Last year when I was backpacking within the Five Ponds Wilderness around Memorial Day I read an entry in the Little Shallow Lean-to register about someone who had hiked from that lean-to to Stillwater Reservoir and back within a 24-hour period. To see a trip report from that individual click here. At the time I found this startling given the bushwhack from near Wolf Pond to Clear Lake was through an area hardest hit by the 1995 microburst. But at the same time it really got me thinking of a trip I fantasized about when I was just starting to explore the northwestern part of the Adirondacks back in the mid-nineties. I wanted to trek from Cranberry Lake to Stillwater Reservoir and back in a single trip but after experiencing the 1995 microburst first hand, I decided such a trip would not be possible for many years. But now someone actually did it!! Although I seriously thought about it last year, I decided to explore the southern part of the Five Ponds Wilderness instead.
Now that I have time this summer and a blog to fill with exciting bushwhacking stories, I plan on finally attempting to hike from Wanakena to Stillwater Reservoir and then return via Cranberry Lake. This trip will consist of 3 different “legs” down and 3 back, with the first and last being on marked DEC trails and the middle part being an extensive bushwhack through the heart of the blowdown area. The first leg would take me through the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness via the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation trail system. On the first day I would hike from Wanakena via High Rock along the Oswegatchie River and then down south through the Five Ponds to Wolf Pond for a total of around 15 miles. I would stay at the Wolf Pond Lean-to the first night so as to get an early start on the bushwhack portion of the trip on the second day.
Day two would consist of hiking towards Sand Lake until crossing the Wolf Pond inlet stream at a rocky waterfall. After crossing the inlet stream, I would either follow the waterways to avoid any potential blowdowns along the uplands, or if I feel adventurous, cut over some of ridges to shorten the actual distance of the trip. I would follow my usual bushwhacking modus operandi of pond hopping, including visits to Streeter Fishpond, Riley Ponds (both Upper and Lower), Little Crooked Lake, Crooked Lake and Summit Pond. Somewhere along this route I would camp near the shore of one of these water bodies for my second night on the trip. Upon reaching Summit Pond on day three, I’d head south to Clear Lake, which I would navigate around to the southern tip and pick up the NYS DEC marked Red Horse Trail.
The Red Horse Trail is a pleasant hike with nice views of both Witchhopple and Salmon Lakes, and I would take it all the way to its southern terminus at Trout Pond, where a lean-to is located. This would probably be my campsite for the third night. Although a trail continues south from here to Big Burnt Lake (which at one time was a interior lake but now is simply a bay of Stillwater Reservoir), I think I would bushwhack east to Gun Harbor so I could perform my ceremonial hand ducking in Stillwater Reservoir.
After a night at the Trout Pond lean-to, I would retrace my steps up the Red Horse Trail to at least Witchhopple Lake. From here, depending on the amount of time I have set aside for the trip (anywhere from 6 to 9 days) I would either continue north to Clear Lake or take a side trip to the northeast and explore some or all of the water bodies nearby such as Little Pond, Beaverdam Pond, Wilder Pond and/or Negro Lake. This side trip would probably add at least an additional day to fully explore these larger ponds and lakes.
If I explore the lakes northeast of Witchhopple Lake I would travel northwest via the waterways to explore such water bodies as Hitchins Pond, Grassy Pond, Oven Lake and/or Toad Pond. If instead I head directly to Clear Lake via the Red Horse Trail I might explore the cliffs on Summit Mountain (although I have read it is covered in blowdown) before heading Hitchins Pond, Grassy Pond, etc. Of course, these side trips are contingent on having enough time and the terrain being less than incredibly treacherous (i.e. blowdowns are not everywhere). This portion of the trip could take anywhere from one to three days depending on conditions and on how many these potential bodies of water are explored.
Then I would return to the Five Ponds Wilderness trail system via a route similar to the one which I took to Stillwater Reservoir, although if I get a chance to travel to some of the more northern water bodies then I probably would travel along streams directly to the west and possibly cut off returning to Crooked and Little Crooked Lakes. When I return to the Sand Lake Trail near the inlet to Wolf Pond I would hike northeast and stay at Big Shallow Lean-to (if available) for a single night. This could be either the last or second to last night of the trip depending on how much time and food left. The next day I would continue on to Cranberry Lake unless I have some extra time to spend a night up on the cliffs of Cat Mountain (also dependent on the weather). After scooping a handful of water from Cranberry Lake at Dead Creek Flow, I would hike out to Wanakena and back to my vehicle.
I figure this trip will probably take me at least 6 days (5 nights – Wolf Pond LT, some water body along the bushwhack, Trout Pond, some water body along the return bushwhack and Big Shallow LT) although I may slow my pace down and take a plethora of photographs at many different scenic locations along the way. Also, the number of side trips to explore the wealth of lakes and ponds in the area could extend the length of the trip a number of days.
Does anyone have any experience with bushwhacking the trailless portion of this planned trip? If so, any places I should definitely try to explore. Any I should definitely avoid? In general, what do you think of this trip? Exciting? Too ambitious? Or just plain crazy??