Celine and I are friends who met when we both worked at the REI store in Paramus. The Pharaoh Lake Wilderness is in the southeastern Adirondack Park in New York State.
Two years ago we came to the same wilderness area in September, but we starting from Crane Pond. There were three of us then, for we were joined by another friend, Brittney, who also worked at REI. (Last year Celine and Karen and I also backpacked in the West Canada Lake Wilderness together.)
On Wednesday morning, starting out at 8 am, Celine and I arrived at the Putnam Pond Campground a little after 12:30, and after paying a three-day day-use fee of $18 to the two women at the front gate, we left my car in the almost empty lot by the boat launch. It was midweek so the campground was not busy. By 2:20 we were on the trail..
We took the Grizzle-Ocean-Trail to the Clear-Pond-Trail and followed that to Clear Pond—a beautiful site—where we met a lovely couple out on a day hike. We continued on the Clear-Pond-Trail until we came to the Rock-Pond-Trail and took that to Rock Pond where we found an empty and clean lean-to. We arrived around 3:30. The lean-to looked immaculate; the roof had been redone a week earlier. And there were loons in the lake.
We were in good spirits, having managed not to tire ourselves out. We gathered firewood and ate. At night we had a good fire going (this was Celine’s specialty, with a little help from me), although, on account of some of the wood being damp, it was a little smokey. The stars shone brightly in the night sky.
On Thursday morning I woke at 6:30 and had coffee as listened to the ruckus of the loons and observed, as I sat and strolled, the rocks and foliage, the moss and rotting trees, the clear sky and the little islands. I wrote in my journal and thought of those I missed.
After Celine got up and we both had had our breakfast (I had half-a-bag of Bakery on Main gluten-free granola with Meyenberg whole-powdered goat-milk), we headed out along the Rock-Pond-Trail and the Rock-Pond-to-Lilypad-Pond-Trail to the lean-to at Lilypad Pond. There, around noon, we shed our packs and took a break. I was winded more than Celine.
Then we got on the Short-Swing-Trail and hiked to the Oxshoe Pond lean-to. Just before we arrived, we came across the first person we saw this day, a lone college student looking for her group. She walked with us most of the way the lean-to where we stayed the night. On the We arrived at 2:30. (For those who might look, the Crab Pond lean-to on older maps never existed.)
About an hour-and-a-half earlier a group of twelve Green Mountain College students (as part of freshmen orientation) had arrived at the lean-to. When we arrived, their gear filled the lean-to but they were in the wood a short distance away setting up a camp. Soon they arrived one by one. Their leaders invited us to stay at the lean-to; they only asked that they could use the space in front of the lean-to to organize and have lessons (on water-filtration, how to use backpacking stoves, etc.).
An older man who had come down the Short-Swing-Trail with his well-trained and happy dog, who had his own pack, soon arrived and upon seeing us decided to set up his basecamp a few hundred feet north, at a campsite near the shore.
When things quieted down and the light began to fade (between 7:30 and 8:00) Celine got another campfire going, this time needing a little more of my help to get it going. We decided to go to Pharaoh Lake the next day, knowing that there was a chance we might spend Friday night under my tarp.
There was a red sky in the morning and not much mist on the pond when I awoke. The college students who camped somewhere behind us and the gentleman and his dog got on the trail about the same time, around 9:30. The college students were getting ready to take the trail to the peak of Pharaoh Mountain and on down the other side to Pharaoh Lake lean-to #5. The man and his dog headed on a day-trip up Treadway Mountain.
Celine and I left Oshoe Pond continuing on the Short-Swing-Trail toward Glidden Marsh. At Glidden Marsh we turned left and followed the Glidden-Marsh-to-Pharaoh-Lake-Trail until we reached Pharaoh Lake. Then we turned left and took the Pharaoh-Lake-Trail to the first lean-to (lean-to #1).
There we came upon a family of four camping there with their great dane. We also saw another family in a canoe in the bay exploring Split Rock. The familly at the lean-to hospitably invited us to shed our packs and relax. We did so and engaged in friendly conversation for a little while. They were from Long Island (Dix Hills) and had spent the previous night and intended to stay another. Then we got back on the trail to see if lean-to #2 was available.
The trail betwen the two lean-tos was the most rugged and steep—parts of it were near treacherous—that we encountered on this trip. We arrived, however, at the second lean-to at 1:00 and it was empty. This lean-to faced the lake a few stories above the shore and directly across the lake facing the lean-to was Pharaoh Mountain. Celine and Brittney and I stayed here in September in 2015. Brittney’s carving was there on the back wall of the lean-to as proof (see above). I checked out the ledge where we had gone swimming that year, and also a bank further down that was easier to get to, where we could collect water for filtration.
Two men arrived from the south hoping the lean-to would be free. They had stayed at a lean-to further down (either lean-to #3 or 4) and were hoping to relocate. They expected to rondevous at our site with someone else who was coming by canoe. The third man was nowhere to be seen. They waited down by the shore for him to arrive. In the meanwhile Celine settled in for a nap. I kept an eye on them, limiting my explorations of the area accordingly. After a while the canoeist arrived. He had found a campsite for them on the other side. After assertaining that we would be vacating the lean-to the next day, they left.
I sat under a pine tree a few feet from the shore and pondered the divine One as the Mother who births all creation, her grandeur and the peacefulness of the scene before me: the sound of the waves lapping the rocks, the burbling of the water as it gets caught under the ledges; the moss growing out from the crevices of the rocks, and the little pines with their roots reaching into the fissures; the everlasting rocks and the everchanging trees, the inlets and bays and marshes and beaver lodges, the wide sky and drifting clouds. I changed places to a ledge above the lake. Next to me was a jackpine and beside that was an eastern hemlock, and below me was a blueberry bush growing boldly on a rock shelf.
The divine One, our Mother: her love for her creation is not always reflected in the violence of nature, but taking a longer view, life nevertheless springs forth and evolves. All life matters to her—from the salamander to the eagle to the human. And all life, it seemed to me, sees creation as an extension of their mother who birthed and nourishes them. I didn’t know what wild animals think of the predator who threatens them. Perhaps it reminds them of the violence of their births, of their coming into the world before their mother succored them.
When we were alone, the ranger came by and we chatted. He was asking everyone to be conservative on the use of firewood.
We still made a fire. It was more difficult this time reguiring more tinder and kindling. I spent more time on it, I think, this time than Celine did. We went to bed early; it might have been 8:30, half-hour past dark.
I finally got up at 6:15. I hardly slept at all during the night, and now I was achy, especially my neck. It was frigid. There was a thermometer nailed to the post of the lean-to, and its mercury hovered just above forty degrees. My fingers would become numb whenever I took off my gloves. At 8:00 it still read only 44 degrees. I relished my coffee and the calories from my cereal. Celine stayed in her sleeping bag a while longer than I did. The lake was completely misted over. After a while, only the top of Pharaoh Lake showed.
We left Pharaoh Lake a little after nine, hiking back north half-a-mile the way we had come, on the Pharaoh-Lake-Trail, until we came to the Grizzle-Ocean-Trail. We took this away from Pharaoh Lake all the way back to the car at the Putnam Pond Campground. We arrived about 1:30, packed the car, and used the campground toilets before we headed out at 2:20. Then I drove us home, stopping a few times to stretch my back and once for a nap.
On this trip, Celine took up quite an interest in the variety of mushrooms we saw. Here is a sampling of a few of them: