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Carpet Spruce Swamp: Struggling to Find a Level Campsite at an Unnamed Pond

Unnamed pond

Unnamed pond

Unnamed ponds are always hit or miss when it comes to camping. Perhaps that is why they remain without a name. The pond halfway between Crooked Lake and Sitz Pond is no different in that regards. So, when I reach the swampy outlet of this unnamed pond, the thought of camping in this slop is the last thing on my mind.

Unfortunately, I may not have a choice.

Picking my way through the mess of the unnamed pond’s outlet, I struggle to approach the shoreline. A larger rock off to the north, right at the edge of the water, catches my eye as a potential spot for a good view of the pond. I drop my backpack on a little, dry island within all the surrounding pools of water, collect my camera and binoculars and head straight for it, forcing my way through the dead and dried conifer limbs, doing my best not to fall into one of the open pools in the process.

Reaching the top of the rock entails a careful climb, especially with a camera and binocular dangling from my neck. It is well worth it though, as the boulder affords an outstanding view down the length of the pond, which appears a deep blue in the afternoon sun.

View Day Four Part Three in a larger map

Section Stats:
Date: June 20, 2013
Length: 0.7 miles (2.8 total daily miles; 12.5 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Moderate

A brown-headed duck, with a gold eye and two white wing patches, floats along of the surface of the pond. Even without the aid of binoculars, its identity is obvious; it is a female common goldeneye. What a female is doing all by her lonesome without a family in tow is anybody’s guess.

Another duck takes flight from the pond’s surface, heading straightaway down the pond’s length to the western shore. It appears like a hooded merganser, but at this angle, I cannot be certain. When I turn back, the goldeneye is gone. Perhaps she took advantage of the distraction to return to her family.

With it being early afternoon, I decide on continuing to the other end of the pond before deciding on the wisdom of continuing for the day. At some point, I will need to stop for lunch, with a shallow peninsula about half way along the northern shoreline. A more perfect place for a picnic lunch, I cannot imagine, with the exposure, combined with the breezy conditions, giving a little relief to the inevitable increased bug activity due to my stationary condition.

The blowdowns continue along the northern shore, but not quite as difficult as before. As I struggle along the northeastern corner of the pond, I notice another pile of moose scat. Apparently, the moose in the region take similar routes to my own through this part of the Five Ponds Wilderness. I wonder if they use the same USGS map as I do.

Along the north shore, there are a few level areas acceptable as campsites, but I decide to at least get as far as the western shore of the pond before stopping for the night, especially at this early hour. Little did I know that campsites would be at a premium later.

By the time I arrive at the shallow peninsula, actually not much more than a undulation of the north shore, my belly is growling and my legs are weary from the effort spent through the blowdown; the perfect conditions for an extended lunch break.

While eating, I kill two birds with a single stone, and filter some water. Despite the deep blue color of the water from back at the outlet, up close and personal it is a deep brown and full of hungry tadpoles. If they think they are getting some of my lunch, they are sadly mistaken. Given the waters questionable condition, I decide to allow my Aquamira drops to do their magic for an entire hour before filtering it.

Upon sitting down for lunch, I notice the nylon instep strap is missing from one of my gaiters. In a vain hope, I scan the area around my lunch site for it, knowing full well that it was probably lost way back in the blowdown between this pond and the long, narrow pond just west of Crooked Lake.

If anyone should find a strap in this area, it is mine. I would greatly appreciate returning it to me as soon as possible.

Upon finishing lunch and still waiting to begin filtering the water, I explore the area for possible campsites. Much of the area slopes too steeply toward the pond’s shoreline or is otherwise unacceptable for camping, but then one area catches my eye – the only level area in a sea of sloping.

Upon reaching this prime piece of real estate, I find something else enjoyed all it had to offer before me, and then pooped on it! Perhaps the moose used the level ground for a snooze as it digested its most recent meal, then took a dump before leaving. Then again, it might have taken the dump first, but I do not wish to think about.

Swampy outlet of unnamed pond

Swampy outlet

Unnamed pond beaver dam

Beaver dam

Apparently this is a popular place for pooping, at least for the cervid crowd, as a deer left its messy signature as well. The multitude of droppings tells me to move on, so I do. The topographical map indicates a potential for some level ground along the western end of the pond, so I figure that may be the best place to look instead.

With Aquamira’s hour of activity over, I filter my water and then pack up and continue west, now fully hydrated in every sense of the word.

The terrain near the pond’s northern shore is steep and coniferous, with an abundance of blowdown, making the going anything but effortless. Not too farther inland, the hardwoods move in, though this does not seem to lessen then amount of blowdowns any. In fact, it increases their difficulty, as now the dense hobblebush provides an additional obstacle to frustrate me.

Forest along unnamed pond

Forest along unnamed pond

Not a single level place in sight near the pond, so I keep going toward its western end, hoping something shows up eventually.

Softwoods crowd along the ponds northern shoreline, with a good deal of blowdown to further hinder my progress. Multiple times, I try to put some distance between the pond and me, thinking that the forest conditions might be more conducive to bushwhacking and the terrain will not be as steep. Unfortunately, I am incorrect, as the forest is more mixed but the blowdown persists, as does the steepness, with a lot of hobblebush thrown in for good measure.

Despite the occasional breeze blowing through the forest canopy, it is strangely quiet – unearthly almost. Very few birds are singing, as if this were late August, instead of June.

On the western side of the peninsula, I move toward the shoreline to check out some large rocks. Getting through the blowdown makes this more than a little difficult, but perseverance prevails as eventually I finally reach the old rocks.

A series of rocks work their way out into the water. The far one is cut off from the others by a wide, intervening channel of water. Although tempting to leap across, I find crevasse a little too wide for my liking. Plus, the rock slants down toward the deeper water at a pretty steep angle – just too risky for me all alone miles from anything or anyone.

Golden-crowned kinglets sing their high-pitched song, while I remain thankful of still having the ability to hear it – many other older birders are not fortunate enough to say that. Adding to the sudden burst of song, a purple finch chatters nearby, while a beaver slaps its tail down in the pond. A lone female or an immature hooded merganser swims along at the extreme western end of the pond.

Steep slopes along the pond’s northwestern shoreline make finding a level camping site exceedingly difficult – much like the rest of the shoreline of this pond thus far. With the moderate blowdown mixed in, it quickly becomes impossible, forcing me to continue all the way to the pond’s western edge where the terrain levels out a little. The only level areas along the western end of the pond are only at the water’s swampy edge, where shortly afterwards, the slope increases to the west.

Northwestern shore of unnamed pond

Northwestern shore of unnamed pond

During my futile search for a small level area up on the hillside, fighting through dense amounts of hobblebush, an agitated pair of white-throated sparrows display their distaste for my presence, while a male Canada warbler flits around from limb to limb, showing more interest in feeding his face, than minding my presence. On one of my many trips returning to the only level area for what seems like miles around, a northern waterthrush slowly stands guard along the water’s edge, marching back and forth.

Finally, desperation finds an acceptable camping site for me, although it probably is still be too close to the pond’s shore. Given the lack of a fire or any other site modifications, my 8-hour stay here is more of an extended break than anything else. Throwing all caution to the wind, I designate the only level place seemingly within miles to be my extended break site for the night.

The pressure of selecting a campsite behind me, the usual chores soon follow, including hanging the food line, filtering some more water, cooking dinner and setting up my tarp. The food line takes a lot of effort, as I almost get the rope stuck up in the tree in the process, not to mention all the time is takes looking for an acceptable rock. The drinking water comes courtesy of a small stream trickling down the hillside and into the southwest corner of the pond, as the murky water of the pond itself along the shore is too nasty to filter except in the most extreme circumstances.

Just to the north of the campsite is a gorgeous view of the pond to the east. I am stricken by the view so much that I haul all my cooking gear and food the short distance to make dinner at that location. While cooking, I take a break from the natural sounds and turn on my little radio for some NPR news.

View of pond from western end

View of pond from western end

After dinner, I while down the time before bed just listening to the sounds of the wild. A Swainson’s thrush sings up the hillside to the west, while nearby a white-throated sparrow serenades me with its quintessential North Woods song.

Black flies and more surprisingly, given the murkiness of the pond, mosquitoes are all but absent. Not wanting the evening to be too comfortable, the no-see-ums pick up the slack, resulting in my constant scratching the back of my neck and forehead.

Around nine in the evening, I surrender to the no-see-ums and flee into the relative safety of my tarp for the night. While I settle into my comfortable and lightweight sleeping bag, the Swainson’s thrush and white–throated sparrow continue their soothing songs, while spring peepers sporadically chime in.

Not a bad way to slip into a night of slumber, now is it?

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