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Whitney Wilderness Trip or Sometimes Things Don't Go As Planned!

Jun 15, 2022
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Spartanburg, SC
On the morning of Sunday June 5th, I left the Western Pennsylvania Solo Canoe Rendezvous and drove to Long Lake, New York in the heart of the Adirondacks for a 4-5 day solo canoe trip in the Whitney Wilderness area. I planned on spending Monday resting, gathering supplies, a fishing license and Black Fly repellent. On Tuesday I would head to Lake Lila, put in, and paddle to one of the campsites near Shingle Shanty Brook and do a little fishing. Day two would see me up the brook to Lilypad Pond carry then on upstream to Little Salmon Lake. Day three would see me to Rock Pond then on day four to Little Tupper Lake where I would leave my gear at the Ranger Station and walk (or hopefully get a lift) back 8 ½ miles to the Lake Lila parking lot and my car. At least that was the plan…

After spending all day Sunday driving from western Pennsylvania to Long Lake, NY I kicked back on Monday, ate a big breakfast at the Long Lake Diner, hit Hoss’s Country Store for bug juice and the fishing license, and generally played tourist for a day. I stayed at the at the Adirondack Hotel at Long Lake and when I pulled into the parking lot I noticed a couple of Wenonah Wilderness solo canoes on an SUV and three guys on the porch looking over my unlabeled black canoe. One of the guys walked to the railing and asked “What type of canoe is that?” to which I replied “An old Grasse River Classic XL” and so I met Ted, Ken and Jose who were setting out Tuesday on the Long Lake to Tupper Lake route. We ended up having dinner together with Ted insisting on picking up the check (Thanks again Ted, the next one is on me!); I think this may have brought good karma, as you will see later in this tale.

After a good night’s sleep I left out Tuesday morning under a mostly clear sky for Lake Lila. When I arrived at the parking lot there were only four cars there, so there would be plenty of campsites open on the lake. No need to rush. I got my gear ready and carried the pack the 1/3 mile down the trail to the lake. It was a pretty lake under a mostly sunny sky with a light breeze rippling the water. I walked back to the car for my canoe and daypack then returned to a slightly fresher breeze and small waves washing onto the shore. I took my time loading up the canoe and shoved off. I went up the middle of the lake past a small island and the wind was definitely picking up. Being solo, I decided to cut across to the southern shore and come up the shoreline. The wind was getting noisy in the trees and the middle of the lake was starting to show whitecaps. Things were changing fast. When I reached the point where the shore made a ninety degree turn towards Shingle Shanty Brook, I pulled in, walked around the point and looked at the lake. Whitecaps were rolling onto the shore and to go on I would be paddling with wind and waves abeam. Fortunately on that point is Campsite #20 and I decided to settle down here for the night and continue tomorrow.

I set about gathering firewood and getting my fire ready for lighting once the wind died down, set up my tent, stored my Bear Vault, unpacked my gear, filled my gravity water filter and walked up the shore for a way. The woods were open and easy to get through and no one else was nearby. The wind still had not died down, if anything it had become harder. I went back to camp and noticed the water jug was still empty; something was wrong with the filter. I had not tested it out before I left the house: A lesson learned. I boiled a couple of liters of water for the afternoon and made lunch.

As the afternoon progressed, clouds moved in and the wind became harder. It sounded like there were jets roaring over the woods at tree top level. At around 3:30, I felt what I first thought was wind driven spray from the lake, but it was starting to rain horizontally. I retreated into the 2 person ultralight backpacking tent and hunkered down. As the tent flexed back and forth in the wind, the storm set in. I did not come out of the tent for the next fourteen hours. Fortunately the inside of my little cocoon stayed dry, and I read a bit, wrote a bit and made the best of it.

Over the next few hours I heard the ever increasing sound of the wind, unidentified sounds outside the tent, a tree breaking and what sounded like a car door closing about ten feet away (did something hit my canoe?). I dozed on and off and around 11:30 pm was awakened by a flash of light followed a while later by thunder. The tent fly was blowing against the tent and the poles were flexing six to eight inches. The lighting was getting closer until six strikes were less than a second between FLASH and BOOM. I looked up at the aluminum poles crossing above me and made myself as small as possible in the middle of the tent. I felt very relieved when the storm moved on.

At 2:30 Wednesday morning, something new woke me. I listened for a moment and realized that I had woke to an absence of sound; the rain was no longer being blown against the tent. The wind was still up, but I happily went back to sleep. At 4:45 the bird sounds picked up and the partly cloudy sky showed first light. I napped for another half hour and got up to survey the campsite. Everything looked fine and the canoe was still tied down in the trees and without damage.

I made a breakfast with tea and cheese grits on my stove. Everything was soaked and the wind was still blowing as I looked at the whitecaps on the lake. I decided that this was the time to break out the Garmin InReach and check the weather even though I like to do without electronics as much as possible when in the wilderness. The forecast was 100% chance of rain today, 100% chance Thursday and 90% on Friday. I decided that I would watch for a break in the wind, paddle back to the car and call this trip a washout.

In a couple of hours the winds and waves diminished so I set a course downwind to the takeout. I could see movement on the shore and as I got closer a couple on paddleboards came out. As our distance closed the woman called out “Was that storm last night as awesome as they say it was?” My first thought was: “THEY” are talking about this storm? How bad was it?

Note: On my return home I checked the data; the wind was listed at 24 mph and gusts listed at 38 mph.

I landed, unloaded the canoe, and carried the pack back to the car. Returning to the beach for the canoe I noticed a tandem canoe approaching so I waited to see how they fared in the storm. They had planned to stay out another four days, but had caught the forecast and decided to end their trip also. After carrying my canoe back to the car and throwing it on the racks, I started unloading my pack for some food and spread out the wet tent and gear in the back of my car. As I did that, the paddlers from the final two cars came up the trail with the same story; the lake was now empty of campers.

For the rest of the day I decided to play tourist, check out a couple of outfitters, make camp at a campground just out of Saranac Lake, decided to see the Adirondack Experience Museum at Blue mountain Lake the next day, made dinner and went to sleep early on another rainy night.

On Thursday morning it was still windy and raining, so I hit a Dunkin Doughnut (AAAH… Hot Coffee) and drove south towards the Museum. On the way I needed to find a restroom and passed a boat landing at the south end of Tupper Lake with a building that looked like it might have restrooms. I did a U-turn and found my guess was right. After concluding my business I was walking back to the car and heard “HEY DAVE!” I turned and saw Ted (remember Ted from the Hotel?) slogging up the hill towards me. In a moment Ken and Jose followed. All were soaked and cold after getting caught in the storm on the Raquette River between Long Lake and Tupper. Their take out vehicle was at the north end of Tupper Lake and with the wind and rain they decided to land at their first chance to get a ride to their shuttle. Ted said that he couldn’t believe seeing the Silver Subaru with a black canoe when he walked up the hill. Talk about good karma; if I had stopped five minutes earlier or they landed five minutes later we would not have seen each other. After giving Ted a ride back to his truck, and with a hope to run across each other again someday, I went on down the road to the Adirondack Experience museum. They have over two hundred boats in their collection and a fantastic collection of historical pieces of the Adirondacks. I was there for three and a half hours and only saw about half of it. I highly recommend this for a rainy day’s activity.

From there I drove for about forty five minutes to Hornbeck Canoes. I had pick my wife up one of the little Hornbeck “Lost Pond”, a ten and a half foot canoe that weighs about 15 pounds. I was curious to see some of the longer models and ask a few questions since I had not phoned ahead to make an appointment to demo the boats, but upon my arrival was told to go on up to the pond, another couple had just arrived to take a test paddle. The rain was slacking off, so I drove up to the pond and boat shed. It was just sprinkling as I introduced myself and tested out three different boats. The 12 foot Classic fit me well and only weighs about 18 pounds. It would not replace my tripping canoes, but would make a fine little fishing and pond hopping boat.

After the Hornbeck visit, I drove towards the Putnam Pond Campground in the Pharaoh Wilderness area as the rain picked back up. The campground was nearly empty and I hoped that on Friday the rain and wind would let up so I could get a bit more paddling in before returning to South Carolina. It rained through the night and in the morning so I did a little hiking in on and off drizzle. It was time to start driving south.

Although I did not achieve my original objective on this trip, it had definitely turned into an adventure. Sometimes those memories are more deeply etched than sunny day paddles with no obstacles. But as I sat in my tent in the storm by Lake Lila, I would have swapped that experience for a sunny, quiet and peaceful paddle of my original route!


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That was a pleasant read, helping the boys out at Tupper Lake was as good as it gets, making the most of the trip in spite of the weather, good for you.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
Very well written and enjoyable trip report. I was on Lake Lila yesterday (Sunday June 26) and turned around at Site 20 for the same reason...the whipping wind and whitecaps just beyond the islands. I was in a new canoe, so wasn't fully settled in to it yet, so decided not to push my luck...
Thanks for your report. I got caught in lesser winds last year on Lila with my grandson in the bow. I'm a tad heavier and even with the sliding bow seat we had some issues keeping on track as the bow kept getting blown downwind. I love Lila but it can be a real challenge when the wind is blowing. Sounds like your challenges came in spades. Glad you were able to make lemonade from the lemons you were served. I'm sure your new friends appreciated the ride at Tupper as well. Overall, it sounds like you had a trip for the memory books. So pleased to hear of the happy ending.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

Thanks for the feedback everyone.
I have always felt that when paddling solo, which is most of the time, that to add an additional bit to my safety margin and consider that "discretion is the better part of valor" to be a worthwhile thing. Hearing the tales of others on Lake Lila in wind and waves does help console my spirit about making the choices that I did.
Lowangle: I did have a tarp with me, but the winds were too high to consider it's use. The rain was mostly falling horizontally! I like a tarp in camp and unless I am going for a true ultralight load one is with me. This trip I brought my huge Kelty "Noah's Tarp 16" which would have been quite a sail in those winds even if I could have set it up solo. I don't think that I could have set up my 10' tarp in winds of that strength.
I've been on Lake Lila with some wind, enough so I couldn't paddle around a point.

Great trip report. I love the museum at Blue Mountain Lake. I fondly remember the Wee Lassie on display there.
Nice TR, these thing happen sometime, glad you made use of your time up there.
When is your next ADK trip? Any particular route?
Yep, I guess a tarp doesn't always cut it

I have had parawing tarps up during sustained 40-50 mph winds. Unfortunately a true parabolic wing <> doesn’t provide much protection from horizontal rain.

Some years ago, on a coastal trip, we had a weather radio forecast of a front moving over, with very high winds. My companion and I had set up a 10 x 14 Tundra Tarp, with a gently sloped end-to-the wind. We even had the wind direction forethought to set it up behind a bit of a sand dune berm for additional protection. We be good, and ready.

When the front moved in and the sideway rain started my companion retreated to his tent. He had also set up a Hennessy Hammock in the pines (important later).

I got comfy under the protection of the back-to-the-wind sloped & dune protected Tundra Tarp and, as things got fierce, did my usual “Bwahahaha, is this the best you got?” as the Tundra Tarp bowed above me in the wind but held firm.

Until I looked up at the tarp and could see daylight through the stressed stitching. I bellowed something like “Get your arse outa the tent and help me drop this tarp NOW

In the minute it took us to drop and safe the Tundra Trap two of the fly stakes on the Hennessy pulled out, and the fierce flappage shredded that hammock tarp in seconds.

So yeah, tarps are great in windblown rain. Up to a point.
Back before I started hot tenting I would bring an extra tarp or two and build a shelter for protection from the wind when needed on early season trips. I've only used autostore type tarps and don't mind beating them up, I do what I need to keep the wind out and the heat from the fire in. It wasn't pretty but it made life more pleasant on my annual rainbow trout fishing expedition. It's amazing how cold it can get when the wind is coming off of a lake right after ice out. At the same time that it is freezing on my campsite on the point it could be T shirt weather at the sheltered campsite on the leeward shore.

I don't mind those cheap tarps, I fold up the big one (12x16approximately) and it goes in my Duluth pack where it acts as a cushion between my back and the gear. There is a smaller one that I use to wrap up my grill in. I've also had to hang an empty Duluth pack to block some of the wind. It's one thing to be uncomfortable, but it's another if your wife is.
Good for you for having the wisdom to stop when you did and to end the trip when you had the weather forecast. I'm getting better at making better decisions in difficult conditions but I'm still a work in progress.
Thanks for posting.