South of the well-trod Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain trails and west of the Northway, Trout Pond Road wanders in relative obscurity from Green Street in the Town of Jay up and over a watershed divide and then accompanies the beautiful north branch of the Boquet River as it gathers steam on its journey to Lake Champlain.
But the handwriting for this classically charming dirt road has been on the wall for some time now, as more sections of the route have been paved with each passing season.
This year the job was completed and the dirt road is no more. While mourning the loss of rural charm, this project does make it easier to access beautiful wild lands of the Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve protected by the Northeast Wilderness Trust, including an excellent trail to and around scenic Clear Pond.
But there’s one problem.
Just as the local road crews were beefing up their local infrastructure, the beavers said ‘hold my beer.”
Half a mile in, the trail to Clear Pond has been swamped in water up to three feet deep. This is nothing you can just splash through, and while the Trust notes that the trail is still passable — and marked the route through the water with posts — the net effect, judging by the trail log, has been to reduce visitation to a trickle.
Signage at the beaver pond states, Trust policy is to let nature take its course. Hence there’s been no effort to drain the swamp, as the politicians say. Even if there were, beavers are notoriously hard animals to discourage. We humans have other things to do — grocery shop, get the kids to school, attend management meetings — a beaver’s only job is to be a beaver.
Still, this is too great a trail to let go unused, so on a recent Friday we set out to determine whether it was possible to bushwhack around the impoundment, and maybe visit another of the property’s bushwhackable treats.
Although this was in the height of leaf season, the colors weren’t as spectacular as usual.
If I’ve heard the prognosticators correctly, leaves are best after a summer averaging 2.3 inches of rainfall a month when nighttime temperatures are 28-31 degrees and the angle of the sun hits 42 degrees South to Southwest and there has been minimal insect invasions and the relative humidity when the leaves are forming has been 68 percent which brings mean chlorophyll levels to optimal demarcations for chemical processes that will transform greens to stunning oranges and reds.
At least those are the best conditions in an El Nino year. In a La Nina year, everything is reversed, and your best hope of colorful leaves is for someone to sacrifice a chicken at dawn on the summit of Gothics.
Whatever, even when leaves are having a down year they’re still pretty good, and there was some decent color as we walked along the old camp road for half a mile to the beaver pond. Although the submerged route is plainly marked, nothing short of hip boots are liable to ensure dry feet.
Probably the best move is to consider this as a winter hike and wait a couple of months until the route is frozen.
But meanwhile, if you’re comfortable going off-trail, the workaround is pretty simple. Just before the pond, a herd path breaks off to the right. Take care to avoid an environmentally delicate area, that’s set off with signage.
A small stream flows into the beaver pond, but there’s a spot where it’s easily hopped (the herd path at this point peters out), and from here it’s only a matter of following the shoreline through a relatively open forest to the point you rejoin the trail. Stay a bit high on the bank, as the beavers have not been good about keeping the water’s edge clear of downed trees.
From there you’re back on course to visit Clear Pond on the trail that, despite minimal use, seems to be holding up well. The detour adds a quarter mile and about 10 minutes to the hike, making the journey to and around Clear Pond close to five miles in length round trip.
We followed it for a while before deciding to visit the preserve’s namesake mountain, which is closed during the summer to protect falcons that nest on the cliffs.
An old road runs in the direction of the summit; It’s not your typical woods road, having been well-engineered long ago with walled drainage and spots that appear to have at one time been paved. With elevation, the road becomes more grown in, and after a half mile it levels off in a thicket of white pine and sumac. Here, though you can’t see it, Eagle Mountain is just above you on the right, three tenths of a mile distant. Simply turn ninety degrees to the right, plunge into the forest and scramble to the top.The only risks are: One – turning too soon, and two – turning too late.
In truth, you’ll find it if you keep going up, but there’s a definite sweet spot in the ascent that will cause you less grief if you can hit it just right.
At the top you’ll be standing at the precipice of some dizzying cliffs plunging to the narrow valley below. The signature view is of the marshland that’s something of a staging area for the waters of the Boquet. These meandering aquatic veins eventually coalesce into a definable watercourse that shines silver in the low sunlight before disappearing to the east.
(Editor’s note: Route details in the article were updated to dissuade use of some environmentally sensitive areas.)