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Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake Trip: Reaching Dead Creek Flow

Dead Creek Flow on Cranberry Lake

The following is an account of the final day of my epic hike from Wanakena, NY to Stillwater Reservoir and Cranberry Lake. The entire trip required backpacking via trail into the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness, a lengthy bushwhack to the northern terminus of the Red Horse Trail, another trail hike, and a short bushwhack to Gun Harbor on Stillwater Reservoir. The trip back followed a similar route except heading to Cranberry Lake before returning to Wanakena. The final day consisted of a trail hike from the top of Cat Mountain to a ceremonial bathing at Cranberry Lake followed by the final hike back to Wanakena.

Date: July 4, 2010
Length: 5.1 miles
Difficulty: Easy

My final day started with viewing the sunrise from atop the cliffs on Cat Mountain as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. The windy conditions did not make for a restful night and I felt groggy as I prepared myself to complete my epic trip through the Five Ponds Wilderness. Before setting about with making breakfast and packing for my hike out, I explored the cliffs and took numerous photographs.

View Day Eight in a larger map

While taking these photographs, I spotted a pair of common loons with a single young chick using my Leica binoculars down in the middle of Cat Mountain Pond. What appeared to be a herring gull flew over the pond but I failed to get my binoculars on the bird in time before it disappeared somewhere into the nearby forest, so a positive identification was impossible.

After eating the last of my breakfast cereal I returned to admiring the view from Cat Mountain. At this point I was feeling the last day depression typical of a long backcountry trip so I paced along the cliffs wondering when I would next return to enjoy this wild country once more.

By 8:30 AM I was finally able to pry myself away from the view and start my descent toward Cranberry Lake for the ceremonial end of my epic journey from Stillwater Reservoir. Within a half hour, I returned to the little stream where I obtained water in the early evening the previous day. This time instead of filtering water I just treated the water with Aquamira water treatment drops, which allowed me treat the water and then place it into my GoLite Pinnacle backpack without waiting around for the gravity filter to work its magic.

My campsite on Cat Mountain

Cat Mountain Pond

When I arrived at the campsite at Glasby Pond I heard what sounded like a crying child back in the direction toward the small stream where I obtained my water. I stopped and listened for a while but I never heard the cry again after the initial couple times. What could have made this noise?

After scouring the Glasby campsite for garbage I continued down the trail toward Sand Hill Junction. At the first clearing after the pond I discovered a herd path heading north. The trail went a short distance through the clearing and ended at a blown-down tree where a canoe had been stashed on the opposite side. Obviously the fish in Glasby Pond must be plentiful enough for someone to go to the effort to haul a canoe this far into the backcountry.

Soon after returning to the marked trail and continuing on I passed another herd path going south. I followed this path before where after crossing the Glasby outlet stream it meanders a far way before arriving at what appears to be a hunter’s campsite near a larger clearing.

View from Cat Mountain

View from Cat Mountain

By 9:46 AM, I arrive at Sand Hill Junction, where I heard some animal scrambling off into the forest. I stopped here briefly before heading on toward the Janack’s Landing junction. After descending Sand Hill and crossing numerous streams I arrived at the Janack’s Landing junction. Again, I heard something scrambling around in the forest. I started to think that maybe something (or someone) was following me but this paranoia was probably due to the fatigue of not obtaining a restful night of sleep after the long haul of the previous day.

I signed out at the Janack’s Landing register present at the junction. Although this was probably unnecessary, I did so anyways since I had done little to record my progress since leaving the Big Shallow Lean-to. Typically, while on long bushwhacking hikes I leave messages written with small stones in strategic places just in case something unfortunate may happen to me along the way. This trip I had neglected to do so even though there were numerous ideal places along the way.

Glasby Pond

Soon I head off into the dense forest around the southern end of Cranberry Lake’s Dead Creek Flow. Fortunately, the flooded stream along this section from last year was considerably drier and did not require a search for a log to cross over the deep and highly brackish water.

Within twenty minutes from Janack’s Landing junction I arrived at an open grass-filled area on the western side of Dead Creek Flow. Here at the clearing along the trail was an oddly placed fireplace made of rock and cement. The fireplace resembles one which would typically be located in front of a lean-to instead of at the edge of a clearing along a trail. Downhill a short distance from the fireplace was a large and attractive campsite underneath a number of large eastern white pines.

Finally, after eight days of hiking from Wanakena I have arrived at my penultimate destination. “I MADE IT!!” I exclaimed inside my head as I wanted to avoid disturbing a pair of cedar waxwings diligently feeding their in a pine tree branch over the water. I ate lunch, did laundry (consisting of me jumping into the water with my clothes on), shampooed my hair and hung my wet clothes out using my food line. A single loon watched me wearily out in the water while I splash around near the shore of Dead Creek Flow.

Campsite on Dead Creek Flow

While eating lunch I was visited by a curious and hungry eastern chipmunk. Although this was not the first one I had seen on this trip, it was the first one to beg for a handout of food. I tried not to encourage this behavior so every time the chipmunk looked at me with its sad, dark eyes, I looked away in the opposite direction. Whenever the opportunity arose I would glance out of the corner of my eye at the chipmunk and it was always sitting there staring at me with a pathetic look on its little furry face.

Finally, with my resolve winnowed away, I relented and threw the little rodent a small extra piece of my flat bread. The chipmunk excitedly ran over to the piece of bread, took a couple sniffs and then WALKED AWAY!?! I could not believe what I was seeing! An apparently ravenous chipmunk actually turned its nose up at a perfectly edible piece of bread. What does this say about the bread I was just stuffing my face with? After this incident I began eyeing the remains of my bread with new skepticism.


I tried throwing the same small piece of bread at the chipmunk several more times with the same result. He excitedly ran up to it, gave it a couple sniffs and then looked back at me with what I can only describe as a “you-have-got-to-be-kidding, dude” look on his tiny face. Finally, I threw a handful of Kopali Organics trail mix at the poor rodent (out of spite more than anything else) which he hurriedly devoured before running off to hide his ill-gotten gain most likely.

Soon after I packed up all my equipment and put on my mostly dry, “clean” clothes and headed off on what was the last leg of my epic journey back to Wanakena. The trail headed north along the shore of Dead Creek Flow for a while before finally shifting to the northwest toward Wanakena. The trail passed through a diverse selection of habitat here, moving from Dead Creek Flow through mature hardwood forest, intensively impacted blow-downs, and beaver meadows and swills. Luckily, the beaver flooded section from last year was almost completely dry where previously it was flooded half-way up my thighs.

Trail through blow-down

Before long I entered the trailhead parking lot along South Shore Road. I quickly walked west down the road for a half mile and arrived at my waiting vehicle.

As I cleaned-up I noticed splatters of mud at the bottom of the driver’s side window and along the bottom of the dashboard. At first I thought this was mud from a canoe possibly being mounted onto a vehicle next to mine during the eight days I was gallivanting in the backcountry. After examining the scene of the crime for a moment I figured out what had happened (but not before cursing under my breath the careless canoeists who had soiled my poor vehicle). The mud splatters where not splatters at all but the footprints of a medium-sized bird (perhaps an American robin or a blue jay) who had apparently seen his or her reflection in the mirror and staged an attack on this would-be illusionary intruder. Apparently it took some time for the bird to figure out its mistake and move on, but I suspect not before having to nurse a gargantuan-sixed headache.

Trail to Wanakena

This concludes my longest and most arduous bushwhacking adventure of 2010. I am sure I will return to this area again to further explore some of the ponds north of Toad Pond (although I heard the blow-down is horrendous in this area) as well as Summit Mountains and the lakes to its north and east. If I am lucky enough to return I will be sure to chronicle such adventures here for all to enjoy.

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