Breaking Through

I mostly travel went without incident. Something that should perhaps be surprising, given how many icy tree bridges I balance beam across. (This didn’t fail me until near Donner Pass, CA actually. So I call that a win.) However my worst accident of the North Country Trail came while travelling on what I assume is regularly an (unmaintained?) jeep trail, or perhaps snowmobile route, I broke through ice, into a stream that had covertly washed out part of the road. Luckily landing only about thigh to waist deep in water, but getting pretty wet up to my stomach or chest. The kicker being that it happened while snowshoeing. Which proves exceptionally unwieldy in deep and rushing water. This delayed my escape to dry snow, so I couldn’t  waste any time, and decided to press on for the day. Fueling myself with the necessity of a far away ration, and the possibility of inadequate food stores. A hint of warmth returned to my legs before nightfall, but a sense of existential cold lingered for a few days, settling in my extremeties. I camped near a stream, off a back road, where I was happily able to maintain immediate self sufficiency. Streams seem to have a moderating effect on the surrounding tempuratures; or atleast I have convicinced myself as such, which within limits may even be more important. I get by on positing minor factors that may be aiding me in the face of obvious detrimental factors more often than I’d care to admit.

edge of the porkies

I had been receiving the occasional warning about a long unmaintained section of trail in the second half of the UP; which I  seemed to navigate deftly as I am not wholly sure where exactly it was… although there were many sections that were slowed by white-out, such that blazed painted on trees aren’t visible at a useful distance. Durring where I thought it had been I was able to find blazes semi regularly or otherwise follow what seemed like an established path. Although quite a few little stream crossings required a bit of walking up or down stream seeking a suitable fallen tree to improvise myself a bridge with. The Porkies, whom I had been hyped up for, did not quite live up to the hype; though it may have been due to them missing such excitement as taking an unexpected swim, or just being foggy my whole visit. I was pleasantly surpised to find they had backcountry huts, then dissapointed to find them lock, then rode the rollercoaster of trail emotion back up when their privies were unlocked! Leaving the Porkies, signs signs of civilization became increasingly recent, until I was in small state parks, and with a long final thaw began the long roadwalk out of MI after 1150 or so miles. Making it the longest state at the time; only to be beaten later by CA, which would end up exceeding 1800 miles.

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Architecture v2: Unaccompanied Miner’s Equipment

Second to last stop before catching the PCT. Camped out in an abandoned miner’s cabin, thatvhas since been refurbished for recreational use. The Map said it was a Tungsten Mine, and being on the side of Wolframite Mountain seems appropriate. There was quite a spread of old heavy machinery strewn about, I spent a couple hours photographing, and didn’t even check it all out! Deserves another trip honestly.

Eby’s Stamp Mill, across the river from Belden, CA and just along the roadside. Used to Process Gold from ore, now its mostly a nice place to have a roadside picnic. Complete with privy.

A saw measured for cutting square-set timbers, for the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, NV. I got to take a short side trip out there from South Lake Tahoe with one of the women who was also staying at the hostel there.

Saline Valley Salt Tram Crossover Station. This used to be the top of a system of Gondolas that could transport people and salt from Saline Valley (just west of Death Valley proper, and inside the National Park) to the Owens Valley, and thus the rest of California. In the brief research I did for this I feel like I should’ve poked around a bit more, I was in quite a hurry to badwater though. Will return here aswell.

Spring comes and goes on the South Shore

Freezes and thaws continued to define my way thru MI’s Upper Peninsula. Spring was trying its hardest, its success was somewhat limited to a near permanent overcast cloud cover, and the occasional flooded trail section. The swings between quality of trail maintenance in the UP is immense; from blazes marked on seemingly alternating trees, to unmarked sections where  I could never be quite sure I had just begun cross country travel. I certainly spent more milage of the UP moving cross country, sans trail, than any other bit the trip I have thus far. Both routing around flooded sections, finding stable ice or tree bridges for flooding creek crossings, or just having lost trail.

Hitting the beaches of Superior was one of my NCT high points. The massive lake really moderated the temperature nearby, and gave me my first clean view to the horizon since the endless farmlands of OH. The whole of the NCT as it keeps to Lake Superior’s perimeter is worth the hike in lieu of committing to a full thru-hike attempt. (Mile for mile it’d maybe be most rewarding to do Ely, MN to Lowell, MI)

In Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I met my first backpacker on trail for the year. It was still a pretty isolated event, the next wouldn’t be for a month, till I had made it onto the Superior Hiking Trail in MN. Heading westward thru the UP also heralded a return of shelters, with some pretty interesting ones tucked about the woods. (Pictures of these may come later, as I seem to have about a month long gap in pictures onboard. Hopefully I backed them up at some point.) from the locked shelters in the Porcupine Mountains, to sitting alongside abandoned (historical) Old Victoria. Some must’ve been built recently, or atleast repaired, as they were permeated with the smell of fresh cut wood. A nice thing in the moment, but frequently serving to return my own smell to my consciousness upon my exit.

Gear Spawls v3: Unsprawled in Shelters (because thats rude.)

This week comes with some extra pictures, since I messed up last weeks post.

Benson Hut, just a little south of Donner Pass on the PCT. The shelters out west don’t get the love they do on the AT, but they are generally super nice. Combining unique construction and eclectic feature sets, I dunno why most thru-hikers out here aren’t super pysched on them…

A little old gem in the Pasayten Wilderness, I didn’t end up staying here, but despite the disrepair I could see myself doing so. Its got bunks, a dirt floor, and a tree on the roof, what’s not to like? Elmo was still keeping up with me fer this one, but the PCT and TK were almost in sight and I was getting a little over-excited to do high mileage.

Not the shelter I stayed at, but Lakenenland had a little adirondack shelter out back, complete with cots, a table, and full window exterior doors. This little picnic shelter makes a better picture what with the sculpture an all. Also I don’t seem to have a picture of the actual shelter…

A Winter of Fits and Starts

Note: This was supposed to go up last week, but I accidentally didn’t set it to publish before leaving town to hike to Badwater Basin. 

Michigan seems to be the heart of the NCT, the NCTA is headquartered there, and I had near constant contact with trail volunteers for much of the state. It should be noted however that I wasn’t in touch at all throughout OH, PA, or NY, so its hardly a complete sample. The first bit of real harsh winter was mostly mitigated by them, although slack packing daylight hours in winter does cut the mileage just by virtue of not holding myself to 13+ hours a day of trudging. One of my longer stays was with my Aunt Kim, who breeds puppies on the side. She mostly deals with smaller breeds, but she has an enormous dog named Bao, that I spent a couple zeros debating… physically. I somehow don’t have many pictures from this period of my trip, probably due to cold, photographic apathy, negligence, or having written off this blog as untenable. So while this is still the Internet, I have to withhold animal photos. (Sorry)

The thaw is often worse than the freeze, and such was the case, many times on the NCT. Leading up to crossing Mighty Mac we had a pretty good thaw, enough that I thought winter might be over and I would have to zip thru to ND quickly if I wanted to avoid the mosquitos of the north woods. Mostly it lead to me charging across breaking ice in wilderness state park over a flooded section of trail. Not the main route, I took a slightly more southern route thru the park to try and check out their shelter. Didn’t find it, got wet up to my thighs anyways. I’ll call that a win for adventure, and a loss for me. It could’ve been a lot worse though, in almost typical MI fashion I was spontaneously rescued by a trail volunteer’s walking partner. (Thanks Nancy, that one would’ve been terrible for a week.) 

Also around this time, I had my second birthday on trail. It was much nicer than the first, In which I spent a cold day, hiking up a steep hill to a clouded out fire tower, while being pretty sick, but that is no longer either here nor there. This one was spent with Yorkshire Pudding and people who have a suspiciously similar last name to mine. (Thanks Bob and Patti!)

Boots on the Ground v2: Boots on the Snow

From the top of Mt. Wynne, only a few days ago. You can see Pinchot pass is pretty clear, but unfortunately the trail is enough of a rut that it has protected the snow, leading me to still be snowshoeing on about 4 to 6 inches of snow, when about half the surrounding ground is clear… that horizontal line of snow on the left about in the middle is the trail down.

A sign atop Donahue Pass on the south border of Yosemite NP, I don’t know how tall it is, but looking back to that last significant snowfall we’ve gotten a lot of melting don in the past couple weeks.

Right around shasta we got a little bit of snow, just enough to make climbing Shasta inadvisable. but in the following days I found quite a few tracks thru the remaining snow. this one seems to have stuck around a ways after the snow it was made in melted away. Such is the power of dirt.

Here’s my pruned foot, neither in a boot nor on snow.

Near Crater Lake I got my first snow of the PCT, and did a fair chunk of trudging. This was the second day of constant wet feet, and it shows a bit. Got to stop in at South Brown Mountain Shelter, build a fire and dry out. Some  of those divots didn’t really go away with the wetness though.

A Return, Greeted by Winter Haze

Returning to trail after an extended holiday stay at home, I found that I had skipped what would’ve been the easiest portion of winter, as temps were still barely holding below freezing. western OH is mostly follows an old canal line, occaisionally with bike path routed on it. this makes for excellent stealth camping as few bike through even the light snow. I passed through Dayton, an inadequately stealth camped, and thus was woken up and evicted. It happened without much trouble or fanfare, but I’ve become a little more cautious as a result, next time may not be so easy. Little in the way of running ground water was left, and I found myself melting snow for water each night and again each morning. This practice, while simple enough is incredibly fuel intensive, leading me to run dry near Defiance. I was able to reach out to the NCTA and the Buckeye trail Association for some assistance and was greatly helped by Anita, Clark, Greg, and Joe in finding an extra fuel cannister. Getting in touch successfully this time lead me to a series of trail angels, whom would pass word of me forward, leading to many, many, more homestays than I anticipated. I probably could have avoided camping entirely if I had wished, finding ways to slack pack instead. I think I ended up spending about four in ten nights inside, throughout northwest OH and most of MI.

Overall this Section had only a few notable mishaps, including accidentally opening up my waterbag inside my sleepingbag on one of the colder nights. This lead to much discomfort, and quite a few crunches as I tried to use body heat to dry my various down garments. Overall the next day was sunny which helped me warm up, although the nightly ramifications lasted for several days. This would be my second worst accident of the season. 

Aside from being aided by Trail volunteers (of whom there are too many to thank individually, without specifically making this post about it) it was not uncommon for me to be offered a homestay when I would stop into a cafe or bar seeking some water I didn’t have to melt. One such encounter that was particularly interesting; I was passed by a man and child in a car, walking on a minor country road, north of Lowell MI. They stopped, and backed up; asking what I was up to. After a short explaination he offered to let me stay in a home he was nearly finished remodeling with the intention to flip it soon. I took him up, and once I had found my way to the home he asked if I liked pizza. (what kindof question is that?!) Leaving me there, I did my evening chores and slept in the empty living room, only to be awoken by the man who now bore Pizza and beer! Turns out, in addition to flipping houses he owns a pizzeria in Lowell. I spent a couple days in town as I passed thru Lowell, I was able to cover a bunch of gear maintenance, cleaning some mold off my sleeping pad, drying out my sleeping bag, and getting my pack swapped out on warranty from the nearest outfitter. Semi-relevant as I recently replaced that pack some 5000 miles later, and some minor patching of my tent.