Sunday, May 4, 2014
#35: Manistee River Trail March Winter Weekend 2014
It has been a while since I've managed to go on any winter backpacking trips. In fact, it has been several years since I've actually done more than day hiking in the winter even if some of those trips were based out of rustic cabins in places like Wilderness State Park by Mackinaw City or the cabins in the Waterloo-Pinckney Recreation Area. So this two-night weekend spent hiking a portion of the Manistee River Trail with friends was a real treat. Joined by experienced, in some cases (maybe all), winter backpackers Doug, Ewa, and Paul (and Paul's dog Capone) we planned a fairly modest couple days of hiking in and then back out on the Manistee River Trail. Their was a time when I had hiked the entire loop which includes the North Country Trail on the other side of the Manistee River covering about 21 miles over a weekend in snowshoes but this trip would be nowhere nearly that ambitious. Our plan was to drive to Red Bridge Friday night and either camp right there or somewhere nearby, hike however far on Saturday to some point along the trail, and return Sunday for the drive back to our respective homes.
We would meet at Barski Bar in Baldwin and after dinner drive to Red Bridge to start our hiking weekend. I suspect that their aren't that many places to eat in Baldwin, Michigan. Barski's though has some truly wonderful food. I imagine the burger I had that was topped with an egg plus the more usual burger toppings would make a cardiologist cringee but boy was it tasty. The meals everyone else had create similar amounts of gastronomic pleasure and none of us worried much about the calories. After all, we were about to go on a winter hike. It would be well past sunset when we managed to park our two cars in the unplowed snowy parking lot at Red Bridge. We hoisted our packs, heavy with winter gear, grabbed our snowshoes and began the hike which starts with a quarter-mile tromp down North Coates Highway to where the MRT trailhead is. Once there we did a bit more gear re-arranging , stepped into our snowshoes, and began the slow process of hiking along the narrow snowy Manistee River Trail.
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We were in no rush to leave camp Saturday morning. While we all started to stir not long after sunrise we did not actually leave camp until about 11:00. We were only going to hike about 3 miles so leaving so late was hardly a hardship. When we left to hike the rolling hills it was overcast but nice enough. We made our way methodically along the trail enjoying the frequent views of the river as we crunched loudly through the snow. When we reached our planned, well the site Paul figured would be good mostly because it has such fine river views, around 14:00 (perhaps a bit earlier than that) we settled in for a fine lazy afternoon. The sun was out and that made setting up camp a much nicer though perhaps not really all that much quicker of a task. Of course, it was far too early to be done with our day so after dawdling about camp for a while we decided to hike to Slagle Creek. What a wonderful hike that turned out to be. Sure hiking down in and then out of a ravine along a slick hillside was a tiny bit of a chore but only a small annoyance. The sun had conquered the clouds that had been out earlier and it was a fine day to be out enjoying the trail. Settling down later to soak up some of that sun along the southwest facing ridge by our camp was also a real treat.
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The hike back to the cars was as enjoyable as the hike out. To be sure the day was actually somewhat colder but that hardly matters when you're tromping through snow that if you break through will rise well past your calf. We did break camp a bit more quickly but we still weren't in anything like a real hurry. We had ample time to hike out and some of us were lucky enough to spy various wildlife along the way including a couple bald eagles. We paused a few times for enjoyable breaks, usually in places at least a little out of the wind though still with views of the river down below. I think the biggest surprise though of our return hike came near its end. On the way out, seemingly farther along than it really was we had to squeeze by a juniper bush that was pushing well into the trail. On our left the trail vanished into a drop-off that seemed to drop easily 30 feet into blackness that likely concealed a lot of muck. Getting past that bush was something of a trial. When we came to it in the glare of a high sun it was far easier to edge past it and the drop off turned out to be at most 8 feet and nowhere near as imposing let alone dangerous. Hiking at night changes your perspective.
We reached our cars a little after 14:00. Naturally we had to have a post-hike meal and so a return visit to Barski Bar was called for. I must say the rueben I had was even tastier than the burger of Friday night. Everyone else agreed their meals were equally good. After that fine meal it was time for Ewa and I to head back towards Ann Arbor while Paul and Doug returned to Grand Rapids. It had been a very good weekend indeed.
Check out this episode!
MRT Winter Trip
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