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.