Thursday, February 9, 2012

Five Ponds Wilderness: The Robinson River

What is eight miles long, black as ink, wet all over, rarely seen and present in the northwestern Adirondacks? The Robinson River, of course!

This narrow river snakes its way through the middle of the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, stretching from Crooked Lake and flowing into the East Branch of the Oswegatchie River, well upstream from High Falls. It is rarely visited by people, due to its remote location and distance from any trail. Scattered pockets of blowdown, from the 1995 Microburst, guard much of the river, increasing the effort required to reach its border and appreciate its beauty.

The Robinson begins its life as a narrow, rocky stream, where it acts as the main outlet of Crooked Lake. From its headwaters, the river undulates north alternating between being surrounded by forests and beaver meadow for about half its length before making a sudden turn east. Eventually the river reaches its inevitable destination at the Oswegatchie River.

Along the river’s first half it flows through several features of interest. It flows just south of Toad Pond, through an open shrubby area where once a single engine plane crashed back in the 1940’s. Just north of Toad Pond the river flows through Sliding Falls, where near-impenetrable blowdowns surround on both sides. Between the falls and its sharp turn east, an extensive forested swamp straddles the river.

I feel fortunate to have encountered the Robinson River several times over the past couple years. Given my typical mode of transportation through this area, the river is often perceived as either an obstacle to cross or a feature of the landscape to follow to an eventual destination. Conveniently, the river flows through many narrow, rocky drainages allowing for some relatively easy crossings. The beaver dams, old and new, lies along its run when a rocky-hop is not available.

While traveling to Stillwater Reservoir during the summer of 2010, I rock-hopped what was just a stream, mere feet from its source at northern tip of Crooked Lake. The river is narrow and bordered by thick conifers on both sides here. The shallow, rocky stream near its headwaters fails to foreshadow the larger and darker river it becomes further north.

During the same trip, I again crossed the river on a shabby beaver dam a quarter of a mile downstream from its headwaters. From here, I intermittently followed the river upstream all the way to Toad Pond, as it alternated between flowing through forest and open, wet meadows. Often the open grown vegetation was so high and dense as to almost completely obscure the river.

The river flows through a large, open meadow surrounded by several towering, guardian white pines mere yards south of Toad Pond. An cursory search along the western and northern borders of this meadow for evidence of the crashed plane proved unsuccessful during my visit; undoubtedly it is overgrown by now and impossible to find without some knowledge of its general location.

During last summer, the northern portion of Robinson River provided a convenient route on my return trip from Cracker, Gal and West Ponds. A beaver dam acted as a timely bridge immediately upon my arrival where the river leaves a wide, wet and open floodplain and enters the forest for its final mile before flowing into the Oswegatchie. Aerial photographs suggests several beaver dams along its length as it undulates through its northern floodplain, but good luck locating them given the floodplains uneven and densely vegetated border.

Nothing but uninterrupted mature forest borders the Robinson as it follows the southern base of Partlow Mountain. The terrain varied greatly along the river’s northern shore. Along the eastern portion, the landscape rises only several feet from the floodplain before remaining flat for as far as the eye could see; covered in tall mature hardwoods with less understory than typically expected in the Adirondacks.

Along the middle portion there are numerous tendrils of the floodplain, winding their way into the surrounding uplands separated by a steep slope. The contrast between the large, lowland softwoods and the massive hardwoods upslope is striking. From the top of the slope, safely surrounded by hardwoods, it was possible to look directly into the canopy of the softwoods below; obtaining a view seldom seen except by red squirrels and pine martens. The regularly spaced softwoods were surrounded by a dark, green carpet of Sphagnum on the ground, interspersed with shallow open pools of water and clusters of tall ferns. A long-extinct dinosaur would barely look out of place in such a landscape.

The Robinson River offers a convenient avenue for journeying through some of the most remote portions of the northwestern Adirondacks, but if you plan on visiting the way is not easy by any means. The least arduous approach is via a canoe trip up the Oswegatchie River. The easiest route from trail is either from the south terminus of the Red Horse Trail or from the west via either the Sand Lake or Five Ponds Trails. Whichever route taken, bring plenty of bug repellant, plenty of supplies and a whole lot of patience, you will need every bit of it.

Has anyone else had encounters with the Robinson River worth noting? Has anyone ever been to Sliding Falls? Is it worth the effort of the struggling through the dense blowdowns? Have you ever searched the large swamp south of the river’s sudden turn east for boreal bird species? If so, share your observations in the comments below.

Photos: Robinson River’s northern portion, near headwaters and south of Toad Pond by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.




19 Responses

  1. Bobby says:

    Is there any good habitat for spruce grouse? I figured I would ask since there seems to be a spike in interest for spruce grouse on this website lately.

  2. Gonga says:

    A friend and I canoed up a short distance from the Oswegatchie sometime in the 80’s. We went all the way to the headwaters of the Oswegatchie. That was a really great trip and I did it once more before the blowdown. The largest marshy area I remember is where the headwater streams assemble just north of Partlow Mill Dam. It’s more marsh than bog though.

  3. Dan Crane says:

    Bobby,

    Although the area bordering the northern portion of Robinson River may the right habitat for spruce grouse I doubt it is of significant size for a breeding population.

    The more extensive swamp just south of where the river turns abruptly east might be big enough for spruce grouse, but since I have never been there I can’t judge whether the habitat is suitable or not.

    The Breeding Bird Atlas indicates spruce grouse are just to the north of the Robinson River; perhaps along the East Branch of the Oswegatchie, so you never know.

  4. Dan Crane says:

    Gonga,

    The large swampy area I was referring to in the article was on the Robinson River, not the Oswegatchie.

    You must have passed the outlet of the Robinson on your way to the headwaters of the Oswegatchie. You may have missed it since I have heard it is not very impressive.

  5. Gonga says:

    The Robinson is not navigable for very far, but we did get an 18.5 foot canoe up it for a bit, and if I remember correctly it became rocky quite quickly and we turned back.

  6. Jeni says:

    When you say sliding falls are you referring to sliding rock falls? If you are, my family went there last Memorial Day weekend (2011). We came in off the lake (I’d have to check a map to be 100% sure where we landed), then hiked in. My brother in law led the way, and I have to admit, the “little” hike was not what we expected. Not bad at all if you are prepared, but we definitely weren’t. We still made it there and back however, and it was most assuredly worth it. We had several kids with us (the youngest was 6), and they handled the hike fine. Even though the water was cold, the more adventurous of our group enjoyed sliding the falls very much. The bugs were terrible (as usual up there), but the scenery and the experience was totally worth it.

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      Jeni,

      The Sliding Rock Falls you are describing is south of Cranberry Lake, along Six Mile Creek (at least I think that’s the stream but without a map in front of me I’m not completely sure). The one I described in my article is along the Robinson River, much further south.

      I assure you, there is no way a six year old would make it to the falls on the Robinson River. From what I can tell it is surrounded by 100% blowdown from 1995.

  7. Ed Reese says:

    Dan,

    I have never been able to find the article, but about 15 years ago, from a second hand account in some newspaper, I read about the plane crash. According to them, it occurred in 1957. No one could find the plane, not even the Army. In 1988, a group of Boy Scouts stumbled across a propeller sticking out of a swamp at the South bend in the River. The article also stated that they found a wedding band. The Robinson River is a goal of mine. I have made attempts in the past (with others) that have failed for various reasons from both ends. Someone I know told me that it took them 6 hours to go 2 miles over the hill to the Five Ponds trail! They encountered bad blowdown trouble near Sliding Falls that caused them to make the decision to cut over the hill. When I was a kid, I used to walk alot of woods, including Adirondack spots. I was first a kid in scouts and then hiked on my own. I was not a wilderness expert. I never had any problems walking around in other, less wild woods. I have always been crazy for the woods and I have taken photographs of lots of backwoods spots. I like old-growth, big trees, and lakes. I’ve hiked a couple of High Peaks, but I find them to treacherous for me. When I was around 21 years old in 1975 (fortunately I had enough since to stay out of Canadian woods), in an ill-prepared manner, and unable to get any others to go in with me, I tried to walk diagonally across the inner portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness. Man Oh Man did I get the tar kicked out of me. I almost could not get across it and I was in a situation where hypothermia was imminent. I had three very bad things happen to me also in there and any one of them could have prevented me from both getting out of there and I would have never been found. Anyway, I have over a thousand photos (I am not an expert photographer). I have probably every map and book ever written on the area. I got Aerial photos. The place is a big hobby of mine. I been to alot of spots, except the most inner portions. Namely- The Robinson River, Andy’s Creek to Terror Lake and Twitchell Lake to Terror Lake. Pigeon Lake to Shallow Lake. Next year, me and the guys from work are going to go are own way into Pigeon Lake. The trail from Constable Lake is shot with Beaver Impoundments and very bad 100 percent blowdown on the right side of the creek. The old timers used to follow the bottom of the ridge to the Southwest end of Pigeon Lake. This year we are going to Crooked Lake and try to visit Little Crooked Lake (no picture of that pond exist). My favorite spot is the place inbetween Trout Pond and Salmon Lake. The White Pines, though not the tallest I’ve seen, are spectacular in there. That whole Red Horse Chain of Lakes is the wildest place I have ever seen anywhere in the Park or in the lower 48 for that matter. There is a 4 and a half foot diameter Yellow Birch just west of Windfall Pond in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness. I have photographs of all this stuff so I can back up what I say. I request a contact phone number and email. I can mail you a CD with my photos. I can describe in detail my mis-adventure in the Five Ponds wilderness. I have tons of data, just, unfortunately, I have seen only about 25 to 30 percent of the area in person. Each year, after the bugs in August and September is when I usually go in.

  8. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    Ed,

    The Five Ponds Wilderness, and its smaller cousin the Pepperbox, are two of my favorite areas within the Adirondacks. Something keeps drawing me back to these areas year after year.

    The only airplane crash I know of near the Robinson is the one I mentioned in my article. After going through that area several times I can understand why it would be difficult to find a crashsite without knowing exactly where it was.

    Check out my blog for two of my most recent adventures in the Five Ponds. A couple years ago, I hiked from Wanakena to Wolf Pond, then headed off-trail, arriving at the end of the Red Horse Trail several days later. I made it all the way to Gun Harbor on Stillwater Reservoir before turning around and heading back all the way to Cranberry Lake.

    Last year, I headed all the way to Oven Lake, before heading north and hitting the Robinson River. I followed the Robinson as far west as it went and then returned to the trail system. Except for a few places, and all along Oven Lake, the going wasn’t too bad, and blowdowns were limited. From what research I have done, and looking at aerial photos Sliding Falls does seem to be REALLY bad with blowdowns. But that is exactly the reason it needs to be visited!

    Check my blog for contact information. I’d love to see your photos or hear more of your stories from years past in the Five Ponds Wilderness.

  9. Bill Ott says:

    Dan,

    I only know you by your articles but I read them all.

    I have picture of the plane crash, a Taylorcraft, that I took in 1994. Took two trips over a month looking for it in ’94, got to it from Washbowl. Had no gps then, and could not relocate it this June. Plan to try again this fall. It is within 50-75 ft of Robinson, on NW side, and you could miss it if 15 ft from it. All that remained in ’94 is engine block and some tubing. Probably take a grid search to find it now, area is more overgrown than my old photos show. If interested, I will forward notes and photos.

    Also, do you know of the Air Force F106 spread out by Muir Pond? I hope to revisit that site too. Plane covers acres, not hard to find.

    Bill Ott
    Ohio

  10. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    Bill,

    I would love to see the photographs. Where exactly is the plan near the Robinson River? I heard there are remains of a plane just south of Toad Pond. Is that the one?

    I remember hearing something about one near Muir Pond. I’ve been there once before, but don’t remember ever seeing anything odd. Where are the remains of that plane located relative to the pond?

    Did you hear about the plane that went down in Gull Lake east of Oven Lake just recently? The Nat. Geo map I have indicates that is easement land, but I’m not sure about the map’s accuracy.

  11. Bill Ott says:

    Dan,

    I have been spending most of the day on this short reply, studying notes for the first time in 18 years. But first, how do I get photos to you as it seems I cannot paste them here?

    I know of no plane south of Toad Pond, though I looked for the Taylorcraft there with information given to me by a ranger and a guide. They later told me to go to the Robinson from the Washbowl. Found it due ese of Washbowl, se of Partlow Mtn.

    I could find little information on the plane – I might find more later. My notes tell me it crashed in 1954. My memory brings up – taking off from Massena, NY on either NewYears or Xmas (you can see the dating problem here); not being found till 25 years later by a Boy Scout troop which was also lost; scouts brought out bones, jewelry, and ID.

    That man lay missing for 25 years. I never knew his name, thus nothing about his family. I share this information knowing that people who visit this site would respect the deceased and his family if they ever found the debris.

    On the F106 near Muir Pond, all my notes tell me is I had to go over a long beaver dam to get to it. The pilot lost control and bailed out at 10,000, landing on a trail and being rescued quickly. Air Force locked the area off as they carted out their good stuff. Plane should be easy to find.

    The Gull Lake plane brings up the easement issue. Go to this interactive map (http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?ll=43.397128,-74.292641) and the land looks public. Look at other maps at it is easement. I walked to Partlow Milldam from the OZ in Aug 2009, and crossed some rusted old no tresspassing signs, but do not remember the milldam being on private land, and cannot tell from the ambiguous maps.

    I have to go now, but will search more in the next few days. My plan is to head up Sunday nite.

    Bill

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      The plane south of Toad Pond was probably the one you indicated crashed in 1954. The location information I got was probably incorrect.

      Have a great time up there. Let me know how your trip goes when you get back home.

  12. Bill Ott says:

    Dan,

    Opened a Faceabook Acct and uploaded photos. You should have an invide from me.

    Bill

  13. Bill Ott says:

    Hi Dan,
    Got back from NY Sunday AM. Somehow lost a day in the woods, and Peggy had sent the rangers for me. Pulling the canoe out at Inlet, a ranger pulled up, and I asked him if he remembered the name of the Wanakena ranger in 1994. He started to think, and then asked me if my name was Bill Ott. I Said yes, and he said I had just made his job a lot easier.

    Found the Piper Cub again. Found it the end of the first day of searching, and was extremely lucky to do so. The engine was so buried in Alders that a person not looking for it could have been within a foot of it and not seen it.

    Found the F-106 again. Found it at the end of my second day of searching, which seems weird because it is so visible. I came upon her splendid beauty in the center of a clearing, she having patiently waited 34 years for my entrance. (I did see it in ’94, but I like the phrase). Some of the parts of that plane are so untouched and shiny, they look like they came off the assembly line yesterday. Found the tail number and some painted fuselage as well. Hundreds, if not thousands of parts covering large area(several acres?).

    Photos, locations, and more info later.

    Read your Wolf Pond entry. My favorite shelter now.

    I’ll do the facebook thing tonight or tomorrow.

    Bill Ott

  14. Mike Russo says:

    I just got back from a bushwhack to Sliding Falls. It’ll take a bit out of you. Hiked in from the Little shallow lean-to on the high falls trail. Set a bearing of 130 degrees and tried to contour the hills and skirt around the swales but the young conifer growth is oppressive especially with the heavy bushcraft loadout that I was carrying. I eventually decided to head east, straight towards the Robinson. The marsh was actually pretty easy to traverse. Hiking along the river is another story entirely. The beavers are the law in that area. Reached the river just north of where it turns sharply south. I took a break and sat down on a lump of ground to rehydrate when I heard “EEK EEK EEK!” right under my ass. So I peeled out and focused mainly on not falling into a pungi pit-like beaver slip that are hidden everywhere under the thick grass. Took almost 7 hours to hike 3.3 miles to Sliding Falls. Camped close to the top on a flat rock next to a boulder under a tarp for 2 nights. I have pictures if anyone is interested.

    • Mike Russo says:

      Oh and the return trip only took about 3 hours. I headed down to the bottom of the falls and then set a bearing straight for the Little Shallow lean to. A short hike to the top of a small ridge and then it was mostly downhill and fairly straightforward. The last mile or so was all steep downhill. Ate lunch at the lean-to and then hiked to Cage Lake lean-to. That is a great shelter in my opinion. Awesome spot. The Cage lake/Youngs road trail is a pain though. Its mostly a truck road and half of it is under water. Hope you have gaiters.