Tag Archives: Denning Point

Trip 9: Hudson River, Beacon to Peekskill

Text and photo by Vladimir Brezina

Winter riverbank

Saturday, 18 December 1999

7:43 a.m. Metro-North train to Beacon. Launched by 10 a.m. Winter weather: temperature in the 30s all day, cold wind from the north. Partly overcast at first, then mostly sunny; pale blue winter sky, sun low down on the horizon.

Water temperature probably in the upper 40s. All trees bare by now. Paddled south with the ebb current and wind. Past Denning Point, Bannerman’s Island, Cold Spring, West Point. Lunch on Con Hook, cold in the wind (wearing only wetsuit, not yet drysuit), but warm enough out of the wind in the sun. Paddled further south to Peekskill; arrived in Peekskill Bay around 1:30 p.m. Explored the beginning of Annsville Creek; not very interesting now in the winter; shallow and muddy. Not enough daylight to continue to Ossining, so 3:19 p.m. train back to New York City.

(Note: We’re seeing the shape of the Vlad-to-come emerge in these few short sentences. He always particularly enjoyed winter paddling, which is a truly different experience from paddling on a warm summer’s day. In later years he will not be daunted by the onset of night, although paddling alone at night in winter certainly increases the risk.)

Trip 6: Hudson Highlands, October 1999

Text and Photos by Vladimir Brezina

More autumn colors

Sunday, 31 October

7:43 (?) a.m. Metro-North train to Beacon. Launched around 10 a.m. Sunny, but somewhat hazy all day. Ebb current in favor, but 10-knot head wind. Paddled south past Denning Point, Pollepel Island, Cold Spring, West Point, Arden Point. Foliage spectacular in this section of the river (all different colors, from flame red to bright yellow to various shades of brown), still close to its peak although a few trees here and there already bare. Leaves noticeably dropping in the wind.

Stopped for lunch and exploration at Con Hook, an island (joined to the western shore by a marsh) a mile or so south of Highland Falls. Picturesque miniature island, with varied rocky topography—miniature steep cliffs and hollows—and a great variety of tree species, now of many different colors. Even birches, pines, and wild cherries (?) but mainly oaks and aspens. On the ground, soft moss and red blueberry-type bushes. Great views through the trees across the river, and on the western side, across the marsh.

Autumn vine

Current now flooding, so back north along the same route. Spectacular embankments of yellow and orange trees on the mountainside along the eastern shore just north of Little Stony Point. Numerous solo and groups of kayakers on the water; even more so than ever in the summer. Sun setting behind thickening clouds. Back at Beacon around 4:45 PM, with last fading light (today first day back on Standard Time). Train to New York.

Note: Vlad’s scientific mind and emphasis on precision shows in those parenthetical (?)’s, which of course indicate a guess rather than confident knowledge. Those who knew Vlad well remember his often-repeated comment: “Details matter!”—in science, art, writing, and life. His emphasis on getting the details exactly right usually illuminates his writing and brings it to life. But we sometimes argued over his tendency to include too many details, which in my view slows down the narrative. (He usually agreed.) 

It’s also worth noting that this adventure happened the day after the last one—nothing made Vlad happier after a long kayaking trip than another long kayaking trip! Even on our multi-day camping excursions, he would settle into the boat each morning and exclaim, “Feels SO good to be back in the boat!”

Trip 1: Hudson River, Rhinecliff to Ossining, September 1999

Text and Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Early morning colors on the river

Note: After Vlad died, I was astonished to discover that he’d meticulously maintained logs of nearly 300 kayak excursions he made, alone and with others, from 1999 to 2011. He only stopped when this blog became the official chronicle of our journeys.

Although they are true nautical logs, with observations on the weather, conditions, and mileage, they are also written in his characteristic style, with whimsical musings and droll asides sprinkled throughout, so they make for surprisingly lively reading.

Best of all, he also worked in the last months of his life to preserve his vast collection of photographs, so I’m able to pair the logs with photographic illustrations of the same areas. They are not necessarily from the same trips (though some almost certainly are). Wherever possible, I’ve attempted to match for season and conditions.

I plan to publish one each Thursday for the next year or so (not all logs are long enough to make into standalone blog posts). I’ve edited the logs minimally; you’re reading almost exactly what Vlad wrote.  —Johna Till Johnson

18-19 September, Rhinecliff to Ossining
Saturday, 18 September

(Editor’s note: Vlad traveled south from Rhinecliff, which is the starting point roughly in Kingston. The Denning Point campsite is marked, as is his destination at Ossining, a bit north of Rt 287 on the map.)

7:10 Amtrak train to Rhinecliff. The train was delayed by the possibility of water and downed trees on the tracks—Hurricane Floyd hit the area on Thursday night—and I was able to launch only around 11 a.m. Sunny, temperature in the 70s, light north wind, calm water. Water very muddy, with swirls of mud, like light unstirred coffee. Visibility only a few inches. Other signs of hurricane: in some places accumulated masses of floating debris, mainly old driftwood and dead branches presumably swept off beaches. Later I saw some downed trees and numerous beached boats.

Just north of Middle Hudson River (Esopus) Lighthouse, I saw a seal. (Although this far up the river the water is completely fresh.) First it was following in the wake of a sailboat motoring in the other direction, then a few minutes later I saw that it had turned and was following me.

I stopped paddling and watched. The seal kept diving and surfacing, poking its head out of the water. Once it arched its back out of the water like a dolphin. It kept to a distance of about 10 yards. I started slowly paddling twards its position while it was submerged to get closer for a picture. I got slightly closer, but then the seal (apparently unable to see underwater because of the mud) surfaced by chance about two feet off the port side. It must have panicked and gone into an emergency dive; all I saw was an enormous splash, like a huge fish jumping, and was soaked with spray. (Another argument for a waterproof camera.) After that the seal did not surface for a while, and then kept to about 30 yards.

Camp at Denning Point

Good ebb current (1-2 knots?) plus tail wind (10 knots?) in favor. Keeping in the middle of the river, I reached Pougheepsie about 2 p.m. Then the current slacked off. I was hoping that with the runoff water the ebb would be prolonged and the flood abbreviated. This was probably the case to some extent, but nevertheless soon when I stopped I found myself unmistakably drifting backward, despite the tail wind. So I continued along the shore.

I reached Beacon about 6:30 PM, then continued to the camp at the southern tip of Denning Island, arriving around 7 p. m., just before sunset. I briefly explored the trails inland, but could not find the grassy area near ruins described in the HRWA guide. So I camped on a level sandy spot, under trees and behind big driftwood logs, just on the point, with good visibility both west across the river and south to Bannerman’s Island. It got dark, lights came up across the river and a quarter moon: bright moonlight, sharp moon shadows, I could almost read.

Outdoor Research bivy sack with Thermarest inflatable pad, on flat, level ground, very comfortable. Good ventilation, quick and easy to set up. (Editor’s note: I have what I believe is that original OR bivy sack, though I’ve upgraded to a newer model for my own use. I very much agree with Vlad’s assessment!)  Old sleeping bag still adequate this time, but probably too light for any significantly colder temperatures. Also too small—need to get larger, mummy-style bag with hood. Need tarp that I can spread out, too, otherwise sand gets into everything.

Morning fog

Sunday, 19 September

Morning somewhat brisk—fall is definitely coming. Mist rising from the river, drifting over with the north wind, but now and again glimpse some blue sky. Took a number of pictures of trees in the mist around the campsite. Left about 8 a. am. Across the Fishkill Creek estuary south from Denning Point, paddled completely surrounded in fog. Took pictures while paddling along the opposite shore: trees emerging from the fog. Bannerman’s Castle.

Cold Spring

South toward Cold Spring, the fog began to lift. Mist and clouds, but now also sunshine and increasing patches of blue sky, dramatic views of the Highlands. Trees still for the most part green, although here and there one already turning. With Bannerman’s Castle, could almost have been Scotland. (Editor’s note: As some readers are aware, Vlad spent several years as an adolescent in Scotland.)

Bannerman’s Castle

Gusts of stronger north wind (15 knots?), some following seas building as always here. Past Cold Spring, West Point with increasing current in favor. Peekskill at about 11 a. m. White beaches of Verplanck (lunch in someone’s homemade hammock overlooking the beach). Across Haverstraw Bay. Lots of motorboats and sailboats criss-crossing the bay.

White beaches of Verplanck

(Editor’s note: The other photos may or may not have been from this exact trip; at least one is not, because it’s a later boat model. However, this photo is almost certainly from this trip; it’s Vlad’s first boat and paddle, and its album caption is “White beaches of Verplanck”—a phrase that appears to be unique to him, and that he seemed to have coined on this trip. )

Now good sailing breeze: onshore breeze building from the south, waves negligible at first but by Croton Point 1-1.5 feet. Ebb current fading too. Making relatively slow progress into the wind. Significant area of higher breaking waves (2 feet) south of Teller’s Point. Boat filling up on water. Effects on handling quite noticeable: boat wallows with and through the waves rather than bouncing over them as usual. Made for the south shore of Croton Point to bail out the water, then across Croton Bay to Ossining. Arrived about 4 p.m. 5:30 train to New York City.

Must seam-seal and Scotchguard deck, shorten paddle-leash and eliminate Velcro paddle attachment.

Whole trip about 50 nm, paddling time about 16 hours.