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.

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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.

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