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Old 10-24-2009, 12:41 AM   #1
DSettahr
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High Falls Loop plus Cat Mountain (Five Ponds Wilderness)

My friend Sarah and I just completed the High Falls Loop plus a side trip up Cat Mountain over two days earlier this week.

We started on Wednesday by taking the Dead Creek Trail from Wanakena. This trail follows the grade of an old logging railroad until it reaches Cranberry Lake, and was in pretty good shape and easy going. We encountered a porcupine on the trail who didn't really pay us much attention. I guess with protection like they have, you can afford to be indifferent to what you encounter in the woods. After Cranberry Lake, the trail becomes a bit more rugged and muddy, but is still in fairly good shape.

We took a quick side trip down to the lean-to at Janack's Landing. It looks like this lean-to gets a pretty high level of use, which isn't surprising seeing as it's right on Cranberry Lake.

After Cranberry Lake, the trail climbs to the junction with the Cranberry Lake 50. Here, we took a 1.5 mile side trip east on the CL50 to climb Cat Mountain. Along the way we passed Glasby Pond, which has a designated camp site on it. It's an alright site, nothing spectacular though. Cat Mountain itself is an easy climb with switchbacks near the top- we didnt even need to drop our packs. The mountain was well worth the 3 miles it added to our hike in to High Falls, the views from the top are pretty decent. To the east, we could see vague outlines of the High Peaks in the clouds.

We returned to the junction with the Dead Creek Trail, and continued west on the CL50 through The Plains. We could see old boardwalks out in the plains from the old trail, but it looked like it would be difficult to follow. The trail through this section again was somewhat muddy in spots, but overall in good shape and easy to follow. Upon hitting the High Falls Truck Trail, it was an easy half mile to High Falls itself.

Upon reaching the falls, the water was low enough that we were able to get across to the other side to check out the lean-to there. (Definitely wouldn't attempt this during high water, or even plan on being able to cross the river here!) It's located a little bit downstream of the falls. There are a lot of herd paths on the western shore that made finding the lean-to there a bit confusing.

Upon returning to the eastern shore, we set up camp in the lean-to there. One thing about High Falls: there is no firewood anywhere. Thanks to the microburst, all of the dead wood on the ground is nearly 15 years old, and is rotten and wet. The new growth has not yet reached the stage where it starts to heavily out compete itself resulting in tree mortality, so very few trees have died or lot limbs within the last 14 years. High Falls also looks like it gets a fair amount of camping use, judging from the number of campsites nearby the lean-tos, which doesnt help the situation any more.

In the morning, we got up and spent some time taking pictures of the area before we packed up and headed out. We decided to take the Truck Trail back. This follows the bed of a railroad grade the entire way, and is incredibly flat. It does however go through some very nice pine, fir, tamarack, and spruce forests. It was flooded in a couple of spots, but we were easily able to get through all but one of the flooded spots by walking on branches that hikers had placed in the flooded areas or crossing on beaver dams. The one spot that we couldnt get through, we were able to bushwhack around on high dry ground easily enough. We passed a couple of nice campsites at spots where the Oswegatchie River came close to the trail.

We stopped for lunch at High Rock, which is interesting in that it seems to be the only significant land form surrounded by excessive flatness. There was a decent campsite there, but it definitely was not protected from the wind, which was starting the pick up. The day had started out nice and sunny, but was now looking ominous.

We made it back to the trailhead just as the skies opened up and it started to pour. Perfect timing!

This was my first trip into the Five Ponds Wilderness. I really liked the forest cover there- white pine is one of my favorite trees and it was nice to see so much of it scattered around. There is still a lot of evidence of the microburst- we could see hilltops covered in dead trees from the summit of Cat Mountain, and there were fallen trees everywhere through the woods. At High Falls during dusk, the whole area felt very ominous and foreboding, which was kind of cool. The trails, however, were all very clear and in excellent shape for the most part. Junctions were well marked. Trail markers were few and far between, but the trails are so easy to follow that markers aren't really needed for navigation.

Does anyone know where at High Falls the hotel was? We were able to spot the northern terminus of the trail to it (where it left the Truck Trail north of High Rock) but we couldnt find the southern terminus (where it rejoined the Truck Trail just north of High Falls).

Pictures Here!
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Old 10-24-2009, 06:57 AM   #2
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The Hotel (Dobson's ?) was just downstream on the east side of the falls. Somewhere I have a pic of it, but it's a poor one copied from the net. It was located on a bit of a rise and if you poke around, you can find the foundation.
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Old 10-24-2009, 07:01 AM   #3
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The hotel was run by the leary's, I believe. Dobson was a hunting/fishing guide. he made a different trail. Not sure when/where the hotel existed. I cannot find it on any of the historic maps
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Old 10-24-2009, 07:23 AM   #4
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Not of the hotel, but also of interest: check out this Postcard History Series of Cranberry Lake and Wanakena. In particular, the last two photos on page 76.

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Old 10-24-2009, 10:30 AM   #5
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The hotel was run by the leary's, I believe. Dobson was a hunting/fishing guide. he made a different trail. Not sure when/where the hotel existed. I cannot find it on any of the historic maps
Yes, Leary's. Thanks. I believe it was in operation around 1900 +-.

There are/were several big pines around the hotel site that the Rich Lumber Co. intentionally left so the tourists could look at them.

Rich bailed out around 1912 and donated 3,000 acres to the state for the Ranger School; on the other side of the river and officially known as the Dubuar Forest, it is known at "The Doobie" to students. Rich sold the rest to the state for Forest Preserve.

The view from Cat Mt. shows a lot of plantation forests that put in after Rich left and the forests burned. Much of this plantation exists of Norway Spruce and Scotch Pine, (two fine native species ) and were cheap in the 30's.

Last edited by dundee; 10-24-2009 at 10:38 AM.. Reason: addition
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Old 10-24-2009, 12:34 PM   #6
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Thanks for the information! There is also an excellent display board along the road midway between the Truck Trail and Dead Creek Trail heads with many pictures from historical times in Wanakeena. It includes pictures of lumber camps in the High Falls regions as well as the logging railroad when it was in operation.
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Old 10-24-2009, 12:57 PM   #7
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Yup, and IIRC, there's a big sawblade in front of the store in Wanakena.

Another reason the Ranger School is there is because when Rich left town (for Vermont, I think), the local economy was shot. The school was to give it a boost.

However, NONE of the students support the local economy by buying beer at the local store; it's a dry campus.
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Old 10-25-2009, 07:47 AM   #8
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I don't own the book, so I can't reach to the bookshelf to find it, but I recall Herbert Keith writing a book about life in the Wanakena area in the '20's? It was a fun read and possibly titled, "Man of the Woods"? Someone please correct me if I'm in error.

The best part for me was about him finding an old outboard motor in the river.

I found it at the library and with dirty, rotton, gray, cloudy, rainy November coming soon, it would make a good read by the fire.
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Old 10-25-2009, 08:30 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by dundee View Post
I don't own the book, so I can't reach to the bookshelf to find it, but I recall Herbert Keith writing a book about life in the Wanakena area in the '20's? It was a fun read and possibly titled, "Man of the Woods"? Someone please correct me if I'm in error.

The best part for me was about him finding an old outboard motor in the river.

I found it at the library and with dirty, rotton, gray, cloudy, rainy November coming soon, it would make a good read by the fire.
You are correct, it is a very good read. Available from the Adirondack Books website. (currently waiting for a new printing)
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Old 04-20-2010, 02:44 PM   #10
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I read this post and I'm thinking it might be a fun trip to take my 13 year old and my father on this summer. How is the terrain? From the description and pictures it seems that the trails are pretty easy to navigate and not a great deal of elevation change. I donít want something too challenging for my son's first backpacking trip. Also, how busy can this route be during the summer months(ie. July/August)? Iím just wondering how hard it will be to find a place to camp. Iím assuming that because this isnít the Eastern High Peaks that you can camp pretty much anywhere, is that correct or do you have to use established sites? I prefer to use established sites or lean-tos Iím just concerned that if itís too popular we might have trouble finding a spot to camp.

Lastly can anyone recommend a good guide book which has this hike in it? Itís not in the books I have. I did find information, along with a nice map of this area on the DECís web site.
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Old 04-20-2010, 03:07 PM   #11
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The terrain is pretty flat. There's some ups and downs on the trail that goes by way of Janack's Landing, but nothing major. It's only about 5 miles to High Falls this way. The way into High Falls along the truck trail follows an old railroad grade, and is very flat. However, this way to High Falls is 10 miles in length, and so is a bit longer. Also there are some considerable sections of the trail that are flooded by beaver activity that you must either wade through or find a way around.

As for a guidebook, the ADK's Northern Region guidebook has these trails in it. It's not in the Eastern High Peaks, and in fact is about a 1 or 2 hour drive farther west. I seem to recall seeing a few designated camp sites at High Falls, and there were some on the truck trail at locations like High Rock and elsewhere where the truck trail was near the Oswegatchie River, some at Janack's Landing, and one on Glasby Pond.

And as far as crowds go, I've never been to the area in the summer so I honestly couldn't say. However, given the increased interest in the Cranberry Lake 50 Trail, the attractiveness of High Falls, the fact that there are 2 lean-tos located there, and the ease of access via Janack's Landing, I'd guess it gets fairly popular in the summer.
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Old 04-20-2010, 05:53 PM   #12
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Now that I have my National Geographic Map (#745 Old Forge/Oswegatchie) in front of me, if I was to take someone on a beginners backpacking trip of this area, this is the route I would take on a 3 day/2 night beginners backpacking trip:

Day 1: Wanakenea to High Falls via Janack's Landing. The national geographic map says that this is close to nine miles, but I think 5.5 or 6 miles is a better estimate... I think the 4.0 mile distance listed on the map between Wanakena and Janack's Landing is an error. Spend the first night at High Falls either in the lean-to or at a campsite. Note that the second lean-to is on the far side of the river from the trail, and there is no bridge. The river can be crossed only during periods of low water.

Day 2: High Falls to High Rock. 5.5 miles according to the National Geographic Map. There's no lean-to at High Rock, so spend the second night in a tent in the campsite.

Day 3: High Rock to Wanakena. 3.7 miles. Easy third day back to the car.
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Old 04-20-2010, 06:24 PM   #13
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Not sure of the exact distance from Wanakena to Janacks junction, but if it isn't 4 miles it isn;t that much less.
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Old 04-20-2010, 06:49 PM   #14
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Lastly can anyone recommend a good guide book which has this hike in it? It’s not in the books I have. I did find information, along with a nice map of this area on the DEC’s web site.
There are several pages describing this area in the book "Discover the Northwestern Adirondacks". In mid-summer you should prepare for company at High Falls, as it is quite a popular destination. However, you can get as remote as you want in this deep wilderness by going off trail, but I don't recommend that unless you are sure you know what you are doing. I know from experience that SAR is a frequent visitor here (I would love to be dropped in to look for you! ). If you decide to primitive camp, that is certainly allowed anywhere within reason, with the usual restriction that camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail, spring, stream, pond or other body of water.
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Old 04-20-2010, 10:28 PM   #15
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I second Wldrns's recommendation of the Discover the NW book. It's much more up to date than the ADK book. For the High Falls trip it shouldn't really matter, but for other explorations you may do in the region it would be helpful -- for instance the Discover book includes recent acquisitions like the canoe route from Lila to Lows, new trails that have been built to complete the Cranberry Lake 50, etc.

As for mileage, my GPS read 2.8 from Wanakena to the junction at Janacks, then 4.0 from there to High Falls (6.8 mi total). For the west leg of the loop I got 4.0 from Wanakena to High Rock, and 5.25 from there to High Falls (9.25 mi total). The two trailheads in Wanakena are half a mile apart by road.

In addition to the campsites DS mentioned, you could also take the Five Ponds trail a few tenths to where it crosses the Oswegatchie, where there are several more designated sites along the river.

Also, add "except at designated sites" to the end of Wldrns's note about camping being prohibited within 150 feet of roads, water, etc.

Last edited by colden46; 04-20-2010 at 10:52 PM..
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Old 04-21-2010, 09:29 AM   #16
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Not sure of the exact distance from Wanakena to Janacks junction, but if it isn't 4 miles it isn;t that much less.
At the very least, it's flat (follows an old railroad grade most of the way), and easily and quickly traverse-able.
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Old 04-21-2010, 10:18 AM   #17
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Thank you for all of the information. I think it'll be a good first trip for my son. He's dying to go already. I showed him your(DSettahr's) pictures and he's told me, "It's got abandond logging equipment, I'm in". Ever since my wife and I took him to see the Ghost town at Tahawus and the McIntyre Blast Furnace, he's all about finding abandoned building and other things. Now I just have to decide when to go. Thanks again.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:37 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by PlanetSheldon View Post
I read this post and I'm thinking it might be a fun trip to take my 13 year old and my father on this summer. How is the terrain? From the description and pictures it seems that the trails are pretty easy to navigate and not a great deal of elevation change. I donít want something too challenging for my son's first backpacking trip. Also, how busy can this route be during the summer months(ie. July/August)? Iím just wondering how hard it will be to find a place to camp. Iím assuming that because this isnít the Eastern High Peaks that you can camp pretty much anywhere, is that correct or do you have to use established sites? I prefer to use established sites or lean-tos Iím just concerned that if itís too popular we might have trouble finding a spot to camp.

Lastly can anyone recommend a good guide book which has this hike in it? Itís not in the books I have. I did find information, along with a nice map of this area on the DECís web site.
The following link might be of some help.

http://www.cranberrylake50.org/
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Old 05-16-2010, 11:46 PM   #19
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DSettahr

Nice report I did pretty much the same route you took several years ago. On day one we followed your route to Cat Mt. After climbing Cat we pushed to Cowhorn Pond. Nice LT at the time but occupied including a not too friendly German Sheppard. We moved on camping at Nicks Pond. Day two down to High Falls where we spent the night. Then out the road on day 3. There were a few wet areas between Nicks and High Falls but a great trip.

You have to try Sand Lake, a long haul but a beautiful spot. A one nighter won't work spend at least two.
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