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Old 12-13-2016, 07:30 PM   #21
arvinsmee
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Walker - I hope you don't mind if I piggy back on this thread. I had some similar questions and didn't want to start a whole new one.

My friend and I are looking to getting our first winter camping experience in the Dacks (and our first winter camping experience in general). We have many summers of experience backpacking, peakbagging, and canoe camping in the Dacks, but never thought to come up this time of year. Right now weíre aiming for late January or early February. Probably arrive early on a Friday and leave midday on the following Sunday. I think we're looking for something vaguely similar to Walker:

-Short hike in, 3-6 miles.
-Easy access to the trail head. Weíre driving up in a Prius, so nothing too rugged.
-Lakeside camping, preferably a bigger lake with wide open views
-A mountain nearby the campsite to climb with some nice views from on top
-Located in the southern / eastern Dacks. Iím driving from DC, so Iím trying to make the drive as short as possible - which pretty much means staying close to 87.

My first thought was Pharaoh Lake. It looks like the road to the trailhead is relatively short and flat. Itís just about 4 miles to the lake from there. Thereís a short but steep hike from the west side of the lake to Pharaoh Mountain, which looks to have great views

I think that would fit the bill perfectly, but I hate going with my first intuition. Always lingering in the back of my head is the thought that maybe thereís a better spot that I didnít think of. So I figured I'd ask here.

A few other questions: We're pretty geared up with clothes, 4 season tent and all that, but we don't have snowshoes, microspikes, or skis. Should we be looking into renting / buying any of these items for this adventure?

Also, I noticed that all the campsites around Pharaoh Lake are shelter only. I'd really prefer a tent site for warmth, wind protection, etc. The two islands on Pharaoh look like they're big enough to allow us to abide by the 150' rule if we camp in the middle. Is that a feasible idea? The lake should be frozen solid enough to walk on by late Jan, right?
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Old 12-13-2016, 07:57 PM   #22
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Pharaoh Lake is pretty accessible in the winter. As you noted, it's a flat 4 mile hike in. There's actually 14 designated tent sites on the lake in addition to the 6 lean-tos, so you wouldn't have any difficulty sticking to a tent site over a lean-to. The big island is maybe big enough to make the 150 foot rule work, but you'd be better off sticking to an already established tent site if and when they're available. There's 3 tent sites on the north side of the outlet that are pretty well sheltered (in the vicinity of lean-tos 5 and 6). There's one tent site on the south side, just west of Lean-to #1, that is also pretty well sheltered.

Lean-to's #2, #4, #6 are a bit more sheltered. The other lean-tos are pretty exposed (especially #3 and #5).

The DEC has a webpage for information about the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Included on the site is a link to a map that shows the location of most of the sites on Pharaoh Lake.

Absolutely yes, you need to get snowshoes. Without them, you'll likely be post holing, which can tire you out very quickly and lead to ankle injuries. It can also ruin the track for others who come after you on snowshoes and/or skis. The trail up Pharaoh Mountain from the lake gets pretty steep and has some rock ledges that you need to scramble up. I'd definitely bring microspikes for this if you're planning to include a climb up the mountain. If things are especially icy, you may even need crampons.

The lake probably will be safe to walk on by the end of January, but there's no guarantee. Look up ice reports prior to your trip and be careful.

One suggestion I have would be to consider pushing the trip off until late February or early March, since it's your first winter overnight. By doing so, the days will be longer and you'll increase your chances of having good weather at little bit.

Definitely be considerate with campfires (if you decide to have them) and do what you can to minimize their impacts. Pharaoh Lake is a very heavily used destination in the summer, and the use of large campfires by many visitors there has lead to high levels of impacts (depletion of dead and down wood, illegal cutting of standing trees, etc.). Please keep your fires small in size and/or duration so that you leave behind dead and downed wood for others to use.
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Old 12-13-2016, 08:49 PM   #23
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Thanks for the response! I had come across that DEC map before, but completely missed the bottom right corner with the tent site locations. That's a huge relief, at least for our first winter camping adventure I'd much rather take a designated spot. I wouldn't mind buying some microspikes, as I'm looking to do more winter hiking around here (VA / WV area) and it sounds like we should rent some snowshoes as well.

If I had to guess, we'll probably go in early February due to time constraints. Do you have a resource for ice reports? Obviously it's not critical that we go out on the ice, but as a southerner I'd really love to take the opportunity.

As we are stubborn men, we will probably go far out of our way to build a fire. I appreciate your concern about impact, we'll probably trek well into the woods to collect firewood and leave the stuff nearby for others. That's half the fun after all.
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Old 12-13-2016, 09:23 PM   #24
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Even snowshoes might see some use in the WV/VA area, so I think it's worth at least considering purchasing them over renting them. 2 years ago, I used snowshoes on a 2 night trip into the Dolly Sods in WV. The conditions at the time were very much winter- cold temperatures and deep snow (2-3 feet). That is, it was winter at least until the last night when warm rain melted all of the snow and I was chased back out to the trailhead at 2 am by flooding on Red Creek. (I woke up on an island... I had not been on an island when I'd set up camp.)

If you just google "Adirondacks Ice Fishing reports" I'm sure you'll find good information. You can also make a post here maybe a week in advance and ask.
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Old 12-13-2016, 09:50 PM   #25
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Haha, yeah that story is why I'm planning on heading up to NY instead of hanging around here. Was it one of the sites near where Blackbird knob trail crosses the Creek? I'm rather familiar with the area and trying to figure out where the campsites are that could get cut off at high water.
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Old 12-13-2016, 10:10 PM   #26
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It was downstream of the forks, actually. Right where the Fisher Spring Run trail joins the Red Creek Trail. After spending a night in the northern Dolly Sods just off the height of land along Rocky Ridge, I'd hiked south through the marshes and along Red Creek to that spot. I knew the warm rain was going to lead to flooding, but I figured as long as I made it across Red Creek before it got too deep, I'd be OK.

I was right in that regard- the creek was still only about knee deep when I crossed it. I then picked a site that seemed pretty high above the creek. Apparently it wasn't high enough. It was dark, but when I packed up and left I would estimate that the main creek was probably running 6 or 7 feet deep at that point. And I had to cross a few tributaries that were close to thigh deep with very strong currents on my way out.

The whole area is very beautiful- I'd like to get back in there at some point for another 2 or 3 day trip.
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Old 12-13-2016, 10:26 PM   #27
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Yeah it's a beautiful place. I've never been there in the winter- I should probably give that shot. It gets crushed pretty hard in the summer - hard to find much solitude these days. Because of that reason I've sort of given up on the place, though I still take friends there on occasion because it's gorgeous, relatively close to where I live, and I know what spots to take them to. If you're thinking of heading back message me, I'd be happy to return the favor with some info on good sites.
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Old 12-14-2016, 12:20 PM   #28
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I'd definitely like to get back into the Dolly Sods Wilderness at some point, especially to explore the northern wetlands and bogs more. I'd hoped to spend more time up there but was chased out by the rain and flooding. And yeah, I could tell that it gets a lot of use, especially the campsites along Red Creek. I saw a good number of cut trees in the sites at the forks. Nothing as bad as some of what I've seen in the Adirondacks, though- fortunately the Monongahela has 2 pretty good buffers between that area and the crowds from DC in the form of Shenandoah NP and the George Washing NF.

Have you been to the Otter Creek Wilderness? It's a bit less spectacular than the Dolly Sods, but also gets less use. Some good opportunities for solitude back there.

Other areas on my to-do list that I hope to get to eventually include the Cranberry Wilderness (WV's largest Wilderness), the Tea Creek Backcountry, and the Seneca Creek Backcountry. In VA, my to-do list includes checking out some of the wilderness areas off the ridge and away from the AT, thru-hiking the Massanutten Mountain Trail (70 mile loop), overnighting in the Big Schloss area, checking out the Laurel Fork area, and exploring the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.
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Old 12-14-2016, 01:36 PM   #29
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You might have caught this on your last trip in the Sods, but there's an abandoned railroad grade that you can take from where Dobbins Grade crosses the Left Fork down to the Blackbird Knob trail crossing. Lots of cool spots in that area.

I did a four nighter in Otter Creek a few years ago. It was a beautiful creek, but Iím sort of biased towards places with vistas, so I havenít made a trip back yet. The Seneca Creek area is really nice Ė though it can also be a bit busy. The creek itself is gorgeous. The views from Spruce Knob are the best in the state. In between is sorta eh, the Lumberjack trail and ridge trail are both rather monotonous. There are a lot of lesser used trails in that area (west of the creek) and abandoned trails too that offer a good bit of solitude. Iíve only been there twice though, so I havenít had time to fully check it out. If you go, make sure to camp on the bald just south of the view tower. 270 degree views and totally legal, nice soft grass to lay on and rocks to shelter behind. Laurel Creek is a lot like Otter Creek, but a little less spectacular and far less traveled. Big Schloss is my go to as itís the closest thing that has good hiking and allows campfires. You can Bivouac right on the top, thereís a nice little nook there for one person, right at the edge of the cliff. There are a few other really nice sites a little further back that still have great views. The woods in that area are rather open and there is a lot of good bushwhacking. The ridge between Big Schloss and Little Stoney Creek is particularly nice.

But a lot of these places are really busy due to the proximity to DC. This spring I hiked up to Big Schloss at dusk on a Friday, thinking the crowds would have thinned by then as people wanted to get back to their cars before dark. Instead I found about +50 scouts on top. I bivied at the cliff edge, figuring that at least Iíd get sunrise to myself, but sure enough, at 5:30 I woke up to the sound of about 20 of the more enthusiastic scouts heading back up the hill. They were perfectly nice, so I canít really be mad, but still it was sort of a bummer.

Canaan Mt (just west of Dolly Sods), Three Ridges (on the AT), and Mt. Pleasant (near the AT) are also really nice, if youíre looking for things in this area.
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Old 12-14-2016, 06:03 PM   #30
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DSettahr,

Apologies for changing the subject a little bit, but what is wrong with cutting down a dead standing tree? If you can confirm its dead, and there are no signs of animals using it as a home, what are the LNT implications of harvesting such wood?

I grew up trying to follow LNT principles as much as possible. However, we would often fell, buck up, and split, dead standing trees. I am not talking about taking chainsaw out into the woods. Mostly just used axe/buck saw for smaller trees in the <8 inch diameter range.

I am not disagreeing with your statement, just looking to learn as much as possible.
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Old 12-14-2016, 08:38 PM   #31
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...what is wrong with cutting down a dead standing tree? If you can confirm its dead, and there are no signs of animals using it as a home, what are the LNT implications of harvesting such wood?
Not trying to answer for DSettahr, but cutting standing trees is against NYSDEC regulations...

http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7872.html

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...Use only dead and down wood for fires. Cutting standing trees is prohibited.
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Old 12-14-2016, 11:00 PM   #32
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DSettahr,

Apologies for changing the subject a little bit, but what is wrong with cutting down a dead standing tree? If you can confirm its dead, and there are no signs of animals using it as a home, what are the LNT implications of harvesting such wood?

I grew up trying to follow LNT principles as much as possible. However, we would often fell, buck up, and split, dead standing trees. I am not talking about taking chainsaw out into the woods. Mostly just used axe/buck saw for smaller trees in the <8 inch diameter range.

I am not disagreeing with your statement, just looking to learn as much as possible.
It's a good question and the issue of using standing dead trees as a fuel source is something that a lot of people aren't sure about with regards to ethics and LNT. There's a few good reasons why standing dead trees aren't acceptable sources of firewood from an LNT perspective.

For starters, as you note they can be important habitat for wildlife, but just because you can't see any evidence of current use as a home for larger birds or mammals doesn't mean it isn't fulfilling this function in some way. Standing dead trees are also prime habitat for insects, and many of those insects in turn provide an important food source for larger animals.

Additionally, a stump is a stump regardless of whether the tree was alive or dead when it was cut. For many users, the presence of stumps in the backcountry significantly lessens their enjoyment of the area, as they visually detract from the natural character of that area. A common indicator of campsite impacts is a count of the number of stumps within a certain distance of the campsite center. A few of the sites I inventoried for my Master's thesis had 100+ stumps within 50 meters of the site center, and one site had more than 200. The issue of stumps is definitely a major issue in some areas, and it doesn't really matter if the trees were alive or dead when they were cut.

As Justin points out, it's a violation of NYSDEC regulations to use standing dead wood as a fuel source for campfires. The regulation exists for the reasons I've stated above, and it clearly states that all firewood needs to be dead and down. (Conversely, it's also illegal to burn green wood even if it came down naturally. This prevents people from cutting down a live tree and telling the ranger "it was already down when we found it.")

One other thought about why it's not a good idea to cut standing dead trees from a safety perspective: Dead trees, especially ones that are starting to rot in the center (and you can't always tell) are often unpredictable when they are felled, and even relatively small diameters can cause significant injuries or even death if they fall on top of someone. A few years ago, a SUNY ESF alum was killed when the live tree he was felling nicked a dead tree on the way down, and that dead tree in turn toppled on him. The dead tree was only about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, and the student was wearing full PPE (including a hard hat).

YouTube is chock full of examples of rotten trees behaving very unpredictably when someone tries to fell them. Admittedly these are all much larger examples than the sizes we're talking about, but they show pretty well just how unpredictable dead, rotten trees can be. Here's a few of the videos:

This one is probably the best example.. The tree literally explodes, and the lumberjack has no idea which way to run to avoid it.

Here's another really good example of a tree that looks OK on the outside, yet literally disintegrates as it comes down. When there's so little solid wood in the trunk of a tree, it can be very difficult (impossible, even) to control the direction in which it falls.

Here's another example where a tree "barber chairs" as it comes down. When this happens, you've usually lost all control over the tree.

Here's a really good example of 2 guys that have no clue what they're doing as they try to fell an old, rotten tree. They've got no PPE on, they make the back cut before cutting the wedge, they get the saw pinched, and the tree gets hung up and doesn't fell completely (and now they've got a hung up tree to deal with, which is also pretty dangerous). These guys were really, really lucky that they didn't injure or kill themselves.

One final note about safety- in a timber harvest, OSHA regulations forbid that any work be done within 2 tree lengths of any standing dead trees until they've been dealt with first. That should give you an idea about just how sketchy dead trees can be to work with.

I've also cut a few standing dead trees in my time (when I was first getting into backpacking and was relatively green, and when LNT was just something that I'd heard mentioned a few times). I like to think that through my efforts at education, combined with my participation in various projects involving revegetation and rehabilitation of significantly impacted sites, that I've paid my penance since.
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Old 12-15-2016, 02:10 PM   #33
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DSettahr & Justin,

This information is greatly appreciated. I am mostly reminiscing on times when I was younger, greener, and getting my feet wet solo camping out on privately owned land just a hair south of the Adirondacks. Family owned the land and I had permission to harvest dead standing trees. This does not change the fact that I was not following LNT principles.

These same family members work in tree removal and are the guys that are climbing trees and felling them near power lines during/after bad storms all throughout the state. I saw a barber chair first hand that scared the heck out of me. I definitely do not underestimate the danger of felling a tree of any size.

I will make sure to follow the guidance you provided when exploring the Adirondacks. I have seen quite a few "accessible" campsites with dozens of stumps surrounding them...

Last edited by WalkingStick; 12-15-2016 at 02:15 PM.. Reason: Error in my message
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Old 12-15-2016, 02:21 PM   #34
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DSettahr & Justin,

This information is greatly appreciated. I am mostly reminiscing on times when I was younger, greener, and getting my feet wet solo camping out on privately owned land just a hair south of the Adirondacks. Family owned the land and I had permission to harvest dead standing trees. This does not change the fact that I was not following LNT principles.
Agreed. Context is important, and there's a huge difference between cutting standing trees on private property with the owners permission, and illegally cutting standing trees on state land.
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Old 12-15-2016, 04:55 PM   #35
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Agreed. Context is important, and there's a huge difference between cutting standing trees on private property with the owners permission, and illegally cutting standing trees on state land.
Definitely. I will make sure I refrain (and encourage those I know) from such activity during my hiking/canoe trips in the Adirondacks down the road.

Whether it be state land, or private land, I would like to leave as little impact as possible.

Back to the winter site thread...
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Old 12-15-2016, 10:36 PM   #36
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The option is always available if you can talk a bear into pushing the dead tree over, of course he gets to claim the available goodies. Other than that leave the standing dead trees to mother nature. Getting hurt way out in the sticks is not the same as calling 911 in the burbs. I have been places inside the Blue Line where cell phone or even satellite phone didn't work. (no repeaters) So life flight wouldn't be available. Murphy is always lurking no matter where you go. Plan well, have a plan for emergencies, stay safe and enjoy the pristine peaceful privacy of the Addacks Wilderness. BTW I have been cutting trees and wood for forty years for fun and profit and have seen weird and unexpected results from dead trees from some of the best lumberjacks. In NY, VT, and PA.
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Old 12-15-2016, 10:53 PM   #37
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honest question - where won't sat phones work? i was under the impression that unless you're way down deep in a ravine or under an incredibly think canopy, they should work everywhere.
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Old 12-16-2016, 12:05 PM   #38
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[QUOTE=arvinsmee;254218]honest question - where won't sat phones work? i was under the impression that unless you're way down deep in a ravine or under an incredibly think canopy, they should work everywhere.[/QUO

That's what I thought but in MRP and other places, I got no response.
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Old 12-16-2016, 01:20 PM   #39
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honest question - where won't sat phones work? i was under the impression that unless you're way down deep in a ravine or under an incredibly think canopy, they should work everywhere.
We carried one on a few outing club trips at Paul Smith's. We generally found that to get the best reception, you had to walk out into the middle of a frozen lake. Anything else was pretty hit or miss.
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Old 12-19-2016, 11:53 AM   #40
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Regarding sat phones...I tried using our outdoor program's sat phone one time in the Catskills. We were coming off Rusk Mt. (a trailless peak) and tried to make a call. While we did get through, the reception was spotty at best. I'm sure the technology has gotten better since then but I wouldn't want to stake my life on getting reception if it was an emergency. Just my experience. YMMV...

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

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