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Carpet Spruce Swamp: Rain Delay at Lower South Pond

A dismal and wet Lower South Pond

A dismal and wet Lower South Pond

Am I going blind? Did I die? Are aliens coming for me?

An odd, red ochre light rouses me from a deep sleep along Lower South Pond’s southern shore, filling me with confusion. A few moments transpire before my brain regains its proper functioning, and all the odd explanations quickly evaporate, leaving me with the only obvious alternative. Squinting, I roll over, a disgusted groan emanating from deep inside me, until slowly the ramifications suddenly dawn on me.

The sun is out!

After retreating early last night because of rain, I never thought I would see the sun so early this morning. The bright red orb must wait though, as it is only five in the morning, so lying back down, I try to work a little more shuteye in before waking for another day of bushwhacking through one of the least visited portions of the Five Ponds Wilderness. Since I called it an early day yesterday, one would think I would be bright-eyed and bushy tailed this morning, especially with sun making an appearance. Somewhere between the waking world and the land of dreams, an old saying bubbles up through an atrophied part of my mind, penetrating into my conscious mind.

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning.

Section Stats:
Date: June 18, 2013
Length: 0.0 miles (0.0 total daily miles; 3.3 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Easy

Although first heard on an old 70’s TV show, this old adage has more than a grain of truth impeded in it, as I learned during my recent studying for the New York State Guides license. True to form, in thirty minutes the sun is gone, apparently blocked out by clouds, although I cannot see them from underneath my tarp.

Diverting my mind off any possibility of further precipitation, I tune into the morning bird chorus as a distraction. For late June, it seems a tad subdued, with a Canada warbler, northern waterthrush, northern parula, olive-sided flycatcher, brown creeper and hermit thrush all singing nearby. Perhaps the red sunlight clues them into the nasty weather ahead. Toward the pond, a familiar yodel signifies my sighting last night was not merely a fluke, but the common loon stuck around; perhaps there is fish in this pond after all.

The revelry does little good, as within fifteen minutes, the little pitter-patter of rain against the tarp begins, slowly and softly at first, then faster and steadier, destroying any chance of getting a dry start toward the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River and its legendary carpet spruce swamp this morning.

With the rain comes the inevitable drastic drop in temperature, making it ideal hypothermia weather. Zipping up the sleeping bag all the way to my chin, I settle in for the duration of the rain, whether it be merely a short shower or an all-day affair. At least, there is plenty of time to catch up on a little sleep. As if I did not get enough already.

Forest along Lower South Pond

Forest along Lower South Pond

Forest along Lower South Pond's shoreline

Forest along Lower South Pond’s shoreline

Several times, the noise just above my head tails off, as the rain slows, only to start up again a few minutes later. It is almost as if the clouds are taunting me, tempting me to emerge from the protection of my tarp, only to destroy any such notions of a day of exploring moments later.

Often telling the difference between an active rain and the dripping from the canopy overheard proves nearly impossible, adding to my confusion and frustration. With each period of renewed rain, I start going over a multitude of permutations for my remaining trip. Already pared back from my original itinerary due to a day’s rain delay earlier in the week and a later start due to further rain yesterday, I wonder if continuing on my original loop is even possible, especially if I end up losing the entire day to rain.

Whiling away the time, and in between naps, I write up notes from yesterday, listen to WRVO on my little radio, peruse maps and, due to the sound of rain striking my tarp, pee, pee and more pee. The constant process of getting out of my sleeping bag, putting my rain gear on, slipping on my boots and going out for a quick pee, just to do the reverse a few minutes later increases the level of tedium exponentially.

Tarp site along Lower South Pond

Tarp site along Lower South Pond

As the rain seems to wind down for the umpteenth time just before ten in the morning, contemplating the rest of my trip takes on a more immediate nature. If I choose to sit tight today, then my itinerary will take a hit, as it has twice before when the weather threw a wrench in my plans. The majority of the trip is still doable in the remaining three days, but they would be very aggressive days, one with little margin for error, such as heavy blowdowns or newly flooded areas. Plus, after leaving Lower South Pond, the first significant water body for making camp is near the confluence along the Middle Branch Oswegatchie River, which is over a mile and a half as the crow flies.

With green frogs and bullfrogs calling, the sky brightens some, so I decide to get ready to move on, as long as the weather continues to look promising, that is. The late start necessitates cutting off any chance of reaching the Owegatchie River itself, instead it is imperative that I head directly toward the river’s confluence, where a couple branches of the river come together in a large open wetland. Unfortunately, this means less time spent in the legendary “carpet spruce swamp,” but this cannot be helped. Blame the finicky wet weather of the northwestern Adirondacks.

Going through my usual morning chores, I dress, hastily make and devour breakfast and pack up my backpack, including stuffing the soaked tarp at its top. In the process of packing, I check my 0.5L Platypus collapsible alcohol fuel bottle for leaks by squeezing it softly to see if any air escapes. Luckily, the bottle, which I have used for many years now, is no worse for wear, as it resists any of my efforts to find any possible leaks.

Breadcrumb at Lower South Pond

Breadcrumb at Lower South Pond

Why check this now, with such limited time? Who knows? The thought merely came into my head spontaneously, as these things often do.

Before leaving, I set up the beginning of my breadcrumb trail where the tarp once stood, just in case anything fatal-like happens along the way. When that is out of the way, I take a last look at the area around Lower South Pond’s southern shoreline, since the immediate threat of rain prematurely ended such exploring last night.

Picking my way through the dense understory of small coniferous and broadleaf trees, I marvel at the many large hemlocks scattered about. Unfortunately, looking up into their canopy just gets me a couple raindrops in the eyes, blinding me for a few moments, before I finally don my safety glasses.

A pair of ring-necked ducks is swimming along the far shoreline, seemingly unaware of my presence, the sound of my approach apparently masked by the dripping foliage. The site of the ducks makes me recall the sound of a wood duck calling from the previous night. Or perhaps, I dreamt it.

A sunnier Lower South Pond

A sunnier Lower South Pond

Now nearly noon, the morning chorus is long over, but an ovenbird, a black-and-white warbler, a blue jay and red-winged blackbird still continue their enthusiastic singing even at this hour. Perhaps they were in a rain delay too.

Fortunately, my rain delay draws to an end. Now it is time to climb over the ridge to the southwest and slide around on some carpet spruce swamp!

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