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Old 07-18-2019, 03:23 PM   #1
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Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 4
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 didn’t 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 “thank god I’m not staying here” as someone was running a generator. Good lord. I’m 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? Where’s the mud with all these ponds? What’s 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 haven’t 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 it’s “2nd level” and starts to level out; I see light thru the trees and we appear to be going around the mountain; I’m feeling good and spirits are up. We are “run into” by 4-5 trail runners with day hydration packs; I ask where we are in relation to the top. “Dude, you are almost there. Maybe 30 mins tops.” 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. She’s 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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