It is easy to forget the history of the Adirondacks. The large trees, standing tall and reaching for the sky, the thick understory, waiting for its chance to ascend to supremacy, and the birds nosily announcing their desires to procreate, the sights and sounds of the remote backcountry fool us into thinking as it is, it has always been.
This is all illusion though. Even some of the remotest corners of the Five Ponds Wilderness are not the pristine examples of nature they first appear. Much of the area is still in recovery from a time of intensive human use, with the scars apparent for anyone observant enough to notice them.
It has taken me a couple days of bushwhacking to reach the southwest corner of Crooked Lake. How could this area, so far from the sounds, smells and sights of civilization be anything but an eternal symbol of remote wilderness? Although my time here has been short, the illusion of untrammeled nature has taken root deep in my consciousness.
Unfortunately, that is about to change.
View Day Four, Part One in a larger map
Awakening with the rising sun, I find myself feeling the urgent need to relieve myself, as once again my daily ritual repeats itself. I forestall as long as possible, but my overworked bladder can only do so much. Emerging swiftly from my sleeping bag, I dress and exit the shelter, while the bird chorus eagerly greets the sunshine just appearing over the eastern horizon.
Date: June 20, 2013
Length: 0.6 miles (0.6 total daily miles; 10.3 total trip miles)
While relieving myself, a few mosquitoes buzz around despite the early morning chill in the air – my small thermometer puts it at around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Their presence is not a big surprise, given the magnitude of their intensity from the previous afternoon/evening. Still, it would be nice if they would give me some privacy, especially in the early morning hours.
After briefly retreating into my sleeping bag for some extra shut-eye, the morning bird chorus does everything possible, sans physically assaulting me, to ensure my not doing so. Joining in on the fun, a red squirrel chatters incessantly nearby, apparently irritated with my presence (the feeling is mutual!), while numerous mink frogs call down in the lake. Within a short time, I throw in the towel and dress, reluctantly meeting the morning with heavy eyelids and clumsy feet but intrigued about what awaits me today in this fascinating western portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness.
Not a whole heck of a lot, if I continue in my sleeping bag, of that much I know.
The dim light of dawn insists on some early morning photography, even before eating a much needed breakfast, as expressed through my growling, empty stomach. I only manage to get in a few clear shots of the lake with my camera before a fine fog blows through, giving the water a ghostly ambiance. Luckily, the fog keeps to the open water, leaving the surrounding forest clear, although still fairly dark due to the Sun’s rays just peeking above the tree tops along the lake’s eastern shore.
My attempt to save the poor dragonfly from its watery grave last night came to naught, as its still body remains just where I left it. While examining its remains, curiosity brings in a common loon for a visit, calling occasionally as if inquiring about my activity. Fumbling with my camera bag, I make a worthy attempt to extract the camera with as little fuss as possible, and fail miserably. Unfortunately, the loon decides it has seen enough and quietly disappears as quickly as it appeared, leaving me holding a camera with nary a subject in sight.
When the gnawing hunger becomes too much to bear, it is back to the campsite for a healthy breakfast before packing up and being on my way for the day. Stopping at my food bag, I find the knot on the rope untied, with only the resistance of the rope on the tree’s rough bark keeping the bag hanging. Perhaps that red squirrel meticulously untied my knot in an attempt to lower the bag and make off with all my tasty treats. No wonder it was chattering madly earlier, I probably awoke just before it was able to make off with all my grub.
Poor unfortunate red squirrel.
Setting up my stove and cooking my morning oatmeal makes me extremely vulnerable to hungry insects in search of their own breakfast. The mosquitoes do not disappoint, as their intensity increases exponentially by the minute, while I hurriedly devour my morning meal, pacing wildly in a futile attempt to avoid becoming a meal myself. Talk about manners!
The blood-sucking pests are not the only creatures flying around during my morning meal. While alternating between eating and packing up my campsite, ducks repeatedly fly by over the lake, moving so quickly that they are long gone each time I leap over the burgeoning gear pile to find my little binoculars. When I finally smarten up enough to keep the binoculars on my person, the flying waterfowl activity ceases altogether.
With the camp disassembled and safely stowed in my backpack once again where it belongs, the slow trek west back towards my awaiting vehicle begins. Unfortunately, after only a few steps north, I begin to feel those familiar morning longings – the yin to my morning pee’s yang. The backpack’s weight, combined with the belt securely cinched around my waist must facilitate my excretory system into high gear; it is time for another Adirondack dump. On the other hand, maybe the backpack has nothing to do with it and I am just highly regular.
Quickly, what began as a minor inconvenience becomes an imperative, and I rush through the forest on a route perpendicular to the lake’s shore. With the mosquito cloud following in tow, the great horde seemingly sensing my impending compromising position, I finally get far enough from the water to find a perfect place to do my business. I am in great luck too, as the defecation goes quickly and smoothly, so I only get proboscis probed a dozen or so times, and none are in a highly sensitive spot!
This is already turning out to be a banner day in the remote wilderness.
Completing my business, I load up and drift north toward the lake again, wishing to keep along its edge as long as possible during the early morning hours. While the lake draws closer, I notice a plethora of semi-level areas, perfect for camping, except for the patches of hobblebush and other assorted young trees species. Still, there are a plentiful number of open areas to make this an ideal spot to spend a night or two.
The ground giving way underneath my foot snaps me out of my appreciatory reverie. Kicking around in the leaf litter yields an old decaying can, followed by a glass bottle and other debris. It looks as if I left one dump, only to wander right on top of another!
As I search around a little, I discover an old iron stove sitting on its side, the gaping exhaust opening exposed and lacking any stovepipe, begging critters to make the stove their home. Obviously, others found this an ideal spot for a camp too, or they made it into one. Rust covers the stove, though not extensive enough to compromise its integrity or reduce its massive weight. Apparently, it has been here for a long time, probably prior to the incorporation of this area into the Five Ponds Wilderness, if not predating the entire Wilderness itself.
Applying pressure with my foot fails to move the stove even a slight amount; it just refuses to budge. The reason for leaving it behind is pretty obvious, but I wonder how it was brought in in the first place. After taking a few photographs, I return to following the shoreline as it now turns westward, leaving the rising Sun behind me.
As I turn west, the area around the lake’s shoreline gets steeper, forcing me upslope more. Soon, I discover another iron stove, with a piece of stovepipe lying alongside. Setting down my pack, I search the surrounding area, soon finding another similar stove, making a total of three for the morning. Instead of calling this Crooked Lake, Stove Lake would seem more appropriate – too bad Oven Lake is already taken.
A cursory search of the area yields more stovepipe and numerous small depressions. With very little effort, the depressions expose their true nature; they are old garbage pits full of broken bottles and rusting tin cans. This was evidently quite the party camp back in its day. Nothing of value lies near the surface of the pits, and since the stoves are way too big and bulky to fit into my backpack, the human-made debris remains behind while my journey continues westward – returning to the remote backcountry setting that I come out here to enjoy in the first place.
The forest stays mostly coniferous along the lake’s shore, with hardwoods mixing in a short distance inland. The trees appear larger here than on the opposite side of this wide peninsula where I spent the previous night. The steeper shoreline allows for more light penetration, giving the hobblebush, ferns, and assorted young trees ample sunlight to grow and impede my progress – the few scattered blowdowns do not help either.
Plentiful avian fauna lurks along Crooked Lake this morning. Rusty blackbird, blue-headed vireo, swamp sparrow, yellow-bellied flycatcher and broad-winged hawk are just a few of the birds calling in the area. A turkey vulture soars overhead, while a common grackle gang croaks and crackles as they roam the shoreline in search of food, frolic or something else unfathomable to the human mind.
As Crooked Lake peters out, I reenter the hardwood forest and begin climbing a rather low ridge. Given the appearance of open sky ahead through the trees, it is probably a short jaunt over the rise before descending to the narrow unnamed pond just west of the lake.
Today’s planned route continues along the southern shore of this pond until it terminates, where I can safely cross its outlet and proceed to another unnamed pond farther west. Incidentally, this narrow pond’s outlet is one of the inlet streams I crossed at the very beginning of my third day of this trip, before I spent the morning pond hopping between several unnamed ponds.
What goes around comes around, at least on this circuitous route.
It is hard to believe that happened only yesterday morning. Time and events seem to happen at a quicker pace in the backcountry, while simultaneously slower and much more relaxed, if that is even possible.
The notion of time standing still in this place is probably what drew the past owners of the rusting stoves to this area. That is, until the pace slowed to the point that forced their way of doing things to extinction. Now all that remains are a few junk pits, which some would call historical sites, and some slowly decaying stoves as a reminder of how once things once were.
I prefer the wilderness of today to the intensively used area of many years past. Then again, I am biased; otherwise, I would not be bushwhacking out here this far from civilization in the first place.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links within this blog post may send you to a retailer’s website. If you chose to purchase any product on that site, this author may receive a small commission at no extra cost you. These commissions provide compensation for the author’s time and effort necessary to provide the content at the Bushwhacking Fool.