Cranberry Lake 50

Posted on 03 Sep 2022 by Steve Markham

The YM have been preparing all season to do a 50-mile backpacking trip together. They did a preparation trip to Black Mountain that I missed, and another to Clear Pond that was awesome. This week was the culmination, with a 4-night trip around Cranberry Lake. It was awesome!

The boys at High Rock on Friday night
The boys at High Rock on Friday night

I’ve been gradually making plans for this trip since about March. I had options for a mild (4-night), medium (3-night), or extra-spicy (2-night) outing. We did a modified version of the mild plan, to accommodate Bishop Durfee, who could only join us for a day-hike (Wanakena to Cranberry Lake), and Will Madsen (plus his dad), who could only join us for the last two days (Wanakena directly to “Friday Lunch” via Janacks Landing, and then around with us). Kyle and Andrew were one cook group. Glen, Will, and Nate were another. The OWL patrol (Old Wise Leaders) alternated cooking dinner for each other, using Andy’s stove.

Our route
Our route

Andy drove. We left my house about 7:45 with him, me, Kyle, and Andrew, and picked up Will and Nate and Glen at 8. Bishop and his wife met us in Cranberry Lake at 11. We had a little trouble finding the right place to park, so we didn’t hit the trail until 11:40.

The boys all know each other from mutual, previous outings, FSY, etc., so they had a lot of fun in the car ride up.

The boys hiked up front
The boys hiked up front
The adults hiked in the back
The adults hiked in the back

We made good time, with no stops until lunch at this delightful lean-to right on the lake.

Lunch on Cranberry Lake
Lunch on Cranberry Lake

The water there wasn’t great, but Bishop had brought more than enough and was happy to lighten his load by sharing.

You’ll have to use your imagination for this next part, because I wasn’t taking pictures. Around 4pm the Bishop started lagging a bit, and by 5 it was sprinkling. He encouraged us to hike on in hopes that we’d make it to our lean-to for the night before it started really pouring.

We didn’t quite make it. I repeatedly underestimated distances on this trip, and our “11-mile” first day ended up being 14.1 miles, so it’s no surprise we got to our destination an hour and a half later than planned. C’est la vie. Not a complainer in this group, thankfully. I went to bed around 9, I think, but some of the boys were up chatting until midnight, they told me.

Bear Mountain Lean-to is lovely, and has excellent cell service
Bear Mountain Lean-to is lovely, and has excellent cell service

In the morning, I had breakfast cooked on Andy’s alcohol stove. It’s not as hot as my whisperlite, but it weighs a tenth as much, so I enjoyed seeing it in action.

My soft-boiled egg came out perfect--liquid middle, but gooey, not runny.
My soft-boiled egg came out perfect--liquid middle, but gooey, not runny.

The sun eventually came up over the mountain, so we put up enough clotheslines to hang all our wet gear (ie, all our gear) during breakfast.

The youth didn’t eat quite as well as the OWL patrol. Kyle and Andrew had sausage and oatmeal, though they burned a few sausages trying to figure out how to regulate temperature on the Whisperlite. The other cook group had trouble with their pancakes. Plan B was “scrambled pancakes”.

Plan C was sous vide pancakes with jam, which apparently Nate enjoyed
Plan C was sous vide pancakes with jam, which apparently Nate enjoyed

Shockingly, things weren’t dry by the time we finished eating, so we hiked up to the top of Bear Mountain. Waste of time since there was no view, but we were actually trying to waste time so that was fine by us.

Not a lot of wildlife on this trip, though we did find an interesting bug

Grandma Dewey got me a peak shelf for my birthday. Opening presents early is something of a tradition in my family, so here is my birthday present in action, a week before my birthday. The thing about hammocks is that stuff tries to slide under you whenever you roll over or change positions, which is annoying. Plus, sometimes it’s warm and sweaty and you want to chill in your hammock, but not get your bag all soggy. The mesh net holding my bag up and out of the way is called a “shelf” in hammock lingo, and it’s great.

Thanks Mom!
Thanks Mom!

We hit the trail again around 11, I think. Day 2 of a long trip is always the toughest, since your hips are tender and your body is sore since nothing is used to the weight of the pack yet. We had wet feet to boot, so Wednesday was a short one, 7.1 miles, I think.

You'll get sick of seeing pictures of the boys' backs long before I get sick of posting them
You'll get sick of seeing pictures of the boys' backs long before I get sick of posting them

Andy likes to hike in the very back. He’s older than me and gets his wish most of the time. But I like to hike behind the boys to pick up their trash (propel packets, mostly), or items not strapped on well (not a lot of that with this particular group).

Long story short, this was my view for most of the trip
Long story short, this was my view for most of the trip

The Adirondacks are beautiful. It’s especially fun sometimes when you see a sudden transition from one type of forest to another. Some places are thick with ferns, others have no undergrowth at all.

We stopped for lunch at a campsite on a brook with a cute picnic table. Deep enough for wading, but we were still feeling soggy from Tuesday afternoon so nobody got in. It was tempting to stop there for the day, but we hiked on a little further thinking we’d find somewhere swimmable in a couple miles. The map showed 4 sites right in a row on the shore of the lake. We passed on the first two and never saw the third or fourth, so 2 miles turned into 4 miles and we ended up camping at the East Inlet Flow instead of the Brandy Brook Flow.

Another cute picnic table, but a pebbly beach instead of a sandy beach like one of the sites we passed on
Another cute picnic table, but a pebbly beach instead of a sandy beach like one of the sites we passed on

It rained again Wednesday afternoon. I can’t express in words just how different it is to be rained on before you have camp set up, versus being rained on after you have camp set up. Rain under a tarp is downright pleasant.

The storm included thunder, so we all set 30-minute timers and waited until we could swim. Unfortunately this took several tries.

The second round of rain came with pretty big hail, too
The second round of rain came with pretty big hail, too
The skies have been gorgeous all summer long, and this trip was no exception
The skies have been gorgeous all summer long, and this trip was no exception
This set of dark clouds were the last
This set of dark clouds were the last

We did finally get to swim before dinner. I rinsed out some of my sweaty clothes while the boys investigated a rock out in the water. We were all hoping it would have vertical sides and give us a spot to jump into the water, but it didn’t work out that way. Still, it was nice to play around in the water a bit.

Andy went all gourmet on me for his first turn making dinner. On Tuesday I had made my usual first-night fare, Asian salad from Aldi and cheddar broccoli chicken, but Andy’s more of a meat-and-potatoes guy.

Our first course was peas and carrots
Our first course was peas and carrots
That was followed up with spinach mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and beef.
That was followed up with spinach mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and beef.

The ratio of beef to gravy was off, but it was one of the better backcountry meals I’ve ever eaten.

I enjoyed the sunset and later, the stars.

Moon, clouds, sunset, photos don't even come close to doing it justice
Moon, clouds, sunset, photos don't even come close to doing it justice

Thursday was our longest day, 14.5 miles. Lunch was at Dog pond, where we passed two hikers and a dog, go figure. I shared some pick-me-up treats with the boys (KitKats and peanut butter cups) to celebrate the midpoint of the trip. Then it was off to Olmstead Pond.

Lots of beaver dams, including this double-dam past Curtis pond
Lots of beaver dams, including this double-dam past Curtis pond

After lunch the trail took us passed “Chair Rock Flow” and Will noticed perhaps the namesake for the water feature.

There are ladder rungs nailed to the big tree behind the rock
There are ladder rungs nailed to the big tree behind the rock
All the boys agreed the chair was rather comfortable
All the boys agreed the chair was rather comfortable
They helped each other get up and down safely
They helped each other get up and down safely

Don’t zoom on too far on the next one, or if you do, please know that what you see on Glen’s legs is from earlier in the trip when I was enjoying a quiet moment in the woods and Andy was supposed to be watching the boys.

Glen assured me it's OK to post this picture
Glen assured me it's OK to post this picture
Andrew rounds out the sitters, since Kyle thought the whole thing looked haunted
Andrew rounds out the sitters, since Kyle thought the whole thing looked haunted
Here's Kyle in front of Sliding Rock Falls to make up for his absence in the earlier set of pictures
Here's Kyle in front of Sliding Rock Falls to make up for his absence in the earlier set of pictures

Story time. It was getting late and some of us were bored of hiking for the day. Nate decided to run ahead. You know, actually run. With a pack on. What could possible go wrong? He made it all the way across a creek on this tiny little log, and right at the end when he was near what he thought was solid ground on the other side, he slipped. Into mud. Thigh-deep.

Poor Nate
Poor Nate

He warned us off of crossing at that spot. I walked a little ways down the creek to a long tree that lay across the water. Half way across that balance-beam of a tree it started wobbling. I was losing my balance, but ran to the end and got to terra firma just in time. Kyle and Will did likewise, losing their balance, but either recovering or at least falling to their right where there was a safe landing spot. Glen, on the other hand, lost his balance to the left. I saw him pass the point of no return, and braced myself for the splash, but he managed to find a tiny rock to hop to, then made it safe and dry along the rest of the tree.

Andy and Andrew, meanwhile, walked another, oh, 20 yards downstream to where the creek mysteriously vanished and you could simply stroll “across” without any fancy footwork. On the way out Friday morning we all took the Andrews’ route.

The lean-to area was pretty muddy, so Andy and I cooked and ate our dinners pretty far away from it. The pond water was gross-looking but luckily Andy found the inlet not too far off. It was Oswegatchie brown (think root beer) but from tannic acid not from swamp muck, and it tasted fine.

Olmstead Pond Lean-to
Olmstead Pond Lean-to

There was a rowboat on the bank near the lean-to. Nate used it to get out into the middle of the pond so he could wash his legs off. The water near the banks was mucky enough that I’m not sure he’d have come out cleaner if he simply waded or swam. I took the rowboat out in the morning to checkout the mist on the pond, and to visit the other campsites farther along the trail. We had taken a bit of a shortcut past sliding rock falls on our way to the lean-to, so we’d be heading out along the same section we came in on, but I want to know about other camping options for future trips.

I love the mist on the water early in the morning
I love the mist on the water early in the morning
This campsite was great for a solo hiker, but not for a group
This campsite was great for a solo hiker, but not for a group
Breakfast at Olmstead Pond
Breakfast at Olmstead Pond
By Friday, Kyle and Andrew had a pretty good system down for warming/cooking summer sausage without burning it or boiling it
By Friday, Kyle and Andrew had a pretty good system down for warming/cooking summer sausage without burning it or boiling it

Story time, since I don’t think anyone took pictures Friday morning. The Madsens joined us Friday at lunch. I knew that we all stunk by then when I could smell their shampoo (or something else flowery), but they politely didn’t mention anything. We ate and chat and met a couple of hikers and their dog, then headed around toward High Falls.

Whereas Andy and I had been always hike in the back, Josh goes fast and doesn’t mind hiking in the front. This modified the spacing between hikers, since the “always stay within sight of an adult” rule could now be obeyed even if we split into two groups and those two groups got separated by a lot. At about two o’clock, my group (Nate, myself, and the Andrews) noticed a trail junction with a sign indicating that the CL50 made a sharp right turn. The other group, which had been a few minutes ahead of us, had not stopped to wait at the junction, and presumably had gone straight through, not noticing the sign (which was not easily noticed). Not a big deal, except that this small mistake was followed by a comedy of errors which, in combination, cost us an hour and a half.

We decided that trying to catch up with the advance party was impossible unless they turned around. If they turned around, there was no need to chase them. But there was no guarantee they would turn around if the trails joined up again, so we went ahead on the “correct” trail with the CL50 blazes. Shortly after the junction was a beaver dam. We crossed pretty easily, and while crossing saw the other group (but didn’t call over to them!) crossing delicately. Maybe we would catch up, we thought, and hiked on. We got to the junction where the trails meet up, and they weren’t waiting for us there, either. Maybe their crossing was even more delicate than it looked, and they hadn’t joined up yet. Maybe they had blown through this junction, too, and were ahead. Who knew? Their pace was so much faster than ours that we went ahead, confident they’d catch up to us if somehow we had gotten ahead of them. When we got to the trail junction at High Falls, with multiple big obvious signs and no other group, we knew something had gone wrong. We waited 10 or 15 minutes, wrote them a note saying we’d be back at 3:30, and then went on a spur to check out the falls and the lean-to.

Rewind in time. The advance party is crossing a very delicate beaver dam, oblivious to any trail junction mishap. They decide to wait on the other side to make sure we got across OK. After 10 minutes, we haven’t caught up, which is weird. They double-check that there are CL50 blazes on both sides of the crossing (there are!) and, confident that we must eventually come this way, wait another 10 minutes. Eventually, Josh, being the responsible adult, crosses back over and back up the trail to see if we need help. We are nowhere to be found. Other hikers coming through claim to have not seen anyone. After 15 minutes or so hiking back up the trail, long past the point we should be at, he assumes we were abducted by aliens and heads back to his group, which has now been waiting at the beaver dam for 45 minutes. On his way back, the third time crossing that point, he notices the sign with the arrow saying the CL50 turns right, and puts the pieces together.

To make a long story short (too late!) they hike to the junction near High Falls, find our note, and connect with us at 3:30 when we come back through. All’s well that ends well, but Andy and I had a hard time figuring out what principle to learn from that mishap. When the first group isn’t at a junction as expected, and then a few minutes later you see them, you should holler at them to let them know not everything is going according to plan. But otherwise, I don’t think you should intentionally take the wrong trail, and I’m not willing to always keep everyone in sight of each other. I think the occasional 90 minutes separation is a price I’m willing to pay.

On our excursion to the High Falls lean-to we saw interesting things.

Big mechanical winch with huge drive chain and metal treads
Big mechanical winch with huge drive chain and metal treads
High Falls lean-to (look at all that firewood underneath!)
High Falls lean-to (look at all that firewood underneath!)
High Falls
High Falls

The next mistake of the day was entirely my fault, though you might argue it ended up not actually being a mistake. (Surely you didn’t think we only made one mistake that day!) As nice as the High Falls lean-to was, it was 0.4 miles off the CL50, and 9 miles from the car. From a naive reading of a zoomed-out map, it looked like there was another lean-to just 2 miles up the trail, closer to the CL50. Also, while we were getting re-connected, three hikers came through and indicated they were camping at High Falls. Suffice it to say, the other lean-to (and the dozen or so campsites on the map) was on the Oswegatchie, not on the CL50. As in, accessible by canoe from the water, but not from the trail. This is obvious if you know that there are any campsites accessible only by water, but mostly it was me being over-optimistic on a trail I’d never hiked before. It took us a while to figure this out, and it involved a laugh-out-loud moment when the groups got separated again, though only briefly.

Luckily, one (just one!) of the campsites along the river was also accessible by spur trail from the CL50, so we camped at High Rock. That’s several miles farther along the trail than we had planned on hiking Friday, but that just means less hiking on Saturday. Plus, we passed the worst of the dams on Friday, so that Saturday we had dry and mudless boots (mostly).

Lots of sunny hiking like this
Lots of sunny hiking like this
Are you sick of hikers' backs yet?
Are you sick of hikers' backs yet?
Andy picking his way along a beaver dam
Andy picking his way along a beaver dam

There was a tent already set up at the first fire ring along the spur trail, but the man there said there was another larger campsite up the hill a bit. I think that larger site is the actual High Rock site, given that it is at the top of a tall, steep rock.

Arrival at High Rock
Arrival at High Rock
We each stretch in our own way, but especially Andrew
We each stretch in our own way, but especially Andrew

We spent a few minutes picking out shelter spots, but the first order of business was swimming (and rinsing off).

Cold, brown water with a strong current and a slippery access point
Cold, brown water with a strong current and a slippery access point
Super fun, though
Super fun, though
Will demonstrating the current at my request

The view from High Rock is lovely. I mean, just absolutely beautiful.

Beautiful sunset (and Will's camera capturing a time lapse)
Beautiful sunset (and Will's camera capturing a time lapse)
Will's time lapse
I was *this* close to removing those three trees interfering with the view
I was *this* close to removing those three trees interfering with the view
The Oswegatchie in the morning

And one more (edited) pic from Will’s camera.

Everyone with a functional camera took multiple pictures of this view
Everyone with a functional camera took multiple pictures of this view

In the morning Kyle and I went for another swim. It was shockingly cold upon entry, just like the night before, but I wasn’t shivering while I dripped dry so I guess it wasn’t too bad. We ate breakfast, filled up water bottles with very tannicy river water, possible one or two of us slipped in up to their neck while trying to fill up, and then hit the trail at 9. The 4 miles to the car were relatively uneventful, except two curious things. First, there were deep treads from a fairly large ATV-like vehicle all along the trail, clearly more recent than Tuesday’s storm. We later learned that a woman had slipped while portaging a canoe around High Falls on Thursday, and was evacuated by ATV to Wanakena where she was air-lifted out. The second curious thing is in the next picture:

I drank Oswegatchie brown when there was a bleeping water main along the trail???
I drank Oswegatchie brown when there was a bleeping water main along the trail???
The final stretch of wilderness
The final stretch of wilderness
Those smiles are because we can see the van
Those smiles are because we can see the van
We survived!
We survived!

So much more could be said. Perhaps I’ll add pictures from other people’s cameras. There is a Photos album with some additional pictures here. I can’t wait to go again!