Sunday, January 27, 2019

Big #70 @Big Island #1

Due to the storm last weekend which cancelled my trip, I was able to sneak away for a quick overnight. I opted for Big Island lean-to on Raquette Lake. This was the lean-to I helped move slightly inland not long ago. This would also ,make the 70th lean-to I have slept in. When I arrived at the boat launch there were dozens of snowmobiles. Not much of a surprise. What I did not expect was the community ice-cutting and fishing derby. The entire complex was over-run by all these different groups. Coupled with the giant snow piles, parking was at a premium. Solely by luck, a lady pulled away from her spot just as I rounded the corner. This section was marked no parking but I was next to the fire chief. I hoped for more good luck.

With my pulk loaded with firewood (knowing the island would be picked clean) I headed out onto the ice. To my right was the ice cutting operation. They were sawing and removing blocks at least 2ft in all dimensions. Ahead of me was the island and a few ice-shanties. The bulk of the snow-mobilers were to the left, following the western shore. As I approached the island I could see a series of tip-ups and 2 fisherman tending to them. I said hi, and we talked briefly. They were in the lean-to and told me about the derby. I asked if would be ok if I crashed in the lean-to. They were very obliging, even offered me a beer. I added my pile of wood to their diminishing store.

Tom, Dave and I chatted for a few hours. I cooked up some dogs. The temp was in the teens with an ever so slight breeze. Tom and Dave said the wind made the lean-to cold last night. I imagine it would have been worse in its previous location. The guys would check on their lines every once in a while with no luck. One flag had its line cut/broken. The assumtion was a pike. That was the closest these two had for a fish. We joked that is why it's called fishing not catching. As the time approached 5, and no fish Tom and Dave decided to pull out and head in to the "party" at weigh in. We shook hands and they departed. The sun was getting lower, but I still had some good light.

I set up my sleeping gear in the lean-to and enjoyed the waning daylight. I stoked the fire periodically and watched the sun drop below the horizon. I stood on the ice and watched the snowmobilers race back and forth. By now their headlamps and taillights were all I could see. As usual, I would be in bed shortly.

Tom and Dave said the riders were out past 11pm friday night. They went quiet much earlier tonight. I was quite warm in my bag and slept soundly until the winds in the morning awoke me. Something shifted as the winds were blowing hard from the SouthEast. Not a good direction; often a storm system. Looking out over the lake there was zero visibility and with the wind I would want to keep my head down. After packing up I took a bearing and would navigate across the frozen lake by compass only. This is the backcountry version of the "bird box challenge". The wind was fierce. I kept my hood clutched over my face with one hand and my compass in the other. It was a short crossing and soon the launch came into view as did my snow covered car. The driving conditions were almost as bad as the hiking. I was traveling 20mph in the 55 zone with my flashers. I saw 5 other vehicles between Raquette and Old Forge... which took an hour to drive. Roads were mostly clear when I left O.F. after a bite at Walts Diner.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"Wait till Otis sees us..." -Dexter Lake (club)

Another trout pond recon trip with Dan as a short overnight. We ventured into the Ferris Lake Wild Forest. This would only be my second foray into this area, the first being the fall trip with Jeff a couple years back. I will also be exploring more of this area in the near future as part of the NPT-west. With only a few inches of snow, we left our snowshoes in the car and headed down the trail. We passed by the gate and a half mile later came to the first intersection with the trail register. We had been following some tracks and they continued in our direction of travel. If the folks who made them signed in at the register these were quite a few days old. The Dexter and Dry lakes trail continued on another 1.6 miles to Dry Lake. At this point the tracks we were following turned around. There was a wet area which we needed to navigate around/over to continue. We poked around a bit at what looked like a good place for a campsite, but didn't see anything. Just under a mile to the eastern edge of Dexter Lake. The trail had a few rolling hills, but no big elevation changes. The trail followed the southern shore of Dexter Lake. An old trail sign and a small campsite appeared before the next junction.

As we neared our turn, we opted to head the other way just to see the drainage of Dexter. There were some neat rock formations here, but other than that not much else caught my eye. We crossed the bridge over the main outlet and then another. The beavers have been busy here. On the other side of the lake we entered the area where the old maps showed structures. While there were no remains, a few artifacts could still be seen scattered around. we chose this area to make camp as it has already been impacted by man's presence. Plenty of firewood in the immediate vicinity too. We set up camp and collected wood. Dan needed to make a repair on his knee brace and then put together a few seats for us by the fire pit. With everything set up, we took an afternoon walk to Knapps Long Lake. An old guide book talked about an easily discernible roadway. even in winter it was quite easy to follow mostly because there was no other way to go. It only took about 20 minutes for us to get to the dammed up outlet. We each took a shore and gave ourselves a 20 minute turn-around time. Dan on the north, and me on the south. My side had a steepness which slowly began to narrow to the shoreline making walking difficult. I soon had to head uphill away from the lake's edge. A few contours up and it was easier walking. I made it quite a ways around before the 20 minute mark. I was able to get back to the shoreline here and look out over the lake. A few potential campsite areas piqued my curiosity, but they bore no fruit. I headed back to our rendezvous point, staying along the higher contour until it was time to drop down. Dan had found the continuation of the old roadway, it must have crossed the outlet farther downstream.

We headed back to camp to get the fire going and have something to drink. So far it hadn't been very cold for a winter trip. With the fire going and some relaxing we enjoyed the glow over the lake from the setting sun. Soon the stars appeared, then were obscured by clouds and re-appeared. We each had our own dinner and couple cold barley drinks. some dark chocolate for dessert. We stayed up as late as we could, but it was probably still before 9pm when we retired.

We stashed some tinder material under a fallen tree in a dry spot for the morning as well as some other kindling. Good thing as there was some icy snow overnight. With the pre-arranged kindling and the charred logs from last night a morning fire was easy business. Snow returned on/off through the morning, it was also warming up. We had plans to check out some other nearby ponds which are supposed to have fish, but we opted to head out and then explore other access points and take a day hike instead. We drove to Powley Piseco Rd and took the unmarked path behind campsite 2 to House Pond. while the pond looked to have a small channel dividing the lake into 2 parts, there was only one main section and the channel flowed into marshland area. These ponds and trails off P-P road I have not explored at all, not sure why. We ate lunch on the drive back back. Great little over night trip to a new spot. will need to come back and explore more.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Winter or Not? -Lake George WF

The last few years I have done a winter trip with Dan between Christmas and New Years. With 5 days, we had many options. Dan suggested a foray into the Lake George Wild Forest as it was an area neither of us have explored. This is also a heavily used area and at this time of year would see less people. Besides hiking, camping and climbing we would also go off trail in search of special trout ponds. We sent our itinerary to a few friends in case they were able to join us for part of our trip.

Day one consisted of the long drive to Lake George and then along the dirt road to the parking area nearest Shelving Rock Mt. We noticed the "no parking on road" signs all along the way, and numerous dedicated lots showing just how much use this area must get in the height of the season. We saw no cars, and no signs of people on this day. The temp was barely int he twenties as we parked the car and geared up. Tonight and the last night were fore-casted to be the coldest of the nights, with friday being unseasonably warm and rainy. As such, we had to pack for two seasons; winter and rain. That and 5 days of food made for an unusually heavier pack. The hike began along an old roadway. We noted the exquisite stonework used to shore up the edge. These old roads were much "nicer" than the old logging, or camp roads I am used to seeing. The trail, err road, wound its way up the mountain side. Soon we stopped to shed our heavy layer. A half mile shy of the summit was our trail junction, so we dropped our heavy packs and put back on our heavy layers. Towards the top, there was an area which was obviously a site of an old home, or cabin. After about 1.5 miles and 700', we reached the summit of Shelving Rock Mt. We had a nice view of Lake George looking to the South. We took a few photos and headed back down to the the junction with our awaiting packs. We paused for a snack before continuing on.

From here we would be generally going downhill. Quite steeply in places. In total losing about 600' in elevation in less than 3/4 mile to the shore of Lake George. We continued south to the edge of private land just to see the shoreline. This took us about a half mile out of our way which we would then turn around and continue for another half mile to our camping area. Our chosen site had quite a bit of cut wood apparently from off season blowdown maintenance. We collected our own from a fair distance knowing that this wood is typically for the in -season users. It was still cold, and as the sun began to set, it was getting colder. While setting up his tent, a pole snapped back and hit Dan in the eye. A few highly stressful moments as we gauged whether to abort the trip to get him some emergency help. Fortunately the pole had hit just above the eye and his eye was not damaged. We would monitor though, just to be sure. A great dinner of roast venison with rice/beans.

As predicted it got quite cold over night. Windy too. I woke up often due to the flapping of my tarp. Even with the irregular awakenings, I slept plenty. I was out of my hammock before Dan and re-started the fire. With the water almost ready Dan emerged and finished making the coffee. We ate and packed up, Today would be the toughest as we had our almost full packs and the big climb. We hiked about 2 miles to Black Mt Point all the while exploring the shoreline of the lake. The signpost here gave the mileage to Black Mt Summit as 2.75 miles with 2200' of elevation. It was still cold out, but this climb got the blood pumping and warmed us up. At the junction, 1.8 miles up and 1500' complete we had lunch to fuel us before the next 750' over the next mile. We left our packs here for the final spur trail to the summit and fire tower. As we neared the summit, a view vistas allowed us to see over Lake George and the Tongue Mtn Range. From the top of Black Mtn, we could see not only Lake George, but the other mountains in this range as well as across Lake Champlain and the Green Mtns of Vermont. A mile back to our packs and then a long quarter to our camp at Black Mountain Ponds. While getting camp set up, a two-man group stopped by. They were day hiking the Black Mtn loop. (Fred and ???) As we got our fire going, they headed out. Ground venison stroganoff for dinner. Hearty and filling to refuel after today's workout of only 6 miles, but over 2200' of elevation.

Day 3 we expected rain which came over night. Our main wood pile had glaze ice on it, but we had stashed enough under the lean-to to get a breakfast fire going. Today would be a relatively short day with a lean-to midway for a dry lunch break. As we began to pack up, I looked at my watch and noticed it was a quarter to ten. We knew we slept in, but this was later than we thought. No worries since we had a short day. We donned our rain gear and hiked down to the main trail which connects to the Pike Brook trailhead. From here we headed to Lapland Pond. We followed the shoreline for a bit until we met the trail to the lean-to. Passed bv a fishermans campsite along the way. The lean-to was messy, and the roof leaked. It was also quite low. I hit my head twice on the overhang. At the lean-to was the typical junk including some canned food. We opened a can of campbells soup and heated it up on the stove. Except for the trash, the lean-to was situated at a picturesque spot on the lake. After our break we retraced our steps back to the main trail. Dan spent a little more time looking for boats without any luck. We continued on for another mile to Millman Pond and its lean-to. This one was very nice, and not just relative to the mess at Lapland. The caretakers, ironically are Russ and Dan. According to the log book they check in quite often. The other visitors commented on the outhouse as "the nicest they have ever seen". Before we left we knew we had to at least open the door to the privy. Inside it was painted red and white. there was a nice wooden box for the tp, and the walls were decorated with watercolor paintings encased in plastic. It certainly was the "nicest outhouse" I have even seen too. It was getting later in the afternoon and we had a short two miles to go to our camp for the night at Greenland Pond. we would be arriving with a waning daylight and needed to collect wood. This reminded us both of our winter trip in the Haderondah, specifically arriving at East Pond. We gathered the scraps nearby, and eventually found some downed hardwood quite a distance away. Dan cut it up and we carried it back to the lean-to as the woods darkened. We had to get water using headlamps. even with the wet wood we got a good fire going and stashed some extra birchbark for the morning.

we had bean and cheese burritos with salsa for dinner and went to bed. It was windy over the night. Not so much it kept us up but just enough to dry out much of the wood. Starting a fire int he morning was much easier especially with the dry charred logs from our evening fire. Another short day to camp, but we would first need to find a spot. We first explored Fishbrook Pond and its 2 lean-tos before continuing on to Bumps Pond. A very nice campsite was situated on the point, but with the winds it would not work on the this trip. We continued around the pond and found a designated site at the old homestead location. The remnant chimney was still there. Dan went to look for other potential spots while I collected firewood. We spent the early afternoon setting up camp and getting more wood. We still had some time and the bushwhack to Spectacle Ponds was on our itinerary so we loaded up day packs and headed down the trail to where we took a bearing. Our path to Spectacle was rough through a lot of small spruce thickets and beaver ponds to go around. It took a little longer than we expected to get there, but we still had enough time to explore its shoreline. At the southern end we opted to take a bearing to the Bumps Pond outlet and then follow it back to the trail. This was a much better route. As the trek progressed I could feel my legs running out of gas. The last quarter mile would be climbing around a small hill and then dropping down to the trail close to where we took our original bearing. We got back to camp before sunset. The fore was ready to go, so we got it lit. As the woods darkened, we noticed the temperature dropping rapidly and the stars emerging. We expected it would be a cold night. Some soup for dinner and then a walk to the pond's shore to look up to the sky before bed.

Dan was up before first light. He gathered the dry kindling we stashed under my tarp and got the fire going. I went to get water. By the time the fire was going the woods began to brighten in the pre-dawn making our headlamps no longer necessary. We chatted and packed up. We had more miles to do today but it would be mostly downhill back to the car, this would be after we climbed Sleeping Beauty Mtn. The northern trails had a lot more snow and ice than we had been walking on the last 4 days. After climbing about 500' over about a mile, we reached a lookout and wondered how such a well marked area would not have a sign to the summit. We descended a bit and then the spur trail to the summit appeared. Sleeping Beauty overlooked Lake George and also had views to the east. we spent a little time taking photos and climbing the various rocky knobs. It was still a bit cold out, but we basked in the warmth of the morning sun. We had the summit to ourselves.

We headed down the icy trail and over the next couple miles passed quite a few groups headed up. From dacy Clearing we had a number of options to get back to the car. We made decisions at each intersection which trail to take. It was obvious these trails get very little use compared to the main trails. About a mile before the car, we stopped at a pretty waterfall for lunch. Sitting for even the short lunch break allowed us to realize it was still rather cold. We arrived back to the car and noted the lot had quite a few more vehicles. It was apparent this area is heavily used. We were fortunate to have found the solitude and steal another pre-winter backpacking trip at the end of December.