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Old 12-14-2021, 12:28 PM   #1
rbi99
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Pharaoh Lake

Thinking of coming back to this area in May for a backpacking trip with my dog. Have been here several times, but never explored the area other than the lake, Grizzle Ocean and Pharaoh Mt itself. Thinking four nights, day hiking from one spot. Of the lean tos in the area (I have been to all of them around the lake and Grizzle), does one stand out above the rest at the other ponds? Always looking for fewer people, but main focus is views from the lean to and accessibility to water. In all likelihood will be heading in from Putnam. Speaking of Putnam, will parking be allowed in the campground in May next year?

With weather as screwed up as it is, is there any idea how early I would have to be there to avoid the black flies? Not only do these bastards love me, unfortunately they love my dog as well. Definitely going to do Treadway, so even if I need micros, as long as it is still safe for my dog to climb, I prefer a little snow and ice to those demons!!!
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Old 12-14-2021, 07:23 PM   #2
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Pharaoh gets spring conditions earlier than most of the rest of the ADKs- I'd be a bit surprised if you had to deal with ice anywhere in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in May, although it's certainly not impossible. The area is typically just about snow free by mid-April, even.

The drawback to this, of course, is that the area often gets the seasonal black fly swarms noticeably sooner in the season than most of the rest of the ADKs. If you're looking to avoid black flies, I'd shoot for earlier in May if at all possible. If you're looking to err on the side of snow/ice over bugs, then even an April visit is worth considering. FWIW, black flies in Pharaoh aren't nearly as bad as mosquitoes in Pharaoh- the PLWA is hands down one of the worst areas across the entire Adirondack Park for mosquitoes in my experience. And black flies at least go away at night- mosquitoes just get worse.

The Putnam Pond Campground won't be open yet that early in the season. The road to the boat launch may be open, in which case you can just park at the boat launch (which doubles also as the trailhead parking for those accessing the backcountry from the campground). If the main gate to the campground is closed, you can just park on the side of the road (make sure you're not blocking anything) and hike in from there- this adds maybe a few tenths of a mile (one direction) to the hike.

Something to be aware of- backcountry use levels in the vicinity of Putnam Pond are actually somewhat elevated in the spring. You've got trout season having recently opened up, as well as the simple fact that when the campground is closed, there's no fee to park. Accordingly, backcountry use patterns for the "back stretch" of the Pharaoh Wilderness (Rock and Clear Ponds, Grizzle Ocean) experience weird trends- once the campground opens up, the fee to park there keeps the use levels relatively low. In contrast, you see bumps in backcountry use in this area in spring and fall when there is fee, as this is the timeframe that the locals all undertake trips into the backcountry by way of Putnam Pond.

And even in general, the Pharaoh Wilderness is not an area that I would necessarily expect solitude even that early in the season, especially if you're going in on a weekend. It won't be summer levels of craziness by any means, but the early arrival of spring here does mean that use levels pick up sooner than what you may be used to across the rest of the ADKs. Be prepared for the chance that you may need to resort to Plan B or even Plan C in terms of camping options.

With regards to lean-tos, Clear Pond and Rock Pond are both really, really nice. Clear Pond also has a nice designated tent site on the west shore, while Rock Pond has 3 designated tent sites: One nice site just north of the lean-to, an OK site on the north shore (excellent scenery but so-so for flat tenting space), and one nice site on the west shore by the outlet. The lean-to at Little Rock Pond is also really nice although it is set back pretty far from the water.

I think for this trip, you'd be content with either of the lean-tos on the east side of Pharaoh (#3 or #4), or even the tent site at Wintergreen Point on the east shore of Pharaoh Lake, or the Grizzle Ocean Lean-to, or any of the lean-tos I mention above.

If you end up camped at Rock Pond, there is a waterfall that is maybe a mile downstream on the outlet that is worth checking out. It's decently sized and it gets very few visitors.

Treadway Mountain is an excellent climb- the last mile or so is through beautiful pine stands across open rock slabs. If you ascend via the trail, make sure you bushwhack a few hundred feet south of the true summit towards Pharaoh Lake to get the best views of that body of water. If you're ok with bushwhacking, the Devil's Washdish approach to Treadway Mountain from Wolf Pond is a great bushwhack route that is well worth the effort.

I hope this helps! Good luck!
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Old 12-14-2021, 10:25 PM   #3
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Indeed your knowledge base is always helpful. I will definitely do a Mon-Fri so that I am leaving as the weekend crowd starts to show up. Several years back I think I was there in late May, my gosh the black flies ate me alive. Same thing at Queer Pond a couple years back. While I can protect myself with a netted hat and such, there isn't much I can do for my dog, so I definitely want to get up there earlier rather than later. After all the issues I had backpacking into Colden this past fall, I decided I wanted to spend some quiet time in an area that has never heard of Calamity Brook Trail....!!!
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Old 12-14-2021, 10:50 PM   #4
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This pic is dated April 17th, 2016 at the top of Sleeping Beauty in LGWF. About the same elevation as the lowlands in Pharaoh.

I went up for a couple days and camped at a roadside site in Hogtown. I think it was in the 20s at night.

No snow, absolutely zero insects.

Based on my limited trips up to Pharaoh from LG, they typically have a little more snow than this area.

Also the few times I've been there during winter the Putnam Pond entrance has been plowed and so has the parking area at the start of the Treadway/Grizzle Ocean trail. Not sure that's always the case, but I've accessed a fair number of campgrounds offseason and I've always found a plowed spot to park.

I know that's only one data point, but maybe helpful. I'd probably check some local webcams and see what snow situation looked like, as well as watch the temps. Probably be a good 2 week window of tolerable weather before the flies hatch.
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Old 12-14-2021, 11:06 PM   #5
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May 11, 2014 along the Sacandaga near Bakers Mills.

Don't recall the exact temps, but probably 30s overnight. No bugs.
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Old 12-15-2021, 08:04 AM   #6
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4 days would also be plenty of time to do the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness backpacking loop, which is one of the ADK's premier backpacking loops- up there with the French Louie loop in the West Canadas, the Cold River loop in the Western High Peaks, etc. Depending on where you start/end and the exact route you take, you can visit around a dozen different named bodies of water, and you've got easy access to two peaks- Pharaoh Mountain and Treadway Mountain.

Pharaoh Mountain you can full pack over, or you've got the option to skip it by taking the Long Swing Trail instead (which still has a decent amount of elevation gain up and over the shoulder of Pharaoh but it's far less gain than going over the summit). Treadway is a side trip to this loop- if doing the loop, I'd plan a night at Clear Pond and aim to get there early, drop my pack and set up camp, then set out for Treadway with a lighter day pack. Out and back to the summit of Treadway from Clear Pond is about 5 miles or so.

There is also a designated tent site on the summit of Pharaoh if that is of interest- one of the few designated tent sites in the ADKs on the summit of a mountain. Just gotta plan ahead for this one and carry water as there's no water sources. The site is maybe 150-200 feet north of the trail (it was well marked the last time I was there).

I think the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness has some of the most consistently nice campsites of any unit in the ADKs also. Doing this full loop would give you the opportunity to explore and familiarize yourself with many of them.

If you decide just to stick to the Putnam Pond area, I'd at least do the loop around Putnam Pond- hike into the backcountry around the north side of the pond and return via the south, or vice versa. And the long way around the north side of the pond is worth doing, too- Bear Pond is a scenic body of water (and there's a nice designated tent site there to boot).

Your timing (early in the season and especially going mid-week) is excellent- the Pharaoh Wilderness can be extremely popular. I've counted as many as 85 people camped on Pharaoh Lake itself in a single night in past visits into the area myself. I'm of the belief that Pharaoh Lake gives Lake Colden and Marcy Dam a solid run for the money in competition for the title of single most popular backcountry camping destination in the Adirondack Park.

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Old 12-15-2021, 08:31 AM   #7
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Oxshoe Pond lean-to is pretty nice, and there are 3 other designated tent sites further up the pond. Lilypad Pond lean-to is nice too, and doesn’t seem to get as much use as some of the other lean-tos in the region. Same with Tubmill Marsh, probably because of its lack of a nice view. I’m not a huge fan of camping at lean-tos, but my favorites in the region are Pharaoh Lake #s 3 & 4, Oxshoe, Rock Pond, & Little Rock Pond.
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Old 12-15-2021, 11:27 AM   #8
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I am always so grateful for the input you guys/gals give when I ask. I have been on top of Pharaoh twice, so I will not be climbing it this time around. I am also planning on setting up camp in one spot and then doing a whole lot of hiking. I really want to take it easy and explore the many ponds in the area. My dog is starting to get up there in age (hell, so am I), so I just want to spend five days with her just chillin. Treadway has been on my list for awhile, so I will definitely climb it this time.

Years back I packed into Pharaoh and was fortunate to get the only lean-to left. I believe it was a Sunday. Next day I went over to Grizzle, and by the time I got back I was the only one left there!!! Another interesting story, I was again packing into Pharaoh from Beaver Pond Rd and I came across a guy coming out who was carrying his dog in a wheelbarrow. We got to talking and he told me his dog was his hiking companion for years but was too old now to walk the trail. He used the wheelbarrow to take him into and now back out from Pharaoh. I have never forgotten that image. Fortunately my dog is not nearly that old yet, just that a long hike and climb does a number on her rear legs the next day. I don't think Treadway is going to be tough on her, but Pharaoh Mt might. We've done a lot of high peaks together, so climbing maybe 1000' is still easily within her ability. We did Hopkins last spring and she was good to go.
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Old 12-17-2021, 12:03 AM   #9
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Think I have it planned out already. My plan right now is to head into Rock or Clear Pond on April 17. Average temps are high 50's and lows mid 30's. Will also have a near full moon during the week. Will head in Sunday and stay five nights now. Probably can't carry enough food in my BearVault, but only being a few miles from the car, I can easily reload at the car after first taking a hike over to Berrymill Pond. With its trailhead starting in the parking lot, I will be right next to my car to load up when I head back to my lean-to.
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Old 12-17-2021, 07:40 AM   #10
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Berrymill is nice. The lean-to is beautifully situated on the outlet- there's cascades where the outlet spills down over a rock outcrop not far from the lean-to. Make sure you bushwhack out onto the long peninsula due south of the lean-to to get the best views of the pond itself- the lean-to is not actually located on the main body of water.

At Rock Pond, make sure you take the time to hike to the north side of the pond to check out the old "mine." It's not really a mine but rather a drainage tunnel that was dug for a quarry further up the hillside- if you bushwhack up the hill you'll find the old quarry, now filled with water. If I remember correctly, graphite was quarried there. There's also extensive foundations and a massive old boiler nearby, left behind from the quarrying operation.

If you get the chance, a day hike from Clear/Rock over to Lilypad is worthwhile- the lean-to here is beautifully situated in a stand of pines next to a pleasant small pond. And you'll hike past the waterfall on the outlet of Rock Pond on your way too/from the pond.

If you're planning to stay all 5 nights at the same spot, remember that you'll need a camping permit from the DEC.
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Old 12-17-2021, 09:48 AM   #11
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Wasn't aware of the permit thing. I just contacted them for the info I need to get one. As for which lean-to I stay at, with so many to choose from, the one I decide on could change.
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Old 12-17-2021, 02:17 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rbi99 View Post
Think I have it planned out already. My plan right now is to head into Rock or Clear Pond on April 17. Average temps are high 50's and lows mid 30's. Will also have a near full moon during the week. Will head in Sunday and stay five nights now. Probably can't carry enough food in my BearVault, but only being a few miles from the car, I can easily reload at the car after first taking a hike over to Berrymill Pond. With its trailhead starting in the parking lot, I will be right next to my car to load up when I head back to my lean-to.
Those averages sound about right from my experience in this region, but I'd advise to make sure your gear is comfortable down into the 20s, maybe even high teens depending on how warm a sleeper you are.

I typically use a 20deg quilt this time of year, but honestly sometimes it's not enough if it's on the edge, and any slight draft chills me and wakes me up. So I carry a light blanket I can cover over the quilt to seal up the edges. But depending on what you do, a bag liner can be enough sometimes.

My wife uses a women specific 15deg mummy bag for this time of year. She was just too cold with a 20deg quilt.

It's the tradeoff for no bugs, but just be aware it's a bit colder than bug season. I find early spring and even mid-fall I'm pushing the limits of my sleeping gear.

Personally, I wouldn't carry a bear vault out there. I'd use a dry sack and hang from a tree. But whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rbi99 View Post
Wasn't aware of the permit thing. I just contacted them for the info I need to get one. As for which lean-to I stay at, with so many to choose from, the one I decide on could change.
The only time I see those permits on lean-tos is during hunting season. I've never stayed any place in the backcountry more than a couple days before I move on or need a change of scenery. Seems like you have a lot of options so even splitting up between two lean-tos should keep you out of trouble.

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Old 12-19-2021, 07:21 AM   #13
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The camping permit requirement is for lengths of stay at the same site exceeding 3 nights, or for overnight groups exceeding 9 people. Length of stay permits are issued for all areas in the ADKs, however large group size permits are only issued for Wild Forest areas.

The permit is issued by the local ranger. They have final say over whether to issue a permit. Some rangers are hesitant to issue permits for lean-to sites due to the popularity of those sites, but for a mid-week visit in the off season this probably won't be an issue.

For a trip in the Putnam Pond area, I believe you need to contact Marie Arnold for your permit. Her contact info is listed on the DEC's Forest Ranger Roster.

Like Montcalm says, you can avoid the need for a permit entirely simply by relocating camp at least once during your trip.

I'll also ditto the advice to tentatively be prepared for temps noticeably lower than the average. I agree that if the average lows are in the mid-30s, you need to be thinking about gear for temps down into the mid- to low 20s. Nighttime temps down into the teens is possible although not particularly likely.

(Also, not sure exactly where you were looking for your temp info but just in case: I'd use Schroon Lake for this info rather than Ticonderoga. Ticonderoga is a fair bit lower in elevation than most of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.)
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Old 12-19-2021, 10:30 AM   #14
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Yeah, I only mention that because 3 seasons in the Adirondacks can be a stretch for some 3 season bags. Spring tends, IME, to be a bit warmer than fall (unless you are in a canoe, then the spring water can be VERY cold).

Also, I was thinking that seen as how the bugs had chased you off and drove you nuts in mid/late spring, that at that time you might want to consider going to PA. DS and jmitch have posted a wealth of info about that region that's worth checking out. Before I had kids I used to do my bug season trips in southwestern NY, just because of proximity to where I live (and apparent similarity to north central PA). But there really isn't a lot of public land there, so I wouldn't recommend if I was driving from Cleveland. Takes me about 4 hours to Cleveland from Rochester and you'd probably have similar drive times between southern NY and northern PA.

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Old 12-19-2021, 01:09 PM   #15
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I backpacked in NH the fall before last. Beautiful trip to Unknown Pond. NY was crazy busy and I practically had the area to myself, along with my trusted dog. Though I have studied up a lot on other backpacking trips there, the Adirondacks just have more options.

I might just skip the whole permit thing and switch lean-to's on day four. The weather averages I was looking at are for Schroon. I have a great bag and my dog handles cold very well. Of course we will have a better idea of what we are facing the week before we come up. I have a silk bag liner that both helps keep the inside of my bag clean (and my bag is clean to maximize warmth retention), and adds 5 degrees of extra warmth allegedly. Short of needing snowshoes, I am willing to endure a lot of cold if it prevents the black flies. Being such a short distance from the car, I am also able to carry in more than I might otherwise would, simply because of the shorter distance I need to travel.
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Old 12-22-2021, 03:09 PM   #16
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Ditto on the temperature thing. I avoid camping if the forecast is for freezing or below, but nonetheless I've spent a number of nights in the 20s huddled in the closed tent in my Hummingbird, wearing almost everything I have.
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Old 01-04-2022, 03:53 PM   #17
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I was up to pharaoh Lake a little over a month ago and snapped this slightly eerie photo while staying at the Wintergreen Point lean-to (#3) with my iPhone 12Â…
Photo is not edited or manipulated in any way minus the red circlesÂ… I have no clue what these creepy looking eyes are. The one on the right almost looks like some kind of ghost cat or something. There was nothing next to my boots when I took the photo. The ones on the left are next to a stick that I had leaning against the rock ledge there drying out the sun earlier. I have other photos that show the same thing. A little weird!

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Old 01-04-2022, 07:11 PM   #18
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Old 01-04-2022, 07:40 PM   #19
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Haha no way man, you will only find me camping at Pharaoh Lake during Nov or early April.
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Old 01-04-2022, 07:42 PM   #20
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Oh yeah!!! I forgot - Hermit of Crane Pond... doh!
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