Paddling the Kunjamuk

We got a little wet paddling the Kunjamuk River in Speculator, but we still had fun.

On Memorial Day, my boyfriend Andy and I met our friends Brandon and Katie to go for a paddle. We live in Saranac Lake, and they were in Oneida, so Speculator was about an hour-and-a-half drive for both of us.

We both have kayaks, but our friends were bringing a canoe, so we picked up one of my dad's canoes on the way through Tupper so we could keep up.

Drop off & end Strategy

We met our friends in the parking lot across the street (routes 8 and 30) from the village public beach. We had been running late, so they had some time to do some recon work and strategize a bit: We would put in at the bridge at the end of the parking lot, which is the Sacandaga River, but we brought Brandon's big truck to a parking area a little farther down Route 30, at Duck Bay. That way we didn't have to battle the wider Sacandaga once we got back from paddling the Kunjamuk.

Trees hang over the Kunjamuk.
Trees hang over the Kunjamuk.

On the River

We set out, with Andy and I getting used to working together to paddle a canoe rather than being on our own in kayaks. It was relatively wide and easy at the start. We glided along for about a mile-and-a-half on the Sacandaga River before we came into a wide-open area and turned left into the narrower Kunjamuk River.

The Kunjamuk is narrow and winding. There was one or two spots where we picked the wrong way to go at a fork in the river, then got stuck in a dead end and had to turn around. You have to look for which direction the water is flowing and follow the flow rather than the stagnant water, but sometimes it's hard to tell.

Beaver Dams

There are a number of beaver lodges along the banks, and several beaver dams across the river. As you go upriver, some of the dams aren't easy to get over. The first and second ones bounced us back a few times before we got through, though Brandon and Katie didn't seem to have any problems.

Beaver dams dot the shores of the Kunjamuk.
Beaver dams dot the shores of the Kunjamuk.

The Kunjamuck Cave

A little over a mile-and-a-half in, a logging road passes over the river with a little bridge. We were planning to stop there to check out the nearby Kunjamuk Cave, but another group of people stopped just before us and there wasn't much room in the take-out area just past the bridge to the left for more boats, so we decided to hit it up on the way back.

Great Bird Watching

We continued on, with the water rushing more than it did earlier. It was a sunny, beautiful day, and we enjoyed the quiet of the river. We listened to the chatter and tweet of birds - apparently this is a good paddle for people who are into birding. Our website lists a number of birds that you can often see in the area: bald eagles, kestrels, red-tailed hawks, osprey, American bitterns, blue herons, cedar wax wings, winter wrens, mallards, black ducks and several different warblers, including the black-throated green and black-throated blue. I don't know anything about birds, so I'll take our experts' word for it! I will go ahead and agree that there were a lot of them.

A tip on how to go under a low bridge heading upstream 

A while up the river, we came upon another logging bridge. Our plan was to get out and have lunch on it, but it was tough just getting under it. Brandon and Katie got through OK the first time, but we tried to paddle under it and the water was rushing too hard, and it was too hard to paddle deeply under such a low bridge, so we got thrown back. We waited off to the side as three kayakers also tried to get through. The first pushed through easily, but two others behind him had as much trouble as Andy and I had.

Kayakers struggle against the current.
Kayakers struggle against the current.

Brandon yelled down to us that once we were under the bridge, we could just grab the roof of it and pull ourselves through, so we tried it. And it worked! We were tired as we pulled ourselves up to the banks on the left beyond the bridge and got out to have lunch.

Riverside picinic in the Adirondack sunshine

Soon after we had sat down on the bridge to eat, the kayakers were back. The rapids were too much for them up the river, so they decided to turn around. We enjoyed our sandwiches and sat in the sun for a bit before getting ready to shove back off. Our plan was to continue on to Elm Lake and turn around there - about another mile or so, if I remember correctly.

We enjoy a scenic lunch.
We enjoy a scenic lunch.

An unexpected dip

There was a beaver dam just up from the bridge, and it had a small opening on the left side of the river where Brandon and Katie managed to paddle through. Andy and I attempted it, and it looked like we were going to make it at first. Then, all of a sudden, the rushing water slammed us back into the river bank, bow-side first. I was in the front of the canoe, and I got trapped on a tree that was sticking out at a 90 degree angle into the river.

My instinct was to hold on to the tree, so I grabbed it and held on with all my effort. But the water kept rushing, and it pushed the canoe sideways and water started filling up the boat. Andy jumped out, but it took me a while before I realized that would be the best course of action. Finally I pulled my legs up and out of the canoe, and Andy corralled it (and all our stuff in it) and brought it all back to the side of the river near the bridge. He had to yell to me to let go of the roots I was grasping, and I finally did, letting myself be pushed back there by the current.

It was a little scary, but once we were on shore drying off in the bright sun, we felt much better. But we weren't going to try that again. We waited for Brandon and Katie to realize we weren't going to make it and come back, and we let our stuff dry for a little while.

Downstream return

Once we were ready, we piled back into the boats and headed downstream. It was relaxing not to have to paddle so hard. We stopped to try to find the cave, which sounds interesting, but we couldn't figure out where it was. It's a feature that other writers over the years have called things like "mysterious" and "enigmatic" - no one knows where it came from or why, but there are rumors that well-known hermit French Louie used to hole up there when he traversed the area.

We walk down the trail - probably the wrong way!
We walk down the trail - probably the wrong way!

We weren't sure we were going the right way and didn't see any signs referring to the cave anywhere, so we doubled back and tried the other direction, but we didn't find anything that way, either. Andy wanted to go back and try to find it, but we were all pretty tired and ready to get back to Speculator and find some dinner. So we packed up and headed back.

Our canoes
Our canoes

The return trip was much quicker, and we were relieved to have the truck where we left it. We hauled the canoes up the steep bank and into the truck and were off.

Overall it was a lovely trip, and we thoroughly enjoyed the quiet and the challenge of the river. I'm fairly certain that the currents aren't a problem later in the paddling season - most of what I read about the paddle says you can get out and pull your boat over the beaver dams - but water levels were still high in May this year.

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