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Bush Rats' Wilderness Tripping: Winter Backpacking
   Pigeon River Country State Forest
   Dog Lake Flooding Area
   Cheboygan County
   Indian River, Michigan
   December 2-3, 2006


A Bush Rats' Adventure:

A 3-day, 26-klick,
wilderness backpacking trip
to the Pigeon River Country
State Forest's
Dog Lake Flooding

December 2-4, 2006


By Gail Staisil (Isleroyalegirl or Woodswoman)
   Marquette, Michigan
   Copyright 2006

E-mail author at woodswoman2001@yahoo.com



Review GlowingRock's photo album from this trip

Review IsleRoyaleGirl's photo album from this trip

Review NatureLady's photo album from this trip

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December 1

Winter Storm Warnings

A sizable winter storm was predicted to hit the area where we were all headed for a short winter backpacking trip. Only a few days earlier we had experienced spring-like weather with record highs set in many areas of the state.

The Pigeon River State Forest encompasses an expansive area of 105,000 acres so to eliminate potential driving problems on unplowed roads we all planned to access the Dog Lake Flooding location from the north. Most of the Bush Rats are from the southern reaches of the state but a couple of us live in the Upper Peninsula including Michael (LandNavMan) and myself (Gail/IsleRoyaleGirl/WoodsWoman).

Snowfall was on the light side as we left Marquette with only a few inches of snow on the ground. However, whiteout conditions prevailed as we traveled through the Upper Peninsula. Several inches of snow were falling per hour. The storm was supposed to deposit about 8 inches of snow but nearly a foot had already fallen by the time we traveled across the Mackinac Bridge. However, meteorologists predicted the storm would abate around 6 PM and it surprisingly was right on schedule. The snow-covered roads became more manageable.

Around 7 PM we pulled into the Osmun Lake parking lot for the intended pre-trip bivouac. I immediately noticed a fire near the shore of the lake that most certainly belonged to Mary (NatureLady) who had arrived much earlier. Mike (NCThiker) had also arrived in the early afternoon and they had been getting acquainted. This was the first official trip of the Bush Rats, a loosely formed group of backpackers with a similar desire of traveling through the bush. Mary and Mike told us of the contrast in conditions that they had experienced earlier compared to what was currently happening. The temperatures that had been in the teens had risen into the mid-20's F. Strong winds and new snowfall had ceased. Now, moonlight reflected off of the snow and headlamps weren't necessary.

As the evening progressed Mike (NCThiker) warmed his cold feet by the fire and talked of trips and goals for the future. Mary brought out a delicious cheesecake that she had prepared at home and discussed the merits of currently having the car nearby to store the remainder instead of packing it tomorrow when we are all on our way.

Michael crashed early in his bivy sack while the rest of us stayed up until nearly midnight wondering if we would see Chris and Debbie yet tonight. They had planned to start the trip a few miles away and hike an old railroad grade in the moonlight with the possibility of arriving either tonight or tomorrow morning.


December 2

Osmun Hill, Swamps And Snow

The night was warm and I slept well. We ate breakfast by the lake and waited for the other trippers. Roy (GlowingRock) was the first to arrive. He was an avid backpacker and winter camper who liked to do long distant events. I had teased him earlier that his feats were more in the line of self-inflicted adventure races. He had recently hiked from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior in less than one day, a sum of over fifty miles. It was the first time that he was joining us but I knew he would never be tagging behind.

The appointed start time of 9:30 AM rolled around and three trippers were still missing. Michael decided to take a quick ride in his van to check if he could find anyone along the country road. No sooner than he had started his excursion, Debbie and Chris emerged unto the road from the woods. Michael later related that it was like seeing two deer jump out and cross the road. Debbie (MissRapidRappeller) and Chris (NightBlazer) had spent the night in the bush about halfway into their journey. They had encountered unexpected swamps in the middle of the railroad grade. Their packs and clothing were covered with snow that had fallen off the branches as they ducked underneath. A final check for the other tripper revealed that he wasn't coming. I distributed a few of my homemade energy bars to the other trippers and we were ready for the adventure.

We set off around Osmun Lake working south and climbing up to the top of Osmun Hill. After several enjoyable minutes viewing the location and taking pictures, I figured an azimuth and we descended through the forest to an old road. We then skirted along ridges with a general azimuth. Travel was probably slower than normal due to hiking through the foot of snow that had fallen, but we still made good progress. During a break in action, a quick recon by Michael revealed that a creek we might of crossed was too high to get across without difficulty. We chose the easier albeit longer route of heading west towards the country road for a bit of travel. At the intersection of Osmun Lake Road and Duby Lake Road that headed east, we took the latter which intersected with the High Country Pathway several times. It took us to the top of the Dog Lake Flooding. Shortly after we took a lunch break. Some trippers had hot lunches, others took a few winks but we all relaxed.

After lunch, Chris led us a short ways on the pathway and then veered off in a southerly direction parallel to the edge of the flooding. Because there were many swamps bordering the flooding we were situated somewhat east of those areas. We still found ourselves negotiating swampy and wet areas at times.

With nightfall descending, we knew we weren't going to make it to the intended bivouac location that was the earthen dam at the south end of the flooding. We had traveled through swamps and now we were in an area of heavily snow-laden pines, spruces and hemlocks. The group consensus was that it would be a nice place to camp so we scurried to find bivouac locations for everyone within sight of each other.

Although it wasn't actually snowing, the snow filtered down through the branches as the wind picked up a bit. The actual temperature was 35 F and the humidity was 90 percent making it a damp evening.

The evening hours seem to fly by. Most of us ate dinner near our individual bivouac locations but then we later gathered by the fire in front of Mary's tarp. I joked that we should call ourselves "Swamp Rats" instead of "Bush Rats" as we often find ourselves exploring swamps. However, the exploration of such has led to a lot of neat experiences. Everyone retired a bit earlier tonight, but not before an experienced photographer (Roy) took some awesome long-exposure photos of the fire and the group.


December 3

Where Are We?

The night seemed colder than the last. It was most likely in the high teens as the temperature read about 21 F at 9 AM. Even though I didn't particularly sleep well in the moon-lit night, I hadn't checked the temperature during the night hours. My 20 F sleeping bag and warm clothing didn't quite cut the chill. However, I do think it was just the normal adjustment to cooler temperatures that had descended upon us rapidly. Others indicated they had felt chilled as well.

The morning also brought puzzlement to our actual location. The previous afternoon had thrown a few unexpected loops so Michael and Chris decided to now check the perceived location with a GPS. It revealed that we were actually 800-meters further east than we thought. With little natural features and darkness setting in, we had bivouacked last night before meeting our goal.

With most trippers still packing up their gear, Michael headed out to do a short recon to see if we could avoid the majority of our travel in the swamp. He came back with renewed energy and led us first on a hunter's path, then a county road and then an old railroad grade to expedite getting back to the HCP quicker. There simply wasn't much time for off-trail hiking with most people having to return to work tomorrow.

For me and a few others, the highlight along the route was seeing a vole actively making patterns across the snow by tunneling through a meadow. Winter weeds wove intricate patterns against the stark white snow cover.

Even though today's route was relatively easy, it wasn't without several long sessions of grabbing brush to prevent plunging through large areas of water on the old railroad grade. Mary didn't quite pass up the opportunity to experience some wetness when one of her boots slipped through the thinly ice-covered water.

We enjoyed a quick lunch along the High Country Pathway and traveled down Duby Lake and Osmun Roads to our vehicles. Soon after, the majority of people were seen driving away to generally head back south to their respective homes. A couple of us had another intention in mind since we had more time available. We would spend another night and bivouac at the earthen dam after relocating our vehicle. We hiked in for several klicks in diminishing light and falling snow to the dam near the south end of the flooding. Intervals of moonlight reflected its way through the cloudy sky. Coyotes were active early and then the night was completely calm and peaceful.


December 4

Homeward Bound

An early bedtime and a late morning rise made for an unhurried start to the day. A leisurely hike out resulted in seeing coyote and elk tracks in the freshly fallen snow. Life is good.


Review GlowingRock's photo album from this trip

Review IsleRoyaleGirl's photo album from this trip

Review NatureLady's photo album from this trip

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