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Trip Plan: Carpet Spruce Swamp of Middle Branch Oswegatchie River

Upper Riley Pond

Upper Riley Pond

During the late summer of 2011, while hiking across Isle Royale, I planned an outing into what might be one of the remotest and least often visited (by humans anyways) parts of the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, a mysterious knee injury in the spring of 2012 put this trip onto the back-burner until this year. Now I am just waiting for a 5 or 6 day period devoid of rain so I can pull the trigger.

This remote trip will take me once again deep into Five Ponds Wilderness. The area prime for exploring is bounded by the three South Ponds (Upper, Middle and Lower) to the west, the large, odd-shaped Crooked Lake to the east, the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River to the south and the Riley Ponds to the north. There are plenty of small ponds, some odd geological features, some dense conifer forests and a wild river to indulge my fascination for everything remote and foreboding.

This area remains virgin territory for me, although on several occasions I explored around its periphery. During my epic adventure from Wanakena to Stillwater Reservoir, I visited the northern shore of both Riley Ponds, and the northern and eastern-most parts of Crooked Lake. Years earlier, I hiked into Upper South Pond from Bear Pond Road, and followed what remains of anglers’ trail to the Middle South Pond while working as a Blockbuster on the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas. A couple years after the Blowdown of 1995, while working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, I bushwhacked around Sand Lake to the south to gain access to the Five Ponds area before the trail system reopened, most likely coming close to Sitz Pond in the process.

Bear Pond Road is my main means of access to get to the trailhead for Upper South Pond. My first encounter with this road was back when I worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society; it was a narrow, extremely rough and a tad scary road back in those days. Now the road is much wider and typically smooth going as long as one remains wary of the occasion protruding rock or washout. The Upper South Pond trailhead is about 10+ miles in, requiring a slow, white-knuckling ride in my little Honda Fit. The trail crosses the Middle Branch of the Owegatchie River on a new log bridge where previously one had to inch across on a metal I-beam. The trail continues about two miles to the shore of Upper South Pond.

Crooked Lake

Crooked Lake

Information on this area is scarce. Most of my usual channels on places in the Adirondacks have come up empty. Most of what I know comes from Ed Reese, a commenter from my microburst survival story on the Adirondack Almanack. He warns of the treacherous terrain, particularly near the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River. Ed used the term Spruce Carpet Swamp to describe the conifer forests surrounding the Middle Branch, a term I have only seen used on the Five Ponds Wilderness Wikipedia page.

Recently, I left inquiries about the condition of Bear Pond Road and any intelligence about this area on the ADKForum to better prepare for this trip. Unfortunately, to this date, no one has posted any comments. If anyone has any information about the condition of the road (especially about driving a small car), or the area I will be traveling, I would greatly appreciate hearing from them.

Hopefully, the weather will improve so I can get this party started. If it happens, you can read all about it right here at the Bushwhacking Fool, so stay tuned.

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4 comments on “Trip Plan: Carpet Spruce Swamp of Middle Branch Oswegatchie River

  • In 1975, the Bear Pond dirt road went across the Middle Branch to the Bear Pond Club private land inholding. I read at some point it was out for a number of years and is now repaired. There are people in that club that hunt, I think usually on their land and maybe the Dismal Pond area. Some of them have probably walked up to Sand Lake, before, or at least know the Middle-Branch. Undoubtedly, some are skilled enough to survive alone in that woods, living off the land. It might be a good idea to contact them for more detailed information They are the most likely to know that area. I have a friend, a retired ranger, that knows the whole area inside out, but I never give out names on the internet without permission. The phrase ‘Carpet Spruce’ comes from some locals I met, 38 years ago, when I was 21 years old. It is not a common term. It shows up in Wikipedia, because I wrote that in there. I probably should have not used that term. I have a color aerial photo of this Spruce (Boreal) Swamp, that pinpoints it exactly. Email me with a mailing address and I can send you a CD with around 300 photos (I have maybe around 1000 altogether) on it of this area. There are still many places in there I will never get to. Mainly, because I have to travel light with my bad back and I usually don’t stay in the woods more than 3 days. I also have a ton of information, articles, and maps, alot of which I have scanned into my computer. Let me know, what information you are looking for and I can get back to you what information that I have compiled. Thanks for the great articles and views of the inner Five Ponds Wilderness!

  • bushwhackingfool

    August 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm


    I actually did this trip in late June. I went around the South Ponds, briefly down into the Carpet Spruce Swamp, pond hopped all the way to Crooked Lake. Then I worked my way back to Sitz Pond (which I loved) and finally back the the South Ponds. I saw tons of moose scat, most around Middle South Ponds. The only recent evidence of people was a candy bar wrapper and a Mylar balloon.

    I need to write it up as soon as I get through the Birdathon adventure in the Pepperbox Wilderness. Thanks for the offer, I might hit you up on all the information you have accumulated.

  • The South Ponds are not where I came down. I came down from Sand Lake South Southeast and ended up on the Middle Branch near a mid sized unnamed pond, the Boreal tangled spruce, with white pine blowndown in one part of it is just west of this pond. I have never been to the South Ponds. I have a map where, as best as I could pinpoint shows my route. This pond is midsized and oblong in a North South direction, about 2 miles west northwest of Willy’s Lake. My aerial photo indicates this swamp to be maybe about one by one mile area or a little less. When I was 21, I was a dummy. If I had gone the wrong way into this, instead of away from it, I may have not got out of there ever (hypothermia). The middle branch, when I was there was very swollen. The winter of 74-75 was bad. There was no snow anywhere, except there, but it was around 3 feet deep, only in and near that Spruce tangle. This was May 16, 1975- it is in the upper 80’s temperature, with bugs getting really bad. I got injured in the blowdown and was bleeding from a superficial head cut. I went up on this big rock on top of snow, next to a good-sized spruce tree, near the river. Trying to calm down. After this I followed the river and parts of it were awful to walk along, and a cliffy kind of area also. There was a part where the river dropped down about 20 feet. I swear, water was coming over that like Great Falls in Virginia. The ground was shaking underneath me. No one should attempt to canoe down it!!!

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