Popolopen Paddle

November 15, 2009

The Hudson Valley provides many benefits to its residents, not the least of which is proximity to recreational hiking in Harriman Park , the Hudson Highlands and the Catskills, and sea kayaking on the Hudson River, seen in the banner image above at the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Recently I launched my kayak into an inlet of the river at Annsville Creek, just north of Peekskill.  The kayak launch site, off Route 6, was built by New York State and sports a well-equipped kayak shop run by Atlantic Kayak Tours.

Paddle under the MetroNorth railroad bridge and you’re in Peekskill Bay, with Indian Point to the south, and Jones Point and Dunderburg Mountain across the river to the west.  Paddling upriver that day was easy, riding the incoming tidal current and benefitting from a light breeze from the south.  This is an attractive section of the river, where it runs through the Highlands.

Passing Iona Island National Estuarine Sanctuary, I remembered the first time I saw this part of the river – decades ago from a New York Central train.  In fact it was the highlight of the train ride because this section was used to anchor a huge fleet of mothballed World War II naval and merchant ships, many of which had once carried troops from the Piermont Pier to Europe.  Now, the overlooks on Route 6 are often filled with hawk and eagle watchers.

Coming up to the soaring structure of the Bear Mountain Bridge over the narrows between Bear Mountain and Anthony’s Nose, I peered around the bend to see if I could see West Point upriver (too far).  There was a lot of boat traffic: sightseeing boats, motorboats, a few sailboats, and an occasional barge heading downriver.  I crossed the channel to the west shore and paddled under the low railroad trestle into the quiet water of Popolopen Creek, leaving the churning river behind.

The Popolopen splits the promontory sites of Fort Clinton on its south bank and Fort Montgomery on its north, built in 1776-77.  The Americans stretched a chain across the river from Fort Montgomery to Anthony’s Nose to block British ships from sailing upriver from Manhattan.  In October 1777 the British landed 2100 troops at Stony Point to the south, marched them over 1000-foot Dunderberg Mountain on what is now the “1777 Trail”, and attacked the two forts’ 700 defenders from the rear, capturing the forts in one of the fiercest battles of the Revolution and dismantling the chain.  Among the attackers of the forts were a company of “Loyal Americans” from the Hudson Valley.  Thus, New Yorkers fought New Yorkers, and hundreds – mostly the outnumbered defenders — were killed or captured.

The Popolopen flows out to the river after cascading for 2 miles through a steep rocky gorge.  Discovered a few years ago as a Class V whitewater kayaking run, the Popolopen is particularly unpredictable and dangerous.

After enjoying lunch in my boat at the base of the cascade (to avoid poison ivy lining the banks), I paddled back into the Hudson.  Heading south, I did my best to overcome both the current and what was now a very stiff wind blowing upriver.  Adding excitement was a significant chop resulting from the wind blowing across Haverstraw Bay to the south.  While on this day it took twice as long as usual for the 4-mile return to Annsville Creek, it is always an interesting paddle.  For those with a second car, the 11-mile paddle from Annsville to Cold Spring, past West Point and the Constitution Marsh, is also recommended.

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