Submitted by Eric Adsit
Exploring little known stretches of whitewater can yield both good and bad results, often on the same trip. Round Lake Outlet is all good.
Like any good treasure though, Round Lake Outlet carries with it plenty of tall tales which required some digging to get to. I had heard plenty about Round Lake Outlet to keep me away. According to local legend, the biggest rapid was named “Don’t Tell Karen” after pioneer Don Morris made a minor mistake and ended up taking the worst swim of his life. When he finally made it out of the river, he made his paddling companions swear not to tell his wife Karen about the mishap. Other stories warned of the extensive flatwater paddle required to access the rapids, not to mention the headwind, black flies, cold, and more. If that weren’t enough, photos from a friend’s trip in at high water revealed a stacked series of ledges that looked formidable at best. He described marginal rapids that left him portaging more than paddling.
I couldn’t shake the image of a pristine river tucked away in the wilderness, sparkling whitewater shining in the sun, just waiting to be enjoyed.
I teamed up with paddlers Tyler Merriam and Jon Norman to do some digging. We dropped a car at Bog River Falls, which looked to have a healthy flow. Not flooded by any means, but I wasn’t worried about having to drag my kayak through the shallows upstream either. The shuttle was surprisingly short considering the lore I had heard about paddling Round Lake Outlet taking a full day.
As we slid into Round Lake at the state boat launch on Sabattis Road I tried to manage my expectations. It was a beautiful May day with big fluffy clouds dotting the sky and temperatures approaching 70 degrees. Even if I don’t take a single stroke in whitewater, it sure beats spending a day in the office, I thought. Our trio made quick work of the flatwater, reaching the tiny dam that marks the outflow of Round Lake in just 45 minutes.
A quick scout revealed a log we could scrape over at the dam, and another right below we would have to carry. Just downstream, a few riffles led over a horizon line with bedrock outcroppings on the shore, promising exactly the type of adventure I had signed up for.
We navigated the dam without issue, portaged the log, and scouted the next set of rapids. Another log blocked the first and steepest quarter of the drop, but there was an easy access point that allowed us to enjoy some great class III in a mini-gorge.
From there, it seemed every rapid was just out of sight of the next. We would paddle as close to the horizon as we dared and hop out to look from there. With the exception of one more riverwide log in some riffly class II, everything was runnable. Most rapids were class III-IV, sometimes with intimidating holes or horizons, but large pools just below to collect gear if a line didn’t go to plan. One rapid with a twisty corner and tricky curling wave on a slide was so fun I hiked my boat back to the top to run it again. A well traveled portage trail along the right shoreline made it exceptionally easy.
By the time we reached the legendary “Don’t Tell Karen,” I was feeling so good I contemplated scouting it from my boat, but one glance at the horizon was enough to dissuade me. A full step harder than every other rapid on the run, “Don’t Tell Karen” combined elements of every drop upstream, but without the spaces in between. Still, it looked downright fun.
After discussing lines and safety options with the group, Tyler and I decided to run it, while Jon portaged his open whitewater canoe around the first half and set safety. After blasting through the most difficult section—a steep slide into the hole where Don Morris swam—a grin spread across my face. I peeled into the eddy and gave Tyler some advice based on my crash-test run and he absolutely styled it!
The whitewater continued around the corner, pouring over another steep chute before mellowing to class II-III and eventually flatwater. After one more fun slide through a hole, we reached the confluence with the Bog River and drifted downstream, chatting excitedly about how high quality Round Lake Outlet is.
Bog River Falls was the cherry on top to an incredible day exploring in the Adirondacks. Where else do you paddle awesome class IV right into a massive lake?!
Round Lake Outlet truly is a hidden gem, with just enough of the unknown to keep you on your toes, and some truly high quality whitewater in a remote setting.