Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

Corrie’s been telling me about Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks since we became friends so we finally made plans to go backpacking there.  She’s more of a hike-a-ton-of-stuff-in-to-base-camp-and-then-day-hike-around hiker, and I’m more of a bring-a-small-amount-of-stuff-and-carry-it-everywhere hiker, so this was also a test to see if we could backpack together for a longer trip later.  I loaned her some of my lightweight gear to convince her that carrying things everywhere isn’t that bad.

We drove over to New York and tried to park at Putnam Pond but it turned out there was a use fee that hadn’t been mentioned on the website.  Both of our wallets were buried and we didn’t feel like digging them out so we drove back up the road to park at the Lost Pond Trailhead for free.  It would definitely have been faster to just dig the wallets out, and of course, it started raining on us as we walked down the road.

We headed southwest towards the Swing Trail/Grizzle Ocean Trail (different maps say different things).  It was so hot out (85F+), so humid out, and so buggy out.  I seriously considered proposing we turn around and go back to Vermont for swimming and ice cream, but I kept my mouth shut.  Once we stopped for lunch and I could cool down for a minute by not moving, I felt much better and was glad I hadn’t said anything, although Corrie probably wouldn’t have agreed anyway.

The trail was pretty standard woodsy trail through trees and past marshy areas.  There were some ups and downs, but not a whole lot compared to what I’ve been hiking lately.  I was excited to finally reach the trail around Pharaoh Lake because it meant we could go swimming soon!  We turned right to head counter-clockwise around the lake since it looked like there were plenty of campsites at the north end of the lake.

But first, we took a detour down to Winter Green Point to check it out, and it was beautiful: a long, narrow peninsula with great rocks for jumping into the water, blueberries starting, pretty flowers, everything you’d want.  (Except maybe a little too much exposure for the chance of storms we were expecting later.)  There was no camping out on the point, and unfortunately, the campsite at the base of it was already taken.  The guys there were friendly enough and said we were welcome back if we didn’t find anywhere else free to camp.  We figured it was early enough in the day and there were enough campsites and lean-tos we should be able to find something free, but we weren’t convinced there’d be anything as good.

We kept going around the top of the lake and ducked into the first lean-to area we saw.  The lean-to (Pharaoh Lake #4) was free but we saw signs pointing towards a campsite down the shoreline from it so we kept going to check it out.  We initially decided to camp there since we wanted the tents for bugs and it was less likely we’d have to share with any other folks coming in, so we quickly set up our tents before going swimming.

There was a nice big rock on the water for laying on, but it turned out to not be a great place to get in the lake.  The bottom of the lake was full of rocks that were slanted, slimy, and sharp.  It took forever to work my way in, and then it took even longer to get back out.  After drying off for a while (the bugs were actually leaving us alone on the water), we realized there were dead trees all over the campsite so we decided to go camp at the lean-to instead.  We got packed back up and moved over to the lean-to just in time to grab some drinking water and get inside before more rain came.

It was still too early for dinner so we laid on our sleeping pads in the shelter for a while.  The mosquitoes weren’t coming in for some reason, but we’d both hold our breath when giant horse flies came in to try to avoid catching their attention.  The rain stopped again so we made dinner and hung out on the point since the bugs weren’t hanging out there either.  All the fish at the bottom of the rock seemed to be staring at us and following us around so we tested the theory that it wasn’t a coincidence by throwing an ant in the water and they jumped right over and got it.  I guess they’re used to humans throwing or dropping food in the water so they just wait around when they see people.

After cleaning up and getting ready for bed, there was a beautiful sunset over the water.  I hung our food bags on a line someone had conveniently left near the privy and then turned in.  The nighttime low was supposed to be around 60F so I was expecting a hot night but it didn’t feel too bad once I’d cooled off from lying still.

I slept really well but anytime I woke up even briefly, the frogs were so loud!  I can’t believe that such a tiny creature makes such a massive noise.  Corrie also heard some coyotes but I missed them.  We didn’t hear any loons overnight but finally saw a couple on the water in the morning and heard their calls while eating breakfast.  We debated swimming but decided not to get soaked before hiking and hit the trail before it got too hot.

Of course, it was too hot as soon as we started moving, and the bugs came back out once on the trail too.  We continued counterclockwise around the lake and then branched off north on the Pharaoh Lake Trail past Glidden Marsh, then again towards the Short Swing Trail and Crab Pond.  I had to take a break there and eat more because I was seriously lagging in the heat.  The woods had a lot of random huge old trees that livened up the slog a little.

We kept going on the Lillypad Pond Trail over to Rock Pond.  Corrie remembered a great swimming spot from when she’d been there before and found it right away on the south side of the pond.  It was perfect!  We had a giant rock to sit on and although it was a little hard to get in the pond from, the water deepened immediately and didn’t have any slimy or sharp rocks to deal with.  The water felt amazing but I eventually pulled myself out to eat lunch.

After almost drying off, seeing a juvenile bald eagle, some loons (which we also heard!), and some helicopters, I got back in the water for another swim.  I couldn’t figure out how we’d ever leave, it was that wonderful.  But watching Corrie try to crawl out of the water onto the rock like some swamp monster caused me to have a laughing fit where I had a hard time not sinking, so I did have to take another break.  Then we saw a snake swimming around at the base of the rock so that made it easier to pack up and hit the trail again.

It started raining as we walked away, continuing around the south side of the pond, and then it started pouring.  I was quickly soaked but it wasn’t worth putting a rain jacket on since it was so hot.

We took the Clear Pond Trail back over the top of North Pond, which is connected to Putnam Pond where we started.  Then it was just a short jaunt down Bear Pond Trail and some road walking through Putnam Pond Campground before we made it back to where we’d started.

We hiked about 6 miles the first day and 10 miles the second day.  If this summer ever cools off, I’d love to come back.  The swimming is fantastic at this temperature but any movement out of the water kind of stinks.  But there are a lot more trails and ponds in the Wilderness so I’ll definitely make it back sometime in the future.

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  1. Great description and images. Thanks.

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