Wednesday, July 2, 2014

OK Slip Falls, hike in - raft out: 06/28/2014

OK Slip Falls overlook, Saturday 06/28/2014.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

OK Slip Falls has been at the top of my hiking to-do list ever since it opened up for public access late last year. This spring, when I found out that Square Eddy Expeditions would be offering guided hike in – raft out trips, I dropped some not-so-subtle Fathers’ Day gift hints. Lucky for me the hints worked, and we coordinated a date for Beth, Daniel and me to do the trip (Sylvie’s too young for the rafting part of the trip).

Now, I’m not the kind of guy who hires a guide at the drop of a hat. I’ve hiked, skied, climbed and paddled all over the Adirondacks for the past 30+ years. I don't need someone to show me the way around the woods. But this is the kind of trip you can’t pull off on your own unless you’ve got a river raft, a way to get your raft halfway down the Hudson Gorge to OK Slip Brook, and the experience to safely paddle the remaining 6 miles through class 3 and 4 rapids to North River (my whitewater skills are zero). On top of that, I’ve known Square Eddy owners Lori Phoebe Benton and Linc Marsac for years, so being able to do the trip with good friends as our guides sealed the deal.

The hike in to the falls took us about an hour and a half. Linc led us on an easy 3-mile route over rolling terrain. Square Eddy has access to private property adjoining the state-owned OK Slip tract, allowing us to take a more direct route for the first two miles than the recently marked state route (click here for a recent trip report describing the official state access).

Linc leading the way on the approach to the falls

There’s not much of a hint that you’re approaching the falls. The trail begins a gentle descent, there’s the distant sound of flowing water, and suddenly you arrive at an overlook on the edge of a steep gorge. Directly across are the falls.

The view from the overlook is breathtaking. OK Slip Brook plunges over the falls in a single drop, said to be 250’. Compared to other Adirondack waterfalls - Roaring Brook Falls, Rainbow Falls, Beaver Meadow Falls – OK Slip Falls is in a league of its own for both its height and its volume of water. Watching the falling water and listening to its sound is mesmerizing. I took dozens of photos.

OK Slip Falls overlook

We had the falls to ourselves

It’s thrilling that OK Slip Falls is now owned by the people of New York State. At the same time, thanks go out to Finch Pruyn and Northern Frontier Camp for their stewardship over the past century. We have inherited an unspoiled wilderness gem.

A beautiful wilderness setting

The sound and motion of the falls fill the senses

I told you I took dozens of photos...

I could have watched the falls for hours, but of course we had the whole second half of our adventure ahead of us. The state trail led us to the Hudson in a little less than a mile from the falls overlook, first crossing OK Slip Brook on a footbridge above the falls and then descending steeply into the Hudson Gorge.

View from the top of the falls

Linc and Daniel exploring OK Slip Brook above the falls

Linc and Beth approaching the confluence of the brook and the Hudson

As we arrived at the river, Lori greeted us with snacks and drinks, having just rowed our raft down the upper portion of the Hudson Gorge. The scene at the river was a bit of a contrast to the wilderness we experienced on the trail and at the falls. Dozens of rafts (40? 50?) - most with 8 paddlers plus a guide - floated by, riding the bubble of water released from Lake Abanakee that brings the river up by a foot.

Lori en route with our raft

Snacks and drinks at the river

A steady stream of rafts

We would be riding the same bubble of course, but Linc and Lori launched our raft at the back of the pack, giving us a bit of distance from the rest of the rafters. We hit the first set of rapids almost immediately, and that’s where the non-stop smiles began.

Notice who's doing all the work...

A nice set of rapids

I’ve rafted the Hudson Gorge before, but it was an April trip more than 20 years ago. On that trip the mountains were snow covered, the riverbanks were jammed with ice, the air temperature was in the 30s and so was the water. It was a thrilling trip, but we froze our collective butts off. This trip down the river couldn’t have been more different. The sun shone strong and the water was warm enough we didn’t need wetsuits. And with the river running at four and a half feet (a level experienced paddlers consider “fun”), the rapids were a blast. I was concerned before the trip that the whitewater might be a bit too much for Daniel, but he loved every minute of it. In fact, we’ve decided we’d like to go back and do the entire Hudson Gorge raft trip, so that we can experience the parts above OK Slip Brook that we missed.

Looking back upstream

Approaching the Boreas bridge that marks the end of the Hudson Gorge

Lori and Linc: you couldn't ask for more friendly and competent guides

We covered the 6 river miles in about two hours, reaching the take-out in North River around 3pm. Back at Square Eddy’s headquarters in North Creek, we shared cold beverages and chatted about the day’s adventure. Linc and Lori talked about ideas for other trips they may offer, consistent with their goal of providing personalized adventures for their clients. It’ll be tough for them to beat this one.

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