At the end of the summer, I went camping with Caitlin on a beautiful, pristine lake deep in upstate New York. It’s one of the largest lakes in New York and there are campsites all around its shores. The thing is, the majority of these campsites are only accessible by boat.
We would be crossing the lake in kayaks to get to our campsite.
We had done a trip like this a year before, so we knew that in order to get to our site it would be about a 5 mile paddle. We also had a good idea of what we would need and how to pack it. We knew how much stuff we could fit in our kayaks without going over their weight capacities, and we knew that we had to pack everything in dry bags.
Despite doing this before, it still took a few weeks of meticulous planning to make sure we were ready. These trips take more time to plan than almost anything else, simply because you’re limited on space and weight.
We could only bring exactly what we needed—nothing extra. We packed the bare minimum of clothes, plenty of food, and all the essential gear we would need (knives, lighters, stoves, water filters, etc.) to survive in the wilderness for six days.
Day 0 & Day 1 – Monday & Tuesday
We drove about six and a half hours to get to the lake. It’s pretty far north in the Adirondacks, so almost half of that was spent on windy roads through mountains and valleys. We got there at sundown and spent the night in a cushy campsite (the kind with real bathrooms and showers) near the boat launch.
We knew there would be rain this night—and there was plenty of it—but we got our tent up without getting soaked and stayed dry throughout the night. The rain didn’t let up, and in the morning we woke up to a downpour.
The same thing happened the first time we did this trip a year ago. On that trip it poured during our paddle out—we were hoping for better conditions this time. So, we waited for a few hours, hunkered under our canopy and hoping for a break in the weather.
Around 10 am the rain started to let up and we saw brighter skies. We made for the boat launch as quickly as we could. By the time we got there, the rain had cleared and there were even a few patches of blue sky! We parked and started scrambling to unload the car and get everything in our kayaks.
The sky was still a bit ominous but we decided to go for it anyway. By 11 am we were on the water and ready for the two-hour paddle to camp. We made our way past lake houses and docks, then began crossing the expansive body of the lake. We made a beeline for the opposite shore and within an hour, we were surrounded by wilderness.
We had been lucky with the weather up to this point, but then the wind picked up. What started out as a glassy lake quickly became a choppy mess, but it was manageable. Our kayaks handled it beautifully—my 13-foot Ocean Kayak Prowler was an absolute beast out there. We were more than halfway to our site by the time the wind picked up, and that gave us plenty of motivation to keep moving.
We got to the campsite after about two hours on the water and it didn’t rain! It was incredibly peaceful once we got there, but the sky still looked like it could open up at any second. We pulled into the small cove behind the campsite and began to unload as quickly as we could.
We set up a tarp lean-to first just in case the weather decided to surprise us. Then, we set to work picking a good spot for our tent. Within an hour, we had our boats unloaded and our tent set up. Then, we sat down for an incredible lunch of oatmeal with peanut butter and apples. We were starving.
This campsite is a prime location. It sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the lake with big, flat rocks at the water’s edge on all sides. I took a few casts from the rocks in front of camp once we were all set up and caught two small bass. It felt nice to get a few to start the trip, even if they were small!
As it got later, we made sure we were ready for dark then took a swim in the cove next to camp. This cove is another reason this spot is so good—you can walk straight out from the campsite on a sand bottom and swim just off the shore. We got clean, got dry, then got ready to make a fire and some dinner.
Throughout this first day, the sky constantly looked like it would open up without warning. All around us, seemingly on every side of the lake, we saw rain and dark clouds. It was truly unbelievable that it never rained on us. But that would change during the night.
Day 2 – Wednesday
At some point in the very early morning of day 2, we woke up to a torrential downpour. The sound of the rain hitting the leaves around us was so loud it kept us awake for what felt like an hour. Thankfully, we had a really good tent (and we picked a good spot for it) so we stayed dry. It was incredible to be out there, in the dark, in such a heavy rainstorm. Eventually, we both fell back asleep to the sounds of the rain.
When we woke up, we were still dry! We slowly got up and checked on our camp. I was sure our gear under the tarp would be soaked, but I was wrong—all our stuff was dry too! It was a small miracle to start the day.
We talked over breakfast and decided we would paddle all the way to the end of one of the flows feeding into the finger of the lake which we were camping on. A flow is where a creek runs into the lake, and there were several in this area. We wanted to explore them all! We hit the water just before noon and paddled slowly, fishing our way down the bank. I got one small bass, but that was all.
Eventually we came to a big log which Caitlin had luck fishing during our previous trip. We hung out there for a while and took plenty of casts. No takers though, so we continued on.
A bit farther on we came to a small rocky island very close to the marsh at the end of the flow. We pulled up there to take a break and have some snacks. This island ended up being a really cool spot which we would return to almost every day. We named it Rock Island since it didn’t have an official name on any of our maps.
We left Rock Island and paddled to the east, right at the opening of the marsh. We fished near the weeds in this area and both caught a bass! This one was probably my best bass of the whole trip. We fished for a while longer, then decided to head back to camp.
Back at camp, we started cooking up one of our wilderness specialties: couscous and black beans with canned chicken. If that sounds bland to you, trust me it’s not. We brought plenty of spices and Tabasco sauce to liven it up. Besides, anything tastes amazing after a long day on the water.
Once we had eaten our fill, we paddled out to an amazing swimming spot about halfway across the lake. It’s a clear, sand-bottom section about knee to stomach deep that extends for hundreds of yards around a small island. We relaxed in the water there for a while and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.
After that, we came back to camp and got ready for nightfall. We made a fire and ate a small dinner, then spent the rest of the night looking at the stars from a big flat rock next to camp. We could see the Milky Way and thousands of stars with ease!
While we were out there, we both saw what we agreed was the best shooting star we’d ever seen. It appeared just above the trees and it wasn’t that typical green color—it was orange and red as it burned through the atmosphere. It streaked across the sky for what looked like a quarter mile. It was a special moment.
Once we had our fill of stars, we came back to camp, stashed the food and crawled into the tent. We were passed out in less than five minutes.
Day 3 – Thursday
We got lucky again with weather this day. I say that because since day one of this trip, the weather had been all over the place. When rain was predicted, it didn’t come. When rain wasn’t predicted, we would see it all around. It would come in waves, or be just far enough away to never reach us. We always felt like the conditions could change on a dime and do something that no forecast had predicted.
So, it was truly a stroke of luck that we woke up to a sunny morning this day. Our plan was to go back to the area we had explored the previous day, but go deeper into the marsh at the end of the flow and explore it as much as we could. We were on the water by mid-morning and paddled back to Rock Island with more food and plenty of water.
By the time we got to Rock Island, the sun was beating down. We took a break there but decided to explore the marsh first, then make our way back for lunch. We fished a bit in the opening to the marsh (with no bites) then decided to just paddle.
It was an incredible place to be! It was completely still with no humans for miles. We saw wildlife all around—birds, bugs, frogs and fish. We took our time and paddled slowly through a narrow passage in the weeds. As we went farther on, it got tighter and tighter until we reached a small beaver dam which blocked our way.
It took us almost an hour to get to this point. I spent some time tying on different lures to fish the grass while Caitlin explored a bit more. We stayed at the end of the marsh for a few minutes then began to gradually make our way back towards Rock Island.
We had the current at our backs for the paddle out of the marsh thanks to the creek at the end of the flow. It was just enough to push us slowly back through the grassy channel. I barely paddled, letting the current take me as I took casts all around.
At this point, the sun was getting really hot. We eventually decided that we should start moving faster to get some shade and some lunch. Neither of us had any luck fishing in the marsh, so we felt that it was the right time to call it for this part of the adventure. Still, it was incredible to be in such a pristine, natural place.
We got back to Rock Island by mid-afternoon and enjoyed a surprisingly good dehydrated meal. These things are great because all you need to do is boil water, add it to the meal bag, stir and let it sit. After about 15 minutes you have a full meal! This one was chicken soup and it was just what we needed.
We stayed at Rock Island for a while and made our plan for the rest of the day. We were both having a pretty frustrating dry spell with no fish taking our baits, so we wanted to fish more. We paddled south from Rock Island around another much larger island, hoping that there would be some good spots in this area.
There were plenty of grasses, weeds, and stumps around that island—places we thought would be good fishing. We both had a bunch of bites, but still no takers. Eventually, we gave in and made our way back to camp.
On the way back I couldn’t resist casting at the stumps near camp that had given me some luck earlier. I had so many bites, but still I got nothing. It was frustrating after such a long day and so many casts, but I knew it was time to start thinking about nightfall. I went back to camp and shifted my focus to more important things.
While I was fishing, Caitlin had grabbed some more wood—we now had plenty stockpiled for the next couple days. We got the fire ready, then went for a quick swim in the cove at camp. We lit the fire once we got out of the water and let it warm us up.
Once we were dry and comfy, we settled down for an amazing dinner of leftover couscous/beans/chicken with some avocado. We mixed it all up in some tortillas and made possibly the best wilderness burritos I’ve ever had. I had two of them and they were amazingly filling.
To end the day, we made s’mores then went back to look at the stars. It wasn’t as clear this night, and we knew there was supposed to be rain tomorrow. Still, we could see quite a bit. We stayed there stargazing for a while then went to bed.
Day 4 – Friday
This day started out sunny but we knew there was rain in the forecast. We made sure we packed rain gear and kept everything essential in dry bags as we prepped for the day’s adventures.
We planned to explore a different area of the lake this day. We went to the opposite shore from our camp to check out the other campsites in this area. Along the way I tried to fish, but it was too windy and drifty, and I got snagged and lost my bait. After a short paddle we got to the first campsite.
Campsite 1 was an awesome site on a bluff. There was even a cove behind it where we could easily pull our boats up. We explored around the site a bit—it had tons of room for tents, trees for hammocks, easy places to get to the water, and a privy (aka a primitive toilet, essentially a hole in the ground with a seat). The site was also connected to a trail that went around the entire lake.
We stayed at this site for a while to make lunch. We had another one of those dehydrated meals, this one a beef stew. It was delicious! I spent some of the down time retying lures. When the food was ready, Caitlin and I sat in the sun on a massive boulder and enjoyed our hot meal.
Once we were done with lunch, we got back in our boats and moved farther down the bank. We stopped to fish in a cove near site 1 and got plenty of bites—but again, no takers. As we were fishing there, the sky darkened and it started to drizzle lightly. We kept fishing until we could hear some much heavier rain approaching from across the lake.
At this point we realized it was time to get off the water. We paddled hard over to campsite 2, just a short distance away on the next bluff, but this site was no good. It really wasn’t much of a campsite at all. We had to bushwhack from the boats to get to two small clearings with a tiny fire pit—it was barely big enough for one tent. We knew this wouldn’t be enough cover to wait out a heavy rainstorm, so we got back in the boats and paddled furiously back to site 1.
That turned out to be an excellent move because within ten minutes, the sky fully opened up and the thunder was booming all around us. We hunkered down under some thick tree canopy and it actually wasn’t too bad. We had rain jackets on, but we were already soaked and we embraced it.
While we were there, some backpackers came into the site from the trail. We spoke briefly–they had been hiking for a couple days and wanted to camp there for the night. We told them we would leave when the rain let up, and we hoped it would be soon! Luckily it wasn’t more than a half hour until the thunder and lightning stopped.
We got back on the water under ominous but dry skies and headed to the next campsite, a bit farther down the bank past campsite 2. This one was another good site. It also had some big clearings, plenty of tree cover, a privy, and trail access. The only problem was, it was in a very swampy area which wasn’t great for swimming. It was also swarming with bugs.
We left campsite 3 and went looking for the final campsite on this stretch. We found it just a short distance to the east on another bluff. We saw the marker on the tree from across the water and went right up to it with our boats. I jumped on land and quickly realized that this one was even worse than site 2. There was almost no clearing at all and the brush was quite high. The fire ring was just a tiny pile of rocks. We got back in the boats and paddled around to the back side, thinking there was another way in. We were wrong–the whole of campsite 4 was basically just a patch of weeds and a pile of rocks.
The sky was still looking pretty ominous at this point, but we didn’t see any immediate rain. We talked about it for a minute, then decided we would continue farther down this part of the flow. It was incredibly calm and still down there. The water was like a sheet of glass. We took it in for a few minutes, then I started to get worried. We were a solid half-hour paddle from our camp and it was a few hours before dark. If the sky opened up again and didn’t let up, we might get stuck somewhere for the night without any supplies.
We paddled fast (thanks to anxiety) and made it back to camp without getting rained on. When we did finally make it back, that’s when the rain started again. I went into survival mode—the first priority was making a fire since we were both wet. I knew this was our best chance at getting something going, so I quickly built something I hoped would burn.
I filled the bed of the fire with a ton of flammable stuff—paper, wood shavings, birch bark, and dryer lint (yes that’s right, it goes up like crazy). I built my fire around this, then lit the bed with two big pieces of birch bark. It worked brilliantly…at first.
For a few minutes we had a good burn going, but then water started to drip from the trees. The fire wasn’t yet big enough to shrug this off so Caitlin and I hovered over it, constantly blowing to give it more oxygen. We crouched next to that fire for over a half hour until we were confident it wouldn’t go out. It was touch and go at times, but we kept it going.
As a reward, we went for a swim as the rain let up just before dark. We dried ourselves by the fire, got comfy for the night, and made dinner. Thankfully, the rain did not return.
Day 5 – Saturday
We awoke on Saturday to the most gorgeous morning we had seen yet. It was an incredible relief after the previous day. We slowly crawled out of our tent and prepared for another day of exploration on the lake. The plan was to go back down the flow we had fled from the previous day—this time, we would go as far down it as we could.
The paddle down towards the flow was sunny and easy compared to any of the previous days. There were almost no clouds and the wind was calm—two things that are very rare out there. We paddled into the cove near campsite 1 after about 20 minutes of paddling. We stayed there to fish for a bit since we had so many bites the previous day, but still we caught nothing.
We continued farther east down the flow. After about 20 minutes, we were near the end of it. We knew there should still be one more campsite down there, but we weren’t sure if we would be able to access it from the water. We rounded a bend at the end of the flow that we could barely see until we were right on top of it—and there was the campsite.
We stopped at campsite 5 to rest, eat some snacks, and retie some lures. But before all that, we explored. This site was also quite large with a few big clearings and a privy. It even had a picnic table! This site also connected to the main trail as well as several other trails. It was extremely satisfying to finally see this in person after pouring over the maps for so long.
We left campsite 5 after about 20 minutes and headed deeper into the flow. At this point, the flow became an actual flow—essentially the outlet of another creek feeding into the lake. We paddled upstream as far as we could until the rocks got too shallow. Caitlin wanted to explore a bit more, so she beached her boat and went ahead on foot. I stayed in my boat and enjoyed being on the water in the sun.
Once we turned around, we again had the current at our backs. We floated slowly and silently, then turned around to fish as we drifted back towards the lake. Caitlin got a nice bass right at the mouth of the flow—her third of the trip.
We kept fishing as we made our way out of the flow. The water was so clear, and with the sun out we could see tons of tiny fish attempting to swallow our baits even though their mouths were too small. We kept fishing the flow and got tons of bites. I got a small bass, and later Caitlin got a decent crappie.
I also had one big bass take my bait, but it didn’t hang on very long. We fished this spot a bit more but had no luck. Even so, it was a beautiful couple hours of exploring and fishing. We were both ready to have some lunch, so we headed towards Rock Island.
Once we got there, we had another lunch of a dehydrated meal. It was so satisfying after the long morning we had. We stayed at Rock Island for a while, then got back on the water. I fished a bit more near the marsh (with no luck) and Caitlin started back towards camp.
A little while later, I followed Caitlin back towards camp, stopping to fish along the way. I still had no luck, so I eventually gave up and went back to help her get firewood. We both collected a ton of driftwood from the shores of the lake for a big fire that night. Our boats were so loaded that we had logs dragging in the water!
By the time we had the firewood unloaded, it was just a couple hours until dark. We quickly got changed and headed back towards the sand flats to go for a swim. We swam and got cleaned up as the sun was setting.
We made sure to build the fire before we went swimming, so when we came back to camp all we had to do was get a lighter and spark it up. We huddled around it to dry off, then got ready for our last night in camp.
We made some dinner and finished up with s’mores, making sure to keep the fire roaring the whole time since we had a surplus of dry wood. Pretty soon, we had a massive and scorching hot bed of coals. We were both really tired after a week of being in the wilderness, but we still stayed up way too late watching the fire and the stars.
Day 6 – Sunday
This was our exit day. We would be paddling back to the boat launch, loading our car, and driving back home—it was going to be another long day.
We slept in a bit and got a late start. After breakfast, we slowly started to pack up camp. Tear down was simple because we didn’t bring much, but it still took time.
After a few hours, we had everything ready for the boats. But there was still one thing I wanted to do. When I woke up that morning, I knew it—I was going to propose to Caitlin.
The only thing was, I didn’t have a ring. I had an idea that maybe I could make one using things I found in nature, but I had no real plan for how I was going to do this.
I started looking for some twigs I could use to somehow make a ring. Previous campers had left some firewood at the campsite—we burned all of it except for a few pieces that weren’t quite dead. I grabbed one of the branches and broke off a couple small pieces to see if I could twist them into a ring. It worked! I got two good pieces wound around each other in about a quarter-sized circle.
That felt good, the ring was solid and wouldn’t fall apart. After that I knew what I had to try next. The other day at Rock Island I had grabbed a tiny pinecone (they were everywhere). I thought it would be perfect as the diamond on top of the wooden ring.
This part was a bit harder to pull off. I grabbed some fishing line and started to slowly wind it around the base of the pinecone. The petals were tiny and I was worried I would break a few off as I kept going, but it seemed to work. Then I wound each end of the line around the ring in opposite directions and tied them off.
When I was done, the pinecone stood straight up on the ring. It worked perfectly! And I was ready to give it to Caitlin. I called her to come over and meet me on the rock one last time before we left. When she met me there, I took her hand and we talked for a couple minutes. Then I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.
She said yes! It was one of the happiest moments of my life. We stayed there for a while, took a few photos, and embraced. Neither of us wanted to leave, but we knew we had a big paddle ahead of us and several hours of driving. We had to get going.
We loaded the boats and were on the water just before 3 pm. The sun was out, but there was a pretty decent headwind. We paddled straight into it back towards civilization. Luckily, both our kayaks could handle the little waves that were tossing us around.
We made good progress despite the wind, and we made sure to enjoy it. We stopped a few times to fish and take a break, and we each caught a small bass. It made the trip back feel a bit less like hard work. After about two and a half hours (a half hour longer than our paddle out) we made it back to the boat launch.
We were exhausted, but the proposal had given us both a ton of energy to get through it. We began the slow process of unloading the boats and packing the car. Once we were done, we went for a swim to cool off then got on the road.
We stopped to get food and by the time we were actually heading towards home it was after 8:30 pm—and we still had a six hour drive ahead of us. We finally got home around 3 am, unloaded, showered, and fell asleep around 5 am.
It was an exhausting but incredible end to an amazing week! Truly, this was one of the best weeks of my life. I know we’ll be back to this lake soon and it will always be a special place for Caitlin and I.