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Every named feature in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderess, 9/?/07 - 10/9/17

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  • Every named feature in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderess, 9/?/07 - 10/9/17

    A bit late on this, but wanted to share a quick summary of what was a big accomplishment of mine that was years in the making. On Monday, October 9, 2017, I set foot on the summit of Brace Hill in the Eastern Adirondacks. In doing so, I completed a 10 year quest to visit every single officially named feature within the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.

    The Pharaoh Lake Wilderness is over 46,000 acres in size. My exhaustive research (pouring over the USGS map repeatedly until my eyes started to bleed) came up with a list of 101 officially named features: 43 bodies of water (including lakes, ponds, marshes, and a single ocean), 11 streams, and 47 summits (including hills, ridges, and mountains). My criteria for bodies of water was pretty loose- any lake or pond that touched the boundary of the Wilderness Area was included, even if the Wilderness did not extend over the surface of the lake itself. For summits, my criteria was a bit more strict- the named summit actually had to fall within the Wilderness Area. Likewise, to check off a body of water as visited, all I needed to do was stand on any part of the shoreline within the Wilderness Area, but to check off a summit I needed to actually climb to the top.

    (A quick note on the accuracy of my list: I know that a list of all named features within the PLWA has been compiled by others on several occasions. When Erik Schlimmer completed a similar quest in 2011, his listed totaled 106 named features within the PLWA. Unfortunately, I don't have access to his list so I don't know what 5 features he included that I apparently did not. He may have had different criteria for what constituted a named feature within the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.)

    My first visit to Pharaoh Lake was a trip with the Paul Smith's Outing Club in Autumn of 2007, a trip which netted me 4 named features (Mill Brook, Pharaoh Lake Brook, Pharaoh Lake, and Pharaoh Mountain). At the time, the possibility of visiting every single named feature in a management unit wasn't even a vague thought, much less a serious consideration. I returned several times in the following years, on trips that carried me to most of the well-visited ponds and lakes that were easily accessible by trail (Oxshoe Pond, Rock Pond, Clear Pond, Grizzle Ocean, and so on).

    It wasn't until 2012 that opportunity allowed me to really being to explore the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in great detail. At first, I was focused on spending a night in each of the 14 lean-tos located within the area as part of my greater quest to camp in every single backcountry shelter in New York State (as of May 2018, I've stayed in 208 out of about 355 total). By the end of 2013, my bushwhacking endeavors were ranging far and wide across the backcountry of the Pharaoh Lake area. I'd heard of Erik Schlimmer's quest to visit "all of the Pharaoh LAke Wilderness" before me, and it occurred to me that with some serious effort I might be able to do the same.

    2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 saw me expanding my efforts to visit more new locations within the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Circumstance didn't always allow me to progress quickly towards my goal, and taking a few years to earn my Master's Degree at Syracuse definitely didn't help either. Slowly but surely, however, I visited more and more features and got closer and closer towards my goal.

    There were definitely some frustrations along the way. Some of the lower named ridges and mountains within the area don't really have a well-defined summit, so I did the best I could to pick out the highest point using the topo map. Grizzle Ocean Mountain was one such summit; I triumphantly hiked across the ridge one day, only to realize that evening back in camp while checking the map that I'd completely missed the high point entirely. It would be two years before I would head back again to reclimb this peak.

    My quest also took me through some god-forsaken lands. Old Fort Mountain can only be approached via several miles of bushwhacking through very rugged terrain from Lost Pond. Along the way, the trek takes one through incredibly dense spruce and fir forests along Haymeadow Pond, where my eye had a very close call with a sharp and pointy stick that I almost didn't spot until it was too late. The ridgeline comprised of Barton Mountain, Ellis Mountain, Pine Hill, and Burnt Ridge also holds some particularly thick stands of evergreens.

    A good portion of what I encountered, though, was incredibly scenic. Much of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness contains surprisingly open forest that makes for pleasant bushwhacking. Open pine forests with clearings of exposed rock, moss, and lichen abound throughout much of the area. Hardwood forests often are comprised primarily of oak, with very little understory. Some of the more sheltered coves and valleys have substantial stands of hemlock that blot out the sun and sky above, but are still open beneath and easy to travel through.

    And the summit views to be had in the area rival much of the best that even the High Peaks has to offer. The two trailed peaks, Pharaoh and Treadway Mountains, both offer substantial views- Treadway has a view of Pharaoh Lake in particular that I would rank as one of my favorites in the entire Adirondack Park (it was featured on the cover of the previous edition of the ADK Guidebook for the Eastern Adirondacks). Pharaoh Has views in just about every direction, including northwest towards the High Peaks and eastward into Vermont.

    And those two peaks are just a start- a number of other peaks in the area, accessible only by bushwhacking, have views that are equally as fantastic. I shared incredible views from the summit of Potter Mountain with a mother black bear and her two cubs while munching on some of the most delicious blueberries I've ever found in the wild. I returned to the summit of Number 8 Hill several times to take in the nearly 360 degree panoramic view there. I crossed the summit of Pine Hill in late afternoon as the sun was sinking towards the horizon and took in views across Schoon Lake. And in a single day, I visited the summits of First Brother, Second Brother, Third Brother, Stevens Mountain, Little Stevens, and Number 8 Mountain on one of the most rugged and spectacular bushwhack treks I've accomplished. Each of those peaks individually has phenomenal views (except for Little Stevens, which has a fully forested summit), when strung together, they form a trek that is nothing short of amazing. (First Brother technically isn't in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness and so didn't count towards my list, but was still a place I'd intended to visit nonetheless as I'd heard nothing but good things about it.)

    Despite all of the amazing scenery I'd encountered along my journey, it was in some ways a bit of a relief when I stepped onto the final summit on that dreary October day, it was almost a relief- "Finally, I can visit the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness again and relax, enjoy the scenery and take it slow, without feeling the urge to explore or set off on yet another epic bushwhack through rugged terrain and who knows what kind of obstacles." Not only had I visited every named feature, I'd crisscrossed my way back and forth across the area countless times. There's a few nooks and crannies here and that that I've still yet to visit, but areas of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness that are completely foreign to me are few and far between at this point.

    And of course, as Erik Schlimmer found- the urge to visit every named feature within a set geographic area doesn't stop after finishing the first management unit.

  • #2
    A collection of other photos I took along my journey:


    • #3
      And last but not least, my list. Feel free to double check this- I'm confident that I've visited all of the named features as per my criteria of what constitutes a named feature within the Wilderness Area, but I may have left 1 or 2 off of my written list:

      Marsh Beaver Meadow Marsh
      Marsh Cranberry Marsh
      Marsh Desolate Swamp
      Marsh Harrison Marsh
      Marsh Peshette Swamp
      Marsh Tubmill Marsh
      Pond Alder Pond
      Pond Bear Pond
      Pond Berrymill Pond
      Pond Bumbo Pond
      Pond Burge Pond
      Pond Clear Pond
      Pond Coffee Pond
      Pond Cotters Pond
      Pond Crab Pond
      Pond Crab Pond
      Pond Crane Pond
      Pond Devil's Washdish
      Pond Eagle Lake
      Pond Goose Pond
      Pond Gooseneck Pond
      Pond Grizzle Ocean
      Pond Gull Pond
      Pond Haymeadow Pond
      Pond Heart Pond
      Pond Honey Pond
      Pond Horseshoe Pond
      Pond Lilypad Pond
      Pond Little Rock Pond
      Pond Lost Pond
      Pond Mud Pond
      Pond North Pond
      Pond Otter Pond
      Pond Oxshoe Pond
      Pond Pharaoh Lake
      Pond Putnam Pond
      Pond Pyramid Lake
      Pond Rock Pond
      Pond Spectacle Pond
      Pond Springhill Ponds
      Pond Whortleberry Pond
      Pond Wilcox Pond
      Pond Wolf Pond
      Stream Desolate Brook
      Stream Haymeadow Brook
      Stream Mill Brook
      Stream Pharaoh Lake Brook
      Stream Putnam Creek
      Stream Rock Pond Brook
      Stream Shanty Bottom Brook
      Stream Spectacle Brook
      Stream Spuytenduivel Brook
      Stream Sucker Brook
      Stream Wilcox Brook
      Summit Abes Hill
      Summit Antwine Hill
      Summit Barton Mountain
      Summit Bear Pond Mountain
      Summit Beaver Meadow Hill
      Summit Big Clear Pond Mountain
      Summit Blue Hill
      Summit Brace Hill
      Summit Burnt Hill
      Summit Burnt Ridge
      Summit Carey Hill
      Summit Desolate Hill
      Summit Ellis Mountain
      Summit Fernette Mountain
      Summit Franks Hill
      Summit Goose Pond Hill
      Summit Grizzle Ocean Mountain
      Summit Leland Hill
      Summit Little Clear Pond Mountain
      Summit Little Stevens
      Summit Meadow Hill
      Summit Number 6 Hill
      Summit Number 7 Hill
      Summit Number 8 Hill
      Summit Number 8 Mountain
      Summit Old Fort Mountain
      Summit Orange Hill
      Summit Park Mountain
      Summit Peaked Hill
      Summit Pharaoh Mountain
      Summit Pine Hill
      Summit Pine Hill
      Summit Pine Hill
      Summit Plank Bridge Hill
      Summit Potter Mountain
      Summit Quackenbush Hill
      Summit Ragged Mountain
      Summit Second Brother
      Summit Sharps Ridge
      Summit Smith and Leland Hill
      Summit Spectacle Pond Hill
      Summit Stevens Mountain
      Summit Sucker Hole Hill
      Summit The Dam Hill
      Summit Third Brother
      Summit Thunderbolt Mountain
      Summit Treadway Mountain
      Last edited by DSettahr; 05-17-2018, 10:28 AM.


      • #4
        Very impressive ! And pictures are excellent !


        • #5
          Wow! Impressive accomplishment.
          Tick Magnet


          • #6
            Truly gorgeous photos. Congratulations on them and the accomplishment


            • #7
              Awesome, congrats, & great photos!
              I still need Cranberry Marsh, Pachette Swamp, Abes Hill, Fernette Mountain, Old Fort Mountain, Quackenbush Mountain, and First & Second Brother.


              • #8
                Originally posted by DSettahr View Post
                Hardwood forests often are comprised primarily of oak, with very little understory.

                I'm not nearly as intimately familiar with this area as you are, but most of the Adirondack dome is pretty void of oaks.

                Where are these "groves" and what species of oak are they?

                Apparently there are pockets of oak here or there around the park, but for the most part they just don't grow as well as other hardwood species in this environment. I've actually seen very few myself, but I don't necessarily go looking. The tell-tale for me is finding acorns, which I almost never see.


                • #9
                  Lots of oaks in the eastern & southern Adks.


                  • #10

                    Congrats on finishing your list. The photos are gorgeous!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by montcalm View Post

                      I'm not nearly as intimately familiar with this area as you are, but most of the Adirondack dome is pretty void of oaks.

                      Where are these "groves" and what species of oak are they?

                      Apparently there are pockets of oak here or there around the park, but for the most part they just don't grow as well as other hardwood species in this environment. I've actually seen very few myself, but I don't necessarily go looking. The tell-tale for me is finding acorns, which I almost never see.
                      I concur. I haven't run across Oaks where I amble and I generally focus on the flora.
                      "A culture is no better than its woods." W.H. Auden


                      • #12
                        Perhaps I over emphasized the oaks a little bit, or didn't emphasize enough that the oaks tend to be at higher elevations, but red oak at least is out there in considerable numbers that you don't often see elsewhere in the Adirondacks. If you get up onto the drier, rockier hills in the western portions of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, stands of oaks aren't uncommon. Lots of turkey that dig through the leaf litter looking for mast also.

                        Here's a photo that I took from First Brother, looking out towards Brant Lake:

                        Here's a couple of zoomed in views on portions of that image to look at the leaves:

                        Sure look like oak to me.

                        Another image, this one of Brant Lake from Second Brother:

                        Zooming in on the leaves in the upper left:

                        Definitely oak.

                        Here's a photo I snapped near the summit of Number 7 Hill:

                        This is a classic example of an oak stump sprout. The 4 trunk here are surrounding what was once a single trunk that died, was blown over, etc. Something happened to kill the original stem. The living tissue surrounding the dead trunk sent up 4 new stems, which in turn each grew into a full trunk.

                        There's no leaves in this photo but in addition to the form, the bark is pretty indicative of red oak- vertically furrowed, with faint white stripes running up and down the trunks.

                        Here's a photo I took from Franks Hill, looking south towards Black Mountain:

                        If we zoom in on the mountain, we can see the uniquely-shaped fire tower and confirm that it is indeed Black Mountain:

                        Zooming in on leaves on the right and left sides of the image:

                        The first image clearly shows oak leaves. The second image isn't as clear, but you can still see a cluster of haycorns on one of the branches.

                        Here's a photo taken on Antwine Hill:

                        Zooming in on one of the trees in the center:

                        I'll be the first to admit that this isn't the greatest quality image, but I'd still bet money on that being oak. Everything about it looks oakish, from the branching patter (spindly branches growing in every direction) to the leaves (somewhat reflective and shiny when the light hits them the right way).

                        Here's a photo I took while descending the south side of Number 8 Hill:

                        Zooming in on the leaves at the top of the tree on the left:

                        Again, pretty definitively oak.

                        Here's a photo of a view south towards Brant Lake from Number 8 Mountain:

                        And if we zoom in on the crown of the tree on the left:

                        Pretty typical shape for oak leaves.

                        That's about a year's worth of photos that I dug through to find those images- I have tons more, but I'll leave it at that. I know that these aren't all the best of images (during my travels I wasn't expecting to have my dendrology skills called into question ). Yes, I agree that oak trees aren't super common in the Adirondacks. But they aren't that rare, either, at least in some areas (like the Eastern Adirondacks). Oaks can even be found on some of the High Peaks trails- I know that when you climb Esther and Whiteface from the north, you pass through some significant oak stands at lower elevations. I would bet money also that there's probably quite a few oaks on the Eastern slopes of the Dix Range- the conditions there are ideal for them.


                        • #13
                          My picture and your looks like we were standing in the exact same place!

                          Very interesting accomplishment. You are a dedicated student of the Adirondacks!

                          I've seen Oak in a variety of locations in the High Peaks WU but only at low elevations. Same goes for Elm (less often seen) and Iron Wood (more often seen).
                          The best, the most successful adventurer, is the one having the most fun.


                          • #14
                            I'm not calling anyone's tree id into question, but I'd be curious to know where there are significant stands of oak, as that is rare in the Adirondacks. And AFAIK, only red oak occasionally spotted.

                            I just happened to be studying ranges of trees for some odd reason, and recalled these maps as well:

                            White Oak:

                            This suggests any white oak you may see were planted by humans. I don't think I've ever seen one in the Adirondacks.

                            Red Oak:

                            Here they suggest the higher elevations of the central dome are where you'll not find red oaks. That appears to be untrue, but I believe they are fairly rare there and even in most of the western Adirondacks.

                            Black Oak:

                            Swamp Oak:

                            I don't mean to derail your thread. I enjoyed the pictures as well, but was curious.
                            Last edited by montcalm; 05-17-2018, 01:37 PM.


                            • #15
                              100+ features... thats one oak-ay endeavour!