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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:

Exploring the
Taylor Creek and
Carp River Watersheds
in the
Mackinac Wilderness Tract

November 2-5, 2007


By Mary Powell (NatureLady)
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2007

E-mail author at powell_mm@hotmail.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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The drive north...

The trip began for me on Thursday. I did the long drive up I-75 in weather pretty typical of late fall--cool, gray, damp. The forests along the highway were no longer the bright colors of early autumn, but a darker palette of maroons, golds and browns.

At the straits, the water was a steel gray with low swells and subtle wave patterns created by a light breeze. In exchange for my token at the tollbooth I received a card certifying that I was crossing on the 50th anniversary of the bridge's opening.

I thought back to the many crossings I'd made as a child on the ferries, and considered how being able to whisk across it on the bridge diminishes your perception of the size and power of the lakes. I made a mental note to stop on the way home to stand a while on the beach and soak up the feel of the wind and the water...maybe at the Cut River bridge...

Continuing north, my attention turned again to the surrounding countryside which is strikingly different from that below the bridge--much more boreal. Tracts of mainly cedar forest interrupted by pockets of marsh stretched away from the highway. It's very evident that the topsoil is thin here: rocky bluffs protrude through it and the bedrock is bared where the roots of toppled trees have peeled up the earth.

The golden foliage of tamaracks stood out against the dark green of the cedars. This was the environment that we would be exploring over the weekend and I was looking forward to hiking along the low ridges and picking our way through the intervening swamps.

I drove on north across the International Bridge to pick up MaryAnn in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I spent a pleasant evening with her and her husband Dave, who has also hiked with us on some previous trips. Next morning we arose early and drove to Trout Lake for the breakfast rendezvous at McGowan's.

Carrying on a lively conversation for that time of day, we drove right past the exit to M-28 and so were the last to arrive at the restaurant. We found trip leader Michael Neiger, along with Sarah, Rob, Gail, Cathy and Bill already seated and contemplating the menu.

After greeting old friends and being introduced to Sarah and Rob, SOLAR Club members who were doing their first trip with the Bush Rats, we launched into a discussion of the trip at hand.

A sizeable group of new faces in a village restaurant attracts a bit of attention and several customers made friendly inquiries about our plans. One local resident, hearing that we would be starting near her home, offered to let us park there.

Another customer shared that he was from Davison and came to the UP as often as he could to enjoy getting out in the woods as we were about to do. The friendly reception seemed an auspicious beginning for the hike.

After breakfast we spotted cars along the proposed route to allow for several alternative endpoints. I spotted my car so Chris, who would hopefully be joining us in camp at the end of the day, could use it to get back to his car since he was planning to leave the group on Sunday to be back home for work on Monday.

Flocks of snow buntings rose from the road in many places as we drove, a reminder that winter was not far off.


Day 1

It was pleasant walking

When the group had reassembled, Gail took the point and we worked a series of azimuths and two tracks in the general direction of our planned bivouac.

Most of the leaves had fallen and the forest was carpeted in gold. Many ferns and weeds, however, were still green. It was pleasant walking--the temperature was in the upper forties and there was a light breeze. Dark clouds alternated with brighter areas of overcast and occasional patches of blue sky.

We worked our way along Taylor Creek and by lunch the new folks had experience in beaver dam crossings.

After a leisurely meal Cathy took the point and we continued south along the creek to Kenneth Road. Passing the gated forest road where Chris was planning to start his hike, we left a set of peeled sticks indicating our direction of travel.

It was easy hiking along the two track and we used it to cover ground toward the small pond where we planned to camp. Several kilometers later we turned east on the NCT and crossed the creek, pausing to take a few photos as it was a rather picturesque spot.

Cathy then led us on a northerly azimuth through the swampy terrain to the pond. Given the thickness of the brush and the lack of identifiable terrain features we began to think that Chris might have some difficulty negotiating this stretch after dark and that it was a good thing there was a backup plan for getting together.

A second azimuth took us to a low ridge near the stream and we found a good place to camp under some evergreens. It was after 6PM when we began to set up our shelters and we hustled to find bear hangs in the deepening twilight.

The wind oohed and aahed in the treetops and stars peeked around the edges of scudding clouds. It felt good to relax and listen to the woods as dinner cooked. We visited after the meal and shared a group dessert of apple crisp.

We were hanging our food and preparing for sleep when Chris's headlamp appeared down by the creek. Nightblazer had lived up to his name again! We greeted him enthusiastically, introduced him to the new members of the group and retrieved his share of the apple crisp for a bedtime snack.

We listened to his account of his travels--he'd found some of Michael's markers for the first portion of the route, but for the second half, he'd worked the terrain with his compass. It was good to have the whole group together as we climbed into our sleeping bags.


Day 2

Glow in the eastern sky

People were stirring before there was much of a glow in the eastern sky. Chris was the first to venture out and he brought my food bag from our shared hang as the sky faded to the paler shades of blue.

After breakfast and a second cup of coffee, Chris, Cathy and I went on a short recon to see if the beaver dam at the end of this pond was a viable way to get back to the two track we'd been on the day before as we planned to take it farther down the creek.

It was a fun bit of exploring, but we agreed that while the dam was easy enough to cross unencumbered, some narrow areas and stretches comprised of wet, peeled sticks, as well as a couple spots that required jumps would have made it a little dicey carrying a pack.

When we returned to the group, Michael offered Chris the point for the morning and it was readily accepted. He led us back to the NCT, followed it awhile to a gas line which took us to a hunter's trail going in the general direction we wanted.

After bird-dogging it for an hour or so, we had lunch and then followed it again 'til it petered out. We then cut an azimuth that led to an ATV trail, tried to skirt some private property, and continued on down along the north branch of the Carp River.

A cleared area disclosed the location of a logging-era camp and near there we found a good spot to bivouac under some huge evergreens. After getting set up, I walked downstream a klick or so, enjoying the sound of some small rapids and the signs of wildlife along the bank.

There were tracks of coyotes, raccoons, deer and birds in the soft mud. There were piles of pinecone pieces where squirrels had lunched, and clumps of woodchips left by pileated woodpeckers. I also found the bony remains of a huge salmon eaten in the past day or so.

When I returned to camp the others were getting ready to fix dinner. We ate in small groups then congregated at Michael's place to chat. Sarah and Rob shared some of their trip experiences and talked about their involvement with SOLAR, a Detroit club Michael had just recently rejoined.

The night was considerably cooler than Friday. The sky was clear and black, and the stars were out as they never are in the city.


Day 3

A bit of fly fishing

Sunday morning, Chris got up before dawn to head downstream to the Carp River and get in a bit of fly fishing. Several hours later, with Gail on point, we also followed the North Branch down to where the old Carp River Road crossed it.

Only pilings were left of the bridge there. After playing around a little with trying to build a bridge, we did the sensible thing and forded the river. It wasn't as cold as I'd expected and that finding made me regret not crossing it the evening before to check out signs of an old encampment across the stream from ours.

Following the remains of the road, we soon came upon Chris standing in the river in full fishing gear casting contentedly, but without success. He came up to chat while we had a snack and decided to hike with us to his exit point.

We continued downstream, passing Spring Lake Creek, and shortly thereafter coming upon a large beaver pond complete with a huge lodge that showed signs of recent work.

It had been cloudy and sprinkling intermittently, but as we contemplated the pond the sun came out and it seemed a perfect spot for lunch. After exploring the area a bit we settled into the ferns near the quiet water and pulled out our stoves and our food.

It was still wet and chilly: a hot drink would be good. We had a very pleasant meal and as we were packing up, the clouds rolled in again.

We continued along the old road. Where it crossed East Lake Road, Chris said his good-byes and headed toward his car. MaryAnn took point leading us on down river to Lower Farm Hill Creek. After crossing yet another beaver dam, we camped on a rise overlooking the river, near the confluence of the creek and the Carp River.

We were spread out in the woods making visiting a little more difficult, but Cathy and MaryAnn joined me for dinner.

My bear hang that night proved to be problematic: first it took many tries to get it up, then I couldn't find it and when I finally went to take it down it got caught in a V-shaped branch and I had to climb up and cut it down. I've gained a lot of things from wilderness tripping, but patience and persistence are probably at the top of the list.


Day 4

A rain gear kind of day

Monday was a rain gear kind of day. Showers had fallen intermittently through the night and continued into the morning. We packed up staying under our tarps 'til the last minute.

Cathy took the point again and we worked our way north and west through the low terrain along the creek. After crossing a tributary we figured a rough azimuth to reach an old bush road that was on the map.

We'd almost given up on finding it, but Cathy kept easing us to the west and we finally came upon it. It was just a remnant of a road but it was a good find as the next kilometer was pretty swampy and would have been a piece of work to cross without it.

We soon reached the side road on which some of our cars were parked and began the process of gathering them up. It wasn't long before we'd all shed our rain gear in the warm vehicles and were headed for the customary post-trip meal back at McGowan's. Another good trip in the bag!



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.

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