Saint Regis Canoe Area; Nine Carries Route
The Saint Regis Canoe Area is designated a primitive area by NY State, and no motorized vehicles may be used. In addition a number of special trout waters are maintained by the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] with certain fishing restrictions. No permanent structures other than the three sided log buildings known as lean-tos are permitted in this region. I planned on doing a modified route known as the Nine Carries Route. A was a popular canoe and guide boat path developed in the late 1800's during the golden era of the great Adirondack hotels and camps.
After School on Thursday I drove up through Tupper Lake to the Saranac Lake area. The put in point was near the NYS Fish Hatchery at Little Clear Pond, off Route 30. It was late when I finally put in, about 6:30 or 7 PM. There is no camping is allowed on Little Clear, because the water is used by the Fish Hatchery. A half-hour paddle across the lake brought me to the carry trail to St. Regis Pond. About a quarter mile carry trail brought me to the wooden dock extending out into a swampy inlet of St. Regis Pond. Since I carried my kayak on a yoke, and my dunnage in a portage pack, I had to make two trips over the carry, so it actually was about three quarters of a mile before I was ready to put back into the water. It would have been possible to use a wheeled cart for most of the carries in this area.
Because of the lateness of the evening, and fast failing light, I choose to camp on the first peninsula down the shore on my right. It was rather nice spot set in tall white pines, and swept by a steady breeze from the west. There are a number of nice sites set on this pond, including three on islands. I only briefly saw one light across the lake, although I believe from what I'd read in the DEC sign-in register at the parking lot that there were several parties in the area.
To my dismay the Dragon Fly stove wouldn't work, the plunger wasn't building up any pressure, so I ate some cheese and nuts and went to bed. I'd eaten a burger in Tupper Lake anyway, so I wasn't particularly hungry, but I wondered how I'd cook my suppers, especially if we got any more rain.
In the morning, after a hearty breakfast of a Pop-Tart, (no working stove), I paddled west across the pond to the outlet, where a fish control dam regulated the level of the lake, and I presume prevented the entry of trash fish into these specially regulated trout waters. Because the water levels were still fairly high this early in the year, it was possible to float down the outlet, the still infant St Regis River, into the next pond, Ocher Pond. There was only one pull over, a fallen tree that blocked the narrow channel. This, however, saved me a quarter mile carry. Ocher is a pretty little pond of water, surrounded by the dominant forest of the region, white pine and paper birch. The birch trees hadn't fully put out their leaves yet, so the hillsides seemed in places to be a bit patchy.
The next carry was to Mud Pond, about a half mile, and involved several uphill stretches, none too steep however. I would carry the kayak until my shoulders until I got tired, then walk back for the portage pack. This way I had several short weighted carries with a number of restful walks in-between. Once I arrived above Mud Pond, the trail splits, and one can either follow the high esker path between Mud Pond on the right and the St Regis River on the left, or one can drop down the steep slope and paddle across the pond. I did both, taking my portage pack the half mile to Fish Pond, and then returning to my kayak and paddling the quarter mile length of Mud Pond with a short carry trail at its end.
Fish Pond is a pretty sheet of water, about half a mile across, and encircled with hills and mountains. It was the farthest into this primitive area my loop would take me. There was only one other party on the lake, and they had taken the lean-to on the north shore. I checked out the other lean-to, on the south shore, but it had a dirt floor that was damp, had a leaky roof and no view, also rain was expected. I choose instead a nice tent site on the north shore, near a stream running down from a notch in the mountains above the lake. Although the black flies were at times a nuisance, the strong wind drove them away most of the time and they disappeared completely at night. After cooking my dinner over a campfire, I was able to wander down to the shore, sit in a grassy spot with my back to a birch tree and sip my Earl Grey tea. The full moon sparkled on the surface of the pond as I listened to the wavelets lapping the shore, and to Loons calling across the water.
Saturday morning I paddled across the lake, skirting the north shore, to the carry trail to Little Fish Pond. However instead of portaging, I choose to float the short outlet and so saved myself the trouble of unloading the kayak and carrying it the hundred yards or so between lakes. This probably would not be possible later in the season, with lower water levels. A brief paddle brought me to the southwest shore, where the map indicated a short carry over an esker ridge to the next pond on the route, Little Long Pond. Short but steep and not overly used either. I was able to slide the kayak down part of the far slope to Little Long Pond. There I saw the first boat on the water that I'd seen the past three days, a rowboat with two fishermen in it. They had disappeared by the time I'd returned with my dunnage and reloaded the kayak. Little Long Pond is a narrow lake, about a half-mile long. At the west end is a short trail to small and remote Lydia Pond. I walked the eighth mile path and had lunch there, fighting off the voracious black flies. Or rather it might be said we all had lunch together.
Reentering my boat, I paddled to the opposite end of Little Long Pond, and located the short carry path to Fox Kit Pond. I then had a route choice to make, to follow the standard Nine Carries route and portage back to Fish Pond, [then southward to Slang Pond, Turtle, and finally to Hogue Pond which would put me about 3 miles from my car], or to head south toward Long Pond. I went south, because I wanted to do a loop that came up the outlet stream from Little Clear where I had parked my car. It was a longer route, about 15 miles longer, but it put me within a few hundred yards of my car back at Little Clear.
After carrying to Fox Kit, I spotted the two fishermen I'd seen earlier out on the water. The pond itself was very small, and only a few minutes brought me to its south end and to the next short carry to Nellie Pond. From Nellie Pond it was about a mile and a quarter to my destination for the day, Long Pond. This carry trail was the longest on my trip, and went through a narrow ravine below Long Pond Mountain, crossing some rather soggy terrain on well placed stepping stones. At one point, just before I got to Long Pond, I had to reenter my kayak to paddle across a beaver pond before I could continue on my way.
I was hoping to get the tent site on the peninsula across from the end of the carry trail. I'd camped there the year before, and it was a nice site. It was open, sheltered by large white pines, and had a great view of the lake and of Long Pond Mountain to the northwest. I was very relieved when I saw that it was open, and it wasn't long before I slid my boat up onto the shore below the site. This is the largest pond of the 10 I paddled across in the St Regis Canoe Area, about three miles long, with several bays and reaches. That night a spectacular thunder and lightening storm swept through the area, but my Kelty Zen tent stayed nice and dry.
Sunday morning was rather windy, and as I swung into the long reach of the lake running westward, whitecaps and very stiff winds greeted me. I hugged the shore as much as possible, but as I moved out from behind the shadows of projecting points of land the full blunt of the wind would hit me, forcing me to fight for every yard of progress. As I passed one campsite on the north shore, I watched a gust push one wall of a tent almost half way to the ground before it sprang back into place. I explored the far western end of the lake, where there is a takeout point, with a carry trail to a parking lot, and then I turned and ran with the wind behind me back down the lake to the carry trail to Floodwood Pond.
This carry, about a half-mile or so, took me out of the St Regis Canoe area and into the Saranac Lakes Canoe Area, a multi-use area. The trail would easily accommodate a wheeled portage cart, as would all the carries except for the Nelly Pond to Long Pond trail. Near the end of the carry one comes to a railroad grade, and a dirt road which comes in from the Saranac Hotel Golf Course. Here also is located an outfitters store, which sells basic camping items as well as rents canoes and kayaks. A bit beyond this crossing is a DEC register and the put in for Floodwood Pond. From this point on one may encounter motorized vehicles, including motor boats. Indeed, as I pushed out onto Floodwood, I heard a generator running at one of the cottages along the shore. I escaped from the swarms of black flies by eating my lunch out on the lake. There was still a strong breeze which swept the little pests off the water and into the shelter of the woods along the shore.
A paddle of maybe half an hour brought me to the outlet of Floodwood, Fish Creek. This delightful stream wanders through mature forest of pines and hardwoods with a noticeable current, which had been lacking for most of the trip that so far had been across ponds. Fish could be seen darting away from the encroaching shadow of the kayak as I floated downstream. I encountered a few canoes and one outboard with an electric motor, which is allowed. I decided to camp early near Square Pond, on a point of land where Fish Creek enters the eastern end of the pond. Camp was quickly set up, and firewood gathered, before I realized my campsite was located right on a trail. My first clue was when a man and woman and their six children walked through my camp. I never saw anyone else however, so my fears of constant traffic never materialized. One interesting thing I observed across the pond was an Osprey nest, with a young hatchling peeking his head out over the rim of the stick built nest which was perched high on top of a broken off white pine.
Monday morning I pushed off back onto Fish Creek, and followed the now slower current down towards Rollins Ponds area with its huge NY State campsite. There I saw hundreds of trailers, campers, and huge cabin tents, and lots of people. Large motorboats were slamming through the area dragging skiers, or just racing about. I passed under the Route 30 bridge, and past Hickoks Marina. In a quarter of a mile I was navigating through the channel into Fish Creek Bay on Upper Saranac Lake. Beautiful vistas opened to the east of the Adirondack High Peaks Region. I continued out into the lake and turned northward, paddling up along the left-hand shore to the passage between Markham Point and Green Island, where I turned into an east-reaching arm of the lake. My back was getting sore from sitting so long, and so I took a lunch break on small rocky islet known as Goose Island. Here was another magnificent view of the High Peaks Region, east and south of the lake.
A half-hour paddle brought me to the outlet for Clear Pond and Little Clear Pond. I almost missed it in the narrow choked channels of the marsh. I thought I was in the wrong place until I spotted a DEC carry sign tacked onto a dead cedar. For the next couple of miles I paddled my way up the outlet, fighting the current every time I tried to swing my 14-foot boat around another tight meander. I spotted what I thought were a pair of bald eagles, and also another osprey. Several beaver dams had to be pulled over before I came to the junction of the small stream coming down from Little Clear. Here a bridge spanned the creek, and although no signs indicated this was the correct passage, the map seemed to fit the terrain.
Although I was only a mile or so from the end of my journey, it was a real beat out. There was so little water in the stream that it often wouldn't float my loaded boat, and I had to get out to pull it upstream by my painter, Volga River fashion. But unlike the experience of those legendary rivermen in Russia, the outlet for Little Clear had a very soft bottom. With each step my legs sunk deep into the ooze, threatening to suck off my sandals and neoprene booties. If I got back in the boat, the kayak grounded on the shallow sandy bottom of the creek. I was afraid I'd break my paddles and so I used a dead branch to pole as much as possible. After what seemed a very long time I came to within sound of the highway. I pressed on until at last I came to the deep pool below the culverts coming from under Highway 30, a few hundred yards from the fish hatchery and a half-mile from my car. I was so exhausted I actually fell into the pool, which was probably a good thing since I was half covered in mud and muck.
I carried my portage pack up the last portion carry path up to the highway, down the pavement a few hundred yards, before turning off on the hatchery road. Here a short dirt road took me to the parking lot where my car had been sitting for the past 5 days. And best of all, the engine started right up!
From Tupper Lake Take Route 3 towards Saranac Lake. Turn off on 30 North. About 10 miles one comes to Fish Hatchery Road on the left. About 20 yards on this paved road one sees a dirt road on the left, with signs. Follow it for about an eighth of a mile to a fork. Fifteen yards down the right hand fork is the DEC parking lot at Little Clear Pond.
Jamison's North Flow, and ADK publication. A map of the lakes and rivers of the region is available in most stores, and at Hikocks Marina near Rollins Pond on Route 30.
Editor's note: Camping practices displayed in this report may or may not have been within boundaries of NY DEC regulations. For reference, please see the website for Camping Rules and Regulations of NY DEC:
- Trip Duration: Extended Trip
- Sport/Activity: Kayaking
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water