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Sweet Redemption on the Opalescent

Sometimes Second chances do happen.

The Boofs in the gorge did not stop. Photo: Morgan Boyles

In Spring 2011 a group of 6 paddlers ventured deep into the Adirondack Wilderness to make an attempt at paddling the Opalescent Gorge.  A portion of the gorge was first paddled by Dennis Squires and Tony Malikowski in inflatables in 2005.  As far as we knew it had not been attempted since.  Tragically Dennis passed away while paddling in New Zealand in 2007.  During our attempt in May 2011.  We hiked with our boats 4.5 miles only to find the gorge was much too high for a safe descent.  We wallowed around in the dense woods for a while, and eventually made our way around the gorge to put back in and quietly float the 10 or so miles back to the car.  One year later Myself, Bill Frazer, and Morgan Boyles redeemed ourselves and had a successful descent of the Opalescent Gorge.
The three of us rallied at my house at 5:30 in the morning, made the 1 hour drive to the Upper Works Trailhead, and began our 4.5 mile hike to the center of the high peaks wilderness.  A lot changed on the trail in a year.  Hurricane Irene ripped through here in August downing trees, and incredibly high flows completely changed the path of Calamity Brook, which parallels the trail.  The trail was wet, but at least we weren’t sinking to our knees in snow as we had done the year before.
Gotta throw a big shout out to Dinver here.  His work on the backpack system a few years ago makes hiking with your boat an absolute pleasure.  Sometimes I feel like I can run up mountains with this thing on.
Bill Frazer paddling across the Flowed Lands at nearly 3,000ft. above sea level

The three of us hustled our way up the trail and plopped our boats in at the Flowed Lands in about 2-hours.  It was a sunny day, and we enjoyed one of the finest views in the Adirondacks as we paddled the short lake to it’s southern edge where it becomes the Opalescent River.  In 2011, at super high water, Bill and I made the mistake of paddling beyond the dam here.  We ended up paddling two rapids only to find that beyond these rapids the river absolutely falls off the face of the planet.  The river is totally unnavigable as it makes its way down to Hanging Spear Falls.  We got out of the river and tried to find the trail.  Many mistakes were made, and three hours later we were finally back on the trail walking around the gorge.  One year smarter, we chose to shoulder our boats on the trail all the way down to Hanging Spear Falls.

Reaping the benefits of our labor at the base of Hanging Spear Falls. Photo: Morgan Boyles

We arrived at Hanging Spear Falls to find a perfect flow for a descent of the gorge.  We lowered our boats down to the base of the falls seemingly leaving the Adirondacks and arriving in the Coast Mountains of B.C.  The first part of the gorge was committing, walled in, and composed of smooth bedrock.  The lowish flow allowed us to move around at river level, and make a safe first descent of this part of the gorge.

A little bit further down the gorge opened up, the river character became more boulder garden in style, and turned insanely steep.  As we looked downstream all we could see is the tops of trees.  This would seem to indicate another big falls like Hanging Spear, but it never came.  The gradient was consistently steep, and the rapids were surprisingly mostly runnable.  Our group of three worked like a well oiled machine, making smooth work of the gorge until it came to an abrupt end as the river widened, flattened, and once again met the trail.

Bill Frazer enjoying one of the cleaner rapids in the lower section of the gorge. Photo: Matt Young

Once the gorge ends the day’s work is not over.  There is still a 10+ mile flat water/class II paddle back to where we stashed a bike.  A year earlier on this stretch it was cloudy, rainy, and cold.  We were disappointed and didn’t really get a chance to enjoy the spectacular scenery as we floated.  The paddle out seemed to drag on forever.  This year was different.  The 10+ miles flew by as the river twisted and turned its way back to where we stated the bike.  Under a bright blue sky the scenery was spectacular.  Few people get to see this part of the Adiorondacks and even fewer get to see it from the seat of a boat.

The Team. Photo: Morgan Boyles


We took a break somewhere along our casual paddle back to the road, had a drink of Bourbon to celebrate our accomplishment, snapped the all important group photo, and took a moment to remember Dennis.  He inspired this mission and we have him to thank for this wonderful memory.

For more about Dennis visit