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Back inside the Blue Line -- Pole Hill Pond Forest Preserve -- 6/13/20

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  • Back inside the Blue Line -- Pole Hill Pond Forest Preserve -- 6/13/20

    It had been nearly three months since I ventured more than ten miles from home here in Albany. On Saturday I was looking for a place a bit further away to get in a hike as restrictions have eased and communities have seemed more receptive to visitors. I settled on Pole Hill Pond Forest Preserve at the northern tip of Northwest Bay on Lake George. By a quirk of government absurdity Warren County is considered the Capital Region, so technically I still have not left my own region during the pandemic.

    Bunchberry had posted about Pole Hill Pond a few months back so the idea of visiting there was fresh in my mind. I was looking for something simple that I had never done before around Lake George and in a place where the crowds would be thin. Pole Hill Pond seemed to fit the bill. I had been to the preserve a few times before, hiking Bear Knob from the south and Walnut Ridge from the north/west, but had never hiked the full six-mile loop from the south before. I actually got more than I bargained for as the elevation gain of the loop ended up being more than Sleeping Beauty, Prospect, Black, Cat, or any of the other traditional "mountain" hikes around the lake other than Buck and the Tongue Range. Which was fine. It wasn't the physical demands of the climb that surprised me but rather the mental challenge of being confronted with far more than I had anticipated. After doing little prep work for the hike and mostly expecting a simple stroll in the woods, the ruggedness and steepness of much of the climb smacked me in the face more than if I had prepared myself mentally for the effort. It's a strange phenomenon. Sometimes a 1500' climb feels more punishing than a 3000' climb if your brain isn't ready for it.

    What took some of the bite out of that on Saturday was having met up with FWCIII (aka The Walking Fred), who would be accompanying me on the day, and who I hadn't seen since our hike of St. Regis last December. He would be the first friend I'd seen in person since mid-March. That was a morale booster for sure.

    The parking area for Pole Hill Pond is perhaps the worst in the Adirondacks. It is in horrible disrepair. Low clearance vehicles beware. Anyway, just one group of five left the parking area before we started down the trail and we would see just four other people the rest of the day: two birdwatchers peeping, one solo woman hiker creeping, and one older gent atop Walnut Ridge sleeping. I thought the sleeper looked like Strother Martin. Look him up. One of the great character actors from a half century ago. So we never ran into a crowd and never needed to don the masks we were carrying. Did not come within twenty feet of those four people and even then not for more than a few seconds.

    As we were gearing up and slathering on some insect repellent we decided on the counterclockwise loop up to Walnut Ridge, down to Pole Hill Pond, and back to the trailhead. That way is considered the more difficult approach to Walnut Ridge.... or so the brochure from the Lake George Land Conservancy infers. The clockwise loop was labeled as "easier". I chalked that up as a helpful yet tepid suggestion to tourists but we ended up discovering on the day that the eastern side of the loop was far more rugged, steep, and more strenuous that the western side of the loop which features an old logging road and some easy walking around the pond. Anyway, all of it is typical Lake George forest - open, inviting, covered in pine needles, and very pretty. The walk was delightful.

    The first mile gains about 400' of elevation then the real climb begins. Just below Walnut Ridge we stood atop a bump looking down a very steep cliffy section to take a few minute breather after having just climbed 750' over the last 0.75 miles (which represented half of the ele gain to make the ridge). After that breather we continued by heading down about 150' into a shallow col before commencing the last little 350' climb to Walnut Ridge. Much to our surprise near the bottom of the col was a sign that pointed toward Middle Mountain. Directly back in the direction... we... just... came... from? Middle Mountain?! Huh?! I had never heard of it or seen it on a map. We just walked the trail to where sign was pointing and saw no other junctions, trails, herdpaths, signs, cairns, ribbons, or other summit markers along the way. Where the hell was Middle Mountain? The Walking Fred said, "Maybe that's the bump we were just standing on." Oh... that insignificant, unlabeled bump on the topo map? The one just noting an elevation on a contour line 105' below the high point of the bump? That one? He was most likely right but once back home I had to research it to be 100% sure. The mountain is not easy to find. The USGS database does have a Middle Mountain in Warren County but it is 1863' tall, not 1405' as our bump was, and is some 6.5 miles north of our bump just west of Jabe Pond in Silver Bay. That ain't it. Finally I found one reference to the "Middle Mountain" we were looking for. Just one. Not an official source by any means but it does appears the bump we stood atop is called Middle Mountain. So, a bonus summit on the day! Honestly, I have no idea if it truly qualifies as a mountain, who named it and when, whether that name is official (the USGS place names database seems to suggest NO), or if anybody else who has climbed it even knows or cares that it has a name, but it does make for a somewhat interesting little anecdote. This has only happened to me once before. Coincidentally, just a few miles away on the Tongue Mountain Range. There's a bump there (labeled 2232' on the topo map between Brown and Five-Mile Mountains) that evidently some people call Huckleberry. I went 50+ years having never heard of that one. So Middle Mountain, just 3.3 miles as the crow flies from Huckleberry, was my second such mountain name find.

    So back to the hike... we knocked out the last little climb to Walnut Ridge and stopped to enjoy the scenic vista. The view south down the Lake George is quite excellent from there. And it has the unique closeup view looking southeast across Northwest Bay at the Lower Tongue Range which, to the best of my knowledge, is a view you can't get from anyplace else in the area. We took some pictures, drank some water, and devoured some snacks. The Walking Fred destroyed two Clif Bars in a superhuman and impossible seeming three bites, and I crushed an old school fave... a fluffernutter. Zoinks... I could feel the sugar and calories coursing through me after that. Hadn't had one of those since I was a kid. Right about as we were readying to leave it began to sprinkle. Just enough to put a thin shell on but thankfully not enough to get wet to a point where you couldn't dry out afterward.

    The rest of the day would be mostly downhill, save for 200' of ups and downs here and there. We bade Somnolent Strother Martin farewell and began the short, steep descent to Pole Hill Pond. Soon enough we were a few hundred feet from the pond at a trail junction where we stripped off the rain gear and continued on to the shoreline of this backcountry gem. We yelled hello to the birdwatchers who occupied the best rocky outcropping with a view of the pond, then worked our way down to enjoy the scenery from another vantage point. Charming little spot. It was short visit - just long enough to snap some photos.

    After leaving Pole Hill Pond we came upon another (and rather starkly beautiful) pond about two tenths of a mile south. Perhaps a beaver pond? I don't know but it is not shown on the topo map. We snapped some pictures here as well but were disappointed to find two huge truck tires discarded there. How the hell...? After walking around the edge of the pond we discovered how they ended up there. An old logging road. The pond was essentially at the end of the road. We began the long but easy walk downhill along that old road before ending up at the edge of posted property. The trail jogs left through some rugged terrain and up a tiny climb along a small band of cliffs to bypass that land. It was a bit eerie. It was the most heavily signed/ blazed/ ribboned area I have ever encountered. Whoever owns that land must really not want you taking one single step onto it. I had the feeling I'd instantly be shot in the rump with rock salt if I did.

    Shortly thereafter we were back at the trailhead. Great little hike. Ended up at 6.3 miles with 1700 feet of elevation gain. I highly recommend this loop if you're looking for something scenic off the beaten path. We picked a somewhat chilly day for our outing though. Low 50's that never really warmed up from mid-morning to early afternoon but the pleasant surprise was the lack of bugs. No black flies anywhere. Just one pesky mosquito buzzed my ear for a few seconds and that was it. What a treat for mid-June.

    So, maybe back to some hiking around Lake George in the near future. I believe the Capital Region will enter Phase 3 of reopening next week and thus catch up with the other regions of the state. Will likely stay clear of other regions until everybody enters Phase 4 though. And even then will look for low traffic areas. It was nice to be back out hiking but a tad taxing being so hyper-vigilant. Necessary though. I do feel a bit guilty today about having a good time amid all the physical, financial, and social suffering people are going through right now. Here's hoping for better times ahead.

    Some pics from the day...
    link to album in case you can't see the pics or want a larger view...

    And we're off...

    On the way to Middle Mountain. A vernal pool? Or just a giant puddle?

    Wait... what?

    The climb to Walnut Ridge...

    View looking south down Lake George from Walnut Ridge...

    Panorama from same spot...

    The unique cairn atop Walnut Ridge...

    Pole Hill Pond...

    The discarded tires. We would have packed them out but we didn't want to turn the hike into a Crossfit workout or World's Strongest Man competition...

    Stay away! These signs were everywhere. I blocked out the owners name to be nice...

  • #2
    Dragging the tires out would have been a real feat. I once dragged skidder chains out...I paid for it for


    • Old Hunter
      Old Hunter commented
      Editing a comment
      Makwa, they''ll be waiting for ya next time around Or take a scout troop with you and make it their environmental project.

    • Makwa
      Makwa commented
      Editing a comment
      I will carry them out if you are the one who wades into the pond and drags the partially submerged one to the shoreline.

      A small group could probably get them out of there rather easily. Whether that be by cutting them into portable size pieces and carrying them out or figuring out some way to roll them in a controlled manner down the logging road.

    • Old Hunter
      Old Hunter commented
      Editing a comment
      Cutting them may take more time then its worth. I'd probably wade in there.
      We have Pileateds here. Always fun to see them.

  • #3
    I walked on their land just because! I am so glad I inspired you! I was inspired by alltrails. That's where I found the track. I actually traced the route onto a paper map so I would have it if my phone died and the trail markers disappeared! I find the forests of Lake George the greatest place for social distancing with it's open forest. The only tick we picked up in months has been on the northern part of tongue.

    Now you just need an iNaturalist account! It's the best! We are learning the plants and critters big and small!
    Leave No Trace!


    • Makwa
      Makwa commented
      Editing a comment
      Another decent source for trails is Adirondack Atlas. The trail for Pole Hill Pond was on their map. I eyeballed a few waypoints off of it to plug into my GPS. Was only off by 100 feet or so in the real world. Close enough. The Lake George Land Conservancy also has maps for their properties. They aren't aren't super-detailed topo maps but at least you can get a sense where the trail goes. For most other peaks that I've never visited I'll pull a track off peakbagger. You're trusting somebody else's track but after you use it enough to start to recognize user names that are reliable sources - at least for the Adirondacks. I like to have tracks just in case but have rarely used them for actual navigation.

      I have to admit I do not understand iNaturalist. I get that people are entering their observations but is there a section on there that aids in identification? Much of the time I have no idea what I'm looking at and need a field guide or on-line tool of some sort to identify what I've seen. Does iNaturalist have that functionality? Or do people post their pictures in some kind of forum where other users help in the ID process?

      BTW... saw a pileated woodpecker yesterday as I was walking in Albany Rural Cemetery. I was directly underneath it as it started drumming. I was so close that it startled me. Sounded like a gunshot it was so loud. Saw it from ~15 feet above me hammering away at tree trunk. Then it flew to two different trees after seeing me. First time I had seen one in flight.

    • Bunchberry
      Bunchberry commented
      Editing a comment
      You can get the app to make suggestions when you are connected to the internet. I am going to post something about the app today that I noticed.