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Wilderness Tripping: Advanced-level Backpacking Trip
   McCormick Tract--North End
   Marquette & Baraga County
   Champion, Michigan
   October 1-5, 2004


Backpacking in
the McCormick Tract:

A Wilderness Area
In Marquette And Baraga Counties


By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2004

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Day 2


Most journals begin on day one of the trip, but we are more than 24 hours into this adventure.... Let me tell you how that came about....

Today has been absolutely beautiful! Its earliest hours were lit by an almost full moon low in the western sky. A morning star was bright in the east and it was followed by the first light of dawn. We arose at our campsite by Splint Rapids and prepared for a leisurely day in the bush.

The plan for the day was to end up somewhere along the shore of Lake Margaret, or perhaps on Bulldog Lake, with a bit of recon to occupy the rest of the day. We would look for an old winter road that showed on some earlier maps or maybe for signs of the lumber camp that was near it.

The day unfolded according to plan with Gail leading us along the calculated azimuths in the morning and Charlie taking a turn in the afternoon. We didn't find the winter logging road nor any sign of the camp, but we did see a lot of mixed forest in its early fall colors, got a lot of land nav practice and ended up on a forested bluff overlooking Lake Margaret.

We set up our shelters and gathered for dinner, which included a birthday celebration for Michael. Gail had brought homemade brownies and the requisite candles. We shared hot chocolate along with the brownies and undoubtedly frightened the wildlife with our rendition of the traditional song.

What made this idyllic day especially appreciated was the less-than-idyllic evening that preceded it.

Day 1 of the trip had started off well enough with a meeting at the Hungry Hollow Cafe in Big Bay for breakfast. Around the table were trip leader Michael Neiger, Gail Staisil. Charlie Robertson, Mary Ann Hayman, my husband Dan Soper, and myself.

After eating and dispensing with the necessary paperwork, we did the 45 minute drive on back roads to the trailhead near the northeast corner of the tract. We enjoyed the morning hiking the trail and viewing the many waterfalls along the Yellowdog River.

The afternoon brought a bit of bushwhacking and more beautiful falls. As we worked our way up the river enjoying the cascades, the dark bluffs and the colored leaves, a gusty wind came up, it began to rain and the temperature dropped markedly. Wind and rain make it a lot harder to have fun in the woods.

When we reached Splint Rapids (so named because it was where we camped after an injury on a trip several years before) we set up our shelters and ate dinner like hermits, isolated under our tarps by the intermittent showers. As noted above, the following day made our mild discomfort worth putting up with.


Day 3


Another gift! A warm morning with only a few rapidly clearing clouds. After we enjoyed breakfast on the bluff, Charlie led us down the portage trail to Bulldog Lake where we ambled down a shoreline strewn with sunbleached logs. The water appeared to have dropped a foot or so from previous levels.

Surprisingly we found some fresh bootprints on a stretch of sandy beach. Michael pointed out on the map that it was not too difficult to day hike to this spot on the remnants of the old Bentley Trail.

We made our way along the shore to the outlet of the lake where there was a sandy beach and the remains of an old sluice way. We followed the stream, with a few diversions inland, to a poured concrete dam that, like the sluice, probably dated back to logging days.

The water level was way below the top of the dam and there was very little flowing through the channels at the bottom. We commented that the Yellowdog must get quite a bit of water from tributaries before reaching the falls we saw downstream on Friday as this trickle of water was certainly not responsible for their volume.

After exploring a bit, we settled on the far side of the dam for lunch and after eating we worked our way back up that side of the outlet to the long abandoned site of a logging camp on the shore of Bulldog Lake. The area is now just an open grassy field that would be pleasant for camping.

A rocky overlook on the lake gave us a view of a wooden structure crossing a swampy area off to the right. We surmised that it had been a walkway during the McCormick's time to permit hiking around the lake without going way back in the woods to avoid the swamp.

From the logging camp area Gail led us on a couple of azimuths to Island lake where there is a pleasant open campsite under some big pines. Though the second azimuth was around 2600 meters, she was right on and we only had a short walk along the shore of the lake to our campsite.

We set up in a loose circle creating a colorful little village of tarps in the pines. Dark clouds alternated with brief bursts of sunshine as we hung our bear ropes and relaxed. We ate a leisurely meal and had our food hung before a heavy shower confined us to our tarps.


Day 4


The rain fell till well after midnight. There was a period of quiet overcast, then the clouds blew away and the moon was out in the clear sky. By morning there were a few small cumulus clouds scattered about again.

On getting up and looking around we found that not all of the precipitation during the night had been rain. In low lying spots and other sheltered areas there was a dusting of snow.

We spent the day exploring--looking for future campsites on the surrounding lakes. Not far from our camp we found an old beaver house on the shore and photographed some striking snowy patches. We had lunch on Gordon Lake and after an afternoon of wandering, camped on the SW corner of Summit Lake.

A brisk breeze made the early part of the evening cool, but by bedtime the wind had stopped and the sky was clear.

Looking out over the forest we could see that the fall colors had increased considerably since the beginning of the trip with the reds of the maples being particularly striking. During the night we heard the slap of beaver tails a number of times on the lake and a barred owl called from one place and then another in the woods.


Day 5


We awoke to another awesome autumn day--cool, breezy, intermittent clouds and sun. Over coffee in the morning Michael perused the maps.

As we lifted our packs he announced that this was going to be peak bagging day. We would head in the general direction of the cars, but would stop along the way to climb to some of the highest bluffs and check out the fall colors from these vantage points.

Finding the bluffs in the forest is a fairly challenging map and compass exercise and Michael did his usual excellent job. Time after time we climbed to the top of the rocky hills. The view was better from some than from others. The fall colors were approaching peak and the day was beautiful so that we could enjoy them.

After descending the last of the peaks we had to recross the Yellowdog to get back to our cars. There was still a bit of a walk and when we got to the river valley we found that the local beavers had been busy. There was water backed up into the brush over a wide area.

Not really wanting to wade through a swamp even if it was the shortest way, we went in search of the dam as a potential area to cross. When we came upon one we could see that it was relatively new and unconsolidated--not a very stable structure for crossing.

Some elected to cross on top of the dam, slipping on the wet angled sticks and squeezing between the tag alders that supported them. Others chose to step from hummock to hummock behind the dam. Either way you got wet feet.

Michael was in the lead crossing the dam and found the beavers had incorporated a full set of deer antlers just as if they were sticks. He retrieved them and we got some pictures for the "sheds and skulls" page on the website.

On the other side of the dam we took a short break and then went in search of the old road that would lead to the one that the cars were on. We found it without a problem and soon found ourselves at the end of our hike.

It was late afternoon and some needed to head home quickly, but those with no major agenda stopped by the Border Grill on the way for one more meal together.

Another good trip was done!



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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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