Unnamed ponds appear to be the norm here in the western Five Ponds Wilderness just north of the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River. Although three of the South Ponds are bestowed names, as are the irregularly shaped Crooked Lake and the oddly named Sitz Pond, my journey through the area has brought me to the shore of seven or so unnamed ponds, confluences and extensive wetland complexes. Only three remain now, with two more before me today as I continue westward toward my awaiting vehicle near the end of Bear Pond Road.
Descending off the low ridge between Crooked Lake and another unnamed pond, I quickly arrive at the edge of the less notable water body, a decidedly smaller narrow pond lying just west of its larger named neighbor. The terrain along the pond’s southern shore is relatively level but the bushwhacking proves somewhat more difficult going given the thick undergrowth and occasional blowdown.
The narrow pond appears in character with Crooked Lake. The unnamed pond is nearly an extension of the large neighboring lake’s shallow western bay, if it were not for the small bit of land separating the two. Islands formed of submerged Labrador tea lie scattered throughout the pond. These islands and the many standing snags emerging from the inky water depths are strangely reminiscent of Crooked Lake’s southern bay. A beaver lodge lies a short distance off shore between two small islands, its presence explaining the many open areas along shore.
View Day Four, Part Two in a larger map
Date: June 20, 2013
Length: 1.5 miles (2.1 total daily miles; 11.8 total trip miles)
Beavers are not the only fans of the pond though. White-tailed deer tracks litter the muddy shoreline, indicating its popularity as a watering hole with the local population. Unfortunately, the low, flat area gets increasingly wetter as I travel westward, requiring me to move back from the shoreline, slowly gaining elevation as I go.
Once reaching higher ground, a common grackle flies off from the forest floor in front of me, settling in a snag near shore. In its beak, there appears to be a writhing snake, but it is difficult to be certain as it perches on a dead tree branch only briefly before flying off along the shoreline with its prize.
A ridge protrudes from the surrounding forest, blocking my way and requiring another short climb away from the pond’s shoreline. Near the height of land, I spot a garter snake sunning itself on the leaf litter in an open area. Although tempted to capture it, if for no reason other than to say I did, I suppress the odd urge and move on, allowing the reptile plenty of time to slither away as I go past it. Hopefully, it has just as good luck with the next grackle it encounters as it did with me.
Fighting through the hobblebush down into a shallow depression, a grayish bird suddenly appears at my feet, scurrying along the ground as if it were a mouse before disappearing in the tangle of branches and leaves. I freeze immediately, knowing there is a very good chance of a nest underfoot. Crouching down to examine the forest floor, I do my best to locate anything even remotely resembling a nest – unsuccessfully. With my efforts fruitless, no other recourse is open to me other than backing up a ways and circling around the area or risk an accidental crushing.
While making the short detour, a male Canada warbler appears, chirping away in a highly agitated state, flicking its tail to-and-fro, while flitting from branch to branch. Soon, the drabber-looking female joins him, as they perform an avian tag team on the assumed predator: me. After successfully navigating the detour, I once again squat down and peer through the underbrush in another attempt to locate the poor couple’s precious nest from this new vantage point. Unfortunately, I am as unsuccessful as I was with the prior attempt.
Cursing the missed opportunity to pinpoint the highly secretive birds’ well-camouflaged nest, I continue on, leaving the slowly calming couple behind me.
After climbing out of the depression (of the terrain, not an emotional one due to the unsuccessful search), more blowdown awaits me around a small drainage. The blowdown is more a nuisance than anything else, and even that soon abates and the bushwhacking returns to its usual state of being only moderately difficult.
The drainage yields yet another pile of moose droppings for this trip. Perhaps the large beast was seeking the lower temperatures of the drainage, or just the possibility of a cool drink to quench its thirst on its journey to who knows where. It is an old and half-decaying pile, so the likelihood of seeing the northern behemoth is slight, at best. One of these days.
The terrain turns level again, revealing a possible good campsite for a future trip, if I should ever return to the area. The flattish ground, combined with the close proximity to water, makes this area more desirable than most, although I would imagine most people would prefer the more open and scenic Crooked Lake than at one end of a narrow beaver pond.
The western end of the pond tapers to an outlet stream where I hope to cross on a beaver dam. Just before entering the tapering point, I return to the pond’s shore for one last look. Out in the water are five immature common goldeneyes, swimming rapidly away from my location. I assume they are immatures, perhaps all siblings, but they could have easily been a group of drab looking females. Whether they are fleeing all the noise I make traveling through the forest or the constant calling of a broad-winged hawk off to the west, it is impossible to tell.
My money is on my noisy bushwhacking though.
The western end of the pond yields a rather shrubby beaver dam, totally inappropriate for crossing unless in a dire emergency. This time, nature provides a preferable alternative, as downstream the outlet is rock-filled, with grassy edges – ideal for crossing. Rock hopping is nearly effortless and by the time I reach the opposite bank, I immediately retrieve my compass from within my windbreaker for setting the first bearing of the day.
Discarding my backpack, I retrieve my topo map from the back pocket and go about finding my route to the next unnamed pond to the west, whose location is just north of the pond where I spent my second night of this trip. Setting the bearing at 275 degrees, I note twin small clearing in my path just before reaching the pond. These shall act as my guide when I approach the pond’s location.
It was at this point that I originally planned to head north, approaching the Riley Ponds from the south. The rain delay at Lower South Pond on the first morning of the trip quickly dashed those ambitious plans. Riley Ponds lie a significant distance away, which would have led to a long day – one that I suspected would be blowdown filled. Such plans will now have to wait for a future trip, but at least I already visited them from the north years ago.
My route-planning break lasts only a short time, before I don my backpack and reenter the dense forest. Moderate blowdown starts almost immediately, most of it covered in the vegetation growing up near the ground. Although mixed, the surrounding forest has a high degree of conifers, mostly large spruce. The blowdown retains this composition, with the erect branches of the downed spruce poking, prodding and constantly pulling on my legs, feet and sometimes my torso, as if they were purposely trying to impede my progress.
Yeah, as if.
After climbing one rolling ridge, I descend into a lower area for a while. Before long, the climbing begins anew, except steeper and for a longer time than with the previous ridge. Enjoyed when the climbing is over and weary from the effort, it is all for naught as the ridgeline fails to last long enough and the descent begins again. This time it looks like a long and steady descent before me, through a mixed forest with more hardwoods than softwoods.
Fiddling with my Garmin Legend GPS periodically, it consistently indicates my route is veering too far south, requiring compensation in the form of keeping to my right more often than not. Unfortunately, this fails to produce the desired effect, as I find myself heading straight toward one of the two wetlands I am trying so hard to avoid.
Since it is not moving, the fault is all mine.
When I start seeing a small clearing through the trees, I make a dramatic turning north, cutting through the tip of the smaller and more southerly wetland, giving myself a direct line right to the outlet at the southeastern corner of the unnamed pond.
Although the pond itself is attractive, its outlet is assuredly NOT. Downed young spruce trees, probably stunted by the wet conditions, lay in a chaotic mess along the swampy outlet, with scattered small puddles and exposed rock mixed in for good measure. Trying to keep from dunking my feet, while at the same time not tearing my clothes on the dangerously sharp branches, I pick my way through the maze of rocks, puddles and downed debris very carefully.
It is not pretty, and cursing abounds. At least the pond is nice, even if the immediate approach is a nightmare.
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