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Old 07-22-2014, 07:20 AM   #1
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West Canada Lake Wilderness

An adventure that began and ended at the Pillsbury Mountain trailhead, I ventured into the West Canada Lake Wilderness to explore some of its lakes, ponds and unique history.

Last edited by Conk; 03-14-2017 at 11:33 AM..
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Old 07-22-2014, 07:40 AM   #2
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Fantastic trip and photos. Thanks for sharing.
"There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go." -from "The Call of the Wild" by Robert Service

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Old 07-22-2014, 10:26 AM   #3
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Outstanding pics! Appreciate the time and effort sir.
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Old 07-22-2014, 05:52 PM   #4
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"A culture is no better than its woods." W.H. Auden
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Old 07-22-2014, 06:47 PM   #5
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Always outstanding Conk, thanks for sharing.
However, I'm a little dissapointed we are not treated to your witty TR write-up this time.
Awaesome photos non-the-less!
I was happy to see that the carry trails in between Pillsbury, Cedars, and Whitney have been cleared when I was through there last fall.
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Old 07-22-2014, 09:36 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Justin View Post
Always outstanding Conk, thanks for sharing.
However, I'm a little dissapointed we are not treated to your witty TR write-up this time.
Awaesome photos non-the-less!
I was happy to see that the carry trails in between Pillsbury, Cedars, and Whitney have been cleared when I was through there last fall.
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Old 07-23-2014, 03:21 PM   #7
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Wow,beautiful pictures thanks for sharing.
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Old 07-23-2014, 08:51 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by stripperguy View Post
No problem. I'm pretty sure you were on the list of pm's sent last fall.
This may have been the first time it has been mentioned here publicly since then.
I do plan to head back again in the fall.
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Old 07-25-2014, 04:08 PM   #9
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Loon run way very cool

hey, Outstanding photos, loved seeing the rock camp and the Loon run way made me laugh. It is fun to watch one take flight, they do need a long run way for lift off. happy paddling!
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Old 07-26-2014, 11:45 AM   #10
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As always, super enjoyable pics with commentary, thanks.

I backpacked into the WCLW in '03. I wrote a long-winded trip report for the late, great PACT trails Forum. I remember well the urge to paddle these beautiful lakes.

I am reproducing the edited trip report from 2003 below, FWIW. In the twelfth paragraph, I wrote: “Oh, to have a canoe on these lakes.”

"Near Wakely Dam, entrance to the Moose River Plains Road, Wednesday, August 20, West Central Adirondacks. Picked up the Northville-Lake Placid trail headed south, following an old roadbed. The trail is on the western side of the Cedar River Flow, and briefly joins its banks at Icehouse Landing. None of my readings illuminated the history of this Landing, now just a big campsite with a nice view of Lewey Mountain. As far as I can tell, the Cedar River becomes the flow about five miles from Wakely Dam, but the demarcation is not specific. Motors are allowed on the Flow, but the rest of the terrain we will be visiting is wilderness, and I saw not so much as a canoe on the other lakes, much less a motor.

The Flow and the Cedar River flow north. One of the many interesting features of the area we're traveling into is that it divides three major watersheds. Waters of the Flow join the Hudson to the north. Waters from Brooktrout Lake, on the west end of the wilderness, flow west then north to the St. Lawrence. Waters of West Canada, Mud and South Lakes flow south through West Canada Creek to the Mohawk. The lakes of the West Canada Wilderness are the highest in the Park at 2300' to 2500'.

Reportedly, the Flow has pretty good fishing. I believe it, as fishy and buggy usually go together, and on this sultry hot day, it was buggy. Not June buggy, but surprising for August. What had prompted me to backpack this longer route into the West Canadas was a possible fishing trip which had burned in my imagination for some time. One can canoe the Flow south into the Cedar River through a maze of hidden and difficult channels to the "Lean-To That Hums." I kid you not, this name is not official to my knowledge but extremely well known. One theoretically can then carry one's canoe south five miles or so to the Cedar Lakes (One big lake spread out like three), another reportedly hot fishing spot. Loons in every lake in the region I visited, a very good sign of fish.

I carried Adirondack French Louie by Henry Dunham, first written in the 1950's, on the life or French Louie, a trapper and character who frequented the West Canada Lakes in the 1870s and 1880s. He kept camps, stashed boats and food stashes (bear grease concoctions in earthen pots sealed with wax) throughout the area, one of the remotest areas even back then. One camp was a small cave on a hill just west of the trail as it follows the northwestern shore of the Cedar Lakes.

Later in the trip, at South Lake, I ran into an telecommunications engineer, who wants to be a school teacher and guide in this area in the summer. He had bushwacked to the cave and reported that indeed a disintegrating part of French Louie' wooden bunk remains in the cave. But since I was solo, on a first visit, and the bushwhack would have required a backtrack, I skipped it, but I regret that decision now. Anyway, I gave him the book, for which he seemed well pleased, and I was glad to be rid of the two pounds or so.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. After about four easy miles I reached the Lean-To That Hums, with a nice view of the Cedar River snaking north. Crossed an alder swamp on planks and logs, with a brief view of Little Moose (3464') and Manbury (3630') Mountains to the west. Crossed heavy brush to a washed out bridge, beaver dam, rebuild bridge at a major tributary to the Cedar. Past the turn off the Colvin Brook Lean-to and over a ridge to the site of a former bridge over the Cedar, a fireplace ring hard by the River, crowded by the trail, no level tent sites. Maybe eight miles from Wakely Dam. This would prove to be, on my way out, my last night's camp by tired necessity.

The guidebook says that if the water is low enough to ford, there is an old trail east of the Cedar that is not maintained but a much easier and more level canoe carry to my destination, the Cedar Lakes. A little further onto another site of a former bridge, still no obvious alternative route east. I stay with the marked trail west of the Cedar. The west route sort of slabs the shoulder of Lamphere Ridge, with numerous undulations crossing water at the low points. So glad I did not try this with a canoe. After about 10 miles total, exhausted bliss on the shore of Cedar Lakes.

Thursday, more muggy, more mud, more buggy, more undulations, more washed out bridges, more bliss. Followed the west shore more or less of Cedar Lakes, then west of Mud Lake hard by a large beaver lodge, seven miles total, to West Lake and the site of French Louie's biggest camp. His rough stone fireplace remains in a field here. This is also the site of the old ranger station.

Louie's camp here eventually had many bunks to accommodate the guides and their dandy sportsmen clients who passed through occasionally. The accounts of wasteful slaughter of trout and deer by the "sportsmen" and locals are as foreign to my life as anything in my life would be to theirs. Maybe not. How many fish are absent from our world due to acid rain? Would all the fishing in the region back then account for as many fish lost to acid rain sterilization that we see today?

Brooktrout Lake, ironically named, is just to the northwest, the highest of the lakes, deadly crystal clear. Acid rain.

Louie kept snakes to keep "potato bugs" out of his garden. The descendants still live in the fireplace. Louie credited the snakes for the prolific and large potatoes and other vegetables grown in his garden, but others thought his success due to the quantities of trout casually added to soil as fertilizer. Maybe it’s just me, but you don't see as many reptiles nowadays it seems. Well, they were out in force on this trip. Every color and size toad, at least four species of frog, numerous "garter" type snakes.

West, Mud and South Lakes, at a slightly lower elevation, have escaped the acid rain sterilization. I don't know the mechanics of why some lakes die and others escape, but it has to do at least in part with elevation. Now if there is a prettier setting than West Lake it would have to be South Lake. Oh, to have a canoe on these lakes. West, South and Mud Lakes are separated by a sandy plain. From West Lake the trail turns southeast and crosses a quite large, well built bridge over the connection between Mud and South Lakes. I think this was washed out a couple of years ago, hence the new, bigger, sturdier bridge. This would be a near impossible ford. You have to ask yourself, just how tough was French Louie. The man didn't know how to swim.

Which makes me think, just how soft am I? What is the point of using all this modern equipment to travel miles like this over this rough terrain (What was the most indispensable piece of equipment? Leki 15 degree trek poles). Louie traveled through here to make a living and because he was born to it. Is my romantic notion of his life patronizing? By all accounts he was a pretty happy, likeable fellow. He didn't like Johnny Leaf much though, a trapper who had a camp for a few years on the dam at Mud Lake.

The outlet to Mud Lake was the site of the largest log drive in the history of the Park area. The jacks dammed it, filled the Lakes with timber, then dynamited the dam. The flood washed the timber down West Canada Creek to an accessible extraction point. This happened toward the end of Louie's time here. He had been trapping and living on land owned by others. When the owners complained, he said that he had put out quite a few forest fires, but that now maybe he wouldn't be doing that. Imagine the french accent and backwoods attitude. The owners left him alone after that, but eventually logged the land.

Louie had himself jacked, and frequented the timber camps. What did he think of the destruction of the habitat for his trapping? Did he form a sentimental attachment to the forest and land? He probably just saw it as man's natural dominion over limitless nature.

Camped in one of many nice tent sites in the pine woods behind the South Lake Lean-to. I left the Lean-to to the engineer, his girlfriend, his fly rod, and his dog. Nice sandy beach. Did I mention the lengthwise view down the lake to the sheer mountainside hard by on the far shore? There is a picture in "Adirondack French Louie" from long ago of this same view. Just another routine Adirondack lake, no big deal.

Thursday night, a cold front is on the move, heavy winds at night, lightening in the distance. Friday morning weather is gloomy, I'm elated. Crossing the outlet of Mud Lake, it's easy to see how the topography lent itself to a massive timber dam. Leaving the Northville-Lake Placid Trail now, the beginning of turning back, heading off to the northeast toward Sampson Lake.

The guidebook author opines that this is some of the finest stretch of trail in the Park, but she does not explain. I agree, but its charm is somewhat subtle. It evidently hasn't been logged for a very long time. Trees have been dying of old age, weather, and disease for a quite some time. It occurs to me that, consequently, you can see the mix of tree species in their natural distribution according to the micro ecologies created by terrain, and according to the changing micro ecologies created by tree death. A climax forest, like the Park must have looked all over not that long ago. Tremendous species diversity.

A lot of children at Sampson Lake., it sounds like. Off in the distance.

I see Whitney Lake through the trees, float planes used to bring fishermen in to that lake. Skipping the bushwhack turn-off to Whitney Lake, maybe I'll backtrack to it later. Seems I'm more uphill than down. For the first time since the Cedar River Flow, I'm on the remnants of an old roadbed. A flooded crossing over a beaver dam outlet. Two small depressions, probably manmade, quarrying something.

The sun comes out, the humidity is gone, the wind is up, the temp is down. Pillsbury is the most accessible of all the lakes in this region. I'm content with the company, a college couple seemingly a bit unsure of themselves. Two fellows arrive, one a woodsman, they both obviously enjoy a good laugh or two, obviously really happy to be here.

Then it happens, before I know it, the kids have cut down a medium snag for firewood. To add insult to injury, this snag, now stump, is sort of near my tent site. Now this is the second time in the Park I have had to endure such nonsense. After I silently calm myself, I very nicely explain to them that the critters need the snags, that there is an ethic even at a Lean-to, that many other campers have left the snag there on purpose. I also want to tell them that the anxiety they feel as the sun goes down is natural, innate, but irrational, so just experience it, examine it, and then you just naturally master it, then you can forget the campfire, or at least build a small one. But I forebear on that last part, and they look chagrined enough. I am satisfied they have accepted the message in the spirit intended. I tell them what's done is done, and I mean it. I am back to my trance of contentment, lying in the sun, eating, brewing tea, more eating.

Saturday, off to Cedar Lakes, turning northwest now onto the remnants of a (military) road from the very early 1800s that was to be the first to traverse the southern Adirondacks, projected to run to the St. Lawrence. Lots of corduroy. I'm thinking if this road had succeeded, the Northway might be here instead of to the east. I'm trying to imagine how it looked back then, how different in flora but how similar in basic topography and geology.

Back at Cedar Lakes, then pushed on to the Cedar River camp mentioned above. Explored the Cedar upriver and down in my tevas. No sign of a trout, surprisingly. Mama merganser and three youngsters making their way upriver are startled but not unduly alarmed when they realize I am twenty feet away on the bank, meditating still and quiet. How unusual for a human they might think to themselves. Sunday, trudged back to the car begrudgingly.

I saw, glimpsed maybe twenty people total. The six people I spoke to were all from New York State."

This trip was in 2003, so conditions have likely changed.
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Old 07-26-2014, 05:07 PM   #11
Old, tired.
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Excellent! Great photos... thanks for sharing!

Take it easy,
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Old 07-26-2014, 06:12 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by DaveO View Post
....I am reproducing the edited trip report from 2003 below, FWIW. In the twelfth paragraph, I wrote: “Oh, to have a canoe on these lakes.” ....
Great read!
Thanks for sharing!
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Old 07-26-2014, 11:23 PM   #13
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Wow! Thanks. All great, but the rocks and the orchis stand out.
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Old 07-27-2014, 08:48 AM   #14
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Absolutely AWESOME
High peaks: Summer: 46/46 (1st iteration); 29/46 (2nd); 11/46 (3rd); 7/46 (4th) Winter: 7/46 (1st); 1/46 (2nd)

The other 56: Summer: 55/56 (1st); 12/56 (2nd); 4/56 (3rd); 3/56 (4th) Winter: 13/56 (1st); 3/56 (2nd); 1/56 (3rd); 4th (0/56)
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Old 07-27-2014, 09:11 AM   #15
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Great photos and looks like a great adventure. I am officially inspired to get back to West Canada Wilderness now.
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Old 07-29-2014, 09:09 AM   #16
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Great pics! Thanks for sharing.
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