Locaton: TheRuckSack > photo-journal archive index > journal archive page

Wilderness Tripping: Backpacking
   Hiawatha National Forest
   Raco Army Airfield
   Chippewa County
   Strongs, Michigan
   November 4-5, 2006


A 2-day, 20-klick,
wilderness backpacking trip
to the Hiawatha National Forest
and the old, long-abandoned,
Raco Army Airfield

November 4-5, 2006


By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2006

E-mail author at powell_mm@hotmail.com


Review author's photo album from this trip

Return to photo-journal archive index page

Return to TheRuckSack home page



A Change of Plans

Our planned four day exploration of a small piece of the eastern UP has been shortened to two days as one person who intended to come is attending a funeral instead and another has to be back to work on Monday. Any bush time is better than no bush time though!

I find myself alone at the closed-for-the-winter, USFS, Soldier Lake campground waiting for Chris and Michael to arrive. It's been a pleasant evening. It was a short walk in here from the entrance--half a mile perhaps--and I enjoyed being in the early winter woods. There was an inch or two of fresh snow, decorated in places with the tracks of small animals. Crumpled ferns and sprigs of wintergreen peeked through here and there. The sky was the paler blue of winter and there were several large banks of dark clouds to the west. Though the weekend forecast was for sunshine, I could easily see that not coming to pass.

After picking a site and setting up my tarp, I decided to walk around the lake before fixing dinner. Took several photos of the lake--dark water fringed with a lace of woods under gray clouds tinged pink by the sunset. Very pretty, very peaceful.

Returning to camp, I assembled the fire pan and gathered some wood. Soon I had a comfortable little blaze, steaming coffee and a pot of ramen. The sunset faded to darkness as I ate and a hazy 3/4 moon rose behind the pines. Enjoying the warmth of the fire, the beauty and the peace, I waited for my friends.


Company Comes

Michael arrived around 8PM and Chris not too long after that. We caught up on the happenings in each other's lives since the last trip, with Michael and Chris putting up shelters as we chatted. Chris noted that there had been some major changes on the Rucksack Web site over the last few days and Michael confirmed that this was to be his last Sierra Club trip for a variety of reasons. We were relieved to hear though, that he would still be venturing into the woods as an independent traveler and there could be opportunities to accompany him on these trips. On that more cheerful note we had pineapple upside down cake with Cool Whip for a bedtime snack and soon thereafter retired to our sleeping bags.



What--No Booties?

I awoke early the next morning because my toes were cold--apparently leaving the sleeping booties behind to cut weight was not the best choice.... The campsite was still brightly moonlit and it was still more than an hour till dawn. I took a short walk to warm the feet and snuggled back into my bag. Ahhh...what luxury!


A Plan for the Day

About 40 minutes later we were all stirring. The day was starting out partly cloudy, but showed signs of clearing. After breakfast Michael asked if anyone was interested in doing a bit of nav work. Of course we both were, but Chris had his map out first. The plan was to recon the remnants of the old Raco Airfield. Chris began by figuring an azimuth to the nearest point of interest, a rifle range about a klick away. It was a pleasant hike to it through alternating areas of grassland and thin forest.


Conflicting Reports

Some accounts of this segment of the trip allege that we belly crawled across the open areas to avoid detection. I don't recall it quite that way , but who knows--could be old age or hypothermia induced amnesia ... The rifle range, which had seen no use in many years, was still very apparent as a kilometer long rectangle of open ground. It was crossed horizontally by a number of berms that we hypothesized were distance indicators. Behind the berm at the target end was a substantial cement wall, probably designed to protect those tending the targets. The sand at the top of the berms was liberally imbedded with spent bullets, a couple of which I collected as trip souvenirs.


Mystery Structures

We checked out another range nearby, then began an azimuth to the runways. We passed by a number of cement pads buried to varying degrees in the forest duff and having vertical pipes with well secured caps in the ground beside them. We came up with a number of possible explanations for these structures, but none were entirely satisfying. There were also paved roads with circular pads connected to them. Plane or equipment parking? Passing signs that said, "No test vehicles beyond this point" we came to wide runways which formed an equilateral triangle about a mile on each side. That's a huge expanse of concrete!


Testing Areas

The runway area is currently used by a company that tests automobile performance under winter conditions. A number of buildings were under construction, apparently for this purpose, but no people were about. We continued through what appeared to have been a residential area when the base was active, but it was now empty of buildings and spotted with what appeared to be monitoring wells...


Afternoon Explorations

We had lunch under some pines for shelter from the wet snow which had started to fall. After vacillating a bit, we gave in and got out our Gore-Tex as the semi sleet showed no sign of abating. After eating we headed in the direction of Sullivan Creek which was our objective for the evening. On the way there we ran across a couple of old railroad grades which we followed a ways to see how they fit together and where they probably went in their heyday. We came upon the creek about 3PM and began a fairly leisurely search along it for the ideal campsite. Some time after 4PM, when we had not found any really stellar sites, we settled on one under some jack pines on a high bank overlooking the creek.


Quiet evening

Wet snow continued to fall as we set up our shelters, obtained water and gathered firewood. When the dripping wood had been coaxed into flame, and we settled under our tarps to wait for our pots to come to a boil, we began to enjoy the soft sound of the precipitation on the nylon and the sight of the flakes beyond the edge of the tarps. Wet snow is a lot prettier when it isn't falling on you. Conversation for the evening centered around possible changes in the format of upcoming trips and new ways of networking with other hikers. As the talk slacked off I crawled into my bag to read awhile. The woods were totally quiet except for the soft crackle of the remaining fire; the quiet of winter, of sounds muffled by snow.



Leaving Already?

When we began stirring the next morning we found it noticeably warmer than it had been the night before. Water dripped steadily from the melting snow in the trees and our tarps had a coating of slush. A small fire heated water for breakfast and drove away some of the dampness. It didn't seem like the last day of the trip should come right after the first one: we'd never done a trip that short before. When we had packed up, we continued downstream on Sullivan Creek, still looking for a stellar campsite (for possible future trips to the area) and planning to check out the fish hatchery. It wasn't far to a back road that led to that facility and we followed it there.


The Hatchery

The hatchery consisted of a number of nondescript office and storage buildings plus a large pole barn type of structure that probably housed the fish tanks. We briefly perused an information kiosk that told us mostly that the name of the place had been changed for a variety of reasons during its history. Satisfied that there was no excitement to be had there, we crossed the creek on the nearby bridge and headed back upstream.


Back to Civilization

The forest on this side of the creek was on a series of high ridges which we walked along, making a number of forays down their sides to check for camping spots. When we calculated we had gone far enough, we angled west toward Soldier Lake and our cars. As there were quite a few klicks in between, we took a break for lunch. It took a number of azimuths from one known to another to reach the campground again. As we were in no major hurry , we checked out some of the CCC buildings there and read the dedication monument near the entrance. Back at our vehicles we decided on a post trip meal together and ended up at the Maple Ridge restaurant in Eckerman, an enjoyable ending for a short but pleasant trip.



Review Mary Powell's photo album from this trip

Read another photo-journal.



Return to top of page | Return to home page

In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.

 — John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

Content Copyright © 1984 -- 2006-11-25
by Michael A. Neiger

* All rights reserved *
No part of this Web page or this Web site protected by copyright law may be reproduced, transmitted, or used in any form--including graphic, electronic, Web, mechanical or other form--or by any means--including photocopying, recording, taping, Internet distribution, information storage retrieval system, or by other means--for any purpose, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages, without the prior, express, written permission of the author.

* Disclaimer *
The information contained on this Web page and this Web site are provided solely for information, illustrative, and discussion purposes. Although the author has made a sincere effort to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information presented on this Web page and this Web site, no warranty is expressed or implied. The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any injuries, damages, losses, or other consequences that may result from the use of the information contained on this Web page and this Web site. As with any human endeavor, omissions, inaccuracies, and errors will occur on this Web page and this Web site and the author makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented or that the information presented will produce any particular result or be suitable for any particular situation, person, organization, or other entity. While corrections and revisions may or may not be made from time to time, any changes made to this Web page and this Web site are made without obligation to notify any person, organization, or other entity of any such changes. The activities associated with the information contained on this Web page and this Web site are by their very nature inherently dangerous and the information presented can not take the place of good personal judgment, sound decision-making, professional training, proper equipage, adequate physical fitness, and expert guidance by trained and experienced professionals.

Comments? Suggestions?
Dead links? Inaccurate info?
Contact the WebMaster at mneiger@hotmail.com

A MacroMedia DreamWeaver 4 and Fireworks 4 production

Web site URL -- http://therucksack.tripod.com

Return to top of page  |  Return to home page