Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dan Crane: Returning To The Adirondack Backcountry

Cropsey PondReuniting with an old friend is usually a fulfilling experience. Today, social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like, make it easier than ever to keep in contact with people regardless of their location. Unfortunately, I fell out of touch with a close friend of a different nature entirely, and it does not use a phone, have access to the Internet or have the ability to come see me for a quick drop-in.

As regular readers of my contributions to the Adirondack Almamack know, I endured a year-long separation from the Adirondack backcountry due to a mysterious knee injury. During that time I did my share of woolgathering, staring into space wondering how bad the biting insects were, whether the morning bird chorus remained as intense, or how many new dams the beavers erected. Thankfully, I recently discovered the answer to those and so many other questions when I reunited with the Pepperbox Wilderness for the first time in two years.

There was little doubt that the Pepperbox Wilderness would be the stage where my forced separation from the Adirondacks would end. This had little to do with the area being a bushwhacker’s paradise (which it is) or because the area was where I “cut my teeth” on off-trail backcountry travel (which I did). Instead, the Birdathon, a one-day contest to find the most avian species in a 24-hour period, necessitated this reuniting, since the area offers a wide variety of habitats within a single day’s trudge, plus relatively close proximity to civilization for a rapid exit the day after to report the findings.

Although fascinating, the trials and tribulations of birding while bushwhacking through a dense and remote wilderness is a topic for another blog post. In this case, birding merely provided the catalyst for once again experiencing the remote backcountry on its own terms, and getting a little forest bathing in the process.

My three day trip started on Raven Lake Road, but only briefly, as I soon headed northwest through the forest toward Cropsey Pond. In past trips, I spent the night of the Birdathon at this small pond, exiting through the abundant blowdown to its south the next morning. This year I decided to do the reverse, performing a rather steep climb first thing before descending to the pond through the dense young hardwoods.

Black bear at Cropsey Pond

The next day, Birdathon Day, found me bushwhacking over five miles up the pond’s outlet, up and over a ridge to the northeast, down into a series of wetlands, up and over another ridge to the north and finally up the Deer Pond outlet to its eventual source. Although originally planning to camp near Raven Lake, I never made it past the southern tip of Sunshine Pond, where I spent the night. A short bushwhack south, followed by an old hunters trail returned me to Raven Lake Road the next morning, just in time to report my results at one of the few payphones left in the Adirondacks at Stillwater Reservoir.

It was a pleasure to be out in the Adirondack backcountry again; the shear ecstasy was obvious despite the head cold I continued to suffer from, which started nearly a week before. The feeling was apparently mutual, as the flora and fauna were especially abundant, obviously all for my benefit.

The leaves burst from their buds to greet me, the trilliums bloomed to say hello (or perhaps they showed me their reproductive parts for another reason entirely) and the trout lilies and Canadian mayflowers emerged from the forest floor to say welcome back. The phytoncides from all the vegetative love rejuvenated me, as nothing else can.

The fauna clearly did not want to be left out of my welcome back bash. The birds sang enthusiastically, except for most of Birdathon day, when they surprisingly fell silent, as usual. A black bear arrived for breakfast, unfortunately for him, he sauntered by on the wrong side of Cropsey Pond. A white-tailed deer stopped by around dinnertime one night, with a few snorts for me before moving on. Unfortunately, the coyotes arrived a few days too early, as their tracks left in the mud attested.

Of course, the black flies swarmed around me, ecstatic about my return to their forest home. They could not wait to kiss me and welcome me back. Their relatives, the mosquitoes, were mostly absent except for an occasional visitor; they obviously did not appreciate my return as much as their pesky little cousins. Perhaps the mosquitoes are just waiting until later in the summer to show me their love.

Deer Pond

Despite the time we spent apart, much remained unchanged in the Pepperbox Wilderness. Cropsey Pond is still a quaint little wilderness pond, with at least a single resident beaver and many different colorful ducks. The area south of the pond continues its slow regeneration after being decimated by the microburst of 1995. Deer Pond remains in the odd shape of a balloon, with several small islands providing shelter for an outrageous number of waterfowl. Sunshine Pond still lacks any common loons, likely due to the absence of fish from acidification.

Of course, much of this stability is an illusion, with the light of “progress” shining through the occasional crack for those willing to see it. The young American beeches in the blowdown area are a little less covetous of my backpack as they grow older and their branches increasingly overtop my head. The water levels of the ponds have risen over the year due to beaver activity, and many meadows once full of herbaceous vegetation lie submerged under murky brown water that only a pair of raucous Canada geese could love.

The series of beaver meadows along the outlet of Cropsey Pond remains the most shocking example of the rapid change enterprising large rodents are capable of initiating. The outlet from Cropsey Pond used to meander through a series of meadows on its way to Moshier Creek, each usually containing a large, shrub covered and drastically breached old beaver dam. These meadows are once again active beaver dams, and probably will remain thus for many years to come.

Reconnecting with the Pepperbox Wilderness was more fulfilling than I could have imagined, just what my civilization-weary soul needed this spring. There was just enough familiarity to provide the comfort of the company of an old friend, while just enough change to make it interesting. Now, if only this volatile and wet weather would let up so I can become reacquainted with some other areas of the Adirondack backcountry this summer.

Photo: Evening at Cropsey Pond, black bear along Cropsey Pond shore and Deer Pond by Dan Crane.

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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.

3 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Tell us about the bear encounter? It looks like a pretty good one.

  2. Catharus says:

    Simply sounds wonderful! Great for the soul!

  3. Jim Fox says:

    Sounds like a wonderful trip. You’ve identified the millions of tiny flowers that grace the Adk woods – Canadian Mayflower.