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Camping at Duck Hole, one of the most remote corners of the Adirondacks. Photo: Brian Mann
Camping at Duck Hole, one of the most remote corners of the Adirondacks. Photo: Brian Mann

Trek into Adirondack wilds around Duck Hole

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Last August, tropical storm Irene blasted through the Adirondack back country, erasing trails, knocking out dams, and changing landscapes forever.

A year later, our Adirondack reporter Brian Mann set off on a 25-mile trek with his wife Susan to see Duck Hole, between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid -- one of the most remote and iconic places in the Park.

Duck Hole was hit hard by the storm. What was once a beautiful mountain pond is now a scarred landscape, marked by the ruins of the old dam. But the deep forests and river valleys feel as wild and vast as ever.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Susan takes a break on one of the new bridges, installed after Irene wrecked a lot of back country infrastructure. Photo: Brian Mann
Susan takes a break on one of the new bridges, installed after Irene wrecked a lot of back country infrastructure. Photo: Brian Mann
Friday morning, we head in from the old Corey's Road, between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. The plan over the next couple of days is to hike from here through some of the most remote backcountry in the Park through to Lake Placid. We'll hook up with the Northville Lake Placid Trail half-way along. With side-trips, we'll cover nearly 25 miles.

When she hears the itinerary, my wife Susan laughs and says, "I'm sort of glad it's flat. But we have beautiful weather. We just couldn't ask for better." By mid-afternoon, we've plunged into the deep forest. It's dense country, not many openings or vistas. But the path is criss-crossed with bright mountain streams, deep pools. "Beautiful with deciduous woods," Susan says. "A beautiful trail."

As the day wanes, we reach an extraordinary open bog, one of the first breaks in the tree canopy. The wind is blowing through the autumn grasses. Dragonflies bob over the tassels.

A great part of this experience is just the muchness of it, the fact that the woods go on and on and on.
The stillness is complete, except for the wind. A couple of miles later, we reach one of the new bridges along the trail, built after Tropical Storm Irene wiped out a lot of this region's infrastructure. This span crosses Cold River, not far from the spot where Adirondack hermit Noah John Rondeau lived.

Susan points out great slabs of rock exposed by the low water: "That one looks like a splatter painting, with colors of rust and creamy white and gray. A lovely spot."

There are also spears of color in the trees, the first flashes of autumn color. But we hurry along because the day is waning and we're eager to make camp at duck hole.

Brian Mann measures the miles on the trail to Duck Hole. Photo: Susan Waters
Brian Mann measures the miles on the trail to Duck Hole. Photo: Susan Waters
And a good thing too. As evening spreads, clouds roll in. "The sky is all smoky with a big smear of dark clouds above the tree line," Susan says. 

Rain falls through the night, but the clouds part for a view of the full moon over Duck Hole. And the next morning dawns blue and clear.

The ruins of the Duck Hole dam, which state officials say will not be replaced. Photo: Susan Waters
The ruins of the Duck Hole dam, which state officials say will not be replaced. Photo: Susan Waters
Which gives us our first clear glimpse of the wreckage caused by Irene. One of the most beautiful mountain ponds in the Park was altered forever when the storm swept away the old dam. What remains is a scarred landscape, the ruins of the dam, a vast field of stumps. 

Saturday morning we hike on, passing along the Northville Placid Trail through broad mountain valleys and clambering down through great fern meadows. Near Moose Pond, we find a gorgeous wetland that offers a rare wide view of mountains. One of the glories of this country is that it goes on and on and on. You get a feel of real scale, of wilderness that gives way to more wilderness.

When we reach the trailhead on the outskirts of Lake Placid. We're both weary and sore from schlepping our packs so far. I ask Susan if she wants to do it again next weekend. She laughs and says, "It's a date."

 

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