17-Jul-2001 -- Background
This is one of two confluences within the Adirondack Park, the
near Newcomb, and also one of two within Herkimer
County, the other near Mohawk and Interstate 90 at
The Adirondack Park is the largest state park in the 48 contiguous
United States of America. Its 6.1 million acres is 2.5 million acres
publicly owned and 3.6 million acres privately owned, with a year
round residential population of merely 130,000 people. The public
lands, known as the Adirondack Forest Preserve, are the only
constitutionally protected lands in the United States.
Ecologically, the area of the confluence is a fairly typical boreal
forest of mixed hardwoods and softwoods, with maple, birch, beech and
basswood the dominant hardwoods and spruce, pine and tamarack the
dominant softwoods. Geologically, the Adirondacks are not part of the
ancient Appalachian chain as the rest of the eastern US mountains are.
They are part of the Canadian Shield, relatively young and still
The confluence is located within the fifth largest Wilderness Area
of the park, the 101,000 acre (41,000 hectare) Five Ponds Wilderness
Area. Wilderness Areas are specially protected lands in the United
States where there is little evidence of the presence of man; in
particular, all motors are banned. Rich in 50,000 acres (20,000
hectares) of primeval forest, Five Ponds was deeply affected on July 15, 1995,
incidents, blasting downdrafts of wind that were estimated in excess
of 100mph (160kph). Roughly
(60,000 hectares) suffered moderate to severe damage in northern New
York in that storm, with the worst of it in Five Ponds.
After talking with a variety of sources knowledgeable about the
area, we planned to drive in on an old logging road from the west
as far as we could go then hike the rest of the way from there. The
best scenario, which seemed quite possible, was that we could drive
all the way to the shore of Sand Lake and have little more than a mile
of bushwhacking. The worst case scenario looked like about 2.5 miles
(4 km) of hiking a trail to Sand Lake, and then the bushwhacking.
Knowing of the extensive damage the storm had caused, we planned to
climb over many downed trees and hack through dense new growth with a
machete. We also knew that the
were especially pernicious this year.
Russ and David each started their drives at about 6am coming from
different directions and met at a little after 8am in Belfort, about
17 miles (27 km) as the crow flies west-southwest of the confluence, a
few miles longer driving. After transferring David's gear into Russ's
truck, we drove the long and bumpy Long Pond Road and Bear Pond Road,
stopping once to photograph the Middle Branch Oswegatchie down a steep
through the trees.
We reached the road's
destroyed bridge over the Middle Branch Oswegatchie, a 20 mile
(32 km) drive, one hour and twenty minutes. This settled the question
of whether we'd be able to drive up Jeep trail to Sand Lake, still
more than two miles away. Though the confluence was only 2.4 miles
(3.8km) away in a straight line, we thought it best to stick to the
Jeep trail and minimize bushwhacking, so we estimated that would
extend the hike to a bit over three miles (five km) one way.
After donning bug nets and applying insect repellant liberally, we
were off ... and stopped. Russ's homegrown GPS, running his own
software on a Compaq iPaq handheld connected to a
GPS receiver, was causing trouble. Though it had worked fine in the
truck, he couldn't get and keep a satellite fix. He fiddled with it
for a good long while before eventually giving up. We relied on
On the other side of the ex-bridge the road cut a wide swath through
the woods but was quite overgrown with grasses, suggesting it had been
a couple of years since larger vehicles crossed this way.
had apparently used it as recently as the previous month, though, with
fresh ATV tire tracks evident for much of our walk. When we reached
the Jeep trail it was clear that we would not have been able to drive
it even if the bridge had not been out. Deep mudholes, exacerbated by
ATV activity, were frequent right from the start, and the trail got
quite narrow well before Sand Lake.
We never actually reached Sand Lake, which is a shame because
reports are that it is a very lovely spot. Somehow we kept going east
when the trail should have turned north. As this moved us closer to
the confluence, reducing the amount of bushwhacking we'd have to do,
it wasn't an entirely unfortunate happenstance. In all, it was fairly
easy hiking over gently rolling terrain, with only a few brief
off-trail excursions around fallen trees. We saw no striking evidence
of damage from the big 1995 storm for our entire hike.
At one point it looked as though the trail might go straight to the
confluence. Instead it came to its end about a half mile away (0.8
km) from our destination in a very small clearing, at a camp that was
highly suspicious because of its location in the official wilderness
area. There was a large stack of wood covered by clear plastic, an
oil drum, a wood stove, and something massive stashed under a white
tarp. Strangely, we never checked out what was under the tarp, but
now we sure wish we had.
We'd reached the camp at noon, six hours of traveling into our day
and tantalizingly close to our objective. David started to internally
mull over the fact that his wife was expecting him to be back in four
hours, or at least call in three. Cell phone coverage was
non-existent and the nearest land line was passed over three hours
Knowing that a lot of time had been killed on the way in, though, he
decided (without bothering to consult Russ) that as long as the pace
was kept up they should be able to make it to the confluence and back
to Camp Oswegatchie by the 3 o'clock deadline.
Pushing forward, the bushwhacking leg began by passing the camp's
privy and then crossing the
which flowed down from Sitz Mountain in the south to Sand Lake in the
north and was the closest waterbody to the confluence. The walk was
not too difficult as there was still no meaningful storm damage to be
seen. The forest was quite mature with a medium understory. The
biggest challenge, if it even warrants the word "challenge", was the
young basswood trees with their low, broad leaves that sometimes
obscured the ground and could be a little hard to press through when
they got in a tangle.
Our bushwhack ended up being about half the speed our trail walk
had been. Ascending the moderate north slope of Sitz Mountain, we
came to the confluence a half hour later. It was just south of a 12
foot (4m) high ledge of rock, which we didn't manage to photograph.
Several trees in the area had been marked with surveyor's tape,
probably by the
US Geological Survey
New York DEC
because this is the corner of USGS quads. We were unable to find a
USGS monument though.
After letting the GPSs settle in (Russ had a friend's Magellan in
addition to his homegrown unit) we were able to get readings of
consistently within a circle of only about 12' (4m) radius. Russ
anointed a stump within the circle as The Confluence Stump, decorated
it with marking tape accordingly, and pictures were taken to north,
east, south and west. We also took a couple of self-portraits
standing by the confluence stump, with and without bug nets obscuring
Before heading back, we checked out an old campfire ring that Russ
found less than a hundred feet (30m) southwest of the confluence. It
appeared to be several years old judging by the amount of leaf duff
built up in it.
At a little after 1pm we began our return trip. With few pauses to
rest because David was visibly (and audibly) anxious about needing to
call Diane, we made good time but were slowed a little when David
We made it back to the truck in an hour less time than it took us to
do the hike to the confluence and began the drive back to Belfort.
Along the way we paused a couple of times where we got a weak cell
phone signal to try to call Diane, but the calls would not go through.
Finally we pulled in to Camp Oswegatchie at a little before 4 and they
graciously allowed David to use the land line ... and he reached an
Back in Belfort, David transfered his gear back into his Subaru. He
rushed back to Indian Lake to meet his wife, while Russ, who had told
his family something more reasonable about the timeline for the day,
calmly motored on up to the county fair to meet his wife and daughter.
When he finally got back to Indian Lake at 6:15, after 12 hours of
confluence traveling, David was greatly relieved to find Diane in good
spirits and just finishing making one of his favorite meals. A fine
ending to a fine day of confluencing.
Russ's first person account and photos can be found at
Russ's web site. David's extensively (overly?) detailed first person
view and more photos can be perused at
David's web site.
The fascinating history of the Adirondack Park fills
but some additional background can be found online at the web sites for
The Adirondack Museum
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Adirondack Mountain Club was
formed in 1922 to serve the interests of the public in maintaining the
hiking, camping, paddling and similar recreational opportunities of
the Adirondack Forest Preserve. They have a wealth of information on
the region and welcome new members who share their goal of keeping the
Forest Preserve "Forever Wild".