Monday, April 20, 2020

Epic Hike -5 Ponds

A simple overnight trip which turned into a 3-day epic adventure. The original plan was to hike from Wanakena to High Falls via the Leary Trail and then come back the next day. A nice relaxing trip, I even brought my fishing gear. I had not been on the Leary for over 10 years. Supposedly it is more open now and the endpoints are clear. This was not the case in 2009. Back to the present. Andy and I met at the lot near the tennis courts. It was a sunny day though still a chill in the air. Very pleasant to hike in. As we hiked the primitive corridor I recalled my 2009 explorations here, it was hard to believe it had been that long. The Leary trail was soon upon us, and clearly evident. We made the turn and climbed through the area which I had discovered years ago had magnetite outcroppings which caused significant compass anomalies. I find this fact fascinating. We took a break in a nice area of open hardwoods and discussed the possibility of taking the high falls loop back instead of re-hiking this trail. We had other options too. Some more adventurous than others.

We reached the truck trail near the 5 ponds junction, right where I had looked for it years ago. We headed towards high falls anticipating the wet section that often lies ahead. The beaver dam which causes all the problems also provides the solution and this dam was old enough to allow safe (and dry) passage. We took another break on the bridge over Glasby Creek. Since we had little to do today and were feeling adventurous we dropped our packs at went to check out the old trail over "The Plains" to the "boiling spring" on Glasby Creek. We knew that the spring had been flooded over was nothing more than a mere curiosity on a map now. But we figured a half mile round trip was worth checking out. At the flooded section, remnants of the bog bridging was apparent, but except for that nothing of consequence. Someday I will check out the rest of the old loop trail.

Back at our packs we continued on to high falls, passing by the old machine and the increasing sound of the falls ahead. We had the entire place to ourselves which is rare. Made camp and went looking far and wide for some wood. Mostly small stuff could be found if we went far enough away. While gathering wood, Andy came across the old trail to Nicks Pond. We had talked about this trail earlier and how it used to be part of a big loop. We made some food and enjoyed the time out in the woods. I tossed a line into the water with no luck. We heard some voices and investigated by the river. A couple of paddlers heading downstream stopped at the other lean-to. As the evening came, we returned to the river to watch the sunset drop below the trees. The sky was clear and soon Venus was visible. Not long after other stars came into view. As darkness be-felled, we watched satellites and saw a couple meteors.

I tried to sleep in, but was still up rather early. At least it was light. I packed up my hammock and headed to the lean-to. Andy was up. I restarted the fire from the coals. Just enough to make hot water for coffee. We talked about our plans for the day. We knew it might rain later, but the sky was blue and clear. One of the options we had discussed was the old loop trail to Nicks. Day hike options were also on the table. We opted to take the big bit and go for the old big loop. We knew it was going to be a tough day, we did not not know how tough. The old trail was quite obvious from behind the other campsite. Some blowdown but easily stepped over or around. In not time a campsite appeared along the river's edge. I noted it was site 12. From here the trail was less obvious, but we were able to stay on it ok. A general eastern heading just above the winding river. We crossed a small creek and kept heading east. We would then enter some swampy sections including crossing the outlet of Nicks Creek and some more swamp just to climb a rise to the remnants of pine ridge. Having not seen trail for a while I commented how it has been a while since any human markings were visible. Soon enough some wire cable was seen in a tree and the trail was regained. A few markers here and there as well. I noted Camp Johnny must be be just to the south by the river. So far we had made good time, but we had quite a bit more to do and that pesky rain might still come. We dropped down off the ridge just to climb a different one with some neat rocks and some giant trees.

We commented this would be a great place to camp if there was just a good water source nearby. We had just under a mile to Nicks Pond, but this part was just lowland, swamp. We first crossed Nick's outlet again and contemplated just walking the marshy grass alongside or moving into the trees. We started off in the grasses partly because we weren't sure how far up or downstream our crossing was to the old trail. It was not long before we pushed inside. It was thick, but not too bad. I soon pushed back out into the swamp and followed obvious moose tracks. It was easier for me albeit more tiring. I know that sounds contradictory. It was not difficult but each step just sapped energy. Eventually we came to the two knolls that preceded the pond. It had taken us a lot longer to get to this point. But we could now see Nicks Pond. Some old bear scat with blue bits of plastic in it. Another marker appeared. The trail looked like old roadway. Similar to what I had seen up near Clear Pond a few years ago. A garbage pit with old bottles, some cans. And the roadway disappeared. We found some blue plastic with bear teeth marks in it. Same gauge as the bits of plastic in the scat found earlier. Whatever was in, or on that plastic certainly got the bear's attention. At this point the road/trail was gone so we just kept north. The map showed it ran along the esker, but this was thick and slow going. Eventually we just dropped down and headed towards Clear Pond outlet. An old red marker was seen a;long the lower section. I knew there was a beaver dam over the outlet which we could use and then follow a draw uphill to eventually pick up the Big Deer Pond Trail. We took a break after the beaver dam in a glade of hemlocks as the first drops of rain began. We proactively put on our rain gear. Not just for the rain, but the wind was picking up too. We were both tired and we had not done many miles, just tough ones.

I led the way up the draw and across the wooded flat to hit the trail. The rains came and went, not too bad. At cowhorn junction I started to take off my rain jacket as I was getting hot and the rain had subsided. No sooner did after my pack was down, the rain kicked up again. With almost 6 miles left, the rain ans us being tired we opted to go to Cowhorn for the night. We hiked down the esker to the lean-to. I was thinking to myself how easy this esker was with a cleared trail compared to what we had been fighting hours before. Andy sent a message to the wives that we would be spending an extra night just to be safe. We got into dry warm clothes and checked our leftover food provisions. I gave Andy a package of ramen and I made a knorr side. A lit a fire to heat water and provide (at least for me) a mood lifter. Rains came on and off as did the wind. We both retired early after the long day. We planned on an early wake up.

It got colder overnight. Boots were frozen, ice was in our water bottles and there was a dusting of snow. We packed up without making coffee and hit the trail. The six miles today would take 40% of the time of yesterday with less effort. We stopped for breaks but just because it was nice. The air was cold and we wanted to keep moving. In the last mile there was an area which we thought could be wet. It was not wet, it was flooded. There was no way around, so we just trudged through the cold water which came up to our knees. It took a few moments for the water and cold to make its way into my boots. Strangely it did not feel as cold as I expected. This flooded section was at least 100 yards just to get to the beaver dam. After we made the slog Andy commented that our trip was tough and challenging due to yesterday, but this made it EPIC! The last bit of trail and then a short road walk back to the cars and dry clothes. While changing a couple of hikers walked by. The first two people we had seen since the paddlers on day one. Another great adventure in the books.

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