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DSettahr 11-18-2009 03:05 PM

Cranberry Lake Loop (11/8 - 11/12/09)
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My friend Sarah and I spent 5 days last week hiking around Cranberry Lake, starting and ending at the Brandy Brook Trailhead.

We started in the late afternoon on Saturday, November 8th. We had decided to do the loop counterclockwise, and spent our 1st night at the Bear Mountain Lean-to. The trail from the Brandy Brook Trailhead to the campground was in pretty good shape, some flooding in the swamp but nothing major. The Bear Mountain Lean-to, judging from the lean-to register, gets a lot of day hikers from the campground during the summer, but very few overnighters. We couldn't find a single entry in the register from a group that spent the night; I guess maybe even CL50 hikers tend not to use it because it's half a mile off trail (and uphill at that) and so close to the trailhead. The fire pit also looked like it hadn't been used in a long while. There was plenty of firewood around too, didn't have to go very far to get decent sized dead and down wood. The lean-to is also in excellent shape.

Monday morning, we got up and after a quick hike up to the summit of Bear Mountain, we set off back to Cranberry Lake Campground where we proceeded to the Peavine Swamp Trailhead along Route 3. The Peavine Swamp trail, being a ski trail, does have a few muddy spots, but nothing major. For the most part, it's a nice flat hike along an old woods road. We did see recent ATV tracks on the trail though, on what was very definitely State Land. A local we encountered along the trail said that the state uses ATV's there for management purposes... somehow I find that hard to believe, though.

We took a quick side trip down to the Inlet Flow Lean-to for lunch. This is a very nice lean-to surrounded by white pines, overlooking the Inlet Flow where the Oswegatchie River flows into Cranberry Lake. This lean-to was also in excellent shape. It probably gets a lot of use in the summer though, being as it is easily accessible by trail from Wanakena, and by motor boat on Cranberry Lake.

After lunch, we proceeded through Wanakena, and across the pedestrian bridge over the Oswegatchie River. We had previously done the High Falls Loop back in October, and so rather than taking the High Falls Truck Trail, we proceeded along the Dead Creek Flow trail to Janack's Landing. We had hoped to stay in the lean-to, but arrived at dusk to find that 5 hunters had set up camp there. There's a couple of designated campsites in the vicinity of the lean-to though, so we just set up the tent in one of them down by the shore, made a small fire, cooked dinner, and went to bed.

Tuesday morning, we got up and continued south, taking a left at the junction about a mile south of Janack's Landing to continue along the Cowhorn Junction Trail. We passed a designated campsite on Glasby Pond, and one on Cat Mountain Pond as well. I got some nice photographs of the cliffs on Cat Mountain from the south shore of the pond. Continuing east, we found an unmarked side trail heading south towards Bassout Pond. I followed it all the way to the pond (no more than a quarter mile) and found it to be in really good shape, maintained as well as state trails. It continued around the west shore of the pond, but I didnt follow it any farther than the outlet of the pond. Any idea where this trail goes? Is there a campsite back there? I found some old metal buckets and other refuse near the pond's outlet that indicated there might have once been a lumber camp or other type of camp there.

Cowhorn Junction is a junction again- the unmarked trail that continues south along the esker can't be missed, and looks like it's received some maintenance. Entries in the Cowhorn Lean-to register indicated that the trail can be followed to within a few hundred yards of Clear Pond, but then the blowdown become far too difficult to get through. Too bad, because the guide book indicates that Clear Pond had a really nice campsite on it.

We stopped for lunch at the Cowhorn Pond Lean-to. I think that this is one of my favorite lean-tos I've seen. It sits in a nice hemlock stand on a piece of land jutting out into Cowhorn Pond. It also has one of the smallest fire pits I've ever seen at a lean-to! The guidebook says that this is a popular lean-to, but judging from the lean-to register, it only gets a moderate amount of use.

After lunch, we continued north along the esker on the 6 Mile Creek Trail. About a mile or so north of Cowhorn Junction, we noticed a bolt on a tree, the kind used to hold up/fasten telephone wire. We found more evidence of a telephone line in other spots as well. Does anyone know what the purpose of this telephone line was? What two locations did it connect?

We made our way to the Olmstead Pond Lean-to, where we spent the third night. This lean-to seems to get very, very, very little use. The register had entries going back to 2005, and wasn't even a quarter of the way full. The beavers have also been busy on Olmstead Pond, and the shoreline is very muddy. The lean-to is in excellent shape, however, thanks to all the hard work that has been done on it in the past couple of years.

Wednesday morning, we got up early, as this was to be our longest day- all the way to Dog Pond. We made our way around the north shore of Olmstead Pond, and a couple of really nice campsites. We found a short unmarked side trail that lead to a small beaver pond that was partially iced over.

The trail connecting the 6 Mile Creek Trail with Chair Rock Flow has probably the greatest amount of elevation change on the whole trail. This new trail incorporates switchbacks, however, and was not difficult at all. Along this portion of the trail, we encountered a hunter heading back to a private camp on Cranberry Lake.

At Chair Rock Flow, we saw a couple of motorboats tied up along the shore. Where Chair Rock Creek flows into Cranberry Lake, we encountered a father and son hiking who had come in by boat. We also encountered another hunter just east of this stream crossing.

The trail between Chair Rock Creek and Dog Pond does not at all follow the faint dashed line shown on the National Geographic map. Rather, it follows the boundary line between the Lows Lake Primitive Area and the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest. It starts out as a path (marked and maintained) which passes by the remains of several old hunting camps along the way, gradually turning into an old ATV trail and finally a wide logging road as it approaches the junction with the trail to Dog Pond. We stopped for lunch at the Sucker Brook crossing.

After lunch, we made our way to the junction where we turned left to head towards Dog Pond. By this point, it was getting to be late afternoon. About a mile before Dog Pond, we encountered another hunter headed the opposite direction. We didn't see any camps anywhere in the vicinity of Dog Pond, so we figured he was headed towards his vehicle at Pine Pond/Horseshoe Lake to the east.

We spent that night at Dog Pond. There are two designated campsites on the north shore, which are really one big campsite as they are quite close to each other. They aren't the best sites, it looks like they get quite muddy when it rains, and flat ground is at a premium as well. I wouldn't plan on staying there again, but in a pinch they work.

Thursday morning (our last day), after packing up, we spent a few minutes checking out Prouix Clearing. Anyone know the history of this area? We found lots of old logging equipment, including an old cross cut saw lying around. The saw was only missing 1 tooth, I was tempted to carry it out, sand the rust off and sharpen it, and put handles on it and put it to use. The desire to leave it for others to be able to experience finding it was too great though. Just to the north of Prouix Clearing we saw a beaver pond that had been completely iced over.

At Irish Pond (we think it was Irish Pond anyways... smallish pond with an island midway between Dog and Curtis Ponds? The only mention of it I can find was on a DEC trail sign at Prouix Clearing, the pond is not labeled on any map I've found except on the 1907 USGS topo map, where it's falsely labeled as Curtis Pond) we saw a DEC arrow sign indicating a trail to a campsite. We found the campsite, but didn't see any "camp here" disc and it's less than 150 feet from the water. Somewhat confusing, but it's a nice campsite. Just to the north, there's a faint herd path that lead's around a hill to a cool rock outcrop that overhangs enough to walk in underneath it.

Curtis pond had a nice campsite on a rock bluff overlooking the lake. This campsite seems to get a lot of use, it was pretty highly impacted with very little undergrowth nearby, some dead trees thanks to excessive hatchet and knife use, and an illegal offshoot site about 50 feet down the shore. Otherwise, a very nice site however.

As we made our way over the shoulder of East Mountain, we found a spot where the woods were filled with glacial erratics. In one spot especially, about 6-7 erratics rested against each other in a ring, which you could reach the center of by crawling between some of them. It was a pretty sweet spot, and I'd love to go back and explore it some more.

We saw two canvas wall tents set up at a campsite on East Inlet, but no one around. A second campsite on East Inlet was empty. We did encounter another hunter near the junction with the trail to Hedgehog Pond. There was also a canvas wall tent up at the campsite on Hedgehog Pond, but no one there either. We stopped for lunch at Hedgehog Pond. The campsite here is pretty nice, right on the water.

The trail north of Hedgehog Pond doesn't follow the route exactly as shown on most maps- It's closer to Brandy Brook Flow longer than what is displayed. Paddling maps show several campsites on the shore in the vicinity of Brandy Brook Flow, however, only 1 of them was obvious from the trail. At this campsite, the trail goes right past the privy- one of the newer "wilderness toilets" without walls or a roof. I wonder how many calls of nature have been interrupted by hikers passing by! :)

There was one junction just as the trail was leaving Brandy Brook Flow that could use better signage. We thought we were at the junction with the Burnt Bridge Pond Trail, and so we took a left... only to soon realize that we were headed back towards Brandy Brook Flow on an unmarked trail. The actual junction with the Burnt Bridge Pond trail is about a quarter of a mile north of this junction.

We made it back to to the trailhead just before it got too dark to keep hiking without headlamps, hiking the last 3 miles in just under 50 minutes. We celebrated our completion of the Cranberry Lake 50 by stopping for dinner at the Thirsty Moose Restaurant and Bar on our way back to Saranac Lake (highly recommended).

We lucked out on this trip- we had amazing weather. Not a single drop of rain, and some pretty warm days. The trail is in very good shape, well maintained and marked. Most junctions were clearly marked, a couple could use some better signage. CL 50 trail markers are scarce, but when they are needed, they are usually there. The trail is pretty flat and easy going for the most part as well. We also noticed that the closer you get to Cranberry Lake, the more likely you are to encounter other people. Motorboat access to the majority of the shoreline of the lake does make a difference in user density. All in all though, an excellent trip.

bluequill 11-18-2009 06:51 PM

Nice report. This is on my bucket list especially at this time of year. No leaves, no bugs no people.

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