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Michigan Bush Rats' Wilderness Tripping: Winter Backpacking
   Mackinac Wilderness Tract
   Hiawatha National Forest

   Mackinac County
   Trout Lake, Michigan
   November 2-5, 2007


A Michigan Bush Rats' Adventure:

Mackinac Wilderness Tract Adventure
Thank Goodness
for Beaver Dams

November 2-5, 2007


By Sarah K. (Ms Mich)
   Plymouth, Michigan
   Copyright 2007

E-mail author at msmich@homelifeorg.com



Review Rob S. photo album from this trip

Review WoodsRunner'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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Day 1

Crossing a beaver dam

An intrepid band of eight ground pounders or Bush Rats as they are called all met a brisk and windy morning at McGowan's Family Restaurant in Trout Lake on November 2nd.

It was my first trip led by Michael Neiger or LandNavMan as he is called on the Backpacker forum pages. Michael introduced me and Rob Schwenke from SOLAR to the rest of the group - Gail (IsleRoyaleGirl, Cathy (WoodsRunner), Mary (NatureLady), Mary Ann and Bill. Group member number nine, Chris (NightBlazer) was going to meet us later that night.

Michael did everything he could to prepare us with an extensive list of things that we needed to bring (ultra light hikers need not apply) as well as a list things that could go wrong, including pictures of blown out knees tied to hand-made splints.

We were not deterred as we signed a final waiver acknowledging that we were about to go into the wilderness and no one was going to rescue us. Instead we tackled our breakfasts with renewed gusto hoping that we ordered enough carbs, protein and fats to keep us going for the next few hours.

Our wilderness trek actually started an hour or so later after spotting all the cars at various bail out points. We started South East down a lesser used road that only had a forestry number on it and it wasn't long after that where we started to use a combination of topographical, local maps and satellite images to wander into the wilderness.

Our first encounter with a beaver dam was fun as we ran into an actual beaver trapper and his wife. Michael led the way across the dam ignoring the sounds of the trappers wife saying "If you don't have hip waders, prepare to get wet!" We all made it across without so much as a soaked foot. In retrospect this was one of the easier dams we crossed, but of course it still stands out as my first beaver dam crossing.

We started bushwhacking South in earnest and it wasn't as bad as I feared, but eye protection and keeping a healthy distance behind the person in front of you is a must. We crossed Kenneth Road and started leaving three sticks as signs for Chris to follow us into the wilderness to our first bivouac spot.

We were on a non-motorized road, that really looked liked an overgrown trail that branched South East again as we kept along the West side of Taylor Creek. We kept going until we hit the North Country Trail or NCT heading North East as a way to cross Taylor Creek without too much hassle.

The group then started pacing and at a certain point we really began to bushwhack heading North West along the East bank of Taylor Creek and across another spectacular beaver dam to get to our bivouac site for the night.

We were treated to a scrumptious dessert of apple crisp made by Mary. It's true that everything does taste better with whipped topping. It must have been the scent of cinnamon that helped Chris to find us around 9pm. He credits perseverance for his night navigation skills, but they are impressive nonetheless and he definitely earned his handle of NightBlazer.


Day 2

A frosty morning

The next morning we were glad to have been under the pines because if we had been more out in the open we would have been covered with frost. We back tracked to the NCT heading South West again pacing to find a South bushwhacking route to cross Bissel Creek via another beaver dam.

After crossing Bissel Creek, we took a nice break along the clearing for a gas pipeline, which also happens to be the Northern edge of the Mackinac Wilderness tract. We paralleled along Bissel Creek heading South East until we caught up again with Taylor Creek to have lunch. We kept going along the creek and found an old ATV trail and it was fun to connect the white tacks that were pushed in to the trees to guide hunters through this part of the wilderness tract.

We did our best to avoid the 40 acre parcel of private land, but wound up on it anyway and quietly walked through to the other side to catch the road heading East towards the North fork of the Carp River.

We also found a few remnants of a log shelter that was much more impressive that the hunter's blinds we saw along the ATV trail. We camped our second night along the North Branch of the Carp River. The different group member tarp set-ups gave me an appreciation for the versatility of bivouacking with a tarp versus using a tent. This was especially true the third night when it rained.


Day 3

Fording the North Branch of the Carp River

The morning of the third day, Chris left us early to try his hand at fishing. It started raining just as we were breaking down camp. We found an old logging road that used to cross the Carp River, but instead all that was left were some bridge abutments.

Michael led a rock brigade to build us a walking bridge, but in the end, most of the team took off our boots, rolled up our pants and waded across in our water shoes. This was another first for me and while the river was cold and flowing rapidly, I was very proud of myself for wading right in and across using my hiking pole for stability. It also helped to have a bandana to dry my feet and dry socks and boots to get back into right after the crossing.

The group continued to head East along the North bank of the river and found Chris at his fishing spot. Sadly the fish weren't biting, but he still said it was worth bringing along his fly rod and reel.

This was our group picture site along a bend of the Carp River. We continued and found a very nice lunch spot where the sun came out for an hour with a very large beaver dam, lodge and fresh beaver signs on a huge tree before crossing Spring Lake Creek. Beyond that was East Lake Road where Chris left us to head home.

We kept going and crossed Upper Farm Hill Creek before finally crossing another impressive and much newer beaver dam at Lower Farm Hill Creek. The water was flowing quite a bit over the dam and it seemed a bit more tenuous with each member crossing the dam. Fortunately we made it across without incident, it stopped raining and we camped along the Carp River one more final night.

I chatted with the ladies and go to know more about them. Michael did a good job with leading us and making sure we took breaks and kept warm with layers of clothing. Still he encouraged Cathy, Gail, Mary and Mary Ann to do most of the navigating and I was impressed by their independent spirit and skills.

I also noted that myself and Rob were the 'youngsters' of the group and that were more women than men on this trip. Poor Bill and Rob got stuck sweeping the group most of the time because they were taller and Michael could spot them more easily as the group spread out.


Day 4

Rainy and cold

Our final day was rainy and cold. Still I was prepared for the weather and noted how comfortable I was in 35 degree weather. Layering really does help and I was glad I had taken SOLAR's Enjoying Michigan Winters class earlier this year.

We stayed along the East side of Lower Farm Hill Creek and headed North. We crossed a minor tributary again via a beaver dam to find an old logging road. The old, moss-covered, corduroy roadbed - logs laid crosswise, one after another, to permit vehicles to cross the swamp - was very picturesque. It was like walking on mattresses.

We made it into some low lands across our final beaver dam to a clearing. Then we found a road heading West to lead us to Edison Road and to my car. The rain never let up on the fourth and final day, but again being prepared made it doable.

I was truly challenged by this adventure and the group dynamics were great. I would highly recommend anyone who wants to expand all their outdoor skills to consider participating in a Bush Rats' trip. I know I plan to be back and next time try my hand at bushwhacking navigation.



Review Rob S. photo album from this trip

Review WoodsRunner'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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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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