Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lake Superior State Forest Sledge Trip - 5 Days in January 2011

Friday - A Winter Paradise

Today would have been my Mom's 93rd birthday. I can't help but think that she would be worried about me if she were still alive. She could never make much sense of winter camping, I don't think she was alone in that opinion. Perhaps now she can see that I am safe and happy.

I had arose early and drove in the dark hours to the start location of the trip at the end of the plowed road H58 east of Munising. Even though I was on time I knew I would be way early as there were thirteen people going. This would mean lots of last minute preparations such as loading sledges, etc.

I was right, it was a couple of hours before the trip actually began. I spent the time chatting, comparing equipment and all the sort of things one does when they are waiting. Most of the group was from downstate, one from across the nearby border in Canada and another traveled from Indiana. Most were glad to see the depth of snow as they hadn't been blessed with as much as here. Although a big melt two weeks prior to the trip occurred, at least a foot of powder snow had fallen since then.

Michael, the organizer of the trip from MiBSAR (Michigan Backcountry Search and Rescue) helped a few of the new winter campers organize their gear and pack their sledges. Balance of gear is always tricky to prevent rollovers through the bush.

Let's see the players (besides myself) were: Michael (leader), Chris O., Larry, Cathy, Mary, Mary Ann, Dave, Matt, Chris L, Ewa, John, and Joe. The latter four were either new to winter camping or had some other experience with it but not with this group.

After awhile everyone was stoked to begin. I couldn't help but think that we looked like a train as we wound our way through the woods maneuvering between the trees.

Before long it was lunch break already on the edge of a small lake. The sun added a pleasant touch and before we were done feasting, giant snowflakes began to was all rather picturesque. We had crossed and traveled a short way on an old railroad bed and then a series of small ponds or lakes including Kinsey Lake that were likely weed-filled in the summer as the weeds were poking up in many places.

The afternoon went fast and we were soon setting up camp amongst the trees. Tarps and Tarptents of every description were quickly hung and it soon became a settlement. Michael had brought a large fire pan and Mary was the keeper of the fire. Soon thirteen people were gathered around to chat and share a dessert brought by Ewa. Snow fell heavily and soon there were several inches of accumulation on people's one seemed to mind.

Saturday - Bitter Cold Lake Crossing

It had snowed throughout the night and quite heavily into the morning. The sound of snowflakes hitting my tarp lulled me to sleep and I was content. In the morning a few delays pushed our starting time to late morning. With a group this size, sledge problems, stove problems and more are inevitable.

The trees were now heavily laden with snow. Chris O., a promising film-maker, was making a documentary so he often went ahead to film the crew as they made their way through the forest.

After a restful lunch, many of us donned our insulated over-parka for quite awhile as the winds picked up and the snow squalls were frequent. Some times just for a few minutes a peak of blue sky would promise us a bit of reprieve.

We walked across the blustery east arm of Stanley Lake and then up the shoreline and headed to the west arm where we were to make camp later.

Along the way the winds were wicked; we pulled our balaclavas or neck and face gaiters into place. Some of the participants had accumulated a good amount of frozen slush on the bottom of their sledges. They were having a heck of a time pulling their gear with so much drag on their sledges so they were forced to de-ice in the nasty conditions. Michael stayed to help while the rest of us went ahead and made our way inland to find a camp spot in a more protected area.

Today Chris L. was excited to be in the middle of a storm with much predicted snow. John seemed rather elated as well. It's fun to see new enthusiasm in the group as many of us have experienced these conditions often and some times it seems like any other day in the wintry north woods. I do love it myself but probably don't express it as well...I just appreciate it all the time!

Travel today was mostly in a southerly and easterly direction. The depth of snow continued to deepen so perhaps it was a little harder than yesterday. Later there was a fire, dessert by Mary and tales galore.

Sunday - A Bit of the Fox River Pathway

Sunday...a day of rest, well sort of...we didn't start our journey until almost noon. We now were to follow the Fox River Pathway through heavily-covered pine forests...up and down lots of hills and very pretty. This is one of my favorite sections of the pathway that I have thru-hiked several times. The point person(s) got diverted from the pathway a few times but I was able to re-direct them from experience. The pathway does take unexpected turns at times and it's not always easy to find markers.

The day was mostly cold with a starting temp of 10 F and it never got more than a few degrees warmer.

At camp Michael built a trench shelter so that Chris O. could film the process. Joe later slept in it as his first experience in that regard. We had settled into a pine forest at the edge of a clearing not far from the West Branch of the Fox River. Chris L. had also made a partial snow shelter (with tarp roof) that was complete with sleeping bench and shelves. Every night he has made a different type of residence. He also made snow couches/seats around the fire pan at Mary's place. His energy doesn't seem to run out!

After a pretty pastel sunset, the temps started to drop. The evening chatter was quite entertaining to say the least. Several players including Michael, Chis L. and John were on a roll! Laughter was contagious. The temps starting dropping and it was already -4 F when I retired. It was hard crawling out of the sleeping bag during the night, not because it was so cold but because there is a whole production of zippers to open and close.

Funny thing in the morning was that it was almost 20 F after the low being -14 F during the night. This was crazy but made for an easy start. 

Monday - The "Sweep"

A late morning start. We worked the trail above the branch of the Fox River, dropped to the rail grade and then bushwhacked for awhile. Matt and Chris L. helped Michael with the lead position at intervals. Eventually we worked an old road segment for awhile and then back to bushwhacking. 

Dave has been in a much appreciated position of sweep during the entire trip. Many people have issues or need to make adjustments along the way while Dave patiently waited for them.

We did a short 100 meter crossing of the narrows of Nugent Lake and then we made camp. New snow was a constant in the evening and most people huddled under their tarps until they heard that dessert was being served. It even woke John up from a nap!

The snow was very needle-like with temps in the 20's throughout most of the day and evening. The needle-like snow sounded like rain on the tarp roofs!

Tuesday - What? An Early Start
 The group photo is courtesy of Mary Ann Hayman

Early morning I heard the sound of someone banging on a pan. It was the wake-up call. Last night several had indicated that they would like to get going early as they had a long drive ahead of them after the trip. We probably were only a few kilometers from the car but based on the prior four days, this group was s..l..o..w getting ready. We were now ready at 9:30 AM...the same time we usually aim for....way to go pot-banger (aka Chris O.)

Chris and Matt broke trail with me right behind. Winds were very brisk in exposed sections but soon we were back at our cars. We said our good byes with some of the group driving straight back and some going out to lunch. I chose the former and was greeted by my snow-filled driveway...out came the snow scoop for an hour or so before I could get my vehicle in my garage. No complaints though, as it's the reason I live here...I love the snow!! Many thanks to Michael for organizing and leading the trip....and thanks to all the participants for the fun times!

1 comment:

  1. Gail,

    What a neat trip! I enjoyed your narrative with the mention of your Mom and the pics of the various tarp set ups. No big fire was made?
    It must have been so serene to lie below the tarp and hear the snow fall around you. Looks like it was a nice group!

    Tony in SC