Backpacking Trip Report: Lake2Lake

Area: Upper Penninsula of Michigan

State: Michigan

Mileage: 53

Days: 1

Type: Shuttle

Over the last several years I’ve burned through many hiking partners This has left me tempted to file the following ad in some outdoor publications:

Married, 34 year old adventurous and nature loving prosecutor seeks hiking partner with the following qualities: Must enjoy a challenge and exemplify the saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Must be able to keep a positive attitude in all situations and not complain excessively. Must, at least on some level, enjoy suffering. Must be willing to hike by headlamp at the beginning and end of the same hike.

Oh yeah, and must be able to hike fast, all day long.

For the last two years, Mark Kowalczyk thought that he fit the bill. So, when I was planning this year’s challenge, the Lake2Lake, the goal of which was to hike from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior in one day, Mark told me he was in.

On a day in early August, we camped near Rapid River. When the alarm went off at 2 a.m., we got ready and headed to the beginning of our hike. After a few ceremonial photos of us dipping our feet into Lake Michigan, Mark and I walked to the start of the Bay De Noc Trail. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used this same trail to portage their canoes and supplies between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Suffering from sleep deprivation, we felt weak from the start. In the first two hours we were startled by a six foot long Western Fox snake, ‘Indiana Jones’ed our way through the unavoidable webs spiders spun across the trail, and dodged lightning strikes that lit the surrounding blackness.

Dennis, our support person, planned to meet us along the way to provided water and food. When we got to where we expected the first scheduled checkpoint to be, Dennis was nowhere to be found. Had we somehow missed him? We were over 20 miles into the hike, low on food and water and in serious need of a break. To push too far past would be a disaster. Just as panic started to creep in, Dennis appeared on the trail. We were crushed to hear that the checkpoint was four miles ahead.

 

When we finally got there, we peeled off our hiking boots, sat on coolers, guzzled Gatorade, and ate lunch. After a while, Mark noticed a bunch ticks attached to our legs. We quickly went to work trying to remove them with a Swiss Army knife. Once we got them all scraped off we figured it was time to push on. Our feet, legs, and attitudes felt better after the break.

 

Several hours later, we hit our toughest physical obstacle along the trail. A huge section of trees had blown down during a powerful storm and lay strewn across the trail. Being too far in to backtrack, our only option was to climb over and crawl under the fallen trees. Branch stubs hidden by leaves stabbed our shins as we negotiated what looked like a randomly thrown piles of over-sized pickup sticks. We tiptoed over and along the now horizontal tree trunks like gymnasts on a balance beam.

At 43 miles in, we stumbled out of the woods and into our last checkpoint at 9 p.m. in serious need of a break. Since stopping meant picking up some more tick companions, we kept moving up until then. With more than nine miles to go, we weren’t feeling particularly motivated to leave the comforts of tick-free parking lot to continue hiking into the impending darkness.

 

However, we had come too far to give up now. As we got back into the woods, we quickly learned that the trail went up and down more during the next 4 miles of trail than in the previous 43 combined. It became brutally comical how there was virtually no flat sections despite the guidebook’s claim that it was: 0 percent steep, 15 percent hilly, and 85 percent moderate or flat.

 

When we finally hit the forest service road, our “home stretch” excitement dwindled quickly as we realized the road was gravel instead of flat, hard-packed dirt. Every step on the unavoidable rocks that covered the road was painful. Our bodies rebelled and wouldn’t accept any food and only an occasional sip of water. As our headlamp batteries died, our spirits dimmed too. Our eyes played tricks on us and we had trouble keeping the ground in front of our feet in focus. Mark and I had not spoken a word to each other in hours. Suddenly in the distance I saw light. Was I hallucinating? Thinking it was the end or our journey, I turned to Mark and said “Look! The light at the end of the tunnel.” Depression set in when we realized it was just Dennis’ car and heard that it was another mile and a half to the end. Thankfully, Dennis turned around and inched along behind us with his lights on illuminating the trail ahead of us and motivating us to pick up the pace and finish.

 

When we finally stuck our feet in Lake Superior near Au Train, it was almost 1 a.m. on Sunday. We had hiked 53 miles in 21½ hours. Too tired to celebrate, we took a couple of photos and headed for the motel. On the drive there, Mark blurted out, “Pull over.” We did, and he promptly threw up four times. He was so out of it that the next morning he didn’t remember doing it. A couple days later Mark ended up in the doctor’s office with several infected tick bites.

 

Driving home the day after the hike, we saw a Chevy Suburban next to us with a bumper sticker that said: “Don’t move firewood, it bugs me.” Inside the rear windows we could see the vehicle was packed to the ceiling with firewood. The driver even had firewood piled to the ceiling in the front passenger seat. We all started cracking up at the same time. Despite not being the sharpest tool in the shed and obviously having no idea what kind of hike we had slogged through the day before, the guy pretty much hit the nail on the head when he saw us laughing at him and shouted in a perturbed voice: “Bunch a goofballs!”

Backpacking Trip Report: Killarney Provincial Park

Area: Ontario, Canada

State: Michigan

Mileage: 48

Days: 6

Type: Loop

“I’m just trying to survive.” Bob muttered in obvious pain as he trudged down the trail. This was a far cry from his blissfully ignorant demeanor before the trip. Then, he was sending out emails with an exact hour and minute countdown to the start of the trip. He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. Now he was disgusted that he had agreed to join us on his first backpacking trip ever.


We were deep into the remote Canadian backcountry of Killarney Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. The temperature spiked into the 90s each day. The trail was extremely rugged and much more challenging than expected. The rangers recommend 7-10 days to complete the entire loop trail. However, knowing from past experiences that these recommendations are almost always overly conservative, I planned our trip to last for 4 full days and 2 half day. What a mistake. Who would’ve thought that we would average less than one mile per hour on some of the days? Each night, as we hobbled into camp near dusk the race was on to set up camp and eat dinner before the mosquitoes attacked like piranha. The annoying little blood-suckers swarmed in every night as soon as it got dark.


We all suffered through various levels of agony during the trip. At the end of each grueling day we pried off our boots to inspect the damage. We marveled at the large blisters and skin tears on our feet dreading the fact that we would have to put the boots back on and do it all over again the next day.


My partners in pain were Mark Kowalczyk from Mt. Pleasant and Midlanders Bob Peters and Dennis Maschue. While Dennis and I had extensive experience, Mark had not backpacked and Bob had never even hiked before. The trail we tackled was the La Cloche Silhouette. Of the 46 miles that constitute the trail, about 8 of them are the smooth, well-beaten dirt variety on flat terrain. The rest are root and rock infested with steep inclines and declines that sometimes required using your hands as well as feet to cover them. The trail climbs up one mountain to a spectacular view and them immediately down the other side only to reach the start of yet another climb. A couple parts of the “trail” even consisted of beaver dams with loose crisscrossed sticks that you had to balance across while trying not to fall in the water.


By the middle of the trip, we developed a system and fell into a routine. Mark and I hiked together at a fast pace. Bob and Dennis hiked slower and would meet us at a predetermined campsite at the end of each day. Part of the difference in pace was due to a truly nasty fall Dennis had taken at the bottom of a ridiculously steep section we scaled down. Bob, who witnessed the accident, said that Dennis slipped and his chest landed full force on a large pointy rock. Dennis then rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. Bob later admitted, “I thought that he was dead!”


On day four, Mark was hiking behind me and shouted, “holy crap, there is a wolf coming right at us!” As I turned around, my view was blocked by Mark. Not being terribly mobile with my 60 pound backpack, I held up my trekking pole ready to stab the beast if it attacked. Suddenly, a large wolf-like creature ran right past us on the trail. Stunned, we cautiously moved ahead to see where it went. Around the next corner we saw it drinking in a small stream. To our relief, we also noticed a bell around its neck and realized it was someone’s dog.


 


Day five was torture. We followed the trail up and down on an exposed rocky ridge in sweltering heat. Amazingly, after purifying water at a lake off the trail, I led us down the trail the same way we had already come from. While it took Mark and I just under 6 hours to complete (not including the extra hour I bought us retracing our steps), Bob and Dennis stumbled into camp at around the 10 hour mark. Despite the oppressive heat, the injuries, and the severe pain, amazingly everyone kept a positive attitude.


Beauty surrounded us. There were many views that took my breath away (or was that the hiking?) The wild blueberries that grew all over the place were the sweetest I’ve ever eaten. Also, we were rewarded for our struggles, each night, by a spectacular campsite. Day five’s site was at Proulx Lake. The campsite sat on a raised peninsula which jutted out into the bluish-green lake and was surrounded by exposed white rock cliffs. There was even spot to jump off the rocks into the deep, refreshingly cold water. As always, we had the place to ourselves. It was our last night in the park and we savored it.


The next day, the challenge was on. Dennis and Bob had figured out an escape route which would get them out to a lightly traveled road several miles before the end of the trail. They planned to then hitchhike back to the car from there while Mark and I completed the trail. Whoever got to the car first would be able to take a long hot shower at the campground while waiting for the others to arrive. Mark and I set our alarms to get up before sunrise and got a two hour head start on our friends.


The amazement factor was at full strength as we reached a famous section called “The Crack.” The trail descended several hundred feet very quickly. The first part of The Crack consisted of a fairly easy fifty yard long section that went through a skinny gap in the rock where the walls rose up on both sides. The second part was an exposed cliff-like area that was made up of large boulders ranging from the size of a suitcase to an SUV. The only way to proceed down the slope was to hop from one boulder down to another all the way to the bottom. It was not a place you’d want to lose your balance and fall.


At the bottom of the descent we eventually reached the relative safety of the woods. Mark and I then trudged on for a few more hours until we got to the car. After getting showers we found Dennis and Bob sitting by the side of the road at the end of their escape route apparently unable to flag down a ride. Within an hour or so of being off the trail, we were eating fast food and felling better. Everyone already started to forget the struggles we had endured along the way. It is remarkable how quickly only the good things come to mind when remembering an adventure. I guess that is what keeps us coming back for more.


To view a short video of this hike, go here

Pathway of Pain

“Are you some kind of sicko that enjoys suffering?” “Why would you want to do that?” “Is that your idea of a vacation?” “What’s wrong with you?” Fielding these questions leading up to our trip led me to reflect on the Subaru commercial with Lance Armstrong where he explains that he is “driven by what’s inside” or the Gatorade commercial that asks, “is it in you?” I wanted to face the biggest physical and mental challenge of my life and see what I was made of.

 

I found four people willing to either assist or participate in my madness. Our voluntary suffer-fest was on the Coastal Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario, around a three hour drive North from Sault Ste Marie, Canada. At 65 kilometers (39 miles) in length, the trail is rated as a “very difficult” 5 to 7 day backpacking trip. According to park officials, no one had ever hiked it all in one day. We were determined to be the first. The trail climbs and descends steep cliffs and hills as it follows the rugged Western shore of Lake Superior. It also crosses countless beaches of sand and various size rocks, boulders, and driftwood.

 

The beginning of the trail is literally in the middle of nowhere. You can’t just drive to the trailhead. To get there we left the main road and drove 40 minutes down a narrow, pothole-covered dirt road that tunnels through the woods and ends at Lake Superior. We then backpacked around 6 miles into the Northernmost point of the trail which dead ends at the often deserted Chalfant Cove. After setting up camp and downing several boxes of cous cous, we laid down for a few hours of sleep. Three of us awoke at 1 a.m. on Saturday, July 23rd, 2005, scarfed down some instant oatmeal, and started hiking by headlamp into the dark Canadian night. Our support crew, which consisted of Mt. Pleasant criminal defense attorney, William Antrobius, and Mattawan Village Manager, Heath Kaplan woke up several hours later, broke camp and packed out our gear. Then they met us at several predetermined locations where the trail comes out near the highway to resupply us with water, food, and much needed encouragement.

 

Throughout the hike, we each drank gallons of fluids and ate thousands of calories worth of energy bars and power gels. Our toes were blistered and bandaged. Steep ups and downs on the jagged rock wore us out. Every step on the loose rocky beaches sapped our momentum and energy. One particular beach, which held a million pea sized pebbles and stretched on for miles, inspired Isabella County Senior Assistant Prosecutor, Mark Kowalczyk, to utter in despair: “this is like a bad dream!”

 

During a break, when we were purifying water from Lake Superior to drink, a humming bird landed on one of our brightly colored backpacks we had laid down on the rocks. It caused us to smile and motivated us to push on. Periodically, I would shout out “I feel good!” to keep our spirits up. At our first checkpoint with the support crew, fourteen hours into it, Kowalczyk was reluctantly forced to abandon the hike. He had twisted his ankle countless times on the perpetually uneven terrain. Despite a valiant effort, he could not continue. Two of us pushed on, hiking through our second straight night of darkness. Navigation was difficult. Each step felt like someone was pounding my feet with hammers. I almost fell asleep while walking and even suffered from hallucinations.

 

On July 24, 2005, at 5:41 am, Beaverton Elementary school teacher, Brian Rise, and myself, Isabella County Chief Assistant Prosecutor, Roy Kranz, stumbled out of the woods at Agawa Bay campground, the Southernmost point of the trail nearly 28 hours after we started. Victorious but in no condition to celebrate, we were exhausted, nauseated, and in desperate need of showers. After cleaning up, we crawled into the tent. In the fleeting moments before surrendering to sleep, the only question running through my head was “how are we going to top this next year?”

Trip Report: Glacier National Park

Location: Highline Trail-GNP

State: Montana

Miles: 52

Days: 6

Type: Shuttle

The whole trip to Glacier was planned by Bison and I didn’t even really get beyond glancing at my guide book – I wanted to be completely surprised when I got there – I knew that the route he’d planned had come from a guide book of some sort, and well – it IS Glacier National Park, so I knew the trip would be incredible. Now that I’ve been home and back at work reflecting on the trip every night and daydreaming about the mountains during the day, I’ve come to appreciate the experience more and more. This trip, for me at least, will stand to define what a backpacking trip should be.

We left my apartment about 8:30 and drove all the way to Conrad, Montana that day, about 14 hours. The next morning was sunny with a little haze to the west, but the closer we got to the Park, the more mountain range we could see. Since none of us had been to the Park before, we had planned on being tourists that day and driving around seeing all that we could see from a car and shopping in the visitor centers, along with collecting our backcountry permit.

Being backpackers, we rather laughed at ourselves playing the role of tourists, but since none of us had been to Glacier before we rather wanted to see the whole park, at least from the roads. First we drove to Many Glacier and up the road past Sherburne Lake to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn that sits under Grinnell Peak. From there we drove back south to St. Mary and took the obligatory group photo at the entrance to the Park. At St. Mary visitor center we found out about the bear and cub that has moved into Hole in the Wall campsite causing us to alter our plans (dang bears). Probably for the best though due to PhantomSoul’s flight plans on the way home. After finding out about the campsite closure, Bison immediately begins to study the large scale relief map at the visitor center and announces that he has planned another trip for 2007 that will traverse the Northern Section of the Park from East to West and utilize Hole in the Wall campsite on THAT trip! Apparantly, Hole in the Wall is one of the most spectacular campsites in the entire Park – no wonder the bear moved in I guess.

It’s worth noting that even though we had only seen glimpses of the park and the glaciers, we had gained enough appreciation of the beauty and grandeur that it holds to understand that it is indeed a unique place and worth revisiting.

Before the Park Service will issue the permit, they require you to watch the little 15 minute video that talks about how not to get eaten by the grizzly bears, how to handle food and cooking and such – nothing really new in the video, but it was good to see a little about what to expect in the campsite setup and such. After (finally) getting the “OFFICIAL PERMIT” we drove on up the Going to the Sun Road stopping at all the pullouts and views along the way just like proper tourons!

Arriving at Logan Pass we got our first look at the area we’d be hiking the next day and the view was totally incredible – Huge walls and unbelievably deep valleys lay to the west and north as far as we could see – WOW.

From there we drove on down towards West Glacier amongst ever impressive views on the West side of the Park. Finally arriving in West Glacier around 5 or 6 PM, we realized that we had been traveling for two entire days and still had not really started the trip. After dinner at the only restaurant in town, we drove up the road headed for Polebridge, Montana, at the NW corner of the Park. The road changed to gravel/dirt and we eventually arrived in Polebridge greeted by a sign that warns the drive to slow down because people are breathing and view the “Mercantile” and the Saloon, both situated amongst half a dozen cabins that apparently make up the whole town. Note to dog owners: if you take your pooch to Polebridge, be warned that they do not allow ‘non-local’ dogs on the porch of the store! I immediately fell in love with the place and this is the town I’ll move to if I ever decide to just check out of conventional society. After browsing the Mercantile, we continue on up the gravel road the last six miles bound for the final destination of the day – Bowman Lake Campground.

After making camp in the car campground, we make our way to the lakeshore and are dumbstruck by the view east across the lake where mountains tower above the still surface. We spend an hour or so, just sitting, skipping rocks and taking pictures as the sun sets behind us and lights up the mountains to the east.

Day 1 – Sunday, August 7

After traveling for the better part of two days, we were ready to begin the actual trip – the reason we came in the first place. We laughed at the fact that we were finally ready to “start” the trip now that we had been gone from home for as long as most trips actually last in total! We woke up and quickly broke camp for the long shuttle back to Logan Pass. Leaving my car parked at Bowman Lake we drove back into West Glacier for breakfast and then started up to Logan Pass. Going to the Sun Road is an incredible drive, but not a quick one. By the time we got to Logan Pass it was 11:00 and almost noon before we were able to get parked and start up the trail. But, we only had 8 miles to cover this day and the scenery was just incredible. So, a group picture with assistance from touron guy and we cross the road and take the first steps on the trail that we’ll follow for the next six days.

Right off, we encounter a mountain goat walking the trail that borders cliffs going up on the right and down to the left. We back off to let the goat move on, but quickly realize that a youngster goat is on the rocks as well. This should have given us a clue as to the quantity of wildlife in this park; we just counted ourselves fortunate to have seen a goat up close. Finally we are able to proceed and we can’t quick taking pictures of the Garden Wall which rises abruptly to our right and the valley to the left. Heavens Peak lies across the valley and once we pass Haystack Butte, we have incredible views of the Glacier Wall. Further up the valley to the North West are Longfellow Peak, Anaconda Peak, Mt. Geduhn, and Trapper Peak – all prominent peaks in the Livingston Range. We didn’t know it yet, but Heavens Peak would dominate the western skyline for two solid days.

Stopping at Haystack – dayhike destination for several people (with good reason) we soak up the view and the sun and get to photo another mountain goat before making our way along the Garden Wall to eventually come in view of the Granite Park Chalet. We laugh a little at the name of the place as there doesn’t seem to be much granite around anywhere. Most of the mountains in Glacier are sedimentary, at least on their higher portions and we are in the neighborhood of 7,000 feet. Apparently this is due to the “Lewis Overthrust” that pushed the older seabed of sedimentary stuff up and over the top of the younger granite. This action is also directly responsible for the dramatic steepness of the mountainsides.

Reaching the campsite, just below the chalet, we meet our neighbors, a group of flight nurses on their last night out – and obviously having a GREAT time. Soon, we are joined by a group of doctors from Minneapolis (so at least we’re good if anyone gets hurt tonight) and then later some guys also come into camp. We cook the food, hang out, discuss the bear situation and watch the sunset before eventually settling into camp as the wind picks up and the temperature starts to fall with the darkness.

We found out that the docs had all done their residency together and that this was their first backpacking trip – EVER. When I heard this, my first thought was that its too bad – because after experiencing the majesty and grandeur of Glacier, everything else will seem just ‘ok’.

I recall that I found myself feeling rather naked without the bear spray in my pocket – even just walking around camp and remember noticing that all my senses seemed so much more aware than normal. Being in grizzly country was exhilarating.

Day 2 – Monday, August 8,

Woke up in Granite Park and was thankful that a bear didn’t drag me out of the tent. Wandered down to the privy and was really hoping that no-one would be sitting there (there are no walls and most of the campground was female that night). Anyway after waiting around for a minute for the rest of my gang to wake up and getting most of my gear packed we made our breakfasts and loaded packs for the biggest day of our trip – 12 miles and a big climb (moderately big at least) up and over the Divide into 50 Mountain campsite. Today was also the day we began hiking along the route of the Continental Divide Trail.

Along the way we passed by Ahern Pass with continuous views to the West of the Livingston Range. Heaven’s Peak and Longfellow continue to dominate the view, but now views of Nahsukin are also showing up as we moved further north. Beyond Ahern Pass we stopped at Cattle Queen creek and rested our feet in the creek, at a snack and replenished our water as well. The doctor ladies caught up with us here and took a break also as they were headed to 50 Mountain as well. Coming out of the draw that holds Cattle Queen we began the long four mile climb up to the Divide. Three miles later we could finally see the pass that would take us from West to East and the steep push up to it. Panting and sweating we finally made the pass and took a group shot and collected the view in our personal memory banks.

This section of the hike traversed the western flank of the Garden Wall for the majority of its distance on the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail is one of those classic mountain trails that anyone who calls themselves a backpacker really MUST do at least once in their life. The views are simply gigantic. The scale of everything in Glacier is simply just BIGGER than anywhere else I’ve been.

A side trail up to Sue Lake Overlook goes up another 300 feet or so to the ridge, but none of us opted to go take a peek. Looking back now I rather regret that I didn’t suck it up and make the climb – one of the doctor gals did and we were all duly impressed. We finished the last brutal mile or so into our campsite – a foot beating, knee jarring descent that really just finished off the legs. The campsite sits in a grove of fir trees that suffered fire damage in 19___ and left little or no shade. The cooking area here is serviced by a food box – by far the superior method of safe storage, but the only facility like that we encountered – probably due to the fire destroying the trees. The creek just below camp is dry, but we’d been told that we should just follow the creek upstream to find pools of good water. I surmised that the creek flow was dropping into the ground and below the rocks by the time it reached the camp area.

We were joined in camp by two solo hikers, from Maryland and Indiana, a couple from Los Angeles, the doctors, and two guys from Florida. We were tired this night and the storms on the other side of Cathedral Peak and the rest of that range kept swirling around the ridges, winds picked up and howled thru camp pelting us all with dust and chilling us pretty well too. We spent a lot of time chatting and just watching the clouds. It was rather strange, the clouds up high were moving one direction, the wind in camp was moving the other. This one big cloud was falling over the ridge of Cathedral, but never seemed to make any progress towards our valley – it kept just coming over the ridge but getting caught in the swirl and rolling back around the side of the ridge. We hit the tents a tad earlier than we might have in better weather, but it did not rain.

Day 3 – Tuesday, August 9

We woke up to a clear morning with a large cloud settled in the valley just below camp. The night before we had watched the cloud flow over the ridge of Cathedral Peak and overnight it apparently finally made it over the ridge and settled below camp giving the impression of a lake in the valley below us. Since we only had about 7 miles to hike this day we lounged lazily around camp and took our time cooking and packing up. Since I had not used my rope to store the food, I absent mindedly failed to pack it thus donating the cord to the Glacier gods of gear. We also had visits of mule deer in the camp this morning – looking for an easy salt lick. At one point in the morning, I had gone back up to my tent and caught the deer inspecting the pack of one of our campsite mates, which after I photographed the deer, I ran her out of camp.

Hiking out of the campsite across the meadow of wildflowers was really nice as we climbed out of the camp towards the pass between Kootenai Peak and Cathedral. Now we had changed trails and left the Highline Trail to continue on the Waterton Valley Trail (which doubles as the Continental Divide Trail). At the crest of the ridge we encountered a collapsed rock cabin style shelter and then a backcountry ranger. After chatting with the ranger we began the big descent down to Waterton Valley. This is where we left the high meadows and profusion of wildflowers behind in exchange for thick valley vegetation.

The trail here crosses the side of the mountain and thus also crosses over several avalanche chutes. As a result we were crossing areas of thick, shoulder high at times overgrowth intermixed with area of fir forest and shaded rather open trail. You could feel how the weather and conditions sculpt the landscape.

This descent would cover about 4 miles and drop over 2,000 feet. Once we finally reached the valley floor we were walking thru thick brush and shade – quite a change from the open meadows up on the ridges. We stopped at a patrol cabin and met another ranger pulling a pack string of supplies. We ate our lunch there and again met the doctor ladies who were headed up to Stoney Indian Pass. After filling our water bottles we moved on up the trail and set a good pace to the campsite at Kootenai Lake.

When we emerged from the woods at the lake we quickly claimed a sheltered site right on the water and watched a guy fishing pull two or three trout from the lake. Unfortunately, clouds formed overhead and a sprinkling rain started to fall – but not before I took a long awaited swim in the lake! Man, that swim did wonders for my mindset and completely refreshed me. The rain stopped though and we got our dinner cooked and camp set up and spent a long time skipping rocks and taking pictures of the clouds as they swirled around Kootenai Peak and Porcupine Ridge. We also saw the moose with her two calves eating vegetation from the lake bottom that night.

Kootenai Lake is within dayhike range of Goat Haunt Ranger Station which is served by a water shuttle from Waterton, Canada. There were a few dayhikers at the lake, namely the fisherman and a family group that came looking for the moose. The family group was disappointed that the moose seemed to be keeping a different schedule than their boat shuttle home was on.

Rain started and stopped a couple of times before we called it a night. This campsite was also full, people from Ohio, Alberta and Washington DC shared the lakeshore with us.

Day 4 – Wednesday, August 10

Woke up to a damp morning on the shores of Kootenai Lake. Other campers were milling around the cooking area and the family of swan was on the lake. This was my first experience with swan and they stayed away from all the people down the lake. But we could clearly see the parents and the six or seven smaller white figures floating on the water in between them – just incredible.

Our campsite was well protected and there was still a nice floor of dust on the ground despite the persistent rain overnight. After trying best we could to dry the tents we broke camp and headed up the Waterton Valley towards the Goat Haunt ranger station and Waterton Lake. Luckily, the sun came out and dried up the forest by lunch time. We had spent the morning hiking in rain gear to keep from getting ‘painted’ by the undergrowth which was rather thick in places on the valley floor.

As we neared the ranger station the trail widened – indicating that we were approaching touron zone. Rangers greeted us at the lake and checked our permit. This lake is HUGE and spans the border between the US and Canada. Mt Cleavland rises to the east and just north of that is Goat Haunt Ridge – both are massive rises of over 2,000 feet from the valley floor – par for scenery of Glacier.

While we were relaxing and snacking, the boat from Canada arrived depositing the international travelers for their dayhikes where the rangers checked passports and such. We took the opportunity afforded by the sunshine and lounged in the grass while a Bald Eagle flew overhead and attempted to pluck a fish from the cold water of the lake. After a short nap we woke up, stretched and loaded up for the three miles or so up to Lake Francis. Now that I’m home and looking back, that nap may have been the best moment of the whole trip. We simply just laid down in the grass and fell asleep in the midday sun. The epitome of carefree, slow-paced life. No schedule to keep, to messages to return – just living life in its simplest form.

After crossing the suspension bridge over the Waterton River, we began to climb towards Brown’s Pass going past Lake Janet and beginning to view the north side of the distinctive Porcupine Ridge. As we approached Lake Francis we could see the Sentinal standing guard over the lake and the tremendous cascade on its side falling over 1,600 feet to the water below and draining the Dixon Glacier. This waterfall and grand wall would be our spectacular backdrop for the next several hours.

Our campsite sat about 20 feet above the turquoise water of Lake Francis and was small in comparison to the camps we had been in before. A man and his son were leaving the lake as we arrived and pointed out the osprey that had been fishing in the lake. Clouds were forming so we quickly set up camp and cooked dinner finishing our chores just as the downpour started forcing us under the siltarp I had wisely brought with me. The rain was doing nothing but getting heavier so we dove into tents earlier than normal tonight to write our journal entries and fall asleep to the combined music of rain and waterfall.

Day 5, August 11
We awoke today to breaking clouds and sun burning off the storm from the night before. As the sun came out we all warmed and took our gear to the lake shore to dry out. We also took this opportunity to rinse off in the cold water of Lake Francis and of course continue the odyssey of rock skipping that had by now become a theme of the trip. There is something innately satisfying about bathing in a wilderness lake. Standing there on the lakeshore, deep inside the Park with no-one around a feeling just overtakes you that you are at that moment truly free. It’s a shame that more people don’t get the chance to experience it, or maybe they do in their own ways. But I now realize that I need that wilderness experience on a regular basis to maintain my connection to myself and who I am on the inside.

After loading up the packs we headed out for Thunderbird Pond and then onto Browns Pass.

At Browns Pass we found the sign telling us that Hole in the Wall was closed, as was the spur trail due to the bear that had moved in. Just beyond this sign is the campground where we stopped for a break and I made yet another gear donation to the park – my sunglasses. Somehow, I didn’t even realize that I walked off into the bright sun without my sunglasses. My apologies to the park and to whomever picked them up, I hope you enjoy them.

At the lip of the gorge we could finally see our destination – Bowman Lake where we’d been 5 nights prior and the colossal cliff that we would descend to the valley below.

Making our way down the cliff we could eventually see the Hole in the Wall sight and the waterfalls that make it so spectacular – the hype is well deserved – it would be spectacular to spend the night there.

On down the valley as we tired we could finally see the lake and the site of our last night in the park. We were all glad to be arriving in camp, but none of us really were ready for the trip to end. We shared the site that night with a large group of extended family that had been in the park for several days on the Northern Traverse and two couples – one from Indiana and another that we shared the campfire with from Seattle. The couple from Seattle was very pleasant and we really enjoyed sharing their company that night.

As the fire died down (this was the first night we’d had a fire) we reflected on the trip and looked forward to the meal that we planned to feast on in Great Falls.

Day 6 – August 12,

Just before morning the rain again fell on us thoroughly wetting the tents, but as this was the last day and we only had a seven mile hike over flat terrain we didn’t really care. In fact, looking up to the ridges east of the lake, it had snowed at higher elevations. How amazing it would have been to wake up in mid August to a blanket of snow in your campsite! Setting a blistering pace we covered the 7 miles in just over two hours and caught up with the Seattle people about a mile from the parking lot at the foot of Bowman Lake. Yes, we wanted to get a beer!

Once we reached the beach at the campground the wind was howling – at least 50 mph gusts. After taking the obligatory group photos we made our way to the car and the end of our journey. We were all smiles as we could taste coca cola and real food, the Seattle people walked up and asked for a ride to Kintla Lake, which of course we obliged with, thus earning some hitch-hiking trailhead karma for a future trip.

On the way out to Kintla Lake we stopped in Polebridge and sampled the baked goods at the mercantile – Huckleberry Bearclaw – one of the finest things on earth based on the collective opinion of the group. After dropping Meghan off at Kintla Lake, we again stopped for a second bearclaw and headed for Logan Pass and Bison’s car, and then onto St. Mary and our exit from the park.

Postscripts

Best steak in Montana – Eddie’s Supper Club in Great Falls. The 40 oz. Campfire T-Bone.
Best beer after a big hike: Moose Drool – from the Big Sky Brewing Company in Belt, Mt.

On the way home we stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. That was an interesting visit. We all learned about Custer as kids, but seeing the cemetery and the mass grave and actually being in the place where that all happened was a rather moving experience. I’m still not real sure how I feel about the whole thing.

Overall, this trip was spectacular. The scenery was better than I could have imagined and my hiking partners were terrific. We all noticed that we fell into the camp routine really quickly and that our bodies held up remarkably well. We were tired at the end of each day, but well recovered each morning. As the trip wore on, we had become accustomed to the slow pace of trail life, and I believe that I actually prefer it to ‘real’ life. The minor inconveniences of no running water and dehydrated food, are greatly overcome by the simplicity and basic quality of sitting on a lakeshore watching the sun light up the opposite ridge and seeing a Bald Eagle soar to a tree top perch.

I am a backpacker.

This is what I do.

Backpacking Trip Report: Denali

Area: Denali National Park

State: Alaska

Mileage: 8

Days: 1

Type: In and Out

My girlfriend and I were traveling through Alaska after finishing our work on a trail crew at Kenai Fjords National Park and stopped at Denali National Park for two days. On our first day there, we drove until the gate at milepost 30. Since it was passed the park\’s season, private vehicles can drive down the Park Highway. On our way back at around milepost 23? my girlfriend and I decided to start hiking to a peak that we had kind of randomly chosen.

The hike was extremely difficult. The tundra grabbed at me on every step and I never knew what was beneath the moss as I placed my boot. It took us nearly 3 hours to get to the really steep parts and the beginning of the snow. We saw several sheep tracks but didn\’t spot any wildlife. When we turned around and looked at the view had climbed to, we were awestruck by the magnificence of Denali. It towered above everything else and we were over 50 miles away!

Another highlight was our mile walk across a solid snowpack. My girlfriend had never experienced that on a mountain top and I was wishing I had skis.

The hike down took considerably less, but was a strain on my body. I was exhausted by the time we reached the vehicle, but I now know a little more about what it is like in the tundra and peaks of Denali National Park.

Backpacking Trip Report: Woodswoman’s Glacier Gang Trip report

Area: Glacier National Park

State: Montana

Days: 5

Type: Loop

This is going to be a long trip report. What a trip it was! The Glacier Gang finally met up for the HOC, one that was planned for months and was much anticipated by all. We divided up into two groups – the Two Medicine Group and the Belly River Group. In the Two Medicine Group were The Fogduo, Burntfoot, Justdropin’, Coloradodcs, LiRM35, and Woodswoman. In the Belly River Group were Squilax, Eduk8er, Mtbackpacker, PJSaeli, MsKatieBear, Ardwick, and Hollowayb. The Two Medicine Group had one no-show; I won’t tell you who it was, but he gets the Grizzly Bear Poop Award for not letting anyone know he wasn’t coming.

Before I start my story, I will say this was the trip of a lifetime for me. Not only was GNP a spectacular place, but the Two Medicine Group was a great group of people to be with. We worked well as a team, and we got along famously. Friendships were made and bonds were formed. I want to thank the Two Medicine Group for the wonderful laughs, the sharing, and the memories we made while on our trip. As for the Belly River Group, even though we didn’t hike together, I enjoyed meeting all of you and hanging out together at the motel.

No s**t…there we were in Glacier National Park…
The Glacier Gang made their way to East Glacier Park by way of planes, trains, and automobiles. We met at the Circle R Motel in East Glacier, most of us getting there by Thursday, July 15. Squilax had some flight issues and then his backpack was temporarily lost. Eduk8er waited in Kalispell for him. They finally made their way to East Glacier in the wee hours of the morning of July 16. Justdropin’ was due to arrive on Friday morning via Amtrak. The evening of July 15 the rest of the Glacier Gang hung out at the motel, visited and got to know one another. We made our way to Blondie’s, a local bar near the motel, where we ate and drank an assortment of drinks (beers and sodas). Our excursion to Blondie’s is a trip report all to itself. There were 11 of us, and it was our waitress’s first night. We befuddled her and she in turn befuddled us. Food orders got confused, some food didn’t arrive for a long time, sour cream got spilled on Burntfoot’s lap, and Mr. Foggy was bonked in the head by the waitress. We survived the excursion, but we don’t know about the waitress. She probably quit after we left.

On Friday morning, we gathered and sorted out our groups and got headed on the way to our trailheads. Burntfoot was gracious enough to wait behind for Justdropin’, so the rest of the Two Medicine Group went on to the trailhead and began our trip. I think it was around 11:30 when we started out, and it was a hot day. The first day was an easy 4.1 mile hike in to Atlantic Creek. Burntfoot and Justdropin’ showed up not long after the rest of us arrived in camp. We selected our campsites and set up tents, hung food, and rested. After we ate our dinners, LiRM35, Coloradodcs, Burntfoot, and I decided to take a hike up to Medicine Grizzly Lake, just over a mile up the trail. It was well worth the short hike – was very pretty, and Coloradodcs did some fishing (he caught a few trout). I showed my clumsiness when I tripped and fell on the way up to the lake. I was impressed – none of the guys laughed at me, at least not then. That came later. At the lake, Burntfoot spotted a bull moose with antlers in velvet in the water really close to us. We all took pictures and oohed and awed at our good fortune to see it. After the moose left, the Fogduo and Justdropin’ showed up. Mr. Foggy joined Coloradodcs in fishing, and LiRM35, Burntfoot, Justdropin’, and I headed back to camp. The night was uneventful, other than it was hot and muggy and the mosquitoes were in fine form. The Fogduo shared a tent, Burntfoot and Justdropin’ shared a tent, LiRM35 and I shared his wonderful tarptent, and poor Coloradodcs was left all alone in his tent.

Saturday morning most of the folks were up early for a 3.1 mile hike to Morning Star Lake. “What’s wrong with those people?!” was my voiced thought (insert smiley face here). After breakfast, we headed out and made good time to Morning Star. Again, it was very hot. At Morning Star, we were treated to a beautiful lake that also just happened to be ice cold. Some of us had the notion that taking a dip in the lake would be a welcome relief from the heat, but we never made it past our ankles. Justdropin’ showed us who the real man of the group was. He jumped in the lake not once but at least three times! At this lake we had our first sighting of………THE HAT LADY! Yikes! What a sight to behold! This lady had a huge white, wide-brimmed hat, and was covered from head to foot in a mosquito net shroud. When we first saw her, we all wondered “What the heck is that?!” Her outfit was a pale yellow suit of some sort. All you could see was her face. I must admit, after a few days of fighting mosquitoes, any of us would have gladly offered The Hat Lady money for her outfit. On with the story….in the morning we woke up to the sound of Foggy’s flipflops flipping and flopping. She had been making her way to the food prep area and spooked up a moose. She came running back to camp to get her camera. Let me tell you, those flip flops were going to town! Poor Foggy didn’t get a picture of the moose, though. While at Morning Star Lake, LiRM35 gave knot-tying lessons to Foggy and me. I don’t think I passed.

Sunday morning we all got up early so we could get started on the Death March – a 8.6 mile hike that included a 3-mile traverse along the sides of some mountains. We had a 1800′ elevation gain ahead of us, and a 2100′ elevation loss. We got lucky that day – it was overcast and cooler than it had been the previous two days. When we left Morning Star Lake, the climb began immediately. We climbed and climbed; the views got better and better. We stopped at Pitamakin Lake and took a nice long break, and looked UP at where we had to go. Burntfoot and Coloradodcs took the lead here and made it to the first pass before the rest of us. FYI: Coloradodcs was a great “Hey Bear!” person. He led us most of the time and made sure no hungry bruins picked off any of us. After reaching this first pass (I can’t remember the name) we again rested and enjoyed the views. Then we started our final ascent up to Pitamakin Pass. This involved crossing a small snowfield, and I for one HATE crossing snowfields. It was a first for Justdropin’ and LiRM35. I nervously watched as everyone came across, and nearly had a heart attack when LiRM35 stepped on an icy patch at the end of the snowfield. I’m not sure which scared him most – slipping a little on the ice or me screaming, “DON’T STEP THERE!” Everyone made it across without mishap. Burntfoot and Coloradodcs were already the the top of the pass waiting for us slow pokes. As each of us reached the pass, we exclaimed “Oh My God!” at the views. All except LiRM35, that is. What he said can’t be written in the trip report for fear of getting banned. I’m telling you, the views were the most outstanding I have ever seen. It was like being on top of the world! We stayed there for a long time taking it all in. Justdropin’ took a nap up there while the rest of us took his picture. And then we saw it, a sight that struck fear in our hearts (well, in the hearts of some of us). It was scary, it was nasty. It was…..THE TRAIL. The trail we had to take. The Trail of Tears. The Trail of Death (we hoped not). The Trail of Heights. The Narrow Trail. And it went on for 3 miles! This trail was narrow and on a ledge. A couple of us knew we had a problem with heights before doing this trip. A few others developed a fear of heights while doing this trail. As we did this traverse across the sides of mountains, Foggy and I cursed hollowayb. He told us it wasn’t a big deal; it wouldn’t be a problem. Ha! We wanted to kick his butt. He is lucky he was with the Belly River Group or Foggy and I would’ve….well, we would’ve done something. As it was, everyone made it across this traverse, again without mishap. We were proud of ourselves when it was done – WE HAD DONE IT!! Finally we made our way down to camp at No Name Lake. We were a tired bunch of stinky backpackers. And what did we see at the lake? The Hat Lady! Some of the guys saw her after she had taken a swim. There she was, standing on the lakeshore, a siren wearing nothing but a mosquito net shroud. Later on she made her way to LiRM35’s tarptent to ask about the tent (she was dressed by then). She was very nice and explained her outfit to us and made us all drool with envy. During this time I again impressed everyone with my clumsiness when I knocked down the tarptent (insert blushing emoticon here). The tarptent is great, and I was very impressed with it, even though it was knocked down easily (it was a test, okay?). We all crashed pretty early that night ’cause we were tired physically and mentally from the Death March. Somtime in the night, though, something got into LiRM35’s hair. He didn’t scream or anything, and kept his wits about him. We were, after all, in Grizz Country. Then I woke up. It was ME in his hair. I was dreaming about my two cats at home (I really missed them) and reached over to pet one of them. Only it wasn’t one of my kitties, it was LiRM35’s head. I’m lucky I didn’t get a face full of bear pepper spray (again, insert the blushing emoticon here).

Monday morning we made our way to Upper Two Medicine Lake, 3 miles away. We arrived there to find day hikers eating their lunches in the campsites. Not a good idea in bear country! Foggy told them they couldn’t do that, so they moved out by the lake. We set up camp, then enjoyed looking at the lake. It was a pretty spot, even with all the day hikers. Clouds started moving in, so we decided to try and have dinner before the storm hit. We didn’t make it. We all were eating halfway rehydrated food, scarfing it down as quickly as we could while getting pelted with HUGE raindrops. We finally gave up, tossed food into the food bags, hung stuff up and made a run for the tents. It rained hard and there were gale force winds. Let me tell you, LiRM35’s tarptent held up like a champ. We stayed dry. Again, I am very impressed with this tent. While it was storming, LiRM35 regaled the Fogduo and me with stories and songs. He is a good story teller, and has a nice singing voice. Coloradodcs, Burntfoot, and Justdropin’ were too far away to have the pleasure of this entertainment. After the storm passed, we all made our way out of the tents and back to the food prep area. It was now a lake! You could’ve floated in it with a thermarest pad! At the real Upper Two Medicine Lake, we saw bald eagles, a treat.

Tuesday morning we got up, ate breakfast, then headed down the trail for the last leg of our hike. We hiked a couple of miles to the boat landing on Two Medicine Lake, and waited around for the boat. We all had decided to catch the boat back to the trailhead instead of hiking the last 4 miles. When the boat did arrive, the boat captain, a petite lady named Dabney, told us the engine was over heating but not to worry, she had worked on it a lot. She proceeded to take a bucket, dip it in the lake, and pour cold water over the engine. It worked because we made it back to the trailhead without having to swim.

We had it all on this trip – good weather (most of the time), mosquitoes, beautiful scenery, mosquitoes, lovely wildflowers, mosquitoes, good company, mosquitoes, lots of laughs, mosquitoes, cold lakes, mosquitoes, waterfalls, mosquitoes. It was really and truly a great trip!

Backpacking Trip Report: Lost Lake

Area: Chugach National Forest

State: Alaska

Mileage: 15

Days: 2

Type: In and Out

I was recently building trail at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska for a month as part of a Student Conservation Association crew. On one of my weekends, my girlfriend and I went for a short backpacking trip to Lost Lake.

We began the hike from the Seward side and soon ran into a wind that just about knocked me over when we reached tree line. When I turned around the wind would smack the straps on my backpack against my face, but the view of Resurrection Bay was amazing. It was a crystal clear fall day in Alaska and was the peak of the color change. The mountains were covered with the red of fireweed and other tundra plants while the aspen gave the lower forests an awesome golden glow.

The trail was somewhat heavily used by locals as a common dayhike. We passed several trail runners and day hikers. I guess the lake was no longer lost.

We didn\’t end up camping on Lost Lake but stayed on a slightly smaller one to the east. My girlfriend and I tried our luck on fishing, but gave up after a while. We had the perfect spot to camp, out of the wind with a terrific view.

The next day we began hiking out but focused on berry picking for a solid hour. We collected nearly one gallon of high bush blueberries and probably ate many more that didn\’t make it into our ziplock bag. My hands and lips were stained purple for the rest of the day. The rest of the hike was a bit more peaceful than the day before; there were fewer hikers and much less wind.

It was a wonderful backpacking trip and I suggest the trail as a dayhike to any visitors to Seward, AK.

Trip Report: Ely, Minn Dog Sledding Trip

Location: Boundary Waters

State: Minnesota

Miles: 30

Days: 4

Type: Shuttle

The WinterCampers.com crew of Uncle Jim, Matt and Mark were joined by Jason and new comers Aunt Kathy and Paul for a dog sledding trip in Ely, Minnesota.
The group arrived in Ely, MN after a very long drive and settled into the Wintergreen lodge Monday afternoon. After meeting the 57 Canadian Inuit Dogs and our two guides Rob and Steve, we checked over our gear one last time and settled in for bed.
We awoke Tuesday morning bright and early to feed the dogs and load our sleds. We ate breakfast in the lodge, got some last minute instructions from Paul Schurke and we were off! Each sled carried 2 “mushers” who rode on a small platform on the back of the sled plus each sled carried gear. 2 of the sleds were pulled by 6 dogs and the other smaller sled was pulled by 5. Steve and Rob wore XC skis and skied the entire time with a map always in hand.
The dogs that Wintergreen uses are Canadain Inuit Dogs. In a word they are amazing. They have a kennel of about 57 dogs….no 65 as 8 puppies were born while we were there. Each dog weighs about 80lbs and can pull at least twice their weight in payload for hours on end at a steady pace of 6-8mph. The dogs are fed a high energy powder food mixed with a bit of water each morning and a chunk of lard each night but never seemed hungry or ran out of energy. For water the dogs eat snow so you would see the dogs grabbing bites of snow as they plodded their way along the trail. Although the dogs exhibit a pack like mentality amongst themselves they love people and were extremely affectionate. They each had a very distinct personality and did not take us long at all to learn all their names. Once on the move though these dogs are all business and just love to pull. They seem to have a one track mind….”Pull, Pull, Pull….” then when we would reach a hill or get stuck it was…”Pull Harder, Pull Harder…” You actually feel bad to stop them and take a break as they just want to keep going and get very anxious when we did stop. They follow a few simple commands. To launch the sled you would first give the command “Ready” which would get all the dogs up…then “Hike” and the dogs were off. “Whoa” to slow and stop the team, “Gee” to turn right and “Haw” to turn left. Mushing was not just riding on the back of the sled and shouting out commands however and proved to be very challenging. It takes a lot of strength and balance to not only balance on the back of the sled but also to shift your weight and help steer the sled around turns, trees etc. When climbing hills you had to get off and help push the sled up the hill and if you didn’t the dogs would all stop, turn around and look at you as if to say “What the hell?!” The same was also true when going through deep snow, slush, over logs etc. The dogs depended on us almost as much as we depended on them.
We also had our fair share of collisions with trees and falling off the sleds. I believe everyone fell off at least once and some much more then that. Once you fell off of the sled…or performed a controlled dismount….you were very motivated to get back on the sled….first so that you don’t have a run away sled and secondly since usually you had a team of dogs hot on your heels ready to run you over if you did not get out of the path! We had several very close calls and a couple of major collisions due to the terrain and the “staff only” or “double black diamond” trials that we went on.. All in all we covered 24 miles on the trip
The weather on the trip was nearly perfect for the humans on the trip. 30 degrees and perfect blue sky most of the time until our final day when it was a bit breezy and overcast. The dogs were a little warm as they prefer single digit type temps but it was great for us. The Minnesota landscape was beautiful as well….they don’t call it the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” for nothing! 4 of us slept in the Tipi. Jason and Paul built a snow shelter for night one then slept out under the stars with the guides the next night after Paul got a little claustrophobic. Sitting around the campfire one night we heard a pack of wolves out in the distance. The howling wolves was quickly drowned out by the chorus of our dogs joining in.
Our guides Rob and Steve were taking their first trip in a very long time which actually made it a lot of fun as it was something new for them just as it was for us. Although we did not always end up on the trail that we thought we would they still did an excellent job. “Hey Rob…where are we?” “Right here!” Being that some of us were former tour guides ourselves at a tourist attraction here in NY we can definitely appreciate the work that they do. They were extremely helpful and a lot of fun.
The food was cooked over a fire and we had a lot of it. Breakfast was eggs, sausage and bagels cooked in sausage grease…sounds tasty ehh?:) Lunch was trail mix type things, energy bars, dried fruit etc. Dinners were pasta based….beef-a-roo pasta one night and chicken-a-roo pasta the next along with unwrapped wraps for appetizer. One interesting little tid bit is that famed explorer Paul Schurke plans on a stick of butter per person per day! Apparently Wintergreen has some deal worked out with Land O’Lakes Butter:) jk
All in all it was an incredible experience and one that we would recommend to anyone. To book your own trip or to find out more visit www.dogsledding.com and tell them you saw them on WinterCampers.com