Photograph by Nicholas Spooner-Rodie

Exploring new access on the Opalescent River

I could feel the excitement
 grow as my dad and I stepped out of the car and we made our way down to the riverbank. Much of the day had been spent driving, and we were eager to catch our first glimpse of the Opalescent River. Swatting away the cobwebs that lined the overgrown trail, we emerged on a muddy shoreline not far from where we parked.

We came to the south end of the High Peaks after hearing about the new state land acquisition of the MacIntyre East Tract, which opened paddling routes along the Opalescent and Upper Hudson to the public. We were drawn to the land’s geography, a series of streams winding their way from deep in the High Peaks Wilderness. Eager to make some distance before nightfall, we quickly packed up our boats and carried them down to the put-in.

Our journey began off Tahawus Road, just south of the fork where the Upper Hudson River meets the Opalescent. It was late August and the water was shallow, so we opted to start out on foot. With boats in tow, we stepped into the current and waded our way upstream. Nearing the fork, the river deepened, and we slipped into our kayaks to continue by paddle. 

The Opalescent is characterized by a series of switchbacks snaking through dense forest and hills with large sandbars scattered along its shoreline. Our progress was slow and methodical, and we had to carefully time each stroke to conserve energy against the current. The real challenge was keeping our nose straight, with any deviation resulting in a significant setback. Every now and then it would grow too shallow and our boats would scrape the bottom, requiring us to disembark and maneuver around a fallen tree or beaver dam.

With nightfall fast approaching, we beached our kayaks and went up the shoreline in search of a good spot to set up for the night. The warm afternoon light grew fainter, casting the river in a deep shadow. The evening was spent warming our wet toes by the fireside and staring up at a brilliant display of the Milky Way, counting the satellites as they glided across the horizon.

In the early hours of the morning we repacked our boats and continued upstream by head lamp. The river was silent, broken only by the sound of our steady paddle strokes and heavy breathing. The first signs of light could be seen in the distance as the sun rose behind the High Peaks. Deeper into the Opalescent we traveled, and I couldn’t help but feel like one of the great explorers, passing through some uncharted land.

Just as the sun broke on the horizon, we came to a section of river that had grown too shallow for us to continue. We scouted ahead and came to the conclusion that we would have to return when water levels were higher. Somewhat defeated, we let the currents carry us back, the sun now beating down and warming our tired bodies.

Months later, I still think about our trip. For just a brief moment of my day, I’m transported back to that summer paddle with my dad on the Opalescent. I know our story there isn’t quite finished, but perhaps that’s the best way to end any story—with a bit more space to fill in.

If you go

Turn off Highway I-87 at Exit 29 onto Blue Ridge Road. Turn right at Tahawus Road and follow it up the Hudson River until you reach Opalescent Road. Park by the bridge to unload your gear, then move your vehicle back to Tahawus Road. Be sure to respect private property signs. The put-in is a short walk down to the river.

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