Nine Carries Canoe Route

The Nine Carries is an awesome canoe route in the Saranac Lake region of the Adirondacks. I had the weekend available after other attempts at plan-making never really materialized. Without much time to prepare, I was happy to repeat this old favorite. The original plan was to have my equipment ready and head up after work on Friday and start paddling in the dark. However, FOMO kicked in and other opportunities I couldn't pass up (opening night for the new Dune movie) meant that I didn't get home until after 9pm.

At that point the sensible option would have been to go to bed, wake up, and drive to Saranac Lake the next morning. My problem with that is, by the time I reached Saranac Lake it would be midday, I'd be sick of driving, and the weekend would be half-wrecked already. I was fiercely determined to be in the wilderness, camped out, and ready to travel when I woke up Saturday morning. So I packed up my things, downloaded a course onto my watch, and hit the road.

I plop the kayak in the water at 2am in Little Clear Pond. A nearly full moon illuminates the lake and surrounding trees. It feels like a perfect time to be in this magnificent place, against all odds! A little over an hour later, I've completed the first of nine carries (I definitely dragged, and didn't carry!), and am building a small campfire and pitching my tent at a glorious primitive campsite on St. Regis Pond.

The ground is chilly and uncomfortable in my light down sleeping bag with no sleeping pad. As tired as I am, I lay there restlessly for four hours, waking up at 8am.

I eat a sandwich, and pack up my stuff. The full moon shines brightly in the broad daylight, high in the sky. As I pass a nearby lean-to, I wave to a group of canoers. I complete the next few carries, paddling across Ochre Pond and then Mud Pond, where a family of three otters are swimming. The carry between the ponds is hilly and long. Not too bad, but enough that I let out a big cheer when it's over.

I paddle over to a fantastic lean-to at the north end of Fish Pond. There I collect firewood, use the privy, build a fire, and cook up a can of Dinty Moore Beef stew for a hearty lunch. When I'm done, the site is similar to how I found it, kind of in a shambles with half-burned wood and worthless, live and leafy branches (bad for burning) strewn around. I'm in no hurry so I put forth some effort into tidying it up. I build little stack of firewood so the next visitors can make easy work of building a small fire.

Over the next few carries, I don't see anyone. When I finally do, it's a pair of couples getting ready at the take-out for Kit Fox Pond. I can't take the main path into the water, so I enter a bit to the right of the canoes. The entrance is steep, and me and my kayak slide and tumble toward the water. When I get close I hop into the boat quietly yelling "easy does it" while riding the kayak down the leafy dirt and splooshing into the water with a good sliding start. With little more than a wave, I'm on my way.

I stop at Bessie Pond at 4pm and think long and hard as to whether I want to sleep here tonight, or if I want to start on the toughest carry of the route and drive home tonight. A strikingly similar pile of firewood to the one I left at the previous site is here next to a tidy fire pit, beckoning me to stay. I finally decide that I'd rather keep moving, and have all day Sunday to recuperate at home.

This carry is long, wet, and muddy. I make it through with reasonably dry feet, I really don't know how. I keep a slow but steady pace, and feel a ton of joy when I finally reach Long Pond. "Nice work" I say to myself. The joy more than makes up for the insignificant suffering.

Several groups are camped out at amazing looking canoe-in spots around Long Pond. Something catches my eye. I paddle towards it. It looks like a small bird until I get closer. No, it's big bird. A really big bird! Wait, is that... A hunter? A bear? Then... What is that!?!?! It starts looking like a really weird ghostly alien waving and bending in a way that is not of this earth. Then I finally get close enough to realize that it's a bunch of five black metallic star-shaped birthday balloons, waving and bouncing around each other in the wind. They must have dropped from the sky and made their way across the water and gotten hung up here. So out-of-place looking!

On the stretch toward the final takeout, I'm paddling along when motion catches my eye as the sky color makes a sudden change from blue/gray to bright pink and orange. Meanwhile, a pair of loons in front of me make their iconic call while a large fish jumps near the boat. I sit there in awe of this incredible scene, thankful that I opted to keep traveling rather than camp at Bessie!

The burning sky only lasts a few minutes, and it's back to blue, gray, and eventually black. I pull the boat onto shore at the exit, lock it up, don my sandals, and run/walk seven miles back to the car. I drive back to pick up the kayak and head home.

What a great trip. And after arriving at home I can see that there are all kinds of great trip possibilities in the area with loads of primitive camp sites can only be accessed by boat. This website has some really great routes mapped out. Check out all the camping options in this map from the DEC. You can also buy some great maps with all the campsites and canoeing locations in the area.

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