Thursday, September 11, 2014

Drafty with a chance of Cold Springs

     A lot of people go a little wild on Friday night.  The pressures of the work week; a desire to milk the weekend for all it's worth are often cited.  Last Friday Gwenne, Holly and I joined a group of Glens Falls area paddlers to go wild in the best sense of the word.  This loose knit band of adventurers organized by Maureen Coutant usually gather every other Tuesday evening for conversation and outings on area waters.  Friday's trip was a weather reschedule with Jayne Bouder and Tim and Mary Ward graciously acting as guides for a tour of the South Bay of Lake Champlain in the Town of Dresden in northern Washington County (W. C.).
     The usual starting point would be the State Boat Launch where Route 22 crosses the bay north of Whitehall.  Time constraints made that impractical so we slogged through a marshy area between South Bay Road and the lake to reach the water.  It was a hot, humid late afternoon with the sun still intense over the western ridge.  The water here is muddy, which is surprising given the steep forested hills that drain into the bay.  Apparently there are enough glacial clay deposits in the lake bed to cloud the water. While it may not encourage swimming, I'm told that the fishing is good and it's certainly a haven for wildlife.  This evening we saw deer, raccoon, beaver, eagles, ducks and frogs, and heard stories of osprey, turtles, snakes and fish sightings.  There are extensive wild rice marshes that make the area supportive for waterfowl and the cliffs that rise from the bay look like peregrin falcon habitat.
     The Adirondack Park boundary follows the western shoreline then cuts across the bay and up the opposite hillside southerly along the border between Whitehall and Fort Ann.  A big chunk of West Mountain between South Bay and the Route 4 corridor has passed from the Nature Conservancy to New York State, becoming a State Forest, but apparently not Forest Preserve since it is just outside the Blue Line.  Tim says there are 12 miles of trails here and he highly recommends a hike to North Saddle for the views and the delicate "Japanese Garden" forest communities of its steep rocky cliffs.  Other points of interest are Devils Den, a canoe camping spot on the eastern shore and Death Rock up on the ridge crest.
     This evening our destination is to paddle as far towards the head of the bay as time allows.  We find a narrow channel through the rice marshes and note that the water here has cleared, fed by sparkling Mt. Hope Brook as it tumbles off Putnam Mountain and becomes South Bay Creek.  We've been fighting a headwind, sweaty and a little worked when magically someone turns on the air conditioning. Just like that a cool, refreshing breeze slides down slope and tells us "we have arrived."  We are directly beneath the towering cliff of The Diameter with its chaotic talus apron.  Tim explains that this is Cold Spring where an icy trickle comes out of the rocks.  There are usually a few cans of beer chillin' here, leftovers from the last fishing party.  Water and air are kept cold by ice that builds up in the jumble of boulders at the cliff's base.
     This is wild with a capital W.  The huge rock face shoots skyward hundreds of feet.  It's W.C.'s own El Cap.  The detritus shed since the last glacier left town creates a unique ecosystem between cliff and water.  Moss, fern and lichen are the first hardy colonizers of this harsh environment.  We linger awhile enthralled by the unique place we're in.  Too soon, the sky goes orange and pink and it's time to head back.
     From previous visits I remember a clean, winding stream if you go beyond Cold Spring.  There were silver maple and ostrich fern swamps, beaver dams and trees across the stream until all but the most obsessive turn around, sated with the verdant aliveness of the place.
     Tim and Mary live in a hand crafted rustic house nestled above the bay, commute by canoe and are great sources of information about the area.  Thanks to them and Jayne and Maureen for a memorable trip.

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