A chilly morning greets me as I awake near the shore of an unnamed pond deep in the western Five Ponds Wilderness Area, uncharacteristically cold especially for late June. My little thermometer indicates a temperature in the lower 40’s just as the sun clears the eastern horizon. The chill is probably one of the reasons for the subdued morning bird chorus, though the temperature seems to have little effect on the spring peepers and green frogs; they continue their incessant calling from the previous evening.
An early morning pee forces me from my comfortable, yet not completely warm enough, sleeping bag. Unfortunately, this is not the first time my tiny bladder forces me out into the cold air since last night either. The little bugger roused me several times during the night, which proved quite annoying. The only positive aspect of leaving one’s sleeping bag at night is the opportunity to see a brilliant moon illuminating the surrounding forest. That, and a barred owl making his presence known nearby.
Upon returning from my early morning pee, I find that I knocked over one of my water bottles, allowing most of the water to leak out into my tarp’s mosquito-proof shelter. For years, my empty Gatorade bottle has been a trusty, and inexpensive, water bottle, but due to my carelessness, I inadequately screwed the top on, which the contents took advantage of to make its escape. Say good-bye to the extra filtered water that was going to allow me an early morning departure for Sitz Pond.
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Clouds dominate the sky to the east, obscuring much of the ascending sun, while clear blue sky enjoys supremacy off to the west. Thankfully, my destiny for the day is west to Sitz Pond, on what should be my last stop before returning to my car along Bear Pond Road at the Upper South Pond trailhead. Another unnamed pond and a few small wetlands require circumvention before reaching Sitz, let alone reaching the trailhead.
Date: June 21, 2013
Length: 1.0 miles (1.0 total daily miles; 13.5 total trip miles)
The promising weather and the puddle clean up from the leaking water bottle fail to stop me from reentering my sleeping bag for a little while longer, before officially starting my day. The bird chorus steps it up a notch soon afterwards, and combining with the increasing sunlight and the calling frogs, the guilt gets to me enough to motivate me to start my day before I sleep it all away.
Since the site where I ate dinner last night is much more attractive than my campsite, I take down my tarp and semi-pack my backpack before carrying the whole load back down to the unnamed pond’s shoreline for breakfast. Despite the cool temperatures, I stick to my plan of a cold breakfast of cereal, which allows me to make up some of the time lost with the water clean-up and the reluctance to leave my cozy sleeping bag.
Luckily, the delay gave the sun enough time to burn off most of the clouds to the east, brightening my spirits and making me much more enthusiastic about my last full day of bushwhacking through the western Five Ponds Wilderness. The plan is to reach Sitz Pond’s eastern shore and then head around to the north searching for a campsite that puts me in an ideal position to head for Middle South Pond tomorrow. The only possible complication is a very wide outlet stream at Sitz that I pray an industrious beaver has dammed up adequately so that I have means of crossing it.
By 8 in the morning, all evidence of my campsite is gone, except for a few crushed plants and a bushwhacking breadcrumb to mark my passing. I set off at a bearing of approximately 250 degrees with the goal of reaching a long unnamed pond off to the southwest as my first leg for the day. This new pond should place me about halfway to Sitz, making today a fairly lite day as far as bushwhacking goes.
Just what the doctor ordered on the last day in the remote woods before returning to civilization.
The initial climb out of the pond’s watershed takes some early effort, especially with my bushwhacking legs yet to emerge. Although the climb lacks for much drama, the hobblebush remains dense, making the climb feeling more difficult than it otherwise would be. My reward for fighting the hobblebush is a thin swampy wetland just beyond the height of land.
Although I can see to the other side, I dare not try to cross this swampy mess as I might just lose something worse than a foot – like myself! Instead, I consult the aerial photographs I carried all the way from my vehicle and decide to go around the wetland to the north, as that appears the shortest route. The bushwhacking is a challenge along the wetland, but eventually it dries out enough that I cross the remaining portion without too much trouble. An agitated Canada warbler shares its displeasure with my passing, but other than that, the wetland quickly becomes a distant memory.
After leaving the wetland, the bushwhacking becomes less arduous as the mature hardwood forest contains little blowdown or much understory vegetation. After leveling out for a while, it quickly starts ascending once again. During the climb, I catch sight of a broad-winged hawk hanging out in the canopy, while a black-throated blue warbler and a red-eyed vireo scream their annoyance at the raptor’s presence.
Or perhaps it is mine that they object to.
After an hour or so from the unnamed pond, I stop to rest for a while at what appears like the height of land for this leg to the next unnamed pond, giving me time to take a well-overdue bowel movement. During the rest, I notice my Garmin GPS’s battery is getting low. From what I can tell, the bars on the low battery indicator do not represent equal charge, as once it leaves the fully charged state, it descends to dead batteries with great rapidity.
Soon I am bushwhacking again, now descending through a hardwood forest, primarily consisting of American beech, red maple and yellow birch, although an occasional spruce is not unheard of here. On the other hand, blowdowns are much more frequent, making progress difficult at times.
The GPS indicates I overcompensated too much for going around the earlier wetland, veering too far south. If I do not turn north more, there is a likely risk of hitting the unnamed pond on its south shore, or missing it entirely, making the next leg to Sitz Pond a lot longer than necessary.
I certainly do not want to do that.
Soon after veering north, I climb and descend a small ridge, with the pond soon appearing through the trees. It only takes a short time longer before I finally reach the pond’s eastern shoreline. Many stubby snags protrude from the water along the shrubby shoreline. The water appears dark and murky, not the kind of pond where anyone would want to dive in for a swim, unless, of course, you are a merganser. A single conifer blowdown, its branches still attached, protrudes from the southern shore far out into the pond.
Three hooded mergansers float on the pond’s surface, occasionally disappearing into its depths to look for a bite to eat. Apparently, the pond must still nurture some life under its surface, at least enough to support these three for a time. They appear smaller than usual, leaving it harder for me to make up my mind whether they are females, or just immatures. While I watch the three waterfowl, a rusty blackbird calls nearby, with many green frogs calling along the water’s edge.
The sky remains partly cloudy, not much different from when I last caught sight of it unimpeded back at the unnamed pond that was my campsite the previous night. The temperatures remain comfortable, with an occasional breeze to cooling me off after a vigorous bushwhack.
Reaching this unnamed pond puts me almost halfway to Sitz Pond and it is not even 10 in the morning. Arriving at such an early time should give me plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day, which I definitely need before returning to civilization the next day.
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