Photo courtesy Adirondac Rafting Company
Photo courtesy Adirondac Rafting Company
Photo courtesy Adirondac Rafting Company
Long before the Hudson reaches New York City or the settlements of the Hudson River Valley, it embarks on a 315-mile journey from Lake Tear of the Clouds near Mount Marcy.
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INDIAN LAKE — The mighty Hudson, long synonymous with New York’s history of exploration and transportation, also lures modern Adirondack adventurers with an exhilarating ride through some of the most remote areas of the Park.

Long before the Hudson reaches New York City or the settlements of the Hudson River Valley, it embarks on a 315-mile journey from Lake Tear of the Clouds near Mount Marcy, draining many Adirondack tributaries as it flows, including the Opalescent, Schroon, Boreas, Indian and eventually the Sacandaga and Mohawk rivers.

Last May, the Adirondac Rafting Co. took a group of Canadian journalists on a 17-mile journey through the Class III rapids of the Hudson Gorge.

Somehow, this Lake Placid News reporter was allowed to tag along.

Our day started out with an hour-and-20-minute drive from Lake Placid to Indian Lake. Our caravan left at the early hour of 6:30 a.m. After a breakfast at the Misty Mountain Cafe, our group walked across the road to the rafting company’s base to meet our guide, Bob Rafferty, of Lake Placid.

We changed into wetsuits, dry tops and booties to protect us from the water, still frigid with the spring snowmelt. There we listened to a safety talk and were outfitted with personal flotation devices, helmets and paddles. Then we boarded a bus that took us to the put-in, a quick five-minute drive away.

Once we arrived, it became apparent that we were not going to be alone in our rafting excursion that day. All around us, guides from other outfitters were unloading rafts from the tops of their buses as the hungry blackflies circled, looking for a meal. We carried our orange boat to the put-in and got in line behind several other brightly colored rafts, all anxiously waiting to begin the trip downstream.

Rafferty explained that once a day in the spring and four times a week during the summer, a controlled dam release on the Indian River makes rafting possible. During the summer, river guides and their crews of paddlers line up around 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays to take advantage of the fleeting whitewater. Earlier in the week, a mechanical problem with the dam prevented it from being opened and the guides had to crank it open by hand until it was repaired.

Rafferty shouted out commands, “Let’s go forward,” and “O.K. rest,” and we plunged our paddles into the water, all moving in unison. The Indian River carried us swiftly for the first three miles through some Class III rapids until it merged with the Hudson.

After the confluence of the Indian and the Hudson, we were offered a respite from paddling as the river temporarily became a calm, deep pool, perfect for swimming. In a flash, our boat emptied as all its occupants, except for Rafferty, jumped overboard and splashed into the freezing water. The cold was shocking yet refreshing since the mid-May sun had warmed the air. After a few minutes of lazily drifting alongside the boat, we not so much climbed as were hauled back into the boat by Rafferty.

“Sorry, there’s no graceful way to do it,” he joked when I found myself clumsily sprawled on the floor of the raft.

As most of the other rafts paused to let their occupants jump off of a rock in the middle of the river, our boat floated past them. We were now the lead boat of the roughly 30 on the river that day. I felt a little like a pioneer, adventuring into uncertain territory as the other rafts faded into the distance.

We soon came upon the Blue Ledges, the 300-foot-high blue cliffs of the Hudson Gorge. Rafferty told us to keep our eyes out for ravens that nest in the sides of the cliffs.

As we alternated between drifting and paddling, Rafferty regaled us with stories of his rafting experiences; he has been guiding on the Hudson since 1984. He also related tidbits of history from the days when logs cut from the Adirondack forests were floated down the Hudson to sawmills.

Many of the rapids, rocks and other geographical features of the river, Rafferty said, are named for log drivers who didn’t quite make it, perishing in the dangerous high water of the spring log drives.

At this point, Rafferty said, we were in one of the most remote sections of the Gorge, about three miles from the nearest road. We didn’t have much time to reflect on our isolation, however, because we had to prepare to run “the Narrows,” one of the most difficult sections on the river.

As we rounded a bend, the river narrowed to about one-third of its normal width as it is squeezed between two rock walls. The ensuing series of rapids is one of the most thrilling and memorable spots on the trip. We paddled for all we were worth, hung on for dear life and made it through the section without losing anyone.

We soon pulled over for lunch. Finding a spot on the shore absent of the pesky blackflies was almost impossible, but a slight breeze kept them at bay for most of the time. After a quick bite to eat, we pushed off for the second leg of our journey.

After running a particularly challenging rapid, I turned around to watch the other rafts just as one member of the boat behind ours toppled out. The guide shouted instructions to get his feet up, and he floated through the rapid alongside the raft for a few moments before he was scooped up again, unscathed.

As we were informed in our morning safety talk, floating feet-first down the river, should you fall overboard, is of paramount importance. Foot entrapments, which are caused when people attempt to stand up, get a foot stuck in between the rocks and are pushed over by the current, are a leading cause of death on the river.

We passed under one of the only visible manmade structures of the the entire trip — a railroad bridge that leads into the old mining towns of Adirondac and Tahawus. Rafferty said he was able to reach up and touch the bridge with his paddle during the high waters of spring.

We ran Split Rock rapids, Kettle Mountain rapids and a few others before the river widened and the current slowed the pace of our boat to a crawl. This meant a break for tired arms, but it also meant we needed to paddle if we were to get to the take-out spot anytime soon.

After about half-an-hour’s worth of intermittent paddling, chatting and enjoying the scenery, we came to the spot alongside highway 28 where we pulled up on shore. Our adventure was over. After a 500-foot drop over 17 miles through the heart of the Adirondacks, our bus was waiting to bring us back to the civilization of the guide base.

Rafferty describes the trip as a wonderful introduction to the wilds of New York state.

“People, especially people from city areas, don’t realize what’s here,” he said. “Introducing that wilderness to people is very enjoyable.”