A few years ago, I went on a Columbus Day Weekend (October) backpacking trip with my friend Christine Benton to the Pharoh Lake Wilderness in the Adirondack region of New York State. Christine is a trip leader for the New York – New Jersey Chapter of the AMC, one of the few remaining chapters that has backpacking trips scheduled for almost every weekend. They seem to have fallen out of favor with some chapters, which mostly do day hiking instead.
Christine’s an interesting person, a British expat, and one of those resourceful people who manages to find their way to the mountains each weekend, even though she lives in New York City and doesn’t own a car.
When I signed up for her trip, I knew that Pharoh Lake was Christine’s favorite place to backpack in the autumn when the trees change and the colors come out. I’d never been to the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, but since it was a 3 day holiday weekend, I was up for the 5 hour drive from Boston.
The Adirondack Park is the largest state-protected park in the lower 48. It is huge, containing 6.1 million acres of forest, ponds, lands, and mountains, including the Adirondack High Peaks, a range of 46 mountains all above 4,000 ft in height. By comparison, the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire is only 770,000 acres in size.
Our group met at the Putnam Pond Campground, west of Ticonderoga, home of the famous Revolutionary War military fortress. I arrived the night before and hung my hammock in the woods, even though the campground itself was closed for the season. I remember cooking dinner with my alcohol stove by the side of the lake, watching the mist roll over the water, and enjoying the solitude of the place.
We all met the next morning and started our hike south and east around Putnam Pond to Pharoh Lake, about a 8 mile hike. Once there, we started to look for a place to camp but all of the designated campsites were taken and we were forced to scatter and stealth camp in the woods. That was fine with me, but I know it upset Christine and we locked horns over it – the one time we’ve had a head-to-head clash on a trip. I was happy to walk right into the woods and hang a hammock, but she wanted to find a spot where we could pitch our shelters together. I think we were both a little shocked at how stubborn we both were. It probably didn’t help that it was pouring rain at the time.
The next morning, we got an early start and climbed up Pharoh Mountain, the highest peak in the area, for a look at the foliage, which was picture perfect. I am still always amazed by the beauty of fall colors in the mountains.
From Pharoh Mountain we hiked down to a lovely adirondack-style shelter on one of the many lakes in the area. Christine put on a brew and I set up my hammock right next to the lake shoreline. After the crowds of the previous day, we were all relieved to be alone at a beautiful camp site, surrounded by towering red spruce trees.
The following morning, we walked to Rock Pond, a very picturesque lake, and had a long rest by the shore, while I experimented with photographic composition. This is one of my favorite all time backpacking trip pictures.
From there we hiked a few more miles through woods, rain, and wet leaves back to our cars, I think. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember if we ran a shuttle on that trip or did a loop.
Anyway, if you’ve never been to the Adirondacks, it is a big place worth exploring. The local hiking club in the region is called the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). They are a big club and have provide lots of trips and outdoor instruction.
Pharoh Lake is located in the southeast part of the Adirondack Park and if you are interested in exploring the region, I suggest you get the National Geographic Tyvek Map (#743) of the Lake George, Great Sacandaga Lake region.