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Thread: Wanakena <---> Stillwater round trip Part I

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    Senior Member MarkL's Avatar
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    Wanakena <---> Stillwater round trip Part I

    Wanakena <--> Stillwater Traverse
    Sunday through Tuesday, May 3-5, 2009
    Solo

    Stillwater Reservoir is in some other region of the Adirondacks. I’d never been there, which made it seem all that more remote.. I didn’t even know offhand how to drive there, which made it somewhat mysterious. In my original conception of this hike, I would drive to the south shore and get a boat ride across to the north. Studying the maps just before this hike, it looked like the road to the south shore of Stillwater required a high clearance vehicle, which made it inaccessible to me, as well as remote.
    Somewhere I have a map of the region that gives an indication of the severity of the blowdown from the 1995 derecho, known as “The Microburst”. But even if I could find it, it probably didn’t have enough resolution to help me, even if I could navigate accurately using it. Anyway, I’d bushwhacked through some areas intensely impacted by that storm about a month after it, and knew it was possible. I figured that in the 14 years since then, some of the blowdown had become easier to see through, walk through, or break through.


    As originally conceived about 8 years ago, this was to be a south-to-north traverse, involving either a buddy and 2 cars, or just me with my car in Wanakena and somehow getting a ride to the south shore of Stillwater and a ride across to the north. If I recall correctly, I was thinking of aiming for Sand Lake, where I’d pick up the Five Ponds Trail for an “easy” 15 mile hike to Wanakena. Trying to find someone willing to do this with seemed as daunting as the logistics of the latter option. Then, sometime last year I discovered the National Geographic-ADK series of maps, and bought the one that has the whole area on one side of a piece of paper. Somehow, seeing it like this, especially with the Red Horse Trail marked, made the hike seem more within my ability. I’d heard of the RHT, but wasn’t sure if or how well it was still maintained. I scaled off the distances involved and found the bushwhack was only 5-6 miles (one way), and the idea of a round trip traverse was born. I was encouraged and relieved to find that this route would be shorter and involve a lot less bushwhacking than the original idea. On the other hand, the route wouldn’t be as “epic”, so I wouldn’t end up with as much of a sense of accomplishment as with the original idea. On another hand, because it had become a round-trip, the distance would be greater, and the bushwhack would be about as long as originally conceived.
    With Spring being early, I couldn’t wait until after St. Lawrence U’s graduation. By then, the bugs and visibility could get quite bad. Very few leaves were out yet, so I would see terrain features at a much greater distance than would be possible in another month, maybe even in another week. I hit the weather web sites as the potential target days drew close enough that the forecasts might be somewhat accurate. It looked good: Comfortable daytime hiking weather, chance of rain only 10-30%, and only a little cooler at night than I wanted. The idea was to go without a tent or sleeping bag to keep the pack small for bushwhacking. I had no problem with not packing the tent. If there were some rain at night, I would hunker under the emergency blanket which I’d already be using for its reflection and convection protection. My problem was with how to sleep reasonably warm w/o a bag. Here’s the sleep system I came up with: -Ground sheet from my one man tent. -1 closed cell pad, full length. –basic bivy sack, no screen or poles. –Heavy polyester cloth bag liner -Windshield sun reflector. I’m really proud of recognizing this as bivouac gear. It’s made of very thin foam, and between the foam and the reflectivity, I think it has an excellent warmth to weight/bulk ratio. I thought about Reflectix, the metalized bubble wrap, but didn’t know how the bubbles would fare in the ‘whack. Also, it would be more bulky. I got this idea from Elliot Adams(?), first barefoot 46er, who used a sleeping rig built w/Reflectix, ensolite, and duct tape. Anyway, the reflector went on top of me inside the bag liner. -3 balaclavas and a toque -extra layers on feet, legs and body, including a fleece hoody. For dinners I packed instant rice, dehydrated peas, 1 ramen pkg, two pouches of fish, and a homemade soda & beer can alcohol stove. Enough talk of gear and food.
    Plan A was to start hiking Saturday evening, around 8PM. Whatever miles I knocked off that evening would make the remaining 3 days easier and increase my chance of success. Plan B was to finish packing Saturday evening…Saturday night…late Saturday night and start early (6-7AM) Sunday morning. Plan C was to sleep later than Plan B so I could start out with a passable amount of sleep.

    Sunday, May 3, 2009. This report is already more than page long and I haven’t even started hiking, so I’ll cut to the chase, the start of the bushwhack south of the Wolf Pond junction. To get there, you can start in Wanakena from the Truck Trail or Dead Creek trailheads, a boat ride to Jenack’s Landing, or even from the end of Young’s Rd. in Star Lake. Anyway, I hit the trail at 11AM. I’ll be vague about landmarks at times. That’s because I don’t want this report to help establish a herd path or a common route. I started the bushwhack at 5:05PM. Last summer I had explored the first ~2 miles of the bushwhack with GlenL. It pretty much followed a brook upstream to a chosen tributary which flowed through an abandoned beaver dam. Glen and I turned around at that dam, but I was determined to go further on the first day, even though I didn’t get there until 7:45PM. I went another 20 minutes and found a place to sleep just before the light faded too much. Although I’d gotten a late start this day, I looked on the bright side: Having done ~2.5 miles of bushwhacking, I had only about 3 miles left the next day before getting to the Red Horse Trail. The alcohol stove worked well and I slept pretty well, despite a chilly (upper 30’s?) night.

    Monday, May 4. I got up at 6:30AM and had 2 packages of Alba w/powdered milk for breakfast, plus some trail mix. At 8:55AM I was hiking, and very soon got to a large marshy area which I’d anticipated from looking at the map before bedtime. I easily went around to the right then worked my way left along the hillside on the other side. I saw a ~40’ cliff which just wasn’t indicated on the map where I thought I was and where I planned to turn SE, then S to get down to a landmark lake. I consulted the old maps, and they didn’t show a cliff there either. The new map showed a possible cliff further NE, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t walked that far. Not so sure, however, that I wasn’t vulnerable to doubt about that. I went around the cliff and headed south down a drainage til I saw the lake. I followed it at a distance, to the east end, then went up a small knoll and down towards an outlet drainage from another lake. Crossing that, I went partway up what I thought was a particular hill on my route, then started contouring around. Then I thought that I was so far up the hill that I might as well summit it, or go through the col between its two summit knolls. I was pretty sure I was in that col when I took a bearing for the next drainage to the SE, but that drainage seemed narrower than on the map, and the slope of the terrain on the other side didn’t seem right. It didn’t make sense and I was frustrated. I kept thinking I should just go due south to hit the second lake and see where I was. But I also wanted to try other tactics for finding my way and making progress. I was on top of a hill with some bare rock, and looked for a benchmark, but found none. My altimeter had been very erratic, so I couldn’t really trust it. I went S or even SW off that hill, and after a few minutes caught sight of the lake. I got to its shore and decided I must be at this point on the shore, very close to the east end. I headed east, then SE to get around the east end, but found myself north of a more easterly part of the lake. So I realized I’d first come out quite a bit further west of the east end than I’d originally thought. This was all very disturbing; for not only did I have further to go to get around the end of the lake, but apparently my navigation was more deficient than I’d thought. I didn’t have a GPS, and given the outcome, didn’t really need one. But it sure would have satisfied the gnawing curiosity about where I’d been. Well, maybe I’d figure out my mistake on the way back. It was at this time that I first started to wonder if it would be prudent to turn around and just call it a great first attempt. But the bushwhack had been so unpleasant that I didn't want to do it again. So I kept going on the provision that I’d frequently re-evaluate my progress. If poor progress meant an unreasonably hard third day, then I’d turn around. Finally I was truly beyond the east end of the lake and could turn south. I was now on the lookout for any remnants of an old trail that the 1921 Cranberry Lake quad showed going from High Falls to Trout Pond. I don’t know how long ago this trail was abandoned, but thought I might see its tread from time to time. I wondered if I’d see an old trail marker, but thought that they’d either be engulfed by the tree by now, or lying on the ground with the long-dead tree. From time to time there appeared to be a tread, but I couldn’t follow it for long. Maybe sometimes it was the old trail, and sometimes only a game path.
    __________________
    Mark L
    "A bad day in cripplebrush is better than a good day at work."

    NH48 48/48W ---- NE111 115/115W as of 3/11/10!

  2. #2
    Senior Member MarkL's Avatar
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    Wanakena <--> Stillwater Part II of III

    Wanakena <---> Stillwater Part II
    A pond soon became visible to the left, and its shape matched the map. From now on I just had to maintain visual contact with the pond, then another lake, and pick up the trail at the south end of Clear Lake. With navigation now being relatively easy, I could focus on finding the clearest route through the forest, and making up a little time. Clear Lake had been quiet, but when I got close to it the first time, it set some loons, at least three, to belting out their tremolos. I reached the blue-marked Red Horse Trail at 2:30PM! There were markers to the left, so I knew I didn’t hit the trail at the northernmost part. After making up some instant hummus, I walked north to see how much further north it went. I might want to use that on the way back in a few hours. It ended in only ~3 minutes at a campsite. Back at where I’d first hit the trail, I made some more hummus and thought about the 5 miles of trail to Stillwater. I thought of just bringing snacks, headlamp, one bottle, and the filter and making a light, fast, 10 mile r/t walk. But if anything got my food, and ripped up my pack doing so, I wouldn’t have enough fuel to get back to Wanakena. So I just removed all my sleeping gear, hid it under my camo rain jacket, and hit the trail.
    Before too long a ridiculously optimistic thought came to mind: What if I get to the lean-to at Trout Pond, or to the shore of Big Burnt Lake (This is actually a bay of Stillwater Reservoir. I think it had been a separate lake before the Stillwater Dam was built.) and I meet someone there who plans to leave that evening or next morning and will be driving around to the Wanakena area? And what if they have space and offer me a ride? Yeah, yeah!! That’s the ticket!! I’d be sorry I’d left anything at the north end of the trail, but I wouldn’t mind the extra five miles it would mean to bring it back to the south end. (Hiking back to the north end was already part of the plan.) Apparently the part of myself that was disgruntled about having to retrace that 6 mile bushwhack was whining to the wishful thinking center of my brain.
    Walking south on the RHT there was a good amount of wind debris and an occasional downed tree. There were a couple of water crossings that wouldn’t have been possible without a downed tree across the stream a short distance from the actual crossing. I thought about turning back because I briefly missed where the trail continued on other side at least 3x, and the last time spent over 5 minutes looking for the trail on the other side. The trail was totally unfamiliar to me and I didn’t know how many more such crossings I’d have, or if they’d get worse and worse. How much more time would I lose? Would I have to do this in the dark on the way back? Maybe I should turn back? I think I decided to turn back where I lost the 5 minutes, but gave myself one more chance. Not only was that the worst of them, but after it there were no more problem crossings.
    Cruising down the trail, I got to a campsite by Witchhopple Lake at 3:50PM, two campsites on Salmon Lake at 4:37PM , and the lean-to at Trout Pond at 4:54PM. At the shore of the pond was a trail register. From there, the trail seemed to continue down to the beach, and I went that way til the beach was no longer walkable. If there was a trail, it had to be up to the left, so I made my way into the woods looking for it. I didn’t have any luck finding it there, but I figured I was so close to Big Burnt that I wasn’t going to turn back now just because I was facing about a quarter mile bushwhack. I kept within sight of the pond’s southeast side, then just made my way roughly south up a hill, and then down to the water. I planted my hiking stick in BB/Stillwater at 5:16PM. After 2 or 3 photos and a short walk along the stony beach, I went back into the woods and headed north. I found a tread to follow which took me east of my route to the water. I saw what looked like an artificial earthwork, as if for an old road, and could make out a worn path on it. So I decided to try that, and almost immediately there was a blue trail marker. From there on there were markers, sometimes far between, all the way back to the register. At the register looked south again to see why I’d lost the trail. The trial curved left, uphill, into the woods, but there was no marker there, and the path to the beach was much more distinct than the tread of the trail.
    After writing in the l/t register, I started north again at 5:54PM. I was back at my stashed gear at 7:45, and feeling compelled to reduce tomorrow’s long bushwhack by as much as possible before dark, I managed to re-pack and start hiking only 9 minutes later. I took the trail for about 1-2 minutes, then headed a bit away from the lake to avoid the wet areas. My route varied from the flats close to the lake to more open woods a bit upslope. Again, the Clear Lake loon community let me know they were keeping an eye on me. I was psyched, and felt I was going at a good clip. As daylight was fading, I decided to sleep near the next good water source. I got to a stream, crossed it, and at 9:23PM had found a good strip of ground to sleep. Cooked supper, admonished myself that I really had to get a much earlier start the next morning, and put the light out at 10:40PM.

    Tuesday, May 5.
    Sitting up and arranging gear at 5:18AM. Eating breakfast (Carnation instant w/powdered milk) while still in the bivy, I noticed the sun rising in the north. So much for my sense of direction. A compass consultation restored my faith in Earth’s prescribed movements, and sent me to the map. I realized that I had better not continue following Clear Lake because it was time to follow a pond. I was hiking at 7:48AM, and 13 minutes later was at an old, “artifact” strewn campsite by the NW shore of the pond. Here the black flies became annoying. I was soon to the area where I’d gotten so confused the previous day. Black flies bad. I was again unsure of my exact whereabouts here, so my guessed bearings created delays. The maps just weren’t showing this area correctly, or maybe there was magnetite nearby. I grew up near the J&L/Benson Mines magnetite mine between Newton Falls and Star Lake, and at a tender age learned mistrust of the compass. Again, neither the old nor new maps agreed with the terrain in front of me. Can I blame this on plate tectonics?
    I was north of the east end of the first lake by 9:50, and made pretty good time through the woods, mostly staying uphill and well back from the lake. The hill sloped down to the south, and I noted that as I approached the west end of LC, it would descend to the west. I could see both happening and was pleased with this little bit of orienteering skill. I got daring and decided that rather than parallel the hill on the left until the col by the cliffs, I’d cut over the hill, saving some distance. Near the top there was a bit of a col or trough, and I started out taking that. Then, feeling hungry, I made for a high point to the right of that col, hoping it might be breezy enough to keep the black flies away while I ate. It didn’t. Resuming with hummus in belly, I skirted a marshy area on the left. I tried to stay up the hillside away from the marsh’s outlet, by which I’d slept the first night. When I finally decided to head down towards that stream, I was past my previous camp spot, and very close to the SE edge of the clearing that used to be a beaver pond. At 11:41AM I got to the NW edge, which was defined by that beaver dam where GlenL and I stopped in ’08. I was happy to be that far along.
    Mark L
    "A bad day in cripplebrush is better than a good day at work."

    NH48 48/48W ---- NE111 115/115W as of 3/11/10!

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    Senior Member MarkL's Avatar
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    Wanakena <--> Stillwater Part III of III

    Wanakena <---> Stillwater Part III (Final)
    Going down that stream, I got on the right side before the drainage flattened out into the marsh ahead. At the edge of the marsh I was relieved to find that the water wasn’t higher than last year, as I’d supposed. Thus, I was able to cross the marsh here, angling more westerly the closer I got to the north side, and was fully across by 12:07PM. I cut into the woods, but didn’t stay for long. The openness of the northbound stream banks lured me out, and I even crossed to the west side. Just after crossing back to the east side, I found a Mylar birthday balloon at the edge of the woods, my first such find in a few years. I didn’t go very far on that side before getting anxious about running into the wide, wet area I remembered from last year, so I crossed to the west side again. This time I went well upslope to try to find open woods, and decided to stay up there as the hillside curved around to the NW and W. I just didn’t want to deal with that stream anymore. It was a good handrail, but I was sick of it! I would just head W til I was sure I was clear of the stream, then head NW or N to hit the 5P trail. I got to it at 1:46PM. No matter how clear the woods had been during today’s bushwhack, the black flies stayed with me. As soon as I got to the trail, the extra bit of speed it enabled kept me ahead of them! But 7 minutes later when I stopped at the stream to filter, they were on me badly. It was here that I first became aware of a very light sprinkle. I was afraid that the rain would get heavier and be steady. It did get heavier at times, but never more than a heavy sprinkle. It was mostly a very light sprinkle, though it also stopped at times. Eventually I saw it as the same kind of rain as on Blue Ridge Mtn, 8/04. It was meant as a message of congratulations sign of blessing.
    I returned on the trail, stopping in at the Little and Big Shallow lean-to’s to note in the registers that I’d gotten back. I was at the bridge over the Oswegatchie exactly 24 hours after planting my hiking stick in Stillwater. I got back to the car with daylight to spare! Woohooo! A 12 hour, 14 mile day. The whole trip was 57 hours, with ~34 hours en route. The Topo! mileage was about 40, but that’s without a correction factor. The 12 mile estimated bushwhack distance doesn’t allow for going around trees and blowdowns, of which there were a few.;~)
    -

    Except for not getting early starts the first two days, and having a very long last day, the round trip traverse went pretty much as expected. I was pleasantly surprised to learn afterwards that what I had traversed is the proposed Bob Marshall Great Wilderness. It was wild. I saw no trace whatsoever of human presence, with the possible exception of some scuffed moss on a cliff near a small mountain top. No litter, no foot prints, no rusty signs, no old fences or stone walls. However, on the way back, about a mile or mile and a half from the Five Ponds Trail, in there was that happy birthday balloon! But that would have blown in, so it’s not related to human presence. Also, on the second day, still bushwhacking towards Stillwater, I heard a distant fire siren which seemed to be coming from Star Lake.
    Mark L
    "A bad day in cripplebrush is better than a good day at work."

    NH48 48/48W ---- NE111 115/115W as of 3/11/10!

  4. #4
    Senior Member Nessmuk's Avatar
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    Great trip, Mark. You've covered some of the same area that I have done a number of times in years past, made much more difficult now due to the '95 MB. For the reasons you cited at the end, it is my favorite remote area of the Adirondacks. I keep going back for more of those same experiences. I'm surprised you found only one mylar balloon. It seems that almost every recent trip I've made I have found one of those things snagged someplace.

    I'm pleased to read that you did it by terrain navigation with map and compass. This western Adriondack "lowland" can be quite confusing, but certainly navigable if you continue to pay attention to all the natural navigation clues. I'm sure as you reflect upon what you experienced and learned it was a highly satisfying way to go. No matter how skilled you are there is always something to learn and lasting memories to be made. Mistakes made and solved make for even stronger memories. That's certainly true for me anyway.

    You have the times of arrival at various places, perhaps you have compass directions recorded as well. Be sure you now go over the map with your notes and memory, to determine where any mistakes were made, and get those "aha, that's what I did" revelations. Find out where that cliff is, and how you came to that lake shore where you did. When something does not make sense, there's always a reason, and a reason to be resolved. It's possible, but I'd say there probably is not any magnetite in the area, though I understand your confusion in certain areas. Next time (hopefully) from this experience you will be less confused. It's still fun though, isn't it.
    "She's all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night." - Nessmuk, Forest and Stream, July 21, 1880 [of the Wood Drake Canoe built for him by Rushton]

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    Senior Member adktyler's Avatar
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    This is an EXCELLENT trip report, thanks so much for taking the time to write it. What a unique and special route this is. I enjoyed your commentaries on navigation, your food, the various aspects of an early-May bushwhack, and more.

    This is certainly a classic! 5 stars!!

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