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Old 01-30-2021, 06:07 PM   #2
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,300
Continued from above...

The descent down the west side of Black Bear Mountain was noticeably steeper and involved more elevation change than the climb up the east side had. Before long, however, it flattened out and I was enjoying a pleasant stroll along a wide trail out to the road.

My arrival at the Black Bear Mountain Trailhead precipitated the road walking stretch of my route. From here it was several miles to the next trail segment, at the Cascade Lake Trailhead for the Pigeon Lake Wilderness. The road walk honestly wasn't too bad- there is a bike path that parallels Route 28 that I used for this stretch (at times it even deviates a little ways away from the road). The Big Moose Road stretch also gets less traffic than Route 28, so walking the shoulder here wasn't too bad either.

The Nat Geo map incorrectly shows the location of the Cascade Lake trailhead- what is shown is actually the old trailhead, which was closed to parking due to limited space (and limited visibility when trying to pull out onto the road) some time ago. The current trailhead is a newer (and larger) parking lot constructed about 0.3 miles further north on Big Moose Road. However, to one hiking this loop: if you can spot the old trailhead, entering the woods here will save on about a half mile of sidetracking vs continuing north to the current trailhead.

Either way, the trail into Cascade Lake follows an old road and is quick and easy hiking. Soon I was passing through clearings near the outlet, where the children's camp once stood prior to state acquisition of the property for inclusion in the Forest Preserve. At the junction with the trail to Chain Ponds, I took a quick side trip to the north shore of Cascade Lake, and found a nice spot on the shore of the lake to stop for lunch.

Cascade Lake is another spot that I've always meant to explore more fully- I hear that there is a nice waterfall on an inlet on the east end of the lake, and I know also that there are several designated tent sites spread around the lake also. The area seems like it has potential to make for a solid destination to take beginner backpackers to, with an easy hike in, potentially nice sites (but no lean-to to draw more use and generate more competition for sites), and with nice scenery including both the lake and the waterfall. I was tempted to take a side trip all the way around the lake, but instead elected to continue on towards Chain Lakes and Queer Lake beyond- it was already early afternoon and even though it was a week day I wanted to minimize the chance for potential competition for the Queer Lake Lean-to (or at least have plenty of daylight to continue on to Chub Lake should I find the lean-to already occupied).

Beyond Cascade Lake, the trails of the Pigeon Lake Wilderness clearly get less use and while they were still pretty well maintained as far as Queer Lake, the corridor was visibly narrower. I was able to get some nice views of Chain Lakes from the trail, and the route also passes through a neat notch nearby with rock outcrops and boulders lining the trail.

Upon arrival at Queer Lake my first point of order was to locate the supposed designated tent site on the west shore to confirm (mainly out of personal interest) whether it did exist or not. The official DEC info for the Pigeon Lake Wilderness indicates the presence of a designated site here but I did not recall seeing one during a previous visit a few years prior. I was quickly able to locate the site... and was not particularly impressed. It was a small site, obviously very little used, and pretty brushy... a small group with a single tent could make it work without much issue, but with 2 or more tents (or even a single big tent) it would be a challenge. It was also missing a "Camp Here" disc to indicate that it was indeed official.

Some short hiking (and some ups and downs) along the north side of Queer Lake brought me to the turn off with the side trail to the Queer Lake Lean-to. I had visited this lean-to once prior via a winter day hike, and it was more or less as I remembered it- nicely situated on the shore of the main body of Queer Lake. No one else was around, so I dropped my pack and began to set up camp for the evening inside.

As it was not yet late in the afternoon, I took a few minutes to explore the surroundings once I'd set up. I was hugely disappointed to see in particular the high number of stumps from illegal tree cutting that surrounded the vicinity of the lean-to. A number of groups over the years have clearly been less than respectful in how they treat this lean-to, and honestly I would not be surprised to find out at some point that the DEC had decided to phase this lean-to out due to the rampant tree cutting.

Late afternoon brought with it muggy, humid weather, a noticeable decrease in the breeze, and more bugs, so before long I'd started a small smudge fire to keep myself sane while cooking and eating dinner. I turned in early, before darkness even, as I had a ways to hike yet the next day through uncertain terrain and wanted to get an early start.

I was up with the arrival of dawn the next morning as was treated to some nice colors with the sunrise as I packed up and prepared to set out for the day.

Beyond Queer Lake, the trail to Chub Lake was noticeably even brushier and had less of an established tread, but still decently well maintained overall and I still made good time. The trail did pass through some epic muddy spots closer to Chub Lake, although the worst of these (along the outlet of a beaver marsh that flows into the lake) was bridged.

At the turn off for the side trail to the Chub Lake, I took the side trip down to check out the designated tent site there. I was a bit surprised when I entered the site- given the remoteness and apparent little use of the area I expected something small and perhaps not particularly well established. In contrast, the site appeared to be pretty well established and was quite nice, with a fire pit right a rocky shelf on the shore. Had the Queer Lake Lean-to been occupied the previous afternoon, I would not have been disappointed in the least to have found myself camped here instead.

After taking in the views at Chub Lake, I was back on the trail continuing north again, and soon reached a junction with the Pigeon Lake Trail on the south shore of Constable Pond. The DEC website lists a single designated tent site at Constable Pond, but the site is not included on any DEC maps nor does the site appear on the DECInfo interface. There was a small established site between this trail junction and the shore, but no "Camp Here" disc to verify if it were indeed the designated site (and if it's not it would be an illegal site as it is less than 150 feet from both trail and water).

I did get some nice views across Constable Pond from near the junction before turning east and following the Pigeon Lake trail deeper into the Wilderness.

I had always heard horror stories about the condition of the Pigeon Lake Trail between Constable Pond and West Mountain and had braced myself for the worst. To my surprise, the trail had quite recently be cleared out and cleared out well. I found myself following a wide corridor through the woods, clear of any brush and blowdown. The trail meandered through the drainage of Constable Creek, passed through wet terrain on solid bog bridging, crossed a few tributaries along the way on sturdy bridges, and passed along the shoreline of some small but neat beaver ponds.

The trail crews must've turned around just shy of Pigeon Lake, however, as I soon found myself facing a wall of vegetation and any and all recent trail maintenance abruptly ended. Just when I began to find myself hoping that maybe the trail had been cut open again all the way to West Mountain, I found myself faced with the prospect that navigation and travel for at least the next few miles was going to be a significant navigational and physical challenge. In contrast to the wide open corridor I'd been following along Constable Creek, now I was dealing with dense witchhobble and blowdown, without a faint old tread to follow.

Pigeon Lake itself was soon visible through the trees, and at the risk of losing the trail I did step off it to explore the northern shoreline of the lake in greater detail. The going along the shore was pretty thick. I was mostly curious to see if there were any old established campsites- I did find a couple of spots that were clearly campsites once but most of these were pretty thickly grown in and no longer realistically usable (and all of the sites wouldn't be legal anyways since all were within 150 feet of the shoreline). Judging from the fire pits and the few odds and ends I found scattered about (old buckets and the like) this was clearly once a decently popular spot to camp but it has gotten little- if any- overnight use in the past few decades.

I did get some nice views across the lake from the shore, though.

I didn't think it possible, but the trail actually got worse beyond Pigeon Lake. At first it passed into a wide beaver meadow, and it took some measure of trial and error to pick it up again on the far side. Beyond that point, there was pretty much zero tread whatsoever and it was essentially a full bushwhack. Every once in a while I would find an old marker to confirm that I was more or less on the right track- and there were a few more stretches where I was again forced to resort to some trial and error to find the way.

I did spot Otter Pond through the trees, and it looked like a quintessential backcountry Adirondack pond- both pretty and remote. I had originally planned also to spend a few minutes poking around on the shoreline of this body of water also, but I was so intent on route finding that I didn't bother.

Once I began the climb up West Mountain proper, the old trail became much more apparent, likely due to the moderately washed out tread that directly ascends the grade not being impact that fades as quickly from lack of use. The climb was noticeably the most sustained elevation gain of the entire loop, but otherwise went pretty quickly and without issue. I was eager to try to find site of the former fire tower on the summit. At first the trail passed through a notch between two independent bumps, one of which I figured must hold the fire tower site, but to my surprise the trail began to descend from the east side of the notch without any sign of a side trail to either bump. I bushwhacked first to the north bump and didn't find anything, so returned to the trail and then bushwhacked to the south bump where I found an obvious clearing and the foundations of the former tower. No views to be had except for a tiny glimpse of Raquette Lake through a gap in the foliage.

From the summit an obvious side trail descended back down to the main trail- it turns out that if I had continued through the notch and started the descent down the east side of the mountain on the main trail, I would've picked up the side trail after another hundred feet or so from where I turned off to climb up to the southern bump.

The descent was pretty straightforward, with the exception of one grassy clearing that the trail disappears into not far from the summit- it angles a bit more left (north) if you are descending than you would think, and at first I tried to pick it up again in the wrong spot on the far side of that clearing. Beyond that though, it is pretty easy to follow- the trail appears to actually have gotten some maintenance in recent years, even if it is a bit brushy (and also a bit washed out) in spots.

Continued in next post....
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