November 2016 - HIKING & SNOWSHOEING
Slim and Bear Ponds
A Short, Adventurous Hike near Raquette Lake
By Bill Ingersoll
Despite its central location within the Adirondack Park, the Blue Ridge Wilderness is often overlooked by hikers and backpackers. Even the team of park planners who proposed the first wilderness areas in 1962 overlooked it at first; it was not added to the list until ten years later. But this low-key nature is perhaps one of the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area’s best assets, for solitude is usually a very good possibility.
The western half of the wilderness falls predominantly in Township 6 of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase. William West Durant acquired the township in 1888 and sold most of it to the state a few years later. It had never been logged. The tract contained many thousands of acres of broad valleys forested with dark, boreal stands of balsam fir and red spruce, with enormous white pines that were often double the size of their neighbors.
This remained one of the largest stands of virgin timber in the Adirondacks until 1950, when a November hurricane devastated the North Country, and leveled many of these noble stands. In a controversial decision, the state attorney general authorized the Conservation Department to conduct salvage operations on the Forest Preserve to remove the fallen timber, citing the fire hazard it posed to the remaining forests and surrounding communities. This action created a network of logging roads in an area that had once been roadless.
You can sample this curious history by following the route to secluded Slim Pond, which follows parts of those old logging roads. Slim is a small trout pond, and like many of the ponds in the Blue Ridge Wilderness it comes with a view of Blue Ridge. Bear Pond, which lies to the southeast, is just a short bushwhack away. Fishermen may be their primary clientele, but even so I rarely see other cars parked at this trailhead other than my own, when I’m looking for a quick but challenging escape into nature.
Late fall and winter have always been one of my favorite times to visit these two little woodland teardrops. My first (successful) winter camping trip occurred here, as well as another memorable overnight when it seemed as though I was sharing the woods only with a pack of gleeful, howling coyotes. Most recently I had the opportunity to paddle Bear in the unusually mild month of December 2015 as far as I can remember, the latest I’ve ever been in an Adirondack canoe.
The trailhead is a small parking turnout on NY Route 28 that is 8.3 miles west of Blue Mountain Lake, or just one-mile east of the Golden Beach Campground entrance. The turnout is plowed in winter, and the route is well-suited for snowshoeing. Look for the start of the path near the southwest end of the parking area; there are no signs or markers.
I should stress that this is an old and established trail, but not one that is easy to follow. There has been a proposal on the books for several years to mark this as an official DEC hiking trail, but so far this plan has not been realized. The route follows a medley of narrow singletrack and wide old roads, with one section in the middle that has been overgrown with hobblebush as long as I’ve been hiking here. Portions of the trail, especially the road sections, can be very muddy. This is why I call this hike an “adventure,” because you always need to be alert to where you are walking. This is not a place to turn your brain off and passively enjoy the scenery.
If you are not able to identify the start of the path from the highway parking area, then you are not likely to enjoy the rest of the trail. The route is narrow at first until it intercepts the first of the old roads. It curves southeast and east through the flats surrounding Death Brook. At 0.6-mile, just 15 minutes from the start, the path bears right to cross the brook on a small bridge.
You are now in a deeply shaded conifer forest, one of many that enrich the Blue Ridge Wilderness, but as the path swings to the south you quickly leave the conifer forest behind. The old road has many wet sections here, where water simply cannot drain away from the tread; you will find that you need to make several detours along the higher ground beside the trail. It is almost a relief when the road ends and the path continues on its southerly course as a narrow, dry trail.
A long but gentle ascent begins as the faint path climbs generally southeast to a height-of-land, and then turns to end at the northwest corner of Slim Pond at 2.1 miles. If all goes well you’ll be here in an hour, but more likely your pace will be slowed by the need to carefully pick out the route of the trail. There is a continuous tread, but this can be easily obfuscated by new growth and fallen trees. If you have been following your progress on a map, projecting the course of the trail is not hard. Think of this as a linear puzzle to be solved by the application of some backwoods logic.
You will often find a rowboat stored near the end of the trail, and depending on the season of your visit this may be the preferred mode for getting around. Otherwise you can bushwhack around Slim Pond; just keep to the open woods north of the small pond, and avoid the conifers near the shoreline.
There is a good campsite hidden near the southeast corner of Slim, and from there you may find a second footpath leading southeast and downhill to Bear Pond, which seems to sit in an isolated amphitheater where a number of tall white pines still survive.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more information on this region, consult Discover the West Central Adirondacks.