Tuesday, November 15, 2011

13th Great Lakes Hikes November Gathering

Ken at McCarthy Lake

McCarthy Lake could be a good place to camp if you show up when RV/Campers aren't around. It is a nice lake just off the NCT and it was a good place for us to, more or less, end our hike after messing up our hike.
—Photo by Andy Mytys

Every year for the past thirteen years when the second weekend of November rolls around I join many other folks for a weekend of day hiking, eating fine potluck food, chatting around a campfire, and generally having a good fine time and getting in a couple of final hikes before firearms deer hunting season opens. It is known as the November Gathering and though it is organized under the umbrella of the Great Lakes Hikes email group (hosted on Yahoo! Groups as, "greatlakeshikes") it isn't limited to members of GLH alone. This year we had a mid-sized group attend as a few folks had to drop out at the last minute which was a bit of a shame. This year some people were able to break away from work a bit early and go on a paddle of the Little Moskegon (I think) River. Others, including myself, John Lawton, and Andy and Elwira Mytys, went up to tackle our section of North Country Trail fall maintenance chores. I know that the paddlers ended up having a good time. We certainly had a good and productive time doing our trail cleanup work even though we did not quite complete the entire section before the sun set and full moon crept out from below the horizon. We got a bit of a late start but the time spent in Lowell was worth it. Friday evening saw pretty much everyone arrive at the Schoolhouse. We spent most of the time chatting either inside or by the fire as the moon rose. My only regret is my strangely dumb decision to fail to bring out the brats and buns for us to have a proper dinner. But that's the worst I can come up with for the evening. It was well after midnight when the last of us, including me, toddled off to our tents to curl up under our sleeping bags or quilts and settle in as the temperature continued to steadily drop towards around 30*F (-1*C). With the moon blazing I know that I wasn't the only one surprised by how light the interior of my tent was. If you didn't know better you would think someone had left the backyard floodlight of the Schoolhouse on. Given how little sleep I managed the night before sleeping in until just after 09:00 when Paul came outside and called out to those of us still asleep that we needed to get our butts in gear was wonderful. John slept through that hale which was completely understandable as he had gotten virtually no sleep the previous night. But when Andy shock his tent and then unzipped it and peered in he did rise and get ready in good order too. Snow on NCT

A few stretches of the North Country Trail had patches of snow like this one near 5-Mile Road in Lake County. On the drive up we saw similar patches of snow as we drove up to our trail section by 13-Mile Road.

Plans were made for the various hikes of the day as people tucked into muffins, fruits, fried potatoes, and more for breakfast. The kids with some of their parents would visit some nearby lakes; another group would trek around 8 miles somewhere around US10 (I think); and the final group which included me would tackle a 13 mile stretch between 5 Mile Road (Lake County) and US-10. This is a hike that is quite a distance from the NCTA Schoolhouse, easily an hour away. Our group of half a dozen (me, Andy, John, Matt, Jim, and Paul) set out just after 11:00 on a warm for this time of year sunny day. We slowly spread out into faster and slower groups. Andy and I found ourselves trailing behind as I took pictures and he paused now and then to make notes of distances as me measured the trail with his wheel. It was a quiet day in the woods. Now and then a bird could be heard and very rarely a gunshot. We quickly moved beyond earshot of the cars that motored down 5-Mile Road. As we walked through the leaf covered sun dappled forest we spotted small patches of light snow sprinkling the ground. It wasn't much snow but it is remarkable how much it was able to hang on as the daytime temperatures reached into the 50s. The walk through the forest generally trended southernly and had us walking into the sun. Soon we came to the Vince Smith memorial Bridge which spans the Big Sable River. It's a rather nice spot with what almost surely must be a spring-fed pool not that far away. There are some good looking camping spots in that area and that would turn out to be a good thing later on. Big Sable River Vince Smith Memorial Bridge

This is a nice bridge spanning the Big Sable River. Not far from the river is a spring-fed pool and there are spots that look quite good for camping. Andy and I crossed this bridge 3 times. On the second crossing we both had the same thought, "Vince Smith must have been quite special to get multiple bridges named for him." That definitely says something about how our minds were working as neither of us realized we were crossing the bridge we had crossed an hour earlier.

The group spread out into its component parts not long after that point. Andy and I moved steadily on completely enjoying the early afternoon. We crossed forest service roads and several ATV two-tracks and then realized that we were no longer on the trail. That happens sometimes as you walk down a narrow hiking trail; you follow the "natural path" and just veer off the proper course. We realized our error when we reached a Forest Service road (it would turn out to be FR8570). We turned around and hurried back to the blue blazes of the North Country Trail. We didn't want to fall too far behind and when we found the blazes we strolled back down the NCT still completely enjoying the day. This is when we should have started to pay a bit more attention to what we were seeing but we knew, were absolutely certain, we were heading the right way. The sun wasn't really in our faces any more. Then we came to a good looking bridge. Vince Smith must have been a member in really good standing of the Spirit of the Woods chapter we decided because he had at least two bridges named for him. We were sure that was the case. Then we arrived at 5-Mile Road and began to wonder why there was a road walk here. Realization dawned on us at this point: we had retraced our steps. We had gone entirely the wrong way. We were back at the starting point. What could we do but laugh. We never were really worried about our screw up as we both had the gear to deal with an unexpected night out if by some fluke chance it came to that. We knew it wouldn't. We managed to get in touch with Paul who was with the rest of the group and near McCarthy Lake by this time. They would continue the hike to its planned end while we would hike to McCarthy Lake and then return to the NCT crossing of 3-Mile Road and wait for a ride there. This type of screw-up has probably happened to anyone who spends enough time hiking in the woods; ours was just a little longer than most. After returning to the Schoolhouse and finding it awash in people and stuff I quickly found that I had little to do before the main meal. After all all I had to do was put my pies out to warm up. Everyone else was either getting their dishes ready or chatting with most everyone else inside. But some people were sitting around the small steadily burning fire. It was nice to sit with them and avoid the truly stunning hustle and bustle inside and children were corralled and meals were prepared for dinner. But in due tme the call came out that diner was ready and thus the bulk of the evening really began. The Saturday evening meal at the November Gathering is always a relaxed boisterous affair with a stunning assortment of food to suit all dietary tastes. This year was no different. Conversations flowed throughout the meal and everyone was having a good time. Some people would drift off to sleep fairly early but those of us who stayed up would drift in and out of the Schoolhouse as the evening settled in. It was a remarkably warm night though overcast. Eventually the impromptu conversations, games, and concerts would all end and a few final hardy souls (including me) would settle in around the hot little fire to enjoy late night brats, drinks, and some last enjoyable chit-chat. It was a great way to end the day and we all shuffled off to bed somewhat past midnight once again. Cold Creek Bridge 2Cold Creek Bridge 2

This is a newly installed bridge that is replacing the old bridge that was broken and also was in a worse location.

Rattlesnake Creek pano

Rattlesnake Creek bridge marks the northern end of a stretch of trail that is muddy and often likely flooded. It's a section that you can easily find yourself stepping into a wet hole as I did. The overcast sky was giving us quite a show as clouds scudded across the scene rather quickly. Canadian Geese flew on by as we hung out on the bridge for a bit.

White River at sunset

As we approached the White River I found myself wondering at how dark it was getting. It seemed as dark as it had een as the sun approached the horizon Friday when we were nearing the end of our trail section cleanup work. I had not realized that it was, in fact, actually nearing sunset as I thought it was earlier than it was. Even with the sky as overcast as it was we still had a hint of color from the sunset.

Sunday is always an interesting day at the Gathering. It is a lazy morning since people tend to stay up late the night before. There is also no reason to rush as most time any hiking we do is typically shorter than the longer hikes of Saturday. Of course it also takes time to clean up the Schoolhouse and I personally think we do a pretty good job of that. The overcast but warm morning rolled on as people figured out whether they would join a hike or simply head home. For my part I joined Andy, John, and Elwira to finish up our trail maintenance and then we would meet the other remnants of the Gathering (Haan family, Jim, Dave, Nancy) who were doing an out-and-back trek from Echo Drive near White Cloud. Finishing our maintenance work did not take that long and by 14:00 we were together again at the M-20 Trailhead that is about 4 miles from Echo Drive. The skies refused to clear but the air temperature was surprisingly warm for this time of year. We hoped the forecast for rain showers would hold off while we hiked to the newly built bridge that spans Cold Creek. This is quite a nice structure and it ought to last a long time. Retracing our steps back to M-20 and then continuing on to Echo Drive would be the capstone of our day's hiking. Abbie put to of our fellow hikers to shame by strutting forth with gusto leaving them to drive back to Echo Drive. This means she hiked close to 10 miles today. The section is a nice one featuring a wonderful red and white pine grove that Julie is absolutely right would make a superb place to take an afternoon nap let alone camp out (barring the fact that there is no water). The views by Rattlesnake Creek were also quite good and we saw and heard a flock of Canadian Geese fly by probably looking for a place to land for the night as sunset was only about an hour away. There is a rather muddy stretch just beyond (south) of Rattlesnake Creek that runs for almost 900 feet across worn out puncheon that gave me some pause. With any luck that stretch of trail will get raised decking sometime in the near future. As the sun set, providing hints of color in the sky, we crossed the White River and walked past a huge field as it drizzled down upon us. The rain didn't amount to all that much and by the time we reached the cars it had stopped. A fine day of hiking had come to an end and with it the effective end of the 13th annual Great Lakes Hikes November Gathering. Larger versions of the photos can be found on this Picasa Web Photo Album
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