Rescuing a tent stake in the middle of the backcountry is truly like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Originally, I thought I might have to bushwhack over to Sunshine Pond for another search if Cropsey Pond did not yield my lost stake, but thankfully, this was not to be. By the time I make it all the way to Raven Lake Road, the three days of provisions are burning a hole in my backpack, demanding further adventures.
Although it remains partly cloudy, nothing compels me to return to civilization and ruin the next few days with the usual “real” world crud that is my normal life. Choosing between enjoying the great outdoors and returning to a small apartment in suburbia, a dead-end job and dealing with traffic-clogged commuting is really no choice at all.
My back-up plan has always been to return to the Wilderness Lakes Tract of the Five Ponds Wilderness, which resides at the end of Raven Lake Road, where it transitions from active dirt to old grown-up logging road. My last visit to the area was many years ago, when I was still just developing my bushwhacking skills.
I rationalize the trip (as if I need to) as a reconnaissance for a possible change in venue for the Birdathon either next year, or some other year in the future. It has been ages since I went somewhere other than the Pepperbox Wilderness for the big day, so my thinking is that maybe it might be worth taking a chance on somewhere new.
Date: May 30, 2014
Length: 4.0 miles (5.5 total daily miles; 7.6 total trip miles)
It is about 11 AM before I start walking north up Raven Lake Road. I set a quick pace, despite the weight of my backpack. The contrast between the open dirt road over rolling terrain and the untamed woods that I just recently left behind could not be more apparent. Detouring around downed trees, being groped by young saplings and navigating to avoid cliffs or wetlands is a thing of the past, at least for now.
Not twenty minutes up the road, I feel light water droplets caress my feet and hands. The light sprinkles do not appear to foreshadow a torrent to come, as the sky remains only partly cloudy, with patches of blue sky appearing overhead occasionally. I hope for the best and move on without donning my rain gear and using its magical properties to stifle any possible rain.
As I pass the Kettlehole Canoe Carry down to Stillwater Reservoir, a dragonfly swoops in out of nowhere, landing on my leg, its multifaceted eyes looking up at me, as if daring me to make a threatening move against it. At least this hitchhiker’s presence distracts me from the light rain, as I glance down occasionally to check whether my companion is still freeloading his way.
While focusing on the dragonfly, a sudden crash off in the woods demands my attention, causing the hitchhiker to take his leave of me and flee. A quick glance around the surrounding forest yields nothing, so I assume it came from a fallen branch and continue on my way; this time alone, with not even an attractive dragonfly to keep my company.
The road veers to the right, passing another canoe carry trail and the Shallow Pond outlet. I stop briefly to look out over the outlet, where it widens into a small pond before flowing under the road through a culvert and tumbling down to another thin pond hidden off in the forest to the south. Numerous circular ripples form the falling raindrops collide with each other on the water’s surface, forming a kaleidoscope of waves crashing into one another repeatedly. It takes a force of will to turn away and move on from the hypnotizing scene.
A side road heads north while the Raven Lake Road continues only a short distance before ending at a few large boulders, many small saplings and other shrubbery nearly obscuring their presence. The side road winds north to an inholding camp on the southeastern shore of Raven Lake, where one Birdathon long ago I spent the night on their porch. My path is the one beyond the rocks though, but I leave one of my legendary breadcrumbs along the side of the road before continuing.
The rain picks up briefly now, falling much more intensely, albeit for only a short period. Just enough precipitation falls to soak my pants on the overgrown trail that is soon to follow beyond the rocks and their saplings. Instead of risking it, I quickly pull on my rain gear, hoping that its magical powers will halt the rain. While I struggle with my rain pants, three red-eyed vireos fly all around me, seemingly chasing each other. Whether they are fighting or performing some kinky mating ritual, it is impossible for me to discern.
Behind the boulders and their associated greenery, the remains of the road continues up a steep hill. Although still wide, the road is now overgrown with low vegetation, a narrow ribbon of dirt remaining to show the route of its infrequent travelers. As I approach the top of the hill, shrubbery and young trees close in on the trail – easier to soak me using their wet leaves, no doubt.
While climbing to the ridge top, a cut log lies across the trail. A scattering of sawdust still lies on the ground, indicating the deed was performed somewhat recently. A track through the cut section, deep in the soft mud, indicates the presence of a mountain bike. With the Five Ponds Wilderness border being at the boulders just a short distance downhill, both power saw and mountain bike use are prohibited by law, indicating those involved to be either ignorant of the regulations prohibiting their use, or out-right disrespectful of them.
The old road’s condition changes drastically from a foot trail surrounded by thick young growth, to an open road and then back again. The open road now lacks the open ground of its well-worn portion I traversed earlier, with it now completely covered with an assortment of grasses and sedges, depending on the wetness. The reasons for the variety of the regeneration efficacy are unknown, but the soil depth is probably a prime suspect.
An attractive pine, just above my head marks a side trail veering off to the east. From previous trips through this area, I recall a scrawny, disfigured pine points the way toward Slim Pond. Is this it? My instincts scream wrong tree, and thankfully, I listen to them for once. Soon after continuing north for a while more, a twisted and scraggly small pine marks the side trail to Slim Pond, just as I remembered.
The trail to Slim Pond is clearly visible, with it more well-worn than the main trail that continues north all the way up to Bear and Diana Ponds. Stopping briefly for a rest, the main road north catches my eyes and captures my heart, as I feel its pull to go farther into the wilderness, rather than heading east. Unfortunately, exploring further north will need to wait for another day, as I refuse to surrender my current adventure that takes me down to Slim Pond. It is best to stick to the plan that I left back on the home front, just in case something goes terribly wrong.
My rain gear finally works its magic, as the rain sputters out, with the sky currently containing only a scant scattering of clouds. With the ground and surrounding vegetation still wet, I resist the urge to abandon the rain gear, just in case doing so may anger the rain gods again. Avoiding antagonizing these deities is always important, if you want to avoid being the target of their wrath.
After a short hike downhill on a wide grassy path, the western end of Slim Pond appears at the base of the hill. Two old fire rings reside within the path, one near the water’s edge and another a little farther away and uphill. Although neither appear to get much use now, the one furthest from the shore is vastly more overgrown, with the stones well on their way to being incorporated into the old road, courtesy of the surrounding vegetation and moss.
The trail crosses an old beaver dam at the western end of Slim Pond. The pond is aptly named, as it is fairly thin and long, with its eastern edge being out of sight from my position. Although an old, grown-over dam lies before me, it is slightly breached in places. Apparently, some beavers are more ambitious than others. A small stream runs at the base of the dam, the water finding a place to flow near the dam’s edge. An enterprising hiker stacked sticks in the water, constructing a makeshift bridge across.
Four ducks float out on Slim Pond, keeping their distance from the recent intruder into their home, namely me. Unfortunately, they are too distant to identify with my little binoculars, and my spotting scope is comfortably ensconced in its box in my closet back home, as are my other more powerful binoculars. Heavy optics do not get to go on bushwhacking backcountry adventures, at least not until they learn to go on a diet.
Turning my attention from the pond and back to the trail, I climb unto the dam and carefully walk down its length, careful not to stumble off in either direction. On the other side, I regain solid ground on an obvious wide old road, climbing a hill bordered by young fir trees on both sides. Another old fire ring, a monument to the area’s more popular past, almost sneaks by me as I climb, the road here is slowly incorporating the fire ring too.
After some rolling terrain and a few wet spots, the trail enters a large grassy clearing with a scattering of young trees to break up the monotony. More young trees grow along the clearing’s periphery, signs that the encroaching forests is attempting to retake its own.
Although not initially apparent, the clearing is an intersection, with a trail heading east toward Ginger Ponds and another to the south, with Evergreen Lake its destination. If all goes as planned, I should be returning via the Ginger Pond trail in two days’ time. For now, I continue across the clearing, heading for a subtle opening within the trees where the path continues to the south.
The trail starts getting less distinct now, with the old road being less level and much wetter. A ribbon of exposed soil indicates where others have gone before me, as it undulates between and sometimes over the deep ruts of mechanized beasts long past. Puddles and seeps provide additional obstacles, requiring much more effort on my part, and a correspondingly slower pace.
Suddenly, the trail enters a drier area where exposed soil dominates over any vegetation. A fire ring in the center of the small clearing, complete with a good deal of garbage strewn about indicates a well-used campsite. My memory failed to prepare me for this, indicating either my mind’s faulty nature or the recentness of the site’s origin. Either way, it throws me off my momentum, but only temporarily.
With the lake visible through the trees, I am certain my destination, a campsite at the location of an old camp overlooking the lake on a high embankment, cannot be too far off now. Unfortunately, a short distance farther and the trail suddenly and unexpectedly ends at open water. Apparently, the beavers have been busy damming up this small lake outlet, requiring me to make an unplanned detour.
Thankfully, the dam is within view, allowing me to hike downstream a short distance to reach it. I find it in pretty bad shape, but still eminently crossable with a little care. Hiking poles in hand, I gingerly cross the dam, continuously peering down the significant drop on my right. One slip and disaster could ensue.
Back hiking on the relative safety of the old road (now more of a foot path), I soon notice a side path through some grassy vegetation. It only takes a few moments for me to realize I am near the spot that will become my home for the night. The side trail angles off the road toward the lake, soon ending at a small clearing surrounded on three sides by forest, the fourth side being open to clear sky.
Fortunately, the opposing side of the clearing provides a commanding view of Evergreen Lake from the top of a steep embankment. Although much of the large lake is beyond my view, the visible portion is an outstanding sight. Not too far from shore, prominently displayed from the viewpoint, is a large rock island, bordered by a scattering of low shrubs.
Two common loons float on the lake’s placid surface. While one is out on the open water, the other lurks nervously near the rock island offshore. Scanning with my small binoculars, I fail to see anything even remotely resembling a nest. However, to play it safe, I retreat back into the clearing, so as not to be visible by my aquatic neighbors.
The loon nest is soon forgotten as the clouds thicken in the sky once again and a light rain begins. Haste makes waste now, as I hurriedly set up my tarp in the corner of the clearing and begin working on hanging a food line back out along the old main road. Luckily, my camping chores are done when the light rain picks up and becomes an actual rain shower.
Once the showers taper off, I finally get an opportunity to quickly eat a late lunch at around three in the afternoon. Apparently rejuvenated by the recent rain, a horde of blackflies move in and plant themselves over and around my head. The intensity of the onslaught gives me no choice but to flee to my tarp, securing myself inside after enduring about an hour of punishment. So much for a pleasant lunch!
Under the tarp, I while away the rest of the afternoon listening to the radio, writing notes and finally preparing a light dinner. The showers continue on and off throughout the afternoon and into the early evening, while I drift off and on between sleep and the waking world. Hopefully the extra sleep will prepare me for some pond hopping tomorrow.
The night is not a quiet one at Evergreen Lake. Although the pitter-patter of the rain dies off as the showers become less frequent, the call of the loon continues to break the silence occasionally. When I awake in the middle of the night for a late night pee, a saw-whet owl calls incessantly. Despite my attempts to call it in for a possible closer look, it remains off in the distance, as does a barred owl that adds to the cacophony. Not wanting to be left out, a lone white-throated sparrow joins in before going quiet once again.
The sky is completely clear now, the stars brilliant and plentiful. As I scan the sky for shooting stars, carefully so as not to pee on myself, I spot a small constantly moving star as it approaches the horizon. I assume it is a satellite, typically invisible due to the rampant light pollution in my usual urban settings. I watch it intently for a while, hoping an actual shooting star might appear before I once again return to my shelter. Unfortunately, my need for sleep quickly overcomes my desire to see that tardy shooting star, so I head back to my tarp.
After returning to the tarp and securing myself in my sleeping bag, quiet once again returns to my campsite at Evergreen Lake. But not for long. Just as I start to drift back to slumber town, the sound of rustling leaves snaps me back awake. Something is running about out there in the forest, something small, probably some type of rodent. By the sound of it, there must be many of them, but not enough to prevent me from finally drifting off back to sleep once again.
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