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Old 08-19-2021, 11:25 AM   #1
stargazr1116
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Overdue Trip Report - Middle Settlement Lake (7/22 – 7/23/2021)

TLDR: Prepare to get wet if you're starting at the Scusa Trailhead and heading to Middle Settlement Lake

My cousin and I decided to take a few days prior to a family reunion to do some camping and backpacking. We wanted a little time to decompress, so we decided to stay at Nick’s Lake Campground for two nights rather than stay at a hotel and then do a one-night overnight. (I have to admit, as much as I hate campgrounds with a passion, Nick’s Lake is a lovely one as far as they go.)

After looking at the maps and reminding him it had basically been raining for a week straight before we arrived, I gave my cousin a choice “we can either take a longer hike and shoot for a lean-to on a river (Remsen Falls) or take a shorter hike and try to get a lean-to along a lake (Middle Settlement or Middle Branch) which will be shorter and probably a lot muddier.” His direct response was “I’ll always pick a lake over a river, who cares about some mud!” So off to Middle Settlement Lake we went, and I don’t think I’m ever going to let him live that life choice down.

We went in from the Scusa Trailhead and I laughed at him right away because it was muddy before we even made it the few feet to the trail register. We took the direct route to Middle Settlement, bearing left at the junction that would head you to Middle Branch Lake if you went right. Things were fine for about the first half mile or so, and then the mud started to increase, becoming more and more of a slog. Would have been ok with a high pair of gaiters, but he didn’t have a pair and I stupidly decided to leave mine in the car.

At about the halfway point, where the outlet from Grass Pond we hit what I would consider the first real flood-out zone. Beaver activity has basically wiped the trail out completely and it took us quite a while to pick our way across safely and then re-find the trail. Our boots got wet, but we somehow managed to avoid getting caught in water much higher than that. (Be warned, I think we got lucky with a few random bits of debris that happened to be there in the moment, so I would go in assuming it’ll be a walk-through-water situation here in the future.) From that point onward it was in and out of some pretty thick mud and some flooded/washed out areas, annoying, but nothing too terrible for a bit.

Right before we got to the lake itself (near where the trail to the lean-to intersects with the trail that heads towards Cedar Pond) we encountered what my cousin jokingly nicknamed “Swamp of Death.” When you look at the maps, it looks like the trail crosses over and heads to the north side of the lake a decent bit before the water itself. I don’t know if that ever was accurate, but it sure AF ain’t accurate now. That entire area is **completely** flooded out and backed up by huge boulders, so your options are to try to figure out a scramble (and I’m honestly not even sure that’s possible because we didn’t try) or just plow through.

Going straight through was trickier than it seemed, because it was almost a mirage -- the way the grasses and bushes are growing it LOOKED like you could walk through. Like REALLY looked solid. But, as they say, looks are deceiving!!! You take a step and you end up waist deep in water and mud praying you can get yourself out without losing your boots or getting your pack stuck. (Hypothetically, of course, this definitely didn’t happen to me, no way… )

Once we finally made it across, it didn’t really matter that we were soaked from Swamp of Death, because the skies opened up and we had a summer storm roll through.

We had a moment of absolute discouragement after walking a bit longer and finding a legal campsite along the lake that looked like it had been an old lean-to spot. In my frustration, I had a moment where I convinced myself the Lean-To had been taken down (No, I can’t explain that logic. It’s clearly irrational, but it made sense as a possibility in the moment, especially since the site was legal but not marked on any of the maps.)

Once we realized I was just being stupid, we continued on and made it to the Lean To, which, unfortunately, people had not left the in great condition. Lots of trash, “donations” that just make things worse – unused Cup-O-Noodles, an almost-finished candle stub, a few pieces of tin foil, completely rusted out crappy pot, things like that – and the fire pit was full of paper scraps that hadn’t been fully burned or cleaned up. For a Lean-To in an area that gets comparatively less use than other parts of the park, I was pretty frustrated. We cleaned up and took out what we could, but there was a lot more that we couldn’t take.

Fortunately, the location itself made me forget my frustration very quickly. A great spot overlooking the lake, an epic nap amid an incredible Adk thunderstorm and a family of loons that kept tabs on us the entire time we were there and provided a spectacular soundtrack.

We got up the next morning and decided to try a different route out rather than backtrack through the swamp. If you continue along past the lean to towards the other end of the lake, you hit an intersection where you can continue on to Lost Lake trail or turn onto a spur trail. Depending on what map or app you use, this trail either ends at a stream about a mile after the intersection or continues onwards to Copper Lake Road.

We decided to trust the old school paper map, which correctly showed the trail heading to the road. Of course, Beavers have decided to reclaim that trail for themselves over the past few seasons as well. We were able to pick our way across for the most part, but I don’t know if that will be the case if a couple of decent storms run through the area. Made it out to Copper Spur Road and then road walked back to the trailhead. In hindsight, while it was nice to see the additional bit of Ha De Ron Dah, road walking sucks, so we probably would have been better off venturing back through the Swamp of Death.

Overall, it was fun to venture into an area of the park I hadn’t seen before, and is a hike my cousin and I will definitely remember, but it’s not the easy stroll that it appears to be on the maps!
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Old 08-19-2021, 12:56 PM   #2
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It's a great spot in better times. Memories were made it sounds like.

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Old 08-24-2021, 12:24 PM   #3
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I never posted a trip report of this same route because I went in March of 2020. While I was there the world shut down and sharing details of the trip didn't seem all that relevant to what we were dealing with. But I will report now that it was a much different experience.

The snow was at least 3' deep, except the few spots where the ground was exposed or the open creeks. Going in on a Thursday afternoon it was well above freezing but the trail was packed enough that snowshoes kept me on top. The couple stream crossings were tricky and I did end up with at least one boot full of water. There certainly were no signs of swamps anywhere. Once at the lean-to it started raining/snowing with winds that left me a few square feet of dry floor in a corner. Overnight it cleared and the temp dropped enough for the lake to be a smooth sheet of ice by morning and had me wishing for my skates.
The next day I hiked to check out the lean-to on Middle Branch Lake. I was able to just wear spikes because I didn't post-hole at all on the frozen snow. I was glad I hadn't chosen to go there to spend the previous night because the wind was blowing the rain straight into it off the lake during the storm. Of the two lean-tos, Middle Branch was trashed and Middle Settlement was pretty clean. During the hike I got a cell signal and learned I wouldn't be going to work for at least two weeks. I was wishing someone had left a bit of food so I could stay longer, but no such luck.

One question that arose was about an abandoned trail between the two hills on the northwest end of Middle Settlement. There were a few disks, but I couldn't find enough to get a grasp of where it went. Was there a time the trail went due north from MS to MB? If so, that looks like it would have been a route through some swamps.
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Old 08-24-2021, 06:25 PM   #4
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The trail on the NW side of MSL, does not go to MBL (at least not directly). I do not think it has been abandoned, just not used as much. It goes past Pine Lake to Big Otter. Last year there was a significant flooded section. Beaver dam would be only way across.
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Old 08-25-2021, 09:51 AM   #5
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The one to Pine Lake leaves MSL from the southwest end of the lake. These disks were to the north of the lean-to. The ground was covered with snow so I couldn't see if there was any kind of tread, but in about a half-hour I only found two or three disks, different color than the trail to the lean-to, and lots of downed stuff to make it impossible to discern any kind of trail. I put an X on the topo map in the general area I saw them.
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