A week or so before our trip someone had posted about their car window being smashed at the trailhead. Of course this was disconcerting to hear but we planned on parking at different spot, off the main road. Also a recent report of a trail runner getting charged by a bear on the same trail we would be taking. So with these two items of note, Jim headed in the day before me. He was actually supposed to meet our former boss earlier in the day and then spend the night in the woods while I was to arrive the next day. His meeting was cancelled but I still was not to arrive until Friday.
At 8:15a I pulled into the parking area noting only Jim's car. I changed into my hiking clothes and began down a familiar trail. It was about 6 miles on an old 4x4 road to the Middle Branch lean-to where Jim camped. The day was cooler than we have had which was nice. The trail had been recently maintained; drainage troughs have been cut into the trail and the new bridges installed. I noticed the campsite just before the "sand hill" has seen much more use. The trail signs are also fresh. A few stops to get water but the rest of the time was just hiking. Early on a pair of trees was blocking the trail. After climbing over them I picked up a camera lens cap. Knowing Jim was a photographer I wondered if it was his. Another dead log across the trail has some coral fungus growing on it. I carefully took some of the youngest and put it into a bag. I arrived at the lean-to in just over 2 hours. Jim was waiting for me. I asked him if he was missing anything and showed him the lens cap. It was his., he was surprised I found it. We chatted a bit and soon another hiker arrived. He asked if we were staying which we were not so we told him it was all his. Shortly a small group arrived just to take in the view.
After an early lunch we headed out towards Pine Lake, about 4 or 5 miles down the old road. I remembered the waterfall on South Inlet so we took a side trip to see it. Did not see empty cans on the far shore this time. I still need to explore the other side of the stream as well as re-visit the site of the old camps Justin and I started to explore a few years ago. Anyway, we continued on the trail which was very easy going. A bright orange mass in the woods caught both of our eyes at the same time. It was what I though, chicken of the woods. I harvested a few pieces of the youngest fruiting bodies. Turning south at the the trail junction also had us crossing into the Independence River Wild Forest. The trail here is the boundary between the two zones. A bit more blowdown on this section. Also quite a bit of evidence of illegal atv traffic. As East Pine pond came into view also did a woman sitting at the shore with her tablet. We weren't sure if she was writing, reading or drawing. So as to not startle her we announced our presence as we approached. She turned and asked of we had lost a walkie-talkie. We hadn't. She said it had a phone number on it so she would call the owner when she got home.
We were only a half mile from our planned campsite and we kind of expected to see the woman's gear all set up at the lean-to. There was another campsite nearby if we needed it. To our surprise we found the lean-to empty. Also quite clean. With camp set up and a small amount of firewood gathered we took a long break. I skimmed through the shelter log and added an entry. Noting earlier in the summer a hiker had come from Middle Settlement to here and had to traverse a flooded section. We would be seeing this tomorrow. Evening is starting to come earlier now. We both slept in the lean-to. This would be #97 for me.
Day 2: A storm came through during the night. Heavy rain and some thunder. By morning it was only slightly raining. I had tried to sleep in but a little after 6a is all I could muster. Jim retrieved our food bags. Made some coffee and my breakfast which I wrapped up to eat later. The rain had subsided and the sun began to lift the fog from the lake. Our options for today were a short, medium or long loop back to here and then continue to Middle Settlement. We opted for the medium route. The trail system continued on a snowmobile path also with signs of atv use. At the trail register we saw the lady had left the walkie-talkie. The next few miles would be on the dirt rd. Shortly we passed a private inholding which had a few atvs parked in front. The road had signs prohibiting atvs specifically. The deep mud pits formed by them are why they are not allowed; yet they continue unabated. We stopped at the bridge over Big Otter Lake outlet. It is neat how they built the bridge into the large rocks. Taking a longer break here I ate my sandwich. The sky could not decide whether to be sunny or over cast.
From here we would intersect the trail we hiked yesterday. We would continue on it for a little over a mile to the junction with the lean-to. The trail would become a foot path now starting off on pine needle carpeted floor. It would pass through fern laden undergrowth all the while with little ups and downs common on adirondack trails. What was uncommon was the lack of good water. There were some ponds and streams flowing from them, but no nice spring fed drainages.. At one of them a beaver had plugged it up as they usually do. We traversed the beaver dam to make it across without issue. Wondering if this was the flooded section, actually hoping as it wasn't bad. After a short rise we crossed a draining marsh on a rock which the water flowed over. The land became a series of steeper climbs and drops, up and over what seemed to be glacial moraines. When we arrived at the true beaver flooded section it was obvious this was the one the hiker from this summer was referring. There was a deep channel, just a bit to far to jump. Then about 40 feet of grass and weeds then a wider channel with a log spanning it. We gathered some downed branches to act as a makeshift bridge. I unbuckled my hip belt and cautiously made my way across. As I stepped onto the grassy edge, it wavered. This was not solid ground at least right at the edge. I poked and prodded my way across with some steps sinking into the bog. I could not stand in one place too long as it would sink. A few branches along the way helped. As I made it to the far side where the log span was, I could see the channel here was even deeper and much wider than the other. The log was also much thinner than it appeared from afar. There was no way I could balance on this for the entire span. This became obvious when I stepped onto it and it rolled and sank. Jim had since crossed the initial "bridge" and tossed me one of the longer branches to use. It landed right in front of me splashing. The bog was now flooding. Even with the branch I could not get across. I told Jim I was coming back, He crossed back over the bridge. I made way through the bog which was now breaking apart. Apparently this was a floating mat. I sank in quite deep on a few steps. Back on dry land we looked to see if there was another way. Not without a significant bushwhack and still no real guarantee. We were 1.5 miles from our planned camp which included figuring out how to get around this obstacle, or we could go back 2.5 miles to our previous camp. We opted for the latter but not after we sat down for a lunch break.
Backtracking, we felt defeated but it was the right move. Had we not done that 7 mile loop earlier in the day we might have had more energy and desire to get around the flooded section. We got back to our previous campsite. Set up and cleaned up. As a pre-dinner I cooked up the can of potato soup which someone had left in the lean-to. I then cooked my real dinner including the wild mushrooms I had collected the previous day. A tough day, sleep would be welcome. Not long after dark I crept into my hammock and was soon asleep.
Day 3: We knew the trail out would be easy so we did not rush our morning. Even still we were on the trail around 8a. The hike out was mostly a gentle uphill for quite a while, then a steep descent before leveling off just as we got to our cars. We did stop for a late breakfast at the Big Otter campsite. It has grown in a lot since my last visit. We also stopped for me to collect some more coral tooth fungus. At the junction to the Simon Pond trail, a day hiker asked how far it was to the Moose River Mtn trail. We gave his the info and chatted a bit. At the car it was nice to change out of the sweaty clothes and damp feet. Bummer we didn't finish the loop. I will send in a report to the DEC about the flooded section so it is at least recorded as current trail conditions.