Big Water Rafting in the Adirondacks: Racing Governor Andrew Cuomo down the Hudson River Gorge
By Sonja Stark
More than 30,000 miles of rivers and streams flow through the Adirondack Park in upstate New York making for many memorable water adventures of your choice: kayaking, canoeing or tubing.
But, the ‘Grand Daddy’ of all wilderness fun is whitewater rafting on the roaring Hudson River Gorge. Other than the occasional hunting camp or angler knee-deep in fishing gators, there’s nothing to spoil the view between you and unbridled rapids.
Whitewater Capital of the World
“On your left…and, paddle, paddle, paddle!” bellows our anxious instructor, steering our inflatable island away from the danger of surfacing boulders. That’s not a request, it’s a demand.
We’re whitewater rafting a three-mile span of the Indian River, not far from the confluence of the mighty Hudson River. This adrenaline rush is but a small morsel of a longer 17-mile stretch that finishes in North Creek.
The foaming and frothing river runs strongest after the snow from the Adirondack Mountains melts and washes into trickling rivers. But, in mid-July there are still plenty of class 3 rides to shake up a beginner, even a few harrowing enough to scare a repeat rider.
As bragged about on every outfitter’s website, the Hudson River is tagged as one of the top ten greatest places to whitewater in the United States. There are few places that offer roaring rapids of this caliber starting in spring and continuing through summer, right up until October. Thanks to frequent releases from a local dam built at the outlet of Lake Abanakee, both the Indian River and Hudson River benefit, each rising between 10 and 20-inches.
“Look Alert everyone. These obstacles aren’t suppose to be easy!” forewarns our licensed guide, an assured young pup from the Beaver Brook Outfitters.
Turbulent Joy Ride
The turbulent joy ride is too much for one of the passengers. His name is Prakesh and his whole body is paralyzed in fear. He’s abandoned paddling and is crouched low near the guide’s ankles in what looks remarkably similar to a praying pose. The guide attempts some words of encouragement but Prakesh in no mood for anything but for the ride to end.
Navigation is required among all of us but despite how hard we paddle, it still feels like our stealthy guide is doing all the work. He sits tall and proud from the back of our deep red Maravia, a self-bailing raft that, design-wise, is suppose to be the best brand in the business. Empty it weighs slightly over 100 pounds with a length of about 13-feet to accommodate six passengers and one guide.
This isn’t my first time whitewater rafting but it is the first time that I’ve been able to tuck my feet securely under the pumped-up seat in front of me. There will be no falling overboard like in times past, even given the temptation to swim in the refreshing drink.
New York State’s official travel and tourism agency (I love NY) invited journalists who write for publications all over the world for day of whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks and, may I dare say, to compete alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Governor Peter Schumlin, politicians playing hooky to boost the fun factor of the region. The two natural outdoorsmen take to the river before everyone so they can ruefully splash select journalists. We’re drenched from head to toe before our raft is even fully submerged.
A few seconds after pushing off from the riverbank, one of our city-slicker television reporters (lets call him ‘Dan’) swats in vain at a circling horse fly. It’s so typical. The first-timer forgets to don a bottle of bug repellent to ward off the natural elements. He learns that there’s nothing worse than the sting from a North Country horse fly. He nearly looses his balance during all the drama.
But, the noisy insect is easily eclipsed by another irritation bothering the journalist sitting directly behind Dan. With Dan’s every stroke, she’s clocked in the face with water, which is naturally, par for the course, but, given that my raft is the designated ‘prima donna press raft,’ hair-trigger attitudes are expected.
The ‘Dog Days’ of summer makes this wet and wild adventure the perfect nourishment from the heat and humidity. Despite how Prakesh feels, the rest of us are screaming with delight. We steer into ledges, cascades and drops with the gusto of a bull charging a red cape. The Governor is catching up with us so the pressure is on to keep up the pace.
Obviously, the point of no return comes the minute the raft launches but prior to that time, the instructors spend a good 30-minutes preparing you for the challenge.
Blue and pink helmets, akin to carved out bowling balls, are measured and tightened. Yellow life preservers and string lanyards for eyeglasses are handed out.
The standard practice of signing an insurance waiver is required. Rafting rules and safety procedures are repeated. Rest-assured, the outfitters here in the Adirondacks, regardless of which one you use, are licensed, trained and highly experienced for all situations.
The dancing waters of the Hudson River Gorge continue for another 14 miles past impressive cliff walls, osprey nests and 90-degree turns. Names like Cedar Ledges, Elephant Rock and the Big Nasty (or Soup Strainer) zigzag between slow and fast currents. The summer trip can take between four and five hours and cost roughly $80/person.
In the end, the Governor and his crew, based on his calculations not ours, wins the challenge by several minutes. We’re far from losing out though, having been invited to Gore Mountain for a late lunch of local specialities like Italian sausage from Oscars Smokehouse and ice cream from the Adirondack Creamery. From a well-dressed podium, hundreds of guests and media listen to Governor Cuomo talk about the vitality of the region.
“We are betting very big on tourism, especially for upstate New York. We said we believe in upstate New York, and we believe if people see it, people will come. It was literally just a question of exposure. People don’t know what we have in upstate New York.
They know about New York City, they’ve seen New York City for many, many years, but they don’t know about upstate New York. So, we invested $40 million in an advertising campaign…and you know what happened? Our $40 million investment increased tourism revenue by $4 billion for the state of New York. We just broke a new record!”
The rafting has worked up a big appetite and, despite lunch, our stomachs are growling and groaning again by early evening.
By the time we shower and dress, night has fallen and the winding road up the hill to a rustic resort is in blinding darkness. Garnet Hill Innkeepers Don and Mindy Preuninger rush to our table to welcome us and assure us that the kitchen is still serving.
We missed seeing the stunning views of the mountains from their birch bark furnished dining room, so instead, a few of us huddle around a roaring bomb fire outside or the stone fireplace inside. This pristine oasis is just the escape we need to tame the day’s activities.
Built in 1936 from hand-hewn logs, Garnet Hill is a premier destination for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. In the summer, the resort offers mountain biking, hiking trails, a golf course and a ropes course for visitors.
While Don tickles the piano keys, Mindy tells me all about their “Wine, Music and Art” afternoon specials and intimate beer-pairing events paired with fresh catches like duck, venison and trout.
The Summit at Gore Mountain
If it’s good enough for Governor Cuomo and his children, there should be no fuss from the press overnighting at The Summit at Gore Mountain. Indeed, the vacation rentals – one, two and three bedroom units – are each fully-furnished with private baths and spacious decks.
The kitchen includes all the amenities: refrigerator, stove, microwave, even a wine bottle opener to dine in or enjoy the leftovers from one of North Creek’s popular downtown eateries. For women who use hair conditioner in the shower, don’t forget to BYO.
Adirondak Rafting Company: www.lakeplacidrafting.com
Beaver Brook Outfitters: http://www.beaverbrook.net/
Garnet Hill: http://www.garnet-hill.com
The Summit at Gore: http://summitatgoremountain.com
Guide to North Creek: http://www.northcreekny.com