Saturday, February 20, 2010

Porcupine Mts Wilderness State Park - February 2010

Friday - A "new" Sledge for Dave

The Porkies is a place that I am very familiar with as it holds a lot of great memories for me. I spent my entire childhood in a small village located less than 50 miles away (and our camp was only 30 miles away). Our family would often drive there for the day to enjoy the sights. During my adulthood, I started backpacking there but for some reason I never did a winter extended trip there until now.

We all gathered in Silver City the night before the trip was to begin. Our leader, Dennis Waite, arrived well after the rest of us due to a few complications. Was it his 54 Siberian Husky sled dogs that he had to feed before the trip or the fact that he simply had too much else on his agenda? Anyway, he ended up forgetting a bit of his equipment but luckily drove through Marquette about 15 minutes before Down Wind Sports closed. He quickly bought the necessary items and several hours later he safely arrived at the Americinn. We hadn't been able to reach him due to no cell service. This is a common fact in many areas of the Upper Peninsula. I am quite used to it but I think it surprised many of those from downstate.

Most of us were quite hungry so we ate at the inn's restaurant that evening. Although the service was quite slow, the food was sufficient to keep us stoked until morning. Evening chatter revolved around past times and the trip itself. Most of us were veteran winter campers and although Dave had traveled with us before, this was his first winter trip. He had procured enough gear and built a sledge so he was excited to get out in the bush with it..

In the morning we made an attempt to eat breakfast at a local restaurant but since they keep odd or different hours each day, they weren't open. The continental breakfast at the motel began to sound better all the time. It provided enough calories so that we could begin our journey.

We stopped to register with the park office for our party of six which included Dennis, Dave, Michael, Mary, Cathy and myself.. We made arrangements to park our cars in two different areas for the start and end of the trip.

Our trip started by traveling a length of the road (winter snowmobile trail) to Lake of the Clouds before we diverted off on the Government Peak Trail. The former was shared with snowmobiles so we were glad to get off that section as quickly as possible. The latter was groomed for skiing so we carefully pulled our sledges between the two sets of ski tracks so as not to disturb them. We did see some friendly skiers as we pulled well off the trail for a break. Soon we focused our efforts on bushwhacking towards the valley underneath the Escarpment. This area is slightly hilly and sometimes brushy. It soon became apparent that Dave was having problems with his sledge handling the brush and the deep holes in the snow.

Michael had already surmised that this might be an issue with Dave's sledge and was already formulating ideas to make it easier to travel. The rest of us, of course, had no idea that Dave's sledge would be totally re-designed and re-fabricated in the bush by the next morning. I must say that Dave's sledge was rather impressive looking as he had done a ton of work on it. However, it was more suited to open travel such as on a packed trail or lake travel. It's wide traces and sides just plowed in the snow through the bush creating too much work.

We saw some neat otter slides as we broke into the open area at the inlet of the Carp River. We stopped there for a break and contemplated the rest of the day.

We made early camp backed up to a ridge. It was a pretty spot, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Most of us were glad to relax and enjoy the surroundings of hemlocks laden with snow. Mary, Cathy, and Dennis had set up camp in close proximity and the rest of us weren't that far away. Dennis baked some delicious brownies with his Outback Oven and shared them with all of us. I also admired the ornate mitten liners that Dennis had made. Barred Owls could be heard throughout the early evening.

Michael and Dave went through all of Dave's gear and both concluded that he had too much stuff. They would bury about 20 lb of gear in cache and plans were made to retrieve it on the fourth day. Although most of us went to bed around 8:30 PM, the evening had just begun for Michael and Dave. Out came the saws, knives, and the like and Dave's sledge was eventually a pile of parts!! The sides were sawed off the sledge and all that was left was the simple unadorned hull. I'm not sure I could of been so calm about this process if it would of been my sledge but Dave bought into the process readily. I dozed off in the midst of this but reportedly they were up until 11 PM or later.

Saturday - Crossing the Lake of the Clouds

I awoke by 6 AM but just lay in my sleeping bag for awhile. The temperature had dropped a lot during the night to -9 F. The coldness could be felt on my face and the fact that my hands had to be warmed after only a few minutes of early morning chores. Usually just putting my hands in my pockets for a few minutes does the trick!

I was ready to go at 8:30 AM but everyone needed more time. Michael and Dave still had a lot of work to do on the sledge so several hours went by before we were ready to leave. Luckily it was decent weather to chat and stand around until we left. We all observed the transformation of the sledge to a full-fledged bush sledge and were amazed at what had taken place without the convenience of a garage full of tools.

When we left we had about 2.5 klicks of travel through the hardwoods before we would hit the Carp River wetlands before the Lake of the Clouds. Once we got into the open, Michael checked the lake for good ice with his ice spud. It was very solid and we traveled the length of the lake stopping by the The Lake of the Clouds Cabin that is for rent during all the other seasons.

During our travel across the ice we could see groups of snowmobilers waving to us from the top of the Lake of the Clouds lookout. I'm sure they were pondering how we got ourselves down on the ice.

We traveled to almost the end of the lake and then up the bank into the forest and finally down to the bridge that crosses the outlet to the lake. This took us to the Mirror Lake Trail but we didn't travel it but instead traveled a few hundred meters to the west of it.

We made camp under the large hemlocks and we were treated to chocolate chip cookie bars by Mary later in the evening. It had been a short day of travel but a good one indeed!

Sunday - Camp on the Summit

After a few "short" travel days, we were back on track and ready to go by 9:30 AM. Today would be a total bushwhack first heading south and then traveling along Scott Creek and across small ponds.

During lunch I passed out organic chocolate bars as a Valentine's Day treat to keep our spirits high before we started climbing. After lunch we started an ascent to a peak that is higher than the Lake of the Clouds overlook. We snowshoed a long route traversing the elevation gain. The forest was simply breathtakingly beautiful. The hemlocks hung with significant snow and it snowed readily throughout the day. It had started as very fine snow, the snow that I call "trying to snow" but we were not disappointed with the abundance of powdery snow that fell throughout the day.

Throughout the day we had crossed many open water areas along the way oftentimes kicking in a snow bridge. When we reached the peak we looked for places to camp and we were not disappointed as hemlocks dominated the forest. We had to knock some of the snow from the lower branches down so that it wouldn't shower us while setting up camp but we fully expected great amounts of it to fall with any wind at all.

Michael gathered and sawed wood to help those who were using hobo stoves. Dennis provided a freshly baked dessert. Life was good.

Monday - More Snow!!

It had snowed heavily during the night. In the morning I heard a few people stirring. Dave was working on his hobo stove fire. Since he had cached his white gas stove and fuel on Friday, he had said he missed the convenience of it. Fire building does take more time and effort in the bush especially after a long day.

Today we left camp and traveled mostly downhill to the cache site. After a break we headed east towards the Union River area. The forest again was outstanding and the snow in the air turned from tiny needle-like flakes to round snowflakes. Plenty had fallen since the day before - about seven inches. We checked out the tiny Cross-Cut Cabin that is open for day travelers and then headed another few klicks before we sought camp sites. More hemlocks and deep great was that!!. Everyone was kind of quiet and after settling into their respective shelters some took naps.

It was another snowy evening and most of us constructed snow walls underneath the edges of our shelters to prevent the snow from pushing into the sides of our tarps. We also trenched an area to collect the snow on the outside edges.

Tuesday - A Long Descent

This would be the last day of our journey. We would bushwhack down, down, down through the forest and over open water holes and come out at the entry to the headquarters. Some of the navigation was creative to avoid deep ravines. The only stop along the way was for a bush repair. One of Mary's traces had popped its rivets. Michael quickly came to the rescue and secured it temporarily with cordage and duck tape. Once we were out, cars were shuttled and we headed over to Bergland to Antonio's where we had a fine lunch. The waitress was amazingly efficient even though the place was filled with snowmobilers who were on the second day of their 4,000 mi journey to Alaska as a fundraiser for diabetes - way to go!

Post Trip Note:

Thanks to Dennis who organized this "former" Bushrats reunion and thanks to all for the highly enjoyable time.

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