Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Early Spring Backpack in the Pigeon River Country State Forest

April 8 - A Snowy Start

Like any backpack trip, one must get ready for the elements. The unseasonably warm weather during the last month abruptly turned south or..... should I say north?

Last night temperatures plummeted, winds were off the charts and this morning there was at least 6 inches of snow on the ground. Not being able to resist (the snow), I took a short walk out on the extensive trails near my home. I knew that traveling downstate would probably negate that last pleasure. Heavy-laden tree branches and snow-blasted tree trunks were decorated in cool patterns. It was a bright spot for this "winter lover" to have a bit of winter again!

Later, upon arrival in the Pigeon River State Forest, it was apparent that it had snowed there as well but very little comparatively...a light dusting would be accurate. Some of the trekkers were already there when we pulled into the designated overnight camp in a "field". Mary Ann, Mary and Larry were hanging around in Larry's truck presumably to stay warm and dry as the light snow was still falling. 

Michael and I retrieved some food or dessert bags from Mary and set out to cache them in three different locations. Ordinarily such a feat is not performed. It was necessitated because there was a lot of people on this trip and the desserts were rather heavy, the goal would be to find them each day if navigation went well! It was late and it took over two hours to drive around the back roads and find suitable spots to hang the food and mark the GPS coordinates (in case they were needed). 

Once back at the "field", it was nearly 11:30 PM and I fell asleep without any effort. It had been a long day! I did hear the song of coyotes at one point during the night.

April 9 - A day of swamps, you say?

The morning was cold and crisp. Not in full backpacking mode yet, the group prepared simple but hot breakfasts and leisurely waited for the others to congregate. Kevin, Dave, and Bill all arrived within a few minutes of each other and soon we were relocating all the cars nearer to our start and end point. Earlier, Bill had sighted fifteen elk in a group on his way down the dirt road. 

Since the group was large the plan was to divide the eight people into a couple of groups. Previous plans were for three groups, but several people had canceled making two groups the likely choice.

Once groups were decided, participants would come up with their own route and meet at a designated spot in the woods later to camp. Michael thoroughly went over the topos and had the other group mark a ton of extra information including every bit of private land, unmarked roads, pathways and other details onto their topos so they would know what to avoid or hit. 

The group I was in also consisted of Michael, Dave and Bill. The other group (Mary Ann, Kevin, Mary and Larry) started off after Michael finished his instructions and the rest of us lingered another hour to make some changes to equipment, etc. Dave did the navigation on the first leg and soon we were down overlooking the Pigeon River. 

We saw a few blinds that hunters had constructed out of forest materials. We hit some high ridges but most of the day was spent penetrating an amazing amount of swamps or water. When the water got too deep, we looked for beaver dams or other slightly higher areas to get across the very wet areas. 

Bill especially enjoyed the swamps so I teased him about his affliction :) I must admit that they are pretty in many ways including the sphagnum moss and colorful (shades of red) vegetation, however, I was hoping for higher ground tomorrow. We were rewarded though by seeing any amazing amount of giant pines and cedars on our journey today. 

The day remained cold and tiny snowflakes drifted down at intervals. After the previous month of warm weather we had been spoiled for spring. We were now wearing mittens, over pants, jackets and wool hats again....and this is while we walked!!!

We finally reached our destination in mid evening. We had been rewarded by seeing a huge porcupine just before heading to camp. It had been mostly a tedious days of swamp walking and most were beat. 

Cathy arrived just at dusk to join us. She had driven up after work and had the coordinates to find us as we were located a few hundred meters off an accessible road. Our bivouac was along the banks of the Pigeon River so she quickly found us. She told us of sixteen elk that she had viewed in an elk field on the way here.

I feel asleep quickly on my new Neo-Air mattress. I had used a Christmas gift certificate from my son Ryan to purchase it and tonight it was living up to its reputation....pure heaven indeed!

April 10 - Another Day of Swamps, You Say???

Morning came too fast. I got up at 7 AM and soon was making breakfast right from my sleeping bag. The lows were in the 20's and there was a good layer of frost on my tarp. We once again split into groups although the group format changed somewhat. 

Larry navigated the group I was in for awhile. We started out on high ground and found a good way to cross Nelson Creek. We wondered if it was named after an old homestead we had seen shortly before crossing. 

All of the wood structure in the ruins had long rotted away and all that was left was parts of a rock and cement foundation and a peculiar circular and sloped cement slab that probably implicated that there was a silo there at one time. There also remained the requisite bed springs and other metal parts.

We navigated a bit of high ground and walked by a few more blinds. They were mostly constructed by people cutting down the forest vegetation and some had furnishings within them including one that had an overstuffed living-room type chair. Shamefully none of this should be done in our state forests and leaving behind junk is certainly not the sign of good land ethics.

We soon had to navigate a huge flooding, Michael found an old beaver dam that we could use. It was sturdy but made for complicated walking. 

Once we got through the wet areas it was a maze of looking for high ground to utilize and sometimes old forest roads. Saw a few signs of spring including the flower, Spring Beauty, with its tiny pink and while petals and lots of Trout Lily (leaves only).We finally made it to the Dog Lake Flooding after a long day. It was about 6:30 PM, a full hour ahead of yesterday! 

The other group was set up along the dam while we chose to set up at one end of it. Geese, ducks, loons and beavers were sighted and heard. 

The winds were brisk and soon we heard a scream, and it was Mary Ann who lost her sleeping mat to the wind. She soon was down to her swimming attire and waded into the water to retrieve her mat.

Later we found out that the other group had come across a dead coyote that apparently just died. There were no signs of wounds so it will always be a mystery as to its demise (Coyote photo courtesy of: Mary Ann Hayman).  

April 11 - Wildlife Galore

After I went to bed last night, the beaver splashing began. They played around for hours although the night was otherwise quiet. I did sleep well.

I had a leisurely breakfast under my tarp and watched the sunrise through the trees. The morning was noted by the first tick sighting. One had attached itself to Cathy's neck!

The group(s) decided to merge today so we all headed out through the very thick and wet area immediately to the south of the dam. There were many downed trees to climb over or around and many moments of hanging on and swinging around various trees trying not to get wet in over the boot type water. 

Endured a few more scratches to the face and finally we were on an old road bed. It make walking a bit easier.

At one point a huge beaver dam flooded the road. We picked our way across the very narrow dam that looked like it would collapse at any point...then lots of road walking. We stopped at McMasters Creek for lunch and noted another tick...people quickly tucked their pants into their socks or gaiters if they hadn't already done that.

Soon after lunch Cathy headed out to retrieve her bike that she had stashed before the journey. She was soon sighted barreling down the road laden with her fully-loaded pack. She had about 8 miles to go before she would find herself at her car to head home.

The rest of us journeyed to the Cornwall Creek Flooding where we camped at a pretty pine-laden point. Always with his binoculars, Kevin kept us informed of bird sightings from his comfortable perch along the lake shore. Goshawks, eagles, geese, ducks and loons were rampant. Beavers were also noted swimming in the flooding.

We spent a restful evening talking and visiting as we had arrived early at 4:30 PM. We had retrieved Mary's dessert that she had made prior to the trip..a yummy chocolate cake complete with caramel icing, apricots and pecans. 

Our chatter included thoughts on leaving difficult geocaches for people who like to do that. I think they would quickly get discouraged if they found themselves in the deep swamps!

I'm not a fan of geocaching anyway in its present form (leaving trinkets in the woods), what's wrong with nature caching instead...trying to find a hidden waterfall or landmark??....that's what we do anyway, but I hope there's a wider movement to get people out in the woods towards that, rather than going after the trinkets. I also know that there are a lot of rules for the former, but I often wonder how many of those caches get permanently left in the woods? OK, enough of my views!!! (but, this is my journal :)))

As I got ready to lay down on the pine needles for the evening, a beaver made its regular evening performance. I always enjoy that and it doesn't keep me from drifting off.......

April 12 - A Friendly Visit by a Forester

The morning was calm and welcoming. Didn't seem like any one was anxious to leave so we lingered for a few hours before departure. We circumnavigated the shoreline until it became too unpenetrable. We then focused on heading out to a nearby dirt road. We checked out the boat launch and spied a small island that would be neat to check out with a canoe.

The rest of the day combined old roads, a horse trail and bushwhack travel. Dave wanted to try his "Go to" feature on his GPS so we followed him for awhile. Of course the linear path this feature follows does not take into account wet areas or thick bush so after awhile we diverted to free-style navigation.

We arrived back at our vehicles and most snacked before they journeyed to their respective destinations. While we were there, a state forester stopped by who was curious about our journey. He told us that we had missed extensive rains that had dropped a lot of water in the forest before we came. 

That explains a lot of the seasonable water that we had encountered. Even with that in consideration, we reminded ourselves that one can only interpret so much information from topographical maps. Areas that look promising are often the worse to navigate...we'll just chalk this trip up to the land of water!!!

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