September 15, 2012

Lakes, mineshaft and cougar highlight excursions to Pansy Lake and BOTW wilderness

 Pansy Lake

Having some unfinished business around the Pansy Lake area of Bull of the Woods Wilderness, I got up early Saturday morning and drove to the trailhead. I wanted to get home before noon so I could watch the Ducks manhandle Tennessee Tech.

It had been around 20 years or so since I last hiked to the lake. Back then, I backpacked through the area, into Pansy Lake and south to Battle Creek shelter. From there, I made my way down Elk Lake Creek and around to Welcome Lakes and up to the Bull of the Woods lookout. I remember beginning the hike in the evening, and when I arrived at the lake, every square foot of Pansy Lake’s water surface was rippled by feeding trout.

During my latest drive to the lake’s trailhead, I recalled my first trip 20 years earlier. Actually, the most exciting part of the excursion, not taking anything away from the area’s great hiking, was the drive to the trailhead. It was then that I spotted my first cougar in the wild.

I rounded a corner on road 6340 and spotted a cougar walking no more than 50 yards in front of me in the middle of the road. Obviously surprised by the obnoxious red object rounding the bend, the cat looked toward the pickup and with a single leap, disappeared from my sight.
Momentarily stunned by the sighting, I hesitated before stomping on the gas pedal, now wanting to see this secretive creature up close if possible. After reaching the point where the cougar had crossed the road, I stopped the pickup and turned off the engine. I looked out my side window and noticed a large, roadside thicket, large enough for a cat of its size to hide in. Behind the thicket was a steep incline of about thirty feet, where the road had been carved out of a slope.

Within the security of my pickup's cab, I waited for the cat to spring from the brush. If it was unsure it could make a clean getaway, I figured it might still be hiding in the brush. I honked the horn, hoping to scare the big cat into the open.

Cougar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nothing happened.

The sun was going down and I wanted to hike to Pansy Lake before dark, so to expedite things, I slowly opened the pickup door. Keeping one eye poised on the thicket, I reached down with my left hand and raked my fingers over the gravel road, picking up a fistful of rocks. I sat back up and quickly closed the pickup door. After rolling down the window, I tossed the gravel into the thicket, hoping to push the cat out into the open.
Pansy Lake
Still, nothing happened.

By now it was obvious that the cougar had scurried out of sight before I arrived at the spot. I looked around for a moment. That is when I spotted, behind the thicket, the only evidence left behind by the cat, its paw tracks along the steep dirt embankment behind the thicket.
Oddly enough, even though it had been 20 years, I am pretty darn sure on this most recent trip I found the exact spot I stopped the pickup to roust the cougar from the brush.
Dickey Lake
Anyway, before arriving at Pansy Lake this time, I took a left at a junction before Pansy and hiked up to Dickey Lake. Perhaps only two acres in size when it is full, Dickey Lake sits in a picturesque cirque, surrounded by old growth forest. Because the parking lot at the trailhead had six other vehicles when I pulled in, I figured this little lake wouldn’t be a bad alternate overnight spot if Pansy Lake was packed with folks. 

Dickey Lake
When I arrived at Pansy Lake, I could hear a few voices, but couldn’t see anyone. If a lot of people were camped at the lake, they were successful at staying concealed. Trout were feeding on the lake’s surface; all of them appearing no larger than fingerlings.

In the mid-1800s, miners apparently began to establish gold claims in the area. On my first trip to the area, I bushwhacked from Pansy Lake up the slope of the cirque and found an old mine shaft. It is a deep, black hole at the base of an old stump. Looking into the hole, I couldn’t see its walls, floor or ceiling. I had no idea how sharp of an angle the hole entered the earth. For all I knew, if I had entered it, I may never have come out.
Mine shaft above Pansy Lake
I arrived home at noon, after stopping a taking a few pictures of the Collawash River and watched the Ducks thrash Tennessee Tech.
Collawash River

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