May 2019 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
Cat Mountain Pond
At the Heart of Wildness
By Bill Ingersoll
Cat Mountain Pond is located in the northern Five Ponds Wilderness, and several hours by foot from the hamlet of Wanakena. Although it’s not a place you hear many people talking about, it has always been a place I think deserves more credit. It is a placid sheet of water reflecting the rugged ledges of Cat Mountain above it, with a good campsite on one end and solitude all around.
I was reminded how much I enjoy this area when I revisited it last summer. To me, Cat Mountain Pond isn’t so much a destination as a junction, located near the diverging trails to Cowhorn Pond, Clear Pond, Cat Mountain and Bassout Pond. I have camped on its shores a few times over the years, or made a point to stop and savor its charms before proceeding to some other destination.
The trailhead is located in Wanakena, near Cranberry Lake. To find it, follow County Road 61 south from NY Route 3, bearing right at two intersections onto South Shore Road. At 1.2 miles, you cross the bridge over the Oswegatchie River, and at 1.7 miles you reach the trailhead for the eastern end of the High Falls Loop. There is a formal parking area here, which can hold about ten cars.
The route to Cat Mountain and its lake-studded neighborhood begins on the eastern half of the High Falls Loop, which leads southeast across nearly level terrain toward Dead Creek Flow. This section follows the bed of an old logging railroad, and often the only obstacles are the beaver ponds that have been known to flood the trail at various points. Generally, though, this part of the trail is in good shape, and you can breeze along it. The old railroad bed, which has grown in significantly in some places, passes through open wetlands and woods that were impacted by the 1995 windstorm.
It takes little more than 45 minutes to reach Dead Creek Flow, one of the arms of Cranberry Lake. The trail first passes near a small bay, and then at 1.9 miles reaches a large campsite. The railroad grade ends here, although the foot trail swings right, and continues around the southern tip of the flow. At 2.8 miles, you reach a junction with the side trail to Janacks Landing, the home of a lean-to.
The High Falls Loop turns south here, passing first an open wetland, and then a small stream. The route climbs a gradual slope to another intersection at 3.6 miles, this one called Sand Hill Junction. The High Falls Loop continues to the right, but the trail to Cat Mountain Pond bears left, continuing on a gentle climb.
The trail passes a tiny gorge on Glasby Creek, cuts through a meadow, and emerges at the outlet of Glasby Pond at 3.9 miles. If you don’t mind camping directly on a popular hiking trail, there is a decent – and designated – campsite just beyond. Glasby has a round shape, and while it is pretty to behold it is not particularly photogenic. The back side of Cat Mountain rises above it.
The continuing trail can be a bit rugged as it circles the pond and then climbs to another junction at 4.3 miles. To the left is the trail that climbs to the summit of Cat Mountain, and right leads to the pond. The latter route climbs a few minutes more before finally descending into the basin of Cat Mountain Pond. After one near miss of the shoreline, where the trail comes close to the water before slipping inland again, you reach yellow markers at 5.3 miles indicating the path to the left – leading to the pond’s designated campsite.
This is an attractive tent site, located not far from the water. The only thing lacking is a rock ledge on the shore that would allow you to sit by the water and contemplate the view across the pond to the mountain’s rock ledges. Instead, the shoreline is weedy and the water is mucky. The views are fine, though, and you may be tempted to pass your time here watching the loons.
Cat Mountain Pond is just one destination in this neck of the woods. Here are some side trails you may want to explore:
Cat Mountain – The trail to the summit of this small mountain is 0.7-mile long and climbs 400 feet from the junction east of Glasby Pond. Nothing about this climb is difficult, and because this is the only mountain of note in the area, it tends to be a popular destination. The wide-open ledges permit a vista that incorporates many miles of undulating topography and unbroken forest.
Bassout Pond – This small gem of a lake is for the experts, mostly because the trail is not marked and is easily missed. It begins 0.2-mile beyond the Cat Mountain Pond campsite spur, leading southwest. If you reach the outlet creek, then you’ve gone too far. The faint path leads first to a spot where people have camped in the past, and then onward to the pond’s rocky shoreline.
Cowhorn Pond – The lean-to at Cowhorn Pond – so named because of its shape – is 1.1 miles past Cat Mountain Pond. Signs and trail markers lead the way across Sixmile Creek, and then up the steep side of an esker to yet another trail junction. Bear left, and then follow the signs for the lean-to.
Clear Pond – For seekers of solitude, this comes highly recommended. There is a tiny campsite on the northwest side of the pond that is perfect for one or two people. However, the trail that leads to Clear does a poor job of getting you to the water. You are better off bushwhacking the last portion.
The unmarked trail begins at the foot of the Cowhorn Pond esker, heading south. For years this footpath was languishing in obscurity, but not too long ago someone performed some maintenance on it and brought it back to life. As of August 2018, though, it was getting rough again. The old trail follows the esker more or less, but where it drops down to the right (western) side that may be your sign to forego the trail, and descend the other side of the esker. Look for a small valley dropping away to the south; this will lead you right to Clear Pond. Once there you shouldn’t have too far to go to find the tiny campsite.
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 Northwestern Adirondacks