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.

Trip journals and photos


through the
Jordan River Valley in April

Jordan River Valley
Antrim County
Mancelona, Michigan
   April 11-14, 2003

By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   E-mail author at        powell_mm@hotmail.com
   Copyright 2003

   with excerpts from
      Milton French's trip journal
         Dearborn Heights, Michigan
         E-mail author at
         Copyright 2003



The Jordan River

The Jordan River
(Photo by Mary Powell)

Pretrip bivouac & rendezvous

On a pleasantly cool evening in early April my carpooling partner, Milton French, arrived at my place and tossed his pack into the back seat of my car.

We climbed in immediately and headed for the expressway: we had dinner plans with Gail Staisil of Midland whom we hadn't seen in a while. She was unable to make this trip but we wanted to catch up on the intervening months and make some tentative plans for our next trip as it is important to always have one to look forward to!

I-75 was busy as usual, but traffic was flowing along about 5 mph over the speed limit so we arrived at the restaurant only a few minutes late. Gail was there as planned and the evening unfolded pleasantly with good food and stories of what we'd been up to since January.

Around 9 p.m. the pressure of upcoming obligations exceeded the cohesive power of good company and we said our good-byes. Gail went to pack for an out of town trip and Milton and I headed north again.


Searching for the appointed bivouac

We exited I-75 at Gaylord, zipped across M32 and soon were hunting for the rural intersection that was the appointed bivouac. Trip leader Michael Neiger of Marquette had laid out a plan that would take us northeast across the plot of state land that surrounds the Jordan River Pathway.

Like most of his trips it would include a lot of bushwhacking though we would see some segments of the pathway too.

Arriving at the designated corner we saw Michael's red Ford Explorer parked along the east side of the road along with another car which presumably belonged to the other expected early arrival, Alex Chard of Lansing. Bill Host of Grand Rapids and Mike Ugorowski from Flint planned to be there in the morning.


Chilly air & light frost

When we stepped from the car the night air was chilly and a light frost covered everything. We scanned our surroundings looking for the others and for a comfortable place to sleep.

An almost full moon gave us considerable light but there were no tarps or bivys in sight.

I selected a spot for my sleeping bag beneath an ancient apple tree atop a small rise not far from the car. Milton settled nearby but left enough space between us so my snores wouldn't keep him awake. The remnants of last summer's grass made a luxurious mattress and sleep came easily.

Milton wrote: We arrived at the trailhead about 11:30 p.m. The moon was just past first quarter and bright with a clear sky. We setup camp in a field just east of the cars. After the moon set, I looked at the beauty of the night sky. The Milky Way was faint but clearly visible. There still was significant sky light. I estimated close to magnitude 6 skies.


A soft hand

We awoke next morning before the sun was fully up. The entire sky was suffused with a soft pink light. As there was still no sign of Alex and Michael, we decided to have breakfast near the car.

By the time my coffee was brewed, I saw Michael waving from the top of a nearby hill--should have known he'd go for the view!

Milton wrote: We saw Michael and Alex some distance away on a hill. When we got together, he asked why we hadn't come over to join them when we had arrived last night. Michael was flashing his flashlight but both Mary and I had thought it was a radio beacon.

As I savored my bagel, Milton worked at firing up his new stove. After a few minutes he had flames rising several inches above his pot.


Ratting-out the trip leader

About that time a car skidded to a halt on the road and a woman yelled from the window, "Hey! What the *@#*! do you think you're doing with a fire in that field? You got a permit to camp here? I need a name to take to the police..."

Milton pointed to the hill and gave her Michael's name, spelling it carefully so she would get it right. It took us several more minutes of explanation before the hostility left her voice and she appeared to believe we were of peaceful intent. In the end she advised us of the best place to park and told us there was some awesome scenery in the swamp over the hill. "You see?" said Milton in his usual laconic tone, "A soft hand turneth away wrath..."

Milton wrote: While we were eating, a lady in a car pulled up and asked what we were doing. She said she owned the property across the road and wanted to know if we had a permit to camp. We gave her Michael's name and she left saying she was going to get a camping permit from the sheriff.


Off to a good start

Bill and Mike U. had arrived to complete our group. When everyone had had a bite to eat and made their final gear choices, we weighed our packs. We had between 45 and 65 pounds apiece.

Early spring, like late fall, is a hard time to cut weight because the weather is so variable.

This was to be a linear hike so we spotted cars in a couple places to give ourselves some options about how much ground to cover.

Milton wrote: About 9:30 a.m. everyone was ready to go. The group carried their packs a short distance up the hill and put them in a depression so they would be out of sight of the road. I stayed with the packs while the other 5 went to spot cars since this was a one way trip. The group did not return from the car spotting until 10:45 a.m.

We then returned to the field where we'd slept and started the hike, bushwhacking in a generally NE direction along an old railroad grade.

Milton wrote: We crossed an open field and then headed north along some power lines before heading east on a railroad grade. We stopped for lunch in an open area along the grade. It was warm so most of the group was wearing shorts.

After lunch, the grade soon entered a swamp. We continued for about 2 hours heading east on the railroad when we neared route 66.

The plan was to head southeast along another grade to 66, cross the Jordan River and camp. We turned right just before some No Trespassing signs in an effort to intercept the other railroad grade and entered a swamp.

It was nearly impossible to avoid getting wet feet in the swamp. I cut my left hand during this bushwhack.

We went 500 m in the swamp but still had not found the grade so we stopped to see where we were. We took a GPS reading and found we were at least 500m into the private land that was posted no trespassing.

So we backtracked up to the original grade and headed back west to find the other grade. We soon found it to the right of a clear cut for electrical lines.

There was a lot of water there and most people got wet feet getting to the other grade including myself. We followed this grade southeast and after 1 km came to route 66.

We crossed it and after another 500m along a heavily overgrown railroad grade we reached the Jordan River.


Perfect weather

The weather was perfect for backpacking--sunny and cool. We spent a pleasant afternoon traversing some wetlands. Frogs sang loudly in one area though there were still patches of ice along the edges of the water.The group

Michael Ugorowski,
Bill Host,
Michael Neiger,
Alex Chard,
and Milton French
prepare to depart.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

We crossed M66 and a few hundred meters to the east of it was the Jordan River. This was not the Jordan I remembered from summer hikes along the trail named after it.

Upstream along the pathway the river flows knee deep over sand and gravel, dividing frequently into multiple channels. Here, well contained between its banks and swollen by the spring runoff, it was at least waist deep and flowing forcefully.

Pilings from an old railroad bridge combed the current amplifying the rushing water sound. Our planned route continued on the far side of the river, however, and there was a good spot to camp on the railroad grade there.


Crossing the Jordan

We scouted for a reasonable place to cross. The one we chose had a gravelly bottom visible most of the way across and only a few logs in the water to climb over.

Michael wrapped his pack and went first, floating it ahead of him. When he had secured his gear on the far shore, I started across. The water that had been waist deep on him was closer to chest deep on me.

He stepped back in seeing that I might need a hand. Fortunately he caught my pack about the same time the current lifted my feet from the bottom.... A few strokes of swimming and my feet hit gravel again.

I was soon standing on the crusty snow watching the next person negotiate the cold water. Helping each other, everyone made it across with dry gear except for what we were wearing.

Milton wrote: The current at the point where the railroad had once crossed the river was too fast so we headed about 50m upstream to cross.

Michael put on his bathing suit and went across first. It was over a meter deep in the middle with a number of submerged logs.

Next Mary went across. To help her, Michael took her pack from her in the channel, but without the pack she lost her footing. She immediately swam out of the channel to safety in a shallower part of the river.

The other three crossed safely and I was the last one to cross. I borrowed someone's tarp to float my stuff across. In the channel Michael helped me with my stuff and I made it across safely.


Brewing up warm drinks

We changed hurriedly, set up camp and brewed some warm drinks. It seemed like a good occasion for a fire and we built one on a firepan near the river. While it was not large enough to provide a great deal of heat, it always FEELS warmer near the flames. This fire also baked apple crisp for dessert and dried a lot of socks.

The steady sound of rushing water was very relaxing. At the end of the evening I lay in my bag just a couple of feet from the stream watching the moon peeking through the trees and glinting on the surface of the water. Falling asleep was effortless.

Milton wrote: We walked back downstream on the east side of the river to the spot where the grade continues on the east side of the river and set up camp there.

It was about 6 p.m. when we setup camp. The area where we camped was sheltered and almost all of the ground was still snow covered.

We all changed into dry clothes and hung the wet ones to dry.

Mary used her improved wood stove. It worked well. She made apple crisp and shared it with the group.

Due to the trees only some of the sky could be seen but the moon was still bright once it got dark.

Around 2 a.m. I woke up and saw the moon was near setting in the west through the trees. It was a pretty sight. I put on my shell top to stay warm. I was using my 15 degree bag that I have had for over 10 years but now the loft is nearly gone.



Frozen boots

Morning was again clear and cool....very cool. My boots , in which I'd crossed the stream because they'd gotten wet earlier in the afternoon, were still too soaked and frozen to put on.

I chose damp socks and the sandals I was SUPPOSED to cross the stream in.

Milton wrote: In the morning, I estimated the air temperature was 25 degrees. Mary measured the river temperature and found it was 48. Someone said "We almost died yesterday crossing the river." I think the previous day's river crossing had scared him. We got underway about 9 a.m.


A leisurely breakfast

We had a leisurely breakfast around the fire with a good bit of joking about the frozen underwear hanging around us. When we were packed we headed off along the overgrown railroad grade.

We hadn't gone far when it became necessary to detour around some private property. Michael did a little map and compass instruction and we paced off a distance sufficient to clear the private land, then did a 90 degree turn and brought ourselves back near the river.

Following two-tracks and railroad grades we made our way toward Pinney Bridge Campground where there was a possibility that we would meet with some hikers from the Nepessing group.

Milton wrote: After another 500m along the overgrown grade we reached a dirt road. We went north on it a short distance and then east into a wooded area.

We followed a dirt path a short distance before starting a bushwhack to the south. We did this to avoid an area of private land.

We reached a driveway and stopped for a break while Michael and Mary went to investigate the private land at the end of the driveway.

We also took a picture of Mary in her shorts while standing in snow.We headed east along the driveway a short distance before turning south to bushwhack down to the river.

After a fairly easy 500m bushwhack we reached the river where we had lunch. I found a number of bones just 1m from my pack. We later found out that they were deer bones.


A beautiful little swamp

Our route took us across a beautiful little swamp which was almost bisected by the railroad grade. New growth was just emerging everywhere. In the wet areas the leaves of blue flags were up several inches and ferns were uncurling above the carpet of leaves.

On the south sides of hills we saw the leaves of trout lilies, the folded umbrellas of may-apples, wild onions, trailing arbutus in bud and a few tentative blooms of spring beauty. On the north side of the hills each depression and shadow was still filled with snow.

We paused a while at the campground but there was no sign of the other group so we continued along the trail heading toward a high narrow ridge that Michael had tentatively selected from the topo as our bivouac.

Milton wrote: Instead of returning back to the driveway we voted to hike to Penny Bridge by bushwhacking along the river. During this bushwhack we found a virgin white pine tree. It was magnificent.

We left the low area and continued through a very pretty area of hardwoods on the south side of the river. After awhile we reached Penny Bridge where we took a break.

Alex and I were not ready when they wanted to go so they went ahead to the campground while we were to follow them there. However we were never told which way to go.

When we came to the tee in the trail we decided to try going right. I did not think that they had gone that way since I did not see them ahead nor did I see footprints.

Still we continued for 10 minutes before we turned around and headed back. We planned to go back to the tee and wait for someone.

We were almost back when we saw Michael. We followed him to the campground. It turned out that the campground was almost straight ahead from the path to the bridge.


A macabre moment

We hadn't gone far when someone spotted the almost intact skeleton of a deer lying off to the side of the trail. Only a few feet from the bones was a camo baseball cap.

This juxtaposition of artifacts led to some weird supposition as to what had transpired there. I took out my camera but there was no way to get a good picture--everything blended into the leaves.

One thing led to another and we soon had the skeleton "posed" on a nearby post with the baseball cap on and ourselves in the foreground for pictures. What can I say? It was late in the day....maybe a touch of hypoglycemia. The deer carcass

Bill Host,
Alex Chard,
and Mary Powell
try to encourage
Milton French
to shake hands with
Mr. Whitetail.
(Photo by Mary Powell)


Milton wrote: Once at the campground, we intercepted the NCT. We started following it east. After some time we stopped for a break at a bend in the trail.

I found a deer carcass. Michael came over with a stick and picked up the carcass and then hung it off a pole next to the trail. There was also a cap and Michael set it on the head of the deer.


A razor-back ridge:
home with a view

Planning to camp on a hilltop, we picked up several liters of water apiece at the next stream. A few hundred meters farther along the path Michael had us make a left into the bush where we almost immediately began to climb...and climb...and climb.

The extra water was real noticeable here.

When we reached the top the view was nice but not spectacular and the surrounding terrain didn't match the map. Michael concluded that the GPS was off or suffering from operator (that would be me) malfunction.

He cast his eyes on a ridge several hundred meters distant (with a valley in between) and said, "That's where we should be." The group's expressions mirrored my thoughts: "Isn't that ridge just like this one?"

But packs were shouldered and we followed the leader. After a bit of a walk and another climb we came out on a ridge that matched the map.

Narrow and a little higher than the last one, it gave us a nearly 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside--definitely worth the extra travel.

Milton wrote: We continued on for about 30 minutes before coming to a small stream. We stopped there to get water. I found a spot where I could put my filter at a deeper spot in the stream and started filtering water.

Some of the others went upstream to get their water. After filtering we continued down the trail for a short distance before bushwhacking to the north.

Michael was determined to camp at the end of a ridge even though it was still some distance away. We had a significant climb to reach the top of a ridge.

But it was not the one Michael was looking for so we continued north until we reached a second ridge. We went 300m east before coming to the end of the ridge where we decided to camp for the night.


French Ridge

Noting that it was nameless on the map, Michael asked Milton what we should call it. Milton said, "French Ridge would be good...."

So we each picked a piece of French Ridge to be our own for the night, occupying whatever small flat space we thought would keep us from rolling downhill in the dark. Most of us decided to forego shelters as the sky was clear--so there wasn't a lot of setting up to do.

In the deepening twilight we got out our stoves and food and cooked dinner while the stars came out.

As we sipped the last of our drinks after the meal a great horned owl queried the familiar, "Who cooks for you?" first from one quadrant of the darkness then another. Later we heard a woodcock tirelessly repeating his mating ritual.

It's always nice when you can sleep out under the sky.

Milton wrote: There was a great view of the Jordan River valley for over 270 degrees of the horizon. I slept with both my fleece and shell and was warm the entire night. The sky was still clear that night too and the moon was beautiful.



Sunday in the bush

The next morning was partly cloudy and a chilly breeze blew across the ridge. Insulated pants were welcome. The combination of coffee and oatmeal made a warm spot in my midsection.

We savored the view as we ate. Then we packed and headed downhill from the tip of the ridge.

Finding the trail with little difficulty we headed in the general direction of Deadman's Hill. For diversion from trail hiking we took a few shortcuts through the brushy hills. I soon concluded that raspberries are NOT among the endangered flora in that area...

Around noon we took a break where a trio of culverts led the Jordan River under the pathway.

As we rested, Denny Crispell of the Nepessing group hiked up to us on the trail. We exchanged greetings and he joined us in relaxing, saying that the rest of the group, 14 in all, should be along shortly.

Next to appear were a couple of college girls with whom Milton and Michael quickly became acquainted. After quite awhile the rest of the group arrived.

Milton wrote: About 9 a.m. the next morning, Michael said that we were leaving at 9:30 a.m. so be sure that you are ready. But we didn't quite make the start time.

We started north and then turned east bushwhacking through the woods. We stopped for a break next to a stream and continued on toward the Jordan River until we intercepted the NCT.

We followed the NCT until it turned east along a dirt road and crossed the Jordan River where we stopped for lunch.

Toward the end of the lunch break, two female college students showed up and also stopped for lunch.

We found their names were Katie and Allison. Katie had the fish symbol on her water bottle so I inquired what it meant. I found that both of them are Christians.

Katie gave me her copy of the KJV Gideons New Testament Bible. We asked Katie how her trip was going.

She said "Some sicko hung a dead deer on a post." We told her that it was Michael.


Dave Mansfield and Company

Their leader, Dave Mansfield, said they'd kept the coffee warm all evening at the campground in case we showed up.

Both groups shared some highlights of their trips before parting as mid-afternoon was approaching.

Our party decided another shortcut was in order.

Milton wrote: We left the river and NCT a short distance before deciding to bushwhack to save some time compared to following the trail.

This shortcut involved crossing a ridge. The north side of the ridge was steep leading down to a swamp at the bottom.

Apparently the rest of group has difficulty in steep terrain because it took them a lot longer to reach the bottom than me. At the foot of the ridge we traversed northeast for about 400m before reaching higher ground where we stopped for a break. It was about 3 p.m.

Sunday's sermon: Ephesians 2:8-9.

Michael had me give my Sunday Sermon. "For by grace are you saved, through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God, lest any one should boast".

The text can be divided into three parts.

The first part is "For by grace are you saved". Grace is defined as unmerited favor. God shows his kindness to us as grace even though we are undeserving.

The second part is "through faith". God requires us to come to him by faith only and not through knowledge. God did not write the Bible as a scientific document with so much overwhelming evidence that he exists, that no one could doubt his existence.

Instead he desires for us to accept him because we know from our spirit that it is the right thing to do. God requires us to choose him by faith in order to be saved. He gave us the ability to choose between right and wrong.

The last part is "not by works, it is the gift of God, lest any one should boast". We cannot work our way into heaven by doing good deeds, attending church, donating to charities or by any other work. Since everyone has different capabilities, God made it a free gift.

All we have to do is accept it. To be saved, pray to God asking for forgiveness for sin and for his leadership in your life. There must be a genuine change of heart and repentance from sin.

Repentance is a change of direction. In this case it means that you no longer live a life of sin. There must be a submission to the leadership of Jesus Christ.

I concluded the message by asking if anyone wanted to accept Jesus Christ.

We traversed a couple of moraines and skirted a sizeable wetland and came out with just a short walk to the loop trail at the foot of Deadman's Hill where the NCT goes north to Obrien's Pond which was our planned Land navbivouac area.

Michael Neiger
and Alex Chard
work out a complex
land nav challenge
as Michael Ugorowski
(background) studies
his map and Bill Host
waves to Mary,
our resident photojournalist
and bone-setter.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

Traveling on the NCT, at one of the spots where the trail follows a two-track, we found the Jordan running energetically across the road--beavers had dammed a culvert.

Milton wrote: Following the message we continued about 200m and again reached the NCT. We followed the trail until it came to a stream with a wooden platform built overlooking some springs.

We stopped there for another break. It was a warm sunny day, beautiful for hiking.

After the break we continued on until the trail turned right onto a dirt road.

The Jordan River was flowing over the road since beavers had dammed the culverts that let the river flow under the road.

We waded through the river but it was only about 50cm at its deepest. We continued down the road and then turned north onto a dirt path leading to a beaver dam.

Just before crossing the dam, we saw 6 turkeys to the left of the dam.


Bivouac at Obrien's Pond

More wet feet...but less than knee deep this time. Continuing north, where the trail crosses a marsh on another beaver dam, we saw several deer and the adjoining wetlands had geese, ducks, a kingfisher and numerous smaller birds.

We went a bit beyond the pond and looked for a place to camp. We ended up splitting into two groups camping a hundred meters or so apart.

Mike U., Bill and Milton chose an open area in the hardwoods on a slight rise. Michael, Alex and I camped near some cedars at the edge of a marshy pond.

We hoped to see some wildlife either on the water or along the ridge across from us which was already backlit by the setting sun.

Again, putting up shelters seemed unnecessary and we just spread our sleeping bags in the driest spots we could find.

Milton wrote: After crossing the dam we stopped and made camp for the night. Three of the group camped just to the left of the trail overlooking a large swamp.

The rest camped in a woods well away from the trail. That night we found the best bear hanging tree of the trip. It looked like it was almost made to order for the task.


A flock of wild turkeys, and more

Over dinner we watched a flock of wild turkeys foraging on the far shore, the males intermittently strutting and spreading their tails in classic Thanksgiving fashion.

After dinner Michael and I walked down the trail a little to get another view of the turkeys.

Then, not ready to read or sleep, I wandered back to Obrien's Pond to see what the birds there were doing. A flock of geese were gossiping quietly along one shore.

A few mallard ducks were intent on finding bedtime snacks. The bent stalks of last year's cattails were decorated at intervals with red-winged blackbirds.

A cardinal, bright red in the last rays of the sun, sang cheerfully at the very top of a bare tree. I started back to camp but was led astray by an old RR grade curving along the edge of the swamp--it's hard to resist checking out a path...

Negotiating partially frozen puddles, I followed it to the far end of the pond. The moon was glinting on the puddles as I returned.

On the way "home" I stopped by the camp on the hill and chatted awhile with Mike and Bill. Milton had already turned in.

When I got back to the swamp I found Alex's bivy already zipped up and got a sleepy "goodnight " from Michael.


Still not sleepy

Still not sleepy myself I attributed that to a combination of: 1) cold feet from icy puddles, 2) coffee with dinner and 3) not wanting to miss the last night in the bush.

I got out the book I'd brought, but the next chapter focused on a bear attack--not a good thing to read in the woods in the dark...

So I lay back and listened to the creaking of the trees in the breeze and to the tentative peeps of the earliest tree frogs. Snuggled in dry socks inside my bag my toes soon got warm and sleep came rather quickly.

Milton wrote: It was mostly clear that night with one cloudy period near morning. It was the warmest night of the trip. In fact, I actually removed some layers during the night.


Next morning we lingered by the pond over a leisurely breakfast until one of the "hill people" came down to get water and to see what time we were planning to leave.

We toyed briefly with the idea of just disappearing into the woods, but supplies were running low and obligations came to mind.

Like all good things, the trip had come to an end--and a very short hike returned us to our cars.

Milton wrote: Morning arrived with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 40's.

We left camp about 9:15 a.m. and hiked about 2km to the cars, arriving there before 10 a.m. Two vehicles were parked at this location, two more at an alternate ending point and one back at the start.

We agreed to meet in Mancelona at a McDonalds restaurant. After a quick meal, we each departed our separate ways and the trip was over.

The weather was the best you could hope for on a trip. Except for two brief periods of clouds on Sunday, it was clear the whole trip.

There was no precipitation the entire trip. The temperatures were mild with lows of about 25 on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a great trip.


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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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