Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger, Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.


Hikers trek through late season snowfall

Hikers trek through snow
on the High Country Pathway
(Photo by Mary Powell)


Trip journals and photos

in northern

Old Baldy
the Rattlesnake Hills

Montmorency County
April 5-7, 2002

By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2002

E-mail author at

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip



Plans vs. reality

Looking at this trip from January's perspective--anticipating the upcoming year's journeys in the warmth of my living room--I pictured an early spring adventure with soggy ground, dripping trees, and perhaps the earliest signs of wildflowers.

Pitching my tarp on three feet of snow during a prior trip in March, I thought, "Next trip, we'll be camping on dirt again." But Steinbeck's words are true: "The best laid plans of mice and men oft do go astray."

As I drove north to the trailhead, surveying miles of frozen ground and fields covered with old snow, I wondered if the "stream fording footgear" on the trip list would really get any use.


Pre-hike bivouac

The locale for this trip was the Mackinaw State Forest just off the southwest side of the High Country Pathway. Arriving late in the evening before the hike was to begin, I pulled to the side of the last plowed road on the map and got out to inspect the "jeep trail" off of which we were supposed to camp for the night.

The snow was less than a foot deep, but no other vehicle had ventured there, so it was clearly not a place for a Neon to go unassisted.

A short time later, trip leader Michael Neiger showed up. He checked the level of the water in the Black River to see if it was fordable for the next day's hike and then we succeeded in parking our cars near the beginning of the untraveled trail.

On a walk down the snowy two track, I found abundant signs of wildlife--numerous deer and coyote tracks as well as those of smaller creatures--and little sign of human presence. Returning to the vehicles I found Michael already trying out his new sleeping bag beside some small pines. I retired to the comfort of the Neon's back seat and slept soundly.


A good beginning

Friday morning dawned hazy but pleasant. Near the end of breakfast another hiker, Mike Ugoroski of Flint, showed up. A short time later, Gail Staisil of Midland arrived. Cars were spotted in strategic places before we drove to the start of the hike where the HCP crossed a plowed road. Mary Powell, Gail Bosio, and Michael Neiger

Mary Powell of Flint,
Gail Staisil of Midland,
and Michael Neiger of Marquette
pause while hiking.
(Photo by Michael Ugorowski)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

Following the trail we traversed the length of Rattlesnake Hill, which the HCP brochure describes as a kamic moraine--a hill formed when debris trapped in a large glacial crevasse is deposited by the melting ice. It must have been a VERY large crevasse as the hill covers several square kilometers and rises about three hundred feet above the surrounding terrain.

It is covered by mixed forest, breaks in which afford excellent views of the surrounding valleys and hills, including Old Baldy, our objective for the next day.


Snow fleas

We had lunch in the sunshine on the lee side of the hill. The snow where we settled appeared at first to be sprinkled with black dust. After sitting a moment though, it became apparent that the "dust" was moving. Snow fleas were out taking advantage of the mild temperature and sunshine.

Also known as springtails, snow fleas are tiny, wingless insects that live on the algae, pollen, and leaf mold found on the forest floor or in the snow that lies above it. They seemed undisturbed by our presence, but disappeared toward the end of the meal as clouds covered the sun.


Green Swamp and Black River

Lunch concluded, we tackled crossing the Green Swamp. Michael calculated an azimuth to intersect an old railroad grade in the middle of the swamp and we proceeded with Gail doing the compass work while he counted pace.

The swamp had a tangled beauty in its snow cover and an air of being asleep, which invited a return trip to see it in the summer, lush and green. The RR grade appeared right where it was expected to be. We followed it across Rattlesnake Creek and on to the Black River. Mary Powell and Gail Bosio ford the East Branch of the Black River

Mary Powell of Flint
and Gail Staisil of Midland
ford the chilly waters of
the East Branch of
the Black River.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

At the river's edge, we pulled our stream fording footgear from our packs and put them on, doing our best to avoid any contact between our bare toes and the snow. We rolled our pants well above our knees. The crossing was definitely chilly, but not as uncomfortable as anticipated. Safely across, we set up camp near the bank of the stream to enjoy its sights and sounds.


Night on the Black River

We had a beautiful spot for a bivouac. Ducks came and went on the remnants of an old beaver pond just upstream. The dark water was framed by snowy banks and the irregular beauty of varied vegetation. The night turned out clear and cold with the temperature dropping into the single digits by morning.

Dawn was awesome: the pale moon and stars hung in a pastel sky--shades of pink, peach, mauve, and blue. The landscape was decorated by the crystalline beauty of frost. We built a small, Indian-style fire on the gravel grade to warm our fingers during breakfast. By 9:30 though, we were shedding layers as the sun melted the frost.


On to Old Baldy

The mornings' trek took us through light forest and open meadows. We took time to lounge in the warm sunshine and explore the remains of some old buildings. Old Baldy appeared ahead, a large rounded hill rising about two hundred feet above the surrounding fields.

It looked a lot like a load of gravel dumped by some oversized truck, probably another moraine. The sides of the hill were mostly forested but the top was exposed--hence, the name. The climb to the peak was strenuous but short. The view at the top definitely made it worthwhile.

The surrounding fields, valleys, and ridges were laid out before us in every direction. In one direction, it seemed we could see for 40 miles. We sat down and leaned on our packs as we had lunch, still pointing out details in the panorama before us.

We could see the orderly squares of farms and lawns, and rows of trees planted by man. There were distant water and radio towers as well as the glint of rooftops in the sun. It was fun comparing the view in front of us to our topo maps--we were seeing the 3D version. We picked out several areas for future exploration.


A road, a draw, another pleasant bivouac

After lunch, we ambled down the north side of Old Baldy, scanning the countryside for elk. We cut cross-country to a back road that was going in the general direction we were headed.

One section was lined with POSTED signs that clearly showed the owner's sense of humor:

No Poachin' No Trespassin' No Nuthin!

This applies to friends, enimies, relatives and YOU!

Violator's (survivors) will be prosecuted

Among other things, the road led to one of those gas line monitoring stations that look so alien in the middle of the woods--this one, complete with an array of solar power panels, like a misplaced space station.

We continued along the road looking for a draw that would take us over the ridge to the valley where our cars were parked. Finding it, we began to climb with Michael giving an ongoing discourse on relating map to terrain. We saw a number of deer, one of which stood on a ridge above us and watched as we walked almost 180 degrees around it.

There were several coyote and a few elk tracks in the snow. Just over the ridge, into the next watershed, we found a small elk feeding area and decided to camp in the woods at its edge. With all our chatter, it was unlikely that any elk would visit, but it was a pleasant place.

We set up our shelters and built a small fire in the gravel at the edge of the snowy field. It provided a bit of warmth against the growing chill of evening and a place to gather for dinner and conversation. It would be easy to erase all sign of it in the morning. Gail Bosio and Mary Powell  "boil up"

Gail Staisil of Midland and
Mary Powell of Flint
"boil up."
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

The night was cloudy, breezy, and cool. There was light snowfall over breakfast. After the meal, we packed our things and a short morning's walk brought us to the nearest car. The end of these trips always seems to come too soon!


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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

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