July 2017 - HIKING, PADDLING & BACKPACKING
By Bill Ingersoll
Years ago, the branching trail network to Ross, Whortleberry, and Big Bad Luck ponds near Indian Lake was one of my first hiking and writing assignments for Barbara McMartin. At that time, this was a newly designated trail, as yet unknown to most people. The camping and fishing possibilities at each of the ponds made this an attractive place to visit, in addition to the scenic qualities of the area. Judging by the traffic at the trailhead parking area, the trio of backcountry ponds enjoyed a modest following over the following years.
Then in 2014 the state cut a new trail to OK Slip Falls, connecting this same trailhead to one of the recently acquired Finch Pruyn parcels. The waterfall – described in the May 2015 edition of Adirondack Sports – has proven to be so popular that the trailhead itself has been rebranded as the OK Slip Falls Trailhead. The ponds, it seems, have been forgotten.
Recently, I had an opportunity to revisit Whortleberry Pond, the remotest of the three. I carried my pack canoe and spent the weekend paddling and camping. Whortleberry is not a very big pond, and the surrounding topography does little to block traffic sounds from NY Route 28, despite the distance. But the little campsite perched on the rock ledge at the east end of the pond is one of the prettiest I have seen, and this is certainly a place worth revisiting.
The trailhead parking area can be found on Route 28, 7.8 miles east of the intersection with NY Route 30 in Indian Lake, at a fork with an unnamed side road. You will need to walk westward along the shoulder of the highway for 0.2-mile to find the sign for the start of the trail.
The trail to Ross, Whortleberry, and Big Bad Luck ponds shares a common trailhead with the route to OK Slip Falls. Begin by following that trail down from the highway and through a short muddy area, intercepting an old road within minutes. Bear right and follow the marked foot trail for 0.7-mile, over a small hill to a junction where the new blue-marked trail to OK Slip bears right.
The trail up to this point has become a well-worn route ever since the OK Slip purchase. The old trail to the left seems like a faint wilderness track by comparison, although it is marked and relatively easy to follow. It follows the trace of an old roadbed north and downhill into the valley of Bell Mountain Brook. This stream, which you reach at 1.1 miles, does not have a legitimate bridge but is easy enough to cross. On my spring visit, I kept my boots dry by stepping on an assortment of small logs placed in a bridge-like position.
The trail then embarks on its longest climb, rising 220 feet in 0.4-mile to a rugged little notch with rock outcrops. A prolonged descent follows, with the trail passing close to beaver meadows that appear forlorn and muddy with their dams in disrepair. The trail circles through a muddy area with a few stepping stones erratically placed, and at 2.2 miles you reach the junction with the side trail to Ross Pond.
Continuing northwest, you dip through a glen and reach the side trail to Big Bad Luck Pond at 2.6 miles. Still following the main trail to Whortleberry, watch for a right turn 0.1-mile later; the trail is arcing northeast through a coniferous forest, but an unmarked trail continues straight, enticing you to stray in the wrong direction. Trail markers are notably scarce.
The rest of the hike passes through a thick forest of spruce, balsam and pine, with the marked trail ending at 2.9 miles at a campsite in a rocky clearing. You are very close to Whortleberry Pond at this point, although you can barely see it from here.
There are two ways to proceed. The shortest route to the shoreline is an unmarked path that leads northwest and downhill for about 250 feet to the pond’s southern shore. This area is wooded and boggy, and the view of the pond will entice you to seek out something better. If you carried a pack canoe like I did, this is a good place to launch.
The better option used to be to follow another unmarked trail leading northeast from the campsite for 0.2-mile. I speak in the past tense because beaver flooding has effectively cut off easy foot access to the scenic campsite where I stayed. The path led toward the outlet of the pond, crossed it, and then hooked west to reach the campsite. Northern Frontier, the nearby youth camp on OK Slip Pond, keeps a small fleet of boats stashed on the south bank of the outlet, presumably to make this crossing easier.
The site is shaded with hemlocks and features two scenic ledges. One is located high off the water, and the other dips down to its edge. A herd path leads into the pine-filled woods along the northern shore. Whortleberry is not a large pond, and you can see just about all of it from the campsite. Nor is it quite as remote as it might seem; loud trucks on the highway, and activity at Northern Frontier, can occasionally be heard.
With a canoe, you can more easily explore the rock formations on the south shore, as well as an inlet to the east. There are also several additional ponds to explore, well beyond the end of the marked trail, including a few that were opened to the public as part of the Finch Pruyn acquisition. The promise of additional explorations will be enough to entice me back someday, I’m sure.
If you’ve been reading my books and following my articles in Adirondack Sports, you’ve no doubt seen the pictures of Lexie posted all over them. I adopted this pit bull mix in 2003, and she joined me on adventures of all kinds ever since. On June 19, Lexie passed away peacefully at the age of 16. She is already missed.
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 Central Adirondacks.