Posts Tagged ‘Oswegatchie River’

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Bushwhacker

Blowdown near Confluence of Middle Branch Oswegatchie RiverPeople often ask me what exactly I do in the Adirondack backcountry during a bushwhacking trip, as if it involves engaging in some arcane art from long ago. I always find this line of questioning a little befuddling, and to this day, I still find myself lacking an adequate response. For the most part, my day remains much the same as any commuter’s, except for the excessive effort involved in struggling through blowdown, hobblebush or other natural impediments, instead of navigating traffic.

A day in the life of a bushwhacker is an interesting one indeed, but not that different from a typical commuter’s. We sleep, eat, defecate and work much like other people, but a bushwhacker’s commute is shorter and a lot more pleasant. Of course, any description of a typical day in the Adirondack backcountry fails to include a rain delay, a trail hike, or other out of the ordinary conditions, despite these happening much more often than we care to admit.
» Continue Reading.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sitz Pond In The Five Ponds Wilderness

Sitz PondThe Adirondack backcountry contains a plethora of natural gems, such as ponds, lakes, mountains, bogs and beaver meadows. Although many are reachable by trail, the vast majority are islands of remoteness, surrounded by a sea of near-impenetrable forest, just waiting for a human bold enough to venture away from the marked trails to discover them. Few humans ever visit these gems, which undoubtedly suits both the gems themselves and the meager number of visitors just fine.

One of these gems is a small pond found in the southwest corner of the Five Ponds Wilderness. Sitz Pond is its name, and as attractive backcountry ponds go, it ranks up there with the best.
» Continue Reading.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Skiing To High Rock on the Oswegatchie

Sue Bibeau, and her dog, Ella (Bibeau photo)Earlier this winter, after several long days in the office, I went to bed dreaming of my first backcountry ski trip of the season, a jaunt to High Rock in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Conditions would be perfect. Over the last few days, we had received eight inches of fluffy powder.

Then I woke up. Outside, it was twenty-four below zero, according to my Weather Channel app. Like any sensible person, I immediately broadcast this fact to Facebook. A few people suggested I postpone my trip.

“I have skied at 20 below, but I was 14 and foolish. Stay home, for god’s sake,” posted a former colleague.

But most of my Facebook friends were surprisingly indifferent to the possibility of my freezing to death.

“Burrrrrr & Enjoy!” wrote one. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Lost in the Adirondack Backcountry

Lost in the Five Ponds WildernessA pleasant hike in the Adirondack backcountry suddenly turns into a disaster. The heart quickens in the chest, the echo of the frequent beats drowning out the surrounding natural sounds. A thin sheen of sweat covers the skin, producing a clammy feeling and chills. Breathing becomes labored as if just summiting a faraway peak. A frantic feeling overcomes you, as if mortal danger is imminent.

What is going on? Is it a heart attack? A panic attack? Aliens?

Nope. It just means you made a terrifying discovery, as everything around you looks unfamiliar, and you no longer know where you are. You are lost. All the physical indications are there, the racing heart, the profuse sweating, the difficulty breathing, and the sense of impending doom. Every rock, tree, bird and chipmunk looks threatening. What choice do you have but panic, right?
» Continue Reading.



Monday, October 28, 2013

The Newton Falls Paper Mill’s Painful Death

newtonfalls towerThis summer, a Canadian company called Scotia Investments has been auctioning off parts of the old Newton Falls Paper Mill in the northwestern Adirondacks. It’s the latest painful chapter for a region of the Adirondack Park that has fought for years to maintain its old industrial economy.“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” said Sherman Craig, an Adirondack Park Agency commissioner who owns a woodworking shop in Newton Falls and lives in nearby Wanakena. “After they cut up the paper-making equipment, it’s just a shell.”

Craig joined a half-dozen men in late July in the lobby of the mill’s mostly empty main headquarters for a public auction of roughly four thousand acres of timberland owned by Scotia. The company has declined to say whether the property found a buyer. That means more uncertainty for Terrance Roberts of Canton, president of the Trail’s End hunting club on paper-mill land for decades. “It’s a heartbreak,” he said. “My brother worked here for thirty-something years.” » Continue Reading.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Study: Wetlands Key to Revitalizing Acid Streams

New York GLA team of University of Texas at Arlington biologists working with the U.S. Geological Survey in the Black and Oswegatchie river basins has found that watershed wetlands can serve as a natural source for the improvement of streams polluted by acid rain.

The group, led by associate professor of biology Sophia Passy, also contends that recent increases in the level of organic matter in surface waters in regions of North America and Europe – also known as “brownification” – holds benefits for aquatic ecosystems.  The research team’s work appears in the September issue of the journal Global Change Biology. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Oswegatchie River’s Carpet Spruce Swamp

P6189641 Middle Branch Oswegatchie River confluenceTrying something new is often rewarding, although potentially anxiety producing as well. Unfortunately, finding a new area to explore within the northwestern Adirondacks is swiftly becoming more difficult, forcing me further and further off the beaten track. Even months-long injuries have failed to slow this trend.

Although difficult, there remain a few places yet for me to explore. Recently, I narrowed the number of places when I explored a remote portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness where I only had limited experience. This overlooked backcountry gem is bordered by the South Ponds to the west, Riley Ponds to the north, the odd-shaped Crooked Lake to the east and the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River to the south.
» Continue Reading.



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Peavine Swamp Trails: Skiing the Quiet Groves

peavineOn the Peavine Swamp trail system in the northwestern Adirondacks near Cranberry Lake I found a tranquil route through open forest, culminating on a knoll overlooking the Oswegatchie River. Removed from the more challenging terrain of the High Peaks backcountry, the trails allow the skier to settle into a soothing rhythm of kick and glide over level ground and rolling ridges. The occasional gully or steeper pitch is enough to rate the trail’s difficulty moderate or intermediate—but in a low-key way.

It’s a good trip for looking around and appreciating the forest, and on a clear day in early January, I was  accompanied by two skiers who were well qualified to be guides through these woods: Jamie Savage, professor at the Ranger School in Wanakena, and John Wood, senior forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Jamie uses these lands as an outdoor classroom for his students. And John, working with Jamie and other partners in the area, has been developing plans for increasing hiking and skiing routes near Cranberry Lake. » Continue Reading.



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches:
Traveling Campbell’s Northern Survey

Five PondsAs I described in last week’s Dispatch, the more I become engrossed in Adirondack history the more my interest has grown in Archibald Campbell’s incomplete survey of the northern line of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase.

Having possession of his field notes and maps plus a 1911 large-format map of the Adirondack Park as well as modern USGS maps, I did a bunch of digitizing, calibrating, measuring and finagling, virtually recreating his journey.  This summer I plan to hike it to see it for real and compare my experiences to his.  But the virtual trip was a most interesting project for me and I would like to take you along.

Beware!  Unless you are a Class-One Adirondack Nerd this Dispatch might lead to narcolepsy.  But if you have been following my surveying series with interest, then lace your boots, grab your gaiters, your Gunter’s chain and your rum and let’s hike together into the primeval forest. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Adirondacks: A Place to Dream

View from High RockSept 7 – 9 there will be a congregation of artists, scholars, historians, and writers in Lake Placid for an exploration of Adirondack cultural heritage (more info). Free and open to the public, it should prove to be enjoyable and informative to all who love this place. I was thinking about this event as I paddled with a group of friends on the Oswegatchie River, in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Our objective was High Rock – not a terribly difficult or long paddle, although it was challenging in places because the water levels were pretty low and rocks were exposed. Having recently returned from almost four weeks in Glacier National Park – where the “big sky” glacier carved landscapes are truly magnificent – I couldn’t get over the fact that I was still moved by the scenery flowing past me along the Oswegatchie.

Orange brown rocks just beneath the surface, covered with colorful paint swatches from all the boats that have scraped across them for more than a century. Massive white pines that probably were too scrawny to harvest during the logging booms of the 1900’s, were now towering over the river. The tag alder filled flood plain that this wild river was meandering through. The Five Ponds Wilderness is a prime example of how this amazing place can inspire. » Continue Reading.



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.



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2,900 Acres of Adirondack Timberlands For Sale

Last week the Watertown Daily Times reported that Lassiter Properties had put on the market nearly 2,300 acres in and near the Adirondack Park.

In 1988, Lassiter bought more than ninety-five thousand acres in the North Country, but it has since sold most of its holdings to the state and to other timber companies.

Most of the 2,300 acres now on the market are located on three tracts just outside the Park in St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. The largest tract, some 1,930 acres, includes a stretch of the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: Cracker, Gal and West Ponds

The Adirondacks are dotted with many small lakes and ponds. Many of these are remote wilderness water bodies lacking any roads or trails to them. Since these water bodies have no obvious attractions, few people ever visit. Recently, I visited three such ponds: Cracker, Gal and West Ponds.

These three ponds are located in the Five Ponds Wilderness, south of the Robinson River and west of the upper East Branch Oswegatchie River. The nearest trail lies at least two and a half miles through dense forest to the west. The only way to reach these ponds is via bushwhacking through some of the most challenging terrain in the Adirondacks due to the extensive blow downs from the 1995 Microburst.

Although there are no trails near these ponds, this was not always the case. A trail once existed just east of Cracker Pond and eventually crossed Gal Pond’s outlet before climbing over Greenfield Mountain on its way to High Falls along the Oswegatchie River. After a cursory search during my recent trip, I found no sign of this trail remaining along the outlet. The trail has most likely been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. A historical topographic map of the area can be found here.

Cracker Pond is the southernmost and largest of the three ponds. It is irregularly shaped, with an island connected to the shore by a thick strip of vegetation. Snags and small shrub-covered islands are scattered near shore while many stately white pines tower over the pond along its perimeter. A series of several smaller beaver ponds lie off to the southwest.

Gal and West Ponds are in close proximity to each other about a half mile north of their southern neighbor. They are similarly shaped and connected to each other via a swampy stream. Unlike Cracker, these two ponds have a significant amount of open water with no snags or shrub-covered islands. They both have open rocks along the shore and at least one protruding from the water’s surface.

Gal Pond is unlike the other two ponds with respect to its aquatic vegetation. Pickerel weed and yellow-flowered water lilies are plentiful along its northwestern shoreline.

These lakes are reported to have low pHs due to acidification from acid rain. They are reported to be devoid of fish. However, this condition has not limited hooded mergansers from raising their young. Two different merganser families with multiple young were observed on Cracker and West Ponds. Hooded merganser’s primary diet consists of small fish, although they also eat aquatic invertebrates and amphibians.

Apparently the low pH has not impacted all aquatic life. Whirlygig beetles were common along the northern shoreline of West Pond. Based on the prodigious presence of the blood-sucking adults, the ponds are hospitable to the aquatic larvae of mosquitoes, black flies and deer flies. Amphibians were well represented as well, with green frogs, mink frogs, bullfrogs and spring peepers commonly heard calling during all hours of the day.

Evidence of beaver is plentiful at all three of the ponds. Several remnant dams were present at Cracker Pond, while both Gal and West had obvious beaver lodges. Gal Pond was reported to once have a 654-feet long and 4 feet wide beaver canal leading from the pond to a grove of yellow birchs and other hardwoods. But during my recent visit I observed no recent sign of any beaver activity in at the ponds.

Moose find the area favorable as well. An abundance of moose scat was present between Cracker Pond and its northern neighbors as well as along the northern shores of Gal and West Ponds.

These three ponds represent the very best wilderness experience the Adirondacks have to offer. Their remoteness ensures a peaceful respite from hustle and bustle of the modern world if one has the fortitude to reach them.

Photos: Peninsula at West Pond, Cracker Pond and Gal Pond by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: A Moose Paradise

Moose have been swiftly returning to the Adirondacks in recent decades. These large ungulates were extirpated from New York State around the time of the Civil War. In the early 1980’s, moose started making a return to the state with an estimated population of 15 to 20 individuals. Their numbers have mushroomed to a population of over 800 today.

Moose are the largest living member of the deer family. Unlike most other members of the deer family, male moose have palmate antlers, which are used during the mating season to fight for the right to mate with females. Moose habitat consists of either boreal or mixed deciduous forests, where their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. » Continue Reading.



Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Phil Brown: East Branch of St. Regis Should be Wild

On Sunday, I took a delightful canoe trip on the East Branch of the St. Regis in the northwestern Adirondacks. It was so enjoyable that I didn’t stop until I reached the end of public land, making for a round trip of twenty miles from Everton Falls.

Four years ago, I had paddled the East Branch in early spring before the greening of the alders and the grasses. On that day the riverside scenery was a bit drab.

How different things are in July. Hues of green were everywhere—in the grasses dancing in the breeze, in the trees beyond the floodplain, and in the river grass bowed by the current. Wildflowers provided dashes of color: the purple whorls of joe-pye weed, the yellow globes of the pond lilies, the drooping scarlet petals of the cardinal flower, the violet spikes of pickerelweed, and the glistening white arrowhead. Add in a blue sky with puffy clouds, and you have the perfect day.

Soon after putting in along Red Tavern Road, I heard one or two passing cars, but as I journeyed farther upstream, I penetrated deeper into the wild where the only sounds were natural: a beaver plopping into the river, the one-note whistle of a red-winged blackbird, a merganser skittering over the water to flee a human intruder.

In ten miles I encountered no development. It’s no wonder that researchers for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) recommended back in the 1970s that most of this stretch (some eight miles) be designated a Wild River in the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational River System (WSR).

All rivers in the WSR system receive a degree of protection, but Wild is the most protective designation. State regulations prohibit the construction of dams, vehicular bridges, or other structures within a Wild River corridor—not even lean-tos are permitted. The only exceptions are footbridges. Just as important, no motorboats are allowed on Wild Rivers.

If you check the APA land-use map, though, you’ll see that roughly the first fifteen miles of the East Branch, including the stretch I paddled, are designated Scenic and that the rest of the river is designated Recreational. Both are less-restrictive classifications, allowing some development, such as vehicular bridges, and motorboat usage.

Usually, the APA followed the recommendations of its field researchers in classifying rivers. Why not in this case?

In his classic guidebook Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow, Paul Jamieson writes that the classification was downgraded “probably at the insistence of a paper company and its lessees” (that is, hunting clubs).

Jamieson’s book came out many years ago. Since then, New York State has purchased this part of the river from Champion International and added it to the forever-wild Forest Preserve. In other words, the original objection to designating part of the East Branch a Wild River no longer obtains. APA spokesman Keith McKeever conceded as much in an article I wrote after my earlier trip up the East Branch. “The big impediment to that classification was that it was private land, and that’s no longer the case,” McKeever said.

Well, then, let’s change the classification to Wild. This would ensure that the river corridor stays pristine and that motorboats will not upset the natural serenity with their noise and pollution.

It also would bestow upon the East Branch a cachet that might attract a few more paddling tourists to a neglected corner of the Adirondack Park.

Of the 1,200 miles of Adirondack rivers in the WSR system, only 155 are designated Wild (about 13 percent). Indeed, there are only thirteen river segments in the entire Park that are classified Wild. They tend to be remote and/or rocky. Only one of them—a long stretch of the Main Branch of the Oswegatchie—is easily accessible and navigable by the average paddler. The East Branch would be in rarefied company.

In truth, I don’t know of any plans to build lean-tos, bridges, or other facilities on the river. And I doubt that motorboats often ply the East Branch. Thus, the reclassification might be seen as more symbolic than practical. But symbolism has its place. Designating the East Branch a Wild River would acknowledge its unspoiled beauty. It’s the least we can do.

Photo by Phil Brown: the East Branch of the St. Regis River.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. Subscribers can read his original story on the East Branch in the publication’s online Adventure Planner.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: The Red Horse Trail

The Red Horse Trail is a prime example of an Adirondack wilderness trail. Located in the southern portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness this trail stretches from Big Burnt Lake along the northern shore of Stillwater Reservoir to Clear Lake five miles to the north. The trail provides numerous opportunities to experience the wilderness from secluded lakes to wild streams and everything in between.

The Red Horse Trail is one of the oldest Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) established hiking trails dating as far back as 1922. At that time the trail went from Wanakena all the way to the Beaver River with a bridge traversing the Oswegatchie River at High Falls. Today the middle portion of the trail has been long abandoned but its course can still be found on a historical topographical map. Only the southern-most section of the original trail remains today.

The limited access to this trail probably has a lot to do with its wilderness character. The typical access is by boat via either Big Burnt Lake or Trout Pond. Both of these water bodies are inland bays of Stillwater Reservoir although at one time before the Beaver River was dammed they were independent water bodies in their own right.

There are many interesting sites to see hiking the Red Horse Trail. Along the trail are 3 large secluded lakes (Salmon Lake, Witchhopple Lake and Clear Lake), a lean-to (at Trout Pond), numerous wetland-crossing boardwalks, several beaver ponds, a northern whitecedar lined stream, old-growth northern hardwood forests and majestic towering eastern white pines. All in a length of only five miles!

Although the southern terminus of the trail is along the northern shore of Big Burnt Lake, Trout Pond appears to be the most popular access point due to the presence of the trail register and the nearby lean-to. A couple of sizeable designated camping sites exist along the trail in the direction of Big Burnt Lake.

The Red Horse Trail can be broken up into three different sections. The first consists of the section from Trout Pond to the southern edge of Salmon Lake. The second traverses along the edge of Salmon Lake and beyond until reaching the western shore of Witchhopple Lake. The third section stretches to the north and ends at the southern tip of Clear Lake. The amount of use of the trail appears to decrease with each succeeding section.

From Trout Pond it is only one mile to the southern edge of Salmon Lake. This section of trail is mostly level and parallels along the stream between Trout Pond and Salmon Lake. Unusual for the Adirondacks this stream is bordered by large eastern white cedars whose roots invade the trail and provide a hazard to the distracted hiker.

The trail meets Salmon Lake at its southern end at an old lean-to site. Although the lean-to burned down years ago an outhouse and two fireplaces still stand at the site. Since Salmon Lake lies north-south the view of the entire lake here is stunning.

After leaving the southern end of Salmon Lake the trail parallels the eastern shore of the lake although rarely in sight of the lake. Except for a couple wet areas (a legendary one is just north of the old lean-to site) the trail is mostly dry as it weaves its way through a mature hardwood forest. After about one more mile the trail rejoins Salmon Lake at its very northern end.

After leaving Salmon Lakes’ northern end the trail weaves through several wetlands via boardwalks before finally arriving at Witchhopple Lake. Some of the boardwalks here are half-submerged in water and can be quite treacherous due to their slipperiness.

At Witchhopple Lake the trail bisects a large camping site with plenty of open places for tenting. A large fire ring lies here and there is typically a plentiful supply of cut wood. This site appears to get a lot of use, probably during the hunting season. Litter is often plentiful here too with garbage, Styrofoam, old tarping and half burned rubbish strewn about. Despite the often filthy condition of this campsite the view of Witchhopple Lake is outstanding. Expect to be serenaded by loons and legions of frogs if you chose to camp at this site.

Beyond the Witchhopple Lake campsite is the most harrowing portion of the entire trail. The crossing of the outlet here is one of the most convoluted I have ever seen in the entire Adirondacks.

A series of small streams weave their way through tall gasses and reeds making it difficult to discern dry land from flowing water. Usually a maze of different trails weaves their way through the vegetation only some of which provide boardwalks over swift running water. The key to a successful crossing is to use a large downed tree located in the center of the vegetation as a bridge to make it over the widest stream at the northern edge of the confluence.

The northern most portion of the trail is the most remote and appears to get much less use than its southern segments. Some bridgeless minor stream crossings exist just beyond the Witchhopple outlet but should pose no difficulty for the intrepid soul who reached this point on the trail. This portion of the trail continues to gain elevation for the majority of its length through mostly hardwood forests with an occasional beaver pond passing.

The southern end of Clear Lake functions as the northern terminus of the trail. After a very slick crossing on a boardwalk the trail ends at a large camping site. Typically an old metal rowboat is located here. Summit Mountain can be seen looming over the northern end of the lake.

The trail provides addition opportunities beyond just hiking and backpacking. Canoeing and kayaking opportunities abound along the Red Horse Trail. In addition to accessing the trail via Stillwater Reservoir the three large wilderness lakes remain close enough to one another that the trail can be used as a canoe carry. Both Clear and Witchhopple Lakes provide access to even more secluded bodies of water to the north and east, respectively.

Although most visitors to the Red Horse Trail arrive by boat bushwhacking to the trail is always an option. I have bushwhacked from both the west (starting at the end of Necessary Dam Road) and the north (off the Sand Lake Trail). This option requires days of aggressive travel through remote wilderness with the northern route being the more difficult due to the plethora of scattered blowdown from the 1995 microburst.

Whether reached via boat or through bushwhacking the Red Horse Trail provides a true wilderness experience with plenty of natural beauty to satisfy even the most ardent outdoorsman/outdoorswoman. If one is looking for quiet and solitude far from the more popular trails within the Adirondacks then it is impossible to go wrong with the Red Horse Trail. Giddy-up!

Photos: Sign at Trout Pond, Salmon Lake and log crossing at Witchhopple Lake outlet by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Friday, December 24, 2010

Backpacker Magazine Features Cranberry Lake 50

The Cranberry Lake 50 (CL50), the fifty-mile hiking route that circles Cranberry Lake, has been featured as one of the best multi-day hikes in the Northeast in the January 2011 issue of Backpacker Magazine. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“For lakeside shoreline, traipse trough the Adirondacks’ Five Ponds Wilderness on a 50-mile loop around 7,000-acre Cranberry Lake. [Times Union outdoors blogger] Gillian Scott suggests starting in Wanakena and traveling counterclockwise for an easier first day, when your pack is heaviest. Along the loop you’ll see beaver ponds, sandy beaches, evergreen islands, and winding Oswegatchie River oxbows – but not a lot of people. “We went in July and didn’t see anyone,” Scott says.

Rick Hapanowicz, Jim Houghtailing and six others did the CL50 as a straight through overnight speed hike in May of this year. You can read about their trip online.



Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pepperbox Wilderness: A Bushwhacker’s Paradise

Those looking for an area with outstanding bushwhacking potential in the Adirondacks would be well rewarded by checking out the Pepperbox Wilderness Area, located in the northwestern Adirondack Park just northwest of Stillwater Reservoir.

At only 22,560 acres, the Pepperbox is one of the smallest of the Adirondack’s designated Wilderness Areas. It is bordered roughly by the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River to the north, the Herkimer County border on the west, the Beaver River to the south and Raven Lake Road to the east. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up with in its remoteness, containing mostly forested rolling hills and extensive wetland complexes. The few state trails here are all located in the northern portion. The Pepperbox is named after one of its many scattered unproductive water bodies, which total about 270 acres. The remoteness, lack of marked trails and limited use makes the Pepperbox a bushwhacker’s paradise.

The Pepperbox’s western half is characterized by extensive beaver meadows and small beaver ponds while its eastern half contains larger water bodies such as Sunshine Pond and the Moshier Ponds. The central part contains extensive unbroken forest with Moshier Creek roughly bisecting the wilderness down the middle. The northern portion, with its two miles of trails and in-holding access roads, is a more recent addition to the wilderness area and can be considered its “civilized” part. The bushwhacking opportunities here are less due to these trails and roads and therefore this part of the Pepperbox is given less mention in this article.

There are several points of access into the Pepperbox Wilderness. From the north there are several trails which enter the Pepperbox and allow access to the few water bodies located there. Such small lakes as Jakes Pond, Spring Pond, Tied Lake or Greigg Lake are all accessed via foot trail or dirt road mostly from Bear Pond Road. Trailhead parking is available for access from the east out of Stillwater Reservoir, in the west from Sand Pond Road near the county boundary (Lewis/Herkimer) and from the south via Moshier Falls Road. With a canoe one could access the southern border via the Moshier Reservoir along the Beaver River.

The northeastern portion of the wilderness area is characterized by a plentiful number of larger water bodies. This area is best accessed from a parking area at the end of Necessary Dam Road via the hamlet of Stillwater Reservoir. A trail register is located here for recording your planned trip, which is an excellent idea when bushwhacking through a trackless wilderness like the Pepperbox. Although the road continues over the Beaver River as a well-maintained dirt road, it is gated at the bridge and available for driving by the owners of an in-holding on Raven Lake only. The road, now referred to as Raven Lake Road, is a convenient jumping off point for bushwhacking adventures into the Pepperbox from the east. Raven Lake Road acts as a border separating the Pepperbox from the southern portion of the extensive Five Ponds Wilderness (the southern Five Ponds offers outstanding bushwhacking opportunities in its own right).

A perfect way to access the Pepperbox off of Raven Lake Road is an old hunting trail situated between the first main stream crossing and where the road turns east. Although this trail is unmarked it is easily followed along its southern end. It passes just south of a large beaver vly and then turns north following along the eastern side of the same stream crossed back on the road. The trail passes to the east of the beaver pond feeding the stream before taking a sharp turn to the northwest. At this sharp turn it is very easy to lose the trail as many dummy trails at this point can testify. While navigating over a bog along the south shore of a beaver pond south of Sunshine Pond watch for chicken wire nailed between two logs on the bog mat to avoid wet feet and guide you to the trail again on the opposite side. After several attempts I have yet to be able to follow the trail after reaching the western shore of this beaver pond. Despite the lack of a trail beyond this point a bushwhacker is well situated to explore the many water bodies in this portion of the Pepperbox. Sunshine, Deer, Moshier, Duck and Pepperbox Ponds and the surrounding area will provide days of exploring for the intrepid bushwhacker. Click here, here, here and here for my trip report in this area back in May 2010.

A parking area at the end of Sand Pond Road allows access to the northwestern portion of the Pepperbox. This area appears to get little use, evidenced by the lack of a register here. A short old logging road from the parking area provides access to a brushed-out state property boundary that can be followed east over a hill and through a fern-dominated wet area to the border of the Pepperbox’s western boundary.

This part of the Pepperbox is dominated by a single unnamed pond and the Cowboy Beaver Meadow. The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a series of old beaver vlys along the Alder Creek with little evidence of human activity. There are numerous places to cross the Alder Creek if one wishes to explore the steep rise on the opposite side. Between the pond and Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a hill with some steep cliffs to the east which should provide impressive views into the Cowboy Beaver Meadow below during the autumn and winter months when the tree foliage is absent. Keep an eye on the Bushwhacking Fool this winter for a trip report on my adventure through this area on Labor Day 2009.

The southwestern portion of the Pepperbox contains the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow, numerous unnamed beaver ponds and a series of unusual glacial ridges. A parking lot and trailhead register are available here along Moshier Falls Road. Although the sign in the parking lot implies the trail to the Pepperbox leaves the parking lot, the true trail is across the street where it crosses bridges on both the Sunday Creek and the Beaver River.

The trail continues across the Beaver River and through a power line right-of-way before reaching the Pepperbox’s southern border where a sign warns that there are no marked trails beyond. As if mocking this official sign there is a well-used trail marked with gray paint slashes winding north into the unbroken forest. This trail remains easy to follow all the way to a large beaver vly east of the largest pond in the Threemile Beaver Meadow. North of this vly the trail loses its gray slashes and becomes less distinct though rumor has it one can follow it all the way to Bear Pond. I have tried this myself in the past with only limited success though I did manage to reach Bear Pond by bushwhacking a significant amount of the way.

Along the trail before reaching the large beaver vly there are several side trails to the west which gives access to the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow. The Threemile Beaver Meadow is a beautiful and extensive series of beaver ponds and meadows well worth exploring.

A good bushwhacker can find many old herd paths in the Threemile Beaver Meadow area and there are even a few hunters’ camps scattered about, some recently used and others vacant for many years. This area appears to be heavily used during hunting season, and for good reason, as I have never seen a higher density of deer in the Adirondacks. Click here for a trip teaser about my recent bushwhack through the Threemile Beaver Meadow in September 2010.

To the north and west of the Threemile Beaver Meadow are a series of beaver ponds scattered about giving a bushwhacker numerous opportunities for exploration. For those interested in glacial landforms there is a series of steep and narrow ridges to the west of the beaver meadow. These ridges tend to end abruptly so one should use caution to avoid getting stuck out on one. The remnants of an old fire tower exists on one the highest ridges. The site of this fire tower, now merely the foundation and a few scattered boards, makes an additional interesting destination while trekking through this area.

The combination of hunting trails and unbroken wilderness makes the Pepperbox an excellent area for the beginning and experienced bushwhacker. So if you are looking for an interesting area to explore via bushwhacking then you cannot go wrong with the Pepperbox Wilderness Area in the northwestern Adirondacks.

Photos: Alder Creek along Cowboy Beaver Meadow, Sunshine Pond and Threemile Beaver Meadow by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at Bushwhacking Fool.



Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lows Lake to The Upper Oswegatchie River

It’s been exactly two years since I paddled the Lows Lake-Oswegatchie River traverse with my friend Dan Higgins. So by now the bug bites have healed.

That is, of course, the danger of doing the Adirondack’s greatest canoe trip in the middle of black fly season. But with a bit of perseverance, some luck as to the weather (lower temperatures and wind keep the flies down), bug dope and a head net, and the trip this time of year can be not only tolerable but even grand. » Continue Reading.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remote and Difficult Adirondack Paddle Trips

The Adirondacks have a number of remote, difficult trips suitable for either long, single-day trips or for multi-day trips. One notable trip is the Cold River, starting at Tahawus and on to Duck Hole, paddling the entire length of river down to the Raquette, and then either upstream to Long Lake or down to Axton’s Landing.

Another involves a paddle down the upper East Branch of the Oswegatchie to Inlet starting from the Lower Dam on the Bog River, up Lows Lake , and over to the Oswegatchie via Big Deer Pond. (I know of one party that got to the upper East Branch from Stillwater Reservoir and then north via Salmon, Witchhopple, and Clear Lakes.) » Continue Reading.



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