Not everything works out the way you plan it.
This is just as true with bushwhacking trips into the backcountry of the Adirondacks as anything else. Some trips are highly spontaneous, moving from conception to implementation with the speed of a mosquito finding a bulging vein on a warm summer evening. Others take their time in materializing, with endlessly tweaking plans and ad nausea fantasizing, until finally becoming reality.
Even the best plans often suffer delay due to unforeseen and uncontrollable reasons, such as a stretch of unsettled and threatening weather or an unexpected injury.
Finally, after a year of injury and one of the longest stretches of unsettled weather, I am finally on my way into one of the least visited parts of the Five Ponds Wilderness. Just north of the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River, I anticipate a wild trip, including circumventing a series of interconnected ponds, struggling through the carpet spruce swamp north of the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River and oscillating between a multitude of small, desolate ponds.
Date: June 17, 2013
Length: 0 miles (0 total daily miles; 0 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Easy (stressful drive due to rain and road conditions)
Not even the continuing chance of neurotic weather on the onset of the trip is going to dampen my enthusiasm, especially after missing last year.
My trip begins on a sunny day in mid-June, with all the excitement of early Christmas morning, except with an extra dose of anxiousness of the typical last-minute packing. My old watch adds to the anxiety, as it continues to self-destruct after a fifteen-year run, the chance of it lasting through the five-day trip being next to nil. Luckily, a new Timex Expedition Indigo watch waits for me at the post office, which I retrieve before finally heading north to soak in five days of forest-bathing Adirondack bliss.
The sky turns increasingly darker and more overcast on my journey northward, suppressing some of my earlier pre-trip excitement. More anxiety lurks just behind remains of the excitement, stimulated by the unknown condition of Bear Pond Road, the unsettled weather forecast and the multitudes of worries revolving around any bushwhacking trip within a remote and relatively unknown area. The brighter sky over the Tug Hill to the east gives me some solace on my journey, wiping away some of my darker trepidation.
It has been two years since approaching the Adirondacks from this direction. Descending off the Tug Hill, I avoid Lowville, the county seat, via some side streets before quickly making my way through Croghan, a small town known for its famous bologna. The smaller Belfort is next, not much more than an intersection now, before passing the Oswegatchie Camp, a retreat run by the New York Future Farmers of America. Finally, the pavement ends and within a short distance along a well-graded dirty road, I arrive at the large parking lot marking the beginning of the legendary Bear Pond Road.
Bear Pond Road is a dirt road that winds its way through the dense forest, separating the Watson’s East Triangle Wild Forest from the remote Five Ponds Wilderness. Over its full length of over ten miles, the road works its way north for nearly half its distance before turning south, where it ends at two inholdings on Bear Pond. Public vehicle access ends miles before, right after an access trail to Upper South Pond, my driving destination for the day.
The condition of the dirt road remains a mystery, unlike two years ago when I last drove its length to get to Oven Lake. Last time, information from the ADK Forum provided me with assurances of the roads drive-ability without high clearance or four-wheel drive capabilities, which is always a grave concern for my little vehicle. With no such information now, I plan on driving blind, which increases my anxiety levels exponentially, especially after the area suffered through some extremely wet late spring conditions lately.
After a quick stop to relieve myself, I begin my drive along Bear Pond Road toward the Upper South Pond trailhead. From my previous experiences, I know there is an hour long (or more) drive ahead of me, necessitated more from the road conditions and my vehicle’s limitations rather than the road’s distance.
Despite the slow speeds, foreboding sky and white-knuckled grip, I try my best to enjoy the ride, anticipating the infrequent landmarks along the way.
The road initially climbs through private property, passing a large sign castigating the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for mismanaging their forest-lands (i.e. not managing for the harvesting of deer meat exclusively for the near-by hunting clubs), before finally reaching the yellow-lettered brown sign signifying the beginning of the Watson’s East Triangle Wild Forest.
About two miles in from the parking lot, two wild turkeys attempt crossing in front of me, but then think better of it as my car slowly approaches. Previously, I passed another small flock of turkeys near the Oswegatchie Camp while still on the paved road, proving these hardy birds are making great headway into the Adirondacks after reintroduction to the state only several decades ago.
Increasing darkness closes in on me as I continue the drive forward, the threatening clouds overhead accentuating the feelings of claustrophobia initiated by the surrounding impenetrable forest. As my anxiousness slowly creeps higher, very large raindrops begin to fall and bounce off my windshield, perhaps foreshadowing a coming downpour. The rain becomes increasingly steadier until it finally evolves into a deluge, easily soaking the dirt roadway, where twin rivulets flow along its side.
The rain falls with such ferocity, my inability to see through the maelstrom impedes any further progress even slower than before. Several puddles, with questionable depths, straddle the road, forcing me to do some creative and evasive maneuvers to avoid. Despite the rough road conditions, combining with my inability to see through the cloak of falling rain and the puddles, the sound of only two to three scrapes emanates from underneath my poor, little vehicle.
By the time I approach my destination, a short distance past where I parked for my Oven Lake adventure two years before, the rain tapers off, with only the occasional drop falling. The parking situation leaves much to the imagination, with only the sides of the narrow main road or the puddle filled side road, which soon ends at several strategically placed boulders to block further traffic. My car perfectly fits in the corner where the side road leaves Bear Pond Road, its elevated nature should prevent any possible puddling and the surrounding moderately sized trees pose little threat in the case of any high winds.
Soon after pulling into my parking spot, the clouds break and the sunlight penetrates all the way to the forest floor, enlightening the sparse understory vegetation. The sunshine lifts my spirits some, although the drops continue falling from the foliage, providing the illusion the rainstorm continues. Giving the sunlight and breeze time to work their magic and dry out the foliage, I kill some time, changing my boots, eating lunch and psyching myself for the rather damp adventure soon to unfold.
The original plan never included any rain, but this is the Adirondacks after all, so it is always necessary to include a moisture contingency. Especially this spring, when it rains every other day.
Regardless of the wetness, now the bushwhacking adventure begins. Whether I am ready or not.
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