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Carpet Spruce Swamp: Arriving at Sitz Pond

Sitz Pond

Sitz Pond

The area just north of the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River in the Five Ponds Wilderness of the Adirondack Park gets very little loving. It is remote, with limited access (it has but a single trail to Upper South Pond), and few outstanding draws; small unnamed ponds are as common as trees. Yet, these unnamed ponds are often a treat in their own right, as they often display wilderness in its most unspoiled form.

The final unnamed pond on my journey through this infrequently explored area oozes remote wilderness, but unfortunately provides only a momentary distraction on the way to Sitz Pond. The pond is long and thin, with numerous old stumps penetrating its surface. It is oriented off to the southwest, so my time along its lengthy coniferous tree crowded shoreline is brief before heading off to the northwest toward Sitz, my final destination for the day.

Instead of continuing along the pond’s coniferous shoreline, I double back just a short distance into the mature mixed forest as I head continue to the northwest. After circling around the pond’s eastern shore, I return to the pond along its northern shore, where three ducks swim into view, probably flushed out from my thrashing and crashing through the surrounding forest. One appears to be an American black duck, or perhaps a female mallard, while the other two look like youngsters.

Section Stats:
Date: June 21, 2013
Length: 1.4 miles (2.4 total daily miles; 14.9 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Moderate

While viewing the pond from the north shore, the wind starts picking up, so I decide to take my leave after arriving only 30 minutes before. Taking a new bearing, I head for a small pond to the northwest, almost exactly halfway to Sitz Pond. This new pond is so small, it resembles a puddle more than a sizable water body. If I do not dawdle at the puddle pond, my current pace should get me to Sitz around noon, making today one of my shortest bushwhacks for this trip. A relaxing afternoon is well overdue and gives me the opportunity to recharge my batteries before exiting the backcountry the following day.

Not too far to the northwest, a strip of coniferous blowdowns puts a sudden end to my woolgathering about an early arrival at Sitz Pond. Trying to get around them proves complicated as a shrubby wetland lies off to my right, while a small pool of water sits off to the left. This pool looks too tiny and ephemeral to be my current destination, so I grin and bear the blowdown, trying to make this impediment a distant memory as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, thick mixed forest waits on the other side of the blowdown. Boulders and smaller rocks protrude from the forest floor frequently, making the uneven terrain even more difficult to get through. After finally reaching the pinnacle of a ridge, a long steady descent begins; one that my map indicates ends at my small pond halfway to Sitz Pond.

A little over 30 minutes after leaving the large unnamed pond, I arrive at the small pond, or at least, what is left of it. An old beaver vly now lies in its place, and not a very visitor friendly one. Getting a good view is difficult, as thick vegetation forms an impenetrable border in the area of my arrival. Instead of getting wet attempting a better view directly, I retreat into the forest and cross a small stream off to the northeast and try to find an easier access point to the north.

A little time and a lot of patience yield a way through the vegetation barrier, and my earlier assessment of the vly remains accurate. Although dry in places, the meadow is mostly boggy and wet, with numerous stumps, logs and rocks scattered about it. An agitated pair of white-throated sparrows acts as a welcoming committee, persistently voicing their disapproval with my presence.

With little of interest to see at the vly, I do not linger long. With only a half hour until noon, I need to haul ass if I want to arrive at Sitz before lunchtime. And I definitely do. I can smell the barn now, and the lazy afternoon it promises to provide.

Leaving at a bearing of 296 degrees, I climb briefly until exiting the basin in which the vly resides. After the short climb, the descent toward Sitz begins anew, sometimes steeply, with the forest becoming increasingly thicker with the decreasing elevation. A small stream intersects my path several times, forcing me to climb over its accompanying exposed rocks or around the protruding boulders.

While crossing the stream at the top of a short, but steep climb, a glimpse of bright pink along the exposed mineral soil catches my eye. Glancing down at the forest floor, I notice the remnants of a latex balloon. Grrrr, I hate balloons. These latex balloons are not as nearly as irritating as the Mylar kind, like the one I found near the confluence on the Oswegatchie River just a few days before, but any balloon in the backcountry is bad news as far as I am concerned. In disgust, I bend down and pick it up, stuffing the wet remnant into my pocket.

Small vly

Small vly

Finally, after struggling through some more dense forest, I begin to see Sitz Pond through the tree canopy, but it appears so awfully far away. Despite the view through the trees to the west, it is clear that a more shrubby extension of the pond lies to the south of my location. My map verifies this, so I take a slight detour to catch a glimpse before I continue on to the eastern shore. Although it seems to take an eternity to get close to the pond, it probably only takes me another 5 or 10 minutes before reaching its eastern shore.

I arrive along Sitz Pond’s eastern shoreline, on a low ridge, underneath some tall and stately white pines. The shoreline lies at the bottom of a rather steep but short descent, covered in a continuous mass of young trees and shrubbery. I elect not to descend the short distance to the water’s edge, but instead stay up on the ridge with the large white pines, surveying the pond from a vantage of a little elevation and the cover of the surrounding forest’s vegetation.

The pond itself is large, somewhat oval shaped and surrounded in mostly coniferous trees, not altogether different from many Adirondack water bodies. Shrubs and other vegetation lies along the eastern shore, but many rocks are strategically placed along the shoreline elsewhere, especially along the northern shore; some even reachable from the surrounding dry land. The liquid blue of the pond’s still water looks quite lovely with the afternoon sunlight sparkling off its surface.

My original plan requires heading around the northern shore, but when I look to the north for the pond’s outlet, it looks wide, deep and open. There is absolutely no sign of a helpful beaver dam to assist my crossing either. The only alternatives available are bushwhacking downstream, hoping for a narrow crossing and/or a beaver dam, or go along the southern shore instead. The southern approach would not leave me in a good position for exiting via Middle South Pond tomorrow, so my course of action appears set.

Glimpse of Sitz Pond outlet

Glimpse of Sitz Pond outlet

Several tall eastern white pines tower above me, providing crucial shelter from the full and increasingly hot sun. Below the sparse canopy, vegetation is very dense, with herbaceous vegetation mixing in with shrubbery and young hardwood trees making navigation to the outlet difficult.

As I slowly pick my way through the dense understory, a common goldeneye female swims away from me along the northern shoreline, with five young in tow. Red-eyed vireo, blue-headed vireo, common yellowthroat, hermit thrush and swamp sparrow sing around me, with green frogs calling down along the pond’s shoreline. The sparse pine canopy overhead produces ample penetration of sunlight that allows for a healthy population of deer flies, which waste absolutely no time harassing me.

The rocks close to the northern shoreline intrigue me; that is where I will begin to search for a decent campsite opportunity. First, I need to figure out how to cross the outlet before anything else. Seeing no other possible option, I bushwhack through the forest following along the outlet, staying high enough along the ridge so as to be able to keep an eye out for a possible crossing.

My anxiousness increases as I continue northward along the outlet, as a clearing where another stream joins the outlet draws closer – things will only get more difficult from there. Before despair fully grabs hold, I spot my opportunity. Only a short way north of Sitz Pond, where the forest gobbles up the stream, a shabbily constructed beaver dam sits on top of a large rock. A better crossing I could not wish for here.

Beaver dam along outlet

Beaver dam along outlet

The crossing proves difficult because of the steep descent down to the dam and the subsequent ascent of the far bank, but the feeling of relief from dodging a potential time-wasting detour more than makes up for it. Numerous trees, some with browning foliage, still stand in the ponding water before the dam, as if this is a relatively new situation compared to most other beaver dams in this area. Some large trees along the water’s edge lie where they fell, their stems chewed away until they could no longer support themselves.

The forest on the other side of the stream is gorgeous, if not severely impacted by beaver. Many large hemlocks stand straight and tall, with much of the competing hardwood trees apparently removed by many generations of beaver. After getting out of the sun, the going becomes easier with the underlying understory becoming increasingly scarce.

As I work my way back toward the pond, I blunder into a perfect camping spot under a number of large hemlocks. This campsite is far enough from shore to be legal, but I can still see the outline of the beautiful pond through the trees. With the Sun high in the sky, the cool hemlocks provide ample shade, while the pond accentuates the wild character of the site. It would be difficult to find a nicer place to stay in the Adirondacks, especially while bushwhacking.

And it is all mine. At least for the rest of the day. Letting the restful afternoon begin!

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