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 fourth part of day seven is a hike southwest along the Five Ponds Trail to Wolf Pond for the final night of the trip.
Date: July 4, 2011
Length: 1.4 miles (5.0 miles for the day)
Standing in the Five Ponds Trail between Little Shallow Pond and the intersection with the Sand Lake and Cage Lake trails gives me some perspective on my newly completed bushwhacking trek through some of the most remote areas of the Adirondacks.
I start reminiscing about the different stages of my adventure: the long, anxiety-filled bushwhack from Streeter Fishpond to Oven Lake, the struggle through the blow downs along the Oven Lake’s western shore, doing backcountry laundry and hygiene at Cracker Pond, spending hours on the rocks on the northern shore of West Pond and even the slog along the northern portion of the Robinson River earlier this very morning. A truly epic backcountry adventure, indeed!
View Day Seven, Part Four in a larger map
Now the last leg of my trip was beginning. The remainder would just follow trails, although such diverse ones as marked trails, unmarked trails and even herd paths. Much of the trails to be covered the next two days I already used on the first two days of the trip to gain access to the vast interior; there would be little new terrain covered. Perhaps on this more civilized portion of the trip I would finally catch a glimpse of the elusive Adirondack moose. But I am not holding my breath.
Rousing myself from my woolgathering, my mind returns to the immediate present where I need to focus on hiking to the Wolf Pond lean-to for the evening. There would be plenty of time for my mind to wonder while comfortably relaxing in the lean-to after finishing the longest single day trek of the entire trip.
When I arrived at the trail after bushwhacking from the Robinson River, I intersected the trail right near the top of a drainage, giving me a fine view down-slope through the forest. The trail winds its way like a snake right through the center of the drainage under a mostly hardwood forest.
Being at the top of the drainage I can see little of the trail lying before me to the southwest. My many trips to this area, combined with my approximate location on my Garmin eTrex Legend HCx, indicate there is just a short jaunt southwest over rolling terrain before reaching the intersection with the Cage Lake Trail. From the intersection there is an even shorter hike to Wolf Pond, and then my long day of hiking all the way from West Pond will be over.
My brief rest over, I climb the drainage and begin the last leg of my day’s trek.
The hike southwest takes me through mostly mixed forest, although occasionally a stretch of trail enters a completely hardwood or softwood grove. The terrain remains mostly rolling, with no serious climbs or descents. In a few places the trail intersects a swath of downed trees from the 1995 Microburst, but the evidence of this violent event is now covered by thick new growth.
After about 30 minutes of hiking, I take a sharp turn and descend slightly to the intersection with the Cage Lake and Sand Lake trails. The Sand Lake Trail continues straight ahead for three miles before arriving at its namesake. This trail provides my exit from the area tomorrow. The Cage Lake trail precedes a half mile southwest before arriving at the Wolf Pond lean-to, where it then turns northwest towards Cage Lake.
I stop at the intersection for a short rest before moving on with the final trail segment for the day. The mosquitoes are very affectionate here; they do their best to keep the rest brief. Typically, Wolf Pond is one of the less buggy lean-to locations in the area but at this point it might not even be a refuge for these ravenous little buggers.
The trail to Wolf Pond from the intersection is quite diverse. It winds its way north of the swampy Wolf Pond inlet stream and passes through both hardwood and softwood forests, and everything in-between. The final climb onto the knoll where the lean-to is located is short but somewhat steep, at least for this area. At the end of a long day it proves exhausting.
Several minutes after reaching the top, I arrive at the swath of downed white pines. Just beyond the swath, I can see the back of the lean-to and its accompanying outhouse waiting for my arrival.
The lean-to is completely empty as it has been on all the other times I have visited. For a beautiful place, this area appears to get few visitors. The great distance from the nearest trailhead is probably one reason; the lack of a view of the pond is most likely another.
Upon inspecting the interior of the lean-to, I found the floor completely covered in pine pollen. This is not particularly odd given the location of the lean-to at the edge of an ancient eastern white pine grove. Animal tracks were scattered throughout the lean-to; some appeared to be snowshoe hare, while others appear to be fisher.
Take a look at a picture of the tracks. If anyone thinks they are something other than fisher, please let me know.
I notice a new register inside the lean-to. In the register, the lean-to steward indicates the old register was replaced because of its age, with entries going back as far as the mid 1990’s. The few entries in the old register are more evidence of the infrequency of visitors to this lean-to. I bet it is one of the loneliest lean-tos in the Adirondacks.
The lean-to is attractively placed at the edge between a towering white pine grove and a swath of blow down from the 1995 Microburst. When I visited this lean-to in 1995 prior to the blowdown, it was located within a dense grove of large white pine trees. There was almost no understory back then.
The setting today is vastly different. The understory is now very dense with red maple, American beech and some black cherry. This is especially true for the area behind the lean-to where the swath of blowdown occurred. Many large, cut white pines still lay side-by-side on the ground where they fell during the storm.
This lean-to has a special place in my heart, as I spent my first night after that legendary storm here 16 years ago. I survived the storm down at Sand Lake and hiked to Wolf Pond through an occasionally decimated trail. I remember it being eerily quiet that night.
Despite the obvious devastation (or perhaps because of it), the bird community is quite active. Pine warblers still inhabit the area; many are singing upon my arrival and they continue to do for the remainder of the afternoon. Least flycatchers still exist in abundance under the pines in front of the lean-to. Apparently they nest in the hardwood trees present in the understory. Occasionally a common loon calls from down on the pond.
The late afternoon is full of the usual campsite chores sans putting up the tarp. This includes unpacking my Golite Pinnacle backpack which results in everything getting covered with pine pollen. With all the equipment scattered about the lean-to floor it appears as if my backpack exploded.
After sorting through my gear, I lay out my Highlite sleeping bag, Thermo-rest Prolite and lightweight blue closed-foam pad in the lean-to in preparation for a much needed sleep later in the evening. After finishing with my bedding, I follow up with hanging my food and filtering some water.
Filtering water is an especially arduous task at Wolf Pond. A trail leads down a steep hill from the lean-to to the water’s edge. The whole trail is under the towering white pines; their large roots cross the trail in several places making the trek back up the hill a little hazardous. Fortunately walking along the narrow trail under the white pines is an awe inspiring experience; this feeling nearly compensates for the steep climb back to the lean-to while carrying four or more liters of water.
The pond’s high water level makes obtaining water difficult. The water level is much higher than anytime I have seen in all the last 16 years visited here. Several boards placed in strategic placed would allow for water access if they were not afloat on the pond’s surface. Luckily, some of the boards are still in place enough that when I step on them they sink into the water only several inches. This makes getting to the water’s edge easier without getting completely wet feet.
After filtering water and making some dinner, I spend most of the early evening listening to the birds sing. My radio ceased functioning (hopefully due to low batteries) and the mosquitoes refuse to allow me even a moment’s respite, so sitting and reading is out of the question. When I can pace no longer, I call it an early night.
Upon waking in the middle of the night, I decide to head down to the water’s edge to take in the starry sky. Over this entire trip I had yet to watch the stars since I called it an early night at the end of every day. Although the arduous days were the cause of some of my early nights, the swarms of hungry mosquitoes were an incentive too.
From my sheltered mosquito netting portion of my tarp system, I could hear the hum of the hungry swarm surrounding the lean-to. I wrapped myself in my full rain gear: The North Face Venture jacket, the Golite Tumulo pants, my Integral Design Shortie Gaiters and even my OR gloves. Only my face had any exposed skin. Just in case, I slipped my OR mosquito head net into my pocket and headed down the trail toward the pond.
I stumble my way down the trail to the water’s edge in my still half-asleep state relaying on my Petzl e+LITE headlamp to illuminate the way. The sky is completely clear and the stars are as brilliant as I have ever seen them. I watch the stars for as long as I can handle the constant onslaught of the mosquitoes; most of the time is spent protecting the single portion of my body left exposed: my face.
Finally I decide to head back to bed as soon as I see a single shooting star. This is the usual game I play in this situation. It does not take long before I spot one streaking across the sky out above the middle of the pond. Shortly, I turn and head back up the steep hill to the lean-to.
After removing the suit of armor that is my rain gear, I settle in for a deep night’s sleep. In only a few hours I prepare for my exodus from the Five Ponds Wilderness and the return to civilization.
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