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Old 09-13-2018, 01:41 PM   #1
Faline's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Posts: 25
Sand Lake, Five Ponds Wilderness overnighter

The route: 20km trail from Wanakena to Sand Lake, overnight at Sand Lake lean-to and back the next day.

Originally we'd planned to do the High Falls loop but we were enticed by what we read about Sand Lake: that it's just about as remote as you can get in the Adirondacks and a really pretty campsite by the sandy shore, surrounded by deeply wooded hills.

August 26, 2018

It's only a 2.5 hour drive from Ottawa to Wanakena, a very small town at the edge of The Five Ponds Wilderness. There's not much in town, but we did find a small shop called Otto's Abode, where a really friendly and helpful guy sold us a map of the area. He told us about a short cut to the trail to Sand Lake, which made the trek there more doable, since we were starting later than ideal: 10am.

It was raining pretty hard as we turned into the parking lot for the High Falls loop trail, but fortunately it soon ebbed and we were on our way.

The trail is fairly wide and flat to start, but after 3kms we find the cairn indicating the shortcut trail. As the Otto's guy said, though the trail is not in the map, it is easy to follow, well maintained, and even has blue trail markers to follow. Quite narrow though, under a canopy of trees blocking the sky. It rained off and on as we hiked the 4.7kms to the trail junction with the High Falls loop.

By now it was noon and we were hungry. We turned right and soon we found the left turn and trail markers for the Sand Lake trail. There was a flat spot by the trail where we had lunch of PB and apple on bread, followed by lots of chocolate. As we ate, a father and his two young sons hiked past, the only people we'd see over the two days. They were really friendly, asking us all sorts of questions about our hike. When we told them we are Canadians they thought that was so funny because just that morning they were talking about how they never meet Canadians on this trail. They're from Canton.

From the junction, it's 4kms to the Big Shallow lean-to. And along the way we had to navigate across four beaver dams. I got a good soaker along the way. Aside from that it's a nice, narrow trail through the forest and across a few brooks. The brook water looks quite red- I wonder why.

About 1km further from Big Shallow is Little Shallow lean-to.

As we hike these trails we often have to swat mosquitoes which is surprising for late August. But I guess it's a pretty wet area.

We have over 6kms from Little Shallow to Sand Lake. As I hike along, there is suddenly a distinct thud beside me. I look down and realize a large, half eaten frog has just fallen from the sky, almost landing on my head. Creepy.

A little later I hear a crash behind me: Kim has slipped off a log and landed in the middle of a stretch of water logged trail. She's sprawled in her back, arms and legs flailing as she tries to get up, but soon exclaims she can't get up and she's sinking deeper. I decide that instead of taking a picture I better help her up. Probably a good choice as she was temporarily crabby after the fall. Because of the rain the trail was slick.

The last 4kms to Sand Lake the trail is pretty easy going, thankfully. We arrived at 4pm to a very pretty campsite - and thank goodness it was empty! The lean-to is in great shape and there's a picnic table and bench. The lake a is a good size with sandy shores. After I boiled water and got our couscous dinners soaking, I stripped down nude for a very refreshing dip in the cool lake. If I'd brought my swim hat and goggles I could've gone for a real swim.

Except for some short periods of rain here and there, it mostly stopped raining. We sat on the edge of the lento for dinner. We took some chocolate to a log by the lake and indulged as we admired the view.

Afterwards, we decided to make a little fire. We gathered pine needles, leaves as dry as we could find, and little twigs. It wasn't really working, as everything was quite damp, so we added a few paper towels which did the trick. I spent the rest of the evening reading my book by the fire as Kim constantly tended to it. She was transfixed!

We were very cozy inside our sleeping bags around 8pm, after I found a suitable spot for our bear barrel aways away.

Drifted to sleep to Pure Quiet. Woke in the night to pee and noticed a full moon and again I was struck by the quiet.

August 27, 2018

Woke around 5:15am feeling refreshed. It was still dark out, so at 5:30 I used my headlamp to find the bear barrel, untouched.

It was a warm, still morning. In the dim light, I could see the lake was calm and steaming, with the full moon over head. I stripped down and went for a refreshing swim, then made coffee. We sat on a log by the lake eating cookies and drinking coffee while reading the lean-to's visitor journal. The last visitor was a week ago. I made an entry, then we got packed up and were on our way out just past 7am.

We hiked quickly and retraced yesterday's steps. Saw moose prints and beat scat but no animals. The only incident was that we were low on water. Every stream we passed looked too red so we rationed, which made Kim anxious. But fortunately it was a beautiful day and we hiked the 20kms in under 5 hours, including a lunch break.
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Old 09-13-2018, 02:16 PM   #2
Join Date: May 2018
Posts: 628
A bright orange red deposit on the bottom of a stream is caused by iron bacteria. Early settlers sought these out and dug the bog iron from the area.

Transparent water with the mahogany red color (common to most Adirondack flowing waters) is caused by tannins and lignins from decomposition of the needles of the many conifers.

If you can find older birch or beech trees, the bark pieces that are usually on the ground under and around them is excellent kindling. It is NOT a good practice to peel the bark from live standing trees, but often the pieces are dry enough to light even when picked up from the ground or peeled from dead and downed trees or branches on the ground. Anticipating the desire for a fire, and storing this material in the leanto for a couple of hours can dry it out a little more.

Mosquitoes will be present in wet areas, and at dawn and dusk, right up until the frost, and females that have not gotten a blood meal will overwinter, and can be a nuisance early in the year when they are after that blood to allow them to complete egg formation.

You didn't look up to see what had been gnawing on the frog? Some very interesting hawks and owls out there.
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Old 09-13-2018, 02:19 PM   #3
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Western Adirondacks
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Not to detract from your 20km hike, but you know there is a much shorter way to get to Sand Lake. You come in from Croghan in Lewis County, take the Long Pond Road, park where the long gravel public Bear Pond Road ends at the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River, then hike the trail to Grassy Pond and a short bushwhack/herd path trail to the esker between Rock Lake and Sand Lake. A total one way hiking distance of about 6km.

But the much longer route you took is spectacular with much to see and experience. I've made the through trip a few times from Stillwater Reservoir to Wanakena via Sand Lake and it is a a good one. At one time there was a dam separating different levels of Rock and Sand Lakes before it broke and the levels became about the same. It was quite something to stand on the esker and see Rock's surface level about 8 feet below Sand, just a few feet away.

The tannin darkly colored water is harmless to drink. Just be sure to properly disinfect all surface water before drinking.
"Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth." -Walt Whitman

Last edited by Wldrns; 09-13-2018 at 02:58 PM..
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Old 09-13-2018, 11:52 PM   #4
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Join Date: May 2007
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Yeah, Sand Lake looks enticingly remote on the map, but it's actually more readily accessed from the southwest than by way of the Five Ponds. Accordingly, it also gets more use than many expect based on what hiking maps show- not that it's party central, but the lean-tos at Big Shallow, Little Shallow, and Wolf Pond all get noticeably less use than Sand Lake.

Whether by intent or chance, you were smart to head in there on a Sunday night- had you gone in for a Friday or Saturday night trip, you may not have had the lean-to to yourself.
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five ponds wilderness, sand lake

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