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Old 11-16-2010, 01:47 PM   #1
BushwhackingFool
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Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake

Many years ago I fantasized about hiking all the way from Wanakena, NY to Stillwater Reservoir and then return to Wanakena via Cranberry Lake. After the 1995 microburst I had given up on this adventure until reading about someone who had already done so without encountering any extensive blow downs (read his report here). Knowing it was possible I made this trip become a reality for me this past summer.

I headed out on June 27, 2010, leaving Wanakena with a final destination of Wolf Pond for my first night in the Five Ponds Wilderness. The sky was overcast with the threat of rain seemingly imminent. I kept a good pace given the time and amount of miles before me so my first extended stop was not until High Rock. While there a couple young guys canoed in off the Oswegatchie River and chatted for a while before continuing on their way out of the backcountry. Shortly afterwards I continued on my way too.

Returning to the main Truck Trail, I continued on crossing over two beaver dams and skirting around a flooded area that use to be a vly before reaching the Five Ponds Trail junction. Continuing south on the Fiver Ponds trail I crossed the Oswegatchie on the bridge and continued on until arriving at the Big Shallow Pond lean-to. Soon after I arrived light rain started to fall. When the sky did not open up with a downpour I continued on and arrived at Wolf Pond in the early evening. That night a combination of strong winds and heavy rain made sleeping within the lean-to very worthwhile. A full account of my first day can be read here.

In the morning it was still raining and the clouds were very dark so I decided to sleep in and put off an early start. It was not until almost noon that the rain stopped and a sliver of sunshine momentarily appeared. I packed up my gear and headed off down the trail toward the Wolf Pond inlet crossing. This is where I had planned on starting my bushwhack into the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at the inlet crossing I found a roaring falls traveling through the rocky flume. There was no bridge here so a jump down from a rock ledge to a slanted rock on the other side was required. With the water levels up further than I had ever seen before and the mossy, slanted rock slippery from the morning rain I decided to err on the side of caution and bushwhack upstream in hopes of finding a better place to cross.

After bushwhacking up stream until I found a place to cross, I moved out of the grassy bordered stream into the relatively dry interior forest, roughly following the stream south until it turned and headed toward Streeter Fishpond. A small stream flowed from the southwest apparently coming from the upper Riley Pond and I followed this all the way to the pond where I camped along its eastern shore for the second night. A full account of my second day can be read here.

The third day I hiked over the southwestern shoulder of a hill between the two Riley Ponds to the lower pond along its northern shore. After navigating over a long and winding beaver dam that ended at a cliff at the eastern end of the pond, I traveled northeast along the contours of a ridge until reaching a dammed up wetland quickly becoming a pond.

From the wetland I climbed up and over the ridgeline separating the wetland from Little Crooked Lake. After moving around Little Crooked I headed directly for the outlet stream from Crooked Lake. I crossed the rocky outlet stream and after catching a glimpse of the large lake headed over the southwestern shoulder of a hill separating the northern arm of Crooked Lake from its eastern arm.

Arriving right at the tip of the eastern arm of Crooked Lake I bushwhacked southeast to Summit Pond. I moved around the southern shore and camped for my third night near the outlet stream to Clear Lake. A full account of my third day can be read here.

The fourth day marked my halfway point on this momentous trek with leaving Summit Pond and heading directly south to Clear Lake. Following the western shore of Clear Lake I finally turned east after clearing the lake and arrived near the northern terminus of the Red Horse Trail right at Mud Pond.

I kept a fairly fast pace as I traveled south along the Red Horse Trail especially after bushwhacking for nearly two days straight. My progress was only impeded at the convoluted crossing that is the outlet of Witchhopple Lake. After crossing the Witchhopple outlet and resting for a while I continued on the trail all the way to the Trout Lake lean-to.

At the lean-to I repacked my backpack leaving my sleeping bag, tarp and extra food behind in the relative safety of the shelter. Once I reached the half point along the trail between the lean-to and Big Burnt Lake I entered the forest heading east toward Gun Harbor. After trekking through mature forest, crossing a few small streams and skirting a couple small wetlands I arrived at Gun Harbor. I was quickly welcomed (scolded?) by a loon out in the water.

After light rain start falling and hearing what I thought was thunder, I headed back toward the lean-to following roughly the same route as before. Within an hour I was back at the Trout Pond lean-to where I spent the night. A full account of my fourth day can be read here.

The next morning I retraced my trip down the Red Horse Trail from the day before reaching the northern terminus by mid-morning. Again, I bushwhacked around Clear Lake to the west and then followed the Summit Pond outlet back to Summit Pond. This time I followed the northern shore of Summit Pond, which contains many blow downs and is more inhospitable to camping than its southern counterpart.

Upon returning to the eastern end of Crooked Lake, I headed north toward an unnamed pond instead of continuing to follow my path from the day before. After having lunch at this murky pond I continued northwards typically staying to the uplands to the west of the Robinson River until reaching the large wetland just south of Toad Pond.

At this point the sky was almost completely clear so instead of running off to make camp immediately I took my time taking photographs and exploring around Toad Pond by following its shore from the outlet east all the way around to the inlet along the western shore. At this point a large dark cloud moved overhead and dumped a heavy rain on me.

After 10 to 15 minutes, the cloud moved on and the clear and sunny skies returned. Finding a flat spot for a campsite was a challenge here given the many boulders and blow downs. After finding a marginal campsite I ate a quick dinner and went to bed fairly early. A full account of my fifth day can be read here.

My last complete day of bushwhacking took me from Toad Pond west all the way to Streeter Fishpond. After crossing to the south of the small inlet stream to Toad Pond I retreated uphill to the south where I encountered numerous pockets of blow down as I continued west. I descended into a low lying area where I followed a stream into a large open wetland. The wetland soon became too wet and I was forced to retreat back into the forest until finally reaching the same stream I bushwhacked along from the Wolf Pond inlet. I followed this stream south once again but this time cut over a ridge to the west and arrived at Streeter Fishpond. My penultimate night was spent camping along the eastern shore of this attractive little backcountry pond. A full account of my sixth day can be read here.

On the morning of my seventh day out I headed north along the eastern shore of Streeter Fishpond and then headed northwest toward the Sand Lake Trail while skirting a wetland to the east.

Upon arriving at the Sand Lake Trail I hiked north back toward the Wolf Pond inlet crossing. This time the crossing was easily accomplished now that the water levels had receded and the sunny sky had dried out the rocks. Between the outlet and the Cage Lake trail I observed fresh moose tracks in the mud along the trail. I followed them all the way to the Cage Lake Trail intersection where they turned toward Wolf Pond and then soon after headed off into the forest.

After encountering the moose tracks I continued north until reaching the Big Shallow Pond lean-to. This was where I originally had planned to stay on my final night but the prospect of having to hike all the way back to Wanakena and then drive almost 3 hours the next day was enough for me to rethink my plan. Instead I decided to head to Cat Mountain to spend the night.

Soon I was back on the trail and heading northeast back toward the Truck Trail. At the bridge over the Oswegatchie I encountered a group of 4 guys. These were the first people I had seen since the first day back at High Rock. Other than some people boating on Cranberry Lake these were the only people I would see for the remainder of my trip.

After I arrived at the Truck Trail I headed east through some wet area until reaching dry ground shortly before resting at the High Falls Trail junction. It only took me an hour to reach Sand Hill Junction and after filtering some water at a small stream feeding Glasby Pond I arrived at Cat Mountain.

The evening was spent watching numerous fireworks displays from all directions, spotting shooting stars and sleeping out on the cliffs under the stars in very windy conditions. A full account of my seventh day can be read here.

The next morning I packed up and started off early, arriving at Dead Creek Flow during mid-morning. To celebrate I took a dip in the lake, followed by a shampoo and capped off by washing my trail clothes as best I could. The warm sun quickly dried my trail cloths enough for the return trip to my vehicle in Wanakena. A full account of my eighth day can be read here.

And thus ended my epic journey from Wanakena to Stillwater Reservoir and then back to Wanakena via Cranberry Lake. Although I covered a significant amount of territory I wished I had had enough time to explore east of Witchhopple Lake and north of Clear Lake. Hopefully I will get to those areas in the years to come.
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Old 11-16-2010, 02:33 PM   #2
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There used to be a horse trail from Stillwater Reservoir to High Falls (the Red Horse Trail). Part of it still in place on the southern end, but the northern end of the trail has been abandoned.


I know that some of the local forest rangers occasionally do a longer patrol, starting at Stillwater and ending I think in Wanakena. One of them wrote about their experiences on such a trip in one of the lean-tos at the Five Ponds.
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Old 11-16-2010, 04:00 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
I know that some of the local forest rangers occasionally do a longer patrol, starting at Stillwater and ending I think in Wanakena. One of them wrote about their experiences on such a trip in one of the lean-tos at the Five Ponds.
Retired ranger Terry Perkins makes an annual trip of it, current ranger John Scanlon has often done so also.

BWFool - I've done that trip a few times over the years, but always one-way. It's pretty aggressive to make it an out and back - congratulations. Shortly after the '95 blowdown the view to the north from the summit of Summit Mtn was 99% total destruction of every large tree in sight. Three years later the competing saplings and continuous ferns totally covering downed trees made travel all but impossible. Touching foot on solid ground was a rarity. Very wild country to bushwhack, great stuff. I'm always particularly intrigued by the neck of Oven Lake.
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Old 11-16-2010, 04:56 PM   #4
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Nice TR!
Welcome to the forum!
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Old 11-16-2010, 06:30 PM   #5
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Nice report & congratulations!

Kinda weird finding a bottle on a tree @ Little Crooked (aint it Ordin? )

I may have to visit some of those places, someday. As noted above, a very few people have been traveling between Cranberry & Stillwater prob, every year, for a long time & by using several varying routes....For example: in 1981, while @ Negro Lake we talked to a man with a dog (the German Shepard had its own backpack ) heading to Stillwater from Wanakena. And an alternate route in the same vein, would be family members taking clients to Cranberry & back from near Mud Pond on the W. Br. Oswegatchie River via the Jakes Pond trail & old tote road to Tide Lake & bushwhacking on to Sand Lake, where prior to the trail, they'd follow the low ground through the notch, behind the lean-to...onward to Wolf Pond & cross where the beaver dam is on the outlet & then follow the top of the esker by the Five Ponds towards the East Branch & so on.
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Old 11-16-2010, 07:17 PM   #6
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Wildrns,

Despite being nervous the whole time about having to navigate through extensive blowdowns they never materialized on this trip. There were plenty of pockets of blow down and they were annoying to get through but nothing requiring a Herculean effort. Maybe I was just lucky.

I can easily imagine the view from Summit Mountain as I was on top of the esker between Little Shallow and Washbowl the day after the 1995 blowdown. As I recall there was not many standing trees to be seen (although I was probably still in shock and there were probably more than I realized).

Oven Lake and all the water bodies in that area fascinate me too. I definitely want to try and get in there somehow but I have heard that the area north and east of Toad Pond were heavily hit by the blowdown. But at least I know of a way into Toad Pond that isn't impossible. Also, I'd love to visit West, Gal and Cracker Ponds to the northeast.
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Old 11-16-2010, 07:20 PM   #7
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pondhopper,

I saw that bottle on the top of a snag on the southern shore of Little Crooked Lake. I was wondering how it got there. Later in the summer when I visited Bear Pond in the Pepperbox Wilderness I found out how those pesky plastic bottles get to the top of those snags.
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Old 11-16-2010, 07:51 PM   #8
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Oven Lake and all the water bodies in that area fascinate me too. I definitely want to try and get in there somehow but I have heard that the area north and east of Toad Pond were heavily hit by the blowdown. But at least I know of a way into Toad Pond that isn't impossible. Also, I'd love to visit West, Gal and Cracker Ponds to the northeast.
Nothing is impossible. I've hiked to those ponds, and made it to Oven very shortly after the blowdown. What a different world that was. Interestingly, that was easier then than a couple of years later when I was forced to abandon another trip to Oven. The whippy thick sampling growth and tall ferns made the ground invisible and the logs slippery. Walking from fern covered log to log by feel alone made the danger of breaking a leg while solo too great. However, another time to the east it was not quite so bad as I Hornbecked my way from Lows to Stillwater. I'll be back there again if I ever take the time to stop canoe race training.
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