to retiring early. It affords ample opportunity for rest and hence early starts. Packed up and with breakfast in my belly, I was ready to venture into the most remote country there is at first light. I paddled slow and quietly believing the vast floodplain might produce my first Adirondack moose encounter. It was easy to track my progress on the satellite photos I had taped together to make several section maps of the entire river. The scale was large enough that boulders, beaver dams and fallen trees were discernable. I was near the ninety-degree bend when I parked on a mud flat to brew my second coffee of the day. I am a fan of the VIA instant from Starbucks. I like the Colombia first thing but on a mid morning break select the French Roast. I had trouble detecting a flavor difference between the two and attributed it to the water of the Robinson, which has the appearance of weak coffee before the VIA is added. My snack was a new to me energy bar called the Kind. The wrapper made claims to being made with ingredients you can see and pronounce. It was very tasty and weighed a full ounce less than a Clif Bar. The company's marketing strategy led me to believe they are sensitive to diverse thinking, which by itself makes them worthy of a Duckhead endorsement.

The forest comes close to both sides of the river at the ninety-degree bend. I got out to take a walk in the woods. The 95 storm did not seem to have had much impact. It was near here, that that in 1974 we had made camp on a failed attempt at reaching Sliding Falls. Five years later there was news of a plane crash that was found in the same area. It was a single engine Piper Pacer. Wilber Weyland took off on December 4, 1954 from Massena, NY in route to Linden, NJ, he never arrived. His fate was not known until the wreckage was discovered in May of 1979. I have always believed that our camp was near the crash site and that we could have been the first to learn of Wilber's doom, had we explored more thoroughly. Everything I know of the crash has come from the original newspaper article and from the accounts of William Ott who has twice visited the site. He states that little of the plane is visible because of encroaching vegetation and that one might be twenty feet from it and not see it. It would be a needle in a haystack to find but that did not stop me from conducting a hunt. After a couple hours of searching the shrubbery I came to the realization that my efforts would likely be fruitless and commenced with the exploration of the Robinson.

Progressing south the river was still navigable, heavy rains in the preceding weeks were to my benefit on this trip. I was entering an area that I call "the big swamp" about one hundred acres of wetland. There was no problem finding the main channel with the aid of my satellite photos but obstructions were being encountered more frequently. I do not consider an active beaver dam to be an obstacle. They usually provide the next stretch of deep water. In general, flat and wide proved to be easer than steep and narrow. There would be plenty of both before I reached Sliding Falls.

I had just crossed a meadow and was struggling through one of the tight rocky stretches. The forest was thick on both sides of the river and numerous logs lie horizontal across the streambed. I was beginning to experience the devastation of the "big blow". My limited view forward reveled more of what I had just come through but my ears could detect the sound of falling water in the distance. The Falls must be ahead! It was the stimulus I needed to struggle on.

In my youth, I was obsessed with making it to Sliding Falls. The mere fact that it was labeled on the map is what fueled my intrigued. I have already mentioned a failed attempt at reaching it in 1974. There were actually two failures that year, on one we were thwarted by blackflies and on the second the big swamp proved too much of an obstacle. It was then that the service of a floatplane was enlisted and we made a successful approach from Oven Lake. That wasn't exactly a cakewalk but it was before the big blow and we knew enough to respect the big swamp and gave it a wide berth. After we "found the way", there was another visit in the summer of 75. It was for the sake of those who had not made the pilgrimage by plane. What I remember the most of those visits was sitting in the cool shade from the canopy of mature birch and maple that shrouded the falls. That is not the case today. Sliding Falls is a cascading sheet of water that flows down a long stretch of open rock. It averages to be 10 meters wide and covers a distance of approximately 200 meters from top to bottom. Both sides of the river are lined with dense impenetrable new growth that does not exceed 10 meters in height. Sliding Falls has changed dramatically from my last visit but it is no less worthy of being labeled on the map. It was mid afternoon and I was able to find a small niche in the forest that would accommodate my hammock, the niche became my home for the next two nights.

The plan for Saturday was to proceed south with the canoe and provisions for the day, I would return to camp before nightfall. I had the same struggle with leaving the falls in the morning as I had with approaching them the previous afternoon, blow down was intense. My impetus to continue was in the prospect of the new and exciting experiences that lie ahead. The first exciting discovery was the big pines east of Toad Pond. I did not have a tape measure with me but using the Rosie MaGee method for determining girth, I estimated the circumference of the biggest one to be 13 feet, which is enough to put a White Pine in the category of very impressive. The Robinson flows through a wide wet area east of Toad Pond. Toad's only outlet, perhaps the shortest of any pond in the Adirondacks travels only 200 feet before becoming part of the Robinson River. I did not want to feel hurried through the day; I knew that this was likely my last visit to the area. I took my time while circumnavigating Toad, stopping to have coffee on its northern shore.

Venturing further south I encountered more waterfalls, each a mini version of the Sliding Falls. I ditched the canoe and continued on foot to investigate whether I might find additional navigable water. I went as far as the juncture with a feeder stream that originates SW of Oven. I found little that would float a canoe. This would be the extent of my journey up the Robinson. Subtracting a bit for my downstream journey from Crooked Lake last summer I estimate I will have left just under a mile of the Robinson River unexplored. I reversed course and made a lazy journey back to Sliding Falls. That evening I doubled up on my ration of rum and watched the swirling patterns of foam in a pool of water below the falls.

I don't have much to say about the return to the Oswegatchie, it was what I've already described in reverse. I was disappointed that I failed to locate the airplane, finding the crash site is something I have dreamed about for 35years. On my way back, I decided to resume the hunt, this time in a different location. I tried to be systematic and thoroughly search small areas one at a time. I would walk back an fourth in parallel lines making frequent stops to scan what was before me. I would sometimes hold my hands to the sides of my head to better concentrate without peripheral distraction. There was a premature celebration when I spotted a length of aluminum tubing; it was only a weathered gray stick. I had been searching for more than an hour and again resolved that it was a futile folly. To find my way back to the canoe I located the standing dead pine where I had left it. As I made my first step, back to the boat, I heard an unnatural crunching sound, I looked to my right and there in the grass but 10 feet away was an engine. The crunch was from some bits of aluminum buried amongst the grass and club moss. At the very moment I had given up my search, I was standing on top of the plane. In an instant 35 years of intrigue and curiosity were quenched. I was elated by the success of my search and at the same time saddened by the grim reality that Mr. Weyland experienced there.

To get back to the Oswegatchie I did not travel through the beaver ponds but followed the river all the way to its insignificant confluence that Mr. Hammond had pointed out to me 43 years ago. My journey home was filled with many pleasant memories of Oswegatchie adventures.

Technically this trip was "a paddle in the park" but metaphorically, it was anything but. Three things were in my favor to make it successful. 1) Temperature, Slogging through meadows and crossing beaver dams I was typically wet from the waist down all day long. I can't imagine that scenario in anything but mild temperatures and likewise to the exertion of bushwhacking in heat and humidity. 2) Bugs, There were very few, I think that is self-explanatory. 3) Water level, If I had attempted this trip in normal August conditions, I'm sure I would have paddled half as much.

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Sep 13, 2013
Long Island, NY
Thank you for the detailed write up and wonderful photos.

I'm glad you are having fun and choose to share your experiences and memories with us.
Mar 18, 2014
A great trip that will stay with you for a long time! Thanks for including us and there is some great pictures as well. Nicely done on finding the plane crash!
Feb 17, 2014
Wow, sounds like a great trip. Your write-up and pictures are fantastic, you've definitely piqued my curiosity...seems like my kind of trip. One more for the to do list.
Jul 11, 2014
Ontario Canada
I love the backcountry bushwhacking trips you do Conk. Stepping way off the routine routes feels like exploring hidden places that might stay forever hidden and forgotten by everyone, except the very few intrepid travellers like you. Thanks for sharing; your photos are awesome.
Jul 25, 2012
Great trip report Conk! Really appreciate the effort to stop and take such quality photos and do the write up. Now I've got to discover what the story was behind the plane crash. Thanks again.

Best Wishes, OM
Nov 19, 2013
central NYS - 10 miles from the Baseball Hall of F
Conk - Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us. I can sense your excitement at having found the engine and wreckage of the plane as well as your sensitivity to the site. As always your photos only add to the quality of your trip reports. I learn so much reading your reports and am constantly amazed at how little I know about the areas I've frequented. Thanks for continuing to enlighten me. One last thing...what is the pack you were using on this trip?

That's all for now. Take care and until our paths should cross...Be well.