Through Paddlers rescued on the Saranac River

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    Paddlers Tim and Ben Hille were rescued on the Saranac River last week in an incident in which they activated an emergency beacon when their canoe was wrapped and wrecked in whitewater below Tefft Pond Falls. Mike Lynch wrote an article about the incident for the local newspaper. I am including a link to that article. The pair were attempting an NFCT through paddle.

    This was only the first of two incidents I am aware of this week. A man and woman from Montana wrecked their boat June 18th after swamping while attempting to paddle the section below Tefft Pond Falls. The pair were about a week into a planned NFCT through paddle. They were not injured and were able to walk out with their remaining gear.

    The Hilles had landed and scouted the ledge drop at Stoord Brook. Recognizing that it was not runnable they attempted to ferry to river right, and appear to have broached on a rock in mid-river. The two Montana paddlers told me they had attempted to run one of the ledges below Tefft Pond after deciding that lining the section was not feasible. They wrapped their canoe on a boulder when it swamped and became unmanageable.

    The five miles of river between Silver Lake Road and Clayburg includes the most technical, sustained, and difficult whitewater that I have encountered in my section paddling trips on the NFCT. Water levels this week are up somewhat from recent rain, but far from flood level. I believe the USGS gauge in Plattsburg was reading between 1500 and 2000 cfs (cubic feet/ second) at the time of the second incident, which in my experience provides a fun, moderate flow for paddling the Saranac River, and around 2800 cfs when the Hilles wrapped their boat. The whitewater below Silver Lake Road is MUCH more difficult than the four sets of rapids between Union Falls Dam and Silver Lake Road.

    Between Tefft Pond Falls and Clayburg there are at least two ledges (or more depending on water levels) that cannot typically be run in the sort of tandem canoe one chooses for a through paddle. By-passing these ledges requires skilled lining or rough, bushwacking portages. There are also sustained stretches of smaller whitewater that could easily swamp a loaded tandem canoe, and that offer few eddies in which to stop and bail. The river banks are steep and forested. Lining is not easy, although it would be less difficult at lower water levels.

    Boulder-filled sections of whitewater are found below each of the ledges. There are not large pools in which to self-rescue after a mishap, and it is easy for a water-filled canoe to become pinned on any of the boulders.

    Through paddlers have several options if they choose to bypass this section. Some paddlers have arranged for shuttles from outfitters in Saranac Lake. Others have portaged from Union Falls Dam, using Casey and Silver Lake Roads. It is possible to take-out shortly before the Silver Lake Road bridge on river left, using a NYDEC trail out to Casey Road. This trail is poorly marked from the water and may be hard to locate. The right of the paddling public to put-in or takeout from the Silver Lake Bridge has been disputed in the past by adjoining private landowners. – Kalmia

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