The good news is, I got a water-resistant camera in time for this trip.... the bad news is, I didn't get it in time to work out a way to attach it to me so I wouldn't lose it... so unfortunately I was often afraid to get it out of my pocket (which I couldn't do with my pfd on, anyways). Thus the lack of quality on-water pics but, on to the trip report.
I left the house at, I dunno around 6am, having packed 99% the night before. I made good time heading north with but one secondary objective: find some kind of hat with a brim to wear for the trip. I knew there was a 100% chance we'd be paddling into rain, I figured that whether I wore a hat with my goretex jacket (no hood) or under the hood on my Dri Ducks jacket, it would make life better. Stopped in 3 or 4 convenient store/gas stations, not so much as a Yankees hat... finally I found a Dollar General in Peru (very close to the boat launch for our trip) and bought a khaki baseball cap for $3... win!
So I arrived at the stated coords about 20 minutes early but there was no boat launch there. I parked across the street at a boat shop and started digging for Jamie's phone number, before I could find it he pulled up to the spot. We reasoned that the boat launch had to be nearby, and headed south maybe a half mile to find it. Had a broken conversation with Bunsen to let him know that the coords were slightly off, he pulled in maybe 5 or at the most 10 minutes later, nice!
By the time we got there it was raining steady and the waves were already crazy-big. Not sure if anyone got pictures, but there was a concrete wall with a floating metal dock attached to it in such a way it could rise and fall with the water... we did walk out on this but it was a challenge just keeping our footing. With the winds out of the north and west the launch was absolutely unprotected... it was just too hairy for my taste, and one could see that it wasn't just a matter of busting through breakers, the waves were all the way across the water to Valcour. What struck me was not just the height of the waves but the frequency, she was an angry lake!
We decided to get some brunch at a nearby Dunkin Donuts and plot our next move. We ended up looking for a different launch, found a place to the south that looked like a more civilized launch, but by this time the winds were really howling and it seemed we'd be paddling into them for at least two miles. I had doubts we'd make it as did the others, so we went to look for a third option. This had us touring the grounds of Clinton Comm College, a place I remembered seeing on a road trip some twenty years ago, neat to see it again but no boat launches. Finally we went to the original launch location and after some hemming and hawing, thinking the waves had subsided some we decided "this is what we came here to do, let's give it a try."
Well, between off-loading and loading up boats, and getting changed into immersion gear, assembling paddles, getting spray skirts attached, testing whistles and so on, some time passes and in a nor-easter the weather can really change, and boy, did it! The waves got stupidly big. Jamie was first to launch, I stayed out of my boat for a few moments in case he needed any help right away, Bunsen launched shortly after and I finally got out there. We just rode out some short distance from the shore, feeling the waves, the wind and the power in them, and gauging our chances. Finally I think Jamie shouted over the din "What do you think?" and I replied "I think it's too big! (That's what she said)." I'll admit it, I was first to tap out. When someone was in a wave trough ahead of me I'd lose sight of them behind the wave, the waves were just stupidly big, fast, and powerful, and although facing into them was kind of fun, being sideways to them either on purpose or on accident was "holy scary" and the headwind made it seem like the relatively short paddle might take hours to finish. Luckily the others agreed it was a bit much and we turned back (which was an adventure in itself, with the waves coming so fast I could not get turned around in time to get my stern to the waves... yikes!) After a very hairy, beating-intensive landing, we congratulated each other on having not died, and went on in search of "plan B".
Plan B turned out to be a forest preserve where we could camp... it rained all night, so we set up camp, boiled water for Mt. House, and turned in around 7:30 rather than stand around in the dark and rain. We all slept until something like 8am... awesome and I thought very respectable for Bunsen who was ground-dwelling. I had my 15 bag,DD underquilt, GT ultralight hammock, and 10'x10' DD Tarp and was happy as could be. NFA hung a Warbonnet Traveler with a HH tarp... for reasons neither of us understand he didn't bring his recently purchased MollyMac insulated sock, so he felt cold from under the hammock now and then.
So we finally got back to the boat launch and it was a different lake. Still not exactly a pushover when you got out there, but there was an older gentleman rowing around at the launch in an aluminum rowboat so I said "if we can't launch into this we should sell our boats". The waves seemed to be in the 1 foot+ range, in what seemed like no time we were at the island, landing and setting up camp there.
Before the trip I had asked Jamie if there would be bears on the island. Well, we never saw a bear, but there were loads of bear scat in our site! The site was great... I've used better outhouses, but there was a firepit and picnic table, and a great view... awesome!
NFA and Bunsen at camp
Self-portrait with hammock rig in background
After snack time we headed out towards Crab Island. The waves kept picking up steam as we went and at one point Jamie was having trouble keeping the spray skirt secure on the large cockpit of his Old Town kayak, so as a group we decided to spend time exploring the coast line of the Valcour and leave Crab Island for another day. It was a nice and fun paddle with some surf-able waves on the way back. Returning to camp, Jamie and I walked out to the lighthouse (built in 1874, recently the interior was restored but there was no access this day), took some pictures, we all gathered some firewood and eventually got a fire going. Nice campout with much less rain.
Fossil rock near campsite
Old steps from shore
Boats at Valcour Landing
But the sun tried to poke through
Cloudy, but still pretty.
Sunday morning we got up and packed up camp. When we got out on the water the general consensus was to head straight back to the boat launch. Again the waves seemed to pick up as we went, but Jamie asked "should we head south some and check out some of the McMansions?". Well, what a ride. The wind had shifted 180 deg overnight and was out of the south, and we were riding over swells that exceeded 3 ft at times. It was a whole different experience from Friday though, the frequency of the waves was less intense and they weren't breaking waves. You'd slow down a little going uphill on the face of the wave, speed up going back down, even into the wind we were making decent time, and being sideways to these swells was not too scary. Finally we turned back towards home and were rewarded with some fun surfing and wave action. Nothing left to do but one last landing, pack up, dry clothes (yay!), one last visit to Dunkin Donuts, and head home.
A few closing thoughts...
None of us seemed to regret trying the lake on Friday night, but at the same time none of us seemed to regret turning back. It was an adventure for sure, but I think it was over my head (figuratively and literally) at my current experience and fitness level. Maybe someday. I'd definitely want to upgrade from my nylon spray-skirt to neoprene though. Having a bomb-proof roll would be nice too, not to mention some warmer weather!
In closing, a great, memorable trip. Big thanks to Jamie for organizing it, and to Bunsen for making the road trip from distant Buffalo!