Light canoe opens up backcountry ponds
By Mark Bowie
There were many instances as a child, standing on the shore of an Adirondack lake or pond, that I was envious of boaters on the water. When I didn’t have access to a boat, I craved what the boaters had—freedom, mobility. They enjoyed the view less seen. And they weren’t restricted by the length of a cast from shore, but could paddle or motor to the choicest fishing spots. While I couldn’t venture beyond water’s edge, their vessels, seemingly, could carry them anywhere.
Years later, when I hiked into backcountry waters, I had similar feelings. Without a boat, I was bound to the shore. What gems lay hidden in the tamarack bog across the pond? What revelations loomed out of sight around the far peninsula? To quench the wanderlust, I purchased a 10-foot, 16-pound Kevlar canoe from Hornbeck Boats in Olmstedville and last year had it custom-fitted with a backpack mount. I can now haul the boat on my back, with hands free, to remote waters.
For my initial foray with the new mount, I targeted two little-known waters in a little-visited section of the Adirondack Park: Hammond Pond, the centerpiece of the Hammond Pond Wild Forest, and neighboring Bloody Pond. Located between North Hudson and Port Henry, Hammond lies one mile in from the trailhead along the North Hudson-Moriah Road; Bloody, a mile farther.
On a cool July morning I mounted the new backpack to the little boat, raised the bow, flipped the vessel upside-down, got beneath it and looped my arms into the shoulder straps. An aluminum rail, one end attached to the backpack, the other to one gunwale, prevents the boat ends from bobbing and ensures adequate ground clearance while negotiating hills. I raised and hefted the boat onto the center of my back. Not bad. Started walking; comfortable, fairly light, stable. I could jog with this thing on!
The trail heads southeast to the ponds. In a few minutes, I crossed Black Brook on a newly refurbished footbridge. The trail soon joins an old tote road, a legacy of the area’s logging past. With plenty of side-to-side clearance, it was an ideal passageway for a man with a canoe on his back. Certainly bushwhacking through dense foliage would be a chore, like for a bull moose with an unwieldy rack of antlers.
En route to Hammond, the trail follows the brook for much of the way, passing through forest dominated by white pine and hemlock. There are impressive old-growth specimens, stands of red pine, and some birch and maple. Hobblebush, early fly-honeysuckle, and a wide variety of ferns and mushrooms adorn the understory.
Hammond Pond has three lobes. Hail Mountain and its northwestern summit, Bloody Mountain, rise to the east. To the south are the fire-scarred, open bluffs of Burnt Ridges. The prominent ledges of Sweet Fern Hill loom to the north, above a wooden spillway at the pond’s outlet (there’s an attractive camping site next to the spillway). A bushwhack up the ledges offers a stunning collection of vistas for such a small hill: first, sweeping views of the pond, Hail and Moose mountains, Bald Pate and Owl Pate, then farther up, Hoffman, Nippletop, Niagara and Camels Hump. The northwest face provides inspired views of the Dix Range and Giant Mountain.
I put in at the spillway and paddled the pond’s perimeter, exploring its little points and inlets. Mixed hardwoods, including paper birch, and conifers line the shores. It’d be beautiful in autumn, with no pesky bugs. Even now, at the height of the summer tourist season, I had it all to myself.
Hammond is dotted with stumps of trees drowned by rising waters, the result of human and beaver damming. Warm-water species such as panfish and northern pike live here. In summer, it’s choked with aquatic vegetation: pickerelweed, white and yellow waterlilies, algal mats and water chinquapin. Green lily pads flashed red undersides when flipped by a breeze. And when I put a polarizer over my camera lens, the lilies, the water, the puffy white clouds in the royal blue sky, all danced with color.
The area seemed ideal moose habitat. Deer and raccoon likely drink from shore most mornings and evenings. And certainly great-blue herons find this prime fishing territory, although I saw none. I did see mallards, and grebes, which skittered across the surface as I approached. Red-winged blackbirds called from the bushes.
As I paddled the third arm of Hammond Pond, stiffening winds heralded an advancing storm front. Cumulus clouds piled into one another. I passed a large beaver lodge with lily accents and pickerelweed landscaping. A couple of swallows fluttered overhead, escorting me out of their territory. A turkey vulture rode the thermals over Sweet Fern Hill.
After I took out, the brewing thunderstorm deterred me from carrying another mile into the interior to Bloody Pond. It was a wise decision; I arrived back at the trailhead minutes before a hard rain.
I returned in early autumn, bound for Bloody. The trail remained a tote road as it passed a spring after the turnoff to Hammond, but narrowed to a fisherman’s footpath before reaching a bridge over Hammond’s inlet. Shortly after, I forded Bloody’s tiny outlet stream and turned onto a nondescript, little-used path. The boat and I plowed through dense underbrush, then zigzagged up a sharp escarpment. Near the pinnacle, the trail entered a steep-sloped chimney between bedrock outcrops. I tentatively squeezed through with the boat on my back; the gunwales scraping the walls in places. On the return, the boat would have to dismount and slide down after me.
Nearby, the stream seemed to hesitate before dropping over the lip, as if enjoying the commanding overview of the forest, then plunged in a series of pretty cascades.
I unburdened myself of boat and backpack beside the water. Bloody is a round beaver pond with a distinctly wild air. And the beavers had been busy. There was fresh mud on the outlet dam.
At just six acres, Bloody is so small that the wind has trouble reaching it. I circumnavigated the pond, drifting over glassy reflections of early fall: puffy clouds in a powder-blue sky, the first reds and oranges of maples. I was steeped in the quiet of remote wilderness. Best of all, I was in my