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A short backpacking/bushwhacking biography

I thought I’d follow up my first introductory posting with a short biography of my hiking/backpacking/bushwhacking experience.  Although I was an avid birder (we were called bird-watchers back in those days) since grammar school, I never developed an interest in actual hiking and/or backpacking until much later.  I did spend a significant amount of time wandering through forested areas in Clinton, New York in search of birds.  During all those years birding, I never used a compass or a map but just navigated by noting the surrounding typography and using other landmarks.

My first official backpacking experience occurred in August 1993 on a trip into the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondack Park with three co-workers at the time.  We hiked in from Wanakena, first on the truck trail and then on the old Leary Trail (closed after the 1995 microburst blowdown, although as of 2009 there had been work performed on clearing it) on the way to High Falls.  The second day we hiked up to Cat Mountain and then exited the area on the third day.  My preparation and equipment for this trip were woefully inadequate.  I still remember the ill-fitting backpack, the heavy cotton clothing, the Timberland work boots and carrying prodigious amounts of dried beans (most of which were thrown off the top of Cat Mountain).  Despite the nasty blisters on my feet, I was hooked on backpacking.

 I learned in the following months that organizing backpacking trips required an amount of patience and resourcefulness I did not have at the time.  It was difficult to get a group of late 20 to early 30 year olds together for a multi-day trip into the wilderness on a semi-regular basis.  I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to be able to satiate my desire for more frequent backpacking adventures then I needed to prepare to make solo treks into the wilderness.  Therefore, I started accumulating the necessary equipment: a better backpack, a gas stove, a head lamp, a tent, just to name a few.   Initially, I went to state campgrounds (I remember a notable trip to Brown Tract Pond where the light bulb in my small flashlight fell out on my way back from the restroom during a pitch dark, moonless night) then I graduated to some of the busier and seemingly more civilized areas in southwestern part of the Adirondack Park (e.g. the Black River Wild Forest).

At this time, I started to collect and voraciously read a multitude of hiking guides (the Adirondack Mountain Club guides among others).  The more remote the trail, the more fascinated I became with it.  Terms like virgin forests or pristine would stimulate my imagination about giant trees and plentiful wildlife.  During this time, I returned to school at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry which required me to spend 5 weeks in the northwestern Adirondack Park.  While attending classes in the Adirondacks, I got a couple of opportunities to travel deep within the Five Ponds Wilderness and I fell in love with the area.

By 1995, I was ready to head off on multi-day backpacking trips on my own.  After a couple such trips, I experienced my most harrowing backpacking adventure during July 1995.  By sheer coincidence I happened to be backpacking at Sand Lake (the deepest into the Five Ponds Wilderness one can get by trail) on July 15 when a serve thunderstorm struck in the early morning hours blowing down trees over an area of thousands of acres.  The trails were so impacted I was airlifted by helicopter out of the area a day after the storm.  It took several years to clear the trails and during that time I explored other areas of the Adirondacks (the High Peaks, Ha-De-Ron-Dah, Siamese Ponds and West Canada Lakes Wildernesses to name a few).  Although I accumulated a vast amount of backpacking and hiking experience, any bushwhacking performed during these trips was over short distances and in limited circumstances only.

During the spring/summers from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s I worked as a field biologist sampling everything from vegetation to carrion beetles to birds.  These jobs required navigating through forests, sometimes in remote areas within New York, Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  During my limited time off, I would explore nearby areas hiking and/or backpacking.  While in Wisconsin I traveled several times to the McCormick Wilderness in the upper peninsula of Michigan where the limited trail system required bushwhacking.  These opportunities solidified my confidence navigating via map and compass (or in some cases with a handheld GPS). 

By the mid-2000s, I was prepared to explore the Adirondack Park via extensive multi-day bushwhacking adventures.  And I have been doing so ever since.  Currently, most of my Adirondack bushwhacking trips have occurred in the northwestern part of the park, specifically in the near trailless Pepperbox Wilderness and the southern portions of the Five Ponds Wilderness (where the blowdown of July 1995 had very little impact).

And here is where the blogging of my bushwhacking adventures begins….

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15 comments on “A short backpacking/bushwhacking biography

  • Airlifted out????? Seriously?

  • bushwhackingfool

    July 8, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Yep, seriously. The helicopter landed on Little Shallow Pond and since it was really dry that year I was able to walk out to the shore line and scramble onboard without even getting my feet wet. They were filming the whole thing so somewhere in the NYS DEC archives they probably have video proof. I probably should post a mini-trip report about the experience sometime.

  • When I was I young guy I planned to hike from high falls to clear lake via the Robinson River and Crooked Lake but I never got to it. One of many regrets. But I think that would be the way to do it. Back in the 50’s I had a friend that had topo’s pasted to his bedroom wall and the old red horse trail was on there. At that time it continued from clear lake to high falls. I have camped at clear lake. It is a nice spot. The lake is like a swimming pool. Completely dead and bright blue from the copper sulfate deposits. Summit pond is even bluer. You can see crooked lake from the cliffs on clear lake.
    Back in the 60’s there was a campsite on the north end of salmon lake you could canoe to (portage from stillwater). I camped there. Never saw so many bats.

  • bushwhackingfool

    July 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    The area around High Falls was highly impacted by the 1995 blowdown so I am not sure how feasible it would be to hike south along the Robinson River. On my most recent trip I traveled from Clear Lake north to Toad Pond where I believe the Robinson River starts. The going was not all that difficult coming up from Crooked Lake but I did encounter pockets of blowdown on the way. I do not recall the bright blue water on Clear Lake or Summit Pond when I was there but the gray skies could have distracted me. Or maybe something has changed since you were there last.

  • Sorry to hear about the blow down at high falls. At one time there were wonderful stands of old growth pine in the area. Immense trees … two people could not begin to get there arms around one. I guess those trees are no more. Once I ran into an old guy up there who claimed to have been up that way in 1917. That was a year before my topo was made.
    I think the blue of the water at clear lake is only apparent from the cliffs at the end of the lake. When I was there the spruce was so thick on the cliffs I literally threw my self at the barrier to get through to see the views.

  • bushwhackingfool

    July 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Very few of any trees in the High Falls area are still standing. I was there in 1993 and then again some years after the blowdown and the changes were huge. There are still a few white pines along the river but the vast majority of the trees were blown down in 1995. Now that you have told me about seeing the blue waters from Summit Mountain I want to go and see. Maybe the next time I get down in that area I’ll try to get up there if the blowdowns are not too bad.

  • Bushwhackingfool,
    I just discovered your online stories and have been enjoying reading about your adventures. I have recently been bitten by the solo exploring bug and am gearing up for hopefully bigger and better trips through the Adirondacks in the next few years. My main interest happens to be canoe-camping, but I believe in being prepared for any scenario and would like to learn more about bushwhacking and its associated risks (and pleasures). Hope you don’t mind a few questions…
    Have you encountered any bears or moose in your travels, and do you carry anything for protection (ie. pepper spray)? Regarding camping, I’m thinking a portable electric fence would be overkill (unless you’re in Alaska), but have never heard any input from someone with experience in the Adirondacks on that. Your thoughts?
    Also, could you offer advice on what/where to watch out for bees, or other risks which may get less mention in a typical trip report?
    Lastly, I may have missed it, but I didn’t see your followup on your new Garmin GPS. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that too.
    Any information you can pass along is much appreciated! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • bushwhackingfool

    July 24, 2010 at 2:33 pm


    Thanks for commenting and I am glad you are enjoying the website. It is always good to hear someone else is interested in wilderness adventures regardless of the mode of transportation. Do you happen to own a Hornbeck canoe by any chance? I have been thinking about buying one for years but have never pulled the trigger on buying one.

    Seeing large mammals in the backcountry of the Adirondacks is a rare treat and I have never experienced any threatening behavior in my few encounters. In fact, I have never seen a bear or moose while bushwhacking. Typically the amount of noise one makes while bushwhacking alerts any large critters to retreat and/or take cover. The vast majority of my experiences with large mammals have either been on trails (where one can move relatively swiftly with little noise) or while performing field work (which involves long periods of being stationary) but these animals have always turned tail and raced off as soon as they discovered my presence. It may be a little rude of them, but certainly no threat requiring pepper spray or an electric fence. Getting a chance to see these creatures in the wild is one of the joys of being out in the woods and I have typically felt lucky and excited when I it actually happens, never threatened. The only exception to this is when a female is accompanied by her young. In that case you should never approach them and certainly under no circumstances ever get between the female and her offspring. If you ever spot a female it is better to retreat and find an alternate route or wait until they have moved on.

    I have encountered bees and their allies only a few times while out in the backcountry. It is hard to indicate where they might be located as they can be in logs, in the ground, in snags, in shrubbery or in tree canopies. I would suggest keeping your ears open and if you hear any excessive buzzing then stop and try to determine its location before continuing. I have been stung a couple times while out and about, typically in the hand, and other than stinging and some swearing I am usually no worse for wear an hour later. If you happen to be allergic then that is another matter completely. If you are not allergic then I would carry an antihistamine (e.g. Benadryl) in your first aid kit and if you are allergic then the necessary medication should be on your person at all times.

    As far as the GPS is concerned, I have not yet posted my field review of the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx yet. I will probably do so sometime after posting the entire Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake trip report. Just between you and me though, I found it to be an excellent piece of equipment and quite handy. It had a few quirks that I will explain in my final review but I would highly recommend it regardless. Keep checking back for my final review.

  • Bushwhackingfool,

    Thanks very much for your feedback.

    Actually, I own a kayak, not a canoe. “Canoe-camping” somehow sounded more appropriate – which may be telltale of my newbie-ness… I’ve got a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, which I decided to buy after a lot of consideration between canoes, kayaks, sizes, materials, weights, and of course, price. It’s more along the recreational type, but I’m only interested in flatwater and prefer the larger cockpit. I’ve had it for one year and have only done day trips so far. Considering its relatively short length (12ft), I’ve been quite pleased with how well it tracks (chined hull), ease of handling (49lbs), and especially appreciate the 3-way adjustable seat; a little change in support here and there goes a long way toward comfort and more paddling time, plus it even allows reclining. I’ve recently been playing with how to pack the kayak for a multi-day trip. It’s only got one cargo area, but has front/back bungees and a fair amount of room beyond the foot rests. It looks like it’ll meet my needs. My only concern is portaging. I’ve never portaged before, but I’m planning a trial run in a few days, which should tell me whether to reconsider a canoe or limit my trips to water pathways only. (I had the idea of building a custom yoke, but I don’t know… I do like the extra get-up-and-go of a kayak over a canoe – especially in the wind). Anyway, that’s a bit off the topic of bushwhacking, but thought I’d offer a few thoughts in case you’re interested.

    I’d love to see a large mammal in the wild. As for protection, at this point I’m thinking I’d carry pepper spray, if only for the peace of mind. But it’s reassuring to hear you’ve never felt threatened.

    My question about bees was prompted by a story I’d read about someone who missed the portage trail and needed to bushwhack back to it to avoid going down the rapids. I’ve had localized swelling from past stings, but I think carrying Benadryl and the Extractor kit would suffice in my case.

    It sounds like the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx may be what I’m looking for. I’ll have to do some reading on it. I look forward to your final review as well.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights. Very much appreciated!

  • Those are some great adventures!

    A week ago, a hiking buddy and myself were at Sliding Falls, along the Robinson River. You mentioned that the hike up from Crooked Lake up to Toad Pond wasn’t too bad, with only pockets of blowdown encountered. That last little distance from Toad Pond to Sliding Falls would have had you changing your mind.

    The area around Sliding Falls is the thickest that bushwhacking could ever get. At times, the new growth was so thick that your hand would not be visible on your arm extended forward away from your body. There’s zero exaggeration in that.

    The buskwhack from Wolf Pond, just over 2 miles according to USGS maps, took us almost exactly 3 hours. That’s with a minimalist-like 10 minute lunch at a real pretty beaver pond about half way between Wold Pond and the Robinson River. The going definitely got exponentially worse the nearer to the River we got.

    It’s beautiful country out there, aint it?


  • bushwhackingfool

    August 15, 2010 at 7:23 am


    When I was at Toad Pond I seriously thought about doing a day hike up to Sliding Falls before heading toward Streeter Fishpond and now I am glad I did not. I knew the blowdowns were worse the further north so I was apprehensive the whole way up to Toad Pond. I felt I was pretty lucky only encountering scattered blowdowns along the way.

    Did you take a direct bearing right from Wolf Pond to Sliding Falls? When did the blowdowns start getting really bad? Were you walking on downed logs when you were struggling through the new growth? Did you return to Wolf Pond using the same route as when you came in? Was it just as bad on the east side of the Robinson River at Sliding Falls? Was the river crossable at Sliding Falls? Any information about the existence of blowdowns you can share will help with planning future bushwhacking trips in that area.

    Thanks for the information. It is gorgeous out there and I always enjoy my time out there, just a little less so when I am struggling and swearing my way through the blowdowns.

  • Yep, straightlined from Wolf Pond out to Sliding Falls. Well, as straightlined as we could using a compass. About 2/3rds of the way out there we made a slight course correction when we realized we’d crested a reasonably sized hill and assumed (correctly) this course would put us a little far north of Sliding Falls.

    When the woods are so thick, there’s no “choose a landmark and go” hiking. It’s more like, “Walk a few muntes. Look at compass. Correct course. Walk a few minutes. Over and over.” It’s easy to deviate a few degrees that way. Especially over a few miles distance.

    The going got REALLY rough about 3/4ths of the route from Wolf Pond to Sliding Falls. My arms and face still haven’t recovered from the raking they took.

    It was too hard to tell what the woods were like on the East side of the river. Everywhere immediately along the river looked equally wicked thick, though. As we were doing this as a day hike, we didn’t have much in the way of extra time to explore or we’d have returned to the car too late. That three hour ride home was tough enough after that day hike as it was.

    Returning was a matter of heading due West, back towards, the Sand Lake trail along Wolf Pond.

    A couple years ago my buddy and I spent a few hours north of Emerald Lake. There were areas up there that also required stepping from one big, downed tree to the next. That ’95 storm really changed the landscape, that’s for sure!


  • bushwhackingfool

    August 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

    You did that as a day hike?!? And then drove home for three hours? Wow, you guys are bolder (or crazier) than I. Did you come in from Bear Pond Road? I cannot imagine coming in from Wanakena or Star Lake for a day hike so that leaves Bear Pond Road as your most likely entrance point.

    I remember having to jump from downed tree to downed tree right after the blowdown of 1995 with a full pack and it was not much fun. I was wondering how much those huge downed trees have decayed in the last 15 years. Maybe I will try to visit Emerald Lake sometime to find out.

    Thanks for all the great info!!

  • Day hike? Yup, guilty as charged…

    Crazy? Not really. Anyone can do it. Like going to any oher place in the ADK’s, it’s just walking.

    Bear Pond Road? Again, guilty as charged.


  • bushwhackingfool

    August 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Okay, not crazy. But clearly ambitious. That’s a pretty long and arduous day-hike.