I can’t get enough. Maybe it’s the solitude, the bald peaks, the summit campsites, the wildlife, the babbling brooks, the smooth (at least smooth for the Adirondacks) trails, or the glades. Or, maybe it’s all of these as to why I can’t get enough of Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area in the Adirondack Mountains.
For the past year I have been working on a Pharaoh quest: visit each of the 119 named features inside this wilderness area (eleven streams, fourteen lean-to’s, 44 bodies of water, and fifty summits). This past week I visited another 26 features via a three-day, thirty-mile, off-trail adventure
Day one I laced up my sneakers and put in a pack that weighed less than twenty pounds, including four days of food. I walked Lost Pond Trail, veering off the trail to bushwhack to Cranberry Marsh. From the marsh, a quick climb up Abes Hill, and then down its backside, up Bald Ledge (this lays just outside the wilderness area so it doesn’t count, but I just had to check it out) with its views south, and across four unnamed summits to Old Fort Mountain. This peak was out in the boondocks; the very northeast corner of the wilderness area. From Old Fort Mountain I backtracked west, then southwest, to Haymeadow Pond, a pretty body of water surrounded by pristine spruce forests. The outlet, Haymeadow Brook, counted as another feature.
Now I had to somehow get back towards Lost Pond. Instead of going back over Abes Hill I hiked south, picked up an abandoned snowmobile trail and then an abandoned foot trail to Lost Pond. Once there, I sat on the shore for five minutes, watching a loon swim and dive and listening to him call for his friends.
Next, it was a straight shot west towards Berrymill Pond and its lean-to, which I had never visited. The two-mile bushwhack was easier than I had anticipated with hemlock groves, only a few swamps to get around, and open hardwood forests. At Berrymill Pond I spooked a great blue heron and he flew towards the top of Thunderbolt Mountain, my destination. A final climb brought me to the top where I set up my pristine camp. Eight features down via 11.8 miles of hiking and 2,100 vertical feet of climbing. I saw no one the entire day.
Tired from the first day, I slept through two watch alarms. Got up by 7:30 AM though and descended the west side of Thunderbolt Mountain. Up the east side of Grizzle Ocean Mountain, down the very steep west side of this peak to the Grizzle Ocean lean-to, then up an unnamed drainage to one of the coolest names in the wilderness area: Devils Washdish. Past the washdish, up a long, steep gully, into the forests, through the clearings, and into the heat of the sun on the southern flanks of Treadway Mountain. Then, it was just a short hike on a trail to the top.
Bushwhacking off the summit I hit Big Clear Pond Mountain, then Peaked (pronounced “Peak Ed”) Mountain, Rock Pond Mountain, and down to Gooseneck Pond. Grabbing three quarts of untreated water (I never treat my water in the backcountry) for my summit camp, I churned up the final climb and set up camp on top of Bear Pond Mountain. Nine features visited via 8.0 miles of hiking and 2,800 vertical feet of climbing in perfect weather: 65 degrees, low humidity, and only a few puffy clouds roaming the sky.
I woke and found day three shrouded in clouds but the rain seemed like it would hold off until at least lunchtime. I descended Bear Pond Mountain to Bear Pond where I watched a family of five beavers patrol their body of water. Leaving them, I hiked down to tiny Otter Pond, climbed a steep gully away from this pond, and kept going up, up, up to the top of Fernette Mountain, a lonely hill off by its lonesome.
After descending open rock slabs dotted with red pines I visited Peshette Swamp, and then climbed Sharp Ridge. Sharp Ridge was a scrappy jumble of trees, blowdown, briars, and bushes. Fighting my way off the summit I descended to Heart Pond. From there, I ditched my pack and shirt, rolled up my work pants, and completed a one mile out-and-back run to visit North Pond.
On my way back I grabbed my pack and headed out of the wilderness towards my car. The rain had held off and it was only 1:00 PM. I hit seven features with 8.5 miles and 1,100 feet of climbing this day but I knew I could fit in more. On the drive home, along the northern boundary of the wilderness area, I stopped off to climb Ragged Mountain, a stout peak I had very much wanted to climb for the past year. And, I hiked ten minutes out and back to Bumbo Pond from another trailhead. Two more down. Then it was time to go home.
With 92 of Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area’s features now visited I still have something to look forward to: the remaining 27 features.