Ski bum, you ski bum
By Phil Brown
Bum Pond doesn’t sound like the most attractive place, and in truth there are better destinations in the Adirondack Park for cross-country skiing—lots of them. But Bum Pond is prettier than its name suggests, and in early winter, you may not have many other options.
And if you’re skiing with your daughter, there’s no better place on earth.
The state bought Bum Pond from the Whitney family in 1998, along with Little Tupper Lake, Rock Pond, and a number of other ponds and streams. They’re all now part of the William C. Whitney Wilderness.
Most people go to the Whitney Wilderness to paddle, but I had been thinking of skiing to Bum Pond ever since it made its appearance in Tony Goodwin’s Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks in 2003.
Goodwin rates the ten-mile round trip as suitable for beginning skiers. The route follows old lumber roads with some gradual ups and downs. There are no signs or trail markers, however, so skiers need to bring a map and pay attention to the directions in this story.
My twenty-year-old daughter, Martha, and I did the trip a few days after last Christmas. There was less than a foot of snow on the ground, but it proved to be plenty.
Starting at a large parking lot off Sabattis Road, we skied up an old lumber thoroughfare known as the Burn Road (which is closed to vehicles). Even to a layman, it’s obvious these woods were logged before their sale to the state. Young hardwoods predominate along most of the route.
“The woods aren’t that pretty,” Martha remarked at one point.
“One day it will all grow back,” I said, “and it will be much more attractive.”
Within a half-mile of the start, the trail descends to a bridge over a stream that drains a wetland. The stream flows into Little Tupper Lake, and soon we could see the lake on the left through the trees.
Six miles long, with twenty miles of shoreline, Little Tupper is the largest lake in the Adirondacks surrounded by Forest Preserve. It has lent its name to the Little Tupper brook trout—one of a handful of strains of heritage trout that arrived in the Adirondacks at the end of the last ice age. Unfortunately, some yahoo released bass into Little Tupper after the state purchase, and these fish threaten to eradicate the trout from a lake where they existed for ten thousand years. The good news is that Little Tupper trout survive in several other water bodies, among them Bum Pond.
Incidentally, the lake is not visible throughout the trip, but it does come into view again in a few places.
After two miles, we passed the oddest outhouse I have seen in the Forest Preserve: it’s painted green and its door has a big window that allows you to watch the world while you’re on the can (let’s hope the world isn’t watching back). If you want to visit this historical landmark, look for it on the left at the end of one of the stretches where the lake is visible.
In another 0.8 miles, the Burn Road rises to an elevation of 1,815 feet, some ninety-five feet above the trailhead. This is the trip’s geographical high point. After a descent and another gradual climb, the road dips down to the bridge over the Charley Pond outlet.
Reached at four miles, this is the most scenic spot along the Burn Road and a worthy destination if you don’t want to go all the way to Bum Pond. The outlet winds through a marsh on its way to Little Tupper, which can be seen in the distance.
It would be a fun eight-mile loop to ski to the bridge and return to the trailhead via the marsh and the lake. If you take this route, be sure the ice is solid. If you have any doubts, stay on land. You’d also need to know where to exit the lake. You can figure this out by skiing to the lakeshore near the start of the trip and creating tracks that you can follow later.
Martha had no interest in skiing over the ice, so we continued to Bum Pond. In a little while we came to a sand pit and a small pond. For the umpteenth time, by Martha’s count, I stopped to take photos and scribble notes. My daughter was getting annoyed.
“Stopping is stupid,” she declared.
I hastily closed my notebook, and we continued up a gradual rise to an unmarked T-intersection. Alas, I had to stop again—and so soon after my last scolding.
“This is so obnoxious, Dad. I want to ski.”
“I just have to make a note of the distance,” I pleaded.
So, reader, here is some hard-won information: turn left onto another woods road at a junction that’s reached 4.7 miles from the trailhead, one mile past the Charley Pond outlet and 0.3 miles past the last sandpit.
Soon after making the turn, we passed a tiny water body and wondered if it might be Bum Pond. We hoped not, but given the pond’s name, we didn’t rule it out. We went a little farther and found the real object of our journey: a lovely sheet of white ringed by evergreens. Though set a short distance from the trail, the pond is clearly visible. You’ll know when you get there, but in case you’re taking notes, it’s 0.3 miles from the junction.
The road continues a short distance beyond Bum Pond to a campsite at the end of Tupper Lake. Thus, you could return via the lake, but the same caveats mentioned earlier would apply.
Martha and I removed our skis to walk down a short, steep bank to the shore. We had lunch while sitting on a fallen tree stuck in the ice. Our perch allowed us to take in the scenery in comfort. Close by, leatherleaf and other bog plants poked through the snow. On the pond’s banks rose stately pines and other conifers. And low hills arched their backs in the distance.
More impressive than the scenery was the absolute stillness. This place is wild and remote. We had broken trail for the last mile and a half to get there, and now we had it all to ourselves. My guess is not many people visit this pretty pond. They don’t know what Martha and I discovered: Bum Pond doesn’t live up to its name.
From Tupper Lake, drive south on NY 30 for 9.5 miles after crossing the Raquette River and turn right onto Sabattis Circle Road. Go 3.1 miles to a three-way intersection. Bear right and go 2.8 miles to the large parking area on the left. If coming from Long Lake hamlet, drive north on NY 30 for 6.4 miles after crossing Long Lake and turn left onto Sabattis Road. Follow this road to the three-way intersection and the parking lot.