Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kunjamuk River and Elm Lake, (by way of the Sacandaga River,) part two

Once we began heading upstream on the Kunjamuk, the scenery began to change from the marsh plants to tree and brush covered riverbanks.  Here are two photos of the river's stillness in the marsh area we were leaving:

We were very excited to see five marsh hawks overhead as we paddled.  Marsh hawks are also known as Northern harriers.  They make a distinct whistle and their shape as we looked up at them also helped us identify them.  At times there were only two or three flying above us, but seeing five gliding on the thermals over us was great fun.  I am afraid none of my photos will do them justice but I'll try to post one that has been zoomed in if it isn't too fuzzy...  Here are two of the hawks:

Some stretches of this river reminded us of a branch of the Oswegatchie River near Cranberry Lake because of the narrowness, the current and the twists and turns.  There was a lot of water due to a very heavy rain 5 or 6 days before we took this trip, so the current was strong.  It wasn't difficult to paddle upstream, but resting was out of the question.  Taking photos was a challenge-- my kayak did not stay headed in the direction I wanted to remain for the photos.  Here is the only decent photo from a bunch I took of some cardinal flowers:

I mentioned that the river was more closed- in and narrow, but my photos aren't showing it.  I now realize that I didn't take many photos while we were paddling around the tight, twisty, current-driven bends in the river.  These next few photos were taken in places where the river straightened out for a bit, giving me a chance to get the camera out and take some shots without ending up in the bushes.

This is one of my favorite shots from the whole trip:

And this one makes me sad, since the tree's leaves have turned and are falling off... a sign that kayaking season in northern New York will soon be over...

Isn't it interesting how the leaves can be seen more clearly in the water?  The sunlight washed out the tree on the bank, but the river gave it a great reflection.

After paddling upstream on the Kunjamuk for a couple of miles, we passed under a logging road/bridge.  It is here that we needed to get out in order to visit Kunjamuk Cave.  Our kayaks barely fit on the trail at the take-out.

We were happy for the chance to stretch our legs and get the kinks out of our back and shoulders on this short walk.  It's about a third of a mile to the cave from the bridge.

Here is the cave.  It faces the trail as you approach from the logging road.

 As you can see, it slopes down from the trail.  The cave is about 25 feet in length, 8-10 feet in width and at least 6 1/2 feet high in the back, maybe 7 1/2 or 8 near the entrance where the hole in the ceiling is located.

The cave seems to be a mystery.  No one knows if it was formed naturally or if it was man-made.  The "blow hole" on the top makes me think it's man-made, but I'm sure mother nature could have created such a hole, which some call a "sink hole" when referring to this cave.  It's a pretty neat view from inside the cave looking out the hole in the top:

Another pretty cool view is from inside the cave looking out to the woods beyond:

Here is a fuzzy photo showing both the cave entrance and the hole in the top:

And one last photo of the cave from the outside:

We enjoyed our little side-trip to the cave.  It was fun imagining who might have made the cave, or who might have used the cave over the years.  By the way, there were no bats in the cave.  I don't think it was dark enough.  I also checked for spiders before getting too close to the walls and didn't find many, for which I am very thankful!

Back at our kayaks, we decided to eat our lunch on the water since the logging road was dusty, the woods were packed in around our kayaks and there was no place to sit.  We bungeed ourselves to a tree hanging out over the water and ate in the shade with the current trying to snatch us away from the tree branch.  This was the scene once we rounded a bend just past the bridge:

We paddled along, enjoying the sun, the birdsong and the maneuvering around the bends, twists and turns of the river.  Soon we reached another logging road bridge.  Here is Dick, about to paddle under it:

After a few more miles of paddling, the river spread out and we could see some mountains in the distance.

Pretty soon, the river widened further, becoming Elm Lake.  At this point, we had paddled 6 1/2 miles.  Here are some photos I took from Elm Lake of the mountains near its northern and eastern shores:

By the time we reached Elm Lake it was around 2:30.  We knew we had a couple hours of paddling back, so we did not venture past Elm Lake.  (It is apparently possible to go further upstream, depending on the beaver dams and water levels.) We turned around and headed back downstream on the Kunjamuk.

I had an easier time taking photographs with the kayak heading downstream.  I still had a couple of close calls with bushes on the banks, but I managed.

I like trees, even dead ones, and so I took this photo:

The shape of the tree was so interesting that I needed a close up:

I forgot to mention the beaver dams earlier.  We counted nine!  All had been breached, at least partially.  Whether by the high water or other kayakers and canoeists, I don't know.  Here is a photo of what is left of one of the dams.

We were happy to see the marsh hawks once again as we were heading back on the Kunjamuk.  I got a few better shots this time.  Here is one which I zoomed in and cropped:

On the way back, we met a large number of kayakers compared to the trip upstream when we encountered just one gentleman in a canoe and another in a kayak.  The closer we got to Lake Pleasant, the more paddlers we passed.  Everyone was out on the water, enjoying the good weather and the beauty surrounding the river.

The paddle back to the Sacandaga was nearly effortless and we relaxed along the way.  We knew once we reached that river we'd be paddling upstream against the current.  So we enjoyed the last couple of miles by stretching our legs out in front of us, leaning back in our seats, and barely dipping our paddles in to the water.

Before we knew it, road noise intruded and the Sacandaga and our upstream paddle awaited us.  There were fisherman out on this river as we paddled up toward Lake Pleasant and the put in/take out.  The afternoon light had been fading on the Kunjamuk, but out on the Sacandaga where it was open, the sun was still bright.

Near the end of our trip, we met up with some of the black ducks we'd seen earlier in the day.  They were hanging out near the edge of the river in a shallow spot, preening.  This shot seems a perfect way to end this blog post.  I hope you've enjoyed this kayaking trip description and will be looking forward to my next post.

Thanks for reading, and happy kayaking!


  1. Hi Ang! So how late in the season can you paddle in northern New York? Here, in the South, I can usually paddle through most of December... before the water temperature gets too cold. It's the cold water temperatures that can kill. I don't own dry suit gear... and I'm not going to risk a cold water spill! So, I still have 3 months of paddling in eastern North Carolina!

  2. Ang, what beautiful photos! My favorite is the tree, which you can see better in the water. You really made me feel like I was there!

  3. Mike, how late we kayak in northern NY usually depends on snow falling! We do like to kayak in the fall, but the last few years, we've had snow falling in mid-October that has not gone away-- which means the temperature is way too cold for me to kayak. We don't own dry suits either, so once it's cold outside, we're done. 3 or 4 years ago we kayaked on Eighth Lake north of Old Forge on Columbus Day weekend and we were in t-shirts! That's what we're hoping for this year, but it has already reached 37 degrees here for a low overnight this past week, so we aren't very hopeful for a long fall paddling season. (Of course, we have only paddled in April once and that was this year, so I shouldn't be complaining!) I wish we could paddle for 3 more months like you in NC!

  4. Gayle, thank you again for the compliments on my photos and for checking out my blog! Be sure to let anyone who's into kayaking or the outdoors know about my blog-- I'm trying to increase my "followers." Thanks again!

  5. Now I know those red flowers are cardinal flowers! We have those in Maine, I saw some on the Stillwater River. I have a paddling blog about the Penobscot River and Bay in Maine you might enjoy.
    We do still water and also oceans, and post lots of sunny summer pictures!

  6. Hey, glad I could help with the flower identification! Thanks for checking out my blog. I'll be sure to check yours out. We've never kayaked in Maine, but we did visit Acadia National Park years ago and loved it. We plan to return some day.

  7. Hi, was wondering if you know if there is camping on Elm Lake. Seems like it would be a great round trip for a long weekend, and not too exhausting as it might be one of many trips for the summer. Thanks!

  8. Hi Pamela,
    As far as I know, there is no camping on Elm Lake. The land which the Kunjamuk flows through is owned by paper company, I believe. I am not sure if they own the land around Elm Lake or not. But if not, I would say it's private land because there is one home/camp on the lake's northeastern shore. It's a long day of paddling, but not overly exhausting, as you'll be going downstream on the way back (until you get back on the Sacandaga, then it's upstream to the put-in.) If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them. You may also want to check out my website if you haven't yet, for more kayaking ideas/locations. Thanks for posting a comment/question!