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Old 04-11-2012, 11:25 PM   #1
DSettahr
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Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness Loop 4/5 - 4/7/12


Spent 3 days/2 nights exploring the heart the Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness late last week. I've spent very little time in the southwest area of the park before, and it's always a pleasure to explore new areas- although I'm starting to run out of new areas to explore!

Got a late start on Thursday, and hiked in to Middle Settlement Lake in the dark from the Okara trail head on Route 28. The trail packs a bit of a punch in the first few hundred feet, but after than it leveled off. The old snowmobile trail that parallels Route 28 was easy hiking, and the trail in to the lake wasn't too bad either. There were some impressive boulders and ledges on the east end of Middle Settlement Lake that I'd love to go back and explore during the daylight some time.

Got to the lean-to around 11 pm, and settled in for a pleasant night. I awoke early Friday morning, and got to watch a beautiful sunrise over the lake. The Middle Settlement Lean-to couldn't be more perfectly situated for views- it's right on the edge of a rocky bluff overlooking the lake.


Unfortunately, that beauty isn't without it's toll- the lake pretty obviously gets a lot of use, and is pretty heavily impacted. Numerous illegal satellite sites abound in the vicinity of the lean-to and trail, and firewood is scarce. There is one designated campsite on the east end of the lake, but it's pretty apparent that the area gets a lot more use than the one lean-to and one campsite can handle.

I packed up and was soon heading north to Pine Lake, my destination for the evening. The trail north from Middle Settlement Lake obviously doesn't get much use- there were moments where I had to stop and scan carefully ahead through the woods to pick out the route. Along the way, it passed by Lost Lake as well as some small beaver flows- all pretty bodies of water. Both Middle Branch, as well as the outlet of East Pine Pond, are pretty major streams, but fortunately both were bridged and easy to cross.

It didn't take long to reach Pine Lake. The lean-to there is set back a little ways from the water. There was a campsite down by the water, but I also read an entry from the ranger in the lean-to register stating that it was illegal. The lean-to obviously receives significantly less use than the Middle Settlement Lake lean-to, but there were also signs of illegal ATV use in the vicinity.


Since it wasn't even afternoon yet, I decided to head over to check out Big Otter Lake. The trail there from Pine Lake is a snowmobile trail in winter, and was flat and easy to follow. Unfortunately, I also encountered spots of ATV damage along the way- precursors of what was to come at Big Otter Lake.

For such a big lake, the outlet of Big Otter was somewhat narrow, muddy, and unimpressive- although I did spot evidence of a logging dam on the outlet. The road to Big Otter is still open to motor vehicle traffic, as evidenced by several signs I saw, but it's also in pretty poor shape. You'd need a high clearance vehicle with 4WD for sure to safely drive all the way in to the outlet.


I decided to follow the trail up the west side of Big Otter Lake to check out the old hotel site I'd read about in the guidebook. The trail was unmarked, although easy to find and follow. Along the way, I saw lots of ATV impacts- ruts in the mud, many of which were filled with water. In some spots it was easier to walk through the woods parallel to the trail than it was to walk in it.

It didn't take long to find the old hotel site. It's now a pleasant clearing with great views across the northern part of the lake, which in contrast to the outlet, is quite open with sandy beaches. I guess Bit Otter is a popular destination in the summer for those arriving via float plane, and I can see why! I saw what looked to be some nice campsites on the north shore. I stopped here to each lunch, and then poked around a bit. I tried following the old road around the north side of the lake to reach one of the campsites I thought I saw, but was turned back by beaver flooding. I did find an old crosscut saw near the hotel site, though- stuck in a tree!


On my hike back to the outlet, I started to hear a dull roar. At first, thinking it was an airplane, I thought nothing of it. Soon, though, it started to get quite loud, and was obviously heading directly towards me- and my eyes were turned skywards, expecting to see a low-flying plane come right overhead, perhaps a float plane landing on the lake. I realized that I was looking in the wrong direction when the ATVs burst around the corner in the trail. 10-15 of them- and it wasn't just kids. These were adults, most of them couples, with coolers strapped to the back of their ATVs. It was an organized picnic outing! Ah well... at least they were friendly enough- many of them smiled and waved as they went by. The trail was significantly messier after they passed, though (and I noticed a few beer cans and discarded take out containers that I don't think were there on my hike in).

It didn't take long to retrace my steps back to Pine Lake, where I spent the afternoon dozing in the sun in front of the lean-to. I awoke in time to head down to the lake, and watch a beautiful sunset over the water...


Friday night got noticeably colder than the previous night had- and in fact, when I got up the next morning, there was a fair amount of ice, both in puddles on the trail, in in the small bays and inlets of Pine Lake.

Once packed up, I headed back to Big Otter Lake- this time to the south shore, where I picked up the Big Otter truck trail and started heading south. I did pass a designated campsite on the south shore of Big Otter, not too far from the outlet. Not a bad site, and it obviously gets very little use.

The truck trail was in decent shape, a little over grown in some spots, but I was able to make very good time on it. It was obvious that few people ever hike the truck trail. I saw a sign near the unmarked junction with the Lost Creek/East Pond trail stating that the trails north of the truck trail get very little maintenance, and are maintained intentionally in the most primitive manner possible. I had thought about maybe heading out to check out Lost Creek, East Pond, and Blackfoot Pond, but decided to save this for a future trip.

I made good time, and soon I was at the turn off for the trail to Middle Branch Lake. I reached the lake itself late in the morning, and headed down to check out the lean-to. The lean-to is nice enough, on a point of land that sticks out into the water- great views, but also very exposed. It was pretty windy, and I was soon set up in the very back of the lean-to trying to stay out of the wind while I ate lunch.


After lunch, I packed up and headed back to the trailhead. Took a side trip out to Grass Pond along the way... someone had a canoe locked to a tree there, in plain site. Once I got close to the trailhead, I started to pass quite a few groups- some on day hikes, some obviously heading in on overnights. Looks like I beat the rush by hiking out on Saturday!

Trails were in pretty good shape- I didn't have much mud to deal with, but this was mainly because most of the mud was still frozen. Some sections I can tell get quite wet during the warmer months!

All in all, a great place to visit, even if some areas are pretty highly impacted (either from hikers and backpackers or ATVs!). I'll definitely be back for sure- need to spend a night in the Middle Branch lean-to, and I'm very curious now to explore Lost Creek, East Pond, and Blackfoot Lake, and to perhaps climb Moose River Mountain as well!
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Old 04-12-2012, 01:21 AM   #2
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Great trip report. Thanks for posting. Yea, an overnighter somewhere sounds good to me too.
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Old 04-12-2012, 07:58 AM   #3
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That CAN be a nice area, althought I seldom go anymore due to the crowds. ATV's were a problem decades ago. I wonder how many more decades will pass before our rangers figure out that they're in there?
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Old 04-12-2012, 08:33 AM   #4
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Great report and pics as usual! Don't understand the, " There are no state forest in the Adirondacks", comment?
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Old 04-12-2012, 09:57 AM   #5
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it is indeed the old Brown's Tract Rd. It can still be followed heading east to Thendara where it ends near the former Mtn View motel. Heading west it becomes very hard to follow after it crosses the copper lake rd.

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DeSettar,I think the old snowmobile trail you refer to in the begining is actually the old Browns Tract road you can still make out the ruts from horse drawn wagons .
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Old 04-12-2012, 10:59 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dundee View Post
That CAN be a nice area, althought I seldom go anymore due to the crowds. ATV's were a problem decades ago. I wonder how many more decades will pass before our rangers figure out that they're in there?
Yeah, I was a bit surprised at how much use the area obviously gets. It makes sense, though- this is the closest wilderness area to Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. I'm sure a lot of the people who hike and backpack in the Ha-De-Ron-Dah wilderness hail from these metropolitan areas. Judging from the bumper stickers I saw in the parking lot when I left, quite a few were from these cities.

The guidebook doesn't make it clear, but it sounds like the road to Big Otter is legally open to ATVs (I could be wrong on this). It was obvious that there had been some attempts to to keep ATVs from traveling further (rock piles across the trail), but the ATVs were just driving around these impediments.

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Great report and pics as usual! Don't understand the, " There are no state forest in the Adirondacks", comment?
"State Forest" is a state land classification, in the same vein as "Wild Forest" and "Wilderness." On state lands classified as "State Forest," timber harvesting is permitted. So state lands classified as "State Forest" can't be forest preserve lands, and exist only outside the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. The sign should have read "Wilderness." Someone probably just grabbed the wrong sign.

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DeSettar,I think the old snowmobile trail you refer to in the begining is actually the old Browns Tract road you can still make out the ruts from horse drawn wagons .
That makes sense- the guidebook referred to it as an old snowmobile trail. I'm sure it was probably used as such before the wilderness designation.
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Old 04-12-2012, 11:24 AM   #7
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[QUOTE=DSettahr;184492]
The guidebook doesn't make it clear, but it sounds like the road to Big Otter is legally open to ATVs (I could be wrong on this). ...QUOTE]


Possibly, but only to disabled folks with a DEC permit. I know of no state land that's just plain "open" to ATV's.

The road to Dacy Clearing in the LGWF is an example of this. Disabled folks can drive an ATV (with a friend on another machine) to the Clearing to camp. However, that's the end of it; thye can legally go no further.
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Old 04-12-2012, 11:53 AM   #8
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Nice trip report, I wanted to get out to that area last year and didn't make it. Have to put it on my list for this year. I'm jealous how you seem to find/make time for so many trips. Life seems to always get in the way for me!
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Old 04-12-2012, 12:01 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
"State Forest" is a state land classification, in the same vein as "Wild Forest" and "Wilderness." On state lands classified as "State Forest," timber harvesting is permitted. So state lands classified as "State Forest" can't be forest preserve lands, and exist only outside the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. The sign should have read "Wilderness." Someone probably just grabbed the wrong sign.

The entire region has been logged heavily, could it be left over from that era?


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That makes sense- the guidebook referred to it as an old snowmobile trail. I'm sure it was probably used as such before the wilderness designation.
I remember when snowmobiling began in this region in the mid 70's. I don't believe that area was ever used though. I could be mistaken as we only used the trails adjacent to the golf course back then. State land around Nick Lake was some of the first trails used and still are today but not by many as they are ungroomed, not desirable for today's super heavy machines!!!

Funny, when we were at MS this past weekend I wondered if/when you'd be there. Should have read the Lean-to register closer. Was there white paint sprayed on the interior of the lean-to?

Last edited by Alpine1; 04-12-2012 at 12:25 PM..
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Old 04-12-2012, 12:51 PM   #10
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Quote:
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That CAN be a nice area, althought I seldom go anymore due to the crowds. ATV's were a problem decades ago. I wonder how many more decades will pass before our rangers figure out that they're in there?
About 3 years ago I was standing on the eastern shore of Big Otter, at a point directly across from the hotel site. I witnessed multiple ATVs arrive at there, and then proceed to run back and forth actually IN the lake parallel to the shore, making great splashes doing so. Apparently the lake bottom is shallow and firm enough to support them, and they were obviously not strangers to this activity.

It used to be legal (per county rules) for them to run the truck road, but only to the dam on the south end of Big Otter, not beyond. There was some contention between the county and the DEC on this, who ruled that only by permit would the disabled be allowed to continue this practice. It is highly ignored.
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Old 04-12-2012, 02:33 PM   #11
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... It is highly ignored.
Yes, on both sides.
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Old 04-12-2012, 05:05 PM   #12
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Deathstar, Thanks for the explaination!
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Old 04-12-2012, 05:27 PM   #13
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[QUOTE=backwoodsman;184506]I don't know if the DEC ignores this,maybe they just don't have the manpower to enforce it.If you see illegal ATV use going on get the licence plate#,make and model,take pictures,ect and turn them in. There's a DEC office in Lowville....QUOTE]


It might be a manpower shortage, but how many centuries does it have to go on?

Yes, get the plate #, vehicle description, photos, etc., but I think we're much better off calling the 800-TIPP-DEC (800-847-73320) as IMHO, Lowville doesn't give a flying rat's ass. The above # is a statewide # and might reach mor folks than just Lowville.

And a reminder, your call, my call mean nothing. However, if we ALL call, then something is done.
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Old 04-13-2012, 02:21 PM   #14
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I have backpacked in the Ha-De- Ron-Dah many times, and have been fortunate on several of those occasions to not run into many people or ATV's, due to going off-season or mid-week. However, on 2 occasions I had a hard time finding a campsite and encountered numerous ATv's. They mostly stay around Big Otter but once I saw them on the trail to Middle Branch, which is in the wilderness area.

I've done the loop north of the Big Otter Lake trail once, on the Lost Creek trail. It's very different from the other trails inn the area- lots of blowdown and in places hard to follow. It clearly doesn't get much use. I didn't get all the way to Blackfoot Lake- I camped at East Pond. The campsite there was pretty grown in and the fire ring looked like it hadn't been used in a while. It's definitely where to go if you want to see the remote side of this wilderness and leave the crowds behind.
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Old 04-13-2012, 08:35 PM   #15
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DS yet another awesome trip report, really dug it! Makes me wistful for the ol North Country.
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Old 04-14-2012, 02:19 PM   #16
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The time I encountered ATV's on the trail to Middle Branch was several years ago, I think 02 or 03, in late June. The other time I saw ATV's was several years later at Pine Lake. I would describe both encounters as tense and unfriendly.

I agree with the views expressed earlier that the DEC, at least the guys on the ground charged with enforcing rules, seem to lean toward pro-atv sentiments, and seem unwilling to enforce the no ATV rule. It seems to me that most of the ATV use is by locals who ride on the same trails over and over, so it shouldn't be that hard to catch them. I also agree that a heavy fine and permanent confiscation of the machine would be a suitable punishment.
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Old 04-14-2012, 10:29 PM   #17
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Awesome trip report. This sure brought back some memories. I haven't been back there since the 1995 Microburst forced me out of the Five Ponds Wilderness and I went in search of other trails to explore. I might have to make a trip back to see how things have changed.
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Old 04-19-2012, 01:47 PM   #18
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ATV's on State Land

A couple of points:

- The DEC Forest Ranger's make every attempt to deter and ticket illegal ATV riding on State Land. However, in our area there are only 4 Forest Rangers and 1 Lt. to cover a large area. There is no "pro-ATV" attitude here - this activity done illegally on Forest Preserve lands, is the biggest threat and causes the most damage to the natural resources.

- As for the recent SNIRT run, Google you-tube to see the damage caused in the Lewis County area this past weekend - destruction of wetlands, riding in streams, etc...
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Old 04-19-2012, 02:50 PM   #19
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So anyone know what the maximum penalty allowed by law is for using an ATV illegally on state lands?

And since there isn't enough manpower on the ground to enforce this, perhaps a much steeper penalty for the few times someone is actually caught would be in order? I'm guessing some people might be less likely to drive their ATV on state land if there was a chance their machine would be confiscated indefinitely.

Is there anyone within the DEC advocating for this?
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Old 04-19-2012, 04:28 PM   #20
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Great to see some photos! Nice.
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