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Wilderness Tripping: Intermediate-level Backpacking Trip
   Hiawatha National Forest & Lake Superior State Forest
   Chippewa and Mackinac Counties
   Trout Lake, Michigan
   November 5-8, 2004


A Late Fall
Backpacking Journey
Through the
Hiawatha National Forest and the Lake Superior State Forest

November 5-8, 2004


By Gail Staisil
   Midland, Michigan
   Copyright 2004

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View Mary Powell's journal from this trip



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November 5, Friday

A Search For Water

I arrived in Trout Lake last evening in preparation for today's backpacking trip. It had rained most of the drive and then eventually turned to hail and snow later in the evening. We all were wishing for better conditions to start our trip.

Michael, Mary, Mary Ann and I were all returning for another excursion in the Hiawatha National Forest. Joining us for the first time was Sharon...she immediately seemed to fit in quite well with the group...she was enthusiastic about exploring the backcountry. That is certainly a requirement in order to deal with whatever hardships we might endure in doing so.

Traditionally we all met for breakfast at McGowan's Restaurant in Trout Lake. After ingesting an ample supply of food, we shuttled our vehicles to various points, to insure several options for ending our trip.

We would be starting our journey just several steps out from the small town of Trout Lake. We utilized the railroad tracks for a short ways so that we could bypass some private acreage. We soon embarked on following a loose northwest azimuth on a pine ridge. Mary Ann made sure we didn't deviate from the course and end up in the least not yet :) We came across an ATV trail, since it was heading in the right direction, we decided to utilize it for awhile.

We had lunch below the pine ridges to stay out of the winds. Afterward Mary Ann continued to navigate and she eventually led us through an aspen and pine forest, hand railing around swamps and private property.

It was getting dark but we had to go further to find more water. Most of us weren't in dire straights, but more water was needed to make it through breakfast tomorrow.

We decided to utilize a deserted two-track to get to a small pond. It was actually closer than we had originally thought as it was extensively lengthened by beaver dam flooding activity...Mary Ann could see the sun setting and reflecting off the water through the trees. We settled in quickly and got our necessary chores done before darkness completely set in.

The setting sun was quite awesome so I shuttled back and forth, to and from my camp site many times, to photograph and set up my camp at the same time. I also had to get my bear bag hung so it was dark before I fixed dinner. Mary served everyone a dessert that she had made at home -- gingerbread with lemon hit the spot.

The night was clear, quiet, and not particularly cold. We heard coyotes in the early evening hours. I slept well and woke around 5 AM. I lay there content and probably dozed off and on for the next two hours.


November 6, Saturday

The Narrow Gauge Railroad

The morning colors in the sky were very pretty and reflective in the still pond. Feather-like ice formations were evident on the surface of the water.

Michael helped Sharon make pack adjustments before we left camp. She was wondering if her water storage bag was leaking. As I checked her outer compartment, it became evident that she had inadvertently put her filled coffee mug in her pack and it was now leaking coffee -- maybe she didn't need to drink it after all. :)

After we left camp, Sharon hand-railed us around the beaver pond. Along the way Michael noticed very old sardine cans nailed to trees. They were partially opened allowing the contents to slowly leak down the tree. He speculated whether they were hung as some sort of bear bait...none of us could come up with a better answer.

We next came upon some huge burrow pits. Since these were far from the main rail line and any existing roads, we wondered where the excavated dirt had gone. The pits were quite old as the pine trees in the bottom of them were huge -- probably 50 or 60 years old at least. The answer to our questioning minds came quickly, as we came across the trench of an old narrow railroad grade complete with depressions where the old ties would of been.

We explored the rest of the ridge that we had been following and then back-tracked a bit to the old railroad grade. After re-conning it for a short interval without packs, we decided to utilize it, as it would lead us to the main line of the railroad which we were heading to anyway. It would also allow us to head right through the swamps on the raised bed rather than circumnavigating them as we originally had planned.

Along the way, Michael found an old section of railroad track that had been tossed to the side and forgotten. It was a rare find, as the logging companies usually took up the track and moved it to another area when they finished logging. I led everyone through the grade over to an old road that T- boned the railroad. We had lunch on top of a small rise along the tracks. We were lucky to witness a train fully loaded with logs moving by --- a parallel between the past which we had just witnessed and the present. Logging has been an integral part of the history of the Upper Peninsula.

We finished lunch and hiked the tracks for approximately 1100 meters. We were headed for a ridge above a pond where we would probably spend the night. The ridge panned out was nicely forested. Michael noticed evidence of some real old cabins. Only vegetative berms remained as well as two rusted pails.

While scouting for a possible camp site, I found a turtle shell. We all decided to camp close by on the ridge so that we could have a neat view of Wilwin Pond.

During the evening, we heard coyotes and the unmistakable sound of beaver tails slapping the pond's surface. The night was clear and the temps were moderate. The quarter moon rose late and in the morning, Jupiter and Mercury were close together in the eastern sky.


November 7, Sunday

Swamps and Snow

After breakfast, we back-tracked the ridge to the tracks. It started to snow but the squalls came and went quickly. We hiked the tracks for a short couple hundred meters and then we planned to bushwhack north off from the tracks. We utilized an abandoned two- track for a short ways before we headed through the swamp land. This two-track had been cut for logging purposes and was now cut off from vehicle access.

Mary led us north through mostly swamp land where we had to negotiate a crossing of Quinn Creek. We found a log that looked promising for crossing was slightly flattened on the top and had several cedar trees in the immediate area that would help with our stability...everyone made it safely across without getting wet.

We ambled through the swamp where everything was a lush green paradise of mosses and other vegetation. We followed a small ridge for a short distance...we planned to make a full river crossing today but our plans altered several times as it was getting colder and the snow squalls increased in frequency...we climbed out of the swamp again to a ridge where we spotted a permanent deer blind complete with an ATV track that led from it in the direction we were going.

We of course utilized it, as it was on Lake Superior State Forest land. We later skirted private property and realized that the permanent hunting blind and ATV track was made by the private property owner off the main other words....he extended his own property access to include state land making it nearly impossible for other hunters to access, because I very much doubt that they would go through the vast swamps as we did to get to that ridge. I guess this is becoming a common problem, but too much for DNR officers to regulate.

We bushwhacked through to a dirt road. We walked the road for a couple of clicks, taking a rest break at one point since we were due for one. It was snowing big fat beautiful flakes. We continued the road walk and found the area where we would take an abandoned two-track to find a camp site near the Hendrie River.

It continued to snow as we set up camp. We were in a small clearing off of the remote two-track. It was a quiet evening for me, I stayed in my shelter and attended to chores and read a bit. Mary made a fire so she had some regular visits by the others.


November 8, Monday

Swamp Navigation

By morning, five or six inches of snow had fell. My tarp tent was covered in snow. I carefully handed my camera out of the back edge of my tarp, as Michael offered to take a picture of it before I emerged. It surely added some insulation to my shelter during the night. When I opened the door, it looked like a winter wonderland.

I packed up early so I took a short walk down the two-track, to find a small foot-bridge that would get us over the Hendrie River. I backtracked to pick up my gear as well as my companions. We headed back to the bridge and followed the narrow footpath that wound around wetlands. It quickly became apparent that whatever roads did exist in this area, were long gone. We cut around a huge wetland utilizing beaver dams.

Mary took a GPS reading on the north side of the swamp...we were real close to a north-south road that was shown on the map. I quickly spotted a tell tale sign of an old road -- alders were packed closely together for a stretch as far as you could see in a south to north arrangement. Our quad maps were issued in 1951...anyway, a long time had passed since that road was really a road, but we decided to go for it. We pondered our commitment but at this point, we either had to try it or back-track to the other side of the river again.

Michael quickly pointed out the mounds left in the alder swamp that would indicate that this was once a corduroy road or winter road used for logging. I led the northerly azimuth and pushed and forced my way through the heavy entanglement...there really was no choice at this point to go east or west of the road as it was all swamp ridges on the map to make walking easier. The wet snow in the swamp made it difficult to see all the water holes which I might add, were everywhere. It took forever to make progress but we were hoping to T-bone the old east-west road that possibly might be in better shape.

We finally reached the other "road" but it was in no better shape. I tried pushing through for awhile...Michael noticed an old blaze cut into a tree, and suggested that it was probably made by the last person through here about 80 years ago :))) seriously didn't look like anyone had been through here since. We decided to leave the old road and push north again...from there we would have to bump up against a private camp...and circumnavigate partially around it, to a usable two-track.

Progress was slow, I had to wipe the compass off constantly to read my bearing...all day I had been pushing through snow laden vegetation which promptly landed on everything I owned. All of this took a great amount of time, as we left camp four hours before and we hadn't made a ton of headway. We pushed through to the two track and it made walking so much easier. The mere site of this usable road lightened everyone's spirits, as it had been a rough morning.

We pulled out some snacks and ate along the way as we had several miles of walking to do, before we made it back to our cars. This of course gave our newcomer a real taste of what we do out here...and I might add that she fared well. Overall, this has been one of our easier trips ever, so the last day was a reminder of how many of our days usually go...adventure after all, is where you create it :)))

We walked out to the two nearest cars and then shuttled vehicles...most of us traveled back to Trout Lake to have a much deserved combination lunch and dinner. We watched the snow fall outside the window and talked of next month's adventure...




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View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip

View Mary Powell's journal from this 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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