The painful guilt from earlier in the morning continues draining my motivation, drawing out my morning backcountry chores, including downing the tarp and stowing everything back into my backpack for the day’s trek south and east. The most difficult task involves folding and slipping the collapsible plastic bowl within my sleeping mat in the back of my backpack. The entire process feels like disturbing a crime scene.
The slow pace means it is almost nine-thirty by the time I finally depart the campsite and return to the main trail around Evergreen Lake, somewhat still emotionally shaken from the morning’s ordeal. The remainder of the trail around the eastern end of Evergreen Lake remains a mystery to me, as the west end has been my route of choice for all my past visits. The trail east appears more indistinct, indicating that most other further travelers share my preference.
Although discovering where the eastern trail joins the trail from Ginger Ponds stimulates my curiosity a great deal, such adventures must wait for another day. The wilderness ponds to the south beckon to me today, as the avian diversity is bound to be more interesting there, especially since my goal of this place is reconnaissance of potential Birdathon places in the future.
Date: May 31, 2014
Length: 2.2 miles (2.2 total daily miles; 9.8 total trip miles)
My ultimate destination this morning is Ginger Pond, but via the southern water bodies of Peaked Mountain and Hidden Lakes. However, first on the agenda is a large wetland to the west of Peaked Mountain Lake. Furthering this priority, I reacquaint myself with my compass, which lay dormant since yesterday morning, as I step out into the trailess forest for the start of the only bushwhacking portion of my adventure in the Five Ponds Wilderness.
The surrounding forest is still damp from the previous evening’s rain, drops appearing like gems on the low conifer branches as the sunshine scatters through them. My rain pants make the bushwhacking a little more difficult, augmenting the awkwardness from a lack of bushwhacking legs early in the morning. Thankfully, the effort takes my mind off the tragedy that I left behind at Evergreen Lake.
As I climb slightly through the forest, stumps seem to be everywhere. Each one is a reminder of the forest’s previous intensive use. An old junk pile captures my attention as I pass, a green Canada Dry ginger ale bottle sticking out from beneath the leaf litter and discarded refuse. Upon close examination, it is only in fair condition, not good enough to carry for a few more days before returning to civilization.
The stumps and junk piles are not the only evidence of human use, as I notice the shadow of old skidder roads winding through the forest, slowly healing from wounds long past. It takes much of my willpower to avoid following them, and thus increasing my mileage as they branch out in random directions before petering out farther away from my destination than when I began.
Some rocky cliffs require a detour, forcing me descend through a cleft in the rocks created by a small stream. From here, my route appears as a steady decent through a young hardwood forest, an occasional large eastern hemlock standing tall as if to proudly display its apparent lack of value to loggers past. Stumps are still ever-present, probably the long dead parents of the younger hardwoods that now dominate.
A small, level area reveals a wetland, with only a little open water, the remainder containing a scattering of ferns and their dead fronds from past years. Shortly afterwards, I cross a small continually flowing stream. With the stream behind me, stumps decrease in frequency, with the trees now much larger, but still mostly hardwoods, except for those occasional hemlocks mixed in.
As the terrain levels out, an old road lies across my path. This is no skidder trail either; it rises above the surrounding terrain, with a rocky foundation barely visible through the leaf litter along its perimeter. The road comes off a hill to the west and crosses a stream down to the east. The level area, nearby water and possible access via the old road makes this an ideal camping spot for some future trip.
It only takes a short bushwhack through the forest from the road before reaching the northeastern corner of the large wetland I set my sights on upon leaving Evergreen Lake. A small clear stream enters the vast open wetland here, flowing out into the large clearing to the west. Numerous snags stand within the center of the clearing, with tall grass dominating the ground everywhere around my vantage point.
Unfortunately, the wetland is silent, not a peep from even a single bird. The silence is finally broken by a single black-capped chickadee, singing from the forest to the south. As a possible source of avian diversity for a potential Birdathon run, this wetland leaves much to be desired. Then again, maybe it is a much happening place earlier in the morning.
Despite the grassy ground cover, I find the clearing exceedingly wet when I venture out a short distance from the forest’s edge. The likelihood of a better view seems low, at least not without taking some serious risk of wet shoes, as remains fully saturated with water. Instead, I play it safe, and move eastward hoping to capture a better view while also reducing the distance between my next destination, Peaked Mountain Lake and myself.
After crossing the stream to get a better look at the eastern end of the wetland, I find instead a boggy wetland, complete with scattered small spruces, ample shrub ground cover and only an occasional snag. Still no birds singing, so I begin the second leg of the day instead, a bushwhack east toward Peak Mountain Lake.
Soon after reentering the forest, I find myself following along the top of a ridge, acting as a dividing line between two forest types showing stark differences. Upslope to the north, back toward Evergreen Lake, the forest contains mostly secondary growth of hardwoods, apparently heavily logged in the past, while downslope to the south, trees are much larger in size, with many towering hemlocks among them. The reason that loggers spared the southern forest is unknown to me, but I am glad they did so, as I delight in the inspiration and beauty of the southern view beyond the base of the ridge.
Shortly, Peaked Mountain Lake appears ahead through the trees. While navigating around a log, an old Bud Light beer can catches my eye from its position hidden underneath, evidence of past beer-totting explorers. Since it has a modern stay-tab, it was most likely discarded by a hunter or fishermen relatively recently (i.e. after the seventies), presumably one coming in from Stillwater Reservoir just a hop, skip and jump to the south.
I have a feeling this will not be the last piece of junk I shall find here.
A little farther and I arrive at Peaked Mountain Lake near the center of the western shore, right after crossing a wet area. The lake is an ideal wilderness lake, with a squarish shape, except for a broad peninsula along its eastern shoreline. Peaked Mountain watches over the lake to the north, its forest-covered and slightly skewed peak appearing to lean eastward.
The peninsula along the lake’s eastern shore terminates with a cluster of large boulders on a flat slab of rock. The boulders form a line along the edge of the slab as if placed there on purpose. This fascinating formation lies directly across the lake from my current position and therefore not directly on today’s route, so I note them for some future adventure.
The water levels appear low, especially for the end of May. The water lies about ten feet out from the usual rocky shoreline, layers of mud, a smattering of vegetation and the occasional log occupying the area in between. Access to the water requires a balancing act along some logs and rocks, with even that being a daunting physical feat. Hopefully, Hidden Lake turns out more hospitable.
With a well-earned rest in order, I decide to park my butt on one of several rocks along the shoreline and have a snack and some sips of clean Evergreen Lake water. A scattering of clouds remain in the sky, while the sun’s warmth in combination with the slight breeze makes for an enjoyable pit stop, encouraging me to haul out both my camera and binoculars to while away the time.
Scanning the shoreline, I locate what appears to be an old dock or crate half submerged along the northern shoreline. With this artifact along my route to Hidden Lake, I decide to try and get a closer look when I head over there right after my rest break.
Deciding to put off lunch until reaching Hidden Lake, I pick up my pack and begin my sojourn along the northern shore of Peak Mountain Lake. My predictions about the beer can not being the only garbage I find here seems prognostic, as more human refuse emerges from the leaf litter along the way.
First, a series of foam tubes protrude from the leaf litter under an eastern white pine near shore. Nearby, a blue plastic bottle, most likely an anti-freeze container, lies on the ground nearby, multiple bite marks indicate either tasty contents or an angry animal. Both the foam tubes and the blue plastic bottle show their age, neither looking as recent as the beer can. I stuff the plastic tubs in the side pockets of my backpack but leave the larger plastic bottle behind for someone else to haul out, not wanting to rob them of the privilege.
An old road makes going a tad easier for portion of the way along the lake’s northern shore, but its wet and soggy condition causes me abandon it after a short distance. Spruce/fir line most of the lake’s northern shore, but when I locate a herd path after abandoning the road, the going becomes somewhat easier. A large pile of bear scat lies along the path, an indisputable indicator of my trespassing on another’s territory.
As I approach the eastern end of the lake, I get a much better view of the peninsula. A few large boulders positioned in a row sit on top of a flat large rock that juts out into the water. As I suspected from before, the placement of the boulders conjures up the notion of some type of intelligence at work. This peninsula definitely requires further investigation, just not today.
Getting a closer look at the half-submerged dock proves a little more challenging however. The embankment is steep and densely tree covered, making it hard to draw closer to the shore at that location. From what I can see it appears to be an old shipping pallet. If so, how it got dumped in this lake and for what purpose is anyone’s guess.
At the Peaked Mountain Lake’s eastern end, a small clearing provides an ideal spot to stop and have a drink while pondering my next move. The way forward seems pretty obvious, as Hidden Lake is a short distance to the northeast from here. My stomach growling, I contemplate eating lunch in this quaint location, but decide to soldier on and wait until Hidden Lake, if I can find it.
My stomach hopes that Hidden Lake is not well hidden; otherwise, there just might be Hell to pay. I would hate to have my body, and all the occupying gear on it, become another piece of trash that some intrepid explorer has to pick up and haul out of here.
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