High-water adventure on the Hudson
INDIAN LAKE — With a fresh dusting of snow on the ground, most people weren’t thinking about swimming this past weekend. But I dragged myself out of bed early May 14, donned some long johns and drove to Indian Lake, where I was pretty much guaranteed to spend the day soaking wet.
With a light rain falling, Adirondac Rafting Co., based out of Lake Placid, geared me up with a wetsuit, booties and mittens in an effort to keep me warm. It was made clear that there was no way to stay dry, especially since the river was flowing at a high rate due to the wet spring we’ve had.
As I got dressed, about 40 other people filtered in for what was sure to be a cold and wet day. The other folks were groups from the Northwood School in Lake Placid and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Ranger School in Wanakena.
Once everyone was dressed in wetsuits and fitted with helmets, paddles and life jackets, the staff gave us a safety talk about what to do if we fell in the river. The students nervously laughed as they thought about taking a dunk in the cold water. But that hesitancy, I was to learn, would be short-lived.
We all loaded up onto a bus with a few rafts strapped to the top and proceeded about five minutes down the road to the launching point. Once there, we were divided into groups and were assigned a raft. Everyone pitched in to move the rafts as we looked down the hill to the roiling water below, and the joking that was happening on the bus was diminished as we all got our first look at the river.
Adirondac Rafting, along with several other companies that offer rafting trips, launch into the Indian River for what is about a 16-mile trip in total. Just below a small set of falls that were absolutely raging, we launched the rafts and took a few practice strokes to make sure everyone would be on the same page, paddling-wise.
From the calm of the eddy we launched into, the fleet of a half-dozen rafts started its way down the Indian, bouncing over some small riffles and avoiding major rocks, but otherwise just taking in the view and enjoying each others’ company.
The guides said this trip usually spans more than four hours, including a stop for a picnic lunch. But that’s when the river is flowing at its normal rate of about 1,000 cubic feet of water per second. On Sunday, the river was flowing at more than 6,000.
Due to the high flows and cold weather, this would be an abbreviated trip that would take just a little over three hours since we were going to skip lunch on the river.
As we made our way down the Indian to the Hudson River, we made a quick stop at the swimming rock, something the people in my raft couldn’t believe. But as we watched in amazement, a couple of high school kids jumped out of their raft, climbed the rock and then jumped back into the water, which was somewhere in the 40-degree range. They seemed none the worse for wear, and our group was soon on its way back down the river.
After a few rapids were encountered, we all pulled into the side of the river to take a quick break and consume some much-needed hot chocolate. Everyone was in a good mood, and despite the occasional rain and cold, all were having a good time.
And that’s when the fun really started.
After our quick break, we soon encountered some serious rapids. In the summer, this stretch of river usually carries Class III rapids, sort of in the middle of the spectrum. Think of flat water as Class I, and seriously scary rapids as Class V. We were facing consistent Class IV water, and even some that went up to a Class IV-plus level.
The rest of the trip was an absolute blast. Between hooting and hollering as our boat went straight up, crashing through standing water that thoroughly soaked all of us to the bone.
Although we got tossed around a little bit, no one in our raft was thrown out of the boat. But the younger kids, once we were out of the serious rapids, made a game of shoving each other into the water or using their paddles to yank boat-mates by the life jacket into the river.
Once we reached the take-out point, it got pretty cold pretty quickly. Most people hopped into the bus, and as the warmth generated by paddling and the excitement of the trip wore off, fingers and toes got cold.
We took the bus back to the company’s base and ate lunch while the staff washed all the wetsuits. I talked to Bob Rafferty, the owner of Adirondac Rafting and thanked him for a wonderful trip. He smiled a sly smile and said “You’ll be back.”
He’s probably right.