Saturday, September 11, 2010

MacNaughton 2010-09-11


  • Trail to Wallface Ponds offer solitude even on the busiest weekends.
  • There's an "Unwelcome Mat" on the doorstep to Upper Wallface Pond.
  • Unique, junction-less trail signs.
  • Bushwhacking is far removed from hiking herd paths.


Cool in the morning (40 F). Warmer and sunny throughout the day (mid to high 60's).


From Adk Loj to Scott Clearing and WallFace Ponds.


I arrived at the Loj at 7:30 AM and the parking lot was about one-third full with minimal activity. It would be a very different place at the end of the day. At 7:45 AM, I deposited the parking fee in the dropbox and headed out, via the Indian Pass trail, to Scott Clearing. According to the trail register, no one was heading to MacNaughton. The Indian Pass trail is through rolling, wooded terrain; I covered the four miles to Scott Clearing in ninety minutes.

Breached dam at Scott Clearing.

At 9:15 AM I crossed Indian Pass brook and headed up the blue trail to Scott and Wallface Ponds. This trail has something for all tastes: grassy garden-path, slick corduroy, mud wallow, and flooded bog. What you won't find is the heavy erosion that is a hallmark of other High Peaks trails. The 1.5 mile section from Scott Clearing to Scott Pond climbs steadily and is wet but not very muddy.

Although most trail signs are placed at junctions, there are two curious exceptions to this rule: one is located shortly before reaching Scott Pond and the other, in a state of decay, before reaching Upper Wallface Pond. I guess someone thought that hikers might need reassurance that their destination was just a short distance away.

I arrived at Scott Pond at 10:15 AM. Scott Pond is similar to Scott Clearing because it has a breached dam and is mostly a grassy meadow with a winding brook. It is a very pretty spot and possibly more attractive in the fall or winter.

Scott Pond.

The section between Scott Pond and the next nameless pond features a muddy stretch. Using hiking poles for balance, I was able to cross it, without mishap. The nameless pond, possibly the easternmost of the Wallface Ponds, offers a wonderful view of the MacIntyre range, notably Wright and Algonquin.

As you near Upper Wallface Pond, the terrain levels out, gets wetter, and you encounter its "Unwelcome Mat": the trail is flooded by beaver activity. With some care, you can cross the mess by tip-toeing over the submerged logs. Later in the day, when I returned to this section from the west, I discovered a herd path that circumvents the worst of it. The bypass is not evident when approaching from the east.

The "UnWelcome Mat" near Upper Wallface Pond.

I reached Upper Wallface Pond at 11:00 AM and, from its shore, had a good look at MacNaughton's ridgeline. I aimed my compass at the middle of the ridge and read a bearing of 240 degrees. I'd be referring to that compass frequently throughout the bushwhack. There is a herd path that leads around the southeastern end of Upper Wallface Pond. However, it appears to end, within a hundred yards or so, at a seemingly dead-end campsite. I double-backed and found another herd path and it led back to the very same campsite! The trick is to enter the campsite, turn left, push though the fir branches, and you'll find the path once again. It leads towards a channel between Upper and Lower Wallface Ponds. The channel, about twenty feet wide, can be easily crossed via a beaver dam.

Upper Wallface Pond and MacNaughton.

The herd path continues past the dam but eventually peters out. I retraced my steps several times in an attempt to find some trace of a path. Eventually, I stopped at a point about one-third of the way along the southern shore of the nameless pond south of Upper Wallface Pond. At 11:30 AM, I checked my compass and, with some trepidation, started up the slope.

The forest is mostly conifers and is reasonably open, meaning you can see at least 25 feet though the trees. The ground is mostly duff, moss, and downed trees. I frequently referred to my compass, aiming it and selecting a recognizable target. There's plenty of 'high-stepping' needed to get up and over obstacles. I tried avoiding the worst of it, mostly thickets and deadfall, yet maintain a fairly straight route up the slope. I found bushwhacking to be considerably different from hiking a herd path. You can't just keep your head down and 'follow the erosion'. I needed frequent stops to check my bearings, catch my breath, find a suitable route around obstructions, and move forward cautiously until the next repetition of this process. 

As I neared the summit, the trees closed in and the terrain became a little more challenging but, fortunately, I did not encounter cripplebrush. Overall, I thought my progress was slow yet I managed to reach the ridgeline's herd path in one hour. Although I suspected I had drifted too far to the right, at approximatetly 12:30 PM I came out near a three foot drop in the herd path. After scouting the ridge, I determined I had summitted about halfway between the eastern lookout and the western summit sign. Not too shabby at all.

A successful bushwhack complete with dozens of fir needles down my back.

As I headed to the summit sign, I heard voices and met two other hikers. Bob and Mary had arrived via the southern herd path, from Upper Works, and were heading to Adirondak Loj via Wallface Ponds. We spent about an hour at the eastern lookout having lunch and chatting. We left the ridge at 1:30 PM at a point just west of the lookout. We descended via what appeared to be a herd path but it quickly disappeared. Bob initially led the descent and then I volunteered about halfway down the slope. We made our way down cautiously and, at 2:30 PM, came out at the shore of the nameless pond just south of Upper Wallface Pond. We skirted it towards the east along a herd path and, after correcting for one wrong turn, picked up the herd path to the beaver dam. We continued to the "Unwelcome Mat" whereupon we exchanged farewells and I pressed on towards Adirondak Loj.

Mary descending MacNaughton. Wallface Ponds are visible in the distance.

The hike back to Scott Clearing was uneventful and I arrived at 4:15 PM. Here is where I saw the first evidence that this was a busy day in the 'Dacks. There's an odd tent site nestled up against the dam's wall. I say odd because is has a site marker yet it is not set back from the trail at all. I found three tents and a hammock wedged into the spot. A plastic bag of bananas (dessert for the bears?) was stashed in the rock wall. Further along at the Scott Clearing lean-to, someone strung up an illegal bear-bag across the brook. I suspected that it was a big day for bending, and breaking, rules in the High Peaks.

At 5:30 PM I arrived at Heart Lake and signed out at the trail register. Sixty-two hikers had signed in after me! Most appeared to have headed for Indian Pass, Street and Nye, or Mount Jo. On the best of days, Wallface Ponds has an empty dance card and might as well be renamed Wallflower Ponds. 

When I arrived at the Loj, at 5:45 PM, the main lot, and the overflow area, were full of cars. Dozens of hikers, including a busload from Quebec, were milling around the hiker's building. I've never quite understood how a busload complies with the 8-person per group limit. Do they break up into groups of eight and head to different destinations or, just for show, space the groups out in waves to assault Marcy? Whatever the case, it was clear that MacNaughton, Scott and Wallface Ponds can offer peace and solitude even on the busiest of days.

After cleaning up and changing clothes, I left the Loj at 6:00 PM. The ADK's private road extends all the way to the bridge over the West Ausable River. From that point onwards, cars were parked on both sides of the road and along the entrance to the South Meadows road. I have no idea if this represented a "normal" day at the Loj but I was glad to have chosen an out-of-the-way destination.


See all photos.