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DSettahr 05-16-2018 03:21 PM

Every named feature in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderess, 9/?/07 - 10/9/17

A bit late on this, but wanted to share a quick summary of what was a big accomplishment of mine that was years in the making. On Monday, October 9, 2017, I set foot on the summit of Brace Hill in the Eastern Adirondacks. In doing so, I completed a 10 year quest to visit every single officially named feature within the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.

The Pharaoh Lake Wilderness is over 46,000 acres in size. My exhaustive research (pouring over the USGS map repeatedly until my eyes started to bleed) came up with a list of 101 officially named features: 43 bodies of water (including lakes, ponds, marshes, and a single ocean), 11 streams, and 47 summits (including hills, ridges, and mountains). My criteria for bodies of water was pretty loose- any lake or pond that touched the boundary of the Wilderness Area was included, even if the Wilderness did not extend over the surface of the lake itself. For summits, my criteria was a bit more strict- the named summit actually had to fall within the Wilderness Area. Likewise, to check off a body of water as visited, all I needed to do was stand on any part of the shoreline within the Wilderness Area, but to check off a summit I needed to actually climb to the top.

(A quick note on the accuracy of my list: I know that a list of all named features within the PLWA has been compiled by others on several occasions. When Erik Schlimmer completed a similar quest in 2011, his listed totaled 106 named features within the PLWA. Unfortunately, I don't have access to his list so I don't know what 5 features he included that I apparently did not. He may have had different criteria for what constituted a named feature within the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.)

My first visit to Pharaoh Lake was a trip with the Paul Smith's Outing Club in Autumn of 2007, a trip which netted me 4 named features (Mill Brook, Pharaoh Lake Brook, Pharaoh Lake, and Pharaoh Mountain). At the time, the possibility of visiting every single named feature in a management unit wasn't even a vague thought, much less a serious consideration. I returned several times in the following years, on trips that carried me to most of the well-visited ponds and lakes that were easily accessible by trail (Oxshoe Pond, Rock Pond, Clear Pond, Grizzle Ocean, and so on).

It wasn't until 2012 that opportunity allowed me to really being to explore the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in great detail. At first, I was focused on spending a night in each of the 14 lean-tos located within the area as part of my greater quest to camp in every single backcountry shelter in New York State (as of May 2018, I've stayed in 208 out of about 355 total). By the end of 2013, my bushwhacking endeavors were ranging far and wide across the backcountry of the Pharaoh Lake area. I'd heard of Erik Schlimmer's quest to visit "all of the Pharaoh LAke Wilderness" before me, and it occurred to me that with some serious effort I might be able to do the same.

2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 saw me expanding my efforts to visit more new locations within the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Circumstance didn't always allow me to progress quickly towards my goal, and taking a few years to earn my Master's Degree at Syracuse definitely didn't help either. Slowly but surely, however, I visited more and more features and got closer and closer towards my goal.

There were definitely some frustrations along the way. Some of the lower named ridges and mountains within the area don't really have a well-defined summit, so I did the best I could to pick out the highest point using the topo map. Grizzle Ocean Mountain was one such summit; I triumphantly hiked across the ridge one day, only to realize that evening back in camp while checking the map that I'd completely missed the high point entirely. It would be two years before I would head back again to reclimb this peak.

My quest also took me through some god-forsaken lands. Old Fort Mountain can only be approached via several miles of bushwhacking through very rugged terrain from Lost Pond. Along the way, the trek takes one through incredibly dense spruce and fir forests along Haymeadow Pond, where my eye had a very close call with a sharp and pointy stick that I almost didn't spot until it was too late. The ridgeline comprised of Barton Mountain, Ellis Mountain, Pine Hill, and Burnt Ridge also holds some particularly thick stands of evergreens.

A good portion of what I encountered, though, was incredibly scenic. Much of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness contains surprisingly open forest that makes for pleasant bushwhacking. Open pine forests with clearings of exposed rock, moss, and lichen abound throughout much of the area. Hardwood forests often are comprised primarily of oak, with very little understory. Some of the more sheltered coves and valleys have substantial stands of hemlock that blot out the sun and sky above, but are still open beneath and easy to travel through.

And the summit views to be had in the area rival much of the best that even the High Peaks has to offer. The two trailed peaks, Pharaoh and Treadway Mountains, both offer substantial views- Treadway has a view of Pharaoh Lake in particular that I would rank as one of my favorites in the entire Adirondack Park (it was featured on the cover of the previous edition of the ADK Guidebook for the Eastern Adirondacks). Pharaoh Has views in just about every direction, including northwest towards the High Peaks and eastward into Vermont.

And those two peaks are just a start- a number of other peaks in the area, accessible only by bushwhacking, have views that are equally as fantastic. I shared incredible views from the summit of Potter Mountain with a mother black bear and her two cubs while munching on some of the most delicious blueberries I've ever found in the wild. I returned to the summit of Number 8 Hill several times to take in the nearly 360 degree panoramic view there. I crossed the summit of Pine Hill in late afternoon as the sun was sinking towards the horizon and took in views across Schoon Lake. And in a single day, I visited the summits of First Brother, Second Brother, Third Brother, Stevens Mountain, Little Stevens, and Number 8 Mountain on one of the most rugged and spectacular bushwhack treks I've accomplished. Each of those peaks individually has phenomenal views (except for Little Stevens, which has a fully forested summit), when strung together, they form a trek that is nothing short of amazing. (First Brother technically isn't in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness and so didn't count towards my list, but was still a place I'd intended to visit nonetheless as I'd heard nothing but good things about it.)

Despite all of the amazing scenery I'd encountered along my journey, it was in some ways a bit of a relief when I stepped onto the final summit on that dreary October day, it was almost a relief- "Finally, I can visit the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness again and relax, enjoy the scenery and take it slow, without feeling the urge to explore or set off on yet another epic bushwhack through rugged terrain and who knows what kind of obstacles." Not only had I visited every named feature, I'd crisscrossed my way back and forth across the area countless times. There's a few nooks and crannies here and that that I've still yet to visit, but areas of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness that are completely foreign to me are few and far between at this point.

And of course, as Erik Schlimmer found- the urge to visit every named feature within a set geographic area doesn't stop after finishing the first management unit. :)

DSettahr 05-16-2018 03:23 PM

A collection of other photos I took along my journey:

DSettahr 05-16-2018 03:25 PM

And last but not least, my list. Feel free to double check this- I'm confident that I've visited all of the named features as per my criteria of what constitutes a named feature within the Wilderness Area, but I may have left 1 or 2 off of my written list:

Marsh Beaver Meadow Marsh
Marsh Cranberry Marsh
Marsh Desolate Swamp
Marsh Harrison Marsh
Marsh Peshette Swamp
Marsh Tubmill Marsh
Pond Alder Pond
Pond Bear Pond
Pond Berrymill Pond
Pond Bumbo Pond
Pond Burge Pond
Pond Clear Pond
Pond Coffee Pond
Pond Cotters Pond
Pond Crab Pond
Pond Crab Pond
Pond Crane Pond
Pond Devil's Washdish
Pond Eagle Lake
Pond Goose Pond
Pond Gooseneck Pond
Pond Grizzle Ocean
Pond Gull Pond
Pond Haymeadow Pond
Pond Heart Pond
Pond Honey Pond
Pond Horseshoe Pond
Pond Lilypad Pond
Pond Little Rock Pond
Pond Lost Pond
Pond Mud Pond
Pond North Pond
Pond Otter Pond
Pond Oxshoe Pond
Pond Pharaoh Lake
Pond Putnam Pond
Pond Pyramid Lake
Pond Rock Pond
Pond Spectacle Pond
Pond Springhill Ponds
Pond Whortleberry Pond
Pond Wilcox Pond
Pond Wolf Pond
Stream Desolate Brook
Stream Haymeadow Brook
Stream Mill Brook
Stream Pharaoh Lake Brook
Stream Putnam Creek
Stream Rock Pond Brook
Stream Shanty Bottom Brook
Stream Spectacle Brook
Stream Spuytenduivel Brook
Stream Sucker Brook
Stream Wilcox Brook
Summit Abes Hill
Summit Antwine Hill
Summit Barton Mountain
Summit Bear Pond Mountain
Summit Beaver Meadow Hill
Summit Big Clear Pond Mountain
Summit Blue Hill
Summit Brace Hill
Summit Burnt Hill
Summit Burnt Ridge
Summit Carey Hill
Summit Desolate Hill
Summit Ellis Mountain
Summit Fernette Mountain
Summit Franks Hill
Summit Goose Pond Hill
Summit Grizzle Ocean Mountain
Summit Leland Hill
Summit Little Clear Pond Mountain
Summit Little Stevens
Summit Meadow Hill
Summit Number 6 Hill
Summit Number 7 Hill
Summit Number 8 Hill
Summit Number 8 Mountain
Summit Old Fort Mountain
Summit Orange Hill
Summit Park Mountain
Summit Peaked Hill
Summit Pharaoh Mountain
Summit Pine Hill
Summit Pine Hill
Summit Pine Hill
Summit Plank Bridge Hill
Summit Potter Mountain
Summit Quackenbush Hill
Summit Ragged Mountain
Summit Second Brother
Summit Sharps Ridge
Summit Smith and Leland Hill
Summit Spectacle Pond Hill
Summit Stevens Mountain
Summit Sucker Hole Hill
Summit The Dam Hill
Summit Third Brother
Summit Thunderbolt Mountain
Summit Treadway Mountain

rdl 05-16-2018 05:14 PM

Very impressive ! And pictures are excellent !

Tick Magnet 05-16-2018 06:03 PM

Wow! Impressive accomplishment. :thumbs::thumbs::thumbs:

Woodly 05-16-2018 09:11 PM

Truly gorgeous photos. Congratulations on them and the accomplishment

Justin 05-16-2018 09:29 PM

Awesome, congrats, & great photos! :thumbs:
I still need Cranberry Marsh, Pachette Swamp, Abes Hill, Fernette Mountain, Old Fort Mountain, Quackenbush Mountain, and First & Second Brother.

montcalm 05-16-2018 09:34 PM


Originally Posted by DSettahr (Post 267505)
Hardwood forests often are comprised primarily of oak, with very little understory.

Really :eh?:

I'm not nearly as intimately familiar with this area as you are, but most of the Adirondack dome is pretty void of oaks.

Where are these "groves" and what species of oak are they?

Apparently there are pockets of oak here or there around the park, but for the most part they just don't grow as well as other hardwood species in this environment. I've actually seen very few myself, but I don't necessarily go looking. The tell-tale for me is finding acorns, which I almost never see.

Justin 05-16-2018 09:40 PM

Lots of oaks in the eastern & southern Adks.

peskypup 05-16-2018 10:23 PM


Congrats on finishing your list. The photos are gorgeous!

geogymn 05-17-2018 07:43 AM


Originally Posted by montcalm (Post 267519)
Really :eh?:

I'm not nearly as intimately familiar with this area as you are, but most of the Adirondack dome is pretty void of oaks.

Where are these "groves" and what species of oak are they?

Apparently there are pockets of oak here or there around the park, but for the most part they just don't grow as well as other hardwood species in this environment. I've actually seen very few myself, but I don't necessarily go looking. The tell-tale for me is finding acorns, which I almost never see.

I concur. I haven't run across Oaks where I amble and I generally focus on the flora.

DSettahr 05-17-2018 11:20 AM

Perhaps I over emphasized the oaks a little bit, or didn't emphasize enough that the oaks tend to be at higher elevations, but red oak at least is out there in considerable numbers that you don't often see elsewhere in the Adirondacks. If you get up onto the drier, rockier hills in the western portions of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, stands of oaks aren't uncommon. Lots of turkey that dig through the leaf litter looking for mast also.

Here's a photo that I took from First Brother, looking out towards Brant Lake:

Here's a couple of zoomed in views on portions of that image to look at the leaves:

Sure look like oak to me.

Another image, this one of Brant Lake from Second Brother:

Zooming in on the leaves in the upper left:

Definitely oak.

Here's a photo I snapped near the summit of Number 7 Hill:

This is a classic example of an oak stump sprout. The 4 trunk here are surrounding what was once a single trunk that died, was blown over, etc. Something happened to kill the original stem. The living tissue surrounding the dead trunk sent up 4 new stems, which in turn each grew into a full trunk.

There's no leaves in this photo but in addition to the form, the bark is pretty indicative of red oak- vertically furrowed, with faint white stripes running up and down the trunks.

Here's a photo I took from Franks Hill, looking south towards Black Mountain:

If we zoom in on the mountain, we can see the uniquely-shaped fire tower and confirm that it is indeed Black Mountain:

Zooming in on leaves on the right and left sides of the image:

The first image clearly shows oak leaves. The second image isn't as clear, but you can still see a cluster of haycorns on one of the branches.

Here's a photo taken on Antwine Hill:

Zooming in on one of the trees in the center:

I'll be the first to admit that this isn't the greatest quality image, but I'd still bet money on that being oak. Everything about it looks oakish, from the branching patter (spindly branches growing in every direction) to the leaves (somewhat reflective and shiny when the light hits them the right way).

Here's a photo I took while descending the south side of Number 8 Hill:

Zooming in on the leaves at the top of the tree on the left:

Again, pretty definitively oak.

Here's a photo of a view south towards Brant Lake from Number 8 Mountain:

And if we zoom in on the crown of the tree on the left:

Pretty typical shape for oak leaves.

That's about a year's worth of photos that I dug through to find those images- I have tons more, but I'll leave it at that. I know that these aren't all the best of images (during my travels I wasn't expecting to have my dendrology skills called into question ;) ). Yes, I agree that oak trees aren't super common in the Adirondacks. But they aren't that rare, either, at least in some areas (like the Eastern Adirondacks). Oaks can even be found on some of the High Peaks trails- I know that when you climb Esther and Whiteface from the north, you pass through some significant oak stands at lower elevations. I would bet money also that there's probably quite a few oaks on the Eastern slopes of the Dix Range- the conditions there are ideal for them.

Neil 05-17-2018 11:32 AM

My picture and your looks like we were standing in the exact same place!

Very interesting accomplishment. You are a dedicated student of the Adirondacks!

I've seen Oak in a variety of locations in the High Peaks WU but only at low elevations. Same goes for Elm (less often seen) and Iron Wood (more often seen).

montcalm 05-17-2018 02:12 PM

I'm not calling anyone's tree id into question, but I'd be curious to know where there are significant stands of oak, as that is rare in the Adirondacks. And AFAIK, only red oak occasionally spotted.

I just happened to be studying ranges of trees for some odd reason, and recalled these maps as well:

White Oak:

This suggests any white oak you may see were planted by humans. I don't think I've ever seen one in the Adirondacks.

Red Oak:

Here they suggest the higher elevations of the central dome are where you'll not find red oaks. That appears to be untrue, but I believe they are fairly rare there and even in most of the western Adirondacks.

Black Oak:

Swamp Oak:

I don't mean to derail your thread. I enjoyed the pictures as well, but was curious.

OntarioSkiBum 05-17-2018 05:45 PM

100+ features... thats one oak-ay endeavour!


Justin 05-17-2018 08:31 PM

The largest concentration of oak trees that I ever remember seening within a single Adirondack area was in the Hudson River Special Management Area near Lake Luzerne & Warrensburg. And come to think of it, I’ve been to every officially named feature in that region except Wegley Mountain.

ADK Tank 05-18-2018 10:19 AM


Originally Posted by montcalm (Post 267533)
I'm not calling anyone's tree id into question, but I'd be curious to know where there are significant stands of oak, as that is rare in the Adirondacks. And AFAIK, only red oak occasionally spotted.

Pretty much the only Oak found in the Adirondacks is Red Oak, White Oak doesn't tolerate the cold temps as well as Red Oak. There are many areas in the Adirondacks that do have large stands of Oak outside of the higher elevations. Off the Benson Road in Northville has a large stand of Oak, the Speculator Area has large stands of Oak, even hills named "Oak Hill" for that reason. These are a few locations that I am familiar with.

ADKREDBEARD 05-18-2018 12:29 PM

Great accomplishment and photo's. Now you have to fill the void in your life after working on this for 10 years. Time to find another project.:clap:

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