Buggin’ Out At Sand Lake Falls (or How I went hiking and left my brain home)

Exodus 8:20-23

“20 And the Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 21 Or else, if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22 And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that Iam the Lord in the midst of the land. 23 I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be.”

Woodgate Trailhead


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We all have one – that one backpacking trip you’ve been dreaming of for a very long time. That trip you’d give anything to go on. I have wanted to hike to Sand Lake Falls in the west central Adirondacks ever since I bought An Adirondack Sampler II by Bruce Wadsworth back in the early 90’s. Out of all the trips in that tomb of Adirondack gold, Sand Lake Falls stood out to me like a beacon on a clear dark night. Well, after 20+ years of thinking about it I finally decided to make my dream hike happen. Only one hitch. No big deal really, I just had to leave my brain home. Now I hear you saying “how do you leave your brain home?”. Ask your wife or significant other and I’m pretty sure they can name at least one time when you went brainless, so I’m sure it’s possible. Actually, it’s more like you overlook or disbelieve every logical piece of info you receive, or otherwise craft it to fit whatever truth you hope for.

On this particular outing I started by breaking my number one rule of backpacking – no trips in July. I will hike any of the other eleven months, but July is a no-no due to heat and bugs. I then justified it by telling myself that the Adirondacks were going to be much less humid than the lousy weather we were experiencing in southern New Jersey. I then backed it up by consulting the ultimate story tellers – weather.gov. Come on, weather men who work for the government? Really??? Then, just to make sure my brain was thoroughly in neutral, I left without a bug net. What could go wrong?

Trailhead sign


By the time I made the drive up it was about 11:30, and after changing and chatting with a fellow hiker in the parking lot who was heading to Chubb Pond, I was off around noon. The hike starts off on a nice jeep road that eventually becomes a rutted ATV trail. Can’t really complain here because the road is used by some of the hunting camps in the area, and a portion of the trail is routed away from the road for  a little bit.

Jeep road

I don’t remember much about this section of the trail because reality came running up behind me and smacked me in the back of the head. The mosquitoes and gnats were intense beyond annoying. I tried to out hike them :), and by the time I got to the Village of Millbrook (population zero in case you were wondering) it was time for a fix. Banadana on- check. Roll down sleeves – check. It’s 85 stinkin’ degrees- check. Where’s my brain – at home – check. That’s better, I’ll just melt my way to Sand Lake Falls.

Bug free

Do I look brainless to you?


After a quick lunch I headed out with my new adjustments doing a dandy job. The next section of trail between the Village of Millbrook and my destination wasn’t without it’s challenges, but it still seemed to go by rather quickly. The first hundred yards or so are kinda vague and boggy.


Thata way!


Then the next couple of miles alternates between nice trail and nasty bogs, with deep sucking mud.

Boggy trail


The final mile or so to the falls was my favorite, since it was nice dry trail. Once I realized I was on the final downhill I listened, and there it was. The unmistakable roar of the falls. There is no better energy booster than knowing you’re almost there!

Sand Lake Falls lean-to

Sand Lake Falls lean-to

I have to say, for all my whining up to this point, wow! A picture perfect campsite if I ever saw one. Kudos to Lean2Rescue for such a beautiful job restoring the shelter. And not but 100 feet in front of the lean-to was the prize – Sand Lake Falls. The falls were more beautiful than I imagined! Their roar would later lull me to sleep – one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a long time. It’s a blessing and a pity that this site sees so little use. Here it was, July 13th and the last journal entry was from May 29th, and they were passing through.

Sand Lake Falls

Sand Lake Falls

After taking in the surroundings I decided to check out the lean-to and to my surprise and concern, muddy bear tracks! In one side, mulling around, and right out the other.

Muddy bear prints!

Muddy bear prints!

All I could do was hope he was a passerby, and not a regular. I started dinner on the picnic table outside the lean-to. While I was waiting for water to boil I set about hanging my hammock in a nice stand of trees up the hill a little ways from the lean-to, and searched out a good spot to hang my food. Since I knew for certain bruins were close by I was going to be extra diligent about my camp triangle.

At least I brought a bugnet for the hammock!

At least I brought a bugnet for the hammock!

I enjoyed a dinner that consisted of tortillas stuffed with Mountain House Chicken Fajita Filling, which I have to admit was very tasty. It had plenty of roasted vegetables and chicken, without a lot of filler. I’d definitely do that one again.

After finishing up my camp chores there was nothing left to do but sit around and feed the bugs. I decided instead to hang out in my hammock, listen to my ipod, and read. It was about 7 pm, and the big problem was it was still about 80 degrees. I spent the next hour sweating until it occurred to me to slide my underquilt out from under the hammock. That did the trick. I dozed off sometime around 9 and woke up at one point just to pull my sleeping bag over me, at which point I slept like a baby, lulled by the sound of the falls.

I was up early, and walking by 7:30 am, hoping to beat the heat and the bugs. With a great nights sleep I had a much better attitude and appreciation for my walk out. That is until I stepped up to my knee in a sucking mudhole. I couldn’t get me shoe out with my foot, so I had to bury my arm up to the elbow to get it out.

They pay big money for this a those fancy spas....

They pay big money for this at those fancy spas….

Oh well, my sock needed to be fixed anyway, so now I didn’t have an excuse not to. Shake it off, move along, 10 minutes later squish – I slipped off a log and buried the other leg up to the knee. Right about then I was thinking’ “Give me a break!” and as I pulled my leg out the shoe came with it. That was my break I guess. I looked down and I had to laugh because now I was “even”.

Once again I took a break at the hunter’s camp at the Village of Millbrook. This time there was the remnants of a fire from the night before, an ATV, and empty beer cans. I called out to let someone know I was here. No one answered so I figured they were sleeping it off. I wolfed down a quick meal and was on my way before I became a nuisance to a groggy camp owner.

The final miles flew by and I was back to my truck by 10:30 am, completely soaked by the humidity. I was never so happy to get into clean dry clothes.

When I finished the trip I swore I’d never go back again. Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect, I think I’d go again in the right season. Maybe next time I’ll even bring my brain.


For your viewing pleasure a short and poorly edited video of Sand Lake Falls



Walking In The Wilderness

Exodus 9:35

“So the heart of Pharoah was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken by Moses.”

Well, the heart of Pharoah might have been hard toward the Israelites, but Pharoah Lake Wilderness in the Eastern Adirondacks was especially kind to those of us who ventured out this past May 4-7. I had the great priviledge of spending 4 days there with my brothers in Christ – Paul (with sons Sean, Matt, Bryan and Josh), Matt (with sons Sam and Barry), and Dave (with son Noah),as well as Josh Gordan.

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Group shot at Putnam Pond

Day 1

Sometimes the hardest part of hiking is the actual drive to the trailhead. Once we left New Jersey and it’s thunder showers behind, the miles seemed to fly by. After we reached our exit on the Northway we split into two groups. Paul took one car to the Putnam Pond trailhead, while Dave followed me to the Crane Pond trailhead. Dave would be leaving us a day early due to some personal obligations, so we spotted him for an early exit.

Once we rejoined our group at Putnam Pond two things were evident – spirits were high, and the black flies were abundant. Thankfully, as long as we were moving the flies were mostly a very minor annoyance. 

And so it begins

I have never hiked the Pharoah Lake Wilderness, so I was very surprised at how dry the trails were. I expected a lot of wet hiking since the area has a large number of lakes. Instead we were greeted with beautiful trail, and a rather pleasant day for a walk in the woods.

Well maintained trail

The best part was that there was water everywhere, so I only had to carry 1 liter at a time, instead of my usual 2 liters.

Noah makes a friend

Outlet of Grizzly Ocean

Even though the mileage was modest, day one was tough due to work and the long drive. Everyone was glad to finally see Pharoah Lake lean-to #3, but then who wouldn’t be with such a gorgeous view. There before us was Pharoah Lake spread out just 50 feet in front of the lean-to, with Pharoah Mountain setting the backdrop for an impressive finish to day one. This truly is God’s country!

Life is good!

A few of the younger guys decided to fish, and they caught a couple of good lake trout. Noah decided a swim was in order. There’s certainly something to be said for youth. The rest of us set about cooking and setting up camp.

Try as I may, I had to give up the fight and I hit the sack with the last of the sunlight slowly fading. At some point during the night it rained hard, but that was the only rain we would see the entire trip.

View from my hammock

Day 2

I have to admit, it was really nice to sleep in, and I finally got up around 8am. I think I can get used to this hammock hanging thing. By the time I got moving everyone was up and about, and the coffee drinkers were getting their first cuppa down. Normally I don’t actually cook breakfast, but when I planned my meals for this trip blueberry pancakes sounded good. The only problem is they don’t cook well on a Vargo Jet Ti stove. The heat pattern concentrated the heat in the middle, so the center was over cooked while the edges  were just getting done. Plan B was to eat my day 4 breakfast and figure the rest out later. In the end it all worked out.

After we packed up Paul led us in the word with a study from 1 Kings 2:

“Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: I go the way of the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgements, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” 

 What better message could a father pass along to his son? And what could be better than to spend time in the word in such a beautiful place? This is something we would repeat each morning, and I personally believe every morning should start this way.

As we readied ourselves for the day ahead a decision needed to be made – do we follow our original itinerary and cross Pharoah Mountain, or do we take a shorter and easier route up through Glidden Marsh? Looking across the lake Pharoah’s summit was socked in a cloud, so we decided not to waste our energy making the climb up a viewless Pharoah. Given that we (meaning the older members) were still a little tired from day 1, the route through Glidden Marsh turned out to be the right decision.

We hiked to Split Rock Bay, at the top of the lake, and grabbed a quick meal. Soon after a steep climb took us to the height of the land were we would pass a number of beaver ponds.

Beaver hut


Glidden Marsh

Matt took the group on ahead as Paul, Sean, Matt, Dave and I ambled along at a leisurely pace. Soon enough we turned away from Glidden Marsh and made the short climb to Oxshue Pond, where once again the setting could be nothing less than God inspired.

Oxshue Pond and lean-to

One of the advantages of sleeping in is that even though our mileage was reasonably low each day, we still wouldn’t get to camp too early. Each day we strolled in around mid afternoon, leaving the boys enough time to enjoy fishing and exploring, while everyone else set up camp and started dinner. After dinner, firewood was gathered, and everyone started to wind down. This backpacking thing is a simple existance if you allow it to be. No cell reception, no noise pollution, no worries. A lake, a tarp, a warm sleeping bag,  the sound of the coyotes and the loons, and of course (at least at Oxshue Pond) the serinade of hundreds of tree frogs at dark. Life is good!

Day 3

It cooled down during the night, and while everyone else was toasty, I spent a fitfully chilly night in the hammock. This was only my third night hanging, and I had some things to learn. That’s ok because I’m a fast learner, lol. I stopped trying to get comfortable and finally decided to get up around 7-ish.

Mountain House no cook scrambled eggs with bacon were on the menu this morning, and they are one of my favorite breakfasts. The warm food did much to warm my bones, along with some tea from Matt (I forgot mine). About this time a couple of guys paddled up the pond (they had camped at Crane Pond the night before) and took out right at our campsite. They would be doing a portagé to Horseshoe Pond. I have to admit I was somewhat intrigued by the prospect of carrying a pack AND a canoe up the same trail we would be hiking. It did help that their canoes weighed 12 and 17 pounds, but still!

After everyone packed up it was Matt’s turn to share from the word. 1 Kings chapter 3 was the place to be as Matt spoke of Solomons request for wisdom:

” Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.”

Lord grant unto me not only the wisdom to discern good and evil, but also the heart to do what is right in Your eyes!

Finally it was time to move on. Dave and Noah would be hiking out at this point, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. We had a great time with them and they would be missed.

Crab Pond outlet

A short walk along the Short Swing Trail brought us to the outlet of Crab Pond and more amazing views. The entire walk today was along pleasant trail and it just felt like a perfect day to take a hike. It was a little more hilly today, but nothing you could call tough.

We stopped to take a break at the junction to Rock Pond for snacks and to regroup, but the black flies made sure it was a short one. One tenth of a mile later we came to Lily Pad Pond lean-to, which overlooks it’s namesake pond – who put me in charge of the map? Before we knew it we were at Rock Pond. Again, we had a decision to make – camp here or push on to Clear Pond. It wasn’t a very tough decision actually, it was early and the lean-to at Rock Pond was occupied so onward we went.

Rock Pond

This proved to be an excellent choice. After skirting the pond and crossing a low ridge we finally came to Clear Pond. What an amazing place to call home for the night. Not 50 yards in front of the lean-to a penisula juts out onto the lake, making for a perfect place to fish, take a swim, or just take it all in.

Looking out from Clear Pond lean-to

Everyone decided to cook down by the lake and take the views in, but I was a little chilled and tired, so I layed down on the floor of the lean-to and half dozed while waiting for my water to boil. A tasty dinner of Hawk Vittles Baked Beans provided the warmth and energy I needed, and setting up my hammock for the last time went from chore to blessing.

By this time everyone had finished eating, and Matt and Paul took the group on a hunt for firewood. Normally a campsite this easily accessible is a shambles, but this site was beautiful, clean, and well maintained. The only issue was a lack of firewood. A short walk over the hill (too much effort for most visitors, I guess) solved the problem as everyone came back with armfuls of wood.

One last campfire

I was determined to stay up as late as possible to ensure a good nights sleep, and it was great to enjoy this last campfire together. At some point we all started to get a little giddy and I threatened to start telling cheesy jokes if things didn’t settle down. How do you catch a unique rabbit? Unique up on him! Good times.

Day 4

What a glorious day! I had the best nights sleep and was up early and refreshed. Slowly the camp started to show signs of life.

Matt, Barry and Sam sleeping in

I went down to the water to listen to the loons – their call is beautiful and yet haunting. I’m not much of a birdwatcher, but I can’t get enough of their call. It just adds to the experience for me.

Remember I said my day 4 breakfast would work out? Turns out Paul had about 10 packs of uneaten Ramen noodles and I happily took two packs off his hands. I think ramen might become a breakfast regular for me!

After we were mostly packed up it was my turn to share in the word. Luke 15, and the parable of the prodigal son was this mornings destination, as I spoke of God’s faithfulness:

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I haved sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand , and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

We serve an awesome God! He’ll meet you wherever you are and restore you if you will come with a contrite heart. Never underestimate the love of the Father.


Day 4 and still smiling

The hike out was short one, just 2.4 miles, but it was ever bit as enjoyable as each of the previous three days. At one point, since it was Monday, Paul started singing The Mamas and  The Papas Monday Morning . Matt and I started hamonizing (fa la, la la la la), but at some point Paul realized that was all the help we were giving since only he knew the words.

God's country!

The hike out was over before we knew it, and our next goal was Golden Corral for the lunch buffet. In the end what can I say, we had the campsites to ourselves every night ( a rare feat in the crowded northeast), the company was the best, and the weather was perfect. I’m sure we’ll be back soon!