Crescent Bay, South Hero
Date: 10/20/2004, 10/27/04
Distant: 3 miles
Despite two glorious days last week and now this wonderful, warm, calm Wednesday, we have not been able to get back out on the water. We are very frustrated, but the real world keeps intruding on one or the other of us. The water temperature is now 55 F and the nights are consistently in the 30s and we feel limited in our choices of where to paddle because of duck hunting season but we are determined to get one last kayak in this fall. Neither of us dreamed we would be kayaking this late in the season but I think part of us is drawn to the challenge of paddling in these colder conditions. The late October lake is different than the warm summer one but it still holds a spell on us we cannot seem to shake. Perhaps tomorrow!
(10/27/2004) South Hero, Crescent Bay (3 miles) We retraced our steps on this short trip but it felt so good to get back on the water after a two and a half week period of not being able to take advantage of many glorious fall days. The south facing shore protected us from a changeable 5-10 MPH NW, N, and NE wind for the most part, and the sun even tried to poke through the clouds as the late afternoon progressed. Margy arrived wearing rubber rain boots her granddaughters had given her, thinking they would keep her feet warm when we waded into the water. She looked more like Mary Poppins with a paddle then my kayaking partner. The west end of Crescent Bay, and Phelps Point have a good collection of fossils in the vertical rocks. There are even a few of the 460 million year old cabbage type fossils found at Goodsell Ridge in Isle La Motte. With no waves to worry about, we could really hug the rocky shore and look at the fossils. And with the water level now at the lowest point it has been all season (95.51ft.), almost 2 feet lower than it was in August and early September, we saw zebra mussels attached to exposed rocks and many more on the rocks just below the surface.
As we rounded Phelps Point and headed north a short distance we came upon the largest duck blind we have ever seen on the lake. It is a permanent blind made of large rocks. There are even fossils in the rocks! It looks more like a WW II coastal fortress than a duck blind. As we headed back around Phelps Point and east along the sandy shore of Crescent Bay, my irrepressible 9 pound dog Sophie insisted on following us . She raced along the shore to keep up with our paddling progress. It reminded me of the people who exercise their dogs by allowing them to run along side their bikes. This was not exactly what we had in mind however and before we got to White's Beach where the road is close to the shore I paddled in and retrieved her. She was delighted to get in the kayak. She hates to be left behind as she has been so many times this summer, and for good reason. She likes to sit up tall in my lap and watch for birds and that puts her head in the way of my paddle, forcing me to hold my arms about a foot higher than is comfortable or efficient. And sometimes she gets over exuberant when she spies a duck or gull and I have to bribe her with a treat (always present in my life jacket pocket) to keep her from jumping into the water.
The shore line was devoid of swim rafts and boats on hoists ( this shore has far too much wind exposure to simply anchor a boat in the water) and all the water lines had been taken in for the winter. We did passed one old waterline one end of which was floating on the surface. I tried to convince Margy it was a mini "Champ" but she was unwilling to stretch her imagination and instead accused me of being full of nonsense (well, actually she had a more descriptive term). It is amazing how different one location on the lake can look and feel in different seasons, or even different weather conditions. Each paddle we take is so different, even when we retrace our steps. It is proving hard for us to give up this paddling season up. I wonder if there is an "iceboat" equivalent for kayaks? Now that is an idea, a kayak that sits on blades, similar to an iceboat, and paddles that have spikes on the blade edges that could grip the ice. Then again cross country skiing or snowshoeing would probably be more efficient.
@Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and Margy Holden
Crown Point Bridge to Putnam Creek and Back
Distance: 14 miles
We leap frogged over some shoreline we have not paddled yet, choosing a loop route, starting on the New York side of the Crown Point Bridge and paddling south to Putman Creek, east across the lake where it is only half a mile wide, then north along the Vermont shore back to the Crown Point Bridge. There were a lot of advantages to this strategy, the most enticing being that we did not have to drive two cars and spot one at the end of our route. We also wanted to see if the snow geese and Canada geese were congregating just off VT Route 17 around the Dead Creek area as they do each October on their way south. We saw only one large flock of snow geese in the field as we drove by both coming and going.
Today's trip was interesting and very different from what we had become accustom to. The lake is not only narrow below the bridge, it is also quite shallow. The channel is 20-27 feet deep and only half a mile wide at its widest point. We stayed close to the shoreline which was quite shallow (2-10 ft deep), and filled with eurasian milfoil in most places. Also the water was quite murky. In the northern part of the lake it is murky after a heavy rain particularly around the mouths of major rivers and of course if there is an algae bloom but rarely so other times. There had been no recent rain to cause this murkiness. However this part of the lake is surrounded by rich farm land, and good size farms. Indeed there was a faint, and sometimes not so faint, smell of manure everywhere. Margy said she could also smell the arid odor of the paper plant at Ticonderoga, about 7 miles south. I did not smell it until I could see it.
As with our last paddling day of forecasted "light and variable winds", this day also presented us with a 15 MPH south wind just as we were starting out. As with our Cumberland Head trip the wind eventually diminished and then died down, after, of course we had stopped paddling into it and turned north hoping for a significant boast and free ride. The wind is still a witch. The west shore has many little unnamed points of land, points that provided us a short respite from the south wind. We stopped briefly in the lee of each for a short rest and to complain about the added resistance of paddling through the eurasian milfoil. It was like paddling through sticky spagetti. (OK, so I have never paddled through sticky spagetti, so I don't really know. But I have a good imagination.) We did discover that there was sometimes a 10 yard band directly off from shore where the milfoil was not as thick. We are not sure why but we took advantage of it. Thanks to the milfoil there was no cutting corners this day! We followed that clear band where ever it led us. We saw three flocks of geese flying north. We wanted to tell them that they were going the wrong way but they seemed to know what they were doing even if we didn't. We saw 6 or 7 heron along the along the shore, and many ducks.
We passed two people filling their small boat with duck hunting equipment. They asked where we were going ( Putnam Creek) and commented that there were lots of duck hunters down that way but then reflected that we would probably not encounter them midday. It made me stop to wonder if paddling in duck hunting season presented any dangers to us, as their statement had implied. We certainly didn't look like ducks even from a distance! But then again maybe we would prematurely flush out some ducks that the hunters were watching. In the end we decided that if the weather holds for us one more week we will paddle the deep west shore between the Essex ferry and Westport where ducks will probably not abound, and stay out of the way of the duck hunters. They deserve their turn too.
The color was still spectacular. We shared the lake with only three other boats; one duck hunting boat , one sailboat, mast un-stepped, heading south for warmer winter waters, I suspect, and one intrepid sailor enjoying, as we were, the beauties of Lake Champlain in the fall. It is a special time to be paddling. (
@Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and Margy HOlden
Cumberland Head Ferry to Plattsburgh Beach and Back
Distance: 10 miles
Another day of "light and variable" winds predicted for this short 10 miles round trip to complete the south and east facing shores of the Cumberland Head peninsula. The trip from the ferry to the beach was relaxing, with a freshening tail wind most of the way and punctuated by the presence of a large flock of Canada geese and snow geese on the beach and swimming in the shallow water. They flew away when we approached, about 500 of them, with the snow geese, about a third of the flock, flying above the canada geese. Is there a pecking order here or just self imposed segregation?
The wind picked up dramatically from the SE as we headed back 4 miles directly into it. The closer we got to rounding the point of Cumberland Head the stronger the wind became. White caps abounded and most waves were 2 feet or greater -" light and variable" indeed! The wind is a witch! It was clearly time to make us pay for those three days of glorious clear, calm days of fall paddling. Rounding the point placed us before the wind and it was a wild ride the half mile back to the ferry dock. Several times, independently, we both thought we were going to take an unplanned swim. The water temperature is now 61 and we are both wearing old windsurfing wetsuits. I kept looking back at Margy to make sure she was upright. She could more easily see if I was but I am not sure what either of us could have done to help the other, short of meeting on whatever shore we washed up on.
By 2:30 that afternoon Margy reported from her vantage point on the shore of Grand Isle that the wind had subsided and there were no whitecaps in sight. Did we imagine that rough ride? The pile of wet kayaking clothing and gear in the back of my car says "No Way ". Note: I just learned from reading the Cruising Guide to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain & the St. Lawrence River, that "in a southerly blow, the maxi um wave height will be encountered near Cumberland Head." I don't think either of us will argue with that statement.
@Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and Margy Holden
Arnold Bay, Panton to Kingsland Bay
Distance: 15 miles
There are spectacular pockets of fall color on the lakeshore and the birds are migrating south in great numbers. We saw about 14 loons today as we paddled from Arnold Bay to Kingsland Bay. As we paddled around Button Bay, wave upon wave of Canada geese flew in, honking loudly, until there were perhaps a thousand of them feeding in the bay. Further north we saw an equal number of cormorants. We also spotted an otter, a mink, a mole and one kayaker going the other way. We shared a special unspoken camaraderie with the kayaker that we three alone were out enjoying this most incredible fall day on the lake, in a way no one in a larger boat could appreciate. At the Maritime Museum we stopped to look at the gunboat Philadelphia and found ourselves directly in the line of sight of it's largest gun. When hailed by the gunboat guide and asked if we were "friend or foe" , we quickly answered "friend", realizing the vulnerability of our position. It is clear that the sun is making its arc further south in the sky, the days are getting shorter, the water is clearly getting colder but we are hoping for at least one more week, perhaps two, of paddling. Tomorrow we head to Cumberland Head.
@Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and Margy Holden
Missisquoi Bay to Highgate Springs
Distance: 18 miles
We went to Missisquoi Bay expecting to find the remnants of the toxic algae bloom that had kept humans and pets out of the water for most of August. Much to our surprise and delight the water was not covered with green goo. Now we need to learn what makes algae blooms go away. We saw the infamous and protected spiny soft shell turtles sitting on their specially built platform giving them a place to bask in the sun while the long delayed and much needed new Missisquoi bridge is being built.
The day was spectacular, with lots of fall color displayed by trees close to the water. We saw many herons. There is a large rockery in the Missisquoi delta, but we saw no Canada geese or ducks to speak of. Perhaps the ducks noticed the duck blinds being put in place in preparation for duck hunting season. We saw one small group of cormorants, 5 to 10 birds in total. There were also a fair number of bass fisherman taking advantage of the incredible weather, although according to their reports, the bass were not cooperating.
The lake level is so high that the shoreline appeared "squishy". It was impossible to tell where the water stopped and land started in the wide band of water reeds that buffer the shore. Margy played a game with the illusive shore, trying to paddle through as many reeds, and cutting as many corners as possible without running aground. Sometimes she would disappear out of sight only to pop out again down the shoreline. As a result of the water level, there were not many places to get out so we had a floating lunch, our lunches having been placed in an easily accessible place in our cockpits before we set off. No more locking them in an inaccessible kayak hatch! We have learned that lesson well! Margy noted that the last time she had been in this area the water level was lower and there were lots of exposed sandy beaches and sandbars. We paddled back from Highgate up Dead Creek to the Missisquoi River and then down the river to where we had left our car, a nice change of pace from paddling on the lake.
@Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and margy Holden
Burlington, Juniper Island, Shelburne Bay
Distance: 11 miles)
This was perhaps the most glorious day either of us can ever remember being out on the water. The sky was blue, the wind calm, and the air warm and we had the lake to ourselves, it being a Monday in late September. After a quick look around Burlington Harbor, where we were dwarfed by the incoming ferry and outgoing tour boat, the Ethan Allen III, we headed straight our to Juniper. We were a little disappointed that the Lois McClure was not in port, as we pasted by her dock at Perkins Pier. We are still hopeful that we will catch up with her before the season is over. Despite it's checkered history, Juniper is a beautiful island with layers of "paint can" rock comprising its steep shoreline. "Paint Can" rock is my less than elegant but very function name for the gray slate rock drizzled with white calcite that one sees in great abundance along the Vermont side of the lake.
Juniper is privately owned and there were people at the boathouse on the southeast shore so we did not stop dispute the fact that it was time for lunch. "Let's have lunch on Rock Dunder" said I naively!! It was impossible to get within 100 yards of Rock Dunder without being offended by its stench. Indian gods not withstanding, the gulls and cormorants had taken over and we were not going to challenge their habitat. So we had yet another floating lunch sharing Margy's lunch because mine was securely stashed away in the front waterproof hatch of my kayak. How useful! It was still so calm that the ferry far to the north looked like it was floating above the water and the distant northern horizon was hard to distinguish because the blue gray of the water matched exactly the blue gray of the sky. The contrails of the jets flying overheat reflected perfectly in the water.
Burlington was spectacular from this distance and depending on where you were, you could frame it with Mt. Mansfield, or Camel's Hump in the background. We could have floated out there all day but we did have miles ahead of us and a deadline with which to get Margy back in time to go to work. As we approached Red Rocks I was wondering what the big deal was about this point of land. It was not until we got within 10-20 yards of the shore that I begin to appreciate the sheer beauty of the rocks. Despite many visits to Red Rocks Park by land I had never really seen the rocks for which the place is named. They are beautiful and we now have far more than enough pictures to prove it. As we paddled down Shelburne Bay hugging the west facing shore we passed the opening to the now infamous Potash Brook. There was a fairly large flock of Canada geese hanging out there, at least until we arrived, probably because of the nutrients flowing from the brook. LIkewise there was another group of geese at the opening to Monroe Brook further down the shoreline. Clouds suddenly appeared from nowhere although the wind did not pick up and we ended this beautiful day under the cover of gray sky but the memory of the incredible beauty of the morning will get us through many a dark winter day.
@Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and margy Holden
Kingsland Bay to Little Otter Creek
(9/12/2004) After a long break from paddling, due to family visits and vacations, we are finally back on the water and feeling much the better for it, taking advantage of our glorious September weather.
(9/13/2004) Kingsland Bay to Little Otter Creek, VT ( 9 miles) New - This was the first day back to paddling after a month's layoff and we were rusty at everything. Our plan was to go from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum near Basin Harbor to Kingsland Bay State Park starting early in the day. We got a later than planned start when Margy got delayed by telephone calls. When she finally got to my house she discovered she had forgotten her spray skirt, not something to be without on a day where the wind was forecast to increase to 10-20 MPH sometime in the afternoon. Our plans continued to deteriorate from there. On the drive down to Ferrisburg Margy took us down Spear Street Extension and somewhere close to Ferrisburg we crossed a 4 inch deep swath of what I though was mud that had run out of a farmer's dirt driveway in one of our many rainstorms. If only it had been just mud! Turns out it was more manure than mud and my car has not smelled the same since despite one trip to the carwash with a special undercoat washing! We could not find the original place we wanted to spot a car and when we got to Kingsland Bay State Park, our alternate site, we found it closed for the season and a big gate across the road. Fortunately for us we discovered the Ferrisburg Beach just down the road about 100 yards. By then it was time for lunch and the wind had already picked up to 10-20 mph from the south so we totally bagged our original plan, postponed lunch ( we hadn't done anything to earn it anyway except put the kayaks on top of the car) and decided to paddle out of Kingsland Bay and into Little Otter Creek and back again. That turned out to be the first smart decision we had made all day. With a strong tail wind we wandered around Kingsland Bay finding a beaver damn, a log full of turtles, an osprey nest and a beautiful overnight camping site designated as part of the Champlain Paddler's Trail. Once we rounded the point and headed north east toward Little Otter Creek we had the wind in our face but not much wave action. We had been so impressed with LIttle Otter Creek the first time we had been there (July 30) that we were hoping to return in the fall when migrating birds might be more in evidence. Perhaps it was the wind, be we saw no wildlife at all. The water was a little higher than when we had been there a month ago, but aside from that nothing had changed, including the wind. We paddled hard up the creek about a mile to the boat launch we had used in July, had a floating late lunch, turned around and paddled back. There were more turtles on the log on the way back. It would not be until the evening that I would notice how much my car smelled of manure!
@ Copyright 2004, Cathy Frank and Margy Holden
Circumnavigation of Inner Malletts Bay - A Dramatic Day on Malletts Bay
Distance: 12.5 miles
Weather : warm but threatening
Birds: Great Blue Heron, mallards
I'm sick of this poopy weather” said Margy on the phone as we conferred for the fourth time that day about where we were going to paddle the next day. For two weeks we had had a forecast of “Mostly cloudy with 30% (40%, 50%, 60% 70% - take your pick, it doesn't matter) chance of showers in the morning and then showers and thunder showers by afternoon. South wind forecast to be light and variable, (10 MPH , 10-15 MPH , 10-20 MPH - take your pick, it doesn't matter).” The prediction for the percentage risk of rain and wind speed changed 3 or 4 times a day, and there was no correlation between the prediction and what the weather actually turned out to be. One day we had a passing shower, another day gave us thunderstorms with hail and high winds. One day it just threatened dark ominous clouds all day, the kind that scare the bejeezum out of you, but it never rained. And one day dawned clear with a light wind that increased to 20-30 MPH by noon . The problem was that we just didn't know what to expect and it made a BIG difference if you were out in the middle of the lake and we had guessed wrong! Poopy weather indeed! Having cancelled out on two trips this week, one because Mark Breen, our most trusted weather man, told us there was a 70% chance of rain and storms all day when, in fact, it turned out to be sunny and beautiful all day. The second time we scrubbed was because the wind picked up from a gentle 10 MPH from the south to 20-30 MPH between the time we made a “go” decision and the time we were actually driving across Sandbar headed to Malletts Bay with kayaks on the car. Sandbar runs east-west and is wide open to wind and water on both sides. The wind was pounding the kayaks so hard we had to stop and tighten the straps holding the kayaks to the roof rack. One long look at the water and the clouds over Mt. Mansfield moving north west made us decide right there to cancel the trip, only to have the wind die down and the sun come back out by 2:00 PM . So by Thursday night we were tired of being pushed around by this poopy weather system that just wouldn't go away. We were going kayaking on Friday, one way or another. The only question was where.
By 6:30 AM I had logged on to the Weather Underground and checked the weather radar, listened to Mark Breen's “Eye On the Sky” weather report on Vermont Public Radio, taken note of the National Weather Service report from the weather radio, and checked our own anemometer. Margy called to get my summary. “60% chance of rain, 10 MPH south wind, showers and thundershowers likely by afternoon”. But the south wind was already blowing 15 MPH and gusting to 20. We both agreed that we would head for the sheltered waters of Inner Malletts Bay , not far from home, and do a circle around the shoreline. The sooner we started the better. Now Margy and I have different definitions of an “early start” -- which we are working on reconciling. On this day she picked me up at 10:00 . Inner Malletts Bay looked like just a short paddle; so I was surprised when I measured the distance and found it to be 12.5 miles. I was so surprised I measured again, getting the same result. I even measured a third time thinking I was perhaps using the wrong scale on the map, but I was not. The Malletts Bay shore is deceivingly convoluted.
Malletts Bay lies just to the east and south of Grand Isle/South Hero. It is actually two bays in one and when looked at sideways resembles a snowman with a narrow neck and long nose. The head of the snowman is the inner and smaller bay. It is a naturally occurring bay with a shelf of shallow water around MUCH of the shore and a depth of between 50-70 feet in the middle. The land rises significantly from the shore in most places. The narrow neck leading northwest into the outer bay is about a half mile wide and 90 feet deep. The inner bay is one of the most sheltered harbors on the lake, near one of the most populated areas on the lake, Burlington and Chittenden County, and within a little more that an hour's drive of Montreal ( there are roughly three times more people living in Montreal than live in all of Vermont!). There are more boats anchored in Inner Malletts Bay than anywhere else on the lake, and many of them are big (by Vermont standards). On summer weekends there is a steady stream of boats of all sizes, traveling at all speeds, moving in and out of the bay.
We had both been to Inner Malletts Bay many times. Margy used to teach swimming at Colchester Beach at the east end and I used to crew for a Lightning class sailboat that was anchored there. Our memories were of a lot of camps and houses packed closely together and constant boat traffic. Neither of us was excited about paddling this piece of Lake Champlain . However we figured the south wind would be tempered within the confines of the bay; with all those camps surely there would be lots of places to get out early if the weather forced us to; and we did not have to spot a second car.
We started and ended our trip at the Public Boat Ramp between Coates Island and Malletts Head. Despite the fact that it was a Friday, the questionable weather seemed to have kept the boat traffic to a minimum, a real plus for us. To the west we could see dark clouds building over New York State and very slowly progressing eastward toward us, but the forward progress was very slow indeed. As we left the marina and its many boats behind, but protected from the south wind by the land behind us, the first thing we passed was a shoreline rising sharply from the water along the east side of Malletts Head. This shoreline was beautiful. The spring time high water mark, a good two feet about the current water level was clearly visible on the steep rock. The water level of Lake Champlain fluctuates each year from an all time high of 101.89 ft above sea level to a record low of 92.4 ft. It is highest in the spring after all the snow has melted and lowest in late fall. The Lake 's average level is about 95 ft. The steep shore soon opened up to a series of small bays created as much by small offshore islands as by the land itself. In the first bay campers from Camp Brown Ledge were busy learning to dive, swim and wind surf.
One of the small islands to the east of Malletts Head is called Cave Island , for good reason. It has several small caves carved out of the rock by the waves and water. It would have been fun to stop and explore, but we knew at some point bad weather would catch up with us, so we were eager to keep moving. We were also not sure if Cave Island was accessible to the public or not.
The last and largest island off this shore is Marble Island. It lies only 150 feet from the shore of Malletts Head with cliffs rising sharply from the water. It is 2.75 acres in size and approximately 160 feet high at its maximum elevation. The entire island is declared “Natural Area” managed by the Lake Champlain Land Trust.
Back in the late 1800s the dolomite rock the island is made of was actually quarried. Evidence of that quarrying activity still exists on the rocks on the south side of the island. Mainly the island is covered by dense woods and extremely shallow soils. There are five rare plant species on the island. Kayakers and canoeists are welcome to stop on “Picnic Rock” on the north end of the island but because of the rare species, steep cliffs and shallow soil, are prohibited from the rest of the island. We were sorry we could not stop there for lunch or even just to enjoy the incredible view east and west but weather and time discouraged us. As it turned out there were three wonderful places to have a picnic lunch this day, had the weather cooperated. We think the only way to resolve such choice conflicts in the future will be to bring multiple lunches along with us so as not to miss a picnic opportunity!! (Have we told you yet that we love to eat and that paddling only enhances this natural instinct!)
By now we were far enough from the south shore of the bay that the waves were propelling us forward. Leaving Malletts Head behind us, we crossed the narrow half mile opening to the outer bay in no time and turned east at Red Rock Point and wound our way along the convoluted northern shore with the south wind and waves now hitting us broadside. We passed yet another island, appropriately named Beer Can Island , to the right. This island also has been conserved by the Lake Champlain Land Trust. It was the second great place to picnic. Unfortunately today was not the day to do so. It was fun rolling with the waves, and having them splash over the bow and side of our boats but it was clearly time to attach our spray skirts if we did not want to take on too much water. So we scooted behind a small house boat tied to a private dock to get out of the wind enough to attach our skirts, and then moved on, turning our heads frequently to note the progress of the dark clouds which were slowly working their way east.
The north shore of the inner bay is dramatic. The shoreline is wooded and rocky with an incredible number of little convoluted bays where the shore alternates between steep rocky banks and low lying rock and pebble beaches. The houses, which sit HIGH on the cliffs are not fully visible from the water, and there is plenty of land between them. Each bay brought a new view.
About noon Margy shouted over the wind to me that she needed a back rest. Looking at the rocky exposed shore we were passing, I yelled back “No”. I think she was surprised because I had never failed to agree to stop before. She then yelled back “What about lunch!” Again I responded “No”. It is not that I was not hungry or that my back was not tired also but I was pretty sure we were just one bay away from Niquette Bay State Park , and its friendly sheltered shore. I was the only one with a map this day, Margy having mistakenly left hers at home. In this situation in heavy water where it is difficult to hear, and getting too close in kayaks is not a good idea, trust becomes a factor. When one of us shouts an idea and the other responds with what sounds like a non negotiable response, we have to trust that there is a reason which we would both agree on if we had the same information. Meanwhile our attempts to communicate over the wind reminded us that we needed to develop some hand signals for such moments.
We rounded the last point of land on the north side of the bay well off shore to avoid chop from the backlash of waves and then paddled north toward the pristine sand beach of Niquette Bay State Park. It is amazing to be able to find this kind of beach on the Vermont side of the lake with no one on it. It would not have been deserted had the weather been better. Established as a small and little used state park in the 1970s, it grew by an additional 290 acres in 2000 when the Lake Champlain Land Trust conserved the additional land and gave it to the state. There is an extensive network of hiking trails and in the springtime the wild flowers are exceptional. On this day we, and one fishing boat cruising offshore, were the only people present. Because of a little point of land to the west, the beach was somewhat sheltered from the south wind. We landed, got out of our kayaks and took both a well deserved “back break” and lunch stop! Unfortunately the dark cloud that had been following us all morning was finally catching up with us. It now looked very dark and very close. So once again, we did not dally. On a clear day, with no threat of storms, and we do have such days on Lake Champlain , we would have taken a long and relaxing lunch break. Not so this day.
Niquette Bay is almost at the most northeastern end of Malletts Bay and from here we would be paddling south/ southwest into the wind for about 3 miles to get back to the busy and developed south end of the bay. We passed some camps stretched along a sand beach just before we turned south. The dark clouds now filled the entire western sky, and South Hero and the outer bay had disappeared into what was obviously a heavy rain storm but we saw no lightning and heard no thunder. We paddled by the entrance to Malletts Creek the sole body of water feeding into Inner Malletts Bay . This exceptional wetland, the first 70 acres of which were conserved by the Lake Champlain Land Trust in 2003, has an extensive wild rice marsh, which makes it attractive to wading birds including the American Bittern, Least Bittern, and Black- Crowned Night Heron. It is also a spawning ground for many fish species including Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, and Yellow Perch. This wild area is crossed at this point by I-89, Vermont 's major superhighway, and a major line carrying electricity from Quebec to Vermont . What a juxtaposition! We have so often driven over it traveling between the islands and Burlington , and now we were seeing it from the water's edge. From both vantage points, we could see several osprey nests on the platforms built for them by the power company atop the huge power poles. We desperately wanted to paddle up the creek a ways but the approaching clouds and the threat of deer flies in the protected waters deterred us. We mentally added Mallets Creek to our rapidly growing list of places we will paddle at another time.
Instead we hugged the eastern shore. Paddling hard against the wind, we continually looked back and forth between the approaching clouds and possible take out places along the shore. Short of seeing lightning or hearing thunder, we figured we did not need to get out, if at all, until Malletts Head disappeared in the rain. We finally pulled into a small pebbly beach that was protected from the south wind by a small point of land. We did not get out of our boats, but rather turned them toward the oncoming clouds and rain and waited to see what would happen. If the clouds were bringing only rain there was no need to stop. We were already wet. But we were worried about a sudden wind burst and shift. We waited there as the rain approached until it became obvious that a wind burst was not going to materialize. We then set off again toward the busy and populated part of the bay. The clouds were spectacular, as was the view. From where we were we could see east as far as the Green Mountains dominated by a partially visible Mount Mansfield, and west to South Hero, which was now out of the rain cloud, and then New York State . The degree of visibility came and went with the rain clouds, and as the storm we had been watching all morning eventually passed over us and to the northeast we were beginning to feel more relaxed and anticipated a spectacular rainbow ( in the Frank family this phenomena is more commonly called a “rainboat” having been identified as such by our 3 year old daughter to her 1 year old sister many years ago. “Tink. Look, look at the rainboat!”)
There was a very dark cloud to the south and east which we assumed had passed us, the last storm having traveled a common storm track from southwest to northeast. As we merrily paddled on commenting on the huge length of sand beach along the eastern shore, Margy suddenly said “Does that cloud look like it is getting bigger to you!” In fact it was clearly getting bigger and darker and had dark little fingers stretching part way down toward the horizon. And it was moving from southeast to northwest, exactly opposite of what the previous storm had just done! ( How can this be? Where is Mark Breen when we need him!) So once again on alert and eagle eyed, we paddled a little faster by a large marina and boat anchorage, around the south end of the bay and then north along the east shore of Coates Island. The cloud continued to grow and just as we rounded Coates Island , opening our view to the west and to the south where the boat access was, the rain torrents began. The entire bay was being hit by this rainstorm. Fortunately for us there was still no thunder or lightning; so we pressed on, knowing we were almost finished. This time the wind did pick up, but it was manageable. As we got close to our take out, Margy pointed out a very wet but beautiful great blue heron that was standing on a rock not more than 10 yards from us. Normally a heron would fly away to another spot along the shore before we got that close, but this heron was either conditioned by the large amount of regular boat traffic at this spot or just did not want to fly off in the downpour. He was beautiful and I was sorry my camera was confined to my waterproof pouch because of the rain. The rain stopped as soon as we got to shore, and by the time we had the boats back on the car, two other larger boats had been launched, the sun was out and our clothes were almost dry. Our trip around Inner Mallets Bay had totally exceeded our expectations. The clouds added a mystic sort of quality as we discovered that not all of Mallets Bay is congested and busy. In fact most of it is spectacularly beautiful. Once again we were reminded that the view from a low riding, slow moving kayak, is very special and not easily replicated in a power or sailboat. We do realize, however, that our attitude might have been somewhat different had the day been clear and all those many boats been in action.
© Copyright 2004 Cathy Frank, Margy Holden
Converse Bay, Charlotte to Shelburne Town Beach
July 12, 2004
Distance: 8.5 miles
Weather: Sunny to start, South wind 10-20 MPH
Faced with a week-long forecast of cloudy days with likely rain and thunderstorms, not to mention the probability that Margy would have to spend the latter part of the afternoon in the office, we opted for a short route, a location close to Burlington , and an early start. The promise of 10 to 20 mile an hour winds from the south, suggested strongly that we should head north on as sheltered a shore as we could find within our untraveled shores. With these parameters in mind we managed between 6:30 AM and 9:00 AM to get ourselves into the water at the fishing access in Converse Bay , in Charlotte . This clearly was one of our more efficient starts.
This is one of the prettier launch spots that we have used with the islands dotting the bay giving us short and long views. We were preceded by another person in a kayak paddling close to the dock and a spectator. They turned out to be a father daughter team; it was her first time in the kayak and he was carefully watching. When she pulled into shore, we found that she was paddling a beautiful hand-made wooden boat: made by dad! Both were pleased with performance. As we left the landing, 5 or 6 cars from out of state pulled in, each with 2 kayaks atop. We asked if they were heading north and they said they didn't know; they were just going to explore. It seemed as if we might be seeing lots of other boats, but those were the last that we encountered close by. It was a reminder of how many ways there are to enjoy this lake by kayak.
The wind had already picked up significantly and we had to give wide berth to the cliffs on the north entrance to the bay which were producing very choppy backwash in the south wind which we estimated at about 15mph. By going further from shore, we could see some of the lovely turn of the century homes that top this bluff.
Picket Island was on our left reminding me (Margy) of the picnics that I had there with my daughters when they were little. It was a great adventure to paddle out to an island in our canoe and have lunch. This morning the island was deserted, populated only by ghosts of picnics past.
Once around the point, the tail wind propelled us along. There was just enough lee from the preceding points of land to protect us from the heavy waves. The only exception was Hills Point at the end of this paddle which again drove us into deeper water and out of the chop.
The old cottages along the shore of Cedar Beach were reminders of an earlier time. More modern architecture interspersed among the old reminded us of the pressure to renew and rebuild as waterfront land has become increasing more valuable. We could see people already at the beach house of the colony which is more that 100 years old. Our paddling past the outcropping of land just north of Cedar Beach appeared to cause a colony of geese to consider their options. WE gave them a wide berth and they stayed put.
Rounding into McNeil Bay , the water was serene. The Charlotte-Essex ferry was leaving and in the distance, we could see another approaching. Ralph Nading Hill states that "Soon after the turn of the century" (that is the 19 th century!) there was ferry service between this bay in Charlotte and Essex , NY . Between 1821 and 1827 the ferry on this route was powered by 6 horses "on each side of the deck, transmitted their power directly to the wheels through treadmills..The treadmills provided uncertain navigation, for if the horses on the left treadmill walked faster than those on the right, the ferry was bound to veer to the starboard regardless of what the helmsman might do. One ingredient of a straight true course was the long whip of the 'engineer' who sat usually in one of the passengers' buggies and applied encouragement to one team or another, depending on which was lagging." We sat in our 21 st century kayaks watching the modern ferries filled with tourists and residents headed for the other side of the lake, most with their cars on board, on a chosen course determined by a turn of the wheel. It is incredible to think that this ferry route in its many forms has been going on from this spot for 200 years!
We circled Meach Island which guards the southern end of the Meach Cove. It is an inviting peace of land, high on the lakeside and accessible from the landside. From the water we could see one of the tombstones of the earlier settlers buried there.
Most of the sailboats were still at the moorings on this tranquil morning, but it was easy to imagine a much busier day on a weekend. It must be a tricky passage for ferry and multiple tacking boats to maneuver safely in and out of the bay on a warm and sunny Saturday.
North of McNeil Bay the shoreline is the wooded or open waterfront of larger homes set back from the water. While the railroad set back from the water results in wooded shores on the sparsely populated New York side, it is the larger landowners whose landscaping gives the impression of open space in suburban Charlotte . Cliffs along this shore tended to be topped with many feet of dirt and the rock substrata was either covered by dirt or at a lower level. The water immediately along the shore was shallow but dropped off more quickly than we have seen along some areas on the Vermont shore. According to the charts, just a half mile off of McNeil Cove is the deepest part of the lake reaching a depth of 399' .
Ralph Nading Hill again described both the historic underpinnings and the current pressure when he poetically wrote:
"Nature designed the terraces of the east shore's ancient sea bottom for grazing. After the Civil War the clouds of sheep covering these grasslands drifted on to the west, but the dairy cows and apple orchards that have replaced them seem secure. If they are not, it is because a farmer's temptation to sell to a developer rises with his expenses and the value of his land."
Certainly the shoreline for many miles south of this point is pretty well developed, but it is in this area that one begins to see more silos in the distance. Charlotte still has some working farms, Shelburne, which had a number of working farms when I moved here in the late 60's now has 1. Where farms remain, in many cases the farmer has sold off his lakeshore land in parcels just large enough to build a home or camp on. This has both reduced farmer's tax burden and helped to raise needed working capital.
The picturesque covered bridge which crosses Holmes Creek is just visible from the water at the south end of the Charlotte Beach. At this hour on a cool morning, the beach was almost empty. The northern half of Hills Bay is covered with houses close to the shoreline. Rounding Hills Point, the shoreline is wooded on top of high cliffs gradually lowering to rather dense development until the Shelburne Beach .
We circled Meach Island which guards the southern end of the Meach Cove. It is an inviting peace of land, high on the lakeside and accessible from the landside. From the water we could see one of the tombstones of the earlier settlers buried there.
Moses Pierson chose this area for his homestead before the American Revolution. I was always fascinated by the marker at the Shelburne Town Beach which commemorated his bravery. It was also such a reminder of the history of the area when it was read by children coming up from a day of swimming. It was easy to understand why Moses Pierson and his family would have chosen this protected bay with its gently sloping fields for a homestead. The story told is that he planted and harvested a sizable wheat crop in 1776, but then retreated to safer lands when threatening Indians and British were found in the area. The following spring when they returned to claim the wheat with a party of soldiers and men interested in purchasing the wheat, they were attacked by a party of Indians. After a long battle, in which it is reported that Mrs. Pierson's freshly brewed beer was used to put out a fire started by the Indians, the invaders were driven off. The Pierson family, including an infant, survived but some of the accompanying party were killed. The true identity of the attackers was revealed after the war of 1812 when one of the now adult Pierson sons found out from a British prisoner that he and other British soldiers had been among the attackers in Indian disguise.
No signs were left of these earlier events as we crossed the bay in the lee of Meach Island . The swimming raft was empty, a few mothers and children were beginning to gather on the beach, and the immaculate recreation area lay tranquil in the mid day sun. The security force was made up of two attractive young town residents who had managed to land the coveted life guard and gate check jobs for the summer.
We loaded the kayaks back on the cars and enjoyed our lunch on the shaded launch ramp talking about yet another gorgeous day on the water.
© Copyright 2004 Cathy Frank, Margy Holden
A Paddler's View of "Water Quality"
I reluctantly walked down the boat ramp to water’s edge and tiptoed into the thick green water, hoping that my toes would not turn permanently green or become contaminated with some evil substance toxic to the touch. The deeper the water got, the further I stretched my feet upward, hoping I could get into my kayak without getting the rest of my feet wet. What I really wanted to do was leap into the kayak without touching the water at all.
Discovering Willsboro Bay
Monday, July 9, 2004 – Port Kent, NY south to Willsboro Bay
Distance: 12.5 miles
Weather: Cloudy to start, light winds, then threatening clouds, Strong NW winds, temperature in low 79s
Today is the day we discovered the west shore of Willsboro Bay! We’re not the first one’s to appreciate its incredible beauty, of course, but we did not know about it until we got there. Our experience from a kayak seemed particularly dramatic both because of the slow speed we traveled and how close we could get to the precipitous cliffs. We were so enthralled it prevented us from worrying about the weather-at least for a time.
Now, weather can be a very boring subject, but this summer, it has been a constant factor. Sometimes, it has even been interesting. We have certainly been more aware of the weather than ever before in our lives. It may be enough of an introduction to say that we had scrubbed a possible trip the day before because of a forecast for winds and storms. That afternoon, I watched with a feeling of vindication for our joint decision and a little awe, as pea size and occasional quarter size hail banged against the windows driven by high winds. And once again I realized that, but for a lucky smart decision, we could have been out there in that storm.
But, this day dawned cloudy with a forecast for later clearing to partial sun with a potential for afternoon showers but no storms. We were game but wary. It took almost 2 hours to set up the cars and boats including dropping my car at the ramp site at the base of Willsboro Bay. We pulled up to the Port Kent ramp amidst the ferry traffic, unloaded our kayaks, and parked the car. On the way back from the car, Cathy chatted with an older man who told her that the weather forecast had changed to cloudy with “thunderstorms moving in”. Oops, another tick up on the wary meter but enough already! We shoved off.
It is hard to understate the visual differences in the two sides of the lake in this particular section between Plattsburgh and Willsboro on the west and Grand Isle and Shelburne on the east. As Vermonters’ we know the Chittenden and Island shoreline pretty well. We also have kayaked most of it by now. We are more used to the layered mostly black rock with its twists and upheavals. And while there are many places where access to the lake is a precipitous drop, the cliffs are rarely higher than 50 feet and the water at the bottom is usually shallow. In fact much of the northern shore that we have paddled has been shallow. In Chittenden, Grand Isle, and to a lesser extent, Franklin County, the shoreline is either settled or open farmland. For the most part, the land gently slopes back from the shore to the distant Green Mountain ridge. The Vermont side of the Champlain Valley is often a rich farmland. On the New York side there is little open, flat land. Rather the hills and small mountains rise from the lakeshore. These differences shaped early settlement attracting farmers to the Vermont side while the New Yorkers relied on the manufacture of potash for cash.
Pushing away from the boat ramp at Port Kent and heading south, we were again passing a wooded undeveloped shoreline. Thanks again to the railroad. But as close as the railroad track is, it is not very visible except for an occasional avalanche of small rocks created during construction or subsequent washouts. We also have seen a number of work vehicles rumbling up and down the track. The beach was long and shallow, streaked with black sand. Was that the natural color of the sand or evidence of earlier pollution? We have not found the answer. Posted signs dotted the trees unlike other beaches under the railroad. These were signed by a private party.
We seemed a long way from anywhere when we rounded the cliffs at the end of the bay with one eye on the sky and one on possible places to pull out if needed. It felt as if we were in an exposed, uninhabited area. But, around the next bend we found ourselves in front of a well maintained house where two women were working on the beautiful gardens.
The many lovely homes along Trembleau Point only distracted us a bit from Schuyler Island about half a mile to the west. We did notice on the mainland, the first of many trees that we were to see that day which appeared to have been snapped off their roots by high wind by yesterday’s storm. There had been reports of many trees down in this area and we were witnessing the damage along the lake.
Looking out at Schuyler Island reminded us again of the courage and luck of Benedict Arnold and his men during the American Revolution as they fled south from the pounding they had taken at the hands of the superior British fleet at the Battle of Valcour 8 miles to the north. Arnold led his damaged boats silently south through the night and cover of fog. When he got to Schuyler Island, he was forced to sink two of them which were damaged beyond repair, to prevent them from eventually getting in the hands of the British. The engagement of the fledging American Navy and a stronger British fleet was to continue as the ships moved south. We looked forward to paddling eventually to Arnold Bay, Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga, experiencing the wind and weather that played so important a role in those naval battles of October 1777. Living in the Champlain Valley is to be constantly reminded of its long history.
We had planned to circle Schuyler Island but with great respect for the long line of black clouds blowing from northwest to southeast over our right shoulders, we decided on a more conservative route staying close to shore. Luckily, neither one of us capsized our kayaks as we strained to turn our 60 something year old heads in owl-like fashion to check on the clouds. We Vermonters are used to having the whole lake to look across to see what weather is coming our way. On the New York shore that is an unheard of luxury. A storm cloud can be upon you before you can see how deep or long it might be and whether it is followed by blue sky or more clouds and rain.
Rounding the point and heading southeast with Schuyler behind us, the railroad again insured a wooded shoreline. The next beach was made of small cobblestones which were the first we had seen. On a 1776 Brassier map, this stretch was aptly named Stoney Bay. The land was not posted and a pair of kayakers were enjoying the deserted shore. Further on, we saw our first pair of redstarts. Nearby, a bluebird called.
Port Douglas was straight ahead, recognizable not for its many houses but rather for it’s somewhat elaborate launch site, picnic area, and beach. Time for lunch! We paddled around the floating lines which seemed to indicate a number of possible swimming levels, and landed on the sand beach. Looking back to the northeast there was a great view between Schuyler and the mainland, of Providence Island and the South Hero shore. Burlington was directly across from us and we could see the skyline of the city 10 miles away clearly visible today across what is the widest point in the lake. What a contrast in populations between the two shores, at this point in the lake!
Several small children played nearby, watched over by a woman who was reading. It reminded us of how contented our children used to be with some sand, pails, and their own imaginations. Rain soon drove us to shelter under the roof the bathroom/life guard building.
Two of the young men there said they were the daily life guards. We wondered aloud how much business there was. They assured us that they had almost none and that it was a great way to spend the summer. Leaving Port Douglas behind, the shoreline to the south was mostly wooded, rising fairly steeply from the water.
The best was just about to come! The west shore of Willsboro Bay is spectacular. The closeness of the fall lines on the shore and the depth of the water printed on the chart, including depths of 150+ feet right at the shoreline, only hint at the majesty of these cliffs. The water beneath our kayaks was black, only suggesting the depths below. We could paddle so close to the cliffs that we needed only to leave room enough for our paddles to dip into the water and not hit the vertical rock. It felt like we were flying. The delicious scent of evergreens slid down to the water in between the cliffs. We saw and heard numerous waterfalls, and wondered if there were so many because of the storms the day before or whether this was the normal flow from the upland watershed.
Looking down, it felt like we were in deep water. Here in the lee, the water had kind of a slosh to it that sure didn’t feel like the shallower water we were used to. It reminded me of kayaking under some huge bridge (imagine the Golden Gate) where the piers plunge directly down into bedrock. Unlike other cliffs we have seen, these fell straight down below the waterline and out of sight. The tops of the cliffs were only visible by arching back along the stern of the kayak. (This also proved helpful for backs which had been too long bent in the other direction.) The sound was almost a slurp, slurp as the water moved against these giant structures.
The wonder that we felt is the only explanation that I can come up with for Cathy’s reversion to childhood language. At one point, in order to get a sense of scale, she asked me to paddle ahead “quick like a bunny” so she could take a picture. I almost fell out of my kayak laughing. But, like a good girl, I complied. (So maybe I should have just said “Get you butt over there lady! Fast!” So much for being polite, majestic cliffs or not. That sounds just like something my kids would complain about, never forget, and remind me of forever!).
There is a great cleft in a cliff toward the inner end of the bay which slices the rock from the top to deep into the water. In more dramatic (or corny) language which the scene evokes, it looks much like a mighty bolt of lightning had struck, cleaving the rock asunder. I was able to back my kayak into the breach and be entirely hidden from the view of all except Cathy circling at the mouth taking pictures. The fall lines on the chart at this point indicate that the cliff is 400 feet high and the water depth is 116 feet.
Yet, we were surprised when we took our kayaks out across the bay to look back and find that the drama of these cliffs was not obvious from that distance. These cliffs deserve an up-close experience.
The railroad also crosses these cliffs, at some point blasted out of rock which has fallen in small avalanches to the water. Looking up it is hard to believe that the railroad bed has something to rest on. In fact at one point it doesn’t! There, a very high trestle spans a waterfall. Our impression of the precariousness of the track was underlined when we saw that two trains, one heading south and one north were moving very slowly. It must be a train trip with incredible views.
In Ralph Nading Hill’s book Lake Champlain, Key to Liberty, he says “in an epic achievement of track-laying along and through the rocky escarpments bordering the west shore, the long gap between Ticonderoga and Plattsburgh was at last closed in 1874-a railroad milestone of such significance that the first train from Albany to Montreal…carried such luminaries as President Chester A. Arthur, John Jacob Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J. P. Morgan.”
We remarked on the contrast between Willsboro Bay and its almost mirror image, Shelburne Bay, where we had paddled a week earlier. In Shelburne Bay, it is the point at the end of the peninsula that is the height of land, although much lower; in Willsboro, it is the mainland. The water depth in Shelburne Bay reaches 130 feet at the mouth and is a little less than that down the middle, but the shores are shallow. That is in great contrast to the depths of the west shore of Willsboro Bay. Shelburne Bay is heavily developed on all shores, and has ( by Vermont standards) a large boatyard and and two busy anchorages while Willsboro’s development seemed dense only in the most inner part of the bay.
Perhaps energized by our encounter with the cliffs, we decided to cut across from the inner end of the bay to the marina on the east shore and continue north to the end of Willsboro Point and then turn around and come back to the boat access where we had left our car. But, no sooner had we gotten into the middle of the bay than a stiff wind came up making it a challenging paddle to get to the marina under menacing clouds.. A quick calculation told us we would be paddling 3.5 miles into a strong headwind. We quickly bagged that idea and head for the boat launch. We loaded up at the impeccably maintained launch site and headed home. By the time we arrived, the wind had died, the skies cleared and it was a beautiful evening. We seem to be learning firsthand about the effects of heat, water, and wind on late afternoon weather!
Birds Sighted: Redstarts, bluebird, bluejays
© Copyright 2004 Cathy Frank, Margy Holden
Paddling Through History
Monday, June 25, 2004 – Port Kent, NY north to Plattsburgh City Beach
Distance: 17.5 miles
Weather: Sunny to start, moderate S-SE wind, then threatening clouds, temperature in high 60s
(CF and MH) Our logistics were brilliant this morning. With the aid of one husband, our good friend Mike who lives on Cumberland Head, and our dog Sophie, we managed to get ourselves to the Port Kent ferry dock and in the water ready to paddle by 8:40 am. Sophie, our 9 pound Maltese who loves to go kayaking and hates to be left behind tried to jump in my kayak before we left but had to settle for giving me a big sloppy doggie lick instead. I felt guilty only until we were out of sight!. Joe drove the van back to the city beach in Plattsburgh where the attendant was quite upset that he had a dog with him, dogs not being allowed at the City Beach. Joe quickly assured her that neither he nor the dog were staying, only the car which would be picked up later. He then called Mike, who drove them to the Cumberland Head ferry where they returned to Vermont as foot passengers. Joe’s car was waiting at the Vermont ferry landing where it had been dropped earlier. The important part of this story is that we are doing these trips with a lot of help and support from family and friends whom we have asked to do lots of silly things and we very much appreciate their efforts on our behalf.
Today the weather dominated our thoughts, but to explain this I need to relate some recent events. A week ago we had a weather forecast for “60% chance of torrential rain and thunderstorms starting midday. Margy and I talked in the morning at 6:30 am. I told her the grim forecast. “But what does the radar show right now?” asked Margy. ”Nothing, nothing at all. There is never anything on the radar at 6:30 in the morning! But the weatherman says it is going to get nasty just when we are furthest from home and shore. I think we should bag it!” Margy: “But the sky is clear and beautiful. There isn’t even any wind, at your house or my house. It is the perfect kayak day!” So after hemming and hawing, and much to Margy’s dismay we canceled the trip. Of course the rains never came, the wind never picked up, and the skies stayed sunny all day. I felt terrible, and thought of calling Margy to apologize for my wimpy behavior and blind trust in the weatherman, but I never did. In defense of Vermont weather people, they have a hard job. The weather gods are not kind to them. They are very good at what they do but the weather gods are devious, cynical and powerful!
With that as a background, on Sunday when we planned this trip for Monday, the forecast was for partly sunny skies, 10-15 MPH W/SW winds and a chance of showers and thunderstorms but not until late in the day. By Monday morning that forecast had changed to a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon. I certainly did not suggest a cancellation. But we did get an early start and kept a sharp eye on the western sky.
Our attentiveness to the weather was partially caused by the sad fact that, two days before, a day we had not kayaked, a fierce squall line had come across the lake about 5:00 pm with wind gusts well over 40 MPH. The temperature dropped precipitously in just a few minutes and a woman was killed when a wedding tent was blown over on Isle La Motte. There were reports of numerous boats capsizing. Independently Margy and I both thought about what it would have been like if we had been out on the water that day. We were very thankful we were not. And it reminded us of our vulnerability. Sudden storms are a threat to all boaters but particularly to people whose only way of moving forward is from sheer paddle power.
So our minds were on the weather this bright Monday morning.
With a good tail wind and waves large enough to keep us honest and alert we made good time, arriving at our half way point, just across from Valcour Island, about 11:00 am. We stopped at a boat access to stretch our legs and eat lunch.
Just as I took the first bit of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, dark threatening clouds started to appear to the west. Spooked by Saturday’s storm, we wasted little time at lunch although we did allow ourselves to be delayed by a family of ducks who swam right over to us looking for food. Clearly they had been fed frequently by the many boaters moored at the nearby marina. They certainly had little fear of people. Tearing ourselves away from the ducklings, we resumed our paddling, vowing to stay close to shore. The wind picked up as did the waves and the skies played games with us all afternoon. But fortunately, no storms materialized and only after we landed did it start to rain, and then only lightly. We covered the distance more quickly than we would have liked because of those clouds but we did not shortchange ourselves and our observation time by too much.
The first thing we noticed was the train track running along the New York shore. At one time, trains played a prominent role in transportation in the Champlain Valley, on both sides of the lake. From the days of the earliest settlers, Lake Champlain was a very important north-south transportation route. Commercial sailing vessels sailed north to Montreal as well as south to lower New York State. These early sailing ships were replaced by steam driven boats and eventually the steamboats were replaced by trains. Today a few passenger and freight trains, mostly on the New York side of the lake, are all that remain of rail traffic. People and goods move up and down the valley now in cars, trucks and planes, leaving the Lake for recreational endeavors. There is no commercial fishing on the lake although there are plenty of “for-hire” charters available for people who want to fish.
As we have been on other days, we were struck by the expanse of undeveloped shore. The railroad track that runs just above the shore, is probably the reason that land is still undeveloped. We did pass two campers who took advantage of a rocky beach to pitch their tent, interrupted in their solitude only by our passing kayaks and an occasionally train.
Paddling north from the railroad bed, we soon came to the mouth of the Ausable River and its related delta. What a wonderful large area of sand beaches, sandbars and bird habitat. We saw lots of ducks both in the air and in the water. Without handy binoculars (would someone please invent waterproof, light weight, zoom lens, glasses, preferably before we finish this journey!) and without being able to slow the ducks down a little, it was pretty hard to identify the particular species of duck
The sandy delta of the Ausable reminded me of other Lake Champlain river deltas that are, for the most part, shallow and sandy and show signs of the river mouth having once been located at other locations over the course of time. In fact, upon studying the map I noticed that almost every river mouth has a “Dead Creek” close by, a branch of the river that once flowed to the lake but now goes nowhere. I think we passed 3 Dead Creeks today.
At any rate, as we passed, we decided that we wanted to go back and see how far we can paddle up the river. (I hope this does not mean we are going to add the shoreline of the major rivers and creeks feeding into the Lake, to our list of shoreline to explore. Hmm, but that is an interesting idea.) Just beyond the delta area we saw a huge flock of cormorants, obviously drawn to the area by a school of fish. Margy paddled up to the cormorants hoping to see what they were eating. As soon as she got too close for their comfort, one, then two and then eventually all of the cormorants flew off for safer waters. It looked like an old Alfred Hickcock movie, “Margy and the Cormorants”. As they left, a huge granddaddy size great blue heron flew in to fish. There is a large rookery of Great Blue Heron on Valcour Island which we were approaching on our right, but surprisingly we did not see other heron that day.
As we approached Valcour Island and looked up the channel between it and the New York shore, I could picture the string of ragtag American gun boats, under the command of Benedict Arnold, strung out across the channel back in October of 1777, waiting for the British fleet which was sailing from Canada on a strong north wind.
Valcour Island is a state park and undeveloped except for a campground accessible only by boat and a lighthouse. So looking at its pristine shore, it was also easy to imagine how easily the Indians, whom the British had put ashore on Valcour before the battle, were able to swim from the island to the line of American boats and cause havoc on the American line.
Mainly what we thought about though, was how the American fleet had escaped that night after the battle, in which they were resoundingly outgunned, by paddling their flat bottomed, gun boats in the fog, along the New York shore, past the mouth of the Ausable River which we knew from our immediate experience to be very shallow. I grounded my kayak on one sandbar with no fog, or dark of night for excuses, just a foolish desire to cut corners. I was thankful that Arnold had not done the same. I never pass Valcour Island without a good deal of respect and awe for the naval battle that took place there in October of 1777, and the role it played in eventually allowing us to win the American Revolution. I wonder how many people pass that island in boats of all sizes and shapes, year after year, who are oblivious to that battle. I get enough goose bumps I suppose to make up for them.
About a mile and a half north of Valcour Island is Crab Island. It was used in the War of 1812 as a hospital location and somewhere on the island there are over 500 American soldiers buried. There is a huge flagpole on Crab Island which can be seen from a least a mile away, as well as a monument to the soldiers who died there. There are several volunteers from Plattsburgh who are in the process of restoring the island to its 1812 condition. Aside from its historical significance Crab Island is notorious for its prolific poison ivy.
Meanwhile on the shore side, we were passing more open land, startling after the more developed Valcour town shore and for it’s proximity to Plattsburgh. High above the water, Clinton Community College was clearly visible in the afternoon light. It is a huge presence from the water. Again, it is easy to think back in time to when it was a hotel and imagine guests in long dresses and suits promenading on the verandahs. Under the building, and closer to the shore is a more contemporary but tasteful development. The open shore is a result of a golf course, the college and the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, where an occasional brick wall from some of the stately old buildings can be briefly glimpsed from the water.
Once we passed Crab Island we were within eyesight of Plattsburgh. Just south of Plattsburgh we pulled inside a small break water associated with a boat access area so that we could attach our spray skirts and drink some water. The south wind had picked up and the waves from the south were building by now and occasionally giving us a good surprise soaking.
Plattburgh’s longer breakwater gave us some respite from the waves and we slowed down as we paddled by, feeling less like we were going to get caught in foul weather before we reached our destination at the City Beach, now only about 2 miles away. The Saranac River flows right through downtown Plattsburgh and empties into Lake Champlain at this point. Again we encountered another “Dead Creek” . Margy, a one time resident of Plattsburgh, says you cannot paddle very far up this river before encountering rapids. It is interesting that the city has made little of it’s waterfront. It is almost hard to tell that one is passing a city except for a brief stretch of houses along the shore and the size of the sewer plant which is visible from the lake. Further along, the city has taken advantage of the beautiful sand beach for a municipal recreation area.
It was a short paddle from downtown Plattsburgh to the City Beach but the last mile, no matter how far one has traveled, is always the longest. It is totally a mental phenomena, and yet I have not figured out a way to avoid it. We sloshed onto the City Beach about 2:00 pm, getting caught by a few breaking waves before we landed and eased our creaking bodies out of the boats without managing to fall into the surf. We left our boats and set off to find the car, dripping water from out wet pants, jackets and spray skirts all the way. There is just no way to go kayaking without getting wet. Someday we will probably remember to put dry clothes in the car! Some day. We could not get the car as close to the kayaks as we might have liked but in no time we had the kayaks on top of the car, along with a good deal of sand, and we were headed to the ferry, sitting on an old shower curtain so as not to get the car as wet as we felt. It was a good day, and we booked it, 17.5 miles in 4 and a half hours! We felt awesome and somewhat silly! The fatigue would hit as soon as we got home!
Birds sighted: Kingbirds, tree swallows, bank swallows, lots of ducks we could not identify, great blue heron, mergansers with ducklings
© Copyright 2004 Cathy Frank, Margy Holden
How Proficient at Kayaking Are We Anyway?
Before we get you too far down this road on our paddling journey around the Lake Champlain shoreline, we want to make sure the reader does not misunderstand the level of kayaking skill that we bring to this endeavor.
The Maiden Voyage or Voyage of the Maidens?
Friday, June 25, 2004 – (LCC 1) Shelburne Beach north around Shelburne Point and south to the Shelburne Bay Fishing Access
Distance: 14.5 miles
Weather: Overcast and cool, light winds
(CF) Our first trip of the summer, and of course it all took longer to set up than it should have. We were rusty and now that we have covered the parts of the lake closest to where we live we have to travel further to get started. For starters, Margy was waiting at our starting point, Shelburne Beach, at the appointed time and I at our ending point, the Shelburne Bay newly renovated Fish and Wildlife boating access. Now it might seem that I was obviously confused about our meeting place. Why would we start at the finish? But we needed to leave my van with the capacity to carry to 2 kayaks at the finish for the end of the day. Margy was going to meet me, we would put my kayak on her car and off we would go to Shelburne Beach. Fortunately we both have cell phones and had exchanged numbers earlier that morning. But while I was on the high ground for having the right meeting place and my phone turned on (not always the case and something my kids give me grief about all the time) , I had failed to bring Margy’s cell phone number with me! That was sitting at home on the kitchen counter! Right now the reader might legitimately start wondering about our competency in undertaking this kayaking adventure. Even if we can eventually get ourselves to points A and B by land, leave the cars in the right place and make sure we have the keys with us, are we capable of getting from point A to point B in the water! In fact in the beginning of our adventures we did not even carry a map in our kayaks. We basically took a long look at our route before we pushed off and left the non waterproof map in the car! Fortunately there are not any turns one has to make when traveling along the shoreline so we rarely got lost but we did not always know where we were or how far we had come or more importantly, how much further we had to go. As the convoluted shoreline twists and turns frequently we did not even know what direction we were headed in. We did not carry a compass either, but then again we were never out of sight of the shore. A waterproof map was added to my compliment of gear in the beginning of 2003 season, and to Margy’s this year. We are still working on the compass idea.
So capable or not, ready or not, and with the help of Doug, Margy’s husband, we finally got ourselves and cars all in the right places and pushed off the Shelburne Beach shore about noon.
(MH) We pushed off under gray hanging skies with a clearing weather forecast. There were some surprises. One was the absolute beauty of the shoreline and the other was the weather.
We paddled across Meach Cove admiring the sweep of fields to the water and the cleanliness and order of the Shelburne Town Beach on a cool, cloudy day. Rounding the edge of the bay, the cliffs rose improbably steeply. They were an intriguing patch work of rock layers which great forces had molded into so many angles!
This trip on the broad lake side was an alternating series of cliffs and graceful bays. The cliffs differed remarkably from each other in their visible composition. The most common layers were of gray stone varying widths from least than an inch to a couple of feet. At times the layers were horizontal, others perfectly vertical, and at others in wave patterns. At one point the rock changes to a brown massive. In the bay, one outcropping was composed of many small stones imbedded in a harder rock. Such suspense in rounding the end of each bay to find what this next cliff would be made of!
While the cliffs were beautiful, the signs of erosion were everywhere. We constantly saw cascades of brown dirt covering sections of layered rock. Sometimes the rock had given way to and heaps of stone lay at the foot of the cliff.
Leaving Meach Cove, we saw our first loon, a single bird who was busy enough diving to not be bothered by our passing and pausing to admire. As we paddled north along the shore, white throated kingfishers kept us company with their swooping flight from limb to limb and their nasal chirp. Cliff and tree swallows were actively catching bugs. Kingbirds were visible in almost every bay. We saw 3 more loons, all alone, one in the broad lake, one part way into Shelburne Bay and one closer to the access. Two snowy egrets stalked in the shallow reeds near the access.
Occasionally the cliffs were crowned with large houses, but mostly they were visible in the fields which sloped more gently to the water. Even with the large houses, the amount of undeveloped land so close to Burlington is startling. What a treat to paddle along a shore and be able to stretch the imagination a bit to 400 years ago before we had made such an imprint on the land. We were reminded that we had had the same reaction on the Georgia shore. Such open space is such a gift to us all, a combination of benevolent planning, aggressive conservation and preservation actions, and many generous people.
We admired the mist gathering under Giant, in the Adirondacks as we looked back across the lake and the layers of gray in the overhanging clouds. Our admiration lessened as the mist appeared to be rain and advanced toward us ending in a light shower. Most of it appeared to pass south of us for which we were grateful. So much for the clearing forecast! But the wind remained light turning from north to south as we rounded the end of Shelburne Point.
Shelburne Point is such a treasure! The shoreline is a series of lower cliffs, jumbled rocks, small coves, the sweet smell of cedar seeping down and over the water as we glided along under the trees. It’s fate depends on our future decisions as a community. On this peaceful gray day, we could only hope that some way could be found to keep it in this more pristine state.
Given the weather and the temperature, most of the boats in Shelburne Bay were tied at the mooring and docks. In fact the lack of any boat activity in one of the largest anchorages on the lake was incredible, a rare aberration from the norm. The waterfronts in front of the many homes were quiet. We were intrigued by the variety of architecture which we will not comment further on.
The southwestern shore of the bay is again wild. We have both walked the trails many times. The height of the cliff is again improbable, but beautiful rising so steeply from the water. Only when we got to the Shelburne Town mooring area where people had pulled their dingys up on shore was there much sign of human impact. Passing that, the reeds in the shallow waters were disturbed only by the ghostly egrets, stretching their necks as they waded through the water.
We pulled out into the newly refurbished and enlarged boating access pleased with our first expedition. Next time we will have 2 double racks. (MH)
Birds sighted: Kingbirds, tree swallows, cliff swallows, 2 snowy egrets, 4 solitary loons, cormorants, osprey, gulls, kingfishers, blue jay, mergansers with ducklings
© Copyright 2004 Cathy Frank, Margy Holden
Tuesday, 15 June 2004 00:00
Paddling Around the Lake
Margy Holden and Cathy Frank
June 26, 2004
Notes at the beginning of the summer of 2004 and the start of our Journal
It all started innocently enough. Both long time summer residents of the Champlain Islands, in Vermont, Margy and I discovered several years ago that we both had a passion for kayaking and that we paddled at the same pace. We decided to try kayaking around Grand Isle, a large island in the middle of the northern part of Lake Champlain.
Grand Isle is comprised of two towns, Grand Isle and South Hero. Marge lives on the western shore of Grand Isle and I, on the south shore of South Hero. The difference in our lake exposure is important because it gives us totally different views and perspectives on this wonderful large, incredibly beautiful historic lake, the lake with a thousand views. It also gives us instant access to the two most critical weather shores to judge the weather benefits or drawbacks to kayaking on any given day. (On Lake Champlain the wind blows out of the east once in a blue moon and never stays there for very long.) The south shore of South Hero gets pounded with the prevailing south wind that races up the 120 mile length of the lake, funneled by the mountains on either side. The Adirondacks lie to the west and the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east. If there is a 10-20 MPH south wind forecast for Burlington you can count on 15-30 on the lake. However, as exposed as I am to the south wind, I am protected by a hill and a point of land from the west and northwest wind. I can hear them but I can’t feel them. Marge gets those head on. We both, of course, underestimate the ferocity of the wind we are not exposed to, at least we did in the beginning. We learned quickly to respect each other’s direct weather observations, even thought some days we felt that we were not living on the same lake.
Clearly handicapped by an inability to accept the limitations aging bodies impose, and not being people prone to limiting challenges, before we were anywhere near paddling our way around Grand Isle (approximately 38 miles), we had enlarged our goal to kayaking around all of the major large islands in the northern part of the lake – Grand Isle, North Hero, and Isle La Motte (approximately 85 miles). Happily and a little sadly, we accomplished that goal in the summer of 2002, By the spring of 2003 we had decided that we wanted and needed to keep going and so the goal ballooned into paddling around the entire shoreline of Lake Champlain and its major islands, a total distance of over 600 miles! That escalation seemed a little extreme, even to me, but a wonderful idea just the same. What an excuse to leave behind all the things we should be doing and head out onto the lake where we really want to be! Lake Champlain is 120 miles long, 10 miles wide at its widest point, with a maximum depth at 400 feet . It is bordered by two states ( New York and Vermont) and two countries (US and Canada).
This journal starts in the middle of that endeavor at the beginning of the summer of 2004. Our entries will go both forward and backward.
As should be obvious by now, ours is not a marathon journey to be completed in one fell swoop but rather a patchwork quilt of half and whole day trips taken when we were/are both free of adult children and grandchildren visits, other company, work, civic responsibilities and family, and on days when the wind and weather gods are kind. In many respects scheduling our trips has been the biggest challenge.
We are two fairly active “young women” in our 60s with more love of adventure than common sense might dictate at this point in our lives. We have no timeline to complete our journey but we do hope to finish while we are still able to load our kayaks on and off our car tops by ourselves.
So, without further reflection, let our story begin.
© Copyright 2004 Cathy Frank, Margy Holden