My original plan was to hike with Justin in the Silver Lakes wilderness. We intended to explore Three Ponds Mtn, specifically to locate Hell Devil dam. Two Tents and Ben from the NEOH Backpackers were starting the NPT the same weekend. Knowing their route would be close to where Justin and I would be exploring, I was hoping to cross paths with them to wish them luck in person. Towards the end of the week, Justin had to cancel so instead of going to the Silver Lakes WA, which I will likely be in two weeks again, I opted to return to the 5 Ponds Wilderness and continue my exploration of the old loop trail and also check out the canoe carry from Lows to the Oswegatchie.
I got a relatively early start Saturday am, the weather was fantastic. I wanted to take advantage of it knowing that tomorrow would include rain. My initial plan was to have lunch atop Cat Mtn, then head to the old loop trail, either bushwhack to the “Big Deer Pond trail” and head south, or return to the main trail, then continue down to Big Deer. From there depending on time I would either visit Lows and/or the Oz and return to Cat Mtn Pond campsite. Silently hoping Bill left some firewood in the rarely used site.
I had noticed a group of two had signed in at the register the other day, planning on spending 3 days at Cat Mtn and a small group day hiking to Cowhorn. Other than that, it seemed like the area was relatively empty. Along the Dead Creek flow, I passed by a gentleman his dog and two kids on their way out. The last boy's pack looked quite uncomfortable as it was not riding quite right. I was at Janacksjunction in about an hour and continued on to Cat Mtn. In all my years of coming to the 5 ponds, I had yet to climb this mtn. I had a strange tingling sensation in my foot, like the laces were too tight, but they weren't. I have had this before when I start hiking at a fast pace and I am not used to it. Eventually it goes away. The first push up Cat mtn is rugged, then it levels out for a bit, another small climb and level ground. The final climb is quite rugged. At the top the two gentleman who had signed in were relaxing on the open rock. Not wanting to disturb them, I stayed near the radio tower. I ate my lunch and was just finishing up when the two guys came over on their way down. We talked a bit and one guy checked the weather on his phone. Apparently there is 4G service at the summit. I took a photo and texted it to Rob, then shut my phone down again.
I headed down the mountain noting how dry the path was on the way to my next junction. Often it is almost a river flowing down the trail, especially in spring. I made the turn on the old trail which I started to explore 2 weeks ago. Some of flagging was gone, most notable at the major junctions. I continued past where I had turned around and was expecting to be a Clear Pond shortly. The trail, easily discernible stayed to the west of Clear Pond instead of approaching its North end. Perhaps I has misinterpreted Bill's info from last week. I was definitaly on the old trail, I wondered if there was a new path cut to the North end that I missed. I continued on the obvious old trail. To my west I saw a large clearing. I paused to look. The map shows the area. It is a strange area, not just this pasture like spot, but all of this was glacially formed. Much of the path was along an esker, kettle hole and other glacial deposits are quite apparent here. It was neat to see how thse odd formations on the map looked in person. Some flagging tape was hung going in the same direction I was heading along the path. In some instances it looked like an old roadway; just filled in with trees. I often had to walk just above it as the growth was too thick.
By this point I was sure I was not going where Bill had gone, there was signs of human navigation, but it was old and infrequent. The roadway got thick, oddly enough where it was most obviously a old roadbed. I approached Clear Pond along a peninsula separated it from a glacial kettle hole to its west. The shore line was mucky, but the ground was clear. All the brambles, ferns and grasses had yet to grow in. they were still all matted down from the winter's snow. I was close to the southern end of the pond which made my decision on how to proceed to the Big Deer Pond trail easy.
I continued along the pond's edge to where it intersected with the old trail again. Most often this area is cursed by the beaver population flooding. I was going to use the resident builders to my advantage and cross the their dam to get to the other side of the outlet. I turned off the old trail and noted how close I was to Nicks Pond. Another spot I would like to get to at some point. Someday, perhaps, make the whole old loop. The beaver dam was one of those mucky ones in a meadow, but it worked. At the other side, I made my way back up tot he pond and took a bearing towards a natural draw in the land. I followed the bearing generally; mostly allowing the land formation to dictate my travel. As the draw ended and the land flattened out, I knew I had not far to go to hit the other trail broadside. I kept my bearing and like usual when intersecting a marked trail, it becomes quite obvious when you hit it. I was to the south of slender Pond and west of Tamarack. Turning south on the red trail it is easy hiking compared to my last couple miles. Just before I reached the canoe carry, I noted what looked to be a path to the west, or perhaps my eyes were deceiving me from my recent path finding. At the carry junction I opted to go towards the Oswegatchie first. Not sure how far I would go. The trail came close to Big Deer pond and I wondered why anyone would be carrying around the big pond instead of paddling it. Strange. Shortly I saw another path heading west, this was clearly a path. Someone had even marked it with blue flagging. I decided to follow it for a while.
The path was obvious. In some places it looked almost road like as well. Flags were plentiful. The line paralleled the county line. I wondered if this was path to the tri county marker. The path stayed below the contours of where the marker should be, so perhaps not. The purpose of the flagging soon became apparent as I was greeted by a majestic hemlock. One of the old growth trees in the area that survived the microburst of '95 and the logger's axes a century before. This reminded me of the tree Justin and I discovered in the HadeRonDah which I named the Queen of the Woods. I would bet the Queen gets less visitors than this other noble. Since I was so close to the Tr-county marker, I could not let the opportunity slide. I headed up a few contours on the hill where the marker should be. I wandered around a bit looking for some evidence but didn't find any. I could have been right next to it looking the other way and not noticed. I dropped back down off the hill and headed back the way I came. I noticed the blue flags were not keeping the opposite bearing I took on the way in, they deviated by a considerable margin. Since I was exploring, I explored. Eventually they intersected with the canoe carry but at a different spot. Someone must have marked it as a mini-loop. Likely for the scouts at Sabbatis on Lowes Lake.
On the canoe trail, I headed back towards Big Deer, I passed by spot where I first turned off to fllow to the old path and blue flags. I passed by the junction to the north from which I came and proceeed down the carry towards the east side of Big Deer. It was a little after 4 and my stomach was telling me to think about dinner. I found a campsite on the shore of Big Deer (site #2) and make a twiggy fire to boil some water for dinner. Had a beer with my chili. Took my shoes off and relaxed. The trail signs said it was only 2.1 miles to Cowhorn junction. This would be an easy 2 miles as it would be on the marked trail. From there my campsite was within half a mile. I had plenty of time, I figured as long as I was heading back around 6 pm, I would be in great shape. It was a less than a mile to Lowes lake, I had time to visit. The trail was flooded right along the shoreline of Big Deer, but an obvious re-route was created. There were a few trees with significant claw marks from a bear clearly showing to all this was his territory. A few of the trees had claw both new an old claw marks. All were within a few feet of each other. I wondered if one side was one bear, and the other side a different one and this was their way of surveying. Quite a bit of moose turd along the carry as well; not very recent though. Lowes came into view and the carry path continued along a ways before descending down to the lake. I signed in at the register and saw my friends' entries whom paddled the traverse not long ago. It was only a 20 minute walk from my campsite. It was only 5:20. I remembered Chris telling me he and Kim would be hiking a loop and spending the night at Cowhorn. I thought I would surprise them instead of going to the Cat Mtn Pond site.
On my way back to the Cowhorn junction, I could see Tamarack pond to the east. Wanting to be at camp by 7, meant I had to be more judicious in my stop and look at at every possible view along the way. I did pause at Slender Pond as it looked like a potential campsite; it wasn't. I filled up my water bottle with fresh water. I dumped out the warm stuff from Big Deer. I could not get good water from Big Deer, so I had to fill up from a swampy spot. I boiled it so it was warm and not refreshing at all. I had been spoiled with the cold spring water gathered north of the junction. Since then, it had been pond water. A fish caught my eye in Slender Pond. At closer look, it was a 4 inch leech...yeach! Perhaps this means the pond is healthy, maybe even contains a trout population. From Slender back to the junction the terrain was in the neat glacial area with the kettle holes and eskers. Sam had done a good job clearing the trail from the '95 microburst (or dericho?) I soon passed a small stream, what a pleasant surprise, some cold clear water. I swapped out my pond water and drank my fill. Topped off the bottle and continued on. I was back on familiar trail at the top of the esker and noticed my knee was feeling a bit sore. Not surprising since I had done over 15 miles and it wasn't used to it. Not to mention the bushwhacking and Cat Mtn. A slowed down and approached Cowhorn quietly. It was empty. Some of the wood from two weeks ago was still there. I set some aside and collected some tinder for the morning as I was expecting rain at dawn. No Chris and Kim, but I did have the giant brownie and my other beer. A small fire with the setting sun and all was good. I knew I would sleep well tonight. It wasn't long before I found myself in my hammock. I was asleep quickly.
It was a warm night, the sun had not yet risen but due to impending rains I thought I had best pack up first. I had all but my breakfast stuff in my pack and some coffee water heating when I noted the first few drops on the pond. I was finishing my coffee a few minutes after 6. By now, it was fully light out but the sky could not decide whether it wanted to rain or not. I put on my pack cover and had my rain jacket in the outside pocket. Only about 6 miles to the car. It would rain slightly for most of the hike out. Tree cover kept me mostly dry. I didn't stop much, just for water and to take a picture of a red trillium with a mossy rock in the background. Later I would caption the photo, “Spring is officially here in the 5 Ponds”. I was at the car a little after 9 am. I am liking these big mile Saturdays and short Sundays back to the car. Every time I do them, I tell myself to plan more like this. Perhaps I will remember one of these days.