Where is the Oswegatchie?
When you look at the Adirondack Paddler’s Map, the Oswegatchie River seems to be everywhere — that is because it's 137 miles long! Its mouth is at the St. Lawrence River and it has two main branches, Middle and West, and major inflow from various tributaries. Being that Oswegatchie is not your typical Adirondack lake name, I did a little research. I found Oswegatchie might mean “going or coming around a hill” in Iroquois and “black water” in the aboriginal language. A little more history: Originally a little French community was named La Gallette, but the British renamed it Oswegatchie, the name of a local native tribe. After the American Revolution the small town in St. Lawrence County became known as Ogdensburg.
Don't forget your lunch!
The first stop of the day was at Larkin’s Deli to pick up lunch. It was a good thing I left home early, as I had a difficult time making my lunch selection. There are so many choices! I left with a chicken sandwich on wheat with Swiss cheese and tomato, all topped with dressing. When checking out, I couldn't help but notice and purchase a huge homemade chocolate chip cookie!
After stowing my lunch in my cooler, I continued west on Route 3 to meet my friend Lisa at the intersection of Route 3 and Route 56. Lisa was traveling from Colton, NY. To reach our launch site in the Five Ponds Wilderness area, we traveled west approximately 18 miles to Sunny Lake Road, on the left, then onto Inlet Road. I was pleasantly surprised the 3 mile dirt road to the launch area was in excellent condition. The dirt road is narrow with hills and hairpin corners, so one must drive slowly as it is hard to see oncoming vehicles.
Just prior to reaching the parking area you will see a beautiful, private, suspended bridge called Knollwood. At the launch area there is ample parking; to the left of the parking area there is a well maintained privy, which I visited. It would be my last opportunity for awhile! This privy has a lock on the outside and a lock on the inside, a bit strange, but there is a reason. The lock on the inside is of course for your privacy, and the lock on the outside indicates the privy is not in use when in the locked position. It serves to keep the door closed so critters cannot get in to set up a home or chew on things!
Upstream vs. downstream!
Once we were lathered up with sun block we headed upstream to High Rock, our destination. Note: In high water you can head downstream, but you will come to Class II and Class III rapids in less than a mile. I do not recall how long it took to paddle to High Rock. I had only paddled to High Rock once, so Lisa and I planned to be out the entire day. When paddling I seldom track my time as it depends on the current, the ability of those you are paddling with, and how often I take out my camera to get a shot!
On my previous paddle on the Oswegatchie, the water was low with not much of a current. I knew the rainy summer would mean high water and a strong current. At times we were using all of our strength to move forward, the current could cause us to go broach, and if we stopped paddling we could end up heading downstream backward! We were happy to be doing the work early on in our trip and laughed about how we would be leisurely floating back.
This section of the river looks like a snake on the map, as it has many twists. We looked in anticipation around each corner, it was so breathtakingly beautiful and quiet except for the birds singing and the sound of our blades doing their work. We saw many wild azalea plants, most of them decorated with Canadian tiger swallowtail butterflies. We also saw what I believe to be belted kingfishers, which flew across our path so fast it was impossible to get a pic! There was other white foliage in the marsh areas, but my attempt to identify it has been fruitless.
There are numerous campsites on the river — my favorite is site 45, as it is large, fairly open with tall evergreens, and it has a nice take out/put in area.
It took us two hours to reach our destination and we met only one canoe going downriver. We went to the far side of High Rock and found a narrow, shallow area to land. The path to High Rock passes through a campsite. At the campsite area there are other paths, but you can easily see which path takes you to High Rock.
Our destination was a perfect place for lunch, as it has an outstanding view of the river. If you decide to go there, take your camera!
You don't need to paddle to High Rock!
While we ate our lunch I told Lisa I'd walked to High Rock last fall from Wanakena via the High Falls Trail, which was very flat trail, at least to that point. The trail continues on to Five Ponds Trail, making an 18 mile loop. A two or three day outing is recommended for that trip. I don’t believe I would carry my tent and gear that far — paddling with it is so much easier!
On the way out we cruised! Our return took one hour, with little work, except to keep the bow straight. We met one couple in kayaks heading up the river to do an overnight excursion.
My next wilderness trip coming up soon will be two nights on the Oswegatchie! To be honest I am a little nervous about this trip as it is so remote, but I am also very excited! Since I have only paddled as far as High Rock I am anxious to see what lies beyond that point — hopefully I will see High Falls.
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