Friday, January 1, 2021

Backpacking the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park, september 2017

Better Late Than Never

For one reason or another sometimes I do not post much of anything about a trip I have tkaen. This happens even when I have material I could share. Perhaps I just don’t feel a strong urge to share anything at the time. Perhaps I think the photos, videos, or written thoughts I may have had aren’t really good enough. Perhaps I was just lazy. However, now and then I go through old material to see what memories are forced to the surface.Because of this and some prompting from others I am going to slowly and likely with no real process in mind start to share what hasn’t been shared before.

Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park: August 31 through September 6, 2017

Andy and I visited the Rae Lake May 2016 and only went as far as Dollar Lake. There was plenty of snow and the snow-line was, as I recall, around 9,400 feet. streams were flowing with great vigor and we made much use of our Crocs as water shoes. It was a totally different experience for us than this late-summer trip would turn out to be. That may be an obvious statement but it bares keeping in mind. For Steve and Mark this was their first backpacking trip. It was a 45th birthday treat for him. We had already changed our plans at the last minute so we wanted it to be good (fires closed Yosemite and we switched to the Rae Lakes Loop. This decision was made as I was flying to California to get to Yosemite a day before everyone else to secure a backcountry permit). With all that in mind we got ourselves to Kings Canyon National Park mid-afternoon of August 31, 2017 and got ready for what we all hoped to be a wonderful trip. The photos and video that follow will hopefully give you a good idea of just how well we did.

Photo taken Aug 31, 2017 at 5:44 AM

Andy and I got up early to drive over to the backcountry ranger station at Road’s End. We wanted to be there before anyone else might show up to try and get walk-up permits for backcountry travel. A very limited number, as I recall it was 5 per direction of travel, of permits are given each day. We had 4 people in our group so 4 permits were required. It was a good thing we got there as early as we did. A lady backpacker arrived maybe an hour after us: she got the last clockwise-travel permit.

--August 31, 2017 at 5:44 AM. Woods Creek Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Aug 31, 2017 at 9:27 AM

Left to right: Steve, Ken, Andy, Mark. With our packs on we got this photo taken at the ranger station at Road’s End in Kings Canyon National Park.

--August 31, 2017 at 9:27 AM. Woods Creek Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Aug 31, 2017 at 11:32 AM

The trail is initally pretty gentle before it swings northward along the South Fork Kings River and rapidly ascentds to Mist Falls. This is a remarkable set of waterfalls of violently frothing water that is a great place to take a break before the push up and on towards Lower Paradise Valley.

--August 31, 2017 at 11:32 AM. Woods Creek Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Aug 31, 2017 at 1:13 PM

Still in the area of Mist Falls which are definhitely a dayhike worth doing if you aren’t planning a backpacking trip.

--August 31, 2017 at 1:13 PM. Woods Creek Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 1, 2017 at 8:50 AM

We’ve left Lower Paradise Valley where we camped our first night. Almost right away we had to cross some flowing water over downed logs. hoto by Andy

--September 1, 2017 at 8:50 AM. Woods Creek Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 1, 2017 at 9:42 AM

You never find small downed trees in this area even if they aren’t Sequoias (though I think this one was).

--September 1, 2017 at 9:42 AM. Woods Creek Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 9:58 AM

Now and then as we gradually ascended you enter a somewhat more open area such as this. Photo by Andy.

--September 2, 2017 at 9:58 AM. Pacific Crest Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 11:40 AM

We watched this bear move back and forth along the trail for several minutes. I think it is unlikely the bear did not know we were there as it was quite open terrain and we certainly had no trouble seeing the bear (well I could see it with my monocular). The bear was probably 50 or so yards away though it sure looks closer in the photo. Photo by Andy.

--September 2, 2017 at 11:40 AM. Pacific Crest Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 3:17 PM

It really opens up after you leave the vicinity of Woods Creek and continue on towards the Rae Lakes Basin. At this point though we are likely within a mile of Dollar Lake on a lovely sunny afternoon. Photo by Andy.

--September 2, 2017 at 3:17 PM. Pacific Crest Trail, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 3:46 PM

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Dollar Lake. Trees are growing a bit scarcer but by the lake they abound. Photo by Andy.

--September 2, 2017 at 3:46 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 4:53 PM

Mark is in the chilly water of Dollar Lake. It did wonders to wash off trail grime but it is definitely chilly. Photo by Andy.

--September 2, 2017 at 4:53 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 5:11 PM

Our campsite at Dollar Lake. we would move our bear canisters a bit farther away from where they currently are (though probably could’ve been moved farther than we put them). On our way to Dollar Lake we saw a good sized black bear crossing the trail.

--September 2, 2017 at 5:11 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 2, 2017 at 6:09 PM

It is approaching sunset at Dollar Lake. This really is a lovely spot to stop if you want to take your time in the region of the Rae Lakes Basin.

--September 2, 2017 at 6:09 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 9:25 AM

Yes, we are on the John Muir Trail.

--September 3, 2017 at 9:25 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 9:40 AM

Arrowhead Lake.

--September 3, 2017 at 9:40 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 10:23 AM

Arrowhead Lake again. It took us a while to pass this lake. Sure was lovely.

--September 3, 2017 at 10:23 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 10:49 AM

Rae Lake is in view.

--September 3, 2017 at 10:49 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 5:04 PM

Our campsite within the 60 Lakes Basin. Rae Lake can be seen in the background. Andy and Mark will scamper off on a short dayhike to explore a bit. Steve, who was feeling unwell, got some much needed rest. I just hung out around camp, napped maybe a bit, and just relaxed. Photo by Andy.

--September 3, 2017 at 5:04 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 6:46 PM

Here comes the alpinglow.

--September 3, 2017 at 6:46 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 3, 2017 at 6:49 PM

Dinner under a mixed-up sky.

--September 3, 2017 at 6:49 PM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 7:31 AM

Good morning. We were up before sunrise so we could tackle Glen Pass and be sure to be on our way down the other side before any afternoon storms. Photo by Andy.

--September 4, 2017 at 7:31 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 7:26 AM

Leaving the 60 Lakes Basin.

--September 4, 2017 at 7:26 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 7:57 AM

We are climbing up to the pass.

--September 4, 2017 at 7:57 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 8:14 AM

The wind is rising and the temperatyre is dropping.

--September 4, 2017 at 8:14 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 10:39 AM

Andy has forged ahead. Mark and I are taking a break as we wait for Steve to catch up. We are almost to the top.

--September 4, 2017 at 10:39 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 10:44 AM

Almost to the pass. Just have to push through the snow and go a little bit farther. Photo by Andy.

--September 4, 2017 at 10:44 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 11:15 AM

It took about three hours and 20 minutes to reach the pass but I made it. Everyone else did too. Looking ahead to what we have to do send towards.

--September 4, 2017 at 11:15 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 11:15 AM

Wildflowers of Glen Pass. Photos by Andy.

--September 4, 2017 at 11:15 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 11:36 AM

Heading southward off of Glen Pass we would descend steeply down a rocky and somewhat scree-like trail. This still slightly snow-bound tarn would be in view much of the way down.

--September 4, 2017 at 11:36 AM. Glen Pass S, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 4, 2017 at 2:51 PM

As if we needed more proof that bears are active in the region. We watched a good-sized bear wander back and forth across the trail a couple days previously. Now we encounter this notice by the trail junction to Charlotte Lake. We were continuing on to Vidette Meadow. Photo by Andy.

--September 4, 2017 at 2:51 PM. Vidette Switchbacks, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 5, 2017 at 8:45 AM

Well back amongst the trees.

--September 5, 2017 at 8:45 AM. Vidette Switchbacks, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 5, 2017 at 10:46 AM

It’s hard to see why they call the roaring torrent of water merely a creek: Bubbs Creek froths below.

--September 5, 2017 at 10:46 AM. Junction Meadow Switchbacks-Bubbs, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 5, 2017 at 11:08 AM

We had a nice break at this set of waterfalls along Bubbs Creek.

--September 5, 2017 at 11:08 AM. Junction Meadow Switchbacks-Bubbs, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 6, 2017 at 5:46 AM

Leaving our last camp by the Sphinx. It’s a lovely morning.

--September 6, 2017 at 5:46 AM. Junction Meadow Switchbacks-Bubbs, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Photo taken Sep 6, 2017 at 8:47 AM

The trail from Sphinx down to the crossing of Bubbs Creek is a modest descending well built and wide trail. We weren’t in a hurry.

--September 6, 2017 at 8:47 AM. Junction Meadow Switchbacks-Bubbs, Shaver Lake, CA, United States

Sunday, December 20, 2020

After the Storm: Snow and Sea

Photo taken Dec 19, 2020 at 1:02 PM

I am all but certain these birds are Canada Geese floating in the water. Maybe they are taking a break from flying south. Maybe this is as far as they will go. I suspect the water is actually warmer than the ground would be and the birds are waterproof.

--December 19, 2020 at 1:02 PM. Warwick, RI, United States

On Wednesday night, December 16, 2017 a Nor’easter1 blew in and dumped at least 6 inches of snow on us along the coast (far more inland especially in northern Rhode Island). The storm left behind plenty of snow. The snow was not the light fluffy type, over 2 feet of it, that friends of ours reported shoveling clear in Albany, NY; it was wet and heavy. Moe than enough to get the lower back muscles to announce complaints the day after plenty of driveway clearing. But with the work comes the pretty sight of fresh snow. Snow on the ground and snow in the trees. Snow making the bright red cardinals and numerous other birds more vibrantly visible as they visit a bird feeder. Snow muffling sounds except when you crunch across the frozen crusty layer and hear great crunches with each step. With the return of the sun on Saturday it was time to brave the black and not-so-black ice that was left behind and go for a walk.

I’ve written about Rocky Point before and it is certainly nice having this park so close by. Being able to walk to the shore of the bay and just enjoy the plessure of being there makes the just-over 2 mile large loop walk so much more fun. That remains true even when other people are around and there were quite a few people about on this 34°F afternoon. I suppose they had the same idea: get out of the house and enjoy the first special snow of the season as best as can be done given the pandemic.

I certainly enjoyed my walk. The kids sledding on the short but steep hill by the pier were enjoying themselves. I am sure the small groups of fellow walkers were having fun. And, of course, the dogs attached to people were enjoying the snow too. I’d like to think the honking of the scores of Canada Geese as they bobbed in the water were honks of pleasure.

Enjoy the video and remember to get out when you can even for a small adventure near your home.

  1. [definition]( ↩︎

Monday, November 30, 2020

A Walk in the Woods

Photo taken Nov 29, 2020 at 11:42 AM

The family.

There is no doubt that this year has been full of trials for everyone. For some the trials have been most severe including the loss of loved ones. We must do what we can, within the bounds of safety, to alleviate these trials: getting outside certainly can help. Photo taken Nov 29, 2020 at 11:22 AM

If you are particularly fortunate you have places that are just far enough away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to give you a sense of nature. You are not just strolling through the streets of your neighborhood. Take those opportunities to explore.

Photo taken Nov 29, 2020 at 11:49 AM

Fall folliage in full bloom and hanging on for just a bit longer. This oak tree (pretty sure) is hanging in there.

You do not need to go on a big adventure. If you can find a place near your home to just stroll in nature that will do a lot to make the stroll more than just a mere walk in your neighborhood. If you can get out with friends and family, safely of course, so much the better. The point is to relax and remember that even today the world is still a wonderful place.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Notes on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail and our Weekend Backpacking Trip

Notes on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail and our Weekend Backpacking Trip

Photo taken Nov 7, 2020 at 10:07 AM

Portage Lake is the western terminus of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. It’s an active lake with plenty of recreation taking place especially on a fine warm morning such as this. Time and location approximate. Photo by Andrew Mytys

--November 7, 2020 at 10:07 AM. Pinckney, MI, United States

You probably have read the trip report on our NOvember 7-9, 2020 backpacking of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Some of my companions have made some cogent comments that I am going to address here in this post. They’re mostly expansions on things I wrote then and provide a bit more detail about issues you might also encounter if you decide to tackle this trail.

How to Hike the Trail

Direction of Travel

While there is something to be said for hiking east to west as your are leaving traffic noises behind the first several miles of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail are shared with the Potowatomi Trail which is predominantly a bike trail. The general rule is bikers ride the trail east to west while hikers travel west to east. Even with this traffic management approach you need to pay attention to the bike traffic which frequently moves rather quickly and can be upon you before you know it.


The Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is blazed with dark blue marks. This is especially helpful in keeping you on track in the area where the horse riding trails abound.


Overall the tread of the trail is hard packed dirt. But during autumn leaves, especially oak, will lay thick on the ground. They obscure the trail and make the tread-way more slippery. The former attribute probably contributed to Doug’s ankle trouble as he hit a hidden rock. The latter made descents, some steep, more challenging than they would otherwise be.

In the vicinity of the Horseman’s Campground the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is used by both people and horses. More or less bounded to the west at Katz Road and Loveland Road on the east the footing becomes increasing sandy and full of ruts as you move deeper into the area. It’s worst between the Baldwin Flooding and Clear Lake Road. You will likley find it tougher going than you expect from a examination of the topographic map.

The 2020 Re-Route

For decades the trail made use of what it could to get where it needed to be. By M-52 that meant traveling up a private drive before entering state owned land and a proper trail. It also meant crossing M-52 which is a busy road.

In 2020 the bike-path and its tunnel under M-52 were completed. The trail follows the bike path under the tunnel and there is new, as of this writing unmarked though surely that’s only a matter of time, trail just past the tunnel. That is the new Waterloo-Pinckney Trail which Mike elected to locate and follow while Andy and I having realized we had missed the turn (MIke had to backtrack a bit) decided to follow the trail that climbs over Stofer Hill and then use map and compass, staying on ridges avoiding the marshy lower ground, to make our way to where the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail would be. It is a pretty short bushwhack once you leave the trail that climbs Stofer Hill (there are side trails to the top and to the north that you could follow but if you try to dead reckon your way to the Waterloo-Pinckney from those points you will likely encounter marshy ground). However, it is certainly an unnecessary detour as the new Waterloo-Pinckney Trail exists. Just pay attention. Make sure you have the most currently available maps. The new Waterloo-Pinckney Trail intersects the bike path within 0.1 miles east of the tunnel. The trail then travels pretty much due east for about 0.6 miles before making a sharp turn to the north and heading towards Lyndon Park. As of this writing, November 15, 2020, the trail that connects the bike path to the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is not marked and the old trail that crosses M-52 and use the private land is still marked as Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Use the new trail. Be a good steward of the lands.

Water Sources

This is definitely not a complete definitive list of water sources on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. There are certainly some sources that are going to be seasonal and I am not mentioning them. The ones I do cite I am pretty confident will be flowing, when water flows, year round. These water sources are not potable. They should be treated either through filtering, chemical purification, UV purification, or boiling.

From Portage Lake to Pines Campground

There are two reliable sources between the trailhead at Portage Lake and Pines Campground. There is no water at the campground itself and the water at the horse stables, about 0.5 miles away, is only available May 1 through September 30 1

Water is available at a decommissioned dam about 3 miles from the trailhead (well my GPS track has it further than that) but just east of Willis Road.

Water is available about 0.6 miles west of Pines Campground in the Baldwin Flooding.

Pines Campground to Green Lake

You’ll go right by Crokked Lake and near Mills Lake. But you also cross over McClure Creek and North Fork of McClue Creek later in the section.

At the third intersection with McClue Road (going west to east) you’ll find a lovely water source but the ground is very soft and apt to suck your shoes off. Footing is better south of the intersection.

  • Point on map
  • Green Lake to Silver Lake

    You can find water flowing in Lyndon Park after the pavillion. However, access can be tricky as you cross boardwalks above the water. I was able, with a stretch (and I’m only 5’4” or so), to reach my Sea to Summit Bucket down to fetch water. Mike stuck his trekking pole through the strap to later lower that same bucket to get a re-fill. There are a few places like this where you could fetch water but you won’t be able to just dip your water bottle in.

    Water is available at Blind Lake which is 0.25 miles off the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail.

    There is a water source about 0.3 miles east on the Waterloo-Pinckney/Pototwatomi Trail east of the junction to Blind Lake.

    At the southeast corner of Pickeral Lake the Waterloo-Pinckney/Potowatomi Trail intersects with an unnamed trail that heads northerly towards the Silver Lake Trail. Follow the spur trail and then Silver Lake Trail about 300 feet to a footbridge that spans a creek that flows between Pickeral Lake and a small unnamed lake. If you pass the unnamed spur trail you will quickly encounter to Silver Lake Trail which you can take north to the same footbridge. The distance is comparable either way you go.

    More Resources

    You can find plenty of information out there about the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. A lot of it is not particularly current and the trail has seen some substantial changes over the years. As I’ve noted elsewhere reported trail mileage distances vary and while I do not claim my numbers are going to jibe with your experience I do believe they’re prety reliable and that it is a bit better to be a bit high rather than low as far as distance travelled goes.


    I’ll share my GaiaGPS maps and if you want to find others I know of at least on track on CalTopo and I expect AllTrails has them too. Keep in mind that with the new re-route if you have older maps they certainly will not be current and even a recently downloaded map (November 9, 2020) doesn’t show the new re-route as Waterloo-Pinckney but does show that a trail is present.

    Gaia GPS Track

    DNR Maps

    These are PDF maps from the Michigan DNR that will certainly give you an overall sense of how trails connect with each other.

    Pinckney State Recreation Area

    Waterloo State Recreation Area


    You must say at designated campsites. For purposes of backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail I’d suggest your options include Pines Rustic Campground (no water or ground fires), Green Lake, Blind Lake. There is camping at Portage Lake. Other campgrounds exist in both Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation Areas but aren’t on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Keep in mind that campgrounds are spread out in both recreation areas so you will need to search both Waterloo and Pinckney when making reservations (Blind Lake is in Pinckney; the others in Waterloo).

  • Michigan DNR Reservations
  • Hiking Style

    start by talking about hiking style. Our breakfast break at Lyndon Park was planned and ran 45-60 minutes (some dispute on that but that’s OK; I know we took 2 hours 16 minutes in breaks on the third day). The lengthy break at Blind Lake was also pretty much decided upon as we approached the lake and no one complained. It can be tricky to meld disparate hiking styles together especially when some people are just going to always be slower than others. The point to keep in mind is that breaks do tend to consume time more quickly than you might expect. I knew our breaks on day 3 were about as long as they turned out to be. I was surprised that I used up about 70 minutes on day 1 though my time spent searching for the lost camera and then waiting for Doug to retrieve my glasses certainly accounts for a not insignificant portion of that time.

    More Photos

    You had a chance to see some photos from the previous post but others took photos too and I did not include everything I could have.

    Day 1: Portage Lake to Pines Campground

    Photo taken Nov 7, 2020 at 2:31 PM

    This twosome would raise the horse and rider count to 9. They were nowhere near the last horses we would see today. We would see quite a few Saturday morning as well.

    --November 7, 2020 at 2:31 PM. Grass Lake, MI, United States

    Photo taken Nov 7, 2020 at 3:40 PM

    Our arrival on this scene of well over 20 horses and their riders milling about this stream. We could backtrack, not at all a short ways, or ford the stream. I was figuring on taking my socks off, sliping my shoes back on, and wading across. Doug was not keen on this idea. The horse people suggested they give us rides. Perhaps they said it with a joke in their hearts but they were serious and we took them up on the offer. I did less well than Doug.

    --November 7, 2020 at 3:40 PM. 12891 Trist Rd, Grass Lake, MI, United States

    Photo taken Nov 7, 2020 at 3:44 PM

    Doug looks a lot happier and more comfortable on his horse than I am sure I did on mine. I sat behind a fellow and he admonished me to, “breathe.” He may have been right to do so. There were easily a score of horses and their riders at this crossing.

    --November 7, 2020 at 3:44 PM. 12891 Trist Rd, Grass Lake, MI, United States

    Photo taken Nov. 7, 2020 around 4:50 PN

    Baldwin Flooding. This is where you will find a decommissioned dam and access to water. It’s about 0.5 miles west of Pones Rustic Campground. Time is approximate. Photo by Mike Fogarty

    Day 2: Pines Campground to Green Lake

    Photo taken Nov 8, 2020 at 4:15 PM

    Green Lake in full fall foliage glory. Andy got to camp about 20 minutes before Mike who arrived about 20 minutes before I did. Time and position are approximate. Photo by Andrew Mytys

    --November 8, 2020 at 4:15 PM. Chelsea, MI, United States

    Day 3: Green Lake to Silver Lake

    Photo taken Nov 9, 2020 at 8:40 AM

    The tunnel that we now get to use to safely deal with M-52 and all its traffic. This is part of the new, as of 2020, re-route that gets the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail off private land and away from danger. Photo by Andrew Mytys

    --November 9, 2020 at 8:40 AM. 18034–18272 M-52, Chelsea, MI, United States

    Photo taken Nov 9, 2020 at 9:08 AM

    We were working our way through the tall grasses following a deer trail (yes, I could see it too) towards where we believed the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail had to be. At this point the trail is probably about 0.1 miles east of us. But this is an area that has clearly seen human visitation before. Perhaps not all that often as we suspect this Pepsi bottle is older than Andy or I. Photo by Andrew Mytys

    --November 9, 2020 at 9:08 AM. Chelsea, MI, United States

    Photo taken Nov 9, 2020 at 1:05 PM

    Blind Lake is a fine place to have lunch. It is a remarkably clear body of water as you can tell as you peer down upon this Leopard Frog. Phto by Ander Mytys

    --November 9, 2020 at 1:05 PM. Gregory, MI, United States

    Photo taken Nov 9, 2020 at 4:45 PM

    By the time I would reach this plant the sun was not glinting off of it as it is here and I doubt I was that far behind. This was taken probably around 4:40 PM. This is the last pond we would pass before ending our hike. Photo by Mike Fogerty.

    Sunday, November 15, 2020

    Backpacking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail: A Stunningly Warm Autumn Adventure

    The weekend before rifle deer season and usually right around the birthday of a close friend people would gather at the old Schoolhouse in White Cloud, Michigan for a weekend of conviviality and outdoor fun. We started this tradition November 1999 and up until this year even though the Western Michigan Chapter of the NCTA sold the Schoolhouse we thought we would have our usual Gathering. COVID-19 has thrown those plans out. Paul and Julie took their family (Julie is the birthday girl) up north for a car-camping weekend of fun and one person joined them (Steve) but the Gathering was a non-event this year. Andy Mytys suggested a backpacking trip for the traditional weekend of the Gathering and along with Mike Fogarty and Doug Wood I joined in for this trek of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail.

    This would be a new hike for me. I’ve certainly walked the entire trail in sections before but never backpacked the whole thing. I don’t think I have even set foot on the trail since Andy, John, Dennis, and I set out on a winter solstice at dawn to hike from Big Portage Lake to Lyndon Park probably about 15 years ago. The trail has changed some over the years. While the trail has changed the information about it may not have. You can find sources that give different lengths such as 36 miles long1 and 33.9 miles 2. You will find different distances cited for campgrounds on the trail too. Take this all with a big grain of salt. While I am fully willing to admit that a GPS track has inherent errors in it I do not think my record track is that far off from the actual feet-on-the-ground experience. when you plan a trip keep in mind that the map is only a model of the reality on the ground and that model may be out of date. Over the course of the weekend I logged just over 42 miles. That does include hiking to and from Green Lake and Blind Lake. It includes no doubt some cumulative error though I think that is likley very small. It also includes the unintentional detour Doug and I took on day 1 which likely added about 1.0 mile to our hike. If I had to say what the most likely distance of just the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is I would suggest 38.5 miles with the biggest discrepancies from other sources being found between BIg Portage Lake and Pines Campground and from Green Lake to Silver Lake. For those that want to dive into the nitty-gritty of how my feet trod the Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation Areas you can view the GPS tracks:

    Day 1: Portage Lake to Pines Campground

    We hoped to be on the trail by 09:30 and earlier would have been lovely. But no plan survives contact with reality it seems. Andy’s ETA slipped but that hardly mattered because so did everyone else’s ETA. Toss in confusion on how to get to Portage Lake for some and we all were there a little before 10:00. Of course, by this time the already sunny morning had warmed up considerably and Doug proved to be the smartest of us all in that he was already down to pretty minimal layers of clothing. We hoisted our packs, probably all weighing in between, 21-23 pounds with all our stuff and plenty of waternote on water sources, and struck out on the trail at 10:01.

    Under the ever-present sound of crunching oak leaves we quickly left the parking lot and some traffic sounds. Now and then we would be treated to the eerie honking calls of Sandhill Cranes flying past. The lake was soon left behind for the rolling hills of the Waterloo Recreation Area. It is easy walking at this point. Navigation is also straightforward early on which is nice. We could relax into the hiking and enjoyment of the unusually warm sunny day. That’s what we did as our gorup spread out into distinct sub-groups with Andy and Mike in the far lead.

    photo taken November 7, 2020 at 11:17

    Left to right: Mike, Doug, Andy. Time for a late-morning break.

    --November 7, 2020 at 11:17 AM. Grass Lake, MI, United States

    photo  taken 13:37

    Now and then we will come up on one of these grassy open expenses. They never last long Brar a nice change of scenery.

    --November 7, 2020 at 1:37 PM. Grass Lake, MI, United States

    It was a lovely day and even though the climb up Sackrider Hill seemed to take more out of me than it should have I was enjoying myself quite a bit. Just being outside in these conditions was more than enough reward for a bit of harder work. I am sure everyone else felt the same way. But it couldn’t really last: at least the ease of hiking couldn’t last. Doug and I got into such a nice groove that we failed to make an important turn near Baldwin Flooding. We figured it out, we had suspicions already, when we came to a stream with well over a dozen horsemen and horsewomen with their horses all getting ready to trot through the water. We were completely off the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Should we retrace our steps or ford the stream and figure out where Pines Campground was from this point. Doug didn’t want to cross and get his shoes wet. I figured mine would dry and I could just either go barefoot or take my socks off and let the shoes quickly dry. The horse-people had another idea: give us rides across. We took them up on that notion. I made something of a hash of it just getting on the horse. What a stretch. I’m clearly not limber enough to swing my right leg up and over while wearing my pack. I needed a shove. Doug manned the whole affair, actually riding alone on a horse (I sat behind a fellow), far more adroitly than I. I’m grateful for the short ride but I must also say that it was a bit nerve-wracking being up there swaying back and forth.

    After that we made fine time until I belatedly realized my glasses had fallen off. Doug scampered on back to the stream where the horse-people still were and they had found my glasses. What a surprise. But with our navigational goof and this final mishap we still hauled ourselves and our gear into camp around 16:30. What a day: and we still had camp chores including dinner to contend with.

    but joyous taken 18:50

    We all fiddled with the fire in my Firebox G2 Titanium 5” stove (Mike’s going at it ) . It’s always a bit surprising how quickly it burns out. I think to really use it well it requires wood of much greater thickness than we used. Obviously you can cook with the stove but you need to provide lots of TLC to do it properly. We are nowhere, especially me, as competent with fire as say the stove’s creator is. But it did work.

    --November 7, 2020 at 6:50 PM. 12891 Trist Rd, Grass Lake, MI, United States

    I brought the 5-inch titanium Firebox stove on this trip to play with. This is not normally how I would cook. Making a wood-burning fire that you can cook on takes a lot of work. I broke up sticks into various sizes and it was not enough. Andy broke up more. We fiddled with the fire and it burned hot and too fast. Maybe if we had used much larger chunks of wood, akin to a fire torch approach, we could have done better. But my faux-quessedillas came out pretty well. My apple crisp-like dessert got burnt but the parts that did’t burn were quite tasty. Doug shared a lovely turmeric tea (think that’s right) with all of us. But by about 20:00, as we listened to the church group in the other campsites repeatedly pray to Mary, we crawled into our various shelters and sleeping bags to go to sleep.

    Day 2: Pines Campground to Green Lake

    Doug’s ankle had been bothering him the pervious day and he decided to play things safe and bail out. He would hike minor roads (maybe hitch) back to his car. He declined any offers to keep him company and no one pushed it. He was off pretty early on and Andy not far behind. Mike and I took a bit longer but we set out on the trail at 09:00 which was pretty good and could have been quicker had MIke and I not elected to have hot breakfasts (oatmeal takes forever to eat it seems).

    During the night the temperature dropped down to the low-mid 40s. I slept well in my Enlightened Equipment 50F quilt within my silk liner. Andy was probably wearing his usual sleeping clothing, long johns, and maybe a bit more under his tarp within a Serenity bug bivvy and he said he was comfortable too. That’s high praise given he sleep colder than I do. throughout the night we heard coyote yip and bark in the distance. I suppose they caught something. Some type of owl hooted but I couldn’t tell what it was. When the sun rose we heard Sandhill Crane cry as they flew south.

    Photo taken November 8, 2020 at 9:08

    We could certainly wish for more signs like this later on. There are numerous side trails that connect to the Waterloo Pinckney Trail. In this area they are predominantly horse trails and with signage is present and maintenance done is typically done by the local Horsemens Association. It can get quite confusing. Photo by Mike Fogarty

    --November 8, 2020 at 9:08 AM. Grass Lake, MI, United States

    The hiking in the vicinity of Pines Campground and for quite a few miles around is upon sandy trail. Numerous trails form loops that intersect with the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. It’s something of a mess. If you don’t have a decent map and ability to locate yourself either with solid knowledge of the area, a GPS, or both you can easily got confused. The footing on the trails just adds to the irritating nature of the hiking here. Horses just beat trails up.Mike and I were up to the task and did not get confused. We were very happy when the horse-riding trails subsided as we slowly approached Clear Lake and the Waterloo Recreation Area headquarters: lunch spot.

    We didn’t meet quite as many people on horseback during the morning as we hiked but that’s probably only because we were hiking out of the domain of the horse and rider. At our lunch spot we settled in for a time to relax and eat what we had. A few people came on by and asked what we were doing. Quick chats. A fine way to spend time outside. But after probably more than enough time had elapsed we gathered up our packs and struck out once more towards Green Lake. For time time we kept company with a young lady and her new puppy. That was a nice bit of conversation. But she was going to turn off in time, as her pup was flagging just a bit, and we would keep on heading towards camp.

    The trail footing is so much better once you leave the domain of the horse. No ruts. No sand. The trail rises and falls through many small hills which you notice as you climb them (more descend as you worry about slipping). The literature suggests that the trail mileage between Pines and Green Lake is 12.5 miles. That’s likely a bit short but probably not by more than 0.5 miles. But it’s a tough 13.5 miles even though none of the hills is really much to write home about. Andy was at camp well before me. Mike wasn’t far behind Andy. I arrived at 16:30. By the time I showed up it was cooling down a litle bit. Our sunny day was still going pretty strong and the high was well into the mid-70s. It was nice to relax and get ready for our second night. I fully planned on eating my pasta dinner, using the alcohol stove, but Andy had other ideas. Chelsea is only about 5 miles away and surely a pizza place would deliver to the campground. Well our first place we called doesn’t do delivery but Jets did and so a large Detroit-style pizza was ordered. Took something like an hour to reach us but we enjoyed the special treat - pizza was OK not great - of ordered food. I suppose we stayed up later because of the late dinner but we had nowhere we needed to be. A fine way to end the day.

    Day 3: Green Lake to Silver Lake

    Photo taken November 9, 2020 at 8:32

    This is as gooda view of Green Lake as I would get.

    --November 9, 2020 at 8:32 AM. 18347–18505 M-52, Chelsea, MI, United States

    Our final day and it was going to be the longest day even by the data we gleamed from the literature. That suggested a distance of 13 trail miles so 13.5 miles from our campsite. I had my doubts. We planned to be on the trail bight eyed and early and have breakfast at the pavilion in Lyndon Park which the literature suggests was only 2.0 trail miles distant. There is what the map presents and then what the feet trod. Their was a great difference this morning. The map didn’t show the re-route that was made to avoid having to cross M-52 and then walk up a private drive. That re-route takes you down a paved bike path about 0.5 miles to a tunnel which then if you are paying close attention as you walk the continuing paved path has an unmarked trail leading east into the woods. That’s the trail you want to take and it will link up with the “old” Waterloo-Pinckney Trail in 0.5 miles. We missed that turning. Andy and I decided to strike out for new territory and find the trail via bushwhacking. Mike wasn’t keen on that idea as he was worried about marshy ground so turned back to find what we clearly missed.

    Photo taken at 9:10

    We have climbed Stofet Hill and are making our way along deer trails towards the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Andy braves a path through the tall grass. Here we avoid slipping on leaves though the grass does hide branches to trip over.

    --November 9, 2020 at 9:10 AM. Chelsea, MI, United States

    Andy and I soon found a trail that would climb through rasberry bushes and other brush slowly gaining the near-top of Stofer Hill. As we climbed we learned Mike had found the trail and was making good time. We held out a faint hope that we’d be faster than him and could get to Lyndon Park first but I suppose that was foolish. Our semi-maintained trail faded away to be replaced by game trails that we managed to follow pretty well. No marsh. We came into a meadow and knew that the Waterloo-Pinckney was not too far away. Just keep heading the way we were going and we would hit the trail. We did. Our extra exploration certainly added distance to our day; Mike’s did too. The re-route had we found it straight off would have as well though a bit less. Everyone had fun and we all reached Lyndon Park eventually though Mike was well ahead of us.

    Our warmest if not quite clearest day. But I think the clouds make the sky stand out more above this wet grassy area.

    --November 9, 2020 at 11:00 AM. Chelsea, MI, United States

    We spent too long at Lyndon Park. It’s not as though we had big deal breakfasts we just dawdled. Over the course of the entire day we would take 2 hours and 16 minutes of breaks (that’s my breaks; bet Andy and MIke got more). Breakfast and lunch took up the bulk of those pauses and while they probably were worth it (lunch for more so as it was prettier) we probably should have taken those breaks in more even chunks. The strategy of taking a short break every hour or so instead of a couple huge breaks and several short ones now and then really does have a lot to recommend it.

    P taken at 12:04

    Carry a bucket or other water carrier you can attach a line to ( or has a long enough strap already as my Sea to summit bucket does) to fetch water from spots like this.

    --November 9, 2020 at 12:04 PM. Gregory, MI, United States

    It was our warmest day yet and I suspect we all felt the need for water. I know I certainly did. Too bad treating water, using my Sawyer Mini in this case, seems to always take longer than you would wish. I should’ve brought the Katadyn BeFree instead and I certainly can see the appeal of UV-light purification systems that take only a minute. I’m just not sure I trust them as I saw them break in the past. However, that past is a decade ago and I know the technology has improved since then and people whose outdoor expertise I trust use them.

    photo taken at 13:53
    Ken after lunch at Blind Lake. It’s worth the 0.25-mile walk down to the lake for a relaxing break. If you’re lucky you will spot bullfrogs and leopard frogs as Mike and Andy did. Photo by  by Mike.

    --November 9, 2020 at 1:53 PM. Gregory, MI, United States

    photo taken at 14:32

    I believe this is Dead Lake. Does that mean we shouldn’t get water from it? We just walked on by. Photo by Mike.

    --November 9, 2020 at 2:32 PM. Gregory, MI, United States

    We marched on and on. Andy and Mike pulling ahead and waiting for me to catch up. Blind Lake, Dead Lake, Pickerel Lake. They slowly came and went and we plodded on. Had we wanted to not walk the whole Waterloo-Pinckney (OK, we already blew that) Trail we could have shaved at least a couple miles off the hike by not following the Potowatomi Trail all the way. But that wasn’t the choice we made. With little fanfare we worked our way past the last unnamed lake, through a lovely pine grove, and then to the rocky bit that lasts at most a tenth of a mile before ending at the parking lot for Silver Lake. You don’t even see the lake. Sunset was just past and twilight was settling in as we quenched our thrist with iron-tasting water at the Silver Lake pump. The hike was complete.

    Gear List

    This was put together a bit haphazardly but is substantially complete and accurate. As you can see the wood-burning stove is a huge weight. An alcohol stove, like my Evernew titanium Trangia-style burner with Trangia simmer ring (carried but I forgot to put in the list) with fuel weighed 120 grams. Had I gone solely alcohol I’d have carried more fuel but the total would likely have been only a third as heavy at most.

    Gear weight(grams)
    ZPacks Solplex with 8 stakes 500
    NeoAir xtherm 455
    Enlighten Rquipment 50 290
    Design Salt Silk Liner 115
    Vargo ExoTi 50 Backpack 1465
    Firebox G2 titanium 5” with 4 firrsticks and Cordura Pouch 580
    Self Reliance 1L Titanium Pot 160
    Kieth Titanium Mug 55
    frypan (no handle) not sure if it’s an MSR or Trangia 125
    Pot lifter 20
    Trimmed Fat Daddio 4x2” baking dish from Flatcat Gear 60
    Stuff Sack 20
    Fork/spoon 5
    Firebox leather gloves 95
    smart wool t shirt 80
    2 pairs socks 120
    Underwear 70
    Buff 35
    Packa rain jacket 255
    Kuiu Peleton 97 L hoodie 140
    10,000 Anker battery 215
    Petzle bindi lamp 34
    Garmin inReach 130
    Microphone 68
    Tripod 194
    Phone mount 96
    Compass, knife, fire starter 120
    Wallet baggie (cash, ID, credit card, insurance card, emergency info) estimate 92
    Toiletries , first aid 205
    Trowel, tp, sanitizer, body glide 140
    CNOC 2L bladder 90
    Sawyer mini and back flush syringe 80
    Sea to Summit bucket 65
    Gear weight (g) 6174
    Food bag (Sea to Summit waterproof with OP sack and bear hang kit) 100
    Food estimate 2100
    Starting water 2000
    total estimate (g) 10374
    Hiking pants, undies 390
    REI long sleeve shirt 230
    T shirt 70
    Socks 60
    Altra Lone Peak 4
    Wintergreen hat 34
    Monocular 98
    Worn total 882

    1. From Wikipedia ↩︎

    2. Pure Michigan ↩︎

    3. just really two reliable sources of water. One is at a decommissioned dam just east of Willis Road about 3 miles from the trailhead. The second about 0.5 miles west of Pines Campground ↩︎