On an Island in the Sun
“We’ll be playing having fun”
Weezer’s melancholy song about hanging out on an island in the sun may possibly be what I had running through my mind when Lindsay and I opted to camp on an island on Lake George in upstate New York. The relaxed, island living, summer sun soaking ended up slightly different; it ended up an adventure.
I suppose I should start with how we even opted on Lake George. Back in June we asked our readers and Instagram followers to suggest a place for us to camp at the end of August (you can read that post here). We got a bunch of awesome suggestions from everything to Maine, Canada, and New Hampshire. We went with Lake George because 1) it was close enough to drive 2) we hadn’t been there and 3) after some research, we realized we could stay on our own private island on the lake!
We had never heard of Island Camping before this, but everything about it sounded like the perfect little summer getaway. Lake George has 3 main clusters of islands which hold anywhere from a single camping site to large islands, holding up to as many as 90 sites. All the reservable sites are listed on Reserve America’s website. Each site has a pit privy, camp site or pad, and a fireplace. Essentially everything we needed for a few nights of bliss on our own private island.
There was just one caveat: the islands are all only accessible by boat, and we don’t own a boat. Now, you can hire a water taxi for a cost that makes camping seem like a waste. You can also rent a boat, additionally at a ridiculous cost (note: you do not need a boating license to rent a boat there. Just a photo ID). Or you can go completely rogue like Lindsay and I decided to do and traverse the 45 square mile lake on a tandem sit-on-top kayak. If you know anything about boating or Lake George, I’m pretty sure you are already shaking your head.
I did do some research on the pros and cons of crossing over to the Lake George Islands via kayak. Lots of people said canoeing or kayaking the lake was much too dangerous because of the amount of boats, some captained by inexperienced boaters who may or may not have been drinking. Other people said it was a doable endeavor as long as one took the proper precautions. We figured, why not. What’s the worst thing that could happen? (I mean, possible drowning is pretty bad, but whatever).
So, on Sunday August 26th we packed up our Subaru with our camping gear (of course we drive a Subaru), strapped a large red kayak on the top, and drove the 3 hours to the Norowal Marina in Bolton, New York which is situated right on Lake George. Norowal allows Island Camping guests to check in, park the cars, and launch their boats (or in our case kayak) from their marina for a fee. I do have to say the drive though the Lake George area is a pretty one. There are endless hotels, campsites, and cabin with art deco design scattered throughout the area. It’s almost as if time stopped there in the 1960s and 1970s. It doesn’t feel at all dated, it feels endearing. (think Dirty Dancing).
Once we got to the marina and unloaded all of our gear, we were off. I had mapped out a route that would have us hugging the shore for a bit before crossing a portion of the lake that was around a mile wide. The total trip would be just over 3 miles. We had done longer trips in the past so we figured this would be doable. We also picked days where the lake would have less traffic (Sunday afternoon heading out and Tuesday morning return). What we didn’t realize was that it wasn’t the amount of time or mileage that it would take to cross the lake that would be difficult, it was the choppy surf that we would encounter that would be the problem. And it was definitely a problem.
About halfway through the large portion of open water that we were crossing, we started to take on water. Looking back, I realize we had a bit too much weight up front and as it turns out, worn out seals on our floor hatches. Lindsay started to get a bit nervous. I started to paddle faster. At some point I was sitting in the back of the kayak, ankle deep in water, with my beer cans that were in the cup holders floating in the water between my legs. I can’t lie, it was a bit nerve wracking, especially considering Lindsay had around $4,000 in camera equipment strapped to the front of the kayak in a dry bag.
We paddled as hard and as fast as we could to the closest shore, Montcalm Point, (Lindsay lovingly refers to it as NOT calm point) where we unloaded the kayak, dumped out the water, and drank a much needed beer. We repacked and re-positioned the gear, putting the weight in the center and back, and headed back out onto the lake. We were determined to get to our island! We ended up with a bit more water in the kayak, but nothing that we couldn’t scoop out with our Nalgene bottle. As we got into calmer waters we finally relaxed and enjoyed the stunning scenery around us.
As we rounded Turtle Island, one of the larger of the Glen Islands, we set eyes on Brush Island where we would be camping the next few days. We docked the kayak and unloaded the gear, pitching our Coleman tent in a secluded portion of the island that bordered the water so we could fall asleep to the waves hitting the shore. After that we kayaked over the the Glen Island camp store to pick up some firewood for dinner. The camp store carries all kinds of necessities, which is handy if you’re trying to kayak 3 miles across a giant lake and can’t fit firewood on your boat. Unfortunately, they don’t have alcohol which is a shame because after the fiasco of getting to the islands I could have used a stiff drink.
I pride myself in being a fairly descriptive writer, but I’ll admit it’s difficult to accurately describe what it’s like to float around a mass of islands on a kayak as the sun sets over the mountains. Or how wonderful it feels to walk around a private island in the darkness of summer not wearing any clothing. Or how wonderful Trader Joe’s BBQ spatchcocked chicken tastes cooked over and open fire, especially when you are starving from kayaking all day. I can’t fully describe how enjoyable it was to spend time on our island. We both crashed that night and slept like babies.
The next day we woke up, had breakfast along with some coffee from the camp store, and kayaked across to the other side of the lake. We got a lot of looks and “Wow! You ladies are brave to be out here on that kayak!”, despite the fact that it was a Monday and lake traffic was pretty slow. We made it across and rounded the shore looking for a place to dock where we could hike up to Shelving Rock Falls. We ate our very Spanish lunch of jamon, chorizo and manchego on the shore before heading out on the hike, which was around a mile to the falls. Once we were there we enjoyed sitting in the waterfall despite the water being fairly cold.
After our hike we kayaked back across to Glen Island where we stopped at the Glen Island Ranger Station to discuss our return options with the Ranger on post. We could take a water taxi back, if we could find one running on a Tuesday, or we could just get up early enough in the morning and beat the lake traffic and hope the waves awere low. We figured, if we got up before the sun and headed out we would be ok. Boy were we wrong.
We woke up at 5:30am Tuesday morning to waves a bit higher and wind a bit stronger than the days before. Still, we packed our gear and headed across the lake. It was idyllic. The sun rose behind us over the mountains as we slowly and surely paddled our red kayak past the now uninhabited midweek islands. At one point, two bald eagles flew from the trees over our heads. It was stunning. And then the waves picked up. And we started taking on water, again. As we headed closer to Montcalm Point, where we had gone ashore 2 days prior, we quickly realized the waves were significantly higher than we had anticipated. Coupled with the fact that there were only a small handful of boats out on the water at that time of day, which would mean no one to see us if we capsized, we decided to head ashore again.
At that point, Lindsay made the executive decision not to carry on. It was too risky to continue to try to paddle across the sizable waves moving sideways. It was early morning, so if we capsized, there would be no one to see us, and it would be a long swim back to the marina. That coupled with the risk of losing Lindsay’s professional camera gear when she had two back to back upcoming weddings to photograph, made her that much more leery. I felt like we could make it, but she was the one with the expensive camera equipment on the kayak, so I caved. We called Warren County Marine Patrol and they sent out Skip, the Marine Officer, (yes, his name was actually Skip). We hauled our gear through the woods to meet him at a dock while I pushed the kayak out into the lake to be retrieved later. Skip was insistent that we did the right thing, that the lake can change at any minute and today was indeed rough, and at least no one was injured. I told him the only thing injured was my ego.
At least we got a nice boat ride across the lake (queue “I’m on a Boat” ft. T Pain). Skip dropped us back off at Norowal Marina where we took a hot shower, changed clothes, strapped the red kayak back to the roof of the Subaru and headed out for the day, luckily unscathed. We stopped at a cute little breakfast spot called Caffe Vero in downtown Lake George that makes it’s own bagels and lattes with adorable animal faces etched into the foam. We took a drive around the town, just to get a little more of feel of the area off the lake. It’s an interesting mix of New England and New York with a little bit of a beach town tossed in. I can see the appeal it has to vacationers. Being that it’s only a few hours drive for us, we will definitely be back. And I’m sure we will have an equally exciting adventure.
Until then friends, Adventure On!