The Red Horse Trail - Stillwater Reservoir into the 5 Ponds Wilderness - Adirondacks

Joined
Aug 1, 2011
Messages
152
Location
North Creek NY
8/20 - 8/24/2012 My girlfriend Judi and I spent 5 days poking around part of the 5 Ponds Wilderness area last week. Our plan was to set up base camp and do day trips to various lakes and ponds in the area.

Day 1 - Arrived in Stillwater a little later than we wished (what else is new), Parked, loaded up the boats and said farewell to civilization for 5 days, starting with a 5 mile paddle half way across the Stillwater Reservoir. We stopped half way on a sandy beach to look back at our progress and the placid waters of the reservoir, then it was on to Trout Pond to access the first carry of about a mile to Salmon Lake to a bit of a rocky put in. Across Salmon Lake and up the inlet towards Witchhopple Lake and over a half dozen beaver dams, barely substantial enough to stand on, but big enough to have to get out and drag the boat across. From there an short but steep bushwhack/carry to the trail and a 3/4 mile carry along the trail to Witchhopple Lake that was to be our base camp for the week.

Day 2 - We decided to recover from the first day's exertions by doing a quick bushwhack to nearby Little Rock Pond, one of the nicest bodies of water I've been on. We spent the day exploring the fiord like bays and rocky islands. The highlight of my day was finding the unmarked portage trail making the trip back to camp much more enjoyable than the hobble bush surfing we did to get to Little Rock. Sunsets each night and misty mornings were the norm this trip.

Day 3 - Today was to be a pretty big day for us and we set our sights on Crooked Lake via Clear Lake and Summit Pond. This excursion starts with a paddle across Witchhopple Lake and a 2 mile carry uphill to the end of the Red Horse Trail at Clear Pond. Clear Pond is an amazing turquoise blue that has to be experienced to be appreciated, but I have included a couple of pictures. I screwed up and didn't find the "carry" (read, unmarked, uncleared trail) and we struggled through some steep blow down and thick going to get to Summit Pond. I did successfully locate the "carry" from Summit Pond to Crooked Lake that I had traveled 3 or 4 years ago on a 6 day solo trip in the area, but it had not been maintained since. The old blazes on the trees were the only indication that there may have once been a trail here and after our struggle to get to Summit Pond, we conceded and did not make Crooked Lake on this trip. Beaten we made our way back to base camp to lick our wounds and watch another amazing sunset.

Day 4 - Upon listening to the weather forecast we decided that we would decamp that afternoon and move to a leanto back down on the reservoir so as to get an early start before the winds of the day picked up on the long paddle back the next day. In the morning Judi spent a leisurely morning at camp and I headed to Beaverdam Pond for a quick trip. In the afternoon we set out to make our way back to the reservoir.

Day 5 - After spending a comparatively luxurious evening and night at the leanto (Judi's first experience with leanto living) with an actual picnic table and outhouse we got up the next morning refreshed and ready for the 5 mile paddle back to the car. After an uneventful journey across the reservoir, the Molson's we left in a triple insulated cooler, while not cold, were a cool and sweet reward.

A wonderful trip where we saw no other soul from the time we left the reservoir until we returned. Judi did great as it is not easy to be 5'2", bushwhacking through 4' high hobblebush following a 6' tall guy with legs as long as mine.
 

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W

Willis

Guest
It appears that she doesn't trust you with the camera. Great report.

Thanks!
 
Joined
Feb 29, 2012
Messages
1,820
Location
Schenectady, NY
Keith,

Great photos...Above Salmon Lake, did you take out at that bank to bank deadfall? Sounds like you went the same way we did, with a short bushwhack to the trail to Witchhopple. Did you paddle much of Witchhopple? We only had a single day to spend in the interior waters, went to Clear, but should have spent the time on Witchhopple and Little Rock Pond. We did paddle/line all of the outlet of Witchhopple...everyone agreed it was the highlight of the trip.
Thanks for sharing...
 
Joined
Aug 1, 2011
Messages
152
Location
North Creek NY
Striperguy, Yes that is where we took out. There is a blazed "carry" that goes straight up the hill from that deadfall, then left over to the trail. We stayed on Witchhopple, so we paddled it every day. My first trip in there years ago we lined down the outlet to Salmon because my camping partner had a fairly heavy tandem canoe (relatively speaking). It is a pretty stream, but with the lighter Hornbecks, I don't feel the need to do that and just carry it.

Oh and it is not the first bank to bank deadfall now. There's one before that now :(
 
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G

Guest

Guest
Excellent trip. I hope to spend 4 days doing the same sort of thing in that area. Hopefully no one gets the same idea at the same time.

My wife hates Stillwater due to a storm we encountered out there once... but I've convinced her it leads to worthwhile endeavors.

If you plan to stay a night on the reservoir say coming in or out, how do you arrange this? I've never camped out there but I know they have that board to take sites. Do you just take an open one and hope no one shows up and says they reserved it?
 
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
693
Location
Western Adirondacks
You must reserve a site upon arrival at the parking lot sign in board. You cannot reserve in advance. There have been some nasty confrontations in the past by those who have paddled or motored to their favorite site only to find it occupied by someone who did not previously sign in. That is the whole reason for the sign up in the first place. You might take your chances if not the weekend, but be prepared to vacate. Otherwise, the 150 foot rule might be the wiser choice for spending the night. Check with the local ranger, Luke Evans. He lives in the log home immediately behind the sign-in board.
 
G

Guest

Guest
I realize it is by the board only. I guess my concern is that if I reserve a site out near trout pond upon departure I may not stay there at all. Mostly depends on how tired I am and the weather.

I'd be more interested in staying somewhere on the reservoir for the return to get out on the big water early to get back to the lot.

Is the leanto a reservation site?
 
Joined
Feb 29, 2012
Messages
1,820
Location
Schenectady, NY
Mike,
The lean to is not part of the Stillwater Res designated sites, it does not have an assigned site number...
When you go, be sure to paddle Witchhopple Lake and its outlet...for us, it was the highlight of the trip.
Strictly a personal interpretation, but I found Clear Pond to be a big let down. We should have spent more time on Witchhopple and then jumped over to Beaverdam Pond and Little Rock Lake...

Here's a peek at the carry to Clear

DSC_0208.JPG


And here's the outlet of Witchhopple

DSC_0253A.JPG
 
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
693
Location
Western Adirondacks
Strictly a personal interpretation, but I found Clear Pond to be a big let down.
Clear is rather unique in the region. It is aptly named, and if you have not seen it, it can be a big surprise. The water is absolutely clear, devoid of any tannin color or visible life. If you paddle out on it, you will see boulders and dead trees far down on on the bottom, and you will be guessing how deep they actually are. Paddle to the northern end, and you are in an echo pocket. On a calm day a whisper from your canoe will echo back to you due to the shape of the surrounding landscape. I do like Clear, partly because it is so different, and partly because it is the launching point for a hearty bushwhack to other unique ponds farther north through the rather extensive 1995 microburst blowdown debris and resulting dense sapling growth.
 
G

Guest

Guest
I'm thinking Little Rock is going to be my highlight based on pictures I've seen.

Hopefully I can use the leanto on the way back - thanks for the info. My wife has switched to a hammock and I may as well, or a smaller tent so our campsite requirements are becoming evermore less stringent.

Anyway I'm thinking of dropping the LTL to Lila traverse in lieu of this - the logistics of closing the loop are making this seem more appealing.

We'll see how the summer unfolds. I have committed to 5 days in St. Regis and that is non-negotiable per the wife (and I don't mind, I love that place). I plan to go up the Oswegatchie again on my birthday - my wife talks about it constantly (I think our failure to go to HF last year has made her want to go even more). I'd rather go down from Lows but the logistics of the that one has put it on hold, unless someone comes knocking on my door wanting to go.
 
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