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Old 05-16-2018, 02:21 PM   #1
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,296
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.

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