03
Aug
17

Into the Big Wild

For years I’ve dreamed of loading a backpack and wandering off into the wilderness to experience nature for more than just a day hike followed by a night of car camping.  An excessive number of hobbies won out and backpacking was kicked to the back burner.  Until now!  At the end of last year, I started thinking about how wild it would be to do a Rim to Rim backing trip in the Grand Canyon.  In December, my first real backpacking pack was on its way, an Osprey Aura AG 50.

Fast forward to the end of June, I had a few days off after the 4th of July holiday and was planning on hiking the Shingle Mill Pathway in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in the Lower Peninsula’s northeast section.  Home to the state’s only elk herd (along with many other of Michigan’s native flora and fauna) and the largest section of contiguous state land ownership in Michigan, it is a quiet retreat from the madness of city life.  I couldn’t wait to set foot in what forester and conservationist, P.S. Lovejoy coined the ‘Big Wild’ and decided to experience it properly, I needed to spend a night and walk the trails with a loaded pack on my back.

Lovejoy Monument – Pigeon River Country State Forest

Mira and I left AuGres (my parents’ house) in the morning for the short drive to the Pigeon River Country State Forest.  Driving east out of Vanderbilt I saw my first brown and white DNR sign indicating I was near, excitement mixed with a touch of anxiety welled up as I pulled into the parking area across from the Pigeon River Bridge Campground.

Over the winter I had read about the proper way to pack a backpack and practiced several times at home prior to leaving, my pack weight upon leaving the lot was 29 pounds with food and water (including Mira’s food).  Mira’s Ruffwear Singletrack pack was loaded with her Ruffwear boots, her food and water dishes and our Thermacell.  She was ridiculously happy to be tackling another adventure with me.  After snapping a few photos we proceeded to take our first steps of our backpacking adventure.

Time lapse of packing, realizing I forgot to load my hydration bladder, unpacking and then repacking :-)​​  **upside down until you hit play

Trying to get a nice photo at the start of our journey – Mira had other ideas 😂


Time to start!


While planning, I decided that I wanted to do the loop clockwise (no particular reason, my brain just likes clockwise).  Plans were quickly squashed when I failed to realize the loops “end” didn’t have a common point near the campground.  I continued on counterclockwise, toward the Pigeon River Country Headquarters and the next campground.

A few miles in, it became apparent that my pack was very ill-adjusted.  My butt hurt, my legs were uncomfortable and I had the sensation that the top of the pack was forcing my head forward, chin to chest.  Instead of stopping and attempting to fix it like a sane human, I continued forward, completely uncomfortable.  We only saw one couple and their young Brittany in the stretch from Pigeon River Bridge to the Headquarters, stopping for a minute to chat about dogs and bird hunting.  The forest’s solitude was proving to be blissful!  We made a quick stop at the headquarters building to read the pamphlets posted outside about bears, elk and fishing before heading toward the campground for a break.

Forest Headquarters


The Pigeon River State Forest Campground, while a nice little rustic campground, was definitely a stark contrast to quiet of the trail.  Families cooking on grills and bathing suit clad campers carrying inflated tubes were all bustling around, enjoying the nice (hot) weather and the cool water.  One such family stopped me to talk, they had a young Aussie at home.  They were curious about Mira’s pack and decided that their energetic four-legged family member should start carrying their own trail goodies.  I made a couple of stops at the river to let Mira wade in, get a drink and cool her paws before heading on.  We reached the 6 mile split and kept heading heading north through the pines toward the 10 mile split where we would head west to check out one of the area’s sinkhole lakes before making camp for the night

6 Mile Split

Photos of clear turquoise waters with downed logs drew my attention while browsing the internet during the planning phase of this trip, Section 4 Lake looked like a place I would need to stop and wet a line.  The lake which used to be off limits to fishing due to research purposes (these sinkhole lakes with no streams entering or exiting were perfect for studying) was now open to fishing during trout season for anglers using artificial means only.  Thoughts of catching a jewel colored Brook Trout from this stunning water made me pack my 6 piece fly rod and a small stash of flies.

After taking a steep, marked trail down to the lake, I tethered Mira in the shade and took my increasingly uncomfortable pack off to access my fishing gear.  The tree lined shores made fly fishing a tough prospect and while I saw fish rising in the middle and gave it a serious go, I ended up skunked.  Float tubes are allowed in Section 4, which would be an excellent way to better fish this body of water.  Begrudgingly, I stashed my fishing gear and wrestled on my pack (I was getting better at it, but it was still a feat) and started the final push to the night’s camping spot, the south end of Grass Lake.

Fishing at Section 4



I found the dispersed sites easily upon arrival and chose one further away from the trail with plenty of well spaced trees and access to water for Mira.  Finally, I could crack one of the beers I hauled in to celebrate our first successful day of backpacking!  After finding the two perfect trees, I strung the hammock and rain fly and laid a ground sheet under it on which Mira promptly crashed.  Dinner for the evening was courtesy of Mountain House, my favorite, Beef Stroganoff.  Dinner finished and Mira fed, I set about hanging a bear bag for the first time.  I’m sure it would have been hilarious for anyone watching and after many tries I was finally successful.

Mira, one beer in and crashed…lightweight 😜


Dinner time for Mira and me


In the hammock, Mira on top of me (it was 80 degrees out, perfect furry dog cuddling weather), I read until my eyes would no longer stay open.  The haunting sounds of the lake’s resident loon, the chorus of bullfrogs and the incessant buzz of blood sucking mosquitos lulled me into a deep sleep.

Hammock time with my little trail buddy 😊


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