Monday, September 11, 2017

Back Country Camping with my Granddaughter

When we were in Michigan for the last week of August and the first week of September, one of the things I planned to do was to take my granddaughter, Aja, camping.  She wanted to camp in the back country, rather than drive into a site in the car, so I found a pretty nice area near where she lives called Sand Lakes Quiet Area.  The quiet area designation means that motorized vehicles and boats are not allowed.  Here is the location, east of Traverse City and west of Kalkaska:

I'd planned to camp out two nights and three days - more about how that turned out later - and do some hiking while we were there.  The map below shows some details.  We left the car at the red arrow and hiked along the trails (blue track) to set up at a great campsite (blue triangle) by Sand Lake #1.  Later that day, we hiked (purple track) around Sand Lake #1 and visited Sand Lake #2, finding a great campsite in the pines for another time (yellow star).  The next day, Friday September 1, we hiked along the orange track to Sand Lake #3 (red star).

The trail into the camping area, about a half mile or so, was a nice easy hike - perfect for a girl's first backpacking trip.

No one was camping in the area, so we had our pick of the six or so available sites, and we thought that this was the best one - in the trees above the lake.  I set the tent up, and then the next order of business...


 ... was to filter water from the lake.  Aja felt that the water tasted funny but it tasted fine to me.

She loves to fish and quickly caught this little perch, which was returned unharmed to its watery home.


Shortly after that, Aja was exploring and found a superior campsite, so I took 30 minutes or so to relocate camp.  It was in a grove of trees with fabulous views of the lake, and in a location to get morning sun and afternoon shade.  It also had a log for a bench and a good fire pit.  It shows that you need to explore a bit!  I set up the tent again, and

we found a good spot to hang our food away from bears and raccoons.

Panoramic view by the lake....

Speaking of exploring, we decided to hike around the lake and the wetlands at the other side, and did just that.  Here is a view of the lake from the south side.  See the tiny white dot on the shoreline just to the right of center?  That is my tent.

I mentioned the other great campsite, indicated by a yellow star on the map.  Here it is, nestled between two lakes.  Sand Lake #2 is in the background.

My granddaughter loves to climb trees.  Here is one that she found along the way.

On a short trip like this, I will carry extra things like a pot to try to make more elaborate dinners.  My attempt at mac and cheese with porcini mushrooms - pasta seen cooking here in the mushroom broth - failed when the intense heat of the stove scorched the milk.  So we had noodles with cheese and mushrooms, which was good enough.

We also got a great campfire going and made some S'mores.

Soon enough, it was time for bed.  It was a cool night but we had plenty of room in my new two person tent.  Aja slept like a log, me less so.  But it gave me a chance to listen to the most amazing barred owl calls I've ever heard.  They called in all sorts of manners, one at a time, two at a time, back and forth, near and far.  At dawn, a bit chilly, I got up, put on some tea water,

and admired the morning mist over the lake.  Aja was enthralled with this when she got up.

We made pancakes - with butter and maple syrup - for breakfast.



We spent much of the day at the lake - Aja fishing, reading, playing, exploring; me exploring a bit, recording in my nature journal, and attempting some sketches.

I'd really hoped to hike more, but much of the day was gone and it was now about 3:00, so we decided to hike to Sand Lake #3, see what that was like, and let her fish there.  Up to that point, the trip had been pretty perfect - amazing weather, plenty to keep a 10 year old occupied, great campsite, good campfire, decent food.  She had not complained once, nor had I had any problems.  But disaster was around the corner.

We hiked about a half mile to the lake, which was different from the one we camped on.

Aja very quickly caught a bluegill, which she wanted to keep, but I insisted she return it.

See her big smile?  Well, that was about 10 minutes before she snagged her hook on something under the water and lost her only hook, bobber, and sinker!  She was very upset, and announced that she wanted to leave!  I tried to convince her that we could still camp out and have fun, that we could hike to the car in 30 minutes and drive to a store and get a hook, but her mind was made up.  I didn't feel right making a 10 year old away from her mom and on her first real camping trip stay against her will, so we returned to the campsite and packed up and headed out - although she did want to eat our backpacking meals before we left, which we did.

I was disappointed not to have a second night camping out, but it was still a great trip, and great memories for me.  Hopefully, they will be for my granddaughter as well.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Two Short Lake Michigan Hikes

I'm in Northwest Michigan for a family vacation, and although there is great hiking here, I have not had a chance to do much of it - combination of other plans and weather.  But I did get a chance to go for a couple of short hikes along Lake Michigan, totally about 3 miles.  Both were in Leelanau County.  If the Lower Peninsula is thought of as a right hand, palm facing you, then Leelanau County would be the pinkie.  Here is the approximate location of the Clay Cliffs hike, with the Whaleback hike a view miles to the south.

Clay Cliffs Natural Area is a beautiful place.  Most of the loop trail goes through beautiful northern forest, with a brief walk through a field on the way back.  The highlight is stunning views of Lake Michigan from above a 200 - 300 foot tall cliff over the lake.  Here are some photos:

Looking several hundred feet down to the shore of Lake Michigan:

North and South Manitou Islands (future hiking and backpacking destinations):

Mother Nature's recycling program:

We thought that these berries were cool, although I don't know what they are:

Field on the way back:

Goldenrod:

View of North Lake Leelanau:

The second hike was to Whaleback Natural Area.  The walk though the dark forest was very nice.  There is a viewpoint over the lake, but it is not as good.  I could barely see the setting sun because of vegetation.  Here are some photos:

The first part of the trail goes through private property before the natural area is reached.  Here is a vineyard along the way:


After about 0.4 miles, one reaches the Whaleback Natural Area.  The trail goes through a variety of forests, like these northern hardwoods:


After the overlook of Lake Michigan, the trail loops through a white birch forest where most of the birch have died and been replaced with shade tolerant trees.

After I looped back, I returned to the overlook to catch the sun setting over the big lake:

Here is South Manitou Island, miles out in Lake Michigan:

I love hiking in the northern forests.  They are so different from the mixed Appalachian hardwoods that I usually hike in.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

You Had Me at "Beer!"

For the last week or so, I'd planned on a solo hike yesterday into one of my favorite places in Shenandoah National Park: Rip Rap Hollow.  I'd not been there in three years, on this hike, and felt like I was overdue.  But then, I got an email about a group hike with ODATC for the same day, an out and back along the AT to the Paul Wolfe Shelter.  "Hmmm," thought I.  "It would be fun to hike with a group, but I was really looking forward to hiking into Rip Rap."  I read on.  "We'll be heading to Blue Mountain Brewery for a cold beer after the hike," the announcement said.  Deal sealed!  I can hike solo, or I can hike with a fun group AND join them for a beer afterwards.

Five of us went: Barbara (hike leader), Donna, Randy, Ted, and myself.  A few others were scheduled to come along, but there was a threat of thunderstorms all over Virginia for much of the day, and they dropped.  I am very glad that I was not one of them.  It was humid on the hike, and we soaked through our clothing almost as if there had been rain.  But there was no rain and no lightening, and the five of us had a very fun hike together.  Here is the track of the hike, which starts and ends at Rockfish Gap (where I-64 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Afton Mountain.)  My inReach clocked the hike at about 5.5 miles each way.  The first is the satellite view and the second is the topographic view.


On a hike into the shelter some years ago, I captured the elevation profile for the hike from North to South on my GPS (which tracked it a about a five mile hike.)

Here are some photos from our hike.  At the very start of the hike at Rockfish Gap, the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club recently built in a beautifully crafted set of stairs.  Aren't they super?  It replaced a scramble down a steep and eroded bank.

Trekking along the AT...

Long ago, a mountain family lived here.  I wonder who they were and what their lives were like?  I wonder what became of them, and when their cabin crumbled?

We had lunch at the Paul Wolfe Shelter, which included a little ribbing of Ted's trail banana carrier.  If I'd taken a picture, you might join in the ribbing, but I didn't, so....  Suffice to say, some of us - no names mentioned here - got quite a laugh out of it.  Quite a laugh!

Here is a view of the shelter.  With a covered porch, a fire pit, a creek just a few hundred feet away, and an outhouse, this place has all the comforts of (back country) home.

Anyone who hikes in the east knows the white blazes of the storied Appalachian Trail.

A mile of so from the shelter is a tiny mountain cemetery.  Here is one of the headstones.  The Forest Service keeps it clear.

Donna and Barbara smile for the camera on the hike out.

There was a huge boulder along the trail that made for a break from being on our feet.  I think it was at this point that someone said that runners live (statistically) seven years longer than non-runners.  We all got in a discussion if this just meant seven extra years of living in a nursing home having one's diapers changed.  And that topic came up a  number of times for the rest of the hike, and even during the post hike beers.

The only real wildlife seen was this black rat snake, plus a wood thrush.  But I did hear a number of birds: wood thrush, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, eastern wood pewee, Carolina wren, eastern towhee, Acadian flycatcher, northern cardinal, and red-eyed vireo.

After the hike, we went to the Blue Mountain Brewery, where my cold lager hit the spot!  I passed on a late lunch because I had eaten at the shelter, but the food the others ate looked pretty good.  I did munch on many of Barbara's French fries!  With her permission, of course.

What a fun day with a nice group of people!  It beat working in the office all day with a stick!  I am already looking forward to my next hike!