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Saturday, May 1, 2010

April 19-23 hike on the NCT in the Manistee

Jim TenPercent
Jim "TenPercent" (photo by JHY)

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I was looking at the calendar trying to choose some days for a spring vacation, and there it was. Earth Day. Looked to me like the perfect occasion for a backpack trip. It was.

I began at 4pm on Monday at the High Bridge trailhead. I soon came to a place where the railroad crossed the river with a long, high bridge (hence the name). There is a descriptive sign, and you could see the concrete piers for the old iron bridge, marching in a row, into the woods below. Soon, I arrived at Leitch Bayou, my planned stop for the evening. There was a nice deep stream as soon as I entered the large, grassy savanna, so I dropped my pack and paced 200 feet from the trail to find a soft spot for my tent. It wasn't difficult, this place could host a large jamboree. Geese were flying low over head, honking as they passed. A few landed nearby. The air was filled with the tremolos of many loons as evening set, a ghostly sound indeed. When the sun set, the Bayou fell silent. Only 3.1 miles today.

I slept in Tuesday, and didn't get moving until 11:30. As I leave the bayou I won't cross another creek until tomorrow morning. The trail heads away from the river and the big hills begin. A warm day today. Much work went into building this trail, all the side-hill benching is quite remarkable! Up to Red Hill Lookout then down to a low pass. Up and Down.

As I crossed Sheep Ranch Road (FR8060) I stopped to retrieve a gallon of water I had cached on my way up. Gotta have my BV and hot-chocolate after dinner, this is a vacation after all, not a survival course. Reached my camp at 1134 ft, on the pinnacle of a tall breezy hill. A few gnats in the air. After eating I explored an unmarked, but visible trail that follows the ridge line back to the SW along Sweet's Ravine. This is a very cool area to me, high, steep hills, surrounding a long, deep ravine. I didn't follow the trail to it's end, my feet were 'done in' that night. Again I am glad to be here early in the spring, before the trees are leafed out. Had my first ever imbedded tick tonight, in my sock. 12.4 miles today.

Wednesday I got an earlier start. I headed down the trail to cross Eddington Creek and stop to refill my water bottles. This is where the new re-route starts. I was a little apprehensive about not having a trail map, but not to worry. There was no shortage of blue paint. Avoid the turn off to the Marilla trailhead and you soon come out on a gravel road right near the dam. Followed that out to the asphalt, past the spillway and, after reading at the kiosk, (and discovering a nice map of the re-routed area), there was a short road walk before heading back into the woods to follow the edge of the Hodenpyl Pond. The trail here crosses land owned by Consumers Energy who have allowed the trail to be placed on their land.

There are places here that Consumer's had left open in the past for people to use freely for camping, but are now closed off due to people being unable to fit all the trash back into their cars when they leave. I don't know who these people thought were supposed to be cleaning up after them! Bring back Woodsy the Owl.

I stayed the lakeside all day. The trail then passes through the Northern Exposure Campground, a large private campground with many amenities and a nice interpretive trail over which the NCT passes. Soon the trail entered Fletcher Creek Rustic campsites, the primitive camping area of Northern Exposure. The host, Tony, was very welcoming. And an unabashed Park Narc, who suffers no noisy riff-raff. "I throw 'em out, and they STAY out!" This campground is highly recommended for a hiking trip. Walked 10.2 miles today.

campsite byJim "TenPercent"
Chilly Thursday morning. 22 degrees. As the trail leaves the campground I soon came to the new bridge over Fletcher Creek, one of many new bridges and boardwalks you will find in this section. Obviously tons of person-hours invested here. Thank you trail builders! The trail winds around a bit to stay on the waters edge, before popping out to cross M115. The new trail continues now to follow the Manistee River/Hodenpyl backwater. I saw a lot of waterfowl in this area, where I saw a lot of waterfowl. After leaving the Manistee National Forest. Here started a one and one-half mile road walk north. I was hoping for a store again, there are a few miles of road before heading into the Pere Marquette State Forest for good.

I wanted to get to Anderson Creek to camp. In this area there are small, steep hills, a lot of side-hill benching in clay, a few creeks, some boardwalk and some stairs. I also came across the marker for the Old Indian Trail, Cadillac to Traverse City. Behind the marker, and we missed this in the winter, there is a grave marker for someone’s dog, Bandit M. I hope Bandit enjoyed these woods as much as I have. I was happy to make Anderson Creek, the little bridge is broken, maybe from the snowmobiles using it in the winter.

I used a compass to make sure I would not be in the shade of even the just-budding maple trees at dawn. The warm sun was still up, so I left the rain fly off, and jumped in for a quick nap. I woke up as soon as the sun touched the treetops; it was getting cool in a hurry. Later, when it was dark and I was enjoying my hot chocolate I heard a huge splash in the river and went out to investigate. The area was well lit by the bright, gibbous moon and I could see the wake of something swimming across the river. Never saw what it was though, but I was drawn to the stars and planets that could be easily seen, even with the high moon. I caught a glimpse of a swift meteorite, and sat to watch the sky for a while. Right away I saw the most amazing meteorite. It was bright orange and trailing sparks behind as it burned up. I had hiked 15 miles today.

I awoke Friday as the sun hit my tent. Another cold morning. Ice coated my rain fly, inside and out. Got packed quickly and headed out, ready to see my truck and get a hamburger and shower. The trail got hilly here, more steep hills than I remembered, and I kept thinking each was the last. But they kept coming. Also a pretty, open forest and more boardwalk over troublesome seeps on the hillsides. I finally encountered my first other hikers, a couple out day hiking. Finally, I was in the sun limping the last half mile in the gravel to my vehicle. The blisters I had been stabbing and dressing all week had caught up with me today. Got to my truck, made a check for ticks, changed out of my shoes and socks, then headed out to stop and visit Tony again for another great cup of coffee and conversation on my way home.

Yes, Earth Day was the perfect week to pick. I’ll be doing it again next spring.

This segment is on NCTA map MI-05

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