Party of Twelve
When a forest ranger paddled up to one of the campsites on Lake Lila on a sunny Friday afternoon, he encountered the greatest collection of North Country Men’s Club campers and gear ever assembled in the Adirondack backcountry.
Facing the campsite’s beach while sitting in his forest green kayak, the ranger confronted half a dozen NCMCers lounging in the sand. Behind the campers, six Kevlar We-no-nah canoes were hauled out onto the beach. Behind the ranger, splashing about in the lake, six more NCMCers enjoyed the cool water on a hot August day. Although he could not see the main NCMC campsite behind the trees that shaded the back of the beach, he would have been impressed by the setup. Arranged about the large campsite were five different tents. A massive tarp rigged in the trees by an impressive arrangement of ropes fluttered above a collection of camp chairs and a large pile of packs. Stoves, pots and pans, lanterns, water filters, fuel and water bottles and other camping implements were perched everywhere on the massive logs that served as camp tables. Several large coolers were carefully stored in the shade. The NCMC army had landed.
Return to Lake Lila
The story behind this benign Adirondack invasion began, it is fair to say, with the resolution of Jan and Tom to spend a summer week canoe camping in the Adirondacks. It was something they had done two of the previous three summers, and those trips, to Follensby Clear Pond and Long Pond, both near the town of Saranac Lake, had worked out well. Jack, whose Semler clan had not gone summer canoe camping since the 1997 expedition to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, also expressed a resolve to go camping. Jack also related to Tom that Bill, anxious to have an NCMC reprimand against him lifted, was considering joining the trip.
It was Jack, during the usual destination debate, who mentioned Lake Lila. Lila had first been explored by the NCMC in 1994. At that time, Jan, Tom, Matt, Jack, Dylan and Conor spent several nights there in August at a nice campsite with a beach. They had paddled and swam and climbed Mount Frederica, a low mountain that nevertheless offered a spectacular view of the lake from a rocky outcropping near its summit. The fond though distant memories of Lila had no doubt stirred in Jack, sort of a seven-year camping itch.
The final plan was for Jan and Tom to reach Lila on a Monday, when the lake was expected to be as near empty of campers as could be, and claim a choice campsite. The Buffalo contingent, whomever it was to contain, was to arrive Wednesday, and all would enjoy the woods and water until Saturday.
The Scouting Party
Jan and Tom traveled to Long Lake in the Adirondacks on August 5 ,and spent the night car camping at Lake Eaton campground, where the NCMC camps during its annual participation in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, or “90-Miler.” They got an early start Monday morning and made it the parking lot at Lake Lila about 10 a.m. This entailed about 10 miles of travel on a dirt road. During that drive, they passed the put-in to six-mile-long Little Tupper Lake, which the State of New York recently acquired from the Whitney family and has established as a canoe camping destination. One of the plusses of Lake Lila is the long drive down a dirt road, which no doubt serves to hold down the number of visitors somewhat. The other great factor in Lake Lila’s attractiveness is that anyone wishing to paddle or camp there has to haul their boat and gear a third of a mile from the parking lot to the lake. It does not seem like a long distance, and the portage is relatively easy to walk, but plenty of people are deterred by the carry. Finally, although the portage makes their use virtually impossible anyway, Lake Lila is one of those treasured Adirondack lakes that is off-limits to motors, keeping away anyone unwilling to use their own muscle and sinew to propel themselves on the lake.
Hence, Jan and Tom encountered only half a dozen cars in the parking lot upon their arrival. Since the lake has about a score of designated campsites, and some of the cars were suspected to be the vehicles of non-camping day trippers, the NCMC advance guard was confident of finding a good campsite.
The Same Site Seven Years Later
Showing the skill of long practice at portaging, Jan and Tom began with alacrity to haul a good amount of gear down the portage to the lake. Two canoes, five or six packs and large stuff sacks of gear and food, one large cooler, paddles, vests and other paraphernalia were brought to the beach at the bottom of the portage. Left behind in the car at the moment was a cooler with a case of Budweiser and sufficient ice to keep the precious liquid cold for several days.
The portaging over, Jan and Tom filled their Sundowner with gear, and tethered the solo canoe to its stern so they could tow it. They then paddled off in search of a campsite. After inspecting a couple of potential sites and rejecting them, they entered the cove where they had camped seven years earlier. A nice site on one of the points of the cove was occupied, and the next site they encountered was too small and lacked a decent beach. The third site they spotted had a familiar look to it and they quickly recognized it as their former site. They immediately claimed it for the NCMC and, as it was early afternoon, they had a beer to celebrate. They then went about the work of establishing camp; setting up their tent and opening a camp kitchen. They spent the rest of the day puttering around camp, swimming and taking short paddles.
Back for the Beer
Tuesday morning they paddled back to their put-in, walked back to the car and hauled their cooler of beer back along the portage. They also left a note on their car telling the Semlers and Websters where they were camped. As they hauled the cooler down the portage, they encountered a couple who had they had seen the previous day. This couple had only camped for a night and were now on their way home. They expressed incredulity that Jan and Tom were back for another cooler, but the NCMCers held their heads proudly aloft. They then paddled back to camp, swam, ate dinner, strung their 16-by-20 tarp over part of the camp, and took a post-dinner paddle at dusk. They paddled around several of the islands in the lake and found an occupied osprey nest.
Wednesday morning they went fishing, paddling into the Beaver River, the lake’s outlet. Tom caught a sizeable smallmouth on the fly rod, as well as several smaller fish. Jan spotted a bald eagle flying down the river. Tom saw the white tail before the large dark bird disappeared. Then it was back to camp for lunch. In the early afternoon, in anticipation of greeting the Semlers and the Websters, they paddled once again to the put-in. There was a strong wind blowing from west to east, toward the put-in, and they virtually surfed to the beach amid the whitecaps. As they lounged on the beach, they made the acquaintance of a group of a dozen people from Baltimore who were there for a day paddle. The day before, they had all climbed Marcy, and paddling Lake Lila was this day’s adventure, thanks to a number of rented We-no-nah caones. It turned out to be impossible for them, however, to paddle into the strong wind blowing onto the beach. The first group of three paddlers that set off capsized a short way from shore, and other people on shore swam and waded out to them to help them right their boat and snatch up their floating paddles, water bottles and life vests. Although there were no other capsizes, none of the other boats that set out could make progress into the wind. Instead, the inexperienced but good-natured paddlers quickly found their boats turned broadside to the waves and pushed inexorably back toward shore.
With no sign of their fellow NCMCers, Jan and Tom walked back to the parking lot to check to see if the note they had left was still on their windshield and not rendered illegible from an overnight rain storm. Finding the note intact, they decided to head back to camp. It was now after 5 p.m., and they figured that their friends had probably put back their arrival at Lila by one day.
An Unexpected Arrival
Back at the beach, they boarded their boat and paddled back to camp, where they quickly ate dinner and planned an early bedtime. As they puttered around camp, Tom caught a glimpse through the trees of a We-no-nah plying the cove. Could it be? As he ran for the beach to check, Jan shouted, “Billy!” It was Billy, with Kelly in the bow, and Erin and Lucky — the Webster’s black Lab — amidships amid packs of gear. Three other boats soon followed; Dylan and Kate piloted one craft, Mary and Molly paddled another, and Jack, with Samantha, the Semlers’ faithful pooch, brought up the rear in his solo.
Impressed with the tenacity of their fellow club members in coming in with night fast approaching, Jan and Tom helped the NCMCers unload their boats and set up tents. After lighting lanterns and donning headlamps, the campers stayed up long into the evening cooking food and arranging gear. Billy had brought a Coleman double-burner stove with an accessory stainless steel oven that looked like a bank safe. In this contraption he baked a loaf of bread the size of a good backpacking pillow.
There was a huge amount of food in camp, both in coolers and in stuff sacks. The stuff in sacks was treed to a decent height and the coolers were stashed under canoes on the beach. Jan and Tom had brought a box of Peter Vella Delicious Red, the official boxed wine of the NCMC. The Semlers, however, brought two bottled wines, a red and a white, from Argentina. The Delicious Red tasted like bad fruit juice in comparison, revealing that it only tastes good when there is no real competition. Its exalted NCMC status may have to be reconsidered.
Bobbing and other Pleasures
It had been hot, unseasonably so, and sunny all week, and that weather continued on Thursday. It also remained windy. Although the NCMCers were not technically windbound, — they are too accomplished with the paddle for that to happen often — a lot of time was spent relaxing on the beach in the sun and swimming in the lake. Jack spent a good part of the day improving the system of ropes used to haul the camp’s vast tonnage of food aloft each night. He kept muttering something about “mechanical advantage” while he wandered among the camp’s giant hemlocks, looking above for stout limbs to support his network of ropes and carabiners. Back by the water, the sport of “vesting,” invented by Jan, was being practiced. Vesting is simply bobbing in the lake while wearing one’s personal flotation device, so the only physical effort involved is determining in which direction one wishes to face while bobbing. One can face the camp’s beach and watch the goings on there, for example, or spin to face other parts of the lake that offer a pleasing view. Another option is to simply let current and wind do its random thing and see where you are pulled and pushed, and turned and spun. One can also bob with a Bud, or bob with a Bud while bobbing with a bud who has his or her own Bud to bob with. Mary and Jan were among the buds who bobbed in that fashion. Meanwhile, both Tom and Billy capsized the solo We-no-nah Advantages while playing in the waves off the campsite. Someone spotted a large bird soaring above the lake and a look through the binoculars revealed it to be an adult bald eagle, perhaps the same bird that Jan and Tom had seen in the Beaver River the day before (The NCMC had seen a bald eagle on the 1994 trip to Lake Lila). Other interesting birds seen on the trip were the nesting osprey, loon, great blue heron, kingfisher, and cedar waxwings.
Dinner by Daylight
In a break with NCMC tradition, which has always called for preparing and eating dinner in full darkness while swatting mosquitoes, the club got dinner underway early on Thursday. There was an amazing dinner produced by the Semlers of trout and rice. It was so good, and so involved in its preparation, that one would have thought Jay was in camp. Indeed, only Mary among NCMCers has managed to cook on a par with Jay. Jack occasionally brings fine meals on camping trips, but that is only because Mary prepares them for him. (The only evidence of Jay on this trip was one of his red MSR fuel bottles with his name indelibly etched on its side. Honestly or by accident, it was somehow in Bill’s possession.)
It was on this evening that the three founders voted unanimously to lift the reprimand given to Billy for failing to come on the spring trip to Long Pond. The vote was witnessed by Jan, Kate and Mary. Billy had been Mister Cordial and Helpful Camper up to this point, no doubt inspired by his desire to be free of reprimand. Nevertheless, there was nothing that could have been gained by holding off until the end of the trip for the vote, as Billy’s exemplary behavior continued for the duration.
During the deliberations regarding Billy, Jack wondered aloud whether Jay should be reprimanded for not coming on the trip. Jack recalled Jay saying that he would not be “shamed” into coming on the trip. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the proposal quickly died. Never let it be said that the NCMC would engage in tactics made infamous by the Spanish Inquisition.
After dinner, the campers hung out on the beach in Crazy Creek chairs and Maine Loungers, admiring the array of stars, including the occasional shooting one, in the summer sky. The Milky Way was about as distinct as one could ever hope it to be on that part of the planet.
A Good Overview
Friday morning brought a rainstorm, and there was some time spent huddled under the tarp, but the sun had broken through by mid-morning, calling the campers down to the beach. It was at this point that the ranger arrived in his kayak. He was a most friendly fellow, and pointed out without rancor that they were violating the regulation that not more than nine people camp together on a single site. Even with the ranger not counting Lucky and Sam as campers, the NCMC was still a party of 10. The NCMC was most apologetic to the ranger, and promised never again to do such a thing. There was a small joke about giving Erin to the ranger to take with him so that the NCMC would be in compliance, and the NCMC also made it clear that their low-impact camping practices made it seem like they were a much smaller group. The ranger said he did not have a ticket book and, along with the fact that the NCMC was only staying for one more night, he took no further action, except to answer various questions from the NCMC regarding his work.
Once the ranger was gone, it was determined that a party would paddle across the lake to its western shore and climb Mt. Frederica. Jan and Tom hopped in one Sundowner, while Jack, Dylan and Kate hopped in another. It was a tough paddle through the wind to the far shore of the lake. At one point, while resting from the wind in the lee of an island, Jan and Tom again encountered the ranger. Jan asked him if anyone else was giving him any trouble, and he joked that he had just had a run-in with a party of 10.
Once across the lake, the NCMCers began the ascent of Mt. Frederica, a hike of about a mile and a half to a vantage about 500 feet above the lake. They emerged from the woods to a wonderful view of the lake. Interestingly, a large squadron of very large dragonflies was hovering in formation just above the climbers’ heads, with individual members of the squadron darting in and out of formation to grab flying insects. In the distance to the east, the campers could see Blue Mountain standing by itself. From their vantage, the climbers could also see Single Shanty Brook, the inlet of Lake Lila. They had not been able to find the brook from their canoes, but from Mt. Frederica they could see where it entered the lake through a sea of grass not far from their campsite. They hiked back to their canoes, with Dylan wearing one of Tom’s Tevas. He had been wearing both, but one of the sandals gave him a blister on the way up, so he marched down with one bare foot.
The Final Evening
Jack and Dylan got in their canoe and paddled back to the put-in so they could pick up Dylan’s telescope for the evening. Kate, Jan and Tom paddled back to camp. In their absence, Molly and Kelly had constructed elaborate models of luxury, waterfront hotels in the wet sand at the edge of the lake. A vote was taken as to which hotel was the better of the two, but the vote was a tie.
Jan and Tom had brought along a Sun Shower for the week, and it was heated up on several days of the trip, including this one. Billy reported that Erin quickly became a Sun Shower fan. Friday night’s dinner was pasta, accompanied by a sauce made from a tube of tomato paste and powder. After dinner, Dylan set up his telescope and showed the group several outstanding stellar features. There were also plenty of shooting stars to keep the campers gazing upward.
Carry it Out
Saturday morning again brought good weather, and Jan took out a solo to continue her inventory of Lake Lila’s campsites. Her plan was to inspect each site she found unoccupied and to record a brief description of its features and suitability for various-sized groups. In the course of the week, most of the island’s sites were surveyed. None were found to be superior to the NCMC site.
Packing up on Saturday was suspended for a brief while several NCMCers explored Shingle Shanty Brook. It is one of those winding, oxbow-filled streams that can be paddled in both directions. Anyone who paddles from Little Tupper Lake to Lake Lila enters Lake Lila via this brook. It is apparently a tough trip with strenuous portages. Perhaps an NCMC contingent will some day see how tough it is.
It was no earlier than noon when the party was over and the NCMC began to paddle back to the put-in. Jan and Tom were the last to leave, and gave the campsite to a passing couple from New Hampshire, a state that, along with Vermont, has a glaring lack of the lake country that makes the Adirondacks a true paddler’s destination.
Upon arriving at the put-in, Jan and Tom were pleased to see that the Websters and Semlers were still portaging their gear back to the parking lot. They were pleased because some of their gear got portaged by others. Mary, for example, carried Tom’s new authentic Adirondack pack basket, which he had filled with all his heaviest items, including his fuel bottles. Jan and Tom also for the third time encountered the ubiquitous forest ranger, who admired their 30-pound solo Advantage and noted that he sometimes patrolled in his own Bell canoe, as well as in the kayak. Back at their car, Tom said he was certain that the ranger stashed his kayak somewhere rather than bring it to the lake for each patrol. When they again saw the ranger walking to his car, they inquired and he acknowledged that he did stash the kayak.
Jan and Tom stopped on their drive back to the highway to check out Little Tupper Lake, which has a strange method of managing its 30-odd campsites. At the put-in there is a board with a numbered disk representing each campsite. The disks hang from hooks and campers turn a disk and hang it so that the side that reads “full” faces out. This means that campers have to choose their site before they paddle to it, even if they have never seen it. For the last time, Jan and Tom encountered the ranger they had come to know so well. He had driven from Lake Lila to Little Tupper to confer with a colleague, and both rangers told the NCMCers that the disk system at Little Tupper was proving to be a pain in the neck. The NCMC will have to camp at Little Tupper sometime and see for themselves how it compares with Lila.
A Capital Trip
One of the great trips of NCMC annals, the 2001 expedition to Lake Lila added Kate, Molly, Kelly and Erin to the ranks of NCMCers with their name in caps. Erin is the youngest club member ever to go on a sanctioned backcountry trip, and she was unfazed by any of the difficulties it presented as, of course, were her older sisters. Isaac would seem to be the only threat to her record. Sam also joined Lucky, who is also a veteran of winter trips, in getting her name in caps. Twenty-seven of the NCMC’s forty members are now capital folks under the current stringent criterion!
Gallery: Lake Lila 2001