The last major canoe destination in the Adirondacks left unsampled by the North Country Men’s Club was visited in August 2006 when Jan and Tom paddled into Little Tupper Lake in the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation describes Little Tupper as the centerpiece of the Whitney Area:
“Nearly six miles long and up to a mile wide, with 20 miles of shoreline, it is a broad avenue leading into the remote heart of the forest. Except for three private holdings, the entire lake is State-owned. Ten additional lakes and ponds within the area provide additional recreational opportunities.”
Jan and Tom arrived at the put-in at Little Tupper on a Monday morning, and were pleased to find only a few cars in the parking lot. There is a ranger station at the put-in and they bumped into a ranger who they soon recognized as the one who had admonished the NCMC two years in a row at Lake Lila for having too large a party in their camp (see “Party of Twelve” and “Lila Rules”). Fortunately, the ranger did not recognize them (or did he?) and they did not acknowledge that they had previously met.
They learned from the ranger that the original camping system for Little Tupper, which required campers to pick one of the designated campsites sight-unseen before heading out and to stay only at that site, had been abandoned. Like communism, the camping system seemed reasonable in theory but proved abysmal in practice, even, according to the ranger, leading once to a fistfight between campers. So, as with other Adirondack backcountry destinations, all one now has to do at Little Tupper is to paddle off and stay at whatever unoccupied site one likes, or feels compelled to like due to weather, time of day, fatigue or other argument against further searching.
Jan and Tom lugged their boats and kit from the car to the broad, sandy put-in. They hurried along with their cooler from the car to the beach in the hope the ranger wouldn’t see it. Coolers are permitted in the Adirondack’s wilderness areas, along with the cans and bottles that are a no-no in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park and many other wilderness destinations, but they do signal to some rangers that the owners are beer-drinking louts who keep a messy camp, make a lot of noise at night, don’t care where their toilet paper ends up and leave behind more evidence of their trip than they ought. The NCMC does none of that (except for the beer-drinking), but its members don’t like to be thrown in with the boorish campers of the world in the eyes of the Dudley Do-Right rangers who they wanted to grow up to be.
With the cooler (with only four cans of Busch Light!) stowed in the bilge of one of the boats, Jan and Tom were soon underway, paddling their gear-laden two-man canoe toward the southwest and towing the solo, also carrying plenty of gear, behind them. They had the required permit to camp for more than three nights and they had a map of the lake showing the locations of the score of campsites spaced along the long shoreline. They quickly found themselves paddling against a very stiff wind that pushed white-capped waves into their bow. Because of its length and northeast-southwest orientation, the lake can offer big waves and strong winds at any time, but is particularly prone to blowing up in the afternoon, a habit for which Lake Lila is also known (If only every motorless lake in the Adirondacks and elsewhere were big enough to occasionally make a paddler hesitate before launching into big waves on a windy day). Pushing on, the campers only had to paddle for about a mile and a half before they came to a bay on the lake’s north shore that offered several campsites.
They inspected the first one they encountered, deemed it satisfactory and moved in. It was campsite No. 2 on the lake, and they came to learn that “Camp Two” was among the best sites on Little Tupper. It offered a good beach to land, a level tentsite on high ground, good views of the lake, and a throne. Celebrating their arrival with a couple of Busch Lights, they established their living quarters and found a suitable limb for holding the rope by which they would tree their food between meals. Before dinner they paddled up a slow-moving brook emptying into the lake near their campsite.
Camp Two ended up being home for four nights, as the NCMCers embarked from there each day to travel about the lake.
On their second day in the Whitney Area they paddled to Rock Pond. This foray required a paddle of four-five miles to the southwestern tip of Little Tupper and then a paddle of about a mile and a half up a stream to the pond. As they paddled down the lake, a bald eagle glided over their heads as it headed in the direction of the paddlers’ camp. There is one short carry on the trip from Little Tupper to Rock Pond, and several beaver dams need to be climbed over.
Rock Pond is also part of the motorless Whitney Area and offers six designated campsites. The NCMC had lunch at one of them before heading back downstream to Little Tupper and to camp.
On Day Three at Camp Two the NCMCers were inspired to inspect all the unoccupied campsites on the north shore of Little Tupper. It was a glorious sunny day, the lake was uncharacteristically calm, and they took their time traveling from one spot to another. The day’s foray involved dipping into the large bays on that side of the lake in search of the yellow discs that mark the campsites. They found a couple of excellent sites that, like Camp Two, offered good canoe take-outs, some beach, and a level spot to pitch a tent. Most of the campsites are set back from shore a bit. They stored all the campsite locations on their GPS, as a number of the sites can only be spotted from close at hand and could be easily overlooked by tired campers searching for a place to stay on a darkening evening.
Day Four sent the two paddlers down the south shore of the lake for exploration and to check out the campsites on that shore of the lake. In general, they found the sites on this side of the lake ranging from unattractive to downright lousy. Landing a gear-laden boat at some of them would be a royal pain and a number of them offered no place to pitch a tent that would allow the campers to unroll their sleeping bags and lie down in a position that could fairly be described as horizontal. Take it from the NCMC, if you are going to camp on Little Tupper, look for a site on the north shore of the lake.
Upon returning to camp in the afternoon, a look by the campers to the northwest showed a storm on the way, so they put up their tarp and, when the rain came, sat in their camp chairs for a couple of hours and hit the books. The rain passed and was followed by a glowing sunset.
The campers awoke on Day Five to clear skies and decided to take their time leaving Little Tupper. They took a paddle around their bay and headed for another trip up the brook that emptied into the lake near their campsite. As they approached the brook, they came upon three otters frolicking near its mouth. The otters alternated between huffing and puffing at the paddlers and sticking their necks out of the water to inspect them thoroughly. Leaving the otters, the campers took another trip up the brook, where the pickerelweed was in full bloom along the water’s edge. Then it was back to camp and the recognition that it was time to pack up and go.
They had a leisurely paddle back to the ranger headquarters. It was a Friday and the empty parking lot they had encountered on Monday now had a lot of cars and campers preparing to head into Little Tupper for the weekend. As they were hauling gear and boats from the shore to their car, their friend the ranger returned from patrol and told them that he was familiar with the otters and that the brook in question was named Otter Brook. At one point during the week, Jan and Tom had seen a motor boat on the lake, and the ranger told them that it was the DEC launch rescuing a party in an overloaded canoe.
After packing up the car and tying canoes to its roof, they headed from Little Tupper to the Saranac Lake area and gave up roughing it in favor of a night of car camping at the state campground at Rollins Pond. The many lakes and ponds in that area ought to be motor-free and part of the St. Regis Canoe Area, but that battle between gas/noise and muscle/quiet was lost long ago.
The next day they visited Jack and Mary at their house in Saranac Inn and the four of them took the NCMC’s spanking-new four-person canoe out of Jack’s garage, put it on wheels and rolled it down the street to the Semlers’ access to Upper Saranac Lake. They had a challenging paddle, as the wind and waves were up on the lake. The boat was rolled home, and Jan and Tom reluctantly headed back to Connecticut.
Gallery: Little Tupper