Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Solo Camping - Little Tupper Lake & Rock Pond

Last weekend I decided to go camping. I hadn't been in a while, but since I got the canoe on the go, I figured I might as well go a step further.

I basically spent the week beforehand trying to figure out where to go, and finally decided to head up to 'Little Tupper Lake' which is about 3h northwest of Albany, in the Adirondack's. Specifically, there was a little pond off a river you can reach from the South side of the lake, and that was my goal.

After buying a bunch of stuff I needed (and a bunch of stuff I didn't really need), and getting it all packed into my biggest backpack, I headed out Saturday morning around 10:30. It was a little later than I wanted to leave, but hey, it was the weekend.

The drive up was pretty uneventful. The roads were good all the way, and I was surprised at how built up the park was. I guess I was expecting something closer to Algonquin Park (where I grew up) where basically the only thing you pass between the East and West gate's is trees and lakes. The road I was on basically felt like any normal rural road in Central Ontario, with towns every so often and lots of houses - not at all what I expected from a park.

By the time I got to the lake, I was getting a little worried: there were lots of cars parked in the parking lot and it was much busier than I expected.

Wow, busier than I expected

After taking everything out of the car, checking to ensure I didn't have any horses with me, and signing in at the ranger station I headed over to the water. The launch point was a little sandy beach just off the parking lot, which was pretty nice.

Ready to go

Everything I had in the canoe, I headed out. The launch is sheltered a bit from the main lake, which is angled pretty much parallel to the prevailing winds. This means that at first it was pretty easy going (I was following a small group of kayakers that launched about the same time as me). Once you round the point though, what felt like a gentle wind turned out to be enough to kick up some good sized waves. Nothing too serious, but the occasional 1ft wave was enough to keep my guard up.

Lonely log

After fighting the wind for a while, I decided to head to the other side of the lake (where there was more protection from the wind). It was a little better over there, but if I stopped paddling for a second the wind would quickly push my little canoe the other way. There were a few interesting things to see, a big beaver lodge, some nice little bays to take a rest in and some islands.

At the south end of the lake there was a little river through a marshy area that headed down to Rock Pond, where I wanted to make camp.

Going down the river

After crossing a few beaver dams there was a short portage to Rock Pond.

Portage trail

While putting my canoe in on the other side, some kayakers stopped to talk. They asked if I was planning on camping on the pond, and warned me that they had never seen it so busy. Terrified that I might not find a spot, I sped up loading the canoe and decided to take the first place I could find.

Entering Rock Pond

After checking my map (it had the campsites on the lake marked) I hurriedly paddled into the pond. I passed a few campsites with canoes visible before spotting one (behind a couple of guys fishing from their canoe) that looked empty. Success!

View Camping - Outbound in a larger map

Breathing a sigh of relief I pulled up my canoe and unloaded my stuff.

My junk

First off, I had to hang my food-bag the last thing I wanted was to be worrying about a bear sneaking up behind me because I was too lazy to store my food properly. I found a big pine with a long branch and hung the bag before heading back to the campsite.

Next up, I set up the hammock. I'd never done it beforebut I was surprised, how easy it was. I chose a poor spot the first time however, and I had to move it to some trees that were further apart so I could get the rain-fly on. It was super-comfortable to sit in (without the rain-fly) and I'm extremely pleased with it.

Next order of business was to get some wood for a fire. It was getting on in the afternoon and I had to hurry if I wanted to have enough before dark. I grabbed a bunch of fallen logs (there was a ton of brush around to choose from) and set about cutting fire-pit sized pieces. About 1/2 way through the 4th cut, my hand-saw broke. I was more than a little angry since it was brand new (though, it was pretty cheap - still I expected more).

Lousy cheap saw

I continued to use the broken saw to cut enough wood to last for a while, and decided it was time to make some dinner.

Ready to start the fire

First I had to get some water (I'd drank the water that I'd carried in during the canoeing portion of the trip), which was fantastically easy using the Katadyn Hiker Pro I'd picked up earlier in the week. It only took a few minutes to pump enough water to fill all the containers I had with me. I was done in time to catch a pretty nice sunset:


Then it was back up the hill for some dinner! On the menu: some dehydrated veggies and sweet and sour chicken.

Cookin' dinner

Overall, it wasn't bad. Both were a little on the 'soupy' side, but after a long day of paddling I wasn't complaining.

While I waited for the food to cook I got a fire going. I tried using the firesteel I brough with me (just to see how it worked), but didn't have much luck and resorted to my lighter to get it going.

There it goes!

By the time the fire was going strong the food was ready to eat and I kicked back and relaxed on one of the rocks nearby.

It wasn't long after dinner that it was properly dark and I decided to break out the Uke.

I basically only played for a few minutes before I realized that the whole lake could probably hear me, so I stuffed it back into the bag and went about getting ready for bed.

Earlier getting the hammock setup (hung) was super easy. It turns out, it's much harder to actually get everything IN the hammock setup in a comfortable way.

At first I tried putting my sleeping pad in the compartment that hangs below the hammock - which was a design feature in the model I got. It was pretty hot (I was sweating just standing around) and so I decided to just lie in the hammock. That went pretty well for about an hour, until it started to get colder. I decided to grab my sleeping bag.

I never realized how hard wiggling into a sleeping bag while dangling in the air and trying to stay on top of a slippery sleeping pad (that you can't actually grab because its on the other side of the hammock fabric) could be. After a lot of squirming and turning I had enough and decided to just cram the pad directly into the sleeping bag. It turns out, that's what I should have done in the first place - the sleeping bag I have was designed for it (it's got a little flap on the back with velcro that lets you slide the pad into a pocket that runs the length of the bag) and it kept the pad under control while I got in.

After discovering the trick to moving around in the hammock is to reach out and grab the ground to get leverage, I finally fell asleep.

The sleep itself was excellent. I was warm, comfortable, and even managed to roll around and sleep on my side a little bit. I do not ever remember being that comfortable sleeping in the ground on a tent (I always end up jamming my hip into the ground since I like to sleep on my side). It took some getting used to hearing the sounds of the woods again (damn frogs jumping around in the leaves had me very confused for a while).


In the morning, I decided to head out pretty much as soon as I got up - which was pretty early (since I'd gone to bed so late). I had two reasons: I didn't want to be too late getting home and (most importantly) I wanted to make it a good way down the lake before the wind picked up. I didn't like the idea of having big waves coming at me from behind while I paddled.

I made some (terrible) dehydrated eggs for breakfast (next time I'm bringing real food), packed everything up, and headed out. I was the first person on the pond, but I could hear some others waking up as I left (cracking wood for a fire).

It was extremely calm as I paddled back, which was really nice. I really love camping in the early morning, when everything is still and calm and the water is like glass.

The river

I even managed to spot an owl in a tree along the river.


When I hit the main lake, it was equally serene. There was noone around yet (except me and the loons) and it was a beautiful paddle - well worth the trip just for that morning.

South end of Little Tupper lake in the morning

Another loon

The wind began to pick up as I travelled back, but it was behind me which let me take it easy. I stopped for a quick swim about 3/4 of the way back at a little island with a sandy beach. It was quite nice and refreshing.

Taking a swim

After that I was pretty much back at the launch point - and it was back to civilization.

View Camping - Back again in a larger map

I did learn a few things when I was out, which I'll have to keep in mind for next time:
  • Get there early. I pretty much had to rush from when I hit the water until I had dinner in order to get all the way down the lake and get camp setup. It would have been nice to have some more time and a little more relaxing paddle.
  • Choose a more remote location, or one with better camp site spacing. There were too many people clustered around the little pond for my liking. If I would have been staying another day, I probably would have gone back to Little Tupper lake to grab a camp site that was a little more private.
  • Use the Kayak paddle against the wind. I used my canoe paddle the whole way down the lake (against the wind). Since I'm going solo, I have to do a lot of correction to go in a straight line which means the wind slows me down a lot more. The kayak paddle is much better at this kind of open-water paddling. I should have saved the canoe paddle for the river at the end.
  • Get a waterproof backpack. The kayak paddle splashes a lot of water into the canoe. So can the waves. It would be awesome not to have to worry about that all the time.
  • Get a map case. I had to keep pulling out the map and unfolding it to check my progress. It's extremely annoying in the wind. I should just get a case I can tie to the thwart and have it handy all the time.
  • Don't skimp on the saw. It broke after 10 minutes of use. Next time I'll do more research before buying one.
  • Don't forget sunscreen (even in the morning). I have an awesome life-jacket shaped sunburn on the right-side of my body (from the eastern morning sun). Classy.
  • Get some real rain gear. It didn't rain at all (it was fantastically sunny) but if it had, I would probably have been pretty miserable with only my crappy semi-waterproof jacket.
  • For a trip this short - leave the uke at home, bring a book instead. I was tired by the time everything was ready at the camp. Also my fingers were tired from snapping branches, tying knots and holding my paddle all day. I played for all of 5 minutes. A book would have been much more relaxing and easier to bring. If I had another couple days it might have seen more use - but not on a one-night trip.
  • Real Food. I need a real (bearproof) food container and some non-dehydrated meals. More soups (that are supposed to be soup - not 'bacon and eggs soup') and tea. I really wanted a hot drink in the evening.
That's it! All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I can't wait to do another one like it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A weekend of Canoeing

I started off on Friday evening with a trip to Rensselaer Lake, which is pretty close to where I live. It's a pretty busy spot, with tons of fishermen along the banks of pretty much the whole lake proper. There are two feeder streams that weren't as busy towards the northwest. I spotted a heron and two big snapping turtles. I was able to get right close to one before he dove. I also spent some time practicing some random canoe strokes.

View Rensaller Reservoir in a larger map

On Saturday Cory and I headed up north to Lonely Lake, a small lake just off Saratoga Lake (a big lake). We went around the lake a bit and then up to the river that led to Saratoga Lake. By the time we got there it was starting to get pretty late, so we headed back (the guy where we parked our car said we should be back by 5:30 when they closed).

View Lonely Lake in a larger map

We saw a couple of herons, a ton of little fish, turtles (unknown type) and a hawk. For more details you can read Cory's impressions and see the pictures I took.

On Sunday, I decided to give a shot exploring another river close to home, and headed over to Johnson road to see if I could find a place to put-in. After looking at the river there for a bit, I decided it would be better to put in from the other bank, but that was private land. I drove to the owners house and asked if I could park and put in from his land, and he said he'd rather I didn't. So, a little dissapointed, I drove off to find another spot. About a kilometer or so up the river there was another bridge with a better place to put it. I had to carry the canoe a bit from the car, but that was OK, it was interesting to say the least.

Here's a video of the portage from my perspective.

After getting down to the water, I headed upstream and almost immedetly had to get out and pull the canoe over some very shallow riffles. It turns out, I was going to repeat this an awful lot.

I came across some nice people and their dog sitting on the river-bank by a park, and the guy said that he thought the river opened up a bit just a little further up. I had to portage over a large expanse of dried riverbed to get to the next bit of water deep enough for the canoe, and along the way I managed to drop my camera in a puddle. :(

There was lots and lots of this

The next little bit of river actually had an impressive sized school of trout, about 15 or so, which made the journey a lot more interested.

Once that bit of river ran shallow again, I pulled up the canoe and scouted ahead a little bit. Things were looking pretty grim at this point, and I was plenty sick of carrying the canoe balanced mostly on my head (I really need to buy a carrying yoke for it). I sat there for a while watching the fish in the deeper parts of the river and then decided to head back.

Thats where I want to go

I'd say Sunday was pretty much the most disappointing trip so far, since I didn't actually get to paddle very much at all. Mostly I was just walking pulling the canoe along behind me. I did get lots of practice hopping in and out though :).

View River in a larger map

I picked up a Tilley hat before the trip after seeing the had Cory had the day before, and it was awesome kept the sun off of me much better than my previous 'no hat' solution.

The rest of the pictures from Sunday are available here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Night Project - PVC Canoe Rack

Ever since I got my canoe I have had it sitting in the middle of my living room, taking up precious floorspace. I've been thinking for the last few days about what I want to do about that. After looking around a bit, I decided to try my hand at building a rack for it out of PVC pipe.

After a quick run to the hardware store, I came back with the following:
  • 3x10' lengths of 1.25" (internal) diameter white PVC pipe
  • 2x3' lengths of 1.25" (internal) diameter white PVC pipe
  • 4x T-junctions
  • 8x End-caps
  • 8x 90 degree elbows
  • 6' (I think) pipe insulation
  • 12 washers
  • 2 nuts
  • 2 6" bolts
I assembled a few tools:
  • Screwdriver with nut-driver
  • Hand-saw
  • Drill with bit approx. same size as bolts
  • Pencil
  • Measuring Tape
And laid it all out. Since it was getting on in the evening, and I'm not supposed to make too much noise after 10, I frantically set to work.

Step 1

First I cut the 10' sections into the following lengths: 4x40" shafts, 6x25" shafts, 4x2" bits and 2x4" bits. Besides the 4" bits it all managed to come out of the 10' poles. I ended up with some spare PVC at the end, because in fact I cut a little more than I had to. I measured only once.

Step 2

Next on the 40" shafts and 4" bits I marked the centers on each side of the pipe, and drilled a hole through each of them.

Step 3

Step 4

Then I went and cut 4 of the 25" shafts into two pieces: one 10" and one 15". These pieces would become the feet of the rack and were offset with the idea that the feet would be the same length when folded.

Step 5

That was the end of the cutting. I tried to front-load as much as possible so that I would be done before it got too late. With that done, I started to assemble the actual rack.

First off, I put the corners together using the 2" bits of pipe to join them.

Step 6

Next I joined them with one of the remaining 25" sections.

Step 7

This would form the top of the rack, where the gunnels of the canoe would rest.

Next I took two of the 40" tubes and the 8" spacer and put them together.

Step 8a

The bolts I had were just a little too long, but I had just enough washers to make it work.

Step 8b

Next I put the feet together, and it started to take shape.

Step 7

Next I put the top of the rack on, using the 90 degree elbows to line up the tops of the tubes. It ended up being a little twisted, since I didn't take into account the amount of extra space the elbows would add, but with a little elbow grease it went on.

Step 9

I repeated the whole procedure a second time for the other half of the stand, and then popped the insulation on the top to give the canoe something soft to rest on. I still need to re-arrange some stuff to get it closer to the wall, but you get the idea.

Step 10

I'm pretty happy with it, and extremely satisfied that I managed to get it together in a single night. Now if only it wasn't so late I could run the vacuum and clean all this PVC debris off my kitchen floor...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Canoeing - Round Lake Round 2

So I wanted to go to a new place today, but by the time I headed out it was getting on in the day and the forecast called for rain. Looking for a place close by I settled on giving the Colonie reservoir.

After throwing the canoe on the car I headed out. Unfortunety, when I got there I discovered that the water level was way lower than I'd expected. What I thought would be a rather large body of water was pretty much a slow moving stream and a culvert.

Colonie Reservoir

After thinking about it for a minute, I decided to head back to Round Lake where I'd been with a friend of mine earlier in the week. I'd been looking on the map and saw there was an interesting looking river leading out the south side of the lake.

View Round Lake Round 2 in a larger map

It wasn't too busy on the lake, and I paddled across the main body of water pretty quickly, making a beeline for the creek entrance. There were a few kayaks and the odd canoe, one of which had a grumpy looking family in it: father, tired looking mom and two squirming kids sitting in the middle. Both parents didn't seem to know how to hold the paddle and gave the impression that they'd gone a little further than they'd expected.

It turned out the river was more of a winding creek through the middle of a swamp. It was occasionaly pretty thick with duckweed and lilly-pads, but was easy going. There were a few people fishing from kayaks as I went along, though it looked like it was mostly pan-fish they were catching.

Old beaver lodge

There were a few heron nests that could just be made out from the lake proper, one of which actually had a bird in it.

Heron nests

I continued down until a small beaver dam at the far end of the lake, after pulling the canoe over it and down into the creek on the far side (the mud was much deeper than I expected, and I forgot how bad dam-water smells). It was a pretty quick moving little stream, and I paddled up a slower-moving arm just to see how it would go. I had to hop out a few times to get over another tree or two before I decided I should turn back. It was beginning to look like the rain was coming in (it never did) and I knew I didn't have a whole lot of time before it would start getting dark.

First beaver dam

The trip back was pretty uneventful, I spotted an eagle flying overhead which was a nice surprise, but other than the occasional fish jump it was uneventful. Still fantastic though.

Heading out

The gorilla-pod worked extremely well for keeping my camera out of the water (which I had quite a bit of after the beaver pond), and so did the dry-sack. Instead of attaching the camera to the thwart like I'd planned, I ended up standing it up on the bottom of the canoe under my seat. That way, even when I used the kayak paddles, it didn't get wet but it was always close at hand.

A couple more pics here.