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Carpet Spruce Swamp: A Restless and Cold Morning at an Unnamed Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness

Unnamed pond

Unnamed pond

When camping outdoors in a remote wilderness, like the Five Ponds Wilderness, there are a few rules that demand respect regardless of the situation. One such rule is to never, ever drink an excessive amount of water late in the afternoon or early evening, otherwise, expect spending a significant amount of time climbing in and out of your shelter throughout the night. This is especially true if the campsite is located near an audible stream. Or if you possess a tiny bladder.

After the long, torturous bushwhack up from the confluence along the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River late yesterday afternoon, I quaffed down a lot of water, filtered in the evening right from the nearby stream. That same stream, with its water loudly tumbling through the surrounding rocks, stimulates both my brain and bladder throughout the night, necessitating numerous trips out from under my tarp to void myself, or otherwise risk an unfortunate accident.

Each exodus not only allows me to void my bloated bladder, but also provides the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful starry display made possible by a perfectly clear sky. With the moon missing in action, the stars stand out brilliantly against the black background of deep space, a stunning display rarely glimpsed by metropolitan dwellers.

View Day Three, Part One in a larger map

Section Stats:
Date: June 19, 2013
Length: 0.1 miles (0.1 total daily miles; 7.1 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Easy

The stunning view nearly produces an accident, as I crane my neck to take in as much of the beauty as possible, nearly stumbling around right in the middle of peeing. I avoid doing any serious damage (at least as far as I know), finishing my nighttime foray rapidly and heading back toward my shelter to complete my slumber. Although tempted to stay out longer, waiting for a shooting star to streak by, the cold temperatures combine with my heavy eyelids, compelling me back to my shelter, the beckoning (and hopefully still warm) sleeping bag waiting within.

The restless night on that little knoll continues, even without any more urinary adventures. The reasons for this lack of peaceful repose are more plentiful than the conifers surrounding my camping site. Weird dreams keep me on edge. The stream’s rushing water continuously whispers in an unintelligible voice, compelling me to listen intently to the macabre sounds of the night, some real, others imaginary. A white-tailed deer snorts its derision nearby. Numerous airplanes rumble overhead, on their destination to who knows where. Small animals scurry through the leaf litter. The night’s chorus of strange sounds never cease, with sleep being the only possible means of escape.

If only the Sandman was not stuck in some swampy bog somewhere, it might come easier.

By the time the sun finally peaks its shiny head above the eastern horizon, I am ill prepared to start the third day of my trip through the western portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness. The cold temperatures increase my ambivalence, the little thermometer beside me indicating a temperature of approximately forty degrees Fahrenheit, damn cold, especially with summer only days away. And, that is inside my shelter!

The cold does little to dampen the morning activity within the forest though, as its denizens go about their business like commuters hurriedly rushing to their sterile cubicles. This is especially true of the morning bird chorus, which does its best to prevent me from drifting off for a few more hours of much-needed slumber.

A Swainson’s thrush begins earlier than most, when only a sliver of light illuminates the horizon. Instead of its usual long rhythmic song, it repeats a mere remnant, as if saying “what the hell?” about the lower temperatures. The poor guy has my sincerest sympathies.

Soon a red-breasted nuthatch joins in, its incessant song continuing with rarely a short break, to the point where I begin contemplating yelling “Shut up!” to silence him. I restrain myself, as that would be rude, especially so, since I am merely a visitor here, while it is the nuthatch’s home. A winter wren joins in, as if to say “Yeah, me too!”

Forest surrounding campsite

Forest surrounding campsite

Soon other birds join in the menagerie of sound, with red-winged blackbird, Lincoln’s sparrow, northern waterthrush and olive-sided flycatcher being the most vociferous in welcoming the rising sun. Their enthusiasm is contagious, slowly drawing me out of my sleeping bag to meet another wondrous day in the wilderness. Hopefully, a shorter, and less arduous one than yesterday.

After a warm breakfast of oatmeal with dried nuts and fruits mixed in, I disassemble my campsite using a process closely resembling the reverse of the previous night’s one to make it. Unlike the previous morning and its rain delay near Lower South Pond’s southern shore, this morning is cold, clear and sunny, portending a possible beautiful day. It may just be my first perfect day for bushwhacking through this remote backcountry, but hopefully not the last. Given the unpredictable weather lately, anything can happen, even more so than usual here in the Adirondacks.

By ten in the morning, the knoll that was my home for a night is behind me, as I depart on 127 degrees bearing toward the next pond off to the east. Pond hopping is the theme of my morning, as a series of ponds, each separated by a steep ridge, lies before me. The undulating terrain and numerous water bodies should produce an interesting beginning to my day’s bushwhack to Crooked Lake. It soon becomes even more fascinating, as the eerie sound of a common loon calling way off to the northeast cuts through the rest of the avian cacophony.

Whispering stream near campsite

Whispering stream near campsite

Could the call be emanating from Crooked Lake? That seems much too far, even for my exceptional hearing.

It takes me about fifteen minutes to make it to the pond’s shoreline, despite its close proximity to my campsite. After climbing a short but steep rise just beyond the noisy stream, I work my way away from the pond, before heading back toward it and down to its shore. Actually, making it to the shoreline is just a pipe dream, as the wet shoreline makes that all but impossible. Instead, I work my way into the high, thick grass (or sedge), just so I can catch a glimpse of the open water beyond.

The open grass is surprisingly dry, although it was likely underwater not too long ago. The growing open shoreline is likely due to a busted dam or a terribly unambitious (i.e. lazy) beaver. Several rivulets wind in a serpentine manner from the surrounding forest, down toward the open water, one apparently all that remains of the babbling brook near where I camped last night.

On the opposite shore, a large exposed boulder stands dominating over the surrounding shoreline, which seems flat and uninteresting in comparison. Unlike where I stand, the southwestern shoreline is conifer covered right up to waterline, with the exception of the giant glacial erratic. The boulder stands out among the conifers, despite the low-lying trees covering the top like a toupee. Its sheer gray cliff wall faces me, in high contrast with the surrounding forests, drawing my eye in its direction, despite every effort to look elsewhere.

Boulder along pond's southern shore

Boulder along pond’s southern shore

The pond looks deceptively smaller than on either the maps or aerial photographs accompanying me on this trip. A wide channel, forming the pond’s outlet, should be located to the south, but I can see no evidence of it from my position. This conundrum begs investigation, requiring a resolution that only circumnavigating the entire water body can provide. Unfortunately, my journey for today takes me elsewhere.

This pond’s mystery shall have to wait for another day, and another bushwhacking adventure.

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3 comments on “Carpet Spruce Swamp: A Restless and Cold Morning at an Unnamed Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness

  • I am really enjoying reading all of your stories and living vicariously through you!! As a fellow wild bird lover, I was wondering if you have ever been lucky enough to run across any Spruce Grouse in your travels. I had always hoped to see one in my years of hiking in the Adirondacks, but no such luck. Also, I was wondering if there is a way I can “follow” your blog. Perhaps I have just overlooked the link to do that, but so far I haven’t seen one. Thank you so much!!

  • bushwhackingfool

    April 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Ginny,

    I’m glad you are enjoying my stories.

    I have never been lucky enough to see a Spruce Grouse in the Adirondacks, though I did see a few when working in Maine for a summer. I keep dreaming about discovering some new population within a remote boggy area, but so far that is all it is – a dream.

    I don’t have a direct way that you can follow my blog, but I definitely will look into it. Maybe I can find some add-on that allows for me to set up a mailing list or something. In the meantime, if you are active on Facebook, you can like my page, or follow me through my Twitter feed. Links to both can be found on my blog.

    Thanks again for reading!

  • I have let far too much time go by without thanking you for your response to my Spruce Grouse question. For that, I apologize! How interesting and sad that you have never come across one of these amazing birds in your wilderness travels. There was a time when they were plentiful, but I guess habitat change is a major cause of their demise. I, too, share your dream of discovering a new population somewhere. I hope your dream will eventually come true. If anyone would have seen, or still could see one, it certainly would be you. Your travels take you to all of the right places. Good luck, be safe, and know that your blog is greatly appreciated.

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