“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”
And so it begins…. Pillsbury Mt. trailhead.
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When I hiked the West Canada Lakes loop last year in New York states Adirondacks I instantly knew this was a place of solitude and immense beauty. I also knew I had to share this special place with my closest hiking companions. I put the offer out and Paul Cummings, his son Brian, and Josh Gordon were able to make it. Brian also brought along friends Micah, Antonio, and Ian, all first timers. We met around 5 am, and after many miles we finally hit the logging road into the wilderness. About 6 miles in (and after dodging a logging truck) we finally made the trailhead at Pillsbury Mountain. We were hiking by about noon (maybe later – just a little fuzzy in my memory bank), and as the trail started it’s steady uphill climb the boys were off like a shot! Paul and I took our time, letting the boys get a slight lead, although I’m sure I couldn’t have kept up even if I wanted. Ha, ha, let ’em run – I want them tired at camp. At about 1.7 miles the trail crests the hill, and the boys were taking a break waiting for the geezers to catch up.
First rest break, French Louie Trail junction
With the hard part of day one over, it was time to enjoy a nice stroll in the woods. The trail heads generally down-hill, with the occasional wet area. Between the junction of the French Louie Trail and Cedar Lake there is a washed out bridge, a rickety bridge, and a washed out dam at the junction of the Northville-Placid Trail.
Rickety trail crossing
Trail maintenance is a little light in this section, but that didn’t seem to matter because all too soon Cedar Lake appeared before us, showing just a sample of the beauty to come. As we approached lean-to #1 a small group of college students on the last day of their wilderness adventure appeared. It was just a little too crowded for our liking, so as the rain started to come down we made a beeline for lean-to #2, just 10 minutes further down the trail (and the better location in my opinion). Not long after we settled in the rain decided to get serious.
I will say, I love sleeping in the rain. At home I’ll crack the windows so I can hear the rain on the gutters, and in the woods the sound on my tarp is like a lullaby that soothes me to sleep. What a perfect ending to a perfect day. I’m back home in the wilderness.
Early to bed and early to rise – blah blah blah. Anyone who’s ever known the comfort of being cocooned in a hammock on a cool morning knows that morning always comes way too early. Oh well, guess I’ll greet the morning, knowing that it’s Friday and I could be working instead – not!
Good morning Cedar Lake!
Mountain House scrambled eggs with ham on a tortilla, along with a hot cuppa tea sweetened with honey got the old motor firing on all cylinders. After everyone ate and packed up Paul shared from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Nice to always remember Jesus (the Word) has always been there in God’s plan for our salvation.
Once again the morning started with an uphill climb to get the blood flowing. This section of the trail was the nicest from a ease of hiking perspective. We spent most of the day with soft trail underfoot and only the occasional blow-down.
The plan each day was to leave camp around 9 am, and get to our next destination around 2 pm. In between the boys generally hiked ahead, waiting for the rest of the group at predetermined spots on the trail. I’ll usually give them something a mile or two down the trail to shoot for, and they get to that point about ten minutes or so ahead of the rest of us. At one point we gathered at a stream crossing and it was great fun to watch the guys laughing and having a good time.
Soon enough we hit the famous South Lake Bridge, immortalized by many a camera toting hiker. Last year I spotted a family of otters here, but this year we had to be satisfied with the calling of the loons. No matter, the views of South Lake from the bridge are nothing less than God-breathed and food for the weary soul.
Approaching the South Lake bridge
A few minutes after the bridge and we were at the South Lake lean-to. I think next to Cedar Lake number 2, this is my favorite on this loop. The view is awesome, and if you like to fish or swim you can access the lake directly in front of the lean-to.
Wading and fishing at South Lake
Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings
While some of us were checking out the lake Ian decided a fire was in order.
What’s really cool about getting to camp early is being able to stay as busy as you choose. My choice was to lounge, others fished, while others just stayed busy doing a whole lot of nothing.
Sunset fishing at South Lake
Still, when dark finally arrived, we were tired (ok, at least I was). Other than being awakened by the sound of a pack of coyotes howling in the middle of the night I slept well.
Morning, oh glorious morning! Same routine, different day. And what a great routine – wake up, eat, pack up, spent time in devotions and hike. What could be simpler, what could be better? Can I get paid to do this, because if that job opens up I’m there!
Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings
Paul once again shared from the Book of John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is only through the grace and truth (and mercy) of Jesus that we can truly be called children of God. He is the way, the truth and the light!
Reluctantly we left South Lake, but if I have my way I will be back someday. After a short hike we passed West Canada Creek lean-to and regrouped at the rebuilt West Canada Creek bridge. Here we left the Northville Placid Trail and started up the French Louie Trail.
Bridge across West Canada Creek
Looking north at West Canada Creek
French Louie was a trapper from the late 1800’s whose trap line ran roughly in the area we were hiking. Our destination this day was Pillsbury Lake, and that is where French Louie spent his last night in the forest. In February of 1915 Louie hiked into the town of Speculator and rented a room, which he paid for with a trout. He fell ill on the evening of February 27, 1915 and by the next morning had passed away at the age of 85. Fortunately there would be no illness among our group of hearty travelers.
The trail at this point follows a generally uphill course, and as I mentioned last year becomes a bit less maintained. There were many more large blow-downs in this section that made for a little slower going. Paul and I finally caught the boys at the turnoff for the Sampson Lake lean-to, which brings me to something I noticed from day one – there is signage for all the lean-tos! Last year I mentioned that most of the lean-tos had no sign showing where they were located, but this year every single one was marked. Sampson Lake previously had a shovel blade nailed to a tree, but no more! Now if they just get the junction signs at West Lake and West Canada replaced – just sayin’!
Junction with the side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2012
Junction with side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2013
After a short break we were off again. I told the boys to wait up when the trail turned into a woods road. What the boys didn’t know, and what I failed to explain was that an old woods road doesn’t always look like a road. Sometimes the only indication you get that the trail was a road is that the trees on either side of the trail spread out a little. Anyway, we didn’t catch the boys again until the turn off to the Pillsbury lean-to. Fortunately they caught sight of the lean-to sign when they decided to wait for me and Paul.
Old woods road
Once again we would spent a wonderful night camped out at a beautiful Adirondack lake. I pitched my hammock sans tarp, Paul used his Titanium Goat bivy for the first time, and Micah decided to cowboy camp. There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars on a cool evening.
Micah cowboy camping like a boss
Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings
You can tell when summer is drawing to a close, because you wake in the morning and a mist shrouds the lake as the warmer water does battle against the cool night air. Then as the morning progresses it’s a God inspired play of nature, with the fog retreating, exposing creation in all of it’s glory. I’ll take a ticket to that show any time!
Morning mist on Pillsbury Lake
After eating a warming breakfast of ramen noodles and canned chicken (couldn’t get pouches), and packing for the last time, we once again settled our minds and hearts as Paul read from John, “He said, ” I am The voice of one crying in the wilderness; Make straight the way of the Lord.”. That cry is as important today as it was for the Israelites in John’s day. While we wander a crooked path through the (West Canada Lakes) wilderness, it’s important that in our day to day lives we walk a path of “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”.
Parting shot – Pillsbury Lake lean-to
Our walk out could be summed up in two words: short and fast. We only had 3.5 miles to the trailhead, and most of that was either level or down-hill. We hit the trailhead and our vehicles somewhere around 11:00am. I had a low front tire on my truck, and a couple in the parking lot offered me their air pump. Turns out Elijah read WWTS in preparation for his trip into the West Canada Lakes.Thanks for the help brother!
I was really glad I had the opportunity to share this special area with the guys, and would absolutely return again. We hiked for 4 days, covering 22 miles and only saw the college students on day one, and one other camper on the last night. We passed absolutely no one out on the trail, and had the lean-tos to ourselves each night. If your looking to get away and find solitude and great scenery, this might be your trip.
As an added bonus, Brian Cummings put together an awesome video compilation of the trip. Enjoy!