Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NCT and MRP Day 3-The Manistee River

It was a crisp and clear night. Though I did not notice the stars that Andy spotted even though he wasn't wearing his glasses. I think the low was around 45F which is definitely cooler than the night before. I slept about as well as I could hope given the sore spots I went to bed with. In the morning, around 07:00, when I got up (after Andy dropped my food bag off and pulled my sleeping quilt off me, what a joker he is - ha ha) it was overcast and about 51F. We broke camp and started walking towards Coates Highway end of the section. That is a distance of about 2.8 miles I think and until we climbed up a big hill that afforded us some fine views of the Manistee River we had to deal with more blowdowns. This is a section of trail that needs a good bit of attention given to it. Maybe that will happen in time. When we reached Coates Highway, catching up with Doug who had pulled ahead, we were all well warmed up. Most of us had shed some layers of clothing even though it was still only in the mid 50s and overcast. But we probably looked overdressed to the trail runners who zipped on by us chatting as they came. They were in t-shirts and shorts and carrying what seemed like a tiny amount of water. I suppose they figure they don't need more. They clearly were in great shape. After a short break at Red Bridge we returned to the Manistee River Pathway (which we had joined by Coates Highway I believe) and soon the clouds began to break up some and the views got better and better. The MRP has some modest hills here that bring you up high above the river and then drop you back down towards streams that flow into the Manistee. At one of those streams we paused to take pictures and noticed a very well camouflaged deer carcass just upstream of the bridge we were standing on. I suppose I caught a whiff of decay but to be honest I am not at all sure I'd have figured out that the carcass was there had Andy not pointed it out. John and Doug never saw it when they went by before us. It is a strong reminder that you have to pay attention to your surroundings. Not long after finishing lunch at a sluggish stream the clouds began to really break up. If you stood in a sunny spot and waited you could feel sun drenched warmth that might have been close on 70 degrees but the actual air temperature was probably never more than about 58. Throughout the afternoon we encountered a few other backpackers all heading in the other direction. Some, like the group of 4 or 5 we saw around 13:45 by a creek (not sure of its name) were definitely carrying pretty hefty loads. We also met a local out with his friendly dog (by S Slagle Creek road I think) who seemed quite nice and definitely was familiar with the area. I'm not sure how far he actually went by I'd not be surprised if his roundtrip day hike was pushing 10 miles as we were pretty close to the suspension bridge that crosses the Manistee when he passed us by on his return to his car. I'm sure he could move quickly; certainly far faster than I and maybe faster than any of my companions but then he just had a daypack. His dog definitely could move quickly and was full of life which was impressive given that he was a hard luck stray the fellow found 6 years ago. With the sun beaming down on us the walk on both the high banks and low spots of the MRP was very enjoyable. The river twists and turns as its blue waters flow on by. You walk through birch, pine, and oak forests that open up now and then into glades with wonderful campsites (though water at many of them is not available as they're way above the river). Now and then the trail dips into a dark grove of trees and , for me at least, the going gets a bit tougher. However, overall the MRP is easy to follow and is in pretty good shape. It could use some more obvious blazing but perhaps that is me just missing the blue diamonds (and sometimes white rectangle blazes). I had fallen behind the rest of the group so perhaps I was going slower because of that. I'm not sure how much faster I would have gone had I been hiking with someone but I suspect it would have been a bit quicker. Oh well. Somewhere around the Clay Pots (?) I well and truly caught up with John and Andy and I was able to speed up a bit with the goading of them to ensure we got to the car before 19:00. It was a bit past 16:00 by this time and we reached the suspension bridge around 17:15 to find Doug waiting patiently for us. we had somewhere around 2.7 miles to go I believe. We crossed the Manistee River and joined the NCT on the other side (?) heading south for a way before finally turning on to the Marilla Trail that would take us steadily up the flank of the hill we had been following (now heading north and then westerly) to the Marilla Road trailhead and the car. That final walk north provided us with some wonderful views of the Manistee River valley to the east and the bench we paused at is clearly a favorite spot of local people. In fact, as we came to the parking lot - around 18:50 - we saw a handful of folks coming our way clearly heading to the very bench and lookout spot we had left 10-15 minutes earlier. Our day was done: 16.9 miles of hiking and a grand total of about 47.9 miles I believe. A very good weekend indeed and it ended I think with the best hiking on the last day.
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