News Staff Writer
LAKE PLACID — Carved by glaciers, its islands forming a figure eight pattern when viewed from above, Lake Placid provides hours of paddling just a minute from the center of the village. Although the Saranac Lakes chain and St. Regis Canoe area may be better known among the paddling set, Lake Placid also offers miles of cool, slate blue, easily accessible water. The village of Lake Placid and surrounding area is a very popular summer tourist destination, but apart from the Fourth of July, the lake itself often feels secluded and quiet. There are about 225 homes on its shores and islands, but these are found in between miles of the uninterrupted greenery of state land and are seldom occupied for more than a few weeks at a time.
Our group of seven kayaks, containing eight kayakers, set out on an overcast Sunday from the Lake Placid Marina on the southeast shore of the lake, but not before a dry land boat inspection for invasive species by the lake steward. The going was a little rough as clouds rolled in and the rain picked up, and we headed around the peninsula for the calmer waters of Sunset Strait.
Rounding Buck Island, one of Lake Placid’s three, the manicured lawns of the Lake Placid Lodge come into view, followed by the condominiums and luxury homes of the Whiteface Club and Resort. This is the last major development paddlers will encounter on the lake. The road ends just past the club and all the other private retreats on the mainland are accessible only by water or, for the overly ambitious, a long bushwhack.
We follow closely along the shore of Buck Island. Ducking and dodging cedar trees that hang out over the water, we stick close to the shore. Encouraged by a break in the clouds, we decide to make it an all-day trip and continue on around Moose Island, the biggest of the three. We make our way across the choppy waters of Shelter Strait.
Mostly state land, there are few houses on the northwestern shore of Moose Island. You can only see a few feet into the lush, dense forest of the island; sunlight barely penetrates the green darkness. We follow a playful loon around the island as it dives for fish. We try to race ahead of it, but it always pops up a few feet in front of us, not allowing itself to be caught.
The north wind had pushed several pieces of flotsam, including some garbage and an old, cracked, red and white, wooden one-person sailboat, up against the north shore of the island. The debris collected in a small cove, tangled up with tree branches. We briefly consider towing the sailboat home to fix up, but decide against it, thinking of the ensuing fight with the waves to get it back to the marina.
Plus, we have no use for a sailboat. We don’t know how to sail.
We pass Hopping Bear Point and two lean-tos, a popular camping spot. This spot, evidently, is popular with wildlife too. Overhead, an osprey nest is perched in the top of a dead tree. Tiny Hawk Island and Whiteface Landing are to our left. Despite a short half-hour of sunshine, the summit of Whiteface has been obscured by low clouds all day. Just the foothills and the beginning of the slide that scars its southwestern face are visible. With the wind now at our backs, the return paddle is much quicker.
We cross the lake, keeping along the shore of McLeanathan Bay, where large homes and family compounds line the water’s edge. “Camp” is the often-used word to describe the homes on Lake Placid, many of them built before 1900. But it does not do justice to these three-story, stone-and-timber-frame structures with accompanying boathouses. Here we see the first motor boats of the day and their occupants return our friendly waves.
But they were the exception. Cloudy skies and the threat of rain kept most of the Chris-Crafts in their boat slips on Sunday.
Nearing the end of our tour, we come upon Pulpit Rock. The cliffs, rising out of the water, are rumored to be a popular summer cliff-jumping spot with local kids. But there is a darker, more mysterious association with that particular spot.
In September 1963 recreational divers found the body of Mabel Smith Douglass in 105 feet of water directly below Pulpit Rock. She had been missing for 30 years. The cold waters of Lake Placid had preserved her so well that it appeared as if she had only recently died. Most believe she committed suicide, but a few holdouts still suspect foul play. The story of the “Lady in the Lake” is a tale that is still told today and is the subject of two books.
Paddling back to the marina, the sky darkens and thunder rumbles in the distance. A combination of rainy weather, stiff shoulders and hunger mean our journey is at its end. But we vow to return.
One day is not enough to explore every island, shore and mystery of Lake Placid.