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 second day of our trip including a hike to Mud Pond and investigating the ruins located there, a bushwhack to a series of beaver ponds and happy hour.
We woke early on Friday morning to very cold temperatures at the lean-to on Trout Pond. The soil in a wet area adjacent to the lean-to crunched under the weight of my boots as I made my way to the outhouse early in the morning; the once soaked soil now frozen by the very low overnight temperatures. Unfortunately, the clear skies that allowed the low temperatures were now replaced with overcast skies.
The low temperatures sucked the very ambition out of us and thus we stayed in the relative warmth of our sleeping bags for an extended period. Fortunately, the shorter and less ambitious day hike planned for the day allowed us the luxury of a slow start.
Unable to sleep any longer with the light of day now streaming into the front of the lean-to, I sat up in my sleeping bag, and watched the occasional bird activity brought on by the dawning sun. The staccato drumming of the yellow-bellied sapsuckers rang the hardwood forest surrounding the lean-to. American robins landed in the bare soil in front of the lean-to but flew off in a hurry whenever one of us moved in our sleeping bags. A brown creeper sang occasionally in celebration of the approaching nesting season and all the associated pleasures and responsibilities such a season provides. Several dark-eyed juncos flittered back and forth in front of the lean-to, perhaps looking for scraps left behind by careless campers.
After breakfast was prepared and other early morning chores performed, we packed our day packs for the day ahead. My Integral Designs silcoat daypack<<>> was stuffed nearly full with my rain gear, binoculars, camera, first aid kit and water among other things. By about 10 AM we were ready and started down the trail from the lean-to to the Mud Pond trail down by the Trout Pond inlet.
The trail started climbing immediately through a hardwood forest from near the pond’s inlet. Maples and yellow birch were in abundance here. During the climb, Dave pointed out the black cherry trees, which were in reality yellow birches. A small cirque-like hollow could be seen just off the trail through the leafless shrubbery. We theorized this hollow was probably where the gun-totting hillbillies in the other lean-to performed their target practice from the previous day.
As we approached the height of land on Cherry Ridge (the map indicates the trail turns south before reaching the very top of the ridge), the presence of black cherry trees started to dominate the forest surrounding the trail. At the actual height of land, the trunks of the black cherries took on a tortured look where they appeared to zigzag their way to the open sky through the canopy. The forest floor was thick with Rubus here with an occasional large flat rock hiding among the prickly stems.
The trail suddenly turned south and started descending from Cherry Ridge down toward Mud Pond. The forest quickly transitioned from a mature hardwood forest to a much younger regenerating one with dense young stems. We took a little time to theorize about the history of this area before continuing down the trail through the dense, young forest.
As we proceeded down the trail low rock walls became visible within the dense growth of young trees, suggesting the use of the area for subsistence agriculture in the not so distant past. At one point the trail crossed right over one of these stone walls. The wall was flattened where the trail crossed although the rocks were still evident although embedded within the ground on and surrounding the trail. On both sides of the trail this wall disappeared into the dense young forest, a wide ribbon of rocks once given form by the back-breaking efforts of man but now falling into a state of disrepair. The reason for the degraded condition of this wall remained a mystery lost to the annals of time.
As we descended farther, the dense young growth gave way to a more mature forest once more. At the edge of the two forest types stood the remnants of some old structures whose foundations were made of the flat rocks for which the Catskills are famous. This led to another round of speculation about the identity and purpose of these structures.
Something bright blue caught my eye about 50 feet off the trail. Immediately realizing what it was, I carefully negotiated my way through the scattered Rubus to retrieve the deflated Mylar balloon. Any longtime reader of my blog knows how I feel about these scourges of wilderness areas everywhere.
Soon the trail reached an intersection with an old road bed. Several hand painted signs were located here indicating we had hiked 2.1 miles from Trout Pond and the Russell Brook Trailhead was another 1.1 miles. Mud Pond was located 0.2 miles to the west and this was the direction we continued.
The trail to Mud Pond was marked as a snowmobile trail, with its road bed width, and continued westward through a mature hardwood forest. Along the trail the pond could be seen through the trees down to the south and as soon as we located aside trail down to the shore we took it. Along this spur trail many old foundations could be seen farther to the west but they would have to wait until after we finished checking out the pond.
Mud Pond was a pretty body of water with much evidence of beaver activity along the northern shore. The pond had a round shape with an open and shrubby shoreline on it northern edge. Two very vocal and possessive Canada geese protested our presence soon after our arrival and remain persistent until they were certain we posed no immediate threat.
The whole northern shore was a maze of low-lying shrubs with small clearings scattered throughout. The frequent small stumps were evidence of an ambitious beaver’s efforts to keep the shoreline open for its own purposes. Scattered throughout the shrubbery were many rhododendrons, the only leafy green vegetation present this early in the spring. The contrast of the green leaves against the browns and tans made these shrubs stand out in the landscape.
The bird activity on the northern shore of Mud Pond was exceedingly active especially given the overcast skies. White-throated sparrows, song sparrows and American robins were viewed on the ground throughout the thick shrubbery while golden-crowned kinglets, black-capped chickadee and blue-headed vireos remained active in the tree canopies. Tree swallows and red-winged blackbirds flew around the shore while a single male common merganser joined the two geese on the water. The highlight of the area was a fox sparrow observed scratching its way through the leaves, obviously stopping over for a meal before continuing its journey northwards.
On our way back to the main trail, I caught sight of some bright yellow flowers down near the pond inlet stream. As I left the trail to investigate, the site of an old well-like structure distracted me from the bright flowers. As I approached the old well the scale of ruins became more apparent. There were several old structures here, all made of rock, and in different states of decay.
The well kept my attention since it was the only curved structure present. I stepped up to it and carefully peered over the edge to find it was only about three feet deep, apparently filled in sometime after it was abandoned.
The other structures consisted mainly of rock walls or old foundations some of which were just stacked flat rocks while others seemed to be cemented structures. A few substantially-sized trees grew within some of the structures demonstrating their age.
After taking a substantial amount of time investigating the ruins we returned to the trail and turned east toward the Russell Brook Rd. trailhead. Dave decided he wanted to switch to his waterproof winter boots back at my car so we decided to return to the parking lot before taking the short trek back to our lean-to on Trout Pond.
The trail continued to the east through a level area surrounded by young hardwoods and shrubs. Dave began to wax poetically about how we were crab lice crawling our way through a hairy body region. I feigned seeing the profundity of his musing so as not to incite any conflict. This crab lice nation came up several times along the trail in and increasingly absurd manner.
Soon after crossing through the scrubby area the trail started to descend in elevation entering a mature red pine plantation. The trail crossed a small stream and soon after the red pines gave way to a mature hardwood forest.
The trail descended steeply after the stream crossing as it followed along the stream far up on the side of a progressively deeper ravine. Soon the trail moved away from the ravine gouged out by the stream and descended the rest of the way until reaching a bridge over the Trout Pond inlet.
Just before crossing the bridge was a large campsite with several tents. This led to some momentary confusion until we both realized these campers who previously set up their tents along Russell Brook when we entered yesterday had now moved their campsite to their current position to the west of the Trout Pond outlet.
We crossed the bridge over the Trout Pond outlet but before continuing over the Russell Brook bridge we followed a trail north to investigate the shattered walls along the brook and the waterfalls further upstream.
A narrow trail led almost all the way to the falls where an overlook provided a fantastic view of an extensive waterfall. Another broken rock wall was at the very top of the falls with the water now flowing through its remains before cascading over the edge and falling to the pool far below.
After returning to the car for a boot change we returned to the Trout Pond lean-to using the same route as our hike in the day before.
The campsite down the ravine on the way to the pond was now occupied by three young men dressed in camouflage. They appeared to have built an A-frame shelter using hemlock boughs in clear violation of the dead and down rule. Perhaps they misunderstood and thought that only applied to burning.
Upon returning to our lean-to on Trout Pond we decided to take a brief rest since it was way too early for the traditional post-hike happy hour. Luckily there was a lot of activity in the surrounding area with the gun-totting hillbillies packing up to be replaced by two guys in a SUV that drove all the way up. They were followed by two other men who came in with canoes separately. One carried his canoe on cart and from some reason pulled it all the way down the trail instead of putting the canoe in at the southern end of the pond and paddling the rest of the way like the second man did.
In addition, a man and woman were now camping up on a ridge just east of the pond near the southern end. They spent a lot of time near the shore fishing, slowly moving northward. Also, the three survivalists in their camouflage walked up to the campsite near the strange green-roofed structure in the stream and set about to trying to make a fire to boil some water. From what I could tell they were not successful.
Despite my detailed observations of these individuals I failed to differentiate the murders from the meth heads from the frat boys.
Dave demonstrated his only new toy this year. He recently purchased the Steripen, which uses ultraviolet light to purifier water. It appeared to be a very useful gadget but required a wide-mouth bottle such as a Nalgene bottle. For now I think I will stick with my inline gravity filter.
Even after all the entertainment it was still too early to start happy hour so I suggested we bushwhack a little ways north along the inlet stream to a wetland to the north. I was pleasantly surprised when Dave showed interest given his usual distaste for bushwhacking. Since it was a short hike we traveled very lightly.
The going was fairly easy along the stream but it became increasing boulder strewn as we approached a small ridge. The stream flowed through a break in the ridge where it was restricted by an old beaver dam. Beyond the first beaver dam was a series of beaver ponds each with it own beaver dam. We followed the stream a short distance until it ended at a broad beaver meadow with many scattered old stumps. The views here had an Adirondack-look to them rather than the one typically found in the Catskills.
The shoreline around the beaver swales was very rocky and wet but that did not stop us from going out to get a better look at it. When we finally started to depart, we crossed the southern-most beaver dam and followed what appeared to be an old road down to the other lean-to.
When we returned to our lean-to it was time for happy hour so we cracked open some cans of beer and started our celebration of another year of the FBON in the Catskills. After the beer was consumed and the revelry finished we set about having a more mundane and backpacking-like dinner before calling it a night.
Tomorrow we would probably skip eating breakfast right away and head out early in search of diner in traditional FBON manner.
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