Bog River Trip
Sep 28 to Oct 3, 2005

By Chip Walsh with  photos by Chip Walsh and Steve Grant

Waterways: Bog River, Lows Lake, Hitchins Pond, Bog Lake

Paddlers: Steve Grant and Chip Walsh in the Wontonah (20' Guide Canoe)

Steve and I talked about how best to spend four or five days paddling in the Adirondacks. We reviewed trip reports.We sought advice on the Internet. But when we arrived at Blue Mountain Lake in a howling gale, all the planning went out the window and we went with Ernie's (the outfitter) pick, which was Bog River / Lows Lake.

Perhaps it was unwise, but we decided to take in the Yankees game on the way north It being a seven or eight hour drive from the Yard to the Adirondacks, we got there way too early We had a bleary-eyed breakfast in Indian Lake.  I noticed our bloodshot eyes were as out of place among the early morning customers as my O’s shirt was out of place amidst all the Yankee logo-wear. Somebody walked into the restaurant and asked “how’d the Yanks do last night?” We just sort of moaned, “they won, 2-1, Chicon pitched great.”  No need to mention the ticket stub was still in my pocket.

We killed time until Blue Mountain Outfitters opened at 9:00. They had agreed to run a shuttle for us so we could paddle one of the classic trips through to Long Lake and beyond. The weather was cool, rainy, and real windy. Windy, as in we’d had to swerve around a few knock-down trees or snapped off tree tops on the way. Windy, as in the outfitter and most of the rest of the town of Blue Mountain Lake had lost electric power. Real windy, as in gale force. Ernie at the outfitters advised us to wait a day for better weather, but we had not driven all night to spend a day lolling around the Maritime Museum. So Ernie advised us to abandon our planned route and just go into the Bog River and Lows Lake.

We proceeded to the Lower Dam and put onto the Bog River about 11:00.  There is very little current on the River and it is narrow, steeply banked, and runs generally eastward on its way from Lows, meaning we were paddling directly into a bellowing gale.  As we battled our way up river and into this wind, sometimes barely holding our position, just trying not to loose ground, I made myself a mental promise to “flame” Ernie on the Internet, as retribution for adjusting our venue in light of the wind and sending us paddling up this river directly into a gale. I was thinking maybe he wanted to test our character or skills, as in, “if they won’t listen to my advice and stay off the water, I’ll send them where they’ll get blown back to the put-in.”  A few days later, I had been taken in by the charm of the Bog River area, and now I feel more inclined to thank Ernie than flame him.

The picture at left shows the stretch of Bog River at the put-in. That's the top of Lower Dam in the distance.  The put-in is just before the dam on the left.

We beat our way up into Hitchins Pond and settled into camp site number 7, near the west end of the pond and the carry to the Upper Dam.  En route, we checked out camp sites 4, 5, and 6.  Site 4 is a small site on a narrow peninsula and while surrounded by trees, the gale raking the narrow spit of land overwhelmed the thin shield of protective vegetation.   Exposed tree roots covered most of the site, leaving only small patches available for tents.   Sites 5 and 6 were larger and nicer, but 7 was well out of the wind and had a lovely little pine grove with ideal tent space.  Site 8 must be just to the west, and seemed to have a table and privy, which are luxury items in this area of the Adirondacks.

The rain became intermittent and the weather began to clear.  By 6pm, the water barely rippled and we were treated to a pair of rainbows.

Hitchins Pond is about two miles long.  There are steep hills to the north making a lovely little scene as you come into it from Bog River on the south.  We saw no structures on either the River or the Pond so it has the remote feel I like in a paddling destination.

The log book at the Lower Dam showed four groups were out “in front of us.”  A fifth group or three people passed us on the way out.  Despite this seemingly low traffic, Hitchins was busy.  First, Ranger Dawn came visiting, paddle in hand.  She said she usually patrols by kayak, but had left the boat behind due to the wind.  Next, we met a good Government employee, one of several that were there working on a survey.  Among their tasks, catch sixty perch and take water quality samples.  At the time I met him, he was walking an oar to their jon boat, which they’d been forced to abandon after snapping an oar during the gale.  That’s a new twist on “having a rough day at work.”

Site 7
At Site 7 we pitched our tents on a soft bed of pine needles.  Theres a ridge nearby that blocked the wind, so in the pine grove there was hardly a breath of air.  Standing by the lake, we could see swirls of water dropplets being swept up from the surface of the pond by wind dervishes spinning off the neearby ridge top.  I'd never seen that before.
Crouch to cook
Its nice that the use of the Adirondack sites is free after Labor Day, but Chip wouldn't mind paying a few dollars if they'd put some tables out on these campsites.  

From Hitchins’s site 7, it is only a short walk to the Upper Dam, so rather than reload the boat and then portage past the Dam, the next morning we walked everything up to the Dam in two trips apiece.

Trail from Site 7

Road to Upper Dam

I believe the Bog River originates in Bog Lake.  From there, it wanders through a boggy area and flows into the south end of Lows Lake.  From Lows Lake, it goes east for several miles to the Upper Dam and enters Hitchins Pond, and from Hitchins, several more miles to the Lower Dam.

West of Upper Dam, the Bog River widens and begins to thread through islands.  There may have been one or two structures, but generally it is just quiet wilderness.  The shores are lined with mixed hardwoods and evergreens.  Winds were still from the west, but only about 5-10mph.  The brilliant blue sky formed a vibrant background for the fall colors of the hardwoods as we paddled by a line of small rocky hills with several hundred feet elevation to the north of the River and Lake.  A solo canoeist passed on his way east, as we steered into a cut between islands that took us to the south east bearing arm of the Lake or continuation of the River (hard to tell where River stops and Lake starts).   We paddled down the length of this stretch to the causeway at the end and camped at site 37.

The causeway must have been a rail or road bed and stretches from bank to bank, east to west.  The Adirondack Map shows a dotted line going across the causeway, without indicating there is an unbridged gap in the middle.  The remaining road bed is a trail that bisects site 37.

From our map, we had picked site 38 as our destination of the day.  The path to site 38 was short but very steep, up a 15-foot ladder-like root bank.  The site is a 10 by 20 foot “room” carved out of thick stand of young evergreen.  The floor of the site was almost totally knotted with exposed tree roots, hardly leaving room to pitch a single tent.   On the opposite shore a half mile distance we found site 37 more to our liking.

Site 37 had a good landing spot and only a low, grassy bank to haul the gear up.  There’s a 30-yard round clearing, a shallow sand bowl, protected from west and north winds by a stand of trees.  Ranger Dawn later told us that the site is regarded as buggy and not many people used it.  We encountered few bugs.  Freezing night-time temperatures must have killed ‘em off.  We had independently concluded the site was rarely used because the ground was littered with firewood, and because there were no thieving animals.  At other sites where we stopped, the chipmunks were very used to people, and annoyingly persistent and aggressive about getting into our food basket.

We renamed site 37 “Milky Way Beach.”  With the new moon, crystal clear sky, and little to no light pollution, the stars were spectacular.  The broad band of the Milky Way was aligned with the trail that formed the axis of the site.

Landing Area at Milky Way Beach (Site 37)

Setting Up Camp at Milky Way Beach

Late afternoon shadows creeping over "the beach." 

Our plan for day 3 was to explore the Bog Lake area, perhaps as far as Clear Pond, if we could get there. We headed east through the slot in the causeway and followed the widest band of water to the left (north). We were soon winding our way into a little trickle of water amidst a meandering bog. After lifting across the third beaver dam, I climbed up on a root stump from where I could see nothing but bog, and told Steve, “its impenetrable, and if this is the way to Bog Lake, I don’t want to go there.” Steve must have had optimism for breakfast, and thought the Lake was near at hand.  We went on to the next beaver dam. I said, “let’s backtrack.” Steve volunteered to go scouting.

Wandering off through the bog was probably not the greatest idea, but I was tired of talking about it, said “fine,” and proceeded to fix myself a comfortable place to lie in the sun. As I lay there for the next hour, it began to worry me that we didn’t have a real good “what if” plan, like what if you can’t find the boat again?  What if you fall in a hole in the bog and get hurt?  We had compass and whistle, but things can go wrong.  I stood up and tooted my whistle a few times and Steve found his way back to me. He had been searching for the boat and had actually gone by to my north and west, so he was lost, but not far, when I started tooting the whistle.  About the first thing both of us said was, “let’s not do that again!”

We backed out of the bog, and returned to camp for lunch.  Steve was winded and took a rest.  I took the canoe up to the middle of the Lake and was impressed by how much water I could see--several miles in several directions, and not another person or boat in sight.  Steve was up when I got back about an hour before dusk, the water had gotten glassy and we went for another paddle through the slot into Bog River again.  We poked around the south side of the river / bog and found an opening we had missed earlier. We went on to what appeared to be a well-demarcated channel, but the sun was setting, so we returned to Milky Way Beach for another night of dining, star watching, and fire-starin’.

Sunday, October 2, day 4, was an exceptionally pleasant day in the Adirondacks.  The sky was clear blue, there was no humidity, the mid-day highs were around 75, and there was only an occasional puff of wind. We retraced the previous evening’s promising route to Bog Lake. We wound our way through the bog without having to get out, passing through a barely-canoe-wide slot and over some floating timbers / fledgling beaver dams and emerged into 2-mile long Bog Lake.

The only ripples on Bog Lake were from the wake of our canoe.  The forest along the shore was reflected in the perfectBog Lake 1 mirror of the Lake, appearing like a band of color across the blue sky above and its blue reflection below. Aside from the occasional call of a bird, the only sound to be heard was from our paddles dipping in the Lake. It seemed to me that we were paddling in a giant painting, the canoe slicing into the seamless picture of forest and sky that spread in front of us.

Our map showed Clear Pond adjoined Bog Lake to the south, and we paddled west along the southern shore looking for an opening into the Pond.  In the middle of Bog Lake, we were very impressed with the clarity of the water (though it retained its “tea” tinting), and I wondered if the water in Clear Pond would be even clearer. We couldn’t find an opening to the Pond. We had an impression that the private property surrounding Bog Lake was off limits, but since we were looking for water we decided to bend the rules and hiked some poorly defined trails searching for Clear Pond. Steve got the bushwacking urge again, but to no avail. We never found Clear Pond.

We pulled up on a large rock outcropping, had lunch, and took “skintilating” swims in the clear, sixty-degree water. We could see foot-long fish schooling along the sheer, underwater, rock walls.  I loved Bog Lake.  My guess is that this Lake is the less visited portion of the Bog River watershed. Completely surrounded by private property, it’s a dead end and there’s nothing there to attract anybody.  There are no structures and the riparian landscape is probably little changed from pre-Columbian days. Milky Way Beach sits near the only water access to Bog Lake, and in three days, we only saw one jon boat pass between Bog and Lows Lake, so it is definitely a less visited body of water.

We did see a rough, dirt road that comes down to the water on the south side of Bog Lake, and our working theory is that a jon boat that passed our camp originated from that spot, but the boaters must have had to carry the jon boat over the end of the road we saw, because it did not look stable enough for autos.

Bog Lake 2 "I felt like the canoe was slicing into a huge painting"  ~Chip

Chip on Bog Lake “As a man tramps the woods to the lake he knows he will find pines and lilies, blue herons and golden shiners, shadows on the rocks and the glint of light on the wavelets, just as they were in the summer of 1354, as they will be in 2054 and beyond. He can stand on a rock by the shore and be in a past he could not have known, in a future he will never see. He can be a part of time that was and time yet to come."

from Adirondack Country
by William Chapman White

Chip is soaking up some sun at the lunch stop.
Steve, making waves The only waves on Bog Lake were ours.
Remains of a barrier We could only conjecture about the remains of a barrier near the Bog Lake outflow to the Bog River.  
Mirror Smooth Bog Lake, smooth as a mirror.

It was mid afternoon when we paddled back to Milky Way Beach. Our serendipitous explorations of Bog Lake had taken a big bite out of our four-night stay, and precluded the visit we wanted to make to the northwest end of Lows Lake. We took a late-p.m./dusk paddle around an island near the center of the Lake.  From there, we saw a structure on the north shore of Lows Lake. A float plane seemed to make a couple of trips a day to that structure. We don’t know any more about that, but suspect the building and floatplane must be associated with private land remaining within the area. That was the only building we saw on Lows Lake.

We had another fabulous weather day on Monday, our get-away day. Steve was a bit aggravated over my slow pace packing out. By the time (midnight) we were on the Jersey Turnpike on the way home, I, too, wished I’d have been faster, but under the idyllic blue sky at Milky Way Beach, time seemed irrelevant. We got on the water about 10:00. Once we reached the center of the Lake and turned east toward the Upper Dam, we began to see other people. Not counting Ranger Dawn in her kayak, I think we passed four encamped parties and three parties on the water.We just cleared the landing at the Upper Dam in time for another party to land behind us. The trip across Hitchins Pond and down the Bog River to the Lower Dam is only about four miles and seemed to take no time compared to the several hours it took on the way out when we were paddling against the gale. Yet another party was just clearing the take-out as we were coming in. The log book showed 28 parties had put-in since our launch, and 14 were still out. The paddle back took about 5 hours, including a lunch stop.

After loading up, we paused to raise a glass in appreciation of a fine trip, and then went for a swim to freshen up for the ride home.  It was around 6pm by the time we turned the truck onto route 421 and headed back to the concrete jungle. By the time we passed Blue Mountain Outfitters shop, thoughts of “flaming” Ernie were just a memory.

Steve Bushwackin'

Miscellaneous Notes

1. At site 37, we saw bugs I had never seen before. We called them snow-flake bugs.  At first, we thought they were some sort of floating seeds, like milkweed or dandylion. I kept looking for a plant that might be the source, then noticed there wasn’t enough wind to be blowing these things, and only then noticed the tiny, clear wings.. The bugs were not annoying in anyway, but their appearance as snow flakes floating around in the bright sunshine made the camp feel surreal.

2. We passed over ruins of some physical barriers at the perimeter of Bog Lake. We asked Ranger Dawn about them, but she confessed to never having been there.  She did volunteer that a conservancy group now owned some of the private property around the Lake and the long-term plan was to transfer it to the State. The private land owners around Bog Lake are thought to have introduced largemouth bass to the Lake, and it is just a guess that the barriers were intended to either keep the bass out of Lows Lake or the fishermen out of Bog Lake. Largemouth bass decimated the native fisheries of Bog and Lows Lakes, so much so that the largemouth bass population is in decline because there are insufficient numbers of other species for them to eat. We did no fishing on this trip, so we can’t comment on the quality of sport, but the area still seems to be an attraction for fishermen.

3. Near Hitchins Pond site 7, there are foundation remains of several buildings. I learned that Mr. Low had a sport camp near this spot with about a dozen buildings.Around 1990, the State removed most of the buildings to restore the area to a more primitive state, but the stone foundations were left in place.

4. Most canoeist to the area either day trip or stay on Lows Lake. A minority of paddlers use the area as part of extended trips to the Osgewatchcie River, via a 3.5 mile portage at the west end of Lows Lake.  Zero out of 28 parties went to Bog Lake.

5. The portage around Upper Dam is several hundred yards over good trail / road. Aside from log jams encountered on day trips, this was my first portage, and it was more of an added feature rather than the punishment I always envisioned.

6. There are no usage fees in the Adirondacks in the off season. As sweet as that was, I think I’d prefer it if they collected a few bucks and put some tables and privies out on those camp sites.

7. Our driving time from Baltimore area was about 8 hours.