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Oven Lake Trip: A Long Bushwhack from the Robinson River to the Five Ponds Trail

Reaching the 5 Ponds Trail

The following is a description of an eight-day bushwhacking adventure into some of the most remote areas within the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondacks. The trip includes traversing areas of intense blowdown along the oddly-shaped Oven Lake, exploring a cluster of wilderness ponds and following the wild Robinson River. The third part of day seven is a bushwhack from the northern portion of the Robinson River to the Five Ponds Trail.

Section Stats:
Date: July 4, 2011
Length: 1.5 miles (3.6 miles for the day)
Difficulty: Moderate

With the early morning treks from West Pond to the Robinson River and along the river to where it sharply turns south behind me, it is now time to turn my attention to the last bushwhacking segment of my entire eight-day trip. From where the Robinson River turns abruptly south, I need to head southwest until reaching the Five Ponds Trail. After hitting the trail, the way to the Wolf Pond lean-to should be cinch since I have used this trail many times in the past.

While finishing my lunch, I take out my Five Ponds quadrangle topographical map and compass to determine an actual bearing to the trail. I decide on 253 degrees, which should take me through a mile and a half of unbroken forest along the edge of a large and unnamed mountain of over 2160 feet between Robinson River and the Wolf Pond outlet stream.

The map indicates no streams or wetlands to mark my progress toward the trail. The topography alone will suffice as my guide. Oh, and modern technology in the form of my trusty Garmin eTrex Legend HCx handheld GPS. I am going to try to avoid using the GPS as a navigation tool though, using it merely to mark waypoints along the route. Instead, I want to develop my ability to use the lay of the land to navigate my way westward.

View Day Seven, Part Three in a larger map

It is just before one in the afternoon when I leave the river behind and begin my sojourn through the untrammeled forest of the Five Ponds Wilderness. Initially the forest is mixed conifers and hardwoods, but quickly transitions to mostly hardwoods as the river becomes more distant. There is little noticeable impact from the 1995 Microburst.

As I emerge out of the shadow of the western edge of Partlow Mountain, the forest becomes noticeably different. The tree canopy becomes sparser, as if many branches are missing. Unfortunately, these branches remain scattered about the forest floor, casualties of the either the 1995 Microburst, the 1998 ice storm or some other disturbance.

Stepping over the many downed branches is not the only obstacle to my progress; a multitude of hardwood saplings are growing in response to the thinning forest canopy. In addition, the forest floor is very soggy in many places, apparently the result of many seeps in this area. The downed branches, saplings and seeps form a triumvirate of detour, resulting in an erratic route toward my ultimate destination.

During one such detour (point #88), I hear a faint cry. After stopping and listening quietly, the sounds become the familiar wail of ravenous woodpecker nestlings in a nearby cavity. I take a few brief minutes to look around for the nest but give up rather easily. The increasing afternoon heat combined with my increasing tiredness as the day drags on, leaves me little extra energy to hunt for a probable yellow-bellied sapsucker or hairy woodpecker nest.

As I climb over a low rise between a low hill and the much larger one to the south (point #89), the tree canopy thickens and the scattered branches and frequent regenerating saplings decrease. The small increase in elevation produces drier conditions too, resulting in much easier bushwhacking.

The forest is more mature here, made up of large red maple, American beech and yellow birch, with a scattering of eastern hemlock and red spruce. A hermit thrush sings nearby despite the early afternoon hour. And I flush up a dark-eyed junco from the forest floor, its white-edged tail flashing dismay as the bird flutters into the lower canopy.

After 90 minutes has passed since leaving behind the Robinson River, I check my progress using my GPS (point #90). With a significant knoll coming up ahead, I decide on a new bearing of 235 degrees to avoid any unnecessary climbing. With the new bearing, I should be able to cross in the cull between the large mountain to the south and the much lower knoll to the north.

While fooling with the GPS, an ovenbird becomes increasingly agitated by my presence. Fearing a nest is nearby, I step carefully through the forest trying to avoid any clumps of leaves that could be a camouflage nest.

After cresting the height of land in the cull (point #91), the amount of blow down increases as I lose elevation while descending into a series of drainages. These drainages feed the inlet stream of Little Shallow Pond off to the north.

The forest within the drainages has more spruce in the upper canopy, with many young beeches within the understory. The blow down and thick understory of the drainages diverts me off my main course and I drift north toward Little Shallow Pond. I do not want to get caught on the wrong side of the wetlands south of the pond, so I change my heading to directly west toward the nearby trail (point #92).

Balloon Near 5 Ponds Trail

The west bearing takes me through the entire series of drainages with increasing amounts of blowdown and thick vegetation. The GPS already indicates the trail is to the east of my location but I am certain I did not inadvertently cross it along the way. I ignore the GPS and climb out of what I hope will be the last drainage.

As I climb out of the drainage (point #93), a bright metallic blue catches my eye on the forest floor along the hillside. I immediately recognize it as a Mylar balloon and I head directly for it. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I hate these damn balloons. I retrieve the balloon and stick it in my pocket; the second balloon of this trip.

Near the crest of the last drainage, a flurry of fur scampers from right underneath my feet and along the forest floor. I nearly cry out as the abrupt movement startles me out of my intensive concentration on locating the trail. The snowshoe hare stops briefly before vanishing into some thick young conifers back down into the drainage.

A small blue disk on a tree catches my eye as I cross the very top of the last drainage. The disk signals my arrival at the Five Ponds Trail, well to the west of where my GPS claimed it to be. For all those relying on technology to navigate through the backcountry take heed; these gadgets are only as accurate as the information they rely on. Never surrender good judgment to the so-called superior technology.

Only a short hike along the Five Ponds Trail to the intersection with the Cage Lake Trail, followed by an even shorter trip to Wolf Pond is all that is remains of the day’s trek. There I would spend the night at the lean-to situated at the edge of towering white pine grove and a regenerating blow down from the 1995 Microburst.

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