Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two days, Two Hunts, Same Outcome?

Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forest and fields in which you walk.  Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person. -Fred Bear

Fred Bear has always been one of my favorite outdoorsmen, perhaps because of his reserved and respectful character about hunting. He was a childhood idol and I pulled back many a Fred Bear recurve during my early years bowhunting. That was a long time ago and recurves have been replaced by high tech compounds and carbon arrows, none of which make the “outdoor experience” any better-in fact, those modern “advances” really don't matter.

Sure, better equipment, bows, guns, ammo, fishing gear and alike can make our sports more successful-if measured in harvested game. I think the older I get, that measure of success has changed-no, it surely has, because that theme has found it's way onto these pages more than a few times. Part of it is time-in my younger days it seemed time moved ever so casually and it was unlimited. Now in my mid fifties, there seems to be an urgency, that every second spent in the “forest and field “ as Bear speaks to, is it should be. There are only a finite number of minutes left for me out there.

Thoughts of years left on this planet were not filling my head the other day as I walked back to the truck, lab trotting alongside, double barrel broke and cradled in the crook of my arm. The day's hunt over. The game pouch was weightless. The last few minutes of daylight streamed through the trees far across a prairie valley-switchgrass and tall Big Blue Stem filling the fields in amber. Molly had done her job. I was satisfied in her performance, nailing down a couple rooster pheasant, her tail whipping violently each time she closed the gap on a bird. I could just waltz along following her zig zagging course through the grass and brush. The pheasant did well too-managing to put a tree or two between themselves and my shotgun leaving me with an empty vest and disappointed dog-retrieving is half the fun. Molly would drive back and forth searching out what should be a dead bird, and I felt disappointed for her I didn't connect. But that's how these things go and luckily her memory is short-there are always more birds to seek out and smells to smell.

It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.” That was more the thought as I fiddled with the two 20 gauge shells in my hand, then slipped the brass bell off Molly's collar. She happily jumped in the truck-perhaps thinking we were off to another hunting spot or at least to be rewarded with a treat. Two days earlier, at this same field and covering much of the same ground, I'd connected on a nice big colorful rooster. Molly raced to collect the still lively pheasant as it tried to make an escape, but the proud lab would have none of it and returned the bird to my hand. That hunt was much the same-beautiful fall evening, cool temps, the dog getting birdy a few times and a quiet walk back enjoying the sunset warm the colors in the west sky.

A bird in the Hand....” as they say, was the only difference. Yet, it didn't really make that day any more successful or satisfying. It would provide a good meal at some point and I was thankful to bring back some game, but really, that wasn't the point of being out there. Two hunts, two days, same outcome as far as what is really important and the reason I needed to spend a few minutes afield. Bear's quote, to me, really lands squarely on everything I believe when I lace up some boots, slide the gun into a case and step out the door. It's not about limits being reached or perfect shots, but rather it's about cleansing that soul and making me a better, happier person.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dogs, Guns and Time

Christian B
A dog, a gun and time enough.” - George Bird Evans

Whenever bird hunters or about to be bird hunters share a few minutes or hours together, these three topics will always come up. There is no doubt, there is no debate- dogs, guns and having enough time to do them both justice will be discussed. Birds as well, but as unlikely as it would seem, they are a minor part of the story and whether or not a game bag is filled.

This fall we have been blessed with awful weather. Awful as in the original meaning of the word-things used to be “worthy of awe” which is how we get expressions like “the awful majesty of God.” Yes, awful indeed and days that are not to be missed outdoors. Bird hunting with my good friend Dave Borman and his son Christian of Ladysmith would have to override all other activities these perfectly awful days. Bike riding gear and a fat bike were stowed in the truck-just in case, but I think we knew deep down, their tires would see no dirt. Not when dogs, guns and time were on the agenda.

We have hunted together for well over 30 years, sometimes in the central forest region near my home, others busting brush in the Blue Hills in search of grouse or woodcock. An annual trip to North Dakota is a priority,  putting our pups and and packs of shot on ducks geese and pheasant is something not to be missed. This year is no different. The ND hunt is a few days away and to tune up the labs and our reflexes, it was decided we'd wade tall swamp grass on a game farm, then try our luck on a state wildlife area in hopes of getting the dogs on as many birds as possible.

Barley, Dave's excellent senior chocolate lab, needed to be afield a few last times-although showing her age, when the weather turns cooler and shotguns are slipped into cases, a spark of youth fills her gimpy little body. The tail starts wagging and she won't let you near the pick up without her tight against your leg, not to be left behind. And why not?-she is one of the best upland labs I've hunted over and it's her life, and it might as well be until she can burrow through the cattails no longer. It was a chance to see if she had the vigor for one more trip out west. As we hunted together once again, the little brown dog proved she still had the goods, confirming my black lab Molly's hits on birds or finding her own. I trusted Barley completely for over the years she is seldom wrong when the tail starts excitedly whipping her backside. “Yep-there is a bird there.” 
Molly May

Molly is in her adult years now-proving herself a solid performer, turning into this serious all business creature when she catches her first hot scent of a bird. Her solid body plows blindly through brush and saw grass letting her nose lead the way-albeit, at times a bit far. As I see it, I just need to keep up and it's tough to slow her down when a rooster is sprinting down cornrows or through a bean field.

Of the pheasant and grouse the pair of labs found and put up-we managed to take about 80%, not bad for using flushing dogs on our first hunt of the year. I'm just happy if I manage to connect once and a while-especially on grouse, who always have a knack of putting trees between me and them during their startling escape. I actually enjoy watching the dogs work the most-and if they can find birds, zero in on the scent cone and get them flying, they have done well and it's a good day. It's hard to explain witnessing a good bird dog do their thing to someone who has never had the privilege to.

Dave recently added a new gun to his collection-mostly for the tougher birds out west, but really as an excuse to get a new gun-his eldest son Andrew would be joining us for this years adventure and would inherit Dave's older scattergun. Perfect reason (in all our minds) to pick up a new smoke pole. Obviously, it should be tested, so he was anxious to run a some shells through the camo'd barrel. After watching the first few birds wave goodbye after his shots, we dealt him (and his new gun) a good deal of ribbing-justified, of course. In no time, they became comfortable with each other, much like my well used over and under, and birds started to drop. Christian, a full time education student, has less time to hone his shooting skills, but made some good clean kills on a few birds. As nice as new guns are, and we discussed this, we always seem to wax on and on about the venerable 870-one of our first guns and as trustworthy as they come. We always have one along as a spare, knowing full well, they can be counted on without fail. With my double and Dave's auto loader, we sometimes forget to pull the trigger a second, or third time, not having the '70s slide action to prompt the followup shot.

There were plenty of times while loading or unloading guns and dogs or when just stopping for a minute in the field, we remarked how peerless these days were. How matchless October outings can be like we were living, with bells on collars, vests stuffed with shells and the sound of a round chambered with authority. I love that sound. The scent of wet dog, gun oil and decaying leaves waif around us-a most incomparable perfume. I wish I had bottles of it for days I'm stuck in lifes' other distractions though not everyone would appreciate the fragrance I suppose. Those smells, those sounds, the talk of dogs, guns and time I cannot get enough of. Time is always too short here. Always. 
Dave & C-Man and the Tiny Vest

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Rides

Lyle on Sidewinder

I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.” Wendy Delsol

Fall is without a doubt the best time of year to ride. Spring is buggy, muddy and has a chill that I can never warm up to. Summer sticks with the bugs but replaces the cold with sweltering air you can barely breathe. Winter? Well, there is nothing really wrong with pedaling in snow, but it still doesn't quite hold up to Autumn.

In my racing days, fall signaled the end of the riding year, rolling in the final races of the season, concluding with the Chequamegon 40-the Christmas and New Years of the fat tire world. The workout season is over and it's time to “just ride.” That philosophy of non-training now carries me throughout the year and I can pedal to no strict regiment or because I have to. Okay, not quite true, I do “have to” ride in the fall. As Delsol writes, I so look forward to “drinking in the surroundings,” many times frantically not knowing what to do or where to go first. There are so many things pulling me in different directions, if only October were twelve weeks long. The black lab prances after work, convinced we'll be toting a shotgun chasing birds, the backpack waits to be slung on a shoulder and a tree stand impatiently expects my return. There are leaves to shuffle under foot as well and wildlife to photograph. But the mountain bike leaning in the corner is most anxious because I am. Those knobbie tires need to run over the carpet of yellow, orange and red in the woods, not always quite sure were the trail lies hidden beneath.
Yellow Carpet Ride

Eventually, each fall pursuit will get it's share of my time, but never enough and I feel the same way. Luckily for me, others concur and my bike is more than willing to share some singletrack with company. Biker friends from Madison arrived at their favorite trail (and mine) on what could only be described as a perfect autumn weekend. Trees in full color, that “crisp” air surrounding us and the scent in the breeze that only waifs by when leaves tumble to the earth.

Like myself, Lyle, Kelsey and Kat had no interest in a discipled ride of heart rates and average miles per hour. We were turning pedals and rolling tires to just soak this season in at whatever pace necessary not to miss it. Favorite routes like Sidewinder and Wolf Run (at Levis Mound) were revisited, this time with so much more color and snap. Riding some in reverse of usual added a new dimension, nearly like discovering a brand new trail. Other mountain bikers had similar ideas and it was nice to meet here and there along the trail. “Remember this,” I thought to myself, as the bike carved corners and scattered popple and oak leaves behind. This season would soon be gone and homage must be paid by stopping frequently, taking a few pictures and breathing it all in.
Kelsey & Kat & Yellowjacket

Days like these pass quickly and too soon the bikes roll to a stop at the trailhead leaving me to wonder how much I missed out there. There is always more to take in. While my friends refueled and readied for another ride, the other fall interests tugged me away from taking another spin...reluctantly. More hours in a day? More days in this month? I can only dream, dream of just one more ride in this perfect time of year.
Sidewinder in Fall

Wild Ride

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Quintessential Northwoods Cabin

1. of the pure and essential essence of something:
  1. of or pertaining to the most perfect embodiment of something:
Sitting in the soft yellow light from gas lamps above and over my shoulder, scratching notes in a old spiral bound notebook-those definitions were all I could think of and the first words penned on the blank sheet of paper. This was the quintessential northwoods cabin. It had no modern conveniences, but it had everything.. Rough weathered wood and tar paper walls, small wood stove, assorted chairs and old deer hunting backtags pinned up as reminders of seasons past. A perfectly honed hatchet and ax leaned on a small stack of oak kindling, ready, willing and anxiously waiting to add warmth to this small space when cold November winds return. Not needed on this 80+ summer day, I imagined the scent of wood smoke here greeting cold hunters returning from a long day on the stand. It must feel like heaven.

A long faded blaze orange jacket hung on a peg next a shelf lined with .20 gauge shells, a tattered box of 6.5 X 35mm cartridges and half empty bottle of scent eliminator. This was a cabin for fall-for the chill of the first snow on the ground, to be filled with opening day optimism or just a quiet place to escape and hike in the woods. For now, I'm scribbling notes in the dog days of summer and love the serenity of everything that is here and not here.

These four walls belong the time when leaves have long since turned. Wading through ferns down the steep ridge to the lake below has a much different feel now than when the old patched duck boat is turned upright and slipped into water lilies with a couple cork decoys in the bow. Even more fitting is after solid ice forms and a thin coating of snow blankets everything white. Ever present deer tracks are crossed accessional with a wolf print, worthy of exploring further by snowshoe clad cabin visitors.

This is the “perfect embodiment of” the hunting cabin. Although I'm a stranger here and trespassing at the wrong time of year, it feels like home. The “Shack” belongs to a good friend, who'd started laying logs and painstakingly chinking between them many years ago just outside of Rhinelander. Mitch was kind enough to let me stay here a few days while in the area and maybe just happy to have another person rest under it's roof outside of a few short days each fall. No water or electricity and nothing fancy with but an outhouse for connivence....perfect. Mitch and I are of like minds and he knew this would fit me well during my stay.

Hunting cabins are not cottages, or blocked up old travel trailers or pole sheds, to me they need to be like this one. Logs, wood stove, minimalist in nature and having a singular purpose. As cliché as it sounds, the only ambition of a cabin like this is to be a humble escape from modern life. Mitch lamented not being able to spend more time there and as I settled into a no smartphone, no internet, no electricity life during my brief stay I knew why. I wrote more, photographed, spent time reading the tattered journal on the table of years past-accounts of weather and people and success or not of years gone by. I added a few pages of my own in the leather bound book, happy to share my warm weather experiences of what now will always be a special place with some perfect moments.

I stayed up later and woke earlier, the sense of time hardly disturbed by the clicking of an old wind up clock on a shelf. Feeling alive and awake even at a just dawning day, was easy-a quick jump in the cold lake below assured me of that. It's only the initial shock of hitting the water that I was anxious about each morning. Beyond that, I'd sometimes linger waist deep, surrounded by a veil of fog surrounding me in air cooler than the lake. Dripping wet, it was a long climb back up to the confines of the shack, but pressed hot coffee would be steaming on a waiting table and worth every minute in this morning routine.

I felt more alive here-maybe it's the novelty of simple life, or perhaps only because moments and places like this cabin are few and far between that make them all the more appreciated. I think both. I didn't realize it before stepping foot through door of this place, but yes, this tiny ten by twelve foot cabin embodied exactly what we sometimes miss and other times need most in our life if even for the briefest visit.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mud Lake Trail

Snarky Bridge-Mud Lake

Late summer is made for exploring and I was lucky enough to discover not one, but two little trail gems in northern Wisconsin recently. RASTA (Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association) in Onieda County had dished me up a riding treat at their Washburn Trail west of the city in a previous trip (featured here on WOF) so I was anxious to put wheels down on a newer trail- Mud Lake.

The Mud Lake Trail is located north of Rhinelander, with a trailhead on Crystal Lake Road (4693 Crystal Lake Rd, Rhinelander,WI). I meandered some of the back roads to find the trail, figuring as a long ago staff member at the nearby Camp Tesomas, I'd remember my way. With extensive help from a GPS, of course I did. A much more direct route would be to take Cty. Hwy W north out of Rhinelander, left onto River Road and then right on Crystal lake road near the Hodag Fest grounds. A small trailhead will be on your left containing a map and room for a few cars to park. Further down the road at 5061 Crystal Lake road is another parking area.

RASTA's primary goals are to: “Contact/coordinate with silent sports groups in Oneida County, develop, sign and maintain sustainable single track mountain bike and snowshoe trails on public trail systems, and organize volunteer work groups for the maintenance of the trails.” Although they also work on several XC ski trails (Including Washburn Lake) it seems like the real movers and shakers in this group are the singletrack builders. Of course, what was once just the realm of warm weather months, singletrack in the northwoods is now home to year round use with fatbikes and snowshoers hitting the trail in snow season as well.

New Flow
Mud Lake consists of around 8-10 miles of nearly 100% singletrack-there are a couple small sections (that I rode) of old wider skidder trail and logging road crossings. Not knowing the trail (remember- “exploring” here!) I just took off west, figuring I'd, ...well, figure it out. A local had told me trails on one side were tougher, and the other, easier-I forgot which was which. Like other trails in the area, there are a lot of constant ups and downs and babyheads poking through all over ready to launch one's bike. The Mud Lake appeared quickly, a beautiful small bog lake with pine and hardwoods lining the shore. The trail stewards had built a snarky little bridge connecting to an old log to cross a drainage into the lake-I loved it. A small thing, but it immediately gave this trail some flavor.

The trail makes use of of the terrain very well, twisting and turning out a lot of milage in a small footprint of land. Old race direction arrows pointed here and there and I soon settled into following them since I had no idea where I was-luckily the sun helped give me an idea how to get back if needed. I stumbled onto a newly constructed section, the mini excavator still resting nearby after moving dirt and rock for a flow segment. As a trail builder myself, I just had to take a peak at their work. Well done, with smooth banked corners, good water drainage and rock armoring. The trail eventually meanders toward and into a pine forest section, a fun tight singletrack area with some good speed if you let off the brakes. If bouldering is your thing, there are also a few opportunities to check your skills on and off them here.

Bouldering-Mud lake
Somewhere along the line I missed a turn-if I could make any suggestion for the trail, it would be to add some signage-more maps and trail names on sections. There are few along the course, but frequent trail/two track crossings lead me astray and into the Camp Tesomas system-not entirely a bad thing when one is rambling on two wheels. Eventually the Mud Lake trail dropped me back off at the trailhead, just in time to beat the light showers starting-no rather just sweat off the helmet! This is as hard or as easy a trail as one wants to make it (although it would be a second tier trail for true beginners). There are harder cut offs that loop riders back to the main trail with some tough fall line climbs requiring extra effort if singlespeeding it. Well built by the volunteers, constantly tweaked ( a trail like this is never “done”) by the singletrack builders and highly recommended as a destination for any mountain bike enthusiast.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Tracking Story

Although I seldom hit the woods with just one objective, the blessing to living in Wisconsin is you can appreciate several things at once.  One of my warm weather favorites is mountain biking of course, and when I get the chance and am in the right place, a little tracking as a side dish. 

Recently, while visiting a far eastern county forest, I took the opportunity of a late night rain storm to provide only fresh tracks on an early morning ride.  Normally houndsmen would be out running bear, but none were in the area that I observed.  My knobbie tracks were the only ones on the sandy forest road. Some friends had sadly described a lack of tracks and sign in the area over the course of the past year, but I was hopeful.  Deer, turkey and bear tracks were pretty common, with the former scattered everywhere, but what I was interested in were prints from wolves that had been more common a few years ago.

Distressingly, the local game warden had reported five or six poached wolves over the course of the past 12 months in this area and with the newly created wolf hunting season also in force, the pack that once roamed this particular territory had dwindled.  Nevertheless, a chance to return and ride the fatbike and explore a little may turn up something. 

Forest roads and ATV trails have been in the past good places to track in the summer.  The heavy traffic churns the soil up into long stretches of deep sand, fairly easy to spot imprints in the soft surface.  The recent rain firmed the surface and made pedaling easier at the least.  For miles on end it was clear the whitetails had quickly been out and about after the evening storm.  Some sign was mashed in the now drying road, indicating the animals had been out right after the drops had stopped. Others were like perfectly stamped imprints with dry sand grain edges-animals that maybe passed by an hour or two before I.

Deer leave a sure tale scuffed up print that one can spot far down the road-dainty walkers they are not.  But a few miles later there were different tracks-more pressed in, one deep, the other less so.  Common in the area are coyotes, but their tracks are more oval and the center toes a bit larger than the side ones.  These were wolf tracks, an adult and pup, now 4 or 5 months old.  The adult stayed the course and had trotted nearly straight down the road for a 1/2 mile.  The youngster for the most part did as well, but scattered deer bones in the sand, remnants from a last November carcass dump in the county forest, pulled him (or her) aside, curiosity could not be contained.  Sign read that the partial bleached spine had to be pawed and sniffed around, then a quick scat left as a maker before returning alongside the adult, now a ways down the road. 

As they traveled together the pup eventually walked in line with the older wolf avoiding any other distractions along the way.  I stopped and shot a few photographs, excited that there would be a next generation roaming this area for now.  They ultimately turned off the forest lane into a woods trail and from there my tracking would end.

 It may be just a little thing-following two animal’s paw prints, but for me, they told a story, maybe just a very brief paragraph of how they live, but the sentences in their steps  described their life and survival, something I was happy to read.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The "Porkies"

Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity...”
John Muir

I believe Muir was correct in his opinion that “wilderness is a necessity” A break from our “civilized” world, a chance to be in a place that time has not changed, our ancestral  roots so to speak.  Sometimes we need to seek out and experience living a day or two where all modern safety nets and/or distractions are far removed.  Although Wisconsin does have seven designated Wilderness areas  (Blackjack Springs Wilderness, Gaylord Nelson Wilderness, Headwaters Wilderness, Porcupine Lake Wilderness, Rainbow Lake Wilderness, Whisker Lake Wilderness, Wisconsin Islands Wildernessthey tend to be of smaller parcel size and scattered throughout the northern part of the state.  For a larger unbroken wilderness experience, one just has to venture across the border into the U.P. to visit the Sylvania Wilderness and Porcupine Mountains.

The “Porkies,” Michigan's largest state park and designated wilderness comprises 60,000 acres of old growth forest along Lake Superior and is just north of the Wisconsin border. Besides the shear natural beauty of this park, friends Mark Haferman from Marshfield (backpacking instigator) and Dave Borman of Ladysmith and I hoped to explore some of the 87 miles of backcountry hiking trails spread thought the forest. 

As with all good trips, a plan is formulated weeks ahead (more or less) and there are always a few new gadgets to buy-one always needs a good excuse for fresh gear!  New boots, tents, sleeping pads and an ample supply of freeze dried food started arriving by Fed-Ex at front doors leading up to our hike.  Mark is our most experienced backpacker and has made the trip to the “Porkies” a few times before.  We usually rely on his good judgment to plan our itinerary and work out the details of the trip.  With one of the worlds largest freshwater lakes it’s doorstep, we'd planned to spend at least one or two days along it's shore.  Mark had been driven back from the big lake previously by cold winds on shore, so we'd hoped the weather would be more cooperative.

As it turned out, weather would not be our biggest challenge.  Warm temps and a small chance of rain lead us to tackle the "Lake Superior Trail" first, a 9+ mile trail starting high above the water at the Lake of Clouds.  To access the trailhead, we actually had to hike a steep blacktop park road down to the trail entrance and into the dark primeval hemlock forest. We’d guessed the trail would follow along the shores of the lake, making for spectacular views of the big water.  Instead, the majority of the route lies deep in the forest, starting in rocky shale downhills, then into wet muddy sections, a challenge to navigate.  At the midpoint a spur trail led us to the lake and the first campsite.  It was at that point we discovered what would be a real test.

According to locals (we found out later) there are peak times for the ferocious black flies (“fish flies” “sand flies” *#$@% flies etc.) and we were unlucky enough to hit them in swarms.  (For another great account here:  We quickly retreated to the mosquitoes inland, which were a bit more tolerable (though very bad by all standards).  Stopping for a break, lunch or to even zip on lower pants legs was all about impossible.  Five hours into our trek, we really wondered what our options would be as the trail headed back to the lake again.  More bug spray was showered on, head nets donned and our pace quickened to little avail.  Even reaching the Little Carp River trail intersection provided no relief and slight winds off the water did little to deter the little buggers.

At this point, our only option was to head upstream and hope the deep hemlock forest would be less suitable habitat for the bugs and we could at the very least quickly pitch a tent and hide.   A mile or so along the river found our strength fading-we’d run out of water (no chance to stop and filter during the day) and hiked much further than planned.  We found a campsite along the beautiful Big Carp River and decided this would have to be it.  Surprisingly, the ‘sqeetos were not to bad, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

This is wilderness, so one has to take the good and the bad.  My thoughts during the day at times went back in time to those who actually lived here-a 100 or 200 years ago and how difficult life would have been.  Much tougher than us I know.  The campsite along the rapid filled Carp was so perfect that the swarms of insects were soon forgotten.  Feet were soaked in the ice cold water, a good meal prepared and a few hours chatting around the campfire ended this testing day.  Tomorrow, a decision would have to be made on the remainder of the trip.

The Big Carp River trail in the old growth Hemlock sections are beyond what a camera can possibly capture (though I tried) and constantly amazed us.  Day two had us heading upstream past small waterfalls and through dark cathedral forest- a great way start even with weary legs.  Several hours later we needed to determine which trail to continue on.  The Big Carp would be 3 more hours of challenging climbs to the escarpment and end at Lake of the Clouds, while the “Correction Line trail” would end at Mirror Lake (the parks highest lake). We’d met several groups of hikers along the way, (one band, loaded down with pistols on hips and bowie knives strapped to chests….really???) and all reported the bugs were thick at Mirror Lake.  Tired of getting bit, we chose heading uphill instead.

We again found ourselves in beautiful Hemlocks and though the trail steadily tilted upward and the legs felt it, the hike was great. Frequently stopping, just to look and see, this was the best trail we’d been on.  The escarpment high above Lake Superior here is a strenuous climb up to about 1400 feet.  With heavy packs on, it was one-foot-in-front-of-the-other until reaching the top.  In the end, it was well worth it-the views cliff side were breathtaking.  It would be another hour or so until we reached the Lake of the Clouds observation area in the distance. Not quite done with us yet, the trail played cruel jokes on us by descending and re-climbing a few times along the way.  Day hikers, with nary a waterbottle along would fly by, somehow (in our minds) not worthy of this trail.

Muir spoke of places like this as “home” and in some primitive way it is.  No conveniences, no cell calls or texts-no help or aid if something should go wrong.  The late "Dick" Proenneke (Alone in the Wilderness) once stated that you do everything very carefully-a cut or fall could be life threatening-good advice.   We were deliberate to pick good foot placements on wet slippery hills and take our time.  Although our time spent in the backcountry here was limited, it was satisfying to be tested and challenged-not always something that happens in our daily modern life.  This big block of roadless territory is a place we’ll return to for it seems we have unfinished business and more life to live there.

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” -Aldo Leopold

33303 Headquarters Rd.
Recreation Passport Required: Yes
Ontonagon, MI 49953-9087
Approximate Size: 59020 (Acres)
Phone Number: (906) 885-5275