On April 21-23, 2011 my friend Dave and I participated in the 26th annual Frostbite Overnight (FBON). The FBON is an early spring camping trip taken the three days prior to Easter in the Catskills State Park. This year we hiked into Trout Pond in the Cherry Ridge/Campbell Mountain Wild Forest. The following article chronicles the first day of our trip including the drive down, the hike in to a lean-to and cooking strip steaks on an open campfire. Yummy!
On April 21, we left Syracuse with light snow falling. Although the nasty departure weather adhered to tradition for the FBON, we broke another tradition with me driving instead of Dave. With just the two of us participating this year, it made sense to take the smaller vehicle to save both a little money on gas and some carbon dioxide emissions. As we progressed southward along I-81 the snow got heavier but luckily it was not sticking to the ground much.
The snow worried me somewhat. With Easter falling later in the year this I lightened my load by bringing less cold weather clothes and equipment. There were no snowshoes (they typically just tagged along on my backpack and were rarely worn in previous years), no winter sleeping bag (instead I brought my two summer bags, the Western Mountaineering Hilite and the Marmot Mystic) and lighter weight clothing. Fortunately, the snow tapered off after we got through the hills south of Syracuse.
The trip down was largely uneventful except for the route taken. Most of the previous years the FBON took place further north in the Catskills and I-90 was a significant part of the route to get there. Our approach this year was more similar to our exit route where we typically would drive through Binghamton to stop at the Euerka store.
After arriving in Binghamton via I-81 we took State Route 17 almost the entire way to Roscoe, NY. Although the road conditions were a little rough along this stretch of state highway, the rolling forested hills were scenic and pleasant. At Butternut Grove, we exited 17 in an attempt to take Russell Brook Road to the trailhead near the edge of the Cherry Ridge/Campbell Mountain Wild Forest.
We drove up Russell Brook Road for about a mile before coming to a turnaround with a warning of no vehicle traffic beyond that point. The drive to the end of the road was rough and excruciatingly uncomfortable since both of us needed to see a man about a horse with great urgency. We exited the vehicle quickly and dealt with the necessary business before reassessing the situation.
The point beyond the makeshift barricade barely suggested a road had once existed. Russell Brook cut across the flat grassy remnant multiple times as they both meandered to the northeast. Dave spotted a wild turkey along the grassy lane when I was otherwise occupied.
We consulted the map of the area to find another way to approach the trailhead. After a few moments we decided to approach the trailhead from the north using Horse Brook and Morton Hill Roads.
Over rough and mostly dirt/gravel roads we were able to make our way to the northern part of Russell Brook Road with no incident other than being stared down by a ruffed grouse along Morton Road. The grouse was very reluctant to give up its ground in the middle of the road despite the fact my car was
larger and inching closer to him.
Once beyond the grouse we turned down the northern portion of Russell Brook Road. This road was quite rough and all downhill. In some places it was quite steep and at a one location, where the road was apparently repaired after a washout, some rocks scraped the underside of my poor Honda Fit. Immediately following the scraping, we passed an occupied roadside campsite before rounding a corner and arriving at a sizable trailhead parking lot.
There were already several vehicles in the parking lot, which greatly reduced our chances of getting the anticipated lean-to. I was not even sure getting a lean-to at a location so close to a drivable road was a good thing anyway. In fact, a co-worker claiming to be familiar with the area warned the area around Trout Pond was typically occupied by murders, meth addicts and college frat boys. It turned out he was not that far from the truth.
A kiosk located at the fair side of the parking lot contained a map indicating there were two lean-tos at Trout Pond, contradicting my outdated trail map. My map was from a set produced by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and was copyrighted in 1996. It had proved less than accurate before so maybe it was time for an update.
After changing clothes and pulling together some last minute equipment we set out down the trail just after two o’clock in the afternoon.
The trail began as a gravel road that after passing through a locked metal gate descended to the flood plain of the confluence of Russell Brook and Trout Pond’s outlet stream. A large bridge crossed Russell Brook here and the view upstream revealed the remains of an old dam and some falls beyond. On the far side of the bridge there was a large occupied campsite located at the intersection of the Trout and Mud Pond trails. The two large tents present suggested a significant number of people and left us more optimistic about out chances of getting a lean-to at Trout Pond.
An oddly placed outhouse was located in the middle of the flood plain of the brook. The privy leaned to one side as if the spring floods made a worthy attempt to push it downstream. Given the privy location it would be wise to obtain any water for drinking or cooking here upstream where the risk of fecal contamination was less likely.
After crossing the bridge, the trail started immediately climbing to the north toward Trout Pond. Calling this a trail was being somewhat disingenuous as it was wide enough to be a dirt road and given the dual ruts it most certainly was still being used for this purpose by those lucky enough to have a key to the gate at the trailhead.
The trail continued uphill through mostly hardwood forests all the way to Trout Pond. It roughly followed the Trout Pond outlet, though staying a considerable distance uphill from the stream’s shore. About halfway to the pond there was a large campsite with a fire ring downhill between the stream and the trail. There were a great deal of hemlocks scattered on the opposite side of the trail here.
Soon after leaving the campsite and hemlocks behind we could view a pass in front of us that turned out to be Trout Pond. The trail quickly leveled off when we reached the pass and a short spur trail led down to the southern shore of the pond.
At the pond’s southern end there was a small clearing with a kiosk near its center. The shore here was largely bare and we walked along it to a dam at the very southern tip. The outlet stream was largely fed by the spillway at the top of the dam.
There use to be a trail here to a lean-to along the western shore at the southern end of the pond. We could see a clearing on the western shore where the lean-to probably once stood. The only pile of snow we saw on the entire trip remained near the old lean-to site obviously sheltered from the direct sunshine.
The wind off the lake was strong so we did not linger here long. After losing my hat once, I had to keep a hand on it the whole time to ensure I did not lose it again. It was a good thing I only brought the single lightweight hiking pole whose mate was broken last year instead of the new pair Dave made me last year, as it left me one free hand to secure my hat on my head.
Across Trout Pond I could see the lean-to up on a slope along the northern shore. The lack of any brightly colored equipment hanging from it suggested it may be unoccupied. I failed to verify its vacancy despite wearing my Leica compact binoculars on my backpack’s waist belt as usual.
The remainder of the trail to the north shore of Trout Pond hugged the east shore of the pond. The trail was wet here and there were several places where careful navigation was required to keep one’s feet dry. This was less a concern for me since I was wearing my typical bushwhacking boots but Dave only wore light hiking shoes so he was always trying to find the driest avenue around these wetter spots.
A large campsite was located to the east just before reaching a wood bridge over a small stream. Just east of the bridge was a strange structure resembling a very small lean-to located in the middle of the stream. The structure had a sloping green aluminum roof with the highest wall, which was covered in chicken wire, facing away from the pond. Water appeared to flow right under the structure. Our theories about the purpose of this structure ranged from the biological (rearing trout) to the fanciful (house of a mermaid). Finally we decided it might just protect the location of a spring.
Soon after crossing the bridge we were surprised by another lean-to located in the northeastern corner of the pond. The lean-to was set back from the shore of the pond and was currently occupied by several people. An elaborate campsite was set up around the lean-to with numerous tents and tarps. We pushed on past it hoping that the other one was still open.
The Trout Pond inlet crossing was messy as the area surrounding the stream was very wet. Along the shore were two boys carrying guns, apparently looking for some poor amphibian or other water-dwelling organism to torment. We exchanged pleasantries with them although they mostly just ignored our presence.
After crossing the stream we climbed uphill to the second lean-to, which luckily was still unoccupied. We rested briefly before setting about making the lean-to home by unpacking the contents of our backpacks and spreading it all over the place.
As we reached our destination fairly early there was much time to explore the area around the lean-to. A trail further uphill and to the west led past the privy to a flat area once used as a tenting site although now resembles a kind of mine field with unburied human fecal material scattered about everywhere.
The birds did not seem very active on the hike into the pond although possibly due to the overcast skies and the windy conditions. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers were very common around the lean-to as I saw several and heard many more performing their distinctive drumming. Several common mergansers were sighted out on the pond as were a couple of Canada geese. The waterfowl seemed to naturally drift down to our end of the pond but when the kids with the guns appeared they would quickly retreat to the southern end.
At one point the occupants of the other lean-to headed up the trail toward Mud Pond (which started down by the inlet to Trout Pond) each carrying a firearm. We discussed whether they were attempting to surround us to lay siege to our lean-to. This led to a lot of silly talk about our chances of survival until we both heard shots off to the west, which started a nervous discussion about the movie Deliverance.
As evening approached we set about gathering firewood. Dave had brought some strip steaks to cook directly on the fire so we needed ample fuel to build up some very hot coals fit for cooking. Unfortunately, this lean-to was one of the few without an old metal grill so we manufactured one out of downed but still largely fresh striped maple branches. Despite the make-shift grill the steaks came out well as we made them into sandwiches with our flatbread and some jalapeno dip. Deeeelicious!
As the sun started to set we were visited several times by an eastern phoebe. The phoebe kept attempting to enter the lean-to but would fly off as soon as it realized it was already occupied. We tried to make some room but that did not seem to matter as eventually the phoebe gave up.
The skies gradually cleared as the evening progressed resulting in a cold night. Since I brought a hand and body warmer with me, I cracked it open and placed it inside my double sleeping bag where it kept me relatively warm despite the lower nighttime temperatures.
Tomorrow would include our hike to Mud Pond and a short bushwhack up to a beaver dam north of Trout Pond.
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