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Saranac River (NYS) to Redford

Sunday Apr 17, 2011
Kayak: Paul Carlile, Noah Pollock, Chris Weed
C1: Tony Shaw
Organizer: Tony Shaw
Difficulty: int-adv WW
Level: medium high
Gauge (ft): 6.50
Gauge (cfs): 3700
Author: Tony Shaw

The Joe's Brook trip fell through, suspecting too little water with the GMP generators out-of-commission and the river-stopping cold weather leading up to 4/17/11. Perhaps the rain Saturday night actually raised Joe's to a runnable level - but we'll never know.

With huge lakes in the headwaters to buffer its flow, the Saranac in NYS seemed a reasonable alternative, although I had never run it this high before. The drive from the Milton park-and-ride wasn't bad. Including the ferry ride, it took a little over an hour. We met Noah at the take-out in Clayburg at 1 pm. Gas over there was $4.05 and up (get used to it...).

The last part of the drive upstream to find the put-in was making me nervous as the snow pack on the obviously unplowed Casey Road grew deeper and deeper and Paul's Outback slid from side to side. I was telling the guys about the put-in I've used in the past - where Casey Road ends at Union Falls dam. It features easy parking and launching at the powerhouse, and the option to run the flume between the dam and powerhouse (a short creeky III-IV at medium flows if you can handle a seal launch into the current...and dig starting off with a bang). From there, though, the Saranac is pretty (sluggish) for nearly 3 where we actually did put-in this day.

I didn't mind the sloppy and at times snowy 100 yard carry on NYS conservation lands down to our put-in, although the handful of downed trees blocking the path should really be cut-out by someone with a chainsaw. Finding the trail in the first place was another story. But AW's online River Info has the right coordinates. Pull-off and park the car exactly 0.9 miles from the Silver Lake Road junction, and walk upstream until you see the faint footpath marked by yellow trail markers nailed to trees (and/or surveyor's tape). The good news is that, up to this point at least, they do seem to plow Casey Road in the winter.

This area is home to deer (lots of 'em), osprey, and countless other critters. Besides the deer and osprey, we saw/heard Canada geese, ducks, mink (or maybe otter), and some hawks. At times it felt like we'd found ourselves in the Bambi Movie. The run opened with close to a mile of substantial fast-moving class II, passing under the Silver Lake Road bridge, and then flattened out for a mile and a half before narrowing down abruptly at the threshold of Tefft Pond Falls. We carried it on river right, deeming it a huge cascade - class IV+ or V - with some wood in bad places.

The remainder of the run at this level was very reminiscent of the Indian during a release, but with a couple of steeper pitches, and without the hypalon or crowds. The first of these came up fairly quickly below Tefft Pond Falls - a wide class III-IV ledges section. The center and river-right entry options looked intimidating, so we focused our attention on river-left. Paul picked a line near the left bank - left of a small island, and found himself in a hole for a while before breaking free and working right to negotiate the ledges. For the most part we were thankful to Paul for willingly acting as the "probe" and finding a sporty line through each of the many rapids we encountered. In this case, though, Noah picked a line somewhat farther to the right - splitting the island - and Chris and I both followed him, resulting in an interesting set of maneuvers through an extended series of staggered ledge holes.

After that came a couple miles of continuous class II-III, culminating in a big class III+ drop - a run-in to a large slide/tongue/foam pile, with a very large hole to be avoided on the right (formed by the big river-right ledge from which we scouted the drop). I posted a few pictures of this section on Paddle Pix after the trip ( ). The kayakers handled the big foam pile deftly, but it flipped the C1 - leading to my first brisk and successful combat roll in the converted Phat. After that came some more continuous class II-III (more II than III here), all the way to the takeout. The current is so swift in this section at 6.5 feet that the play waves/holes - so numerous and inviting at, say, 5 feet - are hard to catch. But then again, punching through them and boofing over well-covered boulders made for a different kind of fun at 6.5 feet. At the Clayburg take-out, Chris and I gave Paul and Noah the option to continue downstream to a big ledge rapid we had seen from the road, while the two of us retrieved the Outback. We picked them up close to an hour later at the Maplefields convenience store, a mile and a half further downstream.

The entire run is 7-8 miles, around 3 hours, depending on your tailwind, how much you play, and where you finish. I briefly tried to entice the group to try instead the untested North Branch of the Saranac which is flat at the confluence but which AW says upstream holds 10.5 miles of class III-IV rapids, with a side-road option for accessing the midpoint. We took a peek at least, and could tell that very recently it had been over its banks and covering roads in the vicinity. At today's level there would have been no shortage of water to run the North Branch. Something to keep in mind...

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