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Last summer on my Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake adventure (for a teaser click here) I originally contemplated going as far east as the Oven Lake area. Unfortunately a late start on the second day due to rain and my rather slow pace throughout the trip prevented me from going any farther east than Toad Pond. This upcoming summer I hope to rectify the situation with a bushwhack back into the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness to explore the area around Oven Lake and hopefully the trio of ponds to the north: Cracker, West and Gal Ponds.
The Oven Lake area contains a series of lakes and ponds within a short distance of one another. Oven Lake, Grassy Pond and Gull Lake are the three largest of the water bodies in this area.
Oven Lake is a peculiar-looking, elongated lake running approximately northeast to southwest with an outlet at the northeastern tip. The main inlet is a long channel connecting Oven Lake to Grassy Pond to the south.
According to a Bushwhacking Fool reader, Oven Lake was once a stop along a trail used by the military in the early 1800’s. As the story goes the lake was named after the ovens built by the army to resupply the troops. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to search for these mythical ovens when I visit the area.
Grassy Pond’s western shore is very marshy while to the south is Hitchins Pond and Hyde Pond to the east. Beyond Hyde Pond further to the east is the larger Gull Lake. According to the Five Ponds USGS map an unimproved road once reached a benchmark at the northeastern tip of Gull Lake. The National Geographic topographic map of the Adirondack Park Old Forge/Oswegatchie indicates the area surrounding the Hyde Pond and Gull Lake area is private property with a conservation easement.
North of Gull Lake are three different medium-sized ponds. The southernmost is Cracker Pond with Gal and West Pond close to one another to the northwest. These ponds would be my final destination for this trip.
The same reader with the information about the naming of Oven Lake gave me a heads up about an old trail that once connected High Falls along the Oswegatchie River to Gull Lake. (see a historical topographical map here). This trail crossed the outlet a short distance from Gal Pond and went through the benchmark on Greenfield Mountain.
There are two different ways in which I could gain access to this area. One would involve taking a similar path as last summer’s trip and the second using a shorter alternative route from the southwest. The shorter alternative route would require a substantial drive along a dirt road to reach an interior and remote trailhead along the middle branch of the Oswegatchie River.
I could take the same path as my trip from last summer hiking the trail out of Wanakena to the Oswegatchie River until reaching Wolf Pond via the Five Ponds Trail for the first night. The second day would take me a short distance along the Sand Lake Trail before heading into the forest bushwhacking to Streeter Fishpond and then to Toad Pond. At this point Oven Lake would only be a short distance to the east.
An alternative route would be to drive down Bear Pond Road from the west through Watsons East Triangle Wild Forest to a parking area along the middle branch of the Oswegatchie River near the terminus of the public portion of the road. From this trailhead there is a trail that crosses the river, passes Brindle and Grassy Ponds and eventually ends at Rock Lake. From the Rock Lake there is a herd path that leads around the southern shore of Rock Lake along an esker between Rock and Sand Lakes and ends right behind the lean-to at Sand Lake. The Sand Lake Trail would take me to southern end of Wolf Pond where I would bushwhack eastward toward Oven Lake. Following this route I might be able to make it to Toad Pond (or perhaps too Oven Lake) in a single day.
Regardless of route into the area, from Toad Pond I would head east to Oven Lake crossing the Robinson River on the way. Heading south around Oven Lake I would explore Grassy Pond, Hitchins Pond, Hyde Pond and Gull Lake along the way before heading north toward Cracker Pond. This assumes the conservation easement around Gull Lake allows hiking (and perhaps camping). And that the blowdown damage from the 1995 microburst is not too extensive.
After leaving Gull Lake I would be set up for heading north to Cracker Pond. Heading down the Cracker outlet would take me to Gal Pond with West Pond just a short distance to the west. How helpful the old trail from Gull Lake to Gal Pond would be remains to be seen for this portion of the trip.
From these ponds I could take one of two ways to begin my exit from the area. The more conventional one would follow the West Pond outlet back to Oven Lake. From Oven Lake to Toad Pond to Streeter Fishpond and eventually back to the Sand Lake Trail. On the Sand Lake Trail I would head either north toward Wanakena or south and west toward Bear Pond Road depending on the way I began my adventure.
A second more unconventional way would be to head northeast from Gal Pond toward the Oswegatchie River where a Canoe Carry exists between the river and Big Deer Pond. From the vicinity of Big Deer was an old trail that headed north to Cowhorn Junction. This trail was closed after the 1995 microburst blowdown but it has come to my attention that it is now clear and hikable. Heading west along the Cowhorn Junction Trail I would eventually arrive at Cranberry Lake and Wanakena using the same exit I did last summer. This way would require using the Wanakena trailhead as my starting point though.
This trip has many unanswered questions that will determine exactly how I proceed. Will my little car negotiate Bear Pond Road, which I have not been on in several years? Do I feel comfortable leaving my car in a remote parking lot for at least a week? Is the conservation easement around Gull Lake and Hyde Pond open to the public for hiking? Is the Oswegatchie River crossable around the Canoe Carry Trail from Big Deer Pond? Will extensive blowdown and its accompanying thick 15-year old growth make it nearly impossible for me to reach my final destinations? Only time will tell.