The Cranberry Lake 50 Challenge
Cranberry Lake is located on the Eastern part of the Town of Clifton, in St. Lawrence County, NY.. This beautiful lake is the third largest and one of the most preserved lakes in the Adirondacks. With 50 miles of trails and abundant forest, ponds, rivers, mountain views, and streams, it’s no wonder this place was chosen to be a challenge here.
The Cranberry Lake Challenge is 50 miles of trails that loop around one of the most beautiful lakes in the Adirondacks. In this challenge, you can go in any direction, do it in
any season, and take as much time as needed while enjoying the magnificent views surrounding you.
With the trails equaling 50 miles, it takes most people 4 to 5 days to finish it. Some people go backpacking, and others sleep in the designated lean-tos or set up a tent. Let’s face it, 50 miles is a lot of time to be on your feet. But lo and behold, I have met a pretty awesome individual who has done this challenge more than once. Here you will be reading about two different times he has completed the Cranberry Lake 50 Challenge.
One in October and the other in January. He did the one in October in just two and a half days! The other time he rocked this challenge in winter, and finished in just 24 hours!
Jim Wallace of Oswego, NY, lives a pretty adventurous life. Spending hours playing in his band, hiking trails, researching new challenges to conquer, leading an expedition, or hanging out with his partner in crime, his wife, Marj, he never takes life for granted.
In October 2018, Jim and three friends started their 2-day adventure on the Cranberry Lake trail. Two and a half days of adventure, campfires, friends, and fun. On day 1 of the challenge the rain started coming down hard. Despite the trail being flat, it still continued to stay very wet. However, you forget about the rain pouring down on you when you look through the trees and see the magnificent view of the Oswegatchie River. Besides, the rain would not stop this group of venturesome friends from continuing on.
Jim- “It rained like a bastard right from the start. That didn’t shake this crew. We made it into camp at High Rock and had a warm, comforting fire and a baked ziti dinner.”
Food always tastes better outside over a campfire, doesn’t it? Around the fire, they rest their bones, get dry, fill up their belly, and enjoy each other’s company with stories of the past and plans for adventure that will be upon them tomorrow. That sounds like an excellent way to end day one.
Jim’s wife, Marj Wallace, met with Jim and his crew on day two for team support. After a good night’s sleep, they hit the trails, eager to continue, enjoying the scenery from every angle. They hit up High Falls and made a side trip up Cat Mountain. Cat Mountain is a strenuous hike but offers fantastic views from the summit.
Jim- “Truthfully, the Cranberry Lake 50 is worth doing with visiting these landmarks.”
After hiking 21 miles in just one day, the gang was thrilled to find a lean-to at Olmstead Pond, located in the 5 Ponds Of Wilderness. Jim, now in the company of his wife, is happy to have everyone there to relax, throws off his backpack, and enjoys his evening of bbq chicken and lots of laughs. The next day flew by with only a couple of miles to cover adding it to his book of hiking accomplishments.
After finishing the Cranberry Lake 50 for the 7th time, Jim was still itching for a bigger adventure to conquer. This led to the Ultra Cranberry Lake 50 Challenge, which was to be done in the heart of winter.
The Ultra Cranberry Lake Challenge.
Jim Wallace and his buddy Doug Duncan were the very first people to ever do the Cranberry Lake 50 Challenge and finish it not only in the winter but in just 24 hours! Jim wanted a challenge that would really put his endurance to the test. Something that would be a great challenge but also something that has yet to be done.
Jim- “This has been a golden egg that I have had my eye on for a few years now. These days there aren’t too many things that haven’t been done before. Only a few summits in the world that haven’t been reached. Shackleton reached the south pole, Tenzing/Hillary reached Everest, and Kevin B. Mackenzie climbed every slide in the Adirondacks. What was left? One challenge remained unclaimed by mankind. The winter ultra Cranberry lake 50! This was the drive that Doug and I needed to fuel this near-death ultimate battle against time, elements, and distance!”
Their new adventure started after they both had a grueling day at work. Tired but anxious, they met up at Gleason River Motel on Friday night, January 6th, 2018, to plan their epic adventure. Getting all of their gear ready for the next day, just two buddies shooting the breeze and going over their plan until about midnight. Doug woke them up at 2:30 am, prepared to take on the day. Waking up after a very short night of sleep, it was time to go!
Sleep tends to be forgotten when you are about to go on an adventure like this. Having a late-night chat with a close friend about the exciting challenge you guys are going to take the following day. No wonder they didn’t get much sleep.
2:30 am in January is a challenging time to get motivated. That must have been when the adrenaline started to take over. January in the Adirondacks that early in the morning, it is pitch black and freezing. But they were ready to go. After collecting their gear, hoping in their vehicle, and dropping off their packs at the Cranberry Lake 50 trailhead, they officially started their hike at 5:15 am in Wanakena. That gave them 12 miles of almost no weight.
Jim- “The first 12 miles were cake. I was tired from minimal sleep, but anxiety charged to move. The paving portion of the trail was poorly broken only by skiers. This and a frozen crust did minimal justice for us with snowshoes. Despite the fact, we rocked the first 1/4 of the trip out. Beginning on the trail, the snow was softening, but we hit a snowmobile trail and had easy going for a while. This eventually ran out. The side excursion to Dog Pond was daunting. Deep snow and an unbroken trail.”
Hiking in the winter in the Adirondacks is no joke. We get hit hard with snow, ice, and friged temps. Knowing the right equipment to have is extremely important. Jim is a professional mountain guide and knows what he’s doing when it comes to being out in the wild.
Note- Before heading out, research your snowshoes, trekking poles, first aid kit, and clothing. Jim suggests using an aluminum pair of Yukon Charlies.
Jim- “With each step, 4 or 5 lbs of snow clung to my snowshoes. This required an extreme amount of energy and strength to maintain 2+ mph. I developed a rhythmic motion of tapping my pole on each shoe for this kind of snow. With its huge foot hole, much snow was allowed past the foot, and sinking occurred with each step.”
Jim and Doug are only on two and a half hours of sleep. Just two regular blue-collar guys with determination in their heart, and fueled by adrenalin and hell-bent on conquering their quest. Not only were they dealing with cold temps and heavy snow, but after about 27 miles in, Doug crossed an ice-covered stream when the ice broke, leaving Doug with both feet submerged in freezing cold water! Still, a long way to go, and not getting any easier.
Jim- “On a good note, it was 40 degrees out. At least frostbite wasn’t an option. So Doug and I would face many mental challenges along this trek. We had assumed that by reaching Cowhorn Junction, the trails would be broken since it’s a long and popular area. No such luck. No one has been in this backcountry. We had to break 30 miles of trail. The conditions have turned to the worst we could imagine.”
With Doug’s cold and wet feet, the sun starting to set, and a trail that is not well marked because it is not really being used for hiking in the winter, these guys had a long and challenging trip ahead of them. But they are both strong outdoorsmen, and no matter the difficulties, these guys were on a no-turning-back mission.
Jim- “As much as the physical drain, it was also mentally draining. Staying sharp and looking hard into the woods for markers and features proving a trail.”
Marj Wallace, not just Jim’s wife but also his support team, brought him and Doug hot tea and snacks to warm them back up and recharge. Once Marj had left them, after a bit, she saw a set of prints leading down from Cat Mountain and thought that Doug and Jim had possibly bailed on the trip. Being unsure, she left a sandwich in a cache just in case.
They started to follow Marj’s broken path until they reached the High Falls segment. Just when they thought it could not get any messier, it started to rain hard, making the snow even more difficult to trek in. A recipe for disaster. At that point, the guys began considering calling it quits. Jim quickly did a 180 and shut that thought down quick!
Jim- “Both of us knew this had to be done.“
They still had 4 hours to finish their hike in under 24 hours. Cold, wet, tired, and at the mercy of mother nature, things were not looking up. They were hurting bad and running out of water.
Jim- “In the last few miles, I could care less about the Ultra, first-timers, or any of that stuff. I just wanted to make it out alive. With no water left, I did have Spark Enery Powders. I made a snowball cone out of this. Tasted terrible but picked me enough to go on. Meanwhile, Doug was fighting his own battles.”
They were near the end, and anticipation was rising! Getting closer and closer, the trails were starting to open up, and they were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Jim- “Doug, who was 100ft ahead of me, would be the first to complete the winter traverse. I stopped to sign the registry and stopped my hiking app. 23 hours and 50 minutes!” Jim Wallace and Doug Duncan were the first to finish the Cranberry 50 Challenge in 24 hours during the winter! Jim now is still living an adventurous life. Living in Oswego, NY, with his wife and hiking partner, Marj Wallace, where they both run a business guiding people on mountain adventures. Jim is the founder of MVG, and if you would like him or his wife to show you the ropes on a guided experience, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is The Cranberry 50 Challenge Something You Want to Conquer Yourself?
Below is a list on how to get started, the rules, how to receive your patch, and the list of trails that you will need to hike in order to complete the CL50.
- Once you have completed the entire loop, you will fill out the form cranberrylake50.org/finishers/
- Once you fill out the form, send it along with a donation which will cover the patch and shipping to Five Ponds Partners- c/o Bill Gleason, PO Box 142, Wanakena, NY 13695.
- Make check payable to Five Ponds Partners.
- You can complete the challenge in as much time as you like.
- Camping is only allowed within 150 feet of any road, stream, pond, or other bodies of water.
- Fires should be built in existing firepits or fireplaces. Keep a bucket of water close by.
- Lean-tos are first come, first serve.
- Always, Leave No Trace!
List of Trails:
- Burnt Bridge Pond Trail
- Dog Pond Loop Trail
- Otter Brook Trail South Bay Trail
- Six Mile Creek Trail
- Olmstead Pond Trail
- Cowhorn Junction Trail High Falls Loop Trail
Thank you, readers, for tuning into another BivWack adventure story! I hope you find this story of two typical guys accomplishing a unique and challenging adventure inspiring and uplifting. Go out and explore.