Friday, December 9, 2011

An Overnight On the North Country Trail

Andy on Cole Creek Bridge

Our second day of hiking featured on and off again rain but the temperature was actually rather warm considering what we had been expecting. By the time we reached this new bridge over Cole Creek we had hiked some 13 miles and were quite ready for the end of the hike and the much-look-forwarded-too burritos at the Sportsman's Bar in Newago.
Sunday, December 4, 2011

I joined Andy Mytys last weekend for an overnight backpacking trip on the North Country Trail. Together we are working on a project that we hope will draw people to the North Country Trail and associated side trails. We are hoping to develop information that will entice people who want a wilderness experience in Michigan's Lower Peninsula and want to minimize time spent on roads. To achieve this goal we have to evaluate the ecological diversity, availability of re-supply points, enticing starting and ending points, to name just a few.  To tackle this job we need to determine where important and interesting features of the North Country Trail and other nearby trails are and how far they are from each other. The best way to do this is by falling back on classic surveying methods and using a measuring wheel and walking all the sections of trails that we think could be of interest. For those wondering a measuring wheel can be best thought of as a single-wheeled device that you push in front of you and as it rolls along a counter ticks over at precise intervals. The wheel we are using ticks over at one foot increments. While it isn't terribly heavy it is still a burden to push along even on the moderately gentle hills of the trails we are exploring. This is a project that will likely take quite some time to complete. When you can only tackle sections a weekend at a time and have to worry about the logistics of managing car shuttles you can only go so far: we were happy to do 24 or so miles on this trip. We were expecting to spend the weekend hiking in what could be pretty cruddy weather. The forecast had predicted high temperatures in the upper 30s to lower 40s and plenty of rain. The nighttime low was predicted to be around freezing and Sunday seemed to be a bit better. These conditions are not our favorite to hike in. It's especially bad when you have to deal with wet conditions around camp. We met Jim who was going to join us for a bit of hiking and help us with the car shuttle around 09:00 and a drizzling cold morning. It was about as expected and looking at the weather radar had convinced others that it was only going to get worse and so they decided to stay home. Since the first bit of the hike was only going to span about 3.3 miles we just tossed on our rain gear and set out. It's easy hiking and we enjoyed the walk even though the weather wasn't ideal. The weather was not great but in its own way it contributed to a nice feeling I think we all experienced. The rain which brought a bit of mist gave the world a peaceful if wet air about it. We spent a ridiculous amount of time driving from 16-Mile Road to Cleveland Drive. We had to first retrieve the car at 96th Street. I think we may have mis-understood the advice Paul had given us and resulting in us taking a rather bumpy and very round-about drive back to 96th Street. That can happen with the numerous ATV and Forest Service roads that criss-cross the region. However, once we got the shuttling done things would move forward quite smoothly for the rest of the afternoon. We dropped the car off at the endpoint of our hike (M-20 in Newago County) and Jim drove us to Cleveland Drive which is about 20 trail miles away. We said goodbye and once again donned our rainwear and put our backpacks on and struck out along the trail once more.  I had predicted that we would not see anyone else on the tail and so was surprised that we did encounter a day hiker. Assuming we understood what he was doing correctly we figured we would see him later in the day as he returned to Pierce Road which was beyond where we planned to camp at Bear Creek. We never saw the fellow again. Given the time of year and the weather I was not surprised that we really did not see or hear all that much as we walked through the forests. I don't think I ever heard the honk of any Canada Geese or the warble of Sandhill Cranes both of which you sometimes might hear even this late in the season. The sound of rain pattering against my poncho was pretty common but at least the rain wasn't hard and often we had significant stretches where it did not rain at all. The hiking was easy and all in all the weather rather more mild than we had anticipated. Shelf FungusSuper Colorful Moss in Fall

One very nice thing about this time of year is you often see colors that can really pop out at you. You see this here in these pictures taken on consecutive afternoons. It is a shame I could not really capture the depth of beauty that we got to experience as we crossed creeks like the unnamed creek and Tank creek on the first day.
Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4, 2011

One particular highlight of the day was passing through pine and cedar groves as we strode past the various creeks along our path. The colors this time of year are deep and rich. I wish I could have photographed them capturing the rich dark green of the live needles, the wonderful  brown of the dead needles that softened the forest floor, the red-tinged bark of the trees that we passed by, and of course, the reflections from the clear creek water that burbled on by. However, with just an iphone handy and time running against us it was not meant to be. Some of the prettiest portions of North Country Trail in Manistee National Forest can be found around creeks. Our campsite in the pines that are near Bear Creek was not the absolute prettiest of these places but it was still one of the nicest campsites I think I have pitched a shelter at in quite some time. We reached that site just before 17:00 and were pretty well set up before it got dark. We had staggering amounts of time to do with as we pleased before going to sleep. After all, you can only really lay in a comfortable sleeping bag for so many hours. Taking advantage of the spaciousness of my Trailstar we shared a very lazy dinner that easily used up a couple of hours of easy chit-chat and adequate backpacking food. We did hear, at least I think we did, a couple local boys yelling to each other but I am not sure if they were on the NCT or somewhere near on Pierce Road. I expect it was the latter. Eventually it was time to sack out and we timed that pretty well as the rain which had been holding off finally returned and continued throughout the night finally coming to an end a couple hours before sunrise. Campsite at Bear Creek

Our campsite at Bear Creek was excellent. The pines helped shelter us a bit from the steady rain that fell during the night. I used my Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar which is very roomy and gave us plenty of comfortable space to enjoy our dinner together before Andy retired to his much smaller poncho-tarp shelter.
Sunday, December 4, 2011 (morning)

I am so glad we were able to set up and take down camp when it was not raining. Sure we had to pack up wet shelters but it is so much more pleasant to do camp chores when you are not getting soaked in the process. This was probably even more appreciated by Andy since his shelter was his poncho.  We will likely never win any awards for quick departures from camp. I know I could have been more efficient than I was. We probably came close to using up 2 hours from getting ourselves moving to actually leaving camp. It was just shy of 09:30. We figured we had about 14 miles of hiking to do and that meant we would likely reach the car at the trailhead at 17:00. It was overcast but not yet raining. It was also considerably warmer than the day before. i doubt the nighttime low temperature dropped below 40 degrees and it was certainly climbing well into the mid-upper 40s as we left camp. Unknown Dead Critter

We aren't really sure what this not-long-dead animal is. Maybe an ermine or something like that. It is a bit hard to tell from the photo but the animal is pretty much all white fluffy fur except for the black tale. The photo looks the way it does because I shot it with my iPhone 4 through the Aquapac bag which may once have been optically clear but I don't think it is any longer.
Saturday, December 3, 2011

The rain would come and go, fortunately during the mile-long stretch of trail through a clear cut region the weather was calm, but it was never terribly intense. Really the weather was more annoying and inconvenient than anything else (you don't want to have a nice lunch if it is raining and taking a bathroom break is always a pain). At times on Sunday I certainly felt as though we had actually walked quite a bit farther than the map seemed to suggest we should have gone. That would turn out to be mostly an illusion. Sunday also would lack much of the really lovely creek crossings we had on Saturday though  you shouldn't get the impression the trail is dull. After all if you look for things to admire you are bound to find them and the supremely brilliant green moss runs we found are an great example of that. By the time we passed the place where last year a friend of ours jammed her ankle and Chuck came to fetch her we were starting to count the miles we had left to go to reach the car. When we reached the next milestone it seemed like we surely must be almost done as we paused to take stock and make some adjustments (listening to a couple big dogs at a near by though out-of-sight house bark up a storm) we were definitely dragging a bit. We were almost to the point where we were making guesses how many thousands of feet we had to go before reaching the new bridge over Cole Creek which we knew was about a mile from the trailhead. At about  16:10 we reached that bridge and knew our journey was almost done. Hurray. Our legs were tired, our feet sore, and we wanted to have a good hot meal. By 16:30 we were at the trailhead and the rain was drizzling down once again. But the overnight hike was done and we had accomplished what we had set out to do. We were happy; the trip was definitely a good one.