This was a short trip, but was still able to experience all the 4 seasons. I had a pretty light weekend and I wanted to hike while the fall colors were still in effect so I headed up to northern Michigan to the Manistee National Forest. Below is a map of the trail. I started at Seaton Creek Campground on the upper right corner and made the loop south across Red Bridge and back up the other side, back to Seaton Creek Campground. I also included a topographical map and detailed description of the entire trail containing landmarks and description of scenic views and campsites.
I think I learned lot on this trip, as well as incorporating a lot of lessons from failed trips of recent past. I arrived at the campground about 10:00pm on Friday. I was out to experiment with my new ultralight philosophy. Too many times in the past my hikes have been spoiled by the blisters on my feet or the 50+ pounds on my pack, making it impossible to appreciate my surroundings fully.
With this in mind I had a new smaller pack, no tent, no sleeping bag, the clothes on my back, new boots and minimal food. I learned quickly that there is a great deal of logic in ultralight backpacking in summer, but 30 degree temperatures require a bit more equipment. I link to many of the products I use just so you can get a clear picture and investigate if interested.
I set up my tarp, unrolled my sleeping pad and climbed into my fleece liner. It got pretty cold. I felt like I was in a survivorman episode, except I was not quite as cheerful throughout the process. It did not take long to make the decision that below 50 degrees, take a bag. Also my tarp was 10x lighter than my last, but it is actually water resistant not waterproof.
Well, I made it to 4:30am and started packing up for the day's hike. For someone who loves the outdoors, I sure hate to sleep there. I wish I could sleep peacefully for 9 hours, but just not gonna happen. I used my Pinnacle Solo cook set, with a MSR Pocket Rocket Burner which along with an a jet boil iso-butane canister actually fits nicely inside the Pinnacle. I heated up some water and combined with 1 scoop of dry milk and 1 scoop of protein powder.
I hit the trail at 8am, after leaving a note on my car. I usually have to tape my feet up completely before heading out, fully expecting 4 or 5 solid blisters, but with my new boots I picked up for $9 at a garage sale, I was tapeless and happy.
It was pretty foggy, I probably should have waited another hour to let the sun burn it off, but I was anxious to get going. I made the bridge in the first mile. I did not cross the bridge, but headed south, I would cross this bridge on my way home at the tail end of the loop. This bridge was a key step in developing this trail. If you look again at Download Manistee River Trail Map you will see that the Manistee River trail is on the East bank and the North Country trail resides on the West bank. In the past, people would have to hike up and back on either side, only connected at the south end where the Red Bridge extends across. A few hundred thousands dollars later and you got a full loop and an increase in foot traffic.
Not long after I ran into a bear and his well-trained sidekick. I thought this would be a great opportunity to put into practice the new bear encounter strategies I learned in a book I recently completed called Grizzly Years....not to be confused with Grizzly Man. When approaching a Grizzly, you have a few options. If you are far enough away (75 yds) then back track slowly and take a different route. If you are within 50yds and the bear has not seen you, do not move, but make small sounds to gently alert the bear to your presence. When he sees you, you whisper calmly and make yourself as big as possible by raising your arms. If he charges and you and you are more than 50yds and can get up a tree do so, but if you cannot, then you decide to eith yell or roll up in a ball. When he hits you, do not fight until you know whether he is attacking or just investigating.....you got all that.
Ok, so I see the bear, and am about 10 ft. I freeze and make a few clicking noises with my mouth. He looks up and we have a stand-off. I start talking as I slide my bowie knife out, which is pretty much useless against a Grizz. He comes close and I whisper..."It's on...now we will see who has the right to rule these woods old man." Just at that time the beast's handler comes up, I slide the weapon into its sheath and whisper, "We will meet again old friend." Here is a snapshot, but does not do justice to the bears true size.
I continued on along the ridge and snapped some shots of the river, still in fog's grasp.
The weather was clearing and it looked like it would be a beautiful day for experiencing Michigan's fall colors. People often ask me why I would go backpacking alone. I really can't understand that. I don't mind sharing some places with other, but I truly love experiencing something amazing on my own, and the ideas that ramble through my head on these walks are priceless. To give you an idea of what I was thinking about at around 10am I will try to recreate a bit.
I was walking alone in the quiet woods thinking about the PBS special I recently watched regarding National Parks by Ken Burns. It this film, many people recount how the National Parks actually shaped their childhood. Many people would hear that and say, "how could a visit to a park have such a lasting impact?" I think back to 2 years ago when my brother and I headed out to Utah. At that time I was very much a novice hiker, looking like an idiot in my flowerprint swimsuit and my brother using his solo tent which basically was a piece of nylon that he pulled over him at night because he broke the poles and forgot a sleeping pad. We saw 6 parks in 6 days and these parks we visited (Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Arches, GCanyon) were amazing. We had the parks to ourselves and the views were incredible. Returning from that trip, both of us were hooked and it actually changed my life in many ways. I decided that the parks and our natural surroundings were crucial to our sanity and our survival. I was no longer going to be a hypocrite. If I cared about nature, animals, people...the Earth in general, than I was not going to visit a park on weekends, enjoy it, but then head home and live a life in contradiction.
I was fortunate to have a solid foundation in appreciation for nature from our parents, but I needed to take it further. If I cared about these things, I could no longer eat animals for multiple reasons: 1). It is not healthy to me, 2). It is painful for the animals 3). It destroys the land through massive runoff from chemicals and waste from these superfarms, and destroys the atmosphere as shipping of meat is as much a pollutant as cars and methane from cows plays a large role in greenhouse gases. 4). It has led to a destruction of our economy through the subsidization of corn, of which some 80 is to feed cattle, also allowing Fast food joints (everything is made from corn) to sell products cheaper than groceries at the store, leading to further obesity in US, especially those below the poverty line.
I also could no longer ignore the recycling movement, or work in a career that was not providing a true
benefit to society, while at the same time, not destroying or harming someone or something else. I also thought about our current situation in America and throughout the world. What a mess we have gotten ourselves into, everyone agrees, but once it is said we go back to furthering the problem. We continue to shop at Wal-Mart, Ikea and big box retailers because when it comes down to it, cheap is all that matters. We would love to keep these local businesses, but we are not willing to pay more to someone that not only is our neighbor, but someone who is vested in your town and will support it. Home Depot provides jobs, yes, but do you really think they care about your town. When it is between shareholders and the community, who will win?
I look back at people in the National Parks movies like John Muir. He was seen as a nut. An eccentric man who would talk to plants and fight for them at all costs. Now he is seen as a visionary. My dad was right when he said that he was practical. He, along with my brother, see the need for parks, but also see the need for industry. They are right, but it is the John Muirs of the world that will tell the pragmatic ones that if we shift our direction 15 degrees, think how much more we could do, then get out of the way and let the practical people make it happen. This is why companies like Google are not started by practical people, but visionaries, who then hire practical people to run it....but the key is that these practical ones would never dream up Google, or the National Parks because they are practical, seeing the benefits and cost of both sides.
Where do I fit in this? I don't know, but this is just a bunch of thoughts that I wrote down during the trip to give you an example of some great conversations you can have with yourself alone on the trail. And the best part....you are always right.
Back to the hike. They promote a waterfall on the Manistee section of the trail. It is one of only 2 in the lower penninsula....here is a picture of it in all its grandeur.
After the waterfall, I was walking along the trail and I kept seeing all these split-offs on the trail. I was wondering what they were, so I took one and realized they were just trails that wrapped around a difficult drop on the main trail for less skillfull travelers. I laughed at how ridiculous this was, and then proceeded to fall down the hill at the next split. The fog lifted and I started getting some nice views along the water's edge
Here is a spiderweb I came across.
I now hit the most scenic stretch of the trail, especially the section with the oxbow lake. I sat for 30 minutes and just imagined how long it took to form
I stopped for lunch at Red Bridge. There I ran across 150 Amish kids. They were there hiking. They are funny little creatures. I had to laugh as I felt I had slipped back into the 1800s. None of the girls would come within 50 yds of me...although I tried, and there were a few rebel boys who talked to me, but I knew they would get a beating for that later.
It was about 2:00PM at this pount at I had about 12 miles left. So I started hiking and figured I would stop after about 6 miles. Then the sky opened up and it started to pour. Fortunately there was not much to see on the West side of the river, so I just followed the contour lines zig-zagging across the hills. About an hour later it started to sleet and then turned into snow. It was about this time that I realized I was not going to sleep out here tonight and would have to do the whole 23 miles tonight. I checked the watch and figured I had till about 6:00p to get back. Realistically it did not get dark till 7:00pm, but I wanted to leave a cushion in case I ran into some problems. I figured I had to do about 2.5 miles each hour to make it, so I just kinda zoned out on the surroundings and laughed about why the hell I was hiking out here in the snow.
At about 5:00 I crossed the bridge, it was like an oasis in a desert as it was my driving motivation for the last couple hours. That is how I am able to finish trips like this. I just keep hiking saying, "get to the bridge, get to the bridge, get to the bridge."
Once I crossed I only had a couple miles left and made it to the truck in 5 hours 59 minutes and 50 seconds. I was tired but not as tired as I have been in the past. Reducing my load, wearing good shoes, and not making foolish mistakes (shortcutting through a bog) made the trip doable.
I climbed into the truck and made a grueling 3 hour trip back home, stopped for a drink and then off to bed.
Until Next time