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Carpet Spruce Swamp: Frittering Away the Afternoon at Sitz Pond

Sitz Pond

Sitz Pond

It is a rare treat to get an entire afternoon off on a bushwhacking trip. Usually the days are long and the going too arduous to allow for a lazy day of relaxation and reflection. My trip through the remote western Five Ponds Wilderness is no exception, especially after a rain delay at Lower South Pond during the first morning. Fortunately, arriving by noon at Sitz Pond allows for such a lackadaisical occasion, as tomorrow is my final day in this remote and beautiful area, and I want to enjoy every damn moment of it.

Sitz Pond is the ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon in the Adirondacks. Remote and rarely visited, the pond is surrounded by thick forest, with gigantic white pines bordering its eastern shoreline and ancient hemlocks towering over its northeastern corner. Sitz is the kind of place where it is easy getting lost in one’s own thoughts, as I did.

After arriving around noon and crossing the pond’s difficult outlet stream, the perfect camping spot presents itself almost immediately upon my return to the vicinity of the pond’s northeastern corner. Several gargantuan eastern hemlocks stand towering over the site, with the terrain only showing a slight hummock and hollow topography. A more perfect Adirondack campsite would be difficult to imagine.

Despite the ideal campsite, the allure of getting closer to Middle South Pond continues to tempt me. With the bushwhack back to the Upper South Pond Trail and the long drive out of the backcountry via Bear Pond Road, tomorrow is going to be a long day. Anything that can make it a little less lengthy is a good thing, especially with a retirement party requiring my presence late in the day.

Bear bag

Bear bag

Since I cannot fully exorcise myself of thought of moving farther west, I put off setting up my campsite for a good deal of the afternoon. Despite this reticence, I still hang my food bag from one of the great hemlocks, just so I am not compelled to babysit it until I make up my mind. The pile of black bear scat I nearly step in during the hanging does make me think moving on might be the best move, but since it is fairly old, it is by no means decisive.

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

After a few chores, I spend the majority of the afternoon bouncing back and forth from under the stately hemlocks to the rocks along Sitz’s northern shoreline. Each location has its own allure, with the cooler shade and the chatty birds of the canopy under the hemlocks competing with the gorgeous view of the pond, its stately white pines standing over all on the western shore.

One constant between the two locations is the deer flies. As understatements go, saying they are bad is a doozy. Swarms of them hover around my head, inducing occasional dizzy spells when I try to track them with my eyes. While sitting under the hemlocks, I do my best to smack the pesky little buggers out of my head’s orbit. When possible, I retrieve the stunned ones that do not blend in with the forest floor, depositing them in a resealable plastic bag for possible fish food when I return to the pond’s shore.

A few of the flies remain alive by the time I reach the shoreline however, the rest either succumbing to their injuries or suffocating in the sealed bag. Some prove cleverer than others, buzzing right out of the bag as soon as I open it, but the remaining lethargic individuals get thrown into the water, a possible snack for any denizen of the dark water below.

Unfortunately, few of these flies get what they deserve. Some are able to right themselves and power their way off the water’s surface, possibly returning to the constant swarm around my head. Other than the occasional water strider poking around an injured floating fly, these tasty morsels are largely ignored. Perhaps acid rain has removed most of the inhabitants of this poor remote pond.

Campsite at Sitz Pond

Campsite at Sitz Pond

Where deer flies swim with fishies

Where deer flies swim with fishies

While back under the hemlocks, a curious blue-headed vireo repeatedly comes in for a visit. Lying down on the ground, my backpack propped underneath me, I watch the small bird flitter from limb to limb, hoping it may lead me to its nest. This does not happen. Instead, it disappears back into the canopy, its charming song my only clue to its continued whereabouts.

During those periods when my vireo companion takes a siesta, I turn to my little radio for companionship. Luckily, I am far enough west to tune into WRVO, a radio station in Oswego. This NPR station is one of my favorites while in the Five Ponds Wilderness (and at home in the Syracuse area) and today Science Friday has an interview with E.O. Wilson on his advice to young scientists.

Finally, as the sun sinks lower on the horizon, I decide to stay here for the night, a decision actually made hours before but without the commitment. My tarp goes up quickly, much of my backpack’s contents shoved underneath, with my inline gravity filter set up and producing the next two days’ water. Ah, all the comforts of home, wilderness-style.

As evening quickly approaches, I retreat back to the water’s edge for as long as the horde of mosquitoes allow. The deer flies are long vanished by now, as they retreated to their shelters for the night – apparently underneath my tarp given the buzzing sound coming from it.

The pond is stunning with the muted sunshine illuminating the white pines along the eastern shore. The moon hovers over the pines, its ghostly faint image adding to the beauty of the surroundings. The unique light conditions insist upon me, demanding I set up the camera and tripod for more than a few photographs of the setting sunshine lighting up those stately pines.

While obsessing over my attempt at photography, a lone beaver suddenly turns up. At first, it appears only curious, but I know better than that – this large rodent has other things on its mind. Whenever my guard is down, whether due to fooling with my camera, or the captivating scenery, the beaver strikes its tail on the water surface, with a loud and echoing splash.

Repeatedly, the beaver plays its little game with me, apparently frustrated that it is not successful in dispatching me from its humble abode. My attempts to photograph the beaver in the act of its splashing come to naught, as the varmint never cooperates with me. The splashes quickly reappear whenever I am distracted, as the beaver see this as its best opportunity to startle the invader that is I.

The beaver/backpacker stand-off continues for a while, me trying to take a beaver action shot, while the beaver swims about, waiting for a distraction before making another attempt at startling the rude interloper.

Suddenly, there are two beavers where there was once just one. The new beaver comes from the direction of the outlet, joins its companion for a brief moment before the original one swims off to the southwest. The newcomer is left to take up the mantle of protector, slapping its tail occasionally, but with much less zeal than its predecessor.

Beaver splashing

Beaver splashing

The newcomer soon gives up and wanders off, leaving me alone with about one billion mosquitoes and no-see-ums, which take pleasure in feasting off every drop of blood they can get out of me. Between trying to take a few photographs and waving off the horde, I spot some greenery slowly drifting off to the east along the far shore. Obviously, the beavers decided that working on getting some grub was more important than scaring me off, either that, or tail-slapping just works up a healthy appetite.

The beavers and the biting bugs are not the only wildlife along the shore of Sitz.

A common goldeneye mother swims along with her five little chicks along the far shoreline, barely discernible with my little binoculars in the diminishing light. Another duck soon lands on the lake, but it is too far off for me to identify in the dim light. Green frogs and spring peepers call repeatedly from the shoreline, with what sounds like a bullfrog with a sore throat occasionally adding to the cacophony. A barred owl hoots from far off, but only once, though later I hear it chime in again.

The moon slowly increases in brilliance as the sun continues it’s decent below the western horizon. It becomes so striking that I make a few attempts to capture it with the aid of my camera. Unfortunately, my photography skills are not up to the challenge, and mostly I just end up wasting space on my camera’s disk drive with blurry images.

As it approaches nine o’clock, I prepare myself for the evening retreat back to the tarp for the beginning of my last night’s sleep in the wilderness. Before leaving Sitz’s shoreline, a bang rings out in the distance to the south. Who would be shooting off a gun this late in the evening? No second shot is ever heard, which just adds to the mystery.

Moon over Sitz Pond

Moon over Sitz Pond

I scan the sky and find it largely empty of all but the stars and moon. Just like every other place I visited in the Adirondacks during the last few years, there is not a single bat flying about. White nose syndrome has done its best to empty the Adirondacks of many of its bats, as the disease has decimated the populations of many species. The wilderness does not seem the same without them; it feels more empty and lonely, except for the plethora of mosquitoes and other flying buggers that benefit from the bats absence.

My melancholy mood, as well as the mosquito and no-see-um hordes, compels me back into the forest to my tarp. Retiring early should mean a good night’s rest before my exit from the backcountry tomorrow, which shall be long and arduous. Despite taking the afternoon off, the long slumber is well earned. A Swainson’s thrush and some spring peepers serenade me as I cross the veil from the waking world to that of dreams.

Later in the evening, the sky is exceptionally black when I get up to relieve myself; whether due to cloud cover or fog, it is hard to say. Since retiring for the evening, the air has turned muggy, portending a wet day for later today during my exit. Whether the soaking comes from the sky or my own body matters little, other than one is decidedly colder than the other.

Luckily, there are hours of slumber before I shall suffer either. For now, a few more hours of rest at Sitz Pond is all that awaits me.

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