Hiking in the Eastern Pharaoh Mountain WIlderness
It sure has been hot and humid the last few weeks and on those particular days when it seems to be the worst I have been available to get out and explore. The only remedy for that is to stay home and stay cool, but quite honestly I don’t see that as a plausible option. So, I packed extra water and planned for a bit of an earlier start, which are two very important steps. First off you have to stay well hydrated which can be very hard on days like this where the humidity level is almost equal to the air temperature. Secondly get an earlier start; this helps to shorten the amount of time you spend outdoors when the conditions reach the unbearable point. They say the hottest part of the day is around 3-4 pm, but by the time high noon approachs you won't know the difference of a few degrees.
Meet time was 8:30am which put us at a 9:00am start, a bit later, but considering the drive time for Jim and I it seemed pretty early to us. We carpooled over to the campground to avoid paying a day-use fee for two cars. Upon entering the campground, we located the secondary trailhead which does not allow parking, I wasn’t aware of that. The only option we had was to park at the day-use area near the beach, and then follow the path and roadsides back to the trailhead.
Putnam Pond Campground
The hardest part about this small detour was having to keep Abby on a leash while in the campground area. Abby is not all that fond of or used to being on a leash. She tends to go right around trees and I tend to go left, it was a compromise for which I would surely not win. We quickly reached the campground road and then the trailhead, where I immediately freed myself from Abby’s leash. After signing in, we moved swiftly through the forest along the well-trodden trail and passed the intersection for Heart Pond as though it were not even there. As the trail began to rise ever so slightly over the shoulder of Sharps Ridge we didn’t lose a step. We continued an easy climb as we approached the height-of-land which was right above Bear Pond just slightly further to the north. The descent was a bit steeper as we lost nearly all we gained in a tenth of the distance, but it was fast and painless to us as we were still very fresh into the day. As we stood on the shore of Bear Pond we were delighted in the vistas it created. Fragrant Water lilies covered the inlet as a faint waterfall filled our ears, draining what looked to be a beaver pond up above.
Bear Pond Mountain
We would now climb the slopes of Bear Pond Mountain, first by trail then we would finish the venture to the summit off-trail, to discover what this small 1800 foot mountain had to offer. As the heat began to rise along with the humidity my shirt was soaked and my skinned cured by the sun. My backpack trapping the heat against my body didn’t help my natural defense against the heat, but it was something that you deal with on a regular basis. The forest atop the shoulder of Bear Pond Mountain was an open layer of pine needles and dead branches. As we stood a mere 0.2 miles from the summit, we hydrated and walked off into the unknown. Passing by large pines and outcroppings of bare rock we stood atop this wooded summit, slightly disappointed in the lack of views, but also grateful to just be here in the Pharaoh Mountain Wilderness.
Rock Pond and Peaked Hill
We regained the trail just downhill of where we left it on the positive side of the hill; we continued descending toward Rock Pond. The descent was fast and slippery as the mountain dew still covered the bare rock along the trail; the forest that we stood in at the moment was shaded and cooler, it felt refreshing. Soon we would gaze out over the rocky shore of Rock Pond and see our next destinations out in the distance; Peaked Hill, and Big Clear Pond Mountain. We would now pass by the only stone walls and the abandoned mine shaft-whose cool air drew us in almost as fast as the rusty smell of the water coming from within, drove us back. We climbed and descended the trail as it passed us over steep ledges, boulder jumbles and narrow walkways back to the shore where we located the intersection for the Short Swing Trail. We needed this trail but only for a bit, it would access us Peaked Hill in a fine fashion. We could see ledges on the western slopes of Peaked Hill from Rock Pond and planned a route accordingly to achieve their mysterious beauty, but could we do it successfully and not pass them by, we would see.
Reaching an intermittent stream that drained the shallow valley between Big Clear and Peaked, we decided to use this as our initial approach to our second peak of the day. Jumbled in loose rock we opted to not hop the course but instead follow its cascade upstream on a dry footing amongst the hardwoods. The brook soon turned to a faint waterfall, deeply canvased in a deep green, one of beauty we have not seen in some time, but we would need to start thinking about putting the stream behind us and start our steep climb up the western slopes of Peaked Hill. We felt our course would make for a fine climb and surely would get us close enough to the cliffs we so deeply desired to visit. The heat and humidity weighing heavy on our legs we pushed on, faster than we probably should have, but slower than usual. Open sky is what we saw next, high above us atop open rock layered in loose needles shed by the white pines. Surely to be slippery we took our time as we climbed the open rock. I was sure the views were opening up behind me but I held back from looking until I was atop the open slopes and comfortably in the shade. Once I turned the spectacular views out over Rock Pond and far into the wilderness welcomed me, we were here, we could breath. Only the faintest of breezes cooled our skin as we walked about this open ridge and enjoyed the various views it afforded us, but we needed to summit, it was in our blood. The open rock continued leading us to the top where a mostly open apex awarded to an Adirondack gem. The views seemingly never ending, we rested and reenergized for quite some time before we made the tough decision to move on toward Big Clear Pond Mountain.
Finding Big Clear Pond Mountain
As we pecked our way down the mountain over ledges and through the random red spruce; steep would be the best descriptor of the terrain we encountered, but it ended rather abruptly in the col. We knew we faced great opposition in Big Clear Pond Mountain. The slopes would be steep and the current weather conditions were now becoming nearly overpowering. From the steep descent of Peaked we saw what appeared to be open rock on this side of Big Clear and again we took a shot in the dark to try and locate it. A basic compass bearing pointed us in the appropriate direction but would the forest settings cooperate? They did, and as similar to the ascent of Peaked we first saw the open sky above and slab rock creating a staircase to nature’s theatre. We sat hear, pleased in our findings and slowly baking from the rise in body temperature, we had to push on to the summit. Big Clear Pond Mountain is made up of two nearly identically elevated summits, and only about 10 feet in elevation separating the two. The first we came to appeared to be wrong, according to our GPS.
The views here were limited anyhow, so we moved on to the other hoping for more. The second of the twins didn’t really register much difference in elevation and the payoff was not all that dissimilar either. Which one was higher, we are still unsure, but no matter we touched them both. We didn’t hang around too long here before we made a bearing to the trail 0.4 miles below us. We descended through open forest, atop sections of slab rock, witnessed a few small views out over Clear Pond, and pushed through fantastic fields of ferns. Soon upon the trail we knew our day was about over, and with a slight sort of sadness to see the day end we knew many more adventures would be before us.
We now had over 2-miles of trail in front of us to get us back to the campground and we took that as the gentle walk in the park that it was. The beauty of the narrows between Rock Pond and Little Clear Pond was spanned by a partially submerged floating bridge, what a place of splendor. Then, as if blocked from memory, were the small hills between us at the valley of water and the trailhead. While alone the climb is not difficult or demanding, but after three peaks and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain, we did not want to climb anymore on this day. We had done our 15 rounds with the heat and humidity and we wanted to throw in the towel. Even with the trail as lovely as it stands, we were actually pretty happy to see the register and finally feel that breeze from the open car window blowing through our hair. We would be back, be sure of that, there is so much more to see, so much more to discover, and so many more mountains to explore.