(My next posts will be documenting my recent kayak adventure on Lake George, NY. Photos of the whole trip can be seen here.)
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It was time.
After months of noodling around the idea, and a couple weeks of planning, it was time to pick up my friend Chris at the Albany, NY airport. Our goal was to paddle the length of Lake George in kayaks, camping for two nights on the islands along the way.
Nicknamed “Queen of the American Lakes”, Lake George lays within the Adirondack park and mountain range. The lake is over 32 miles long, and ranges from 1-3 miles in width. Historically, the lake played key roles in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.
(Photo caption: A majestic lake. Photo by Carl Heilman)
Locals like to quote how Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves…”
I grew up around the lake. A tourist destination, I worked in the village every summer. Friends of my family (thank you, Potvin clan) owned a summer home on the lake, and some of my fondest childhood memories come spending summer days and nights on the beautiful water.
However, as we’d come to joke on the trip, Lake George is a BIG lake, not a SMALL lake. As an adult, I knew bits and pieces of it, but I did not have a cohesive understanding of the lake as a whole. I knew of dozens of mountains, islands, and destinations, but how did they all fit together? Where were they in relation to one another? And what would it be like to see the entire lake on the water’s terms, from a silent kayak?
These were questions that gave the adventure the spark to come into being. I sat outside Albany airport with the engine running, waiting to see Chris descend the escalator (it’s a wonderfully small airport). As I waited for ten minutes (somehow not being shooed away by airport security), the drops rain began to fall. It would not stop raining for the next 16 hours or so.
Chris arrived and with a smile and a hug, we were headed north to pick up his rental kayak and some gear at EMS (my favorite place to shop. I love gear. EMS has great stuff and their highly knowledgeable staff always seem to be almost as excited about your trip as you are). We picked up his kayak (a sweet ride for 30 bucks a day), some dry bags, watershoes, and some dehydrated food (Mountain House’s Chicken Teriyaki would prove to be the winner).
Kayaks with hatches have enough storage, but you need to pack light, especially because you will be transporting every ounce with the power of your shoulders, arms, core, and legs. After a visit to my home to pick up my gear and to kiss my wife goodbye, we headed north to my camp in the Adirondacks. looking ahead, the plan was to meet friends and celebrate back here at camp on Saturday evening, as my camp is only about 15 minutes from our take-out point on the northern end of Lake George.
Logistically, we needed my truck to take us to the lake and then to magically end up waiting for us back at camp, so we needed a volunteer. My friend Ted offered to help us without hesitation. We arrived at camp after 8PM in a hard rain. Ted had beaten us there, and already had the camp open and candles lit (there is no power or running water at my camp). Knowing what lay ahead, and not in the mood for cooking and cleaning, we dined on pizza and wings that I picked up on the way. Chris and I enjoyed a few Sierra Nevada beers.
The goal was to be on the lake by 10AM the next morning. We had hoped to finish packing our gear this night, but the rain and clouds had other plans, so we decided to wait until morning. We woke to the same rain around 6:30 AM, but the adrenaline of anticipation took over and we got things organized. The three of us left Ted’s Jeep behind and heading toward breakfast and the lake.
As we drove for a few minutes, the rain ceased and the sun began its work of burning through the clouds. After a lovely buffet omelet, we made our way to the southern tip of Lake George, arriving at 9:30AM. We were going launch on time!
Or maybe not.
This was Thursday morning and the boat launch was closed. No one was around. The doors were locked. I drove around in search of alternate launch sites, but there were none. There were other options, sure, but the whole point was to paddle from tip to tip. Ted, renowned in his youth for his liberal interpretations of vehicular laws, did not hesitate to offer a solution.
“Dude, just pull up over the sidewalk onto the beach wherever you can!”
A moment later, a patch of green grass exposed itself near the beach.
“Pull in like you own it, dude!” Ted advised me.
(Photo caption: I already look guilty…)
Dodging a tourist or two (the southern end of the lake is touristy), I hopped the curb, drove over the sidewalk and parked on the beach. In an instant, things took on the feel of a covert military operation. We needed to get unloaded and packed before Johnny Law put the kibosh on things. My heart thumped and I focused on packing the kayaks as efficiently as possible. Still, I kept one eye on the road scanning for one the of the plentiful official vehicles that roamed the town.
Having packed everything in dry bags and packing light, things were going smoothly when I heard the blast of the horn. I looked up to see the sheriff’s patrol car, but just as quickly put my head down and continued my work. Chris was closer to the patrol car and even though I knew he’d have no explanation ready, I was sure his general demeanor would strike the right tone to buy us some time. By the time he was done pleading his ignorance, we would be almost ready to go.
Apparently, Chris still had the magic touch, as the officer drove off, leaving us with a beautiful day and a large expanse of water before us.
(Photo caption: Many miles to go before we sleep)
The things they carried:
(A list to remember and to help others who might be planning a similar trip. We had everything we needed and everything we brought got used.)
Life Jackets (2)
Sleeping bags (2)
Sleeping mats (2)
Mountain chairs (2)
Coffee filter attachment for Nalgene bottle
Coffee mug (2)
Mt. Suds (for washing, bathing)
Digital camera, tripod, and waterproof case
Multi-tool and Swiss Army Knife
Quick dry Bathing suit
Quick dry camp towel
Long pants that unzip into shorts
Yankees baseball cap
Keen sandals for land
One pair socks (bring NO cotton clothing!)
Lake George maps (3) and pen
Bungee cords (4)
Unused Plastic quart bags (2)
Kayak sponge (damn handy)
Cell phone (Chris)
5 Nalgene bottles filled with water (several frozen to provide cold drinking water along the way)
(we refilled at marinas, or took the water right out of the lake… it’s drinking water!)
Frozen bags of homemade chili for night 1 (2)
Mountain House (dehydrated food) Eggs and bacon (4)
Mountain House Lasagana
Mountain House Chicken Teryaki (2)
Mountain House Jamaican Chicken
Packets of Peanut Butter (a wonderful invention)
Ghirardelli Chocolate Bar (1)
Bag of GORP
Pepperoni and cheese
Bag of pita bread
Clif Bar (3)