A Champlain Odyssey (Part I)

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Andy Lynn paddles toward the 2,200 foot long Lake Champlain Bridge between Crown Point, NY at left and Chimney Point, Vt. (Steve Fagin)

The wind and waves picked up on the second day of our trip. (Steve Fagin)

We spent the first night at a campsite in Addison, Vt. (Steve Fagin)

Swirling waves, propelled by gusty winds, crashed against towering cliffs and swept across our kayak decks as three of us struggled to stand on choppy Lake Champlain.

“How about we head down to earth and take stock? Andy Lynn called from his boat.

“Sounds like a good idea,” I replied as I circled Split Rock Point off Essex, New York, toward a protected beach in Whallon Bay. Rain showers added to our misery.

It was the second day of a 90+ mile five day trip from Ticonderoga, NY to Rouses Point at the Canadian border, and by far the toughest.

“It’s a reward for yesterday’s calm conditions,” grumbled Phil Plouffe. He was paddling the front of my 22-foot tandem kayak; Andy was aboard his 18ft single.

Phil later said he was terrified of the wind and waves hitting us against the rocky shore. Meanwhile, Andy was so focused on reaching the beach that he didn’t even notice the huge boulders a few feet away.

“Just before the wind picked up, my arm started to get in the way. But once the waves got choppy it stopped hurting,” he said. Obviously, the body can only deal with one challenge at a time.

Whether or not Sunday’s near-burst paid off, it certainly featured a departure from our launch the day before on a public ramp not far from historic Fort Ticonderoga. The lake was so calm and the temperature so mild that we didn’t bother to attach splash skirts to the cockpit coamings, and a constant tailwind blew us quickly 15 miles to our first campsite. .

“Perfect conditions!” I exclaimed. “That’s why I wanted to come back to Lake Champlain.

Almost 20 years ago friends, family and I kayaked south from Rouses Point to Ticonderoga, then some of us continued south on Lake George, portaged to at the Champlain Canal and cruised down the Hudson River, completing a 320-mile journey around the Statue of Liberty near the southern tip of Manhattan.

I particularly enjoyed the Champlain leg of this 13 day expedition, and when planning last week’s trip I decided to reverse direction and paddle south to north. That way we wouldn’t be squinting at the sun all day, and also, I hoped, we could take advantage of a prevailing southerly wind.

This strategy worked well on the first day, but then the tide of confusion turned. For three straight days we fought a headwind from the north that brought clouds and rain. The weather improved considerably, however, by the end of our trip, so, as Shakespeare wrote, all’s well that ends well.

Champlain, sometimes called America’s sixth Great Lake, spans 490 square miles between the Adirondacks of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Named for French explorer Samuel de Champlain, the first European to reach its waters in 1608, the lake measures 12 miles in diameter at its widest part, but narrows to just a few hundred meters at its end. south. After launching from the New York side, we easily crossed east to Addison, Vermont, where I had booked into a small campground.

We were the only tempters, surrounded by dozens of RVs – hardly a wilderness setting. Regardless, it was a convenient place to spend the night, offering running water, a picnic table, a fire pit, and even a socket to charge our phones, which we used, as well as printed maps, to help us navigate.

The next morning, after cooking breakfast on butane camp stoves, we packed up tents, rolled up sleeping bags, stuffed clothes into dry bags, packed other supplies, and hauled it all a few hundred yards from the campground to our boats, which were pulled up. on a beach across the street. The mist cleared after we left shortly after 8am

Fifteen minutes later, we paddled under the gracefully arched 2,200-foot-long Lake Champlain Bridge between Crown Point, NY, and Chimney Point, Vermont, and headed due north. We disembarked a few hours later for a short break to stretch our legs and felt a gentle breeze on our faces.

Soon, however, ripples puckered the lake, and then the wind began to blow in earnest. A couple in a motorboat disembarked, warning us that conditions were about to worsen.

My original plan was to skirt the Vermont coast a few miles north before crossing New York just beyond The Narrows, but I realized we had to make this crossing sooner.

“Let’s go!” I pushed, and we aimed due west, buffeted by a crosswind and cross waves.

An hour of hard and steady paddling finally brought us to relative calm in Port Henry, but we still had to deal with a long windward leg to reach our intended destination in Essex, NY Because it was the Labor Day weekend, all nearby campgrounds were booked when I tried to make a reservation a week early, but was able to book a night at a waterfront cottage . We just had to paddle out there, against the wind and the building sea.

Rather than paddling directly into the wind, we frequently dipped into bays and coves, which almost doubled the distance. As darkness approached 10 hours and 22 miles later, when we had barely passed Split Rock Point and decided to hole up at Whallon Bay, we still had over two miles to go to reach the cabin.

Fortunately, our fortunes were about to turn.

As Andy and I unpacked gear, refloated our boats and prepared to leave them for the night, Phil, soaked, walked to a nearby road and caught the attention of a passing motorist.

“You need help?” a young man named Tom, asked.

“Well, yeah,” Phil replied.

Tom drove us to the motel, where James Youngs-Schmitt, owner of the cozy cottage, warmly welcomed us.

“I was starting to worry about you guys,” he said.

James delivered hot towels, threw our soggy clothes in a dryer, called a nearby restaurant to make sure their kitchen would stay open for us, and basically took us under his wing, serving not only as a kind hotelier, but also driver, tour guide, historian and entertaining storyteller over the next two days.

In the morning, James – whose great-grandfather operated the ferry between Essex and Charlotte, Vermont in the 1800s – took us back to our boats. He also urged us to call him if we needed help later in the day when the forecast called for continued rain and wind.

“Do not hesitate !” Jacques insisted. We thanked him profusely, loaded our boats and climbed aboard. I had hoped that we would reach a state campground at Ausable Point in Peru, NY that afternoon, but with the extra distance we had to cover due to our weather shortened day, it was now about 27 miles away.

“I think we need to revise our route,” I said as we started paddling north.

I will describe the rest of our trip in next week’s column.

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