Silver Lake Wilderness Backpack

Silver Lake, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

Early morning on Silver Lake

Last July, I posted that I was going to backpack in Silver Lake Wilderness “at the drop of a hat” sometime in August, September, or October. I meant that I would go at short notice, when weather and free time aligned. It didn’t happen. It would not have happened last week either unless something else had fallen through. I was booked, you see, to spend the week of May 15th in Maine’s Baxter State Park. I had my hikes there all picked out.

Now, the people at Baxter State Park are helpful and friendly, and they did warn me that my part of the park might not open on time. It was, they said, all a question of how soon the snow on the park roads melted, and how soon after that the roads dried out. Four days before my planned departure, they called from Millinocket to say that the road to South Branch Pond would not be useable. Fortunately, I had a Plan B ready to dust off, and headed instead for the Adirondacks.

DATES: Monday-Wednesday, May 15-17.
START & FINISH: Godfrey Road, Upper Benson NY (43.252824, -74.345014).
ROUTE: Short side-trail (yellow-blazed) to Northville-Placid Trail (NPT, blue-blazed), then NPT to Whitehouse. Return by same route.
MONDAY: Godfrey Road to Mud Lake – 12.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Mud Lake to Whitehouse, then back to Silver Lake – 11.6 miles.
WEDNESDAY: Silver Lake to Godfrey Road – 7.0 miles.
TIME: Just over 48 hours (9:45 a.m. Monday to around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday).
TERRAIN: No big elevation changes (entire route between 1,300 and 2,100 feet up), but trail often rough, overgrown, and blocked by blowdowns and other obstacles.
MAP: The one that came with Adirondack Trails: Northville-Placid Trail guide.


Trailside sculpture

WEATHER: Mild and breezy on Monday; hot and sunny on Tuesday and Wednesday.
WILDLIFE: Standouts: moose scat, wailing loons, calling owls.

ACCOMMODATION: Mud Lake lean-to (Monday) and Silver Lake lean-to (Tuesday). At Silver Lake, to escape the evening bugs in the lean-to, I pitched my tent, but did not put on its fly (to catch a breeze and see the stars). About 10 p.m., I was woken by rain, and had to move everything quickly into the lean-to. It turned out to be a feeble shower, but I wasn’t to know that.
MEALS: Mountain House for dinner, otherwise cold fare (of which cheese and tortillas were the best).
UPS: Many, but I’ll settle for waking in the middle of the night to find the moon shining on Mud Lake and flooding the world with its light.
DOWNS: At times, bugs – no-see-ums? – were a nuisance. When combined with heat and fatigue, they made for a few no-fun stretches.
KIT: I need to lighten my load for future outings. I was weighed down with too much stuff I did not use.
COMPANY: None at all, and no cell coverage, for 48 hours. Two young women, trail-runners, passed me near the end (the sudden noise of them behind me had startled).

West Branch Sacandaga River, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

West Branch Sacandaga River, my turnaround point

Lost in the Adirondacks

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

I have badly neglected the Hike List part of this site. In fact, I’m not sure that the list as it is currently conceived and structured is particularly interesting or useful. I am going to have to rethink it. But, in the meantime, I have added (under New York) notes for a 2010 backpack in the Dacks. It was in the company of my youngest daughter, then 10 years old. I don’t think she will ever forget it. I know I won’t.

It was the second afternoon of a three-day trek in the West Canada Lake Wilderness (nearest hamlet, Inlet). We had camped the previous night beside Brooktrout Lake, six miles into the wilderness from a trailhead at the end of miles of dirt road. That second day, we had hiked about ten miles and were on the Cedar Lakes Trail toward – most appropriately – Lost Pond. It was not a good trail, not wide or well-defined. In particular, its blazes were faded and erratic. There were blowdowns, fallen trunks that I suspect had taken blazes with them. We lost the trail once or twice, but soon found it again. This happens a lot when you hike in the woods, even in familiar places. Then, a few hours before sunset, we lost the trail and didn’t find it again.

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

Using the amount of time we had been hiking on Cedar Lakes Trail, I calculated we were on a particular half-mile section of it. If we bushwhacked north, we would – said the map – run into either Lost Pond or Otter Brook in no more than a quarter-mile, and from either of those features the Lost Pond spur trail would be easily found. Everything is simple on maps.

We followed the red needle of our compass into the woods. It was no easy procession even for a grown-up. The forest was a jumble of spiky blowdowns, ankle-snaring brush, and face-smacking twigs; but we did reach, and cross barefoot, a stream I took to be Otter Brook. The spur trail had to be just a short way ahead. When it didn’t show in the dusk, I was not too worried. We found a space in the forest’s clutter and made camp. We had planned to overnight at Lost Pond anyway. Snug in my sleeping bag, I studied the map by flashlight and fell asleep confident that we would find the trail quickly in the morning by walking north, uphill.

But the trail didn’t show in the morning either. We tried re-crossing the brook to search the south side again. We thought we saw blazes on trees, only to find they were natural stains. We crossed back to the north side, this time not bothering to take our boots off for Otter Brook. I did not fear for our lives. We had food, and shelter from the rain that was starting to fall. My wife knew our route and would raise the alarm when we did not call her that afternoon. But I did fear we would need help to get out, and for the first time in my life I blew my whistle and hollered. No answer. I knew I had to stay calm if I wanted Marjorie to do the same, and to her immense credit she held together, breaking down only once, and briefly, when she slipped on a streamside rock and hurt her tush.

Trail found!

Trail found!

Then, suddenly, it was over. Trying a northerly search again, we saw a vaguely linear thinning of the forest, and wondered if it might prove a trail. We followed it west, hoping. Its trail attributes grew – width, continuity, and eventually a rusty marker tacked to a tree. Four or five hours later, we were bombing down 1-90, and, boy, did it look good.