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Old 07-18-2019, 04:23 PM   #1
acorn
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Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness 7/12/19-7/14/19

Hi all,

I appreciate everyone else's trail reports so much for my planning I decided to write my first on here:

I did an ambitious trip to PLWA with two greenhorns, my wife and my sister. I had never been to PLWA but thought it would be a decent place for newer hikers. I was wrong, and I was right, and vice versa .

We stayed at a hotel on thursday the 11th in Amsterdam, driving from Buffalo. Uneventful start, other than a good bit of rain along the drive.

We parked at the blue hill trailhead about 1030am; there was one other car there with a man and his 2 dogs. Once packs were adjusted, we were off. Our plan was to do a pond tour; crane, oxbow, crab, horshoe, lilypad, rock, and land at clear for the night; day 2 was meant to follow grizzle ocean to pharaoh lakes for the night; the last day included pharaoh mountain back to the car.

The trail meandered until we can to our first boggy pond. We stopped to take a photo and so begins the ASSAULT. The bugs throughout this trip lived up to everything I've ever read here and highpeaksforums. We prepared by soaking our clothes in Permethrin, as well as wear 40% deet cream, and had bug nets. This didnít stop them from biting thru my hiking pants and underwear, shirts, and constantly hovering around our heads. I had good moments with bugs, and moments where I was going mad. We were still able to enjoy other parts of the trail, including newts, many stream crossings, beaver dams, and hemlock forests.

We got to crane pond and my first thought was ďthank god Iím not staying hereĒ as someone was running a generator. Good lord. Iím watching my wife, especially, laboring with her pack and I start to nervously look at my watch. We come to crab pond and I break out the map and start calculating miles; after deliberation, we decided getting to pharaoh lake from the connector trail at crab pond would be best.

Trails continued surprise me as I went. Where are the harsh rocks and roots? Whereís the mud with all these ponds? Whatís with all these paper birch trees blown down EVERYWHERE? In general, there was more blow down on the trail than i'm used to.

We made it to pharaoh lake around 615 and were able to properly set up camp. We saw one person at oxshoe earlier in the day and no one since. We collect firewood to combat the bugs and settle in for the night.
We get going (too late for me) the next morning by 930am; goal for the day is to hike Pharaoh mountain. For those who havenít hiked, the trail has a very distinct 3 levels coming from the lakeside. At first it has some moderate stretches of switchbacks; I see some familiarity with the roots and rocks appearing. I hear lots of grumbling and sucking wind from my party. The trail enters itís ď2nd levelĒ and starts to level out; I see light thru the trees and we appear to be going around the mountain; Iím feeling good and spirits are up. We are ďrun intoĒ by 4-5 trail runners with day hydration packs; I ask where we are in relation to the top. ďDude, you are almost there. Maybe 30 mins tops.Ē With this great scouting, we are eager to get to the top. Well let me tell you, people running down hill with nothing on their backs are not to be trusted with time or mileage. We still had a significant stretch, and worse, I start to see cliff climbs and some slightly technical stuff to do with full packs. I spend all my energy keeping spirits up and helping my wife to focus on digging deep, drinking lots of water, and taking breaks. Sheís really struggling. She has never climbed cliffs or encountered the awkward hand and foot positions to keep going on the trail. She keeps pushing.


Finally, I see bare rock exposed and we have made it to the top. Collective relief and rewards to follow seeing beautiful views of the lake we came from and surrounding peaks. We break and have lunch on the mountain. I check out the campsite on top of the mountain but would never consider without a water source. I check my watch, it is 430pm. It has definitely taken longer than I predicted again. I weigh our options for camping vs pushing hard to get back to the car and get a hotel (I had another bad spell of bugs that left me feeling sour for a minute).

We make better time down the mountain but are left in the quandary of being close to the car, but not too close or too far. My wife does the best thing for us all and says she cannot make it to the car and we decide to walk back that way and attempt to find a spot at Crane so we have a short walk out for Sunday. I begrudgingly accept. I bushwack to find the south west campsite (#10) and find an abandoned trail/road to its site on my way back to the lead my group. Outside of finding beer cans, golf balls, and having top 40 radio blaring across the lake until 10pm, it was better than I expected. I was tired too and resting was a better choice than pushing thru to the car and likely needing headlamps for the last stretch.
We had visitors of the raccoon variety that night but things were left undisturbed. We got up and puttered around until 930am and started the last stretch back. We got back to the car at 1230 and began to process what we had accomplished together.

I loved this trip for all its adventure, trials, and beauty. My wife is not an outdoorsy person, nor in excellent fitness and she did an excellent job; it was a validating moment that she would go with me despite her reservations. My sister has car camped and I think I gave her a great taste of backpacking and expect to do more trips with her in the future. I put a lot of pressure on myself to find a spot, plan the trip, and guide my loved ones and felt relief completing the trek. Being flexible and realistic about what we could do was important and being prepared with all routes and options helped to ease stress of changing plans. I think thru the sweat, heat and humidity (it was in the mid 80's), and bugs, everyone still got to experience nature, tranquility, and were humbled by the beautiful area. I'll definitely be back; I really wanted to climb treadway after hearing it has a better view than pharaoh mt.

I go back to ADK high peaks to do the great range for the first time in a few weeks. I can't wait!

Thank you all for checking this out and fire away any questions!
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Old 07-18-2019, 09:52 PM   #2
Justin
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Nice!
No swimming?
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:44 AM   #3
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Nice!
No swimming?
No swimming, but I let some fish do a little nibbling on my toes
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:00 PM   #4
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No swimming
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Old 07-21-2019, 10:14 PM   #5
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Nice report Acorn.
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Old 07-23-2019, 01:38 PM   #6
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Nice trip report....I plan on spending some time up there soon. How as the road into Crane? Were you able to cross the mud pit and park near Crane or did you hike in from the mud pit?
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Old 07-24-2019, 11:23 AM   #7
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How as the road into Crane? Were you able to cross the mud pit and park near Crane or did you hike in from the mud pit?
Hereís what it looked like last month... not so much muddy but the water level was higher than Iíve seen it since pre-Irene.

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Old 07-24-2019, 03:11 PM   #8
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Nice trip report....I plan on spending some time up there soon. How as the road into Crane? Were you able to cross the mud pit and park near Crane or did you hike in from the mud pit?
I did not come in from Crane; we hiked the blue hill trail which is on Rt 74. We had to hike the last .3 mi or so on the road and it looked ok for ground clearance vehicles; I would never take a car (which is what I drive). There were approximately 5 suv/trucks at the end of the crane lot
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Old 07-26-2019, 10:17 AM   #9
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Are generators really allowed there? How about chainsaws? Maybe they were using the generator to power their bug zappers.
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Old 07-26-2019, 10:49 AM   #10
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Acorn, how's that Blue Hill trail. I was thinking of hiking in that way next time.
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Old 07-26-2019, 12:55 PM   #11
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Yep, Pharaoh is consistently one of the buggiest spots in the Adirondacks. The shores of any lake or pond during the day often aren't too bad as there is usually a breeze keeping them at bay. But in the woods or after dark, they can be vicious. I've actually hauled a full bug house into the Pharaoh backcountry before just to get some respite without having to rely on the smoke from a fire.

The trails in Pharaoh do actually dry out pretty well, unlike much of the rest of the Adirondacks. But as you noticed, there's also a lot of little ups and downs that add up over longer distances to a level of ruggedness that is at least a little bit greater than what a casual glance at the map might suggest.

Crane Pond does have a reputation for being a bit of a spot where campers are seeking a more... social experience than a true Wilderness one. Solitude isn't exactly a high priority for many who camp there regularly. It's actually not as bad as it was 7 or 8 years ago (it's a bit less of a "full on party spot" than it used to be). Generators definitely aren't permitted there in any case, however.

For that matter, Pharaoh Lake also get a bit crazy. I've counted 85 people camped on Pharaoh Lake in a single evening in the past, with day users putting the total number of people on the lake at one time at well over 100. FWIW, the north shore tent sites tend to be a little bit quieter. The south shore- especially the vicinity of the outlet (Lean-tos 1, 2, 5, and 6 and the nearby tent sites) can get pretty crazy. Granted, Pharaoh is a big lake and it can handle a lot of people- if they spread out, and if they behave themselves. Those are unfortunately sometimes too very big "ifs."

The "back stretch" (Rock and Clear Ponds, plus Grizzle Ocean) tends to stay a bit quieter- relatively speaking, anyways.

For all of the area's issues, there are definitely a lot of qualities to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness that make it an attractive destination nevertheless. The campsites are consistently nice in a way that exceeds (I think) just about any other management unit in the Adirondack Park. Some of the lakes and ponds provide the best backcountry swimming in the Adirondacks also (IMO). And the open forest (mixed hemlocks, pines, and hardwoods) that covers much of the area makes the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness a bushwhacker's paradise.

The key, I think, it to plan visits to the Pharaoh area for late October/early November. After all of the fair weather hikers have hung up their hiking boots for the season, and well after the bugs have all disappeared.

Last edited by DSettahr; 07-26-2019 at 03:24 PM..
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Old 07-30-2019, 02:23 PM   #12
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The trail was very pleasant overall. A few stream crossings and some blow down, but nothing crazy. There was a few beaver dams as well. I'd prefer that to road walking crane any day
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Old 07-30-2019, 05:38 PM   #13
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Thanks very much. I have walked the road, so an alternative route would be great. Thanks again.
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Old 07-30-2019, 08:00 PM   #14
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Thanks very much. I have walked the road, so an alternative route would be great. Thanks again.
I highly recommend the bushwhack up & over Blue Hill, there is a nice view from the north face a few contour lines below the summit (which you can see from Alder Meadow Rd at the Alder Brook crossing), but I’ve only done it a couple times during winter where the best approach was most easily done from the Cotters/Pyramid side.

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Old 07-30-2019, 08:58 PM   #15
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I highly recommend the bushwhack up & over Blue Hill, there is a nice view from the north face a few contour lines below the summit (which you can see from Alder Meadow Rd at the Alder Brook crossing), but Iíve only done it a couple times during winter where the best approach was most easily done from the Cotters/Pyramid side.
Thanks very much Justin. I will make note of it so I can check it out when I go that way.

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Old 07-30-2019, 09:21 PM   #16
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Thanks very much Justin. I will make note of it so I can check it out when I go that way.
Donít be fooled by the visible clearing on Plank Bridge Hill, lots of blowdown!
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