Sunday, September 9, 2018

There's bear in dem woods. Watsons East Triangle and Pepperbox Wilderness

Another scouting mission for the NPT-west. This would be to check out an alternative to what I originally envisioned for a small section as well as visit a spot I haven't been to in a while (and never from this direction). I set my sights on Sand Lake via the unmarked path from the west. To add mileage and check out some other trails I started near the Oswegatchie Educational Center on Long Pond Rd at the far western edge of Watsons East Triangle WF. The parking lot was empty and I signed in at the register noting many from the Ed center use this trailhead to go to Trout Falls and Jakes Pond.

A few minutes into my hike along the easement land, a guy (Brandon) and his son (Logan) were fixing a pin on their ATV so I paused and we chatted a bit. They were bringing in a tree stand for the hunting club. They also mentioned their game cameras have picked up quite a bit of bear activity between the footbridges. Also a decent buck. They allowed me to ahead of them and I continued along the recently logged area. I did notice some bear scat along the way.

Soon I was on state land, and crossed the west branch Oswegatchie River, the trail became more closed in, although it was obvious atvs still came through. The forest here was quite pretty. It changed quite a bit both the flora and geology as I passed through. The trail had a few small rises to open rock areas. The air was still a bit chilly, but the sun was warming up the rocks. After about 45 minutes I came to the junction of Keck Trail and Jakes Pond Trail. The map shows a campsite here, but I didn't see anything. It is possible there was a campfire circle hidden among the ferns but without a water source this would be solely a winter camp.

Taking the left fork to the Keck trail, it was more rugged and was even more winding than it showed on the map. The map showed 3 campsites along the next few miles, but were dry and hidden as well. There were a lot of different fungus growing near and on the trail. Even the air was filled with the scent of fungal decomposition.

I passed another open rock area which was perched above a marshy area which had been dammed up by the beavers a long time ago. The overgrown remnant dam provided a was across the deep trickle of muck. The path was not obvious at first. Back in the woods a few muddy sections and atv tracks as well as a few bear prints. As i descended a small rise I came to another marshy section. This was criss-crossed with small rivulets hidden in the tall grass. The grasses themselves would sink underwater when stepped upon. There was no discernible path, no markers to be seen. I spent about half an hour trying to figure out where the trail went. Had I seen a marker or a trail on the other side I would have figured out a way to it. Instead I opted for plan B of my adventure. I would scout from the other side a different time.

I headed back towards the Jakes Pond junction. I spent a extra time looking for some of the other campsites, but could not find them. I did come across a moose shed in a small clearing.

A few minutes later I heard the sound of a motor. I paused on the trail and watched an atv slowly make his way around the bend in the trail and up towards me. I stepped aside as the red honda with 5 gallon buckets strapped all over it passed me by.

I was getting low on water by the time I reached the junction. But I knew I would pass over a bridge soon. Taking the right fork towards Jakes Pond this time I headed to the river which would be the boundary between Watsons East and the Pepperbox Wilderness. I crossed the bridge and filled up my water bottle with the tannin stained water. This trail was obviously and old woods road at one time. I noticed an increasing amount of bear scat. Some newer, but mostly old. At one point I thought to myself there is poop every ten feet. I came over small rise and entered a newer growth forest with a lot of cherry trees. Some motion caught my eye and I stopped. I looked towards a stand of trees and looking back was a bear. She made a quick grunt and then two cubs scurried up the trees. I had happened to have my camera out, so was able to safely snap a few shots before i slowly backed up. As I gave momma more room, she moved into position between me and the cubs. I backed up further and waited. She backed up to her previous position. I took a wide berth around as we watched each other. My arc intersected with the trail well past the bears' foraging area. A couple hundred yards later I came across a beaver flooded section, but a well worn herd path directed me to the dam. I came to another one of these sections a little later on about a half mile from Jake's Pond where the beaver dam was just above a small cascade into a frothy pool.

The old woods road headed uphill slightly to eventually reach what appeared to be a small esker between Jakes Pond and a water filled swamp. The esker made scanning the shoreline on both sides easy. Jakes has a very interesting shape. When I reached the southernmost point, I headed back and then off trail to the northern parts of the pond. No campsite was shown on the map, but sometimes one can be found. No luck and the shoreline was mucky. I took a break under a large white pine before heading back.

Back at my car at 4:30 after about thirteen miles of hiking, I needed to drive up the road a few miles to a different trailhead to get to camp. I parked near the bridge over the W. Branch Oswegatchie and took the dirt road near the private land. At the stat land sign, I headed up to the shore of Mud Lake looking for the campsite which showed on the map. There were two, so I was confident I would find at least one of them in the open pine and hemlock woods, if not at least I would have water. I found a little used site just around dinner time so I made camp. Even with private lands close by, I seemed to have the entire area to myself except for the loons.

It was a chilly night as expected. The morning glow over the lake was too good to pass up.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The NPT-west. Yeah, it's a thing (maybe).

I have hiked the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) a few times now. Most recently with my friend Andy in July. while planning for our adventure, I reminded myself of an idea I had been brewing for a few years. The NPT-west. The NPT was the first project of the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922, and completed in 1924. there have been some changes to it, reroutes and additional sections. But for the most part it is the same 140 mile "straight" trail between Northville and Lake Placid. Being in western, NY I have an affinity for the western regions of the Adirondacks and envisioned a western arc trail also connecting Northville to Lake Placid. In conjunction with the current NPT, this would create a giant loop (or backwards D). The conceptual trail I have put together is approx 260 miles and uses existing trail corridors. It actually has less road walking than the original NPT in 1924. Together with the current NPT, this would be approx 400 miles, from start to finish (start). There is much of it I have not actually walked, so this trip would be my official start of the NPT-west.

I have 5 days in which to fill with miles. What a better way than to start at the beginning, the end of the NPT on Averyville Rd. I coordinated a ride and left my car at the Burntbridge TH in Cranberry Lake. I would hike the first 60 miles of the NPT-west to where it intersected with the CL-50 and then another 15 miles to get to my car. At 11am, Jack from Broadwing Adventures waved goodbye as I began my trek up Averyville Rd away from the NPT proper. I turned down Old Military Rd and then turned again at the railroad. The next few days I would be walking the unused railroad line. Currently the state is trying to rip up the rails and turn the right of way into a multi-use travel corridor; however it is tied up in the courts. The tracks were overgrown with weeds, which at times made walking through them uncomfortable. Often there was a "shoulder" of some sort, whether it was a foot path or ATV tracks which was a more level surface. A lot of the time was spent walking the tracks themselves. If the ground was level with the ties, it wasn't bad. When it wasn't the spacing was not a typical stride so steps were short and quick. Eventually I got used to it. I never did get used to the 6ft tall mullein weeds which showered their seeds when brushed against.

About halfway through my first day, the sky opened up and it poured. It had been overcast and rain was expected, but this front came in and dumped on me before I had a chance to get my rain jacket on (I had prepared my pack with its rain cover). I was drenched walking through the town of Saranac Lake. This all happened just as I had re-found the tracks. There was some bridge construction near the community college and the tracks were all fenced off, so I had to figure out a way around it. Only four hours in and I was dealing with all this already? I supposed it could only get better. The rain subsided soon enough and I continued on past Lake Colby which was my intended camping area to McCauley Pond. There is a small section of state land on McCauley. I found an old campsite, hung my hammock and dried myself out. 14 miles for the day including the drive up. I could hear the camp across the lake as I fell asleep in my hammock before it was even fully dark.

I had sent my itinerary to my buddy Lance whom I have hiked with a few times. There was a chance he would join me for part of this adventure. I also sent him a link to track my progress on google maps as long as I uploaded my position (if a signal was available). In town I could do this every few hours, but it burned up the battery quite fast. My second day of travel would be traversing the St. Regis Canoe Area. A few years ago we had to carry our canoe over these same tracks to get from one pond to another. This time, I would be cutting through the ponds on the tracks. This is a pretty area as the tracks passed by numerous ponds, marshes and lakes. It is also a wilderness area with no cell reception. My last upload for the day would be 10am, after only 6 miles. By 3pm, I had traveled an additional 9 miles to the far end of Rollins Pond. A snowmobile access path led to the water and there were plenty of trees on which to hang my hammock. I spent a little time exploring the shoreline and then headed back to where the tracks were in view. Made dinner and took a woods shower to get rid of the sweat and dust. A sound startled me and I turned around to see someone walking the tracks. He had on a backpack, I called out "Lance?". "Russ?" came the reply. I was not expecting to him until the next day at the earliest. We started to talk and then I said, "go set up your hammock, we have plenty of time to chat". A long quiet evening turned into a welcome chat by the campfire. Unlike the previous night, we stayed up well past dark.

Like usual I was up early, at least I waited until just before day break so I could still watch the sunrise. Lance had been dropped off in Tupper Lake, about 6 miles down the tracks. There is a diner right at the crossing, so we had an easy breakfast and got our giddy-up on to the Lumberjack for a late breakfast. Brenna, our waitress lent me her phone charger so i could get a few extra percents to my battery while we ate. Thank you Brenna! All fueled up, we headed down the tracks. the first mile was really nice, including crossing a significant bridge. After that, it was monotonous. Long stretches of nothing and the walking wasn't easy. Also water was no where to be found. After 9 miles of this (15 for the day) we made it to Mt Arab Rd where Lance's car awaited. I was just about out of water, but the map showed a stream nearby. Lance went to get his car, while I poked around looking for the little stream. Obscured by brush, it was there and flowing nicely. I flagged down Lance as he came by and told him I found the stream and was going to find a place to camp nearby on easement land. After a long break and a full bottle of water, I was restless (it was only 4pm) so I pressed on. The next 7 miles were much easier going. I passed by a few lakes, and some marshes. The tracks made a slight climb as well. Not noticeable while walking, but you could see it if you turned around. A few places the resident beavers had flooded the nearby streams and the water had made its way to the tracks. I did some balancing on the rails a few times to stay out of the wet. A neat thing about the RR is just like highways, they have mile markers so one can easily keep track of pace and location. Before too long Horseshoe Lake was in view and this would be where I would make my third camp. It was after 7pm, so I took a quick bath, ate a cold dinner of trail mix and fig newtons, and went to bed. 22.5 miles, not bad.

I slept great and was up before first light. I packed up and went to the boat launch to watch the fog lift from the lake as the sun rose. I made coffee and breakfast, chatted with a kid who was paddling his kayak and taking pictures. With the RR track portion of my trek behind me, I headed up the dirt rd. A snowmobile trail in winter #36/7A. The map showed quite a few intersections through this area, so I kept my eyes peeled and followed the map closely so as to not make a wrong turn. At one intersection with a gated rd, a couple of ladies were looking for a specific trail they had seen years before. I had never heard of it, but after some discussion, gave them some other information as to where it could possibly be located. For my troubles, they offered me food, water, bug dope... anything. I said jokingly, "I could use a beer". They replied, we got that too. So with my apologies to the Piano Man, it was 9 o'clock on a Saturday and I was hiking with a beer... The best part of it was it was ice-cold. One forgets how refreshing a cold drink can be after a just a few days. The downside was I had to carry an empty beer car for next 20+ miles. A happy price to pay.

The dirt rd soon gave way to a foot trail just after a gate and a bridge. A campsite (#11) was at the end of this road. I was now walking in the woods for the first time in 4 days. of course the trail headed up hill as pretty much all Adirondack trails do; both ways. The trail was an old woods rd so it was easy going. A few miles later I was at the intersection with the CL-50. This would be the end of my first section of the NPT-west, but I still had another 15 miles to get to my car. I passed a few hikers doing the Cl-50, took a break at the dog pond loop junction and headed up that trail away from Cranberry. I headed towards Burntbridge Pond. I had been here once before, but never hiked the this connector trail. This 4.5 mile connector (3.9 on the map) had always intrigued me. It twisted and turned, went up and down as you earned each mile. It passed by some prominent boulders, likely were used as navigation aides in the past. I noticed one tree which had scars from axe blazes on both sides. I arrived at camp at 4 with plenty of time to relax, take a woods shower, and read the shelter log. Soon after the sun set, I watched the moon rise. It was large and bright orange. The photos would look like a rising/setting sun. Soon it was dark, except for the significant moonlight. I do not remember falling asleep.

It was dark when I arose. I had my coffee by headlamp. I waited for the sun to rise before departing. Only 6 miles to my car. Moments after I arrived at 9am, it began to rain. Perfect timing. 75 miles in 94 hours. Time for some well deserved corned beef hash and eggs at the Stone Manor diner in Cranberry Lake.