Michigan Bush Rats' Wilderness
Tripping: Winter Camping and Sledging
A Michigan Bush Rats' Adventure:
January 12-16, 2007
Gail Staisil (Isleroyalegirl or Woodswoman)
E-mail author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Friday, January 12
"The Winter That Wasn't"
It seemed like every day preceding our sledge trip, the news sources including television, radio and newspapers throughout the state and the entire country kept referring to the present winter as the "Winter That Wasn't".
Although it got to be more than a bit redundant, as a cross country ski enthusiast, I admit that it's been a disappointing winter so far.
Major snow dumps seemed to always be following by a melting trend leaving the ground void of snow at times. I still managed to get in a fair amount of skiing but it was only because I knew where the small pockets of snow were.
Now, even our original destination for this trip--the Delirium Wilderness Tract--was unlikely, so instead "Head Bush Rat" Michael changed it to an area that usually can be counted on to produce lake-effect snow. It was not sheltered by the northwesterly winds over the Keweenaw, like much of the land to the west.
Our trip was re-located to the Kingston Plains, an inland area well east of Munising. Reports had it that there was at least 14 inches of snow in some locations so we knew we would be able to use our sledges to haul our gear. That in itself was a relief, as the alternative amounted to carrying monstrous winter-size backpacks.
Mary, Michael, Cathy and I all met in Munising to have breakfast and facilitate getting the trip started. After a belly-filler breakfast at the Dog Patch Restaurant, we drove east to find more snow.
We all brought a large selection of topographical maps knowing that the actual start of our trip could be on any one of them. As we drove further east, the snow banks seemed to gain a few inches along the way from the 2-3 in of snow that was on the ground in Munising. By the time we reached the end of the plowed road, there was only about 8 in of snow on the ground. It was a shade disappointing, but more was predicted so this was as good a place as any to start the trip.
We parked at the popular parking lot area on H58 (Adams Truck Trail). There were only a few snowmobilers with trailers anxious to start the season. A couple of other guys arrived to head out to do some backcountry skiing. It was a good blend of snow enthusiasts.
We hauled our sledges out of the vehicles, made some last minute adjustments to equipment and decided on snowshoe choices. Cathy opted to use a small running-style pair, Mary decided to strap hers to her sledge and start without snowshoes, Michael was eager to try his new Cree (Ojibwa-style) snowshoes and I donned my sizable Redfeathers. We knew snow depth would vary but everyone was satisfied with their decision.
The general plan was to head north from our present location. Wait...we really didn't have an overall plan just yet, but we had five days and the decisions would be made according to the snow depth as we traveled.
We were all stuffed from eating our breakfast at the Dog Patch so we wouldn't be stopping soon for lunch. We soon shed our outer shells as even though the temperature was only in the low 20 F range there was a good deal of humidity and light snow was falling.
Mary led us through the thick brush and eventually to an old railroad bed. Mary had some problems with her sledge traces, which were now in need of repair. They had become disconnected and were clanking through the bush but she would deal with those later after we arrived at camp. Field repairs often take a good amount of time and since the terrain we were navigating today wasn't extreme, she could make do until then.
We stopped for lunch, cooled down and the temperature (18 F) and humidity dropped as well. We all wore more clothing for the afternoon's journey. Cathy led us towards the east side of Beaver Basin but we would be camping outside the park's (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) boundaries. We used sections of old railroad grades, former logging roads and a bit of bushwhacking to get to an area where we would make camp.
It snowed quite heavily at times but it never lasted very long. Evening chatter revolved around it being our first sledge of the winter season and how hectic it seemed for everyone to get ready for this trip.
Winter necessitates a lot of gear changes. Everything from a choice of stove to a choice of what sleeping bag to use are affected. The way one packs is also way different. It's more important to be able to know where every piece of gear is so it can be quickly found...if its suddenly needed. Heavy items must be placed strategically in the sledge to avoid navigation problems.
The night passed by quietly. It was still a bit windy but the temperature held to 18 F or so. All was quiet.
Saturday, January 13
I slept in late. I heard Mary making a fire but I was in no hurry to move. I finally got up to do the morning chores. I melted snow for hydration needs for breakfast, thermos bottles of soup for lunch and insulated water bottles for use during the day.
Today we would use a series of old roads that would eventually lead us in the general direction of Lake Superior and Seven Mile Beach. I led the way for awhile and took various old abandoned roads and a bit of bushwhacking.
Overall, we mainly stuck to the roads if they were conveniently going in the direction we needed. Being devoid of thick gnarly vegetation, it was much kinder to the bottoms of all the sledges with the snow cover being so low.
We stopped for lunch rather late and encountered some snowmobilers. They turned around at the wilderness designation sign. We didn't know if it was because of the sign or that we looked to be rangers and they didn't want to get in trouble. We only hope it was the former.
The day had been unhurried. Our plans changed along the way as we thought we would reach the shore and then we would have to travel outside the park boundary again to camp. Since this would take more time and speed than we wanted, we decided to camp at the dead end of a road intersection outside of the boundaries before reaching the lake. This would give us more time tomorrow to enjoy the destination.
In close proximity but out of sight of our camp was a hunter's semi-permanent campsite. Our campsite didn't have a great deal of snow but plenty could be procured for melting snow and other needs such as making wind blocks and burying stakes with piles of snow. However, we did walk around without snowshoes at camp. Beech drops and ferns could be seen sticking up through the snow, a tell tale sign that the snow depth wasn't significant.
In the early evening we could hear coyotes in the distance. The sounds were soon covered up by my noisy but highly efficient MSR XGK EX Stove. After all my snow melting chores were completed, peace returned for awhile until Cathy started up her MSR stove. Michael suggested to Mary that maybe they should make and enforce a rule for times that stoves could be run. I stated that if that was the case, I could then indeed set time limits for the use of smoky wood stove fires. A war had begun...just kidding!
Sunday, January 14
Seven Mile Beach
The night had seemed relatively warm. I did get cold enough to put on an extra light jacket inside of my sleeping bag but then I was content. However, I didn't have the draft collar closed so cold air was getting inside my bag.
I awakened to the sound of crackling sticks. I laid there awhile content not to get up just yet. I guess I was avoiding the heavy dose of multi-tasking in the morning. Usually I am heating water, packing, eating, and doing other odd jobs all at the same time.
Still, with no seconds to rest, it seems like it takes forever to get going. The daylight hours are short at this time of year and the chores are long. Mary and Cathy finished packing first so they left with the intention of meeting us at Seven Mile Beach.
Following their tracks, we noticed that someone had broke through a frozen puddle along the way. As we got nearer to the coast we followed their tracks cross country as they left the old road bed. I was wearing my snowshoes although they really weren't needed as we got closer to the lake other than for the traction provided by the crampons.
It was quite windy and cold. We found both of them resting and waiting for us along the Lakeshore Trail. I left my sledge and quickly descended the bank to the beach to capture what pictures I could. Waves, sand and snow always create interesting patterns. I enjoyed the jaunt even though the conditions didn't make it a place to linger.
After the break we traveled less than a hundred meters on the Lakeshore Trail before turning south on the Fox River Trail. The steps didn't have much snow on them but we somehow managed to pull our sledges up the steep climb.
The trail winds around and mostly ascends for a couple of miles before it becomes flatter before Kingston Lake. The snow depth increased measurably as we headed south. We took a break on top of one of the last hills to have lunch. Soon everyone else was stretched out on their sledges for a few winks so I took a stroll with my camera.
We soon descended to Kingston Lake. We had seen one set of shoe prints and wondered if it belonged to anyone that we knew. Otherwise, all was quiet and we left to maneuver our way through many evergreen forests. The snow depth increased dramatically and now we had more than a foot of snow on the ground.
We decided to camp around 4:30 PM. We were located just at the base of a section of hardwoods and hilly terrain. I pitched my tarp nestled around a big pine tree and its branches. Evening chores took a lot of time but everyone seemed ready for bed shortly after 8 PM. Evening temps hovered around 21 F and there was little-to-no wind.
The excitement of the day for me was when I flushed a grouse out of the snow. It always gets my heart rate up and I'm sure the grouse has a similar reaction. Coyote, deer and squirrel tracks were noted. Sometimes animal belly drags were evident on the snow surface.
Monday, January 15
Wandering Through the Stump Museum
The night had seemed relatively warm. Either that or I am getting acclimatized to it. However, late morning temperatures revealed it was 18 F. Several inches of snow had fallen during the night so it was very pretty.
My camp was too inviting to leave but we must travel forward each day. Since we had camped at the base of some hilly hardwoods, this morning would involve a steep series of climbs. Although I had traveled this section a few times before while wearing a backpack, the hills seem more steep when pulling a sledge.
We warmed up quickly as we ascended and then descended to the plains where the "Stump Museum" starts. It covers many miles and it is a reminder of the past for sure but it is also a neat place to walk through especially in the winter.
Many of the trail markers are blue painted dots on the stumps. Due to the snow depth and the drifts around the stumps that had been blasted against them from the north winds, many of the markers were hard to find. We weaved our way through and at one point all of us divided our journey so that we could seek the next marker that was well hidden.
After ten minutes we were back on track but not for long. We generally headed south and once we crossed an un-plowed road we could see a marker to our east. We picked up the trail again and it was marked more clearly. Because I had done the entire trail recently, I knew that the trail often took a turn in the middle of the plains for no apparent reason so it was just as easy to lose in the summer time.
We stopped for lunch on the frozen shore of Ewatt Lake. The snow had a good 18 inches of depth where it had drifted around vegetation near the lake. We then traveled through pine forests and more hilly sections before we reached Clyde Lake.
As we were sledging along, Mary soon found a jacket in the snow and then various other objects. When we caught up to Cathy she noticed a bunch of things missing from her waistpack. Michael and Cathy decided to go back and search and they quickly found her headlamp and sunglasses.
In the meantime, Mary and I moved forward down the trail to an old road where we would then travel cross country heading west. It was time to leave the trail and start veering in the general direction of where our vehicles were located when we finished tomorrow.
After a bit of bushwhacking, we settled for the night on the shore of Wise Lake. Temps were much colder with the early evening temp being about 15 F. An hour after we set up camp, maybe around 6 PM, it was 12 F and then later 9 F.
I didn't sleep a wink all night. It snowed off and on and I could hear the sound of snow sliding off of all the tarps that were set up rather close together.
The first time it happened I couldn't help but think that it sounded like a grouse being flushed out of the snow.
Tuesday, January 16
In the morning the sky was a mixture of ominous gray and heavenly blue. It would snow heavily for a few minutes followed by a patch of sun. Lake-effect snow often falls in an intermittent pattern.
We left the Wise Lake shoreline and traveled a short distance on an old road bed. Soon we left the bed and would travel several thousand meters through a mixture of plains and forest. The forested sections were very thick and it was difficult travel.
We maneuvered our way through until we crossed Nugent Lake at the narrows. Michael went first and tested the ice at intervals to be sure it was safe. We climbed up the short but steep bank on the other side and then skirted a pond and again make our way through plains and forests.
The forests were mostly evergreen that were laden with snow. Each person that went through had less snow to deal with. A hood is a necessity in such areas or the snow goes right down ones neck.
Snow squalls greeted us throughout the day and the winds were generally from the west and cold. Cathy navigated so that we would come out very close to the intersection of Adams Truck Trail and Sable Point Trail. We only had to walk a few hundred meters on the road.
When we got back to the vehicles there was a good 10 inches of fresh snow on top of them. We loaded our gear into the vehicles and met for lunch.
Because it was past 2 PM, everyone was ravenously hungry and thirsty for their favorite beverage. We talked about the beauty of the trip and how the snow conditions changed so dramatically depending on our location.
We all agreed that it was great to see the big lake even though the conditions next to it were minimal as far as snow cover. However, there was good snow depth on the majority of our route.
Those who wrote about the "Winter That Wasn't" obviously didn't know that there is winter in some areas if you seek it!
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