Pack Light!

Wilderness Experience II

Lisa Sciacca


On Thursday night, due to being apprehensive about the next day’s trip, I barely slept. Instead, laid awake wondering how I would manage all my stuff plus my canoe on the 1.3 mile portage, and I worried about being warm enough. Nothing could be left behind, especially my packable pillow, recently purchased from Raquette River Outfitters. On my last outing I did not have a pillow and I regretted it. Only necessities were packed, unfortunately a wool twin size blanket was needed as my ancient down sleeping bag had seen better days.

I bought a blue one to match my tent.

The leader and crew

The trip was being led by Ed, an avid camper, paddler, and hiker. Other members included: Alison, an avid camper and paddler; Sandra, an avid hiker (a 46er, infact), and a paddler with one wilderness camping trip behind her; Al, had been an avid biker, but due to injuries he was pursing a new interest, paddling. Although, he had participated in guided camping trips, this was his first trip with his new gear. As for myself I camped as a kid, but only have a few adult trips behind me. The most recent was last summer's trip to Lows Lake, led by Alison.

The plan

On September 29 we met at the Long Lake Boat Launch at 8:30 a.m. Our destination was the Crusher in Tupper Lake, where my car was parked. We planned to spend one night on the southern end of Raquette Falls and the second night in lean tos on the north side of the falls, if they were not already occupied. We each had our own tents, but a lean-to would provide us a place to sit, store gear, and a place to gather in case of rain.

Paddling across Long Lake. (Photo courtesy of Al)

Listen to those with experience

Alison has been on many overnight camping trips, one lasting eight nights! She has all the right gear, including water filtering equipment, a small camp stove, lightweight pans and dishes, and a very lightweight chair. She made me a bacon and egg wrap on our previous trip and stated she would make me one Saturday morning. Yes! one less breakfast I had to think about and carry in my bear canister. On our trip to Lows Lake last summer, Peggy and I insisted on carrying our own water — that was a mistake. Water is way too heavy! On this trip I accepted Alison's offer to filter my water. It pays to listen to someone with experience!

The lake, the river, and campsites

Long Lake can become very choppy; luckily on this Friday morning it wasn't too bad. We did, however, move to the west side of the lake where it was a bit calmer. We saw a few loons and we spotted a bald eagle. I was anxious to see the southern end of this river. I had not paddled this far on Long Lake, and let me say it is called Long Lake for a reason! Just outside the mouth of the river the lake was very shallow and crystal clear.

Shoreline of the Deep Hole lean-to, our home the first night.

We passed the first lean-to, named Lost Channel. It was too mucky and there was a rather long hike uphill to the lean-to. We checked out Deep Hole lean-to — the launching area had a little muck, a shorter uphill climb, and plenty of room for five tents! We agreed, it would be our home for the night.

Ed hanging the bear bag. Bear canisters are easier, if you can open them.

Alison led in the hunt for firewood, while Al and Ed searched for a place to hang their food bags. They both stated they'd be adding bear canisters to their outdoor gear supply as Alison and I took our canisters into the woods, away from our camping area. My bear canister was a bear to open! I was thankful that the others were always ready to help me out when they saw me struggling. It wasn't until Sunday morning that I finally managed to get the hang of it.

We found the desired location for our tents, but on second thought Sandra moved her tent inside the lean-to. She knew it leaked, but didn't have time to get a replacement tent for this trip. Later that evening, Ed cranked up his weather radio. We learned rain was still predicted, so she made a good decision. She looked very cozy in the lean-to and had space for her gear outside her tent. Unfortunately, she placed her sneakers in the lean-to, in the only spot that leaked!

Ed using his weather radio, while Sandra gets organized in the lean-to.

The others prepared their dehydrated meals while I ate the second half of my sub; I had devoured the first half for lunch. We sat by our fire, a few of us sipping on our bedtime tea. Shortly after 9 p.m. we called it a night, but it felt like midnight to me! Surprisingly, I feel asleep quickly due to the tea and not sleeping the previous night.

A lot of help from new friends!

As we packed our gear the next morning, a couple of blue rafts went floating downstream, doing a little spinning. Later, four more passed. We learned the six guys from Rhode Island were paddling from Long Lake to somewhere on the Raquette River, then hiking back to Long Lake, all with 50 pounds of gear each! This trip was practice for a future expedition in Montana, where they would hike and raft alternately for many days. I hoped to catch up to them on the river so I could hear more and get a pic.

Man from Rhode Island floating and fishing in his blue raft.

We met the rafters again on the river and at the portage. One guy was fishing, the two we passed landed shortly after us. The portage area was roomy, but the ascent up the steep hill looked like a lot of work; however, it was not as difficult as I had anticipated. I carried my boat to the top and returned to the water’s edge, where I attached my paddle, sneakers, and PFD to my pack. I then returned to my canoe, lifted it over my head and walked to the north side of the portage with the pack and attached gear. I made a trip back to the take-out to pick up my dry bags, bear canister, and soft shell lunch box. The others divided their boats and gear in order to do two trips. The rafters helped some of our team carry their boats and gear to the north end of the portage. How nice was that! At 2 p.m., we had all of our gear on the north side of the falls and finally had lunch.

On the south side of the portage we connected with the rafters again!

Finally, lunch

Lunch did not take long, and we were ravishing with hunger. Our break was short as we needed to find a site and get our tents up so they could dry out a bit. We checked out one lean-to, but again the climb to it was difficult. We settled in at the next lean-to, site 7, and it was perfect. Sandra went to the lean-to again while the rest of us found our tent spots. We gathered what semi-dry firewood we could find, as the DEC ranger at the falls had informed us it was going to be a very cold night. We ate our dehydrated meals and later huddled around the fire. Sandra dried her shoes and gloves near the fire and I tried to dry my wool socks on a stick over the fire. We were in our sleeping bags early and I was happy I packed that wool blanket!  

Our second home, campsite number 10!

Al and Ed were the early risers again, followed by Sandra, Alison, and then myself, same order as yesterday. Even though I was awake, I wanted to stay in the sleeping bag and wool blanket until I felt the warmth of the sun. Upon rising, I learned the ropes that hung the bear bags were frozen. I warmed myself by the fire that the early risers had started and warmed my breakfast bar by placing it across the top of my hot cup of tea, as it felt frozen!Departing from campsite number 7 in the sun!

Exhausted, yes. Do it again? Absolutely!

When we completed our packing, the sun was warm so we were able to shed our heavier jackets for our paddle to the Crusher. We stopped at campsite number 10 for lunch, staying at the shore as it was the warmest place to be.

Al, Sandra, Lisa, Ed, and Alison at the falls!  (Photo provided by Alison)

At the end of our journey we were happy that the rain and cold were during the night hours, when we were snuggled in our sleeping bags. Sandra attended to our boats and gear while I drove the others to Long Lake to their vehicles. I was feeling extremely lucky to live in this camping and paddling paradise, and I am excited about doing another outing next September, but tonight's agenda was to relax and get a take out dinner from Amado’s!