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Old 06-19-2020, 09:20 AM   #61
Dave Bourque
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Thanks for another amazing report. Your posts are always very informative and extremely thorough. You provide details that cannot be found elsewhere. If this post is not a "proper trip report", I don't know what is.
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Old 06-20-2020, 08:07 AM   #62
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Thanks for the great trip report! Your assumption is correct regarding the herd trail just north of the Sucker Brook bridge. It's about a 15 minute hike back to Cranberry Pond.
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Old 06-20-2020, 03:07 PM   #63
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Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
I did this loop last week. Sorry to DuctTape and Addwolanin- I wasn't intentionally excluding you guys but just as I predicted, the stars aligned with a few nights off and good weather, and I literally did not open the map to really plan the trip until I was already at the trailhead.

At some point I'd like to get a proper trip report up but a quick summary:

I started at the trailhead located between Upper and Lower Ponds at Brown's Tract. From here, I hiked east on the snowmobile trail (that follows the old railroad grade) to just shy of the put in for the Brown's Tract access to Raquette Lake, and from there on the snowmobile/portage trail to the east end of Eight Lake. I continued around Eighth Lake to Bug Lake via the snowmobile trail, and from Bug Lake I continued south to Seventh Lake, where I spent the first night in the western-most of the two lean-tos on Seventh Lake.

Day 2 I retraced my steps back to Bug Lake, then continued west over Black Bear Mountain, through Eagle Bay, then north on the road to the Cascade Lake Trailead. Again on trail, I continued north past Cascade and Chain Lakes to Queer Lake, where I spent the second night in the Queer Lake Lean-to.

Day 3 I continued north past Chub Lake to the Pigeon Lake Trail, then east past Pigeon Lake and Otter Pond, up and over West Mountain and down to Raquette Lake at Sucker Brook Bay. From there, I continued south past Lower Pond to the trailhead.

Some more detailed information about the specifics of the route, listed in order of my traverse:
  • The trails between Brown's Tract and Eighth Lake were well-maintained and easy to follow. The Nat Geo map shows the snowmobile trail/portage trail between Eighth Lake and the Brown's Tract Inlet put in as a minimally maintained trail- this could (and should) be shown as a proper trail. The Nat Geo map is also missing the spur trail that leads to the actual put in spot on Brown's Tract Inlet.
  • The snowmobile trail between Eighth Lake and Bug Lake was pretty well maintained for the most part- a good wide corridor and generally a dry tread. It clearly gets very little non-snowmobile use so there's not really an established path but the route is obvious nonetheless. It does get a bit muddy for the last half mile or so before arriving at the junction just north of Bug Lake.
  • The spur trail south past Bug Lake is an old road, well-maintained, and easy to follow all the way to the campground.
  • I was able to find 3 designated tent sites at Bug Lake (naturally, none of which are even hinted at in the least on the official DEC information for unit). They weren't well marked, all are accessed via herd paths, and all are kind of hard to locate. One is on the northwest shore, another one is on the southeast shore, and the 3rd is on the east shore. Both the sites on the northwest and southeast shores were really nice. The site on the east shore wasn't bad but also wasn't nearly as nice. The site on the east shore also had a loon nesting in it and probably should be avoided for the time being.
  • The Nat Geo Map shows a marked and maintained trail that crosses the outlet of Bug Lake and connects to the Eagles Nest Lake Trail- this trail does not exist (except maybe as a herd path, I didn't attempt to walk this route).
  • The trail connecting Bug Lake to the north shore of Seventh Lake is a herd path, not a maintained trail. Both the Nat Geo and DEC maps show it as an official trail, which is misleading- it's minimally maintained and does not have a single trail marker along the entire length of the trail. It also diverges from the trail connecting Bug Lake and the campground at a different location than indication on either the Nat Geo or DEC maps- the junction is on the west side of where that trail crosses the outlet of Bug Lake, not the east side as indicated. The junction is also unmarked. I walked right past it without seeing it, and made it all the way to the campground before realizing my error, and was forced to retrace my steps.
  • Both the lean-tos on Seventh Lake were really nice- and they clearly also get a lot of use and abuse. The eastern-most of the two lean-tos is a double-wide (one of the few still in existence). The western-most of the two is really nicely situated on a bluff overlooking the lake. There are also 3 or 4 designated tent sites scattered along the north shore (and a whole lot of closed campsites).
  • I did also follow the trail along the north shore of Seventh Lake all the way to the end of Seventh Lake Road to see if there were any potential access from there. It looks like foot access is permitted via the driveway at the end of the road but there's no parking whatsoever (and a whole lot of "No Parking Violators Will Be Towed" signs).
  • There's also some funkyness with the trails between Bug Lake and Black Bear Mountain. I never saw the Black Bear Mountain Ski Trail (the trail that loops around the south end of the mountain). Also, the DEC and Nat Geo Maps disagree pretty significantly regarding where this trail ties in to the Bug Lake Trail.
  • Black Bear Mountain was a nice climb with some decent views- I'm a bit ashamed to say that this was my first trip up this peak. From the east the climb was not too bad even with a full overnight pack. If I had done this loop in the other direction, though, it would've been a haul getting my overnight pack up and over the mountain- the climb up the west side is pretty steep in spots.
  • The road walk through Eagle Bay wasn't too bad. Along 28 there is a paved bike path, so plenty of room to walk without having to worry about traffic. North of Eagle Bay I was on the shoulder which was narrow in spots but there was less traffic to worry about.
  • North of Eagle Bay, the road splits- and the Nat Geo Map shows the wrong leg as being the "main" road. This did cause me some momentary confusion in trying to figure out how much further I had to hike to get to the Cascade Lake Trailhead.
  • If you keep your eyes peeled, you can find the "old" Cascade Lake Trailhead on the right about a half mile south of the new trailhead. This will save on some distance and elevation gain.
  • The trail into Cascade Lake is pretty well maintained. North of Cascade Lake, the trail to Queer Lake gets a bit brushy and muddy along Chain Lakes but generally isn't too bad.
  • I did find the supposed "designated site" indicated by the DECInfo site on the west end of Queer Lake, more or less where the Windfall-Queer Lake Trail first comes into view of Queer Lake (just south of the spot where it's obvious folks launch their canoes. It's not really a great site... and I think is a product of a site that was inventoried but never actually designated magically becoming a designated site because someone decided that all inventoried sites were designated sites. It's small, there's not a lot of flat ground, and no "Camp Here" disc.
  • The Queer Lake Lean-to is nice, but there's also a lot of tree stumps surrounding the lean-to. Illegal tree cutting is clearly a huge problem here.
  • The trail between Queer Lake and Chub Lake was a bit brushy in spots but overall not too bad. It clearly doesn't get a whole lot of use.
  • The designated tent site on the northwest shore of Chub Lake is really nice. It does currently have a "Camp Here" disc. If I had known how nice this site was (and didn't still need Queer Lake for the Lean-to Challenge) I probably would've pushed on to here for night #2.
  • There was an established site on Constable Pond at the junction where I arrived at the West Mountain Trail, but no "Camp Here" disc. The DEC page for the Pigeon Lake Wilderness does list a designated tent site at Constable Pond but doesn't mention where it is- so I don't know if this was it or not. It was an OK site- kind of small.
  • The West Mountain Trail was in great shape at first, where I started following it at Constable Pond. It had been recently cut out- there was no blow down and the corridor was wide. The trail remained in this condition until about maybe a half mile shy of Pigeon Lake, where I arrived at the spot that the trail crew had turned around. Beyond this point, the trail was super overgrown and had a ton of blowdown. The old tread was still mostly obvious for another mile or so (more on the condition of this trail further east below).
  • I did find a couple of old campsites on the north shore of Pigeon Lake, but they were too close to water to be legal (and in any case, weren't really usable in their current state- it had obviously been years, if not decades, since they last saw any real use).
  • After crossing the streams/beaver flows immediately east of Pigeon Lake, the West Mountain Trail more or less disappeared. Occasionally I'd find a trail marker on a tree or an old cut log, but there was otherwise not even a hint of the old tread for a fair distance. Trying to follow this trail took a decent amount of "guess and check" work, and repeatedly I found myself retracing my steps to try another direction. Honestly, the fact that the DEC website makes zero mention of the current status of this trail (whether on the page for the management unit or the page for backcountry conditions) is downright inexcusable- it's pretty much gone, yet all of the "official" information (DEC website and maps, Nat Geo maps) shows it as a marked and maintained trail.
  • I'd though about maybe checking out Otter Pond while I was there but I was too pre-occupied with route finding and did not end up walking down to the pond. I could see it through the trees, though.
  • Once the West Mountain Trail starts the actual climb up West Mountain, the old tread becomes more obvious again although the trail is still a far cry from anything that could be considered "maintained"- and it's pretty much straight up the mountain. This was a moderately rugged climb (especially with an overnight pack) but overall not too bad.
  • After passing through the notch and swinging around the east side of the mountain, there is a spur trail up to the old fire tower site. There's not really much in the way of views but it's neat from an historic perspective. It looks like people occasionally camp on the summit (illegally since it's within 150 feet of the trail).
  • The trail down the east side of West Mountain is much more obvious and has had some maintenance. There is a fern-filled clearing just below the summit that is mildly confusing- the trail was not where I expected it to be on the other side of the clearing (on the descent, I had to angle across the clearing slightly to the left to find the continuation of the trail). Much of the trail is somewhat washed out but not overly rugged.
  • Once I hit the base of West Mountain, the rest of the hike was pretty much entirely pleasant strolling on old roads. I did find a super obvious herd path just north of the bridge over the outlet of Cranberry Pond that I followed for maybe a tenth of a mile west- I would assume that this leads all the way to Cranberry Pond but an not sure.
  • There is a small but nice designated tent site at the end of the spur trail to the shoreline on Sucker Brook Bay (which also has a small but nice beach adjacent). This could be a nice spot to camp for anyone looking to do this trip over 3 nights as opposed to 2.
  • There is some beaver activity where the trail crosses Beaver Brook- and I did get my feet wet going through here.
  • Directly opposite the island on Lower Pond a spur trail leads out to a small but nice rocky prominence- this looked like a good spot for swimming.
  • The last bit of the trail along the east shore of Upper Pond passes some very attractive sandy beaches. These spots are pretty clearly a local hot-spot for swimming on summer afternoons.

Overall, I think this loop clocked in at somewhere between 30 and 35 miles. I feel like this loop has some serious potential but given the current state of the West Mountain Trail, it's really only something that the most die-hard hikers are even going to have the lease bit of interest in. If that trail could be cut open again (and more campsites established and designated on some of the ponds in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness), this could make for a nice weekend loop trip that I think would be appealing to many in the community.

Great write up, thanks! That trail up the backside of west mountain gives me a bit of pause as far as attempting this hike.

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Old 06-21-2020, 08:13 PM   #64
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I planned to try hiking up West Mntn and back from Eagle Bay a few years ago as well, but gave up due to time constraints after staying in the woods by Pigeon Lake. I had no idea it would be so difficult to follow.

That trail is pretty hard to follow and takes time to figure out...or just requires a bushwack. I would like to complete it at some point in the future. An intentionally unmaintained trail is one thing (as I've seen in the Ha De Ron Dah Area ) but this trail past Pigeon is gone pretty much. For those with the time (vehicles) to do it it seems like it would be a good challenge!

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Old 06-21-2020, 08:30 PM   #65
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That area has always been difficult to manage. Part of it is the trail system follows a low valley which is pretty "moist" for lack of a better term. Also, as you know, these areas tend to give way to "spruce swamp" rather than "northern hardwood" forest, which tend to grow on slopes with good drainage.

As I recall the hardest parts to navigate were the "spruce swamps". A trail did not really exist anymore at my time of usage and I followed some sparse markers until I made it to areas where I could clearly see a path again. It was seriously like that but it sounds like from DS's report it's in much better shape now. I'd expect it to ebb and flow like this and part of the challenge of this is really navigating that terrain, which as I recall with a large pack wasn't always that easy - I may have done more crawling on my hands that I care to admit.

Also this area was never logged - it's a PITA to get to, there's no good rivers to flood to float logs and building a road would have been costly. The region in between Pigeon Lake the west side of West Mtn are mostly virgin old growth. In the low lying areas, that may not appear what you think as the forest cycles are different and don't allow large, older living species, but if you get up into the forests on the surrounding hills the forest is truly a dense mix of almost every age of tree vying every bit of sunlight they can get. This is as close to what the Adirondacks should look like after many unmolested forest cycles.
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Old 06-22-2020, 06:07 PM   #66
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Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
I did this loop last week. Sorry to DuctTape and Addwolanin- I wasn't intentionally excluding you guys but just as I predicted, the stars aligned with a few nights off and good weather, and I literally did not open the map to really plan the trip until I was already at the trailhead.
No worries. Sounds like a great trip. There should be a more concerted effort to create/maintain these longer loop trail systems for more than just the hard-core hiker. The few that exist get a lot of pressure.
"There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go." -from "The Call of the Wild" by Robert Service

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Old 06-22-2020, 07:25 PM   #67
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Originally Posted by DuctTape View Post
There should be a more concerted effort to create/maintain these longer loop trail systems for more than just the hard-core hiker.
I don't know what it would take to make it happen, but it would be great if they (the state) would ditch the existing (historical) trail system and reroute it a bit higher in elevation only dipping back to the ponds with spurs.

I think this system mainly follows the drainage of Constable creek, which is not navigable by water (or land) very easily but I really have no idea why this route was chosen except to minimize elevation gain. Everyone would benefit from a slight detour to higher ground as the trail, in theory, should be easier to maintain and be drier. The current amount of toadstools and cord is ridiculous.

In the higher hardwoods there will be big blowdowns, but as an evolving wilderness trail I don't see why those simply wouldn't be circumvented and new trail "burned" in and let the tree rot naturally rather than try to get a team to do a motorless removal 4 miles in.

Last edited by montcalm; 06-22-2020 at 09:36 PM..
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Old 06-29-2020, 11:44 PM   #68
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Yeah, the Constable Creek portion had recently been cut out- and by cut out, I mean a 10 foot wide corridor had been cleared. The trail was super obvious and generally in great shape- but Montcalm is right in that without any upkeep, this stretch will probably quickly grow in again with dense spruce.

It wasn't until the trail really leaves the Constable Creek drainage that everything goes to hell. From the west end of Pigeon Lake to the beaver meadows east of Pigeon Lake, the tread at least was obvious, despite frequent blowdowns. And again, further east to Otter Pond, there was pretty much no tread left at all. And this stretch of the trail was in hardwoods and/or mixed woods, with a generally more open understory than the Constable Creek drainage portion of the trail.

Lean-tos on Pigeon Lake and/or Otter Pond (plus a few tent sites) would probably increase the use of the trail at least to the point that the tread would remain obvious and the trail somewhat open through use alone (even if it does get brushy from lake of maintenance).

It's too bad also that the fire tower on West Mountain was removed- without it, there's really not any good views (apart from a small glimpse through the trees here and there). Had the tower been allowed to remain, it's presence also likely would've increased interest in the trail as an (even if only occasional) thru-hike.

In more general terms on the subject of longer trails... I've often lamented that for how amazing it is to have a 6 million+ acre resource like the Adirondack Park, there is is a surprising lack of long distance hiking trail connectivity. Longer backpacking trips- especially longer loop backpacking trips- are few and far between. The powers that be talk at length about the need to "disperse use away from the High Peaks" and they aren't wrong... but there's relatively little vision with regards to what infrastructure is necessary (and presently lacking) to appeal to even a small portion of the High Peaks crowd as an equivalent alternative.
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Old 06-30-2020, 08:29 AM   #69
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There used to be great views of Raquette Lake from West, but that was from the clearing where the tower (and cabin?) used to be. There were small spruce all around on the summit 25 years ago, but they have grown up and blocked the view. It looked as thought the summit was cleared not so long ago - perhaps when they removed the tower? But as I recall the summit was quite grassy so I'm not surprised it has been reclaimed - they only stay bare if they get scrubbed down to the bedrock.

It's odd about PigLW - it seems the all the lean tos and such where set up for short overnights. There's no connectivity between the north and south either.

Honestly if one were to re-imagine the trail system throughout there, one could make quite a nice self-contained backpacking loop, and maybe even forgo West Mtn for Shallow Lake or the like.
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Old 06-30-2020, 01:36 PM   #70
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So another thought - I'm not much for most lean-tos, but I do think it might be a good idea to put one out at Pigeon Lake. I feel like it's remote enough it would perhaps avoid the issues that the Queer Lake one has.

In that regard though, I'd really recommend getting rid of or moving the Queer Lake lean-to and designating a couple tent sites around the lake. That lean-to and site it's on were beautiful 20 years ago, but now it's a mess. It's just too close and attracts too many irresponsible campers - many without tents who expect they're going to get in the lean-to despite it being very popular and almost always occupied.

Personally, having been to most of all the ponds/lakes in PigLW, I can say without a doubt that Queer is the most handsome as well. All the more reason it should be managed to handle more use.

A designated tent site at Otter Pond would be nice as well, but I doubt it'd get much use. Otter Pond itself is really pretty small and not all that interesting. The appeal to me, and perhaps to others is that it's an area of "virgin" Adirondack forest that would be interesting to explore via bushwhacking if a trail and campsite system existed to get out there more easily.

The trail up the west side of West Mtn should be abandoned because it serves no real purpose if a trail to a more interesting destinations i.e. Cranberry, Pelcher and Shallow could complete the loop. There is almost zero chance a fire tower will be put back and no way is the state or anyone going to allow the summit to be cleared again.

I'm really surprised this isn't something the state hasn't looked into as this is kind of a high pressure area i.e. lots of tourism in the surrounding environs.

Last edited by montcalm; 06-30-2020 at 04:29 PM..
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Old 07-01-2020, 01:59 PM   #71
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DSettahr, thanks for the report, it's great to read all your detailed observations. I used to stay in the woods following the 150' rule in the vicinity of the western LT on 7th when I was bicycling without a canoe, it made a nice first or last night stop as it's about 90 or 95 miles from here, but the last time I stayed there there was a new and official looking sign at the trailhead that said 'camping by permit only in this area' or something to that effect. That was in 2012 or so, so I don't recall for sure. I stayed there anyway that night since it was getting toward dusk and I didn't have time to go somewhere else. I really like that big rock and the little mini-island in front of it, but I forget its name. With the bike I could walk in without parking being an issue, and the trail was good enough to walk the bike pretty easily. There's a lot of pretty country in that area and I'm looking forward to going back when time permits, and I'd like to try a loop, it sounds like fun.
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Old 07-08-2020, 07:27 AM   #72
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Originally Posted by montcalm View Post
There is almost zero chance a fire tower will be put back and no way is the state or anyone going to allow the summit to be cleared again.

Maybe you should organize a protest up there, that would likely clear your view rapidly! And no one from the State would say " boo" to you!
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Old 07-08-2020, 10:13 PM   #73
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We don't need any more lean-tos, they attract litter and tree cutting.
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Old 07-09-2020, 02:45 PM   #74
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Don't misinterpret my pipe dreaming...

For one, I don't want to clear the summit of West mountain, but since it is growing back, a trail up to the summit is not a good use of recreational mileage in this wilderness.

I also don't support more lean tos, but I would gladly support moving the one at Queer to a more sustainable location. In my mind, that would be Pigeon Lake. I'd also be fine with none in either location.
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Old 07-16-2020, 01:09 AM   #75
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Originally Posted by dundee View Post
We don't need any more lean-tos, they attract litter and tree cutting.
While I agree with this sentiment somewhat, I would add a caveat: "New leant-tos should not be added within 5 miles of a trailhead." In my experience, 5 miles seems to roughly be the "idiot limit." That is, lean-tos located more than 5 miles from the nearest access point generally seem to escape the more depreciative behaviors that more accessible lean-tos are unfortunately frequently subject to.

I do think that there's room in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness to add a lean-to (or two) to the vicinity of Pigeon Lake and/or Otter Pond that is remote enough to be outside the realm of influence of said "idiot limit."
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Old 02-02-2021, 07:53 PM   #76
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The recent trip report discussion has had me thinking more about West mountain.

Was it a popular hike when there was a tower?

I had family that vacationed in this area, probably in the 60's/70's and I never heard them mention anything about that hike. They are unfortunately long dead now or I'd ask if they knew it. I know they knew about other hikes and towers in the region.

I'd assume the tower was removed in the 70's when the state started classifying lands as wilderness.

I did find some internet pictures from a few years ago and the views were much better - I'd love to see a pic of the fully clear views or from the tower, if they exist.

As odd as it sounds, it seems like I stumbled on a relic from the past in my youth, and it's something I'll never see again. I wasn't wise enough then to capture it on film but I'm sure someone was. I'd love to be able to see that.
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