Campsite #18 at Lake Lila was the center of the North Country Men’s Club universe during a warm week in August 2002 as a whopping 17 club members made it to the Adirondacks for the annual summer canoe camping trip.
It was a rollicking, freewheeling affair in keeping with the history of the NCMC. Frogs, toads and smallmouth bass were caught and released, there was a man overboard, the wind-whipped afternoon waves made for a number of thrilling paddles to and from the lake’s takeout spot, and a visit from the ranger generated spirited debate about backcountry ethics. Who knows what impression all this made on Isaac, who, at a mere 20 months of age, became the youngest club member in history to get his name in caps?
The adventure began on a sunny Monday morning, when Tom, Jan, Bob and Kasey arrived at the Lila parking lot bright and early. They hauled their gear and boats down the path to the lake (it’s a third of a mile from the parking lot to the water’s edge) and set out in search of a good campsite.
They paddled under sunny skis to a prominent point of land that holds one of the lake’s better campsites, but it was occupied, so they rounded the point and paddled into a bay that holds several other nice campsites, including #18, which the NCMC had occupied the previous summer.
The site in question was empty, so they claimed it for the NCMC. On the campsite’s nice sandy beach, they encountered a couple that was out for a day paddle. They turned out to be from Montclair, New Jersey, and the Gogers exchanged pleasantries with them. The NCMCers had thought they saw a bald eagle while they were paddling, and the couple from Montclair confirmed the siting.
On Tuesday morning, the four NCMCers paddled over the glassy surface of the lake toward Mt. Frederica, which they planned to climb. At one point the Gogers got hung up on a submerged rock and Bob tried to climb toward the bow to spring their canoe free. It didn’t work out, and he lost his balance and went overboard. He did a nice job, however, of exiting the boat in a manner that kept it from capsizing, and Kasey towed him to the takeout to the trail up Federica. It was a hot day, and the view from the top of Frederica was hazy, but it provides a fantastic overlook of Lila and the surrounding forests.
The Gogers had to leave that day, and Jan and Tom accompanied them to the takeout by the parking lot. It was late afternoon when they paddled out, and the breeze had whipped up fairly good waves on the lake. They took the waves on their port stern quarters, and made it to their destination without much trouble thanks to their trusty and seaworthy Sundowners. The four of them carried all the Gogers’ gear back to the parking lot and then Jan and Tom paddled back to camp.
On Wednesday, Jan and Tom went fishing and caught several nice smallmouth on the fly rod near the outlet of the lake. In the afternoon they decided once again to visit the takeout to see if they would meet up with any of the NCMCers that were scheduled to arrive that day. They waited at the takeout until about 6 p.m. and figured that no one was coming, so they headed back to camp and had dinner.
Late, as Usual
At dusk, while they were washing their dinner dishes, they heard boats on the lake and soon four canoes carrying NCMCers hit the beach at their campsite. Kate led the way in a solo crammed with gear. The other three canoes contained Erin, Molly, Kelly, Jack, Dylan, Jay and young Isaac. Also aboard were Lucky and Sam, and an amount of gear that would stagger an army of campers. How all the gear and provisions were brought from the parking lot to the water is difficult to comprehend, but, as Jay said, it’s nobody else’s business if someone wants to bring a piece of gear and is willing to hump it over a portage.
Tom, who can be slow on the uptake, expressed surprise to Jan that the Buffalo contingent had arrived. Because it had gotten so late in the day, he had figured they weren’t coming until the next day. Jan was only surprised that Tom was surprised. After all, hadn’t he been on the trip last year when the same thing happened?
There were now 11 of them in camp, not counting the dogs, putting them two over the Lila limit of nine campers to a site. The Ranger had admonished them the previous year for having 10 campers, and had been non-plussed by their offer to give him Erin so they could meet the limit. Furthermore, Mary and Conor would arrive the next day, giving them 13 NCMCers, not counting Sam and Lucky. So, a plan was made that was to be carried out at dawn. The more pressing business was to round up any frogs in the area, and Kelly took command of this operation with Erin and others. Jan and Tom hadn’t even known that there were frogs about, but a good number were soon placed in captivity, under humane conditions. There were a number of escapes, but the frogs soon learned that they could run, but not hide. Or, if they didn’t learn it, they should have. Meanwhile, food and drink was had from the numerous coolers that now dotted the campsite, and the various additional tents and gear were deployed.
With the sun coming up on Thursday, Jan and Tom executed the plan to secure another campsite for the NCMC so they would be in compliance with the Lila rules. They took down their tent, threw it in a canoe with some other gear, and paddled quickly across the bay to a campsite on the opposite shore. It was one of the less desirable sites, and they found it unoccupied. They set up the tent and filled it with their stuff. The plan was for Jack and Mary to join them at the site that evening, leaving only nine NCMCers at site #18.
Jan and Tom then began the paddle back across the lake. On the way, however, they noticed that the site on the point near site #18 — the very site they had hoped to secure the day before — was no longer occupied. Whoever had been there the night before had left that morning! The site would go fast if the NCMC didn’t claim it, so they landed at the site, left a life vest hanging from a tree and paddled back to camp. Jan then took a solo canoe back to the point to more properly “claim” it, and Jack and Tom scrambled back across the lake to take down the tent and bring it the point. They did this with great speed and in no time the tent was erected for a second time that morning. Having accomplished their mission, they breathed easier with the knowledge that they were no longer in violation of the rules.
Jan, Tom and Jack went back to the main camp to join their colleagues. Breakfast was underway, with Billy and Jay manning the stoves. After a short time, Ranger Keith, the same ranger who they had met the previous year, landed his patrol kayak on their beach, observed their six canoes hauled out onto the sparkling white sand, and entered their campsite.
His interrogation and observations revealed that, although only nine people were now officially camped at the site, 11 people had camped there the night before and all were present at the moment. He stated that he had let us slide the previous year (It was unclear whether he remembered us or we foolishly reminded him that we were the same group). The NCMCers, however, were most sheepish and cooperative and apologetic. Tom was especially empathetic, and told the ranger how frustrating it must be to deal again and again with problem campers. Thankfully, Keith refrained from throwing the book at them. He did say, however, that he only wanted nine people on the site and he didn’t want there to be any visitors! He also warned the group that a bear had entered a campsite recently at Lila and that they should be careful about our food preparation and storage (Tom gave himself an imaginary pat on the back for having put all the empty Bud cans from the night before in a garbage bag earlier that morning).
After the ranger left, Jack said he though the nine-person rule was dumb because we were doing our best to get young kids to appreciate and value wild places, as well as collect and study the local frog population. It was also noted that the ranger had not been armed, so perhaps he wasn’t a real bonafide ranger with police powers. Anyway, the club planned to obey the rule for the rest of the trip, despite Jack’s call for rebellion.
Waves Over the Bow
Later in the day, Jack, Tom, Bill and Jan paddled to the takeout to leave a canoe for Mary and Conor, who would need a boat to reach camp when they arrived that day. It was an interesting paddle to the takeout, because the waves were again whipping up big in the afternoon breeze. Once they landed at the takeout, Bill and Jack walked up the carry to the parking lot to make sure Mary and Conor had not arrived, and they retrieved a very thick climbing rope from Jay’s truck to be used in the effort to tree the food supply.
The paddle back to camp was ever more interesting, because the four of them piled into the 18-foot Jensen, which shipped a good amount of water over the bow as it plowed through the good-sized waves. Several in the party noted that the trip was similar to the thrills and chills that one would experience on an amusement park ride. There was no capsize, however, and Mary and Conor showed up later in the day with a precious cargo of beer and wine.
Billy, who works 24/7 while in camp, cooked cheeseburgers for dinner over a wood fire and it was well after dark when Mary and Jan in one boat, and Jack and Tom a little later in another boat, sneaked back to the campsite on the point, a ploy which left only the nine people in the main site.
Friday morning was overcast, and Bill, Molly, Kelly, Erin, Jay and Isaac walked from their camp through the woods to the point for a visit to the campsite occupied by the Semlers and Conroys. That put 10 people on the site at the point at one time, but, hey, who’s counting?
There was some more talk about the Lila rules and Jay, the NCMC’s most libertarian member, sarcastically proposed that they bring a big enough group to Lila at some point in the future to put one or two people on all 24 sites and commandeer the entire lake! This would not only not break any Lila rules, but it would admirably limit the total human impact on Lila for that period.
Most of Friday was spent messing around in camp and paddling and swimming. Jay decided he wanted to go to town for supplies, including beer and diapers. Diapers are one item that should not have to be rationed on a camping trip, no matter how uncomplaining the user of them may be. Jack, Tom and Jay paddled to the takeout and then Jack and Tom returned to camp while Jay went to town. They paddled back later to pick him up. He had purchased enough provisions to allow the Tillotsons and Websters to stay over on Saturday night if they wished.
They had a fine dinner Friday (all 13 of them in site #18), of spaghetti and meatballs and manicotti, wonderfully cooked by Billy and Jay. After dinner, they thought they were going to be hit by a thunderstorm, but instead were treated to a great show of lightning without getting hammered by rain. The treeing of the food that night was an engineering feat not to be forgotten soon. Jay had spent the day rigging his oversized climbing rope high in some of the big hemlocks in camp, and armed with carabiners and his extensive knot knowledge, he hoisted all sorts of giant bags of food high aloft and away from any bears or raccoons that might have though the NCMCers were easy marks. To top it off, Jay hoisted a fully loaded, full-size Coleman Cooler up, up and away. If only the ranger could have seen that!
Jay’s impressive food-treeing exhibition got the NCMCers thinking about further possibilities. Why not tree the entire camp at night? Send everything and everybody up into the canopy! A foraging bear would not only not find any food, it would think the campsite was unoccupied. Heck, why not camp in the trees altogether, and just come down to swim and paddle? The NCMCers could be like some indigenous rainforest clan that called the canopy home. They could cook in one tree and sleep in others. They could make simple block and tackle systems that would allow them to easily hoist themselves and each other up to the treetops. They could all develop Jay-like upper bodies from climbing and swinging from limb to limb on week-long camping trips. Imagine how well they would perform in the 90-Miler after a few camping trips aloft gave them the arms, backs and shoulders of marathon canoeing champions? There would be an expensive one-time outlay for enough climbing rope and harnesses to make the idea practical, but the NCMC would be forever freed from Lila-like rules limiting the number of people at a site. After all, what kind of negative impact would they have if they camped in the air?
Worth the Trip Under Any Rules
On Saturday, the Conroys and Semlers headed home, leaving a mere seven people and one dog at site #18 on Saturday night. Tom had marked some of his pots and pans with a drop of neon nail polish, which made it easy for him to find his stuff among the huge collection of gear in camp. This allowed him to keep track of his gear without writing a big “Tom” on stuff with an indelible marker, which was Jay’s practice. He thought he might have to go home and reapply his nail polish, but none of it had faded while on the trip.
The Websters and Tillotsons left on Sunday, with Jay apparently racing to the takeout to beat Bill. They left site #18 as it had been found, except perhaps for a more wary frog population. And isn’t that the point of limiting the number of people at a site anyway? There are no reports as to whether anyone slept in the trees Saturday night.
There is an argument for not going to the same camping destination twice, let alone the same campsite, but Lila is a very good exception to the rule. It’s a beautiful lake, the largest motorless one in the Adirondacks save for Little Tupper, which is nearby and has a nutty camping system whereby you choose your designated site unseen and have to stay in it. Lila’s popularity may lead the Department of Environmental Conservation to give it the same treatment in the future. The Editor hopes not, but if that’s the case, at least the NCMC was there when you could take any site that was open, or any two if you needed them to play by the rules.
Gallery: Lake Lila 2002