As we admired the sprawling view down Long Lake toward Round Island, I looked around the parking lot and did some mental math: nine paddlers, with an average age of 12, all cramming their gear into dry bags and saying goodbye to their families. Two other canoe groups were also dropping off their peeps and boats — I could imagine a crowded time ahead at the Raquette Falls Carry, where expectations and canoe wheels go to die.
The forecast had done us dirty as well — one day earlier, Google Weather predicted all sun. Now the forecast — and the sky — were both threatening the onset of long, hard precipitation.
Stupid phone weather …
As we began our trek, I swapped into a boat (a mid-water switch) that seemed to be lagging behind. The rain soon came, gentle at first, then in earnest. By the time we reached Catlin Bay, only a few miles from our start, I had learned that 1.) my canoe partner, Ivan, one of the smallest and youngest of our group, had earned the nickname “Corndog” by eating 7½ corndogs in an eating contest at school and 2.) if we didn’t get off the water and out of the cold rain soon, it was going to be hypothermia city.
Sure enough, kids who had been all too willing to splash each other with glee only a half hour previously were soon shivering inside of the crowded Hidden Cove Lean-to (a personal favorite of mine). We scrambled to hurriedly make a tarp awning over the entrance and start a fire. For a group of people who had just met each other less than two hours previously, we did pretty well — well enough to make calzones on the fire and go for a 4-mile leg stretch to Kelly Point. Once there, we met a group that was engaged in a 12-hour solo, which made an impression on the kids. A “solo” like this features a larger group that intentionally separates from each other for a 12-hour period — each individual sets up a solo camp to challenge their skills, emotional strength, and assumptions about themselves.
This trip presented some interesting challenges. On our second evening, finding both plan A and plan B sites occupied on the Raquette, we meandered back upstream to the Lost Channel Lean-to, interrupting two herons and a bald eagle on the way. Although not the most hospitable site, the muddy landing and lack of tent space didn’t matter once we had a roaring fire going. Palen’s recipe, “Pot O’samores” was tried and found wanting. I believe one camp critic described it as “Boiled Diarrhea.” Oh well — sometimes you cook in the dutch oven and sometimes the dutch oven cooks you.
Other highlights from this trip included: a first fish, an 18-inch bass, for Caleb Keller; a lot of quality time fishing, swimming, and exploring; and hijinks with our friendly neighbors from Camp Fowler at Raquette Falls.
On a challenge set during evening intramural tag games, the Top Chef contest for pancake cooking the next morning was planned. Now, I do take some pride in my camp cooking, but this dutch oven has brought everything to the next level. Amy and Lilly spent several hours picking blueberries near the ranger cabin, and we also had Hershey’s chocolate and local maple syrup from Triplet Hill in Long Lake. At this point in the trip, many of the kids had become more self-sufficient in their fire-making capabilities, especially Palen, who had really been working at it. So with good coals, we got positively delicious pancakes, and we even made faces in them with the chocolate and blueberries. Although Camp Fowler put up a good fight, emptying their chocolate reserve into their jumbled attempt, we triumphed.
On the last evening, we managed cornbread from scratch over the fire, which was a hit. The Baltimore 3 (Mason, Gavin, and Jacob) accepted my invitation to wake me up at day break for some serious fishing, and we gave it our all. We fished for most of the trip, and both Jacob and I had caught some feisty northern pikes above and below the falls, so I was especially glad to see Caleb, one of our youngest on the trip, land a beautiful smallmouth bass, with Mason to net it. The first fish is a good memory, and we all enjoyed a little fresh fish with our breakfast that morning — on the “last cast” no less.
So after leaving a funny note for the ranger — a good friend of mine and a tremendous boat builder — we departed for our final paddle out, having bonded as a team and taking with us some great memories to look back on.
Learn more about Matt Burnett at www.mattburnettguiding.com.
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