By Phil Brown
I’m on a ridge, not exactly sure where, and I can’t see more than a few feet past the branches that just poked me in the face. My boots are stuffed with spruce needles. Although it’s hot, I’m wearing a windbreaker and long pants to keep flesh wounds to a minimum.
It’s 1:45 p.m. I left the trail well over an hour ago. Perhaps it’s time to turn back. First, though, I climb onto a fallen tree to see what I can see. The view isn’t bad, actually: Mount Adams, Wallface, MacNaughton and lots of unidentified peaks in the distance.
But that’s not why I’m here. I’m trying to find Lost Pond—the one the Marshall brothers, Bob and George, visited in 1920 with their guide, Herb Clark. Years later, George rhapsodized about the pond in The Cloud Splitter, a magazine published by the Adirondack Mountain Club.
“Crossing a ridge we entered the high, circular valley which surrounds the pond,” he wrote, “and soon we saw water through the trees. The pond itself, surrounded as it is by a splendid forest and with high hills rising from its steep banks, seemed one of the most beautiful and wildest spots we had ever seen.”
As the first hikers to climb all of the 46 High Peaks, the Marshalls had seen their share of beautiful and wild places, so I figured that Lost Pond—one of the highest waterbodies in the Adirondacks—had to be really special. Yet I was having doubts about George’s description of the journey there.
“The way to Lost Pond was superlatively beautiful as only the Adirondacks can be in June,” he said. “It ascended through a deep coniferous forest which was brightened by the light-green tips of the spruce and balsam, or by an occasional birch. At times it led between high rocks or across a little marsh. The ground was covered by a profusion of spring wildflowers and thick moss.”
I guess the Adirondacks are different in September. I ran into an endless tangle of young spruce, and I can tell you that whatever beauty these trees possess in the abstract is soon forgotten when you’re battling them for every inch of ground. In an hour and a half, I advanced less than a mile.
So I’m worried about the time. Not only will I have to battle the spruce on my way back, but once I reach the trail, I’ll still have more than five miles to go to reach my car. Nevertheless, I decide to push on. In a few minutes, I drop down into a narrow pass clogged with mossy rocks and fallen trees and ascend through it to a boggy meadow.
Lost Pond is close now. I can sense it. I wander around, going wherever the going is easy, and soon spy water through the trees. By George, I made it!
As Marshall noted, high hills form an attractive backdrop to the pond. As for the pond itself, it is absolutely, positively … ringed all around by four feet of mud, like a dirty bathtub. Dead branches lie on the shores, withered and gray. When I step on them to keep from sinking into the muck, they crunch underfoot like dried leaves. The only sign of life is a solitary dragonfly that periodically touches down on the stagnant water, creating tiny circles of ripples.
I make my way to a rock and sit down to eat a sandwich. It’s not exactly a mudhole, I muse, but I wouldn’t call it beautiful. Wild, yes, but not beautiful. Then, again, why should a pond have to live up to our standards of beauty? It is what it is.
After lunch, I do a little exploring and discover a beaver dam at the outlet. The beavers probably left years ago and let the dam deteriorate, lowering the water. That would explain the muck along the shores. I also find a meadow of tall green grass—a pretty place but not so pretty as to make me forget my disappointment with Lost Pond. Well, it’s getting late. I take some photographs and head out.
In no time I’m back at the boggy clearing at the top of the pass, but things look a little different, so I walk around to get my bearings. That’s when I find it.
And it is beautiful. A small cliff rises out of the water on the near western shore. Farther out is a rocky point. On the eastern shore, a fringe of grass separates the water from the evergreen forest. Lily pads adorn the still surface. Soon after I arrive, two ducks fly off quacking, obviously unused to intruders. Presiding over this wilderness idyll is Lost Pond Peak. At 3,900 feet, the mountain falls just short of High Peak status, but it doesn’t look so tall from here: The pond itself lies at 3,705 feet.
I wish I could linger, but now it’s truly late. I’ll be lucky to return to my car by nightfall. If you want to visit Lost Pond my advice is to get an early start.
And just how did I get there? Well, if you really want to go, you’ll figure out your own way. You might even discover an easier route. But if you do, don’t tell anyone.