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Wilderness Tripping: Backpacking
   Hiawatha Naitonal Forest
   Rice Lakes Area
   Chippewa County
   Strongs, Michigan
   November 4-7, 2005


A 4-day, late-fall,
wilderness backpacking trip
through the Rice Lakes area
in the Hiawatha National Forest

November 4-7, 2005


By Milton French
   Dearborn Heights, Michigan
   Copyright 2005



View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip

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Since I had to work at the sleep lab on 11/7 and there was not enough time to finish the trip and be back by time for the sleep lab, I made arrangements to ride up with Mary P and return with Chris O.

Mary P asked me to be at her residence in Flint at 12pm. I stopped at Gander Mountain in Novi on the way there and bought some boots so I was 10 minutes late arriving at Mary P. We drove non-stop except for gas, snacks and restroom breaks to Sault Saint Marie.

Mary P had made arrangements to eat at the Indo-China restaurant at 5pm with the Three Lakes Group of the Sierra Club. We arrived at 5:15pm in time to join the rest of the group for dinner. I had garlic chicken for $8.50. There was enough food for everyone to be full.

From there we drove to LSSU (Lake Superior State College) for the 7:30pm monthly meeting of the Three Lakes Group. Roger Blanchard is the chair of the group which has about 150 members.

After announcements, the main program which was about wolves in MI, started. The presentation was a slide show by Nancy, a wolf advocate from WI. There were several handouts including two posters of wolves for members to take. The meeting concluded about 9pm whereby we went to Roger's house.

He rode his bicycle from LSSU to his house and met us there. Mary P brought pictures of a recent canoeing trip on the Yellowknife River in northern Canada. She showed him the pictures and described the trip.

After that we said goodbye and drove into Canada to Mary H house. After passing through customs, it was about a 15 minute drive to her house. We arrived at the house of Mary H about 9:45pm. She welcomed us and showed us our accommodations for the night.


Day 1


At 6am we were awaked by Mary H. At 6:45am we were ready and left. After returning through customs, we took 75 south to 28 west to Eckermans Corner to meet the backpacking group for breakfast at the Maple Ridge restaurant at 8am. Michael and Gail from Marquette, Jay from Flint, Cathy from Ann Arbor made up the rest of the group of 7.

The restaurant staff was kind to let me leave the stuff I had brought. Michael, Jay and Cathy drove to spot cars while the rest waited at the restaurant for them to return. Then we took the other two vehicles with all the people and backpacks to the trailhead. It was not a parking lot but we simply parked the vehicles on the shoulder of a gravel road.

By the time we started it was after 11am. I volunteered to partially lead the group for Friday morning. By partially I mean that I led the group given an azimuth and distance but was not involved in route selection. The first leg was south about 400m. We came to a dirt road and followed it east. Then we did another 400m through woods until we came to a depression where we had lunch.

It was a little after 12pm. Since we had a long way to go to get to Williams Lake we expedited the trip by utilizing dirt paths and roads when possible. At one spot where we stopped for a break at an open area in a valley, I fastened the hipbelt before getting up which caused the hipbelt support to tear. Normally I get up with just the shoulder straps and then fasten the hipbelt. It will have to be repaired. About 5pm we saw an open area which turned out to be a bog north of Williams Lake.

We crossed the bog and found a plausible camping spot on the northeast side of the lake. Some of us waited there while 3 of the others traveled along the lakeshore in search of a better spot. A better spot was found and the 7 of us hiked to this spot to camp. It was about 5:45pm.

I was able to find a spot to camp, setup the tarp and find a food hang branch before it was completely dark. After that I ate dinner using the headlamp. It was about 38F with a light rain. Michael setup the strobe he had brought so that Chris could find our camp in the dark.

About 8pm we saw Chris's headlamp approaching in the darkness. He told us that it was easy to find the camp and he had parked about 1/4 mile away. He told us that the probability of rain was low. As a joke, I said that they neglected to say that the probability of snow was 100%. We had a campfire in the beach area. It was a pleasant evening sitting around the campfire on the beach. Most people called it a night about 9:30pm.


Day 2


I was up at 7:30am and most of the others were up also about this time. I was ready to go about 8:30am. I was filtering water from the lake but the pre-filter clogged in the mud near the shore. I had to take it off to finish filtering water.

We left sometime after 9am. The temperature was 36F. We bushwhacked to the northeast for over 1km and came to an open area where we stopped to change layers. From there we continued to bushwhack until reaching a high point in the area where we had a break. I took pictures of everyone in the group. It was still 36F.

We were going to visit a lookout tower but in the interests of time we decided not to. From there we continued bushwhacking and hiking on trails until we came to an open spot about 300m west of 123 where we stopped for lunch. It was about 38F. We took some group photos. I showed the group some more of the stuff I had been making in recent months.

After lunch we crossed 123. The brush was thicker for awhile and the travel slower due to former logging operations that made for a lot of brush and uneven ground.

We stopped at a dirt road and had a discussion about Jesus Christ. It happened as a result of comments I made about hitting SOLAR people with a mortar which were not serious. I said that a person cannot enter heaven by good works but only by believing in Jesus Christ.

Soon after that we came near a lake that we passed by to the right reaching a paved road. We crossed the road and hiked through a NF campground. At the other end was a ridge that we bushwhacked along until we reached a dirt road. We followed the dirt road until it ended at a sign prohibiting vehicular traffic. At that spot was a path wide enough for snowmobiles which we followed for over 1km until it came to Rice Lakes.

We found a spot to camp on the north shore of the eastern of the two lakes. It was after 4pm. There was enough time to setup camp and partially finish dinner before it was dark. I finished dinner about 6:15pm. After that I said hello to other members of the camp and went to Mary P tarp. She was making dessert for everyone in the group. It was pudding with berries as topping and was excellent. By then it was after 8pm. Due to lack of an open area we did not have a campfire. I went to bed early. About 12:30am I heard the sound of rain.


Day 3


It rained continuously until I got up at 7:30am.

I had trouble with water leaking through the tarp. First the material is lightly coated with silicone and does not stop a prolonged rain. Second, I erected the tarp so there was a low spot in the middle of it where water collected. There was a seam there through which water readily leaked.

Also I had trouble with the jet of the stove clogging. I had used white gas last winter with more clogging problems that ever so I decided to give kerosene another try. I used up a 2/3 L bottle of fuel without any clogs but when I went to another 2/3L there has been a lot of clogs.

I am still unsure exactly why the jet clogs. Still I managed to get the stove to work and have a hot breakfast. By the time I finished breakfast the rain was changing to snow and there was some snow on the tarp. I finished breaking camp about 8:40am.

I had a discussion with one of the members of the group about being born again as a Christian. It is the most important decision a person can make since it affects where you will spend eternity whereas any other decision affects this life only.

It was agreed that Mary H, Chris and I would leave Sunday morning leaving the remaining 5 to finish the trip on Monday afternoon. We left the camp at 9:10am. It took 25 minutes to hike back to the spot where the vehicle prohibition sign was. This was where Chris had parked his pickup.

There were some deep puddles but we made it through all of them without getting stuck. We drove up to 123 and 28 to the Maple Ridge restaurant where we dropped off Mary H for her husband to pick her up and I picked up the stuff I had left at the restaurant. I thanked the staff again for being so kind to let me store my stuff during the backpack.

We saw snowplows clearing the roads. The snow was a heavy wet snow with large flakes drifting down. We left before 10am for the trip back. It was not until we were just north of Mackinac Bridge that we didn't see anymore snow. I changed into my street clothes at a gas station in St. Ignace. From there we drove back to Mary P to get my car.

It was 2:15 when we arrived there and 3:30pm when I arrived home. I found that the entire inside of my bivy and the outside of the sleeping bag was covered with water. I had packed the sleeping bag while still inside the bivy. It would have been a challenge to have spent Sunday night outdoors. I checked the weather forecast for Newberry MI at 4pm and saw that the forecast was 100% snow. I remembered what I had said at Williams Lake in jest on Friday night.

The problems I had on this trip were: clogged water filter, clogged stove jet with kerosene, leaking tarp, wet sleeping bag and torn backpack. I cleaned the water filter, unclogged the stove jet and dried out the sleeping bag. The leaking tarp is serious and I haven't tried to fix it yet. The torn backpack should be easy to sew.



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