Quiet is a relative thing; it depends on where you are and where you’ve been. In New York City and Chicago it means you can hear yourself speak. In the suburbs it means you can hear your neighbors talking softly in the yard next door.
But I found out what quiet really is when I was working as an Adirondack Voyageur, a guide taking small groups of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts on wilderness treks in the Adirondack State Park in northern New York. Some of the Adirondack Treks are backpacking treks, some are canoe treks. I did canoe treks.
The Adirondack State Park was created in 1892 by the State of New York in response to concerns about the water and timber resources of the Adirondack Mountains because lumber companies had clear cut large sections of the forests across the entire area. Today the Adirondack State Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States, and it covers an area larger than Yellowstone National Park, Everglades National Park, Glacier National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park combined.
The Adirondack State Park is a unique place that encompasses almost 6 million acres, nearly half of which is public land that has been constitutionally protected to remain a “forever wild” forest preserve. The remaining half of the Park is private land including towns and hamlets, farms, timber lands, businesses, homes, vacation cottages, and summer camps.
The Adirondacks are a paddler’s paradise with more than 3,000 lakes and ponds, and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, many of which are within some of the huge wilderness areas in the park.
A wilderness area is defined by New York State law to mean an area of State land or water having a primeval character, without significant improvement or permanent human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve and enhance its natural conditions. In the Nineteenth Century, much of the forests in the Adirondacks were clear cut by lumber companies, so today, although the park is covered by mature forests, virtually all of the wilderness areas in the Adirondacks are composed of the trees that grew after the virgin forest had been logged. Although you can still find the isolated old growth tree scattered here and there in the wilderness areas of the park.
In each wilderness area in the Adirondacks, the imprint of human influence on the environment must be substantially unnoticeable. Each wilderness area must contain at least ten thousand acres of contiguous land and water; it must have outstanding opportunities for solitude; and the wilderness area should contain ecological, geological or other features of scientific, educational, scenic or historical value.
The Adirondack Voyageur program was created in 1979 as part of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Camping School. The Voyageur/Trek Leader program certifies adult leaders (minimum age 18) to guide youth groups on wilderness treks in the Adirondacks, traveling by pack or by paddle. Voyageur training includes swimming, lifesaving, canoeing, kayaking, backpacking, navigation, no-trace camping, first aid, and leadership training.
The Voyageur’s job on the trek is to make sure that everyone stays safe, to ensure that everyone on the trek abides by the no trace camping rules set down by New York State for camping in the wilderness areas, and to try to make sure that everyone on the trek has a good time.
That particular trek was on Lows Lake, a man-made lake created by two dams on the Bog River, and I was with the Venture Crew from my son’s Boy Scout troop in Brockport, New York, about 240 miles southwest of the lake.. The boys in the Venture Crew were all older Scouts who had all been trained in canoeing and no-trace camping. They all had the Canoeing, Lifesaving, Swimming, and Backpacking Merit Badges, so they were fairly self-sufficient and had a pretty good idea of how to do things on a canoe trek.
They had also already spent at least two summer sessions at Camp Sabattis, which is a cook your own meals camp, so they were quite familiar with the precautions they needed to take so their campsite wouldn’t be raided by black bears searching for food in the middle of the night.
There is no mess hall at Camp Sabattis. The boys cooked their own breakfast and dinner, and did all their own clean-up so they wouldn’t get “beared” by one of the many black bears that lived in the woods surrounding the Boy Scout Camp.
The boys had arrived at the Sabattis Scout Reservation on Sunday afternoon and we put in from the Sabattis waterfront on Monday morning. The boys had to check out of Camp Sabattis on Saturday, so the trek would last until Friday afternoon.
Camp Sabattis is located on the eastern shore of Lows Lake at the point where the lake narrows into the Bog River Flow. After we put in we paddled out into Lows Lake, with the boy who had been elected Venture Crew Leader in the lead canoe. The camp supplied each trek with Grumman 15-foot double-end canoes, and we had three people in each canoe with the strongest paddler in the rear position.
We the spent the first night on Frying Pan Island which is reserved for the exclusive use by Boy Scout treks or overnight canoe outings from Camp Sabattis during June, July, and August. The boys liked camping on Frying Pan Island, not only because it had a nice swimming beach, but also because they could relax and not worry about being “beared” since the bears don’t swim out to the island.
Lows Lake supports a wide variety of wildlife, including one of the largest loon nesting populations in New York State. The loons are everywhere, flying overhead, filing the air with their haunting calls night and day. You can’t miss the loons, but if you are observant, you might also spot an osprey or a bald eagle flying overhead. Frying Pan Island was a great place for spotting an osprey or an eagle since it was out in the middle of the lake where the ospreys and eagles like to fly in their search for fish to eat. The boys weren’t into bird watching, but they knew how rare it was to see a bald eagle so they all watched the sky just in case an eagle should fly over.
Lows Lake is also famous for fishing. In fact, some people think that Lows Lake has the best bass fishing in New York State, and this small group of boys liked to fish. Largemouth bass ranging in size from 1 to 5 pounds are common in the lake, and fishing along the bog margins during early evening often brings great results. Virgin Timber Landing was one of the best places on the lake to do that, and that might have been the main reason why the boys liked camping at Virgin Timber Landing so much.
So on Tuesday morning, right after breakfast, we put in again and paddled the four miles or so to the Virgin Timber Landing campsite at the far western edge of the lake.
One of the issues canoeist have to be aware of on Lows Lake is that winds blowing from the west across the length of the lake don’t have to be all that strong to create whitecaps on the lake west of Frying Pan Island. But on that particular trek the winds weren’t a problem.
New York State has established thirty-nine numbered campsites around the lake and each one is marked with a site number, a fire ring, and a round 4.5 inch yellow marker nailed to a tree on the shoreline. But this group of boys was not interested in any campsite other than Virgin Timber Landing. They wanted to set up camp and then go fishing.
Virgin Timber Landing is one of three landings on the lake that connect to trails into the surrounding wilderness area. The trail at Virgin Timber Landing led into the Five Ponds Wilderness area, 107,230 acres of wild forest between Cranberry Lake and Stillwater Reservoir. To me it is beyond a doubt the best and most remote wilderness in the Adirondack State Park.
When we reached Virgin Timber Landing we took all our gear out of the canoes and then carried the canoes up into the campsite so they couldn’t be seen from the lake. After we set up our tents, we flipped over one of the canoes and stabilized it with some pieces of wood to make a camp table that we could set up our Coleman Peak One stoves on so we could cook I comfort when it was time to eat.
Once we had camp set up the boys went fishing. Most of them fished from the shore, but two of the boys launched one of the canoes and paddled out a short way in the hope of better fishing. The fish weren’t biting that day, but that didn’t bother the boys very much.
They were out on their own, doing what they really wanted to do. They had three more days on Lows Lake and deep down inside they knew they’d catch their share of fish. They always did when they paddled out to Virgin Timber Landing.
After dinner we sat in a loose circle talking about this and that. Mostly the boys talked about where they would fish the next day and whether they wanted to paddle over to Grass Pond the next day or the day after that. Virgin Timber Landing had a great reputation for fishing, but Grass Pond, which is really a bay on the north shore of the lake, had an even better reputation as a place to fish. On treks, all our fishing was catch and release. We didn’t want to clean a fish because the smell of the fish guts would draw bears from all over the place. Again, that was okay with the boys as long as we took pictures of them holding up any fish that they caught.
As we were talking the sun went down and it got so dark you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. But your eyes adjusted to the dark and if you didn’t turn your flashlight on and ruin your night vision you could walk around the campsite and not trip over anything.
We’d had a long day and the conversation drifted off and we sat there enjoying the peace and quiet and the darkness. Then suddenly we heard an animal walking through the woods, thrashing through the underbrush and headed straight for our camp. Immediately, the boys were sure it was a bear, and it took a while for them to quiet them down again.
But they were antsy and nervous so I suggested that they all get out their flashlights, aim them at the sound in the woods, and on the count of three turn on all the flashlights so we could see the bear, or whatever it was, and scare it away.
They quietly got out their flashlights and on the count of three, turned the flashlights on and flooded the area where the noise was coming from with light.
There, walking through the leaves was the cutest mouse I’ve ever seen. It didn’t even stop walking when the flashlights came on.
That was the moment I realized what quiet really is. It was so quiet that night at Virgin Timber Landing at the western end of Lows Lake that we heard a mouse walking through the woods.
To reach Lows Lake, take the New York State Thruway to exit 33, NY-365 East toward Verona/Rome. Take NY-365 East for about 15 miles. Then merge onto NY-12N/ NY 28N and take State Route 28 N toward Alder Creek/Old Forge. Merge onto NY-28N and take State Route 28N for about 62 miles until you reach the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake. Continue onto NY-28N/NY-30N, then turn left onto NY-30N. Take Route 30N through the town of Long Lake. Continue on Route 30N for about 11 miles until you cross into Franklin County and then cross almost immediately into St. Lawrence County.
Turn left onto State Route 421. Take State Route 421 for a little more than 5 miles until it becomes a dirt road near Horseshoe Lake. Continue on State Route 421 for about a mile and half until you pass the canoe launch for Horseshoe Lake. Turn left onto the road marked Lows Upper Dam. Continue on this road for about two miles as it passes through the Hitchins Pond Primitive Area. Park your car in the parking lot at the Lows Upper Dam. Put in and paddle up the Bog River Flow away from the dam until your reach Lows Lake. As you approach Lows Lake, the land to the north is private land, including the Sabattis Boy Scout Reservation, my departure point on the trek when I found out what quiet really means.
The map The Adirondacks Northwest Lakes from Eastern Mountain Sports shows the route from just south of Long Lake all the way to Lows Lake. The map is available at many outfitters in New York and from Amazon.com.
You can also create and print you own topographic map of Lows Lake at mytopo.com
- Select Printed Maps from the meu at the top of the page.
- Select Create Your Map under the heading USGS and Canadian Topographic Maps
- Type in Lows Lake, and select Lows Lake, Colton, NY
- Follow the steps online.