I went this past weekend with a few friends to do a 3 night loop in the Pharaoh Lake region of the Adirondacks. We started driving out of NYC on Friday morning, and it rained most of the drive. When we got to the trailhead it was still a pretty steady drizzle, but not too cold, so still enjoyable to hike in and I didn’t need to put on my rain jacket.
It was my first time in the Adirondacks, so I wasn't completely sure what to expect, but it was much swampier/marshy. We hiked in the rain for a few miles towards Pharaoh Lake along an old logging or carriage road, working our way around large ponds that had formed from the rain. Then we crossed a large boardwalk across a beautiful section of swamp.
The hills around us were shrouded in fog, and a steady drizzle created some very nice patterns in the water around us as we walked across. We kept on going oblivious of some unusual activity around us. Pretty soon however spotted the first one.
As we kept on walking, we realized there were thousands of them along the trail. I looked up later and found out they are red spotted newts, and that only the juveniles can be found on land, while the adults are fully aquatic and duller olive color. We stopped one small section of mud and leaf litter to examine a particularly vibrant specimen and realized we could count more than 20 small newts just within a 5-foot radius.
Pretty soon we reached Pharaoh lake, and enjoyed some nice views of the lake as we hiked along to find our first campsite. No one was camped at any of the lean-tos we passed but we waved to a group that was camped across the lake. The rain finally cleared up for the evening and as we had dinner we watched a beautiful sunset by the lake.
The next day we took a somewhat lazy morning, enjoying the nice weather and lack of rain (although we wished it would come back later). We started hiking to head past several small ponds in the area before the real fun began. Black flies. I had read about them but hoped we would be a little bit early in the season; alas we were not. Soon we were driven to a quick pace to stay ahead of the flies, that would crawl in your nose and ears soon after you stopped. Eventually we stopped for lunch and actually set up the tent so we could have a reprieve without being bitten. After lunch we passed the first other hikers we saw, a pair of older women, possibly mother and daughter, who were working their way across a morass of mud and fallen trees. We didn’t stop too long to chat, since the flies hadn’t let up, and continued hiking. Just before arriving at Lilypad pond, our destination for the night, I kept on hearing a lot of noise of water rushing (much louder than the stream we had been following) and decided to investigate. Just a short bushwhack away was a beautiful waterfall, with multiple levels cascading down from pool to pool. We spent a short time there, but yet again were driven on by the black flies that always seemed to find us again.
After we made camp at the lean to at lilypad, some more rain finally arrived to drive away the rest of the flies and we ate dinner. It seems we were in good company at the lean-to, as a T. Roosevelt had visited the lean-to in 1937 and carved his name into the wood. Since he died in 1919, I assume it must have been his ghost.
The next day was cold and windy, but on the other hand, without flies. Our plan for the day was to hike past a few more ponds, and then hike up Pharaoh mountain, which overlooked the region, ending back at the shore of Pharaoh lake for the night. We ran into one more hiker on his way down Pharaoh Mountain, who had decided to turn back after slipping several times on the wet rocks and leaves. He didn’t seem to have anything with him, not even a bottle of water. We decided to continue on, and halfway up encountered the areas he had problems with. Much of it was inclined, smooth expanses of rock with runoff creating treacherous conditions. We made it up eventually, but it took longer than expected, and the weather was looking like more rain, so we didn’t spend much time at the peak.
After heading back down we eventually arrived back at Pharaoh Lake and made camp on a small peninsula piece of land sticking out a small distance into the lake. It was a cold night, and after enjoying dinner and a nice campfire we went to bed.
The next day was also cold and windy, and since we were trying to get back to the city early, we spent a short morning eating breakfast and packing up, setting a pretty good pace to head back to the trailhead. We spent a brief time at the end of the lake where we talked briefly with another hiker who had been out for one night, so that he could hike up Pharaoh Mountain and explore the lake, he told us a good turnoff on the way back to get one last view of the mountain which we did.
I also stopped one last time over the boardwalk we had first crossed to take in a little bit more of the trail before we left. At some point I definitely want to return to the Adirondacks, hopefully to the High Peaks region, but Pharaoh lake and the surrounding ponds were a beautiful area to hike in without the pressure or peak bagging.