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Old 01-30-2021, 06:07 PM   #1
DSettahr
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Pigeon Lake Wilderness Loop, 6/8 - 6/10/20


This is a trip that I posted about in detail previously, but I still wanted to get a proper trip report up for it at some point. It's a loop that while it is a bit lacking in some respects currently, with a little bit of extra attention and effort I think it has potential to become a classic Adirondack backpacking loop akin to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Loop, the West Canada Lake Wilderness' French Louie Loop, the Cold River Loop in the Western High Peaks, and the High Falls Loop in the Five Ponds Wilderness.

I've had my eyes on this trip for a few years now, ever since I noticed that with a few miles of road walking a longer loop was possible traversing portions of both the Pigeon Lake Wilderness and the adjacent Moose River Plains Wild Forest. Finally, this past spring I found the right combination of mid-week days off, nice weather, and inclination to undertake the trip.

Because it is a loop, it can be started at one of several locations. Inlet would seem to be a logical spot (as this puts all of the road walking at either the start or the end of the trip) but I chose to start near Browns Tract Campground as this logistically made it easier to plan to camp in lean-tos for both nights of my trip.

The very first stretch of my trek was on the old railroad grade that runs west of Raquette Lake, along Browns Tract Inlet. With flat and easy hiking I made quick time to the turn off to Brown's Tract Carry (the portage and snowmobile trail that connects Brown's Tract Inlet with Eighth Lake).


From the turn off, the trail continued along a wide corridor through the woods, with a bit more ups and downs than the railroad grade but still nothing to slow me up any. I did take a quick side trip down to the put in at the end of the long dock on Brown's Tract Inlet to check out the views.




At the west end of Brown's Tract Carry lies the Eighth Lake Lean-to. This is a popular one given the lean-to's proximity to both the road (it's about a 10 minute walk in) and the lake, and it tends to attract more car-camping style campers than the minimalist backpacking crowd. Even though it was a week day, I was a bit surprised to see it unoccupied.


I also took a few minutes to check out the lake itself, and the trail down to the lake. Back in the summer of 2009, I spent a couple of weeks working on the water access here as a stewardship intern with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The old access trail from the lean-to down to the lake was gullied and washed out; we dug a deeper drainage ditch parallel to the trail, set a small stone wall, and backfilled a bench behind the wall to improve and stabilize the trail. I was glad to see that the trail improvements had held up well over the past decade (although the bench was starting to show some erosion that has the potential to worsen if it doesn't get a few buckets worth of stone crush at some point in the not-too-distant future).




The next stretch of my route lay along the snowmobile trail that connects the Brown's Tract Carry with Bug Lake. The Nat Geo map shows this route as a minimally-maintained herd path. The reality is that it is actually a maintained snowmobile trail- and somewhat decently well maintained at that. But it also clearly gets very little (if any) traffic outside of snowmobile season, and so despite having an obvious and wide corridor, there is not much in the way of an established tread to serve as a navigational guide. I could see some inexperienced navigators having some trepidation at trying to follow this path- at a minimum, it could probably use a few more trail markers.

For the most part this was also a decently dry trail that made for nice hiking through the woods, although as I got to within about the last half-mile or so of the western-most part of this trail I did pass a few muddy spots.


In contrast, the Bug Lake Trail follows a wide, old road that gets a fair mount of foot traffic (and presumably also bicycle traffic since it is in Wild Forest). I turned south along this trail even though this was not directly along the route of the main loop. My intent was to explore Bug Lake and Seventh Lake beyond.


I did spend a few minutes poking around and exploring Bug Lake. I found three designated tent sites there- none of which were obvious from the main trail. There were no markers or signs on the trail indicating their existence, and all were accessed via somewhat faint herd paths that it takes a discerning eye to notice. Two of the sites were gorgeous, and I was sorely tempted to set up for the night in one of them- but the allure of the lean-tos down on Seventh Lake drew me onward. In any case, Bug Lake gets less overnight use than Seventh Lake does, so for groups looking for solitude it's probably better to stay here than to continue on to the later lake (plus the trail to Seventh Lake isn't great, more on that below).

The first designated tent site was on the northwest shore of the lake. This was a beautiful and well-established site in mixed woods on a broad peninsula overlooking the lake.




The other two designated tent sites were around on the southeast side of the lake. To reach them required crossing the outlet on an unmarked and incredibly faint herd path. The Nat Geo map incorrectly shows this as a marked and maintained trail across the outlet (one of a number of Nat Geo map errors in this area, more on this below). The first site, closest to the outlet, was a decently large and obviously well-used but nice site in a stand of hemlocks.


Continuing north a few hundred feet along the east shore of Bug Lake on another herd path brought me to the third designated tent site. This was a smaller site, not nearly as well used or as nice as the other two despite being right on the water. It's clearly a site that is meant primarily as an overflow site especially for when the second site (the one closest to the outlet) is already occupied.

There was also a loon nesting on the shore immediately adjacent to this site- once I'd discovered I'd scared the loon off of her egg-occupied nest, I snapped a quick picture and immediately vacated the area to give the loon space to return to its egg-warming duties.






As mentioned, the Nat Geo map has a number of errors that resulted in some momentary confusion on my part with regards to proceeding to Seventh Lake from Bug Lake (including an unplanned side trip to the Eighth Lake Campground because I missed the turn off for the trail to Seventh Lake, forcing me to retrace my steps all the way back up the hill). These errors are significant enough that some discussion of them in detail is probably warranted. They are as follows:
  • The Nat Geo Map shows a marked and maintained loop side trail that branches off of the main Bug Lake Trail south of Bug Lake, crosses the outlet of Bug Lake, and continues on to Eagles Nest Lake before rejoining the Bug Lake Trail. In reality, only the spur between the Bug Lake Trail and Eagles Nest is marked or maintained. There is the aforementioned herd path that crosses the outlet of Bug Lake to access the tent sites on the east side, but it is definitely unmarked and is very unmaintained. (There may be a herd path connecting Bug Lake and Eagles Nest Lake directly, but I did not take the time to explore to see if one existed as it was getting late in the day.)
  • The Seventh Lake Trail (Trail 78) is also incorrectly shown. For starters, this is not a marked and maintained trail either despite being shown as one- but rather a very visibly a minimally maintained herd path along the full length of the trail. It gets enough use along the shoreline of Seventh Lake to be fairly obvious, but between Seventh Lake and the Bug Lake Trail it gets a bit brushier. Also, the connection where this trail joins the Bug Lake Trail is incorrectly shown on the Nat Geo map- the map shows the trail crossing the outlet of Bug Lake and joining the Bug Lake Trail east of the junction with the Eagle's Nest Spur Trail, but actually the Seventh Lake Trail remains west of the outlet of Bug Lake and joins the Bug Lake Trail west of the bridge over Bug Lake Outlet (at an unmarked and very unapparent junction).

It did some fair amount of backtracking and exploring to get the trail network in the vicinity sorted in my head, but once I found the herd path to Seventh Lake I was back on track. The path was decently easy to follow for the most part. Despite being brushy, minimally maintained, and unmarked, there was a moderately-well established tread most of the way.


Seventh Lake itself is clearly a popular spot for camping. The herd path here along the shore was well used. In addition to the two lean-tos, I saw 2 designated tent sites, and a whole lot of closed campsites. There were also a few sites of ambiguous legality- missing any indication of being designated or closed (most likely they were closed sites whose "No Camping" discs had been ripped down by less-than-ethical members of the public).

The designated sites were nice open and grassy clearings in the forest along the shore (although one was not particularly level).




Seventh Lake Lean-to #2 is the western-most of the two lean-tos on the lake, and thus was the first I came to. This is one of the few remaining party lean-tos in existence- or as I like to call them, "Double-Wides" as they are easily twice the normal size of an ADK lean-to. Room for you, your friends, and your friend's friends (if only it weren't for that pesky overnight group size limit of 9 people). Marcy dam recently had its party lean-to dismantled, and offhand the only other ones still standing that I can think of are Pharaoh Lake #2, Pharaoh Lake #5, and Woodhull Lake. (There's also Chub Pond #1 but that is a bit of a... unique circumstance behind the design and size of the lean-to.)

The lean-to was well-situated in a stand of hemlocks along the shore and had nice views, so I dropped my pack here, intending to stay for the night.






Before unpacking, I took a stroll out to Lean-to #1 to check it out... and as soon as I saw it (and saw that it was unoccupied), I immediately ran back to Lean-to #2, grabbed my pack and returned to #1 to set up camp for the evening. To say that Seventh Lake #1 is positively, stunningly gorgeous would be an understatement. It is well situated atop a low rocky bluff overlooking the lake in a beautiful stand of pines. It catches the afternoon breezes off of the lake perfectly, and its a phenomenal spot for watching sunsets as well. And while I didn't go in, the swimming looked to be *chef's kiss* perfect.

It's also clearly very popular. This is the sort of lean-to that you could visit 10 times and not have the good fortune to find it unoccupied for even a single one of those visits. As it was, despite being midweek and early in the season I was a bit shocked to find it unoccupied myself (although judging from the hot coals in the fire place it had been occupied not too long before). I knew that I needed to take advantage of the situation, and was glad that I hadn't yet unpacked at the other lean-to. 15 minutes later I had all of my gear at lean-to #1 and was making myself comfortable for the evening.








The next morning dawned a bit grey, and there were a few passing showers on the horizon. I fully expected one of the showers to pass my way but it stayed dry where I was. However, the sky soon started to open up and I did get treated to an early morning rainbow over the lake.


Before departing back the way I came, I did also take a quick side trip down to the west end of the Seventh Lake Trail to see what sort of access was possible there, at the end of Seventh Lake Road. It appears that public foot travel is permitted from the road, but there is no parking whatsoever- as evidenced by the numerous "No Parking" signs. So this really isn't a feasible means of access by the vast majority of the hiking public, unless you can find parking elsewhere and walk the road.

With explorations of the area complete to my satisfaction, the return trip back up past Bug Lake to rejoin the main loop went quickly. Soon, I was turning off from the Bug Lake Trail onto the Black Bear Mountain Trail, which I would take over Black Bear Mountain towards the village of Inlet. (Another possible Nat Geo map error: I never saw any junction with the Black Bear Mountain Ski Trail, shown on the map as trail #76.

The climb up the east side of Black Bear Mountain was moderately sustained but never overly steep. In spite of all of my explorations across the Adirondacks in general, I had never climbed this peak previously (despite always feeling tempted every time I drove past the trailhead on my way to or from adventures elsewhere). The summit had a number of open clearings and offered good- but (in my opinion) not great- views to the south and to the east from a couple of different vantage points.








Continued in next post....
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Old 01-30-2021, 06:07 PM   #2
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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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Old 01-30-2021, 06:08 PM   #3
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Continued from above...

At the base of West Mountain, I found myself turning right (south) on the old road that would be my route all the way back to my car at Brown's Tract Ponds. Before long, I'd reached Sucker Brook, which was crossed on a wooden bridge above a small canyon through which the creek funneled. Just before the bridge I noticed a very obvious herd path that branched off right (west), which I followed a short distance before turning back. (I have since confirmed via a member of these forums that this is a herd path that continues all the way to Cranberry Pond, maybe 20 minutes or so upstream along Sucker Brook at a moderate hiking pace).






About 10 minutes beyond the Sucker Brook bridge, I reached another junction where a side trail lead a few hundred feet down to the head of Sucker Brook Bay on Raquette Lake. Here, I found a somewhat narrow but otherwise nice sandy beach, and a designated tent site perched atop a nearby knoll. The beach looked to be a nice spot for swimming. I was a bit surprised to see that the campsite didn't appear to get a whole lot of reqular use- given it's proximity to the beach plus also the fact that it is (I think) the only designated tent site on this part of Raquette Lake, I would've expected it to be a more popular one. Maybe the bulk of the overnight boat use is instead concentrated at the numerous lean-tos located elsewhere on the lake.




Back on the old road again and traveling further south, I reached some problematic beaver flooding where the trail crosses the appropriately-named Beaver Brook. The water here was over the tops of my boots- and had it not been the final few miles of my hike, I might have elected instead to switch to my crocs (and risk leaches) to keep my footwear and socks dry.


I also passed a junction with the side trail to Uncas Road, arriving at that road mid-way between Brown's Tract campground and the hamlet of Raquette Lake. A quick glance at this trail as I hiked by did not seem to indicate that it was at all well maintained.


Further south, I passed junctions with side trails to Brown's Tract campground itself, and to Shallow Lake further to the west. While hiking south along the west shore of Lower Brown's Tract Pond, I noticed a moderately impacted herd path that lead down to the shore of the pond. I followed this to a small rocky peninsula on the pond- with decent views and what appeared to be great swimming.




After crossing the inlet between the two Brown's Tract ponds on a slightly rickety bridge, I was now on the shore of Upper Brown's Tract Pond. Two days prior when I'd started my trek, I noticed a lot of cars parked on Uncas Road near the gate that blocks the south end of this trail- and now I saw why. There's a couple of sandy beaches long the east shore of Lower Pond that this trail directly accesses, with picture perfect swimming. Even better, the beaches face directly into the prevailing winds out of the west and there was not a bug in sight. Each of these beaches was empty when I strolled on past, but I can imagine that this is a popular local swimming hot spot and I've no doubt that the area gets pretty crowded at times.








A few feet beyond the last beach and I was stepping back out onto Uncas Road and at the conclusion of my hike.

-----------------------------------------

Overall, in spite of the added challenges that keep me from being able to recommend this itinerary to the broader hiking community (the bushwhack section in particular) I personally was pretty satisfied with this trip. Loop backpacking trails are in kind of surprising short supply in the ADKs when you consider the size and amount of backcountry that the park has to offer, and so it was neat to be able to piece something together of this length, in an area of the park that I haven't really spent too much time exploring previously.

It seems too that in addition to the lean-tos along the route, there's enough tenting options also that it would not be too terribly difficult to do this loop over 4 days as opposed to my 3, to facilitate a slower pace.

The Pigeon Lake/Otter Pond stretch definitely needs more/better maintenance. I also think there could/should be designated tent sites at both of those bodies of water... and while I hesitate to give a hearty endorsement to the idea offhand, I do think that even a lean-to one of those two spots might potentially increase use of the area enough to maintain an established tread on the trail, without risking the same abuse as has been unfortunately common Queer Lake (I think Pigeon Lake and especially Otter Pond would be better insulated from that kind of depreciative behavior due to the added remoteness).

A quick glance at the map also indicates that it would be possible to construct a new trail that more directly connects Black Bear Mountain with Cascade Lake, thus eliminating the road walking stretch entirely. As it was, this is far from the worst road walk I've ever had to endure while hiking (the bike path along Route 28 especially makes it that much more bearable).

But overall, for anyone who is comfortable with unmaintained trails and especially full on bushwhacking and is looking for a new backpacking loop to check out in the ADKs for an extended 3-4 day trip... this is definitely an itinerary worthy of consideration, I think.

Last edited by DSettahr; 01-30-2021 at 06:37 PM..
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Old 01-30-2021, 06:21 PM   #4
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Also, out of curiosity I did some rough guestimating of the total distance, using the Nat Geo map mileage (not the most accurate, I know) plus Gmaps Pedometer to fill in a few missing gaps.

The main loop is 28 miles. The side trek down to Seventh Lake (all the way to the end of Seventh Lake Rd) adds about 8.2 miles round trip, bringing the total distance to 36.2 miles if one includes this side trek to their own itinerary.

And my navigational "oops" stemming from the inaccuracies of the Nat Geo map also added 1.2 miles of additional hiking to and from the Eighth Lake Campground, bringing my personal total distance to 37.4 miles traveled for this trip.
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Old 01-31-2021, 09:32 AM   #5
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Outstanding trip report and photos! Thanks for sharing and for putting so much effort into your post.

Out of curiosity, I looked at different online maps of the Bug Lake / Eagle's Nest area. CalTopo and OpenTopoMap showed just a single trail from the Eighth Lake camping area, while Natural Atlas shows a regular 1.8-mile trail connecting the Bug Lake Trail with Seventh Lake Lean-To #2. It's too bad the ADK club doesn't publish more detailed and up-to-date maps for other parts of the park like they do for the High Peaks region, though completely understandable given that it wouldn't be nearly as profitable. One of the things that I like about the High Peaks map is how it distinguishes between maintained hiking trails and herd paths, and labels multi-use + other-use trails (e.g. snowmobiling and MTB trails).

It's astonishing that National Geographic's map still contains outdated info on the Cascade Lake trailhead, considering the newer TH has been around for at least a decade (going by CNY Hiking's info that was based on an outing from the end of 2009). While the difference is only a few tenths of a mile in this instance, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the map's overall reliability in the 2020s. Naturalatlas.com also shows the southern/old trailhead as being the only access point, while CalTopo has a more up-to-date map showing both access points with the newer one being marked "Cascade Lake Trail".

The Seventh Lake area, with the lakeside shelter and rock, instantly reminded me of the loop that goes around Black Mountain in the Lake George area that I hiked this past fall. I especially liked the photos of the rainbow glowing above one of the mountains and of that small, rocky island around sunset. The last time I was in the Adirondacks, I made a mental note of Seventh Lake after driving by and seeing an empty trailhead off of Route 28 (quite the contrast from the Black Bear / Rocky Mountain trailhead in Inlet that was packed with cars). Hoping to make a stop there if I end up going on a waterfalling trip in the Western/Central ADKs this spring.

Moss Lake is another good hiking option in that general vicinity. There's a loop around the lake that makes for a good half-day outing -- which can be turned into a longer backpacking trip by connecting to another trail that splits Bub & Sis Lakes before heading all the way to Bald Mountain. Having only done the loop around Moss Lake, I can't verify the accuracy of the longer trail that runs parallel to Fulton Chain's northern shore.

Black Bear Mountain's views, while nice, pale in comparison to nearby Rocky Mountain's which remain my favorite mountaintop views in the entire park, edging out Mount Marcy and the MacIntyre peaks. And you're right about the blue trail being significantly tougher than the yellow one. Going up an icy blue trail in winter a few years ago was quite gnarly in spots!
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Old 01-31-2021, 10:44 AM   #6
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Looks about right. Typically western Adirondacks - feast or famine.

I'm actually kind of surprised the eastern side of West mountain is getting any attention. That view is gone, and will likely never return. It was pretty good 25 years ago though before all those spruce trees grew up.

There are some amazing beaches in the Brown Tract area. I kind of hope not too many people read this because they are already pretty popular. But being off the beaten path in that area, they are much less than say Arrowhead Park.

7th Lake is pretty spectacular. Windy AF a lot of times by boat. And of course the motorboat access means you're unlikely to get any solitude in the special spots - I won't mention the others, but there are more...

Not sure what to say about the remote areas. They just don't have any appeal. I mean you hiked all the way out there and didn't even take a look at Otter Pond.

Pigeon Lake could probably do with a lean to but it's also a pretty special area in terms of history in that it was never logged and probably never had camps. So it was relatively unmolested in terms of human contact. It still kind of remains that way. Not many people venture to the the south side of the lake. A trail between Lower Sister Lake and Pigeon Lake would be amazing, and even if it was out-and-back would really tie in the whole wilderness area.

I actually think a trail between Shallow Lake and the trail between Chub and Queer would be a better traverse.

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Old 01-31-2021, 12:23 PM   #7
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Also Re: Black bear mountain. The hike from Uncas is a much better one for the very young or the very old. The trail from 28 is easy at first but is a steep scramble for the last few hundred vertical feet. And yeah it can be sketchy in the winter when it’s solid ice (bring crampons). But because there’s no parking area or signage and a lot less traffic on the Uncas that trail gets a lot less use. But we’ve taken very young kids that way and they surely would have had trouble from 28. The summit views aren’t amazing but the summit is vast and has a lot of spots to explore (and pick blueberries). Again a good choice for young kids. Just beware the views shown in the pics above are cliffs. They are on the left once you get near the summit from the Uncas trail.
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Old 01-31-2021, 07:37 PM   #8
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Thank you - very interesting trek. Nice loop.
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Old 01-31-2021, 10:01 PM   #9
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It's astonishing that National Geographic's map still contains outdated info on the Cascade Lake trailhead, considering the newer TH has been around for at least a decade (going by CNY Hiking's info that was based on an outing from the end of 2009).
My general experience with the Nat Geo maps has been that they are good but not great- for a variety of reasons. Part of the issue I think is that the map maker is not local- I want to say that they are based in CO but I'm not 100% sure exactly. In any case, they are relying entirely upon information from secondhand sources when it comes to proofing the maps.

Confounding this issue is the fact that the quality of the DEC's geospatial information (which provides the base upon which the Nat Geo maps were further developed and refined) is... not always as great as you would maybe expect from an environmental agency tasked with managing a 6 million acre park. (Although FWIW is the DECInfo page does correctly show the current location of the Cascade Lake Trailhead.)

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The Seventh Lake area, with the lakeside shelter and rock, instantly reminded me of the loop that goes around Black Mountain in the Lake George area that I hiked this past fall.
Yup, I've done a few overnight trips in that area also. Rock Pond, Lapland Pond, Millman Pond, Fish Pond, and Greeland Pond are all beautiful spots to camp with nice lean-tos on each body of water.

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Moss Lake is another good hiking option in that general vicinity. There's a loop around the lake that makes for a good half-day outing -- which can be turned into a longer backpacking trip by connecting to another trail that splits Bub & Sis Lakes before heading all the way to Bald Mountain. Having only done the loop around Moss Lake, I can't verify the accuracy of the longer trail that runs parallel to Fulton Chain's northern shore.
I've done the loop around Moss Lake but haven't been over to Bub and Sis Lakes. The Moss Lake sites are nice but clearly also popular.

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Black Bear Mountain's views, while nice, pale in comparison to nearby Rocky Mountain's which remain my favorite mountaintop views in the entire park, edging out Mount Marcy and the MacIntyre peaks.
I thought about taking a side trip up Rocky Mountain when I was walking past the trailhead and saw all of the cars. But I was also eager to be done with the road walk as quickly as possible.
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Old 01-31-2021, 10:15 PM   #10
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I'm actually kind of surprised the eastern side of West mountain is getting any attention. That view is gone, and will likely never return. It was pretty good 25 years ago though before all those spruce trees grew up.
It's definitely getting some foot traffic. Not a huge amount by any means, but some.

It's too bad that tower was removed before the DEC softened their stance on towers in Wilderness areas. I'm sure the view from the tower- while it still stood- was nice.

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There are some amazing beaches in the Brown Tract area. I kind of hope not too many people read this because they are already pretty popular. But being off the beaten path in that area, they are much less than say Arrowhead Park.
I went back and forth on whether to mention them with similar concerns in mind. In the end I decided that it was clear that they get a lot of use as it is- and so aren't exactly a secret by any means.

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Not sure what to say about the remote areas. They just don't have any appeal. I mean you hiked all the way out there and didn't even take a look at Otter Pond.
For what it's worth, my decision not to more closely check out Otter Pond had less to do with any perceived lack of appeal, and more to do with the fact that I was distracted by route finding as I passed by. It looked nice (through the trees at any rate) and felt remote.

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Pigeon Lake could probably do with a lean to but it's also a pretty special area in terms of history in that it was never logged and probably never had camps. So it was relatively unmolested in terms of human contact. It still kind of remains that way. Not many people venture to the the south side of the lake. A trail between Lower Sister Lake and Pigeon Lake would be amazing, and even if it was out-and-back would really tie in the whole wilderness area.

I actually think a trail between Shallow Lake and the trail between Chub and Queer would be a better traverse.
I'm not as keen on the idea of a trail connecting Pigeon Lake with Lower Sister Lake. Lower Sister Lake is pretty neat in that it demands both a boat ride and a hike to reach, and building a trail from Pigeon Lake would kind of ruin that (even if the alternative were still a relatively long hike).

I do agree that without the views from West Mountain a new route could and should probably be constructed around the mountain. Maybe Pigeon Lake to Shallow Lake by way of Haymarsh Ponds, or Otter Lake to Cranberry Lake instead.
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Old 01-31-2021, 10:34 PM   #11
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It's definitely getting some foot traffic. Not a huge amount by any means, but some.

It's too bad that tower was removed before the DEC softened their stance on towers in Wilderness areas. I'm sure the view from the tower- while it still stood- was nice.

I went back and forth on whether to mention them with similar concerns in mind. In the end I decided that it was clear that they get a lot of use as it is- and so aren't exactly a secret by any means.

For what it's worth, my decision not to more closely check out Otter Pond had less to do with any perceived lack of appeal, and more to do with the fact that I was distracted by route finding as I passed by. It looked nice (through the trees at any rate) and felt remote.

I'm not as keen on the idea of a trail connecting Pigeon Lake with Lower Sister Lake. Lower Sister Lake is pretty neat in that it demands both a boat ride and a hike to reach, and building a trail from Pigeon Lake would kind of ruin that (even if the alternative were still a relatively long hike).

I do agree that without the views from West Mountain a new route could and should probably be constructed around the mountain. Maybe Pigeon Lake to Shallow Lake by way of Haymarsh Ponds, or Otter Lake to Cranberry Lake instead.
I didn't mean to dis you about Otter Pond. I totally get it. And I meant more that it's not all that remarkable, especially considering the effort to get there. I'm actually fairly impressed at how quickly you did this and how many spots you visited along the way. I've been going to this general area (MRPWF and PigLWA) for a good majority of my life, and while I recognize everything in the pics, I didn't ever see it all on one trip.

As far as the sisters - I agree and I don't. I always prefer taking a boat to walking through swampy lowlands like this, but I also think it would make for some enjoyable hiking deep into this area. Of course I have no idea what that terrain looks like, but given the idea I have of A) how primeval that forest is out around Pigeon Lake and B) the general number of low lying swampy areas in this region, I think it would be kind of a difficult trail to cut and maintain.

Also I have to say you didn't post in the report what I thought was your best picture. Perhaps it didn't tie the story in as well, but the shot of Blue Mountain over Brown's Tract inlet is spectacular.

As far as the tower - maybe something can be done to bring one back? I'm sure Raquette Village would love to have it as it seems a few people are making that hike still, probably only to be disappointed.
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Old 01-31-2021, 11:16 PM   #12
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Also while I'm on my box - whilst I think this trip would give a lot of people a good overview of the area, I'd say also a trip just to Queer Lake, with a tent and a pack raft, or pack canoe, if possible, would be my vote for a 3 day trip.

I'd hike out, set up a camp and mill around Queer lake, and hike over to Chub, and maybe back down and out through Cascade, or in that way and out the North route. It isn't much in terms of mileage but I'll argue Queer Lake is the gem in that area. Also I'll agree that Lean to is not its best anymore. First time I went there almost 30 years ago it was pretty pristine. But that's no matter - plenty of other places to camp around even if they aren't designated sites. If you can huff a pack canoe out there it'd be worth staying and exploring that lake for a couple. A pack raft would work as well - or even just whacking around the lake. There are a lot of herd paths already, but most of it would be whacking and easier by boat.

The rest of the spots around there are nice, but not very quiet/remote - especially around 7th and 8th Lake. Even if there are no boats the highway is right across the water.

Pigeon, Constable, Otter, West... I guess cool to say you went there, but you aren't missing all that much. And this from a guy who's been more than once... Cascade is nice for a day hike to the falls or for skiing, but not the most exciting campsites.
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Old 02-01-2021, 04:21 PM   #13
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Thanks for the trip report, I enjoyed reading it and the pictures are great. That area was where I first got to spend time in the Adirondacks, so I have a nostalgia for it. I'd like to do some version of your loop someday, in a year or three, once I have moved and gotten myself back together. All of it is at least somewhat familiar to me except the part from the trail junction north of Chub Lake over West Mountain. The times I visited Chub the bridge was very saggy and rotten, so it's nice to see the new one. I'd like to camp there, the swimming is nice off that rock at the campsite and the loon calls sound louder because of being out on a bit of a point, or something.

There's a nice little open summit-y area on Cascade Mountain, just south of where the trail forks at the west end of the lake. It's a very short easy bushwhack. The cascade is nice too, especially when there's water coming over it.

I stayed a couple of times at 7th Lake in the woods 150' behind the lean-to area, the lean to was messy but that rock point is very pleasant if you don't mind motorboats coming by now and then, and the swimming is good there too. I used to stay there when I was bicycling without a canoe, since I could walk my bike down the trail and get to the road easily, and with no parking at the end of the road there was not much competition.

Once when I was staying at Queer Lake I took the trail north and then bushwhacked over to the Russian Lake trail. It was not too hard of a trip, other than getting across the wetland by Constable Pond. It rained the whole day and was only in the 60s, so I couldn't linger. The next year I went in on the trail toward Constable Pond and then bushwhacked to Russian Lake and on up to Andy's Creek lean-to and Lower Sister Lake, and that was a pretty awful trip, trying to find my way on foot across the huge beaver meadow by that bay of Big Moose Lake.

I think the idea of making a more formal loop in that area sounds good. Good for you for trying to figure it out, and I hope you'll be able to find a way to move forward with it.
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Old 02-02-2021, 09:28 AM   #14
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I didn't mean to dis you about Otter Pond. I totally get it. And I meant more that it's not all that remarkable, especially considering the effort to get there. I'm actually fairly impressed at how quickly you did this and how many spots you visited along the way. I've been going to this general area (MRPWF and PigLWA) for a good majority of my life, and while I recognize everything in the pics, I didn't ever see it all on one trip.
Yeah, I didn't take it as a dis, just pointing out the reality of the situation. FWIW, I uh... also forgot my compass on this trek, and the day that I was passing through the unmaintained portion of the Pigeon Lake-West Mountain Trail was a mostly cloudy so there was no sun to rely on for dead reckoning. That undoubtedly contributed to my decision to focus more heavily on route finding than on enjoying the scenery at Otter Pond.

Yeah, I think the logistical challenge of this trip (in addition to the navigational challenge) keeps it from being accessible to most. Mixing road walk sections, snowmobile trails, herd paths, and even what was essentially bushwhacking isn't something that most are going to consider. Again, FWIW, this is a trip that I've had my eye on for a while now so I'd done no small amount of previous research on the route.

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As far as the sisters - I agree and I don't. I always prefer taking a boat to walking through swampy lowlands like this, but I also think it would make for some enjoyable hiking deep into this area. Of course I have no idea what that terrain looks like, but given the idea I have of A) how primeval that forest is out around Pigeon Lake and B) the general number of low lying swampy areas in this region, I think it would be kind of a difficult trail to cut and maintain.
It looks like there is a pretty extensive (long and linear) swamp along the stream that flows south of the Sisters. Crossing might be possible due south of the sisters but it's hard to tell for sure from the aerial photos. It also looks like there's some open rock slabs on the hillside south of the sisters that could be interesting.

I don't know that I would be hugely upset by it but I do feel like that combination- boating and hiking- is both rare and neat enough that it would be worth preserving. On the flip side of the coin, if the new trail could be part of a longer route that facilitated more unit interconnectivity (and longer trips, especially loop trips, ranging from a long weekend to a week or more), then I'd have fewer qualms about it.

For example: A loop backpacking trip around Big Moose Lake. Would be possible with the current Forest Preserve holdings, albeit with a few couple of road walk sections. Cascade Lake to Queer Lake to Chub Lake on existing trail, then new trail to the Sisters, up to Terror Lake, over to Beaver River on the Stillwater, then on existing trails down to Twitchell Lake, then new trail to Silver Dollar and Squash Ponds, then existing trail and short roadwalk to Safford Pond, Goose Pond, and Lake Rondaxe, then road walk and new trail to Bald Mountain, then existing trails by way of Cary Lake, Mountain Pond, Sis and Bubb Lake, and Moss Lake, then another short road walk back to the Cascade Lake trailhead.

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As far as the tower - maybe something can be done to bring one back? I'm sure Raquette Village would love to have it as it seems a few people are making that hike still, probably only to be disappointed.
It's probably not really worth messing with the issues surrounding building a new tower on Wilderness lands at this point. What is done is done, unfortunately.

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Pigeon, Constable, Otter, West... I guess cool to say you went there, but you aren't missing all that much. And this from a guy who's been more than once... Cascade is nice for a day hike to the falls or for skiing, but not the most exciting campsites.
Would you happen to have any photos? Like I said, Cascade Lake (even though I've yet to to the hike around the lake to check it out more fully) has always been in my pocket as a possible destination for a beginner backpacking trip.

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Thanks for the trip report, I enjoyed reading it and the pictures are great. That area was where I first got to spend time in the Adirondacks, so I have a nostalgia for it. I'd like to do some version of your loop someday, in a year or three, once I have moved and gotten myself back together. All of it is at least somewhat familiar to me except the part from the trail junction north of Chub Lake over West Mountain. The times I visited Chub the bridge was very saggy and rotten, so it's nice to see the new one. I'd like to camp there, the swimming is nice off that rock at the campsite and the loon calls sound louder because of being out on a bit of a point, or something.
Yeah, the Chub Lake tent site, like I said, was much nicer than I was expecting.

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There's a nice little open summit-y area on Cascade Mountain, just south of where the trail forks at the west end of the lake. It's a very short easy bushwhack. The cascade is nice too, especially when there's water coming over it.
Looking at the aerial imagery, I can see rock outcrops up there. Good thing to think about trying to visit if/when I make another trip into the area.

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I stayed a couple of times at 7th Lake in the woods 150' behind the lean-to area, the lean to was messy but that rock point is very pleasant if you don't mind motorboats coming by now and then, and the swimming is good there too. I used to stay there when I was bicycling without a canoe, since I could walk my bike down the trail and get to the road easily, and with no parking at the end of the road there was not much competition.
Both lean-tos were clean when I went through, as were the tent sites. My experience with accessible sites (in this case, by motor boat) is that while they can be trashed at times, do-gooders usually pick up the messes fairly quickly (I think the ease of access makes it easier for others to be willing to clean up messes that were not their own doing). It's the lean-tos that are a short hike in- 1 to 2 miles- that tend to get trashed and then will go weeks before seeing someone lift a finger to clean up the mess.

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Once when I was staying at Queer Lake I took the trail north and then bushwhacked over to the Russian Lake trail. It was not too hard of a trip, other than getting across the wetland by Constable Pond. It rained the whole day and was only in the 60s, so I couldn't linger. The next year I went in on the trail toward Constable Pond and then bushwhacked to Russian Lake and on up to Andy's Creek lean-to and Lower Sister Lake, and that was a pretty awful trip, trying to find my way on foot across the huge beaver meadow by that bay of Big Moose Lake.
Russian Lake looks like it wouldn't be too difficult to get to. But yeah, that swamp further north between there and Andy's Creek looks nasty from the aerial images.

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I think the idea of making a more formal loop in that area sounds good. Good for you for trying to figure it out, and I hope you'll be able to find a way to move forward with it.
I doubt that this will ever become anything super official. Maybe if the rest of the trail over West Mountain gets cut open again it will attract some interest. But for the most part, something that's really going to interest folks that have largely already exhausted longer loop options elsewhere in the ADKs.
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Old 02-02-2021, 09:41 AM   #15
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Unfortunately I never carried a camera in my younger years. Much of what I was talking about was the days of chemical film, and I was never much into messing with it. Most of it looks the same, but I do wish I had an old picture of the summit of West.

I have some recent pictures somewhere, but none of Otter pond. I remember exactly what it looked like the last time I was there, but I know that doesn't help you...

I'm generally underwhelmed with photos in these areas (that I've taken). It always just looks like a brushy mess or a featureless body of water. I did start taking pictures of campsites in recent years so I could remember what were good ones. If you were asking specifically about Cascade's sites, I think there are two. Not sure I have pics of them, but as I recall both are on the north side of the lake, one west, one east. Eastern one is where part of the old camp was, western one maybe was too, but all I recall there is a big open, grassy clearing by the water. Both are decent, but Cascade Lake isn't all that exciting to me. I think Zach has the right idea with bushwhacking up the ridge behind it though. I never have (to my dismay) but it looks like nice, open forest going up to some cliffs.

And just one note regarding West. I think even a small 30' tower would offer amazing views. Raquette lake is an extensive, and interestingly shaped body of water. To see it from above would be amazing. My memory is foggy here, and I don't remember exactly how much I could see when the summit was more clear, but I'm guessing it was mostly just a larger view of the picture you took. I don't think the vantage point was high enough to really see the whole lake unobstructed like you might get with a tower.

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Old 02-02-2021, 12:24 PM   #16
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Yeah, when I was first getting into hiking/backpacking (~15 years ago) I didn't carry a camera as often- and when I did, I took fewer pictures than I do today. I do feel that it's important to not be behind the shutter for every single part of the experience, but as time passed I also found that the hikes I remember the best were the ones that I had photos from. Many of my hikes that I chose not to carry the camera on at all, I now remember very little of.

For me it's not just about capturing the experience for others- although I do think about that (and seek to take photos that aid in enhancing the occasional trip report that will hopefully help others in planning their own future trips into the same area). A lot of it though, is for my own personal purposes- as photos have more or less become my way of "record keeping," as opposed to a journal or some sort of alternate method.
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Old 02-02-2021, 12:36 PM   #17
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I think photo journals are pretty important now. I personally tend to take better ones in the fall, or winter, just because not everything is washed out in green.

And yours are great. I think you'll appreciate them a lot more in another 15 years. Again, I wish I had some of my first trips in the Adirondacks. It's fun to compare how things look now vs then as well. And the wild areas tend to look exactly the same while the campsites tend to degrade...
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Old 02-04-2021, 12:21 PM   #18
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There's a nice little open summit-y area on Cascade Mountain, just south of where the trail forks at the west end of the lake. It's a very short easy bushwhack. The cascade is nice too, especially when there's water coming over it.
I thought you were talking about these cliffs north of Cascade - I believe you can see something from there as well...



The cascade is pretty nice. Fun for small kids, but kind of a longish hike for them.


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Old 02-04-2021, 12:27 PM   #19
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I looked around in my old pictures CDs and found a couple of the summit-like area on Cascade and some of the view from 2010. It's not spectacular but it was quiet and didn't seem to get much traffic so I enjoyed my visit and will go again if I am in the area and have time. I think the cliffs on the NE side of the lake are not supposed to have a view from the top, as the trees come down too far to make it safe to get past them, so I never tried to go up there. I seem to remember reading about that in one of the Discover books but I may be wrong, it's been a long time. There is a large open area where the house used to be on the north side of the lake and there are various areas on the edge of that that are more than 150' from the trail. I stayed on a kind of grassy terrace between rock ledges once. I am not sure of the legality of these areas. There are at least two designated sites further east along the north shore, near some former tennis courts or something. They're quite nice as I recall, and down close to the water. Last time I was there was in 2011 or 2012, so much may have changed.
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File Type: jpg 30. Cascade summit.jpg (155.6 KB, 98 views)
File Type: jpg 31. Cascade summit from the other end.jpg (152.9 KB, 94 views)
File Type: jpg 33. Fourth Lake from Cascade Mountain.jpg (151.9 KB, 95 views)
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Old 02-04-2021, 12:35 PM   #20
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Oh nice - that might be true about the northern cliffs, but I thought I read somewhere on this forum that you could see something up there... maybe I'm thinking of another cliff, or the one you have pictured...

The bump almost due south of the cliffs you have pictured Zach has views. There's a herd path that starts right at the intersection of Big Moose Rd and Rte 28. It might be closed off to the public or illegal to hike now though, not sure. I went up there many years ago when it was legal.
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