It has been awhile since my last posting. What can I say, I hope that I didn't leave anybody hanging about my trip to Manistee NF in MI.
- Experienced camper, but first winter camping trip
- First hang ever
- Primitive Camping in MI
- Expected Low Temp 6F
The plans were set late last year and we had a couple months of planning before we ventured out on January 21, 2011. I would be camping along with my two good friends from College, Mike and Ryan. Oh, I couldn't forget Mike's husky-mutt, Cody. Mike and I driving from Chicago, and Ryan from Upper IN. While the weather in Chicago at the time was pretty mild, cold, but mild.. By the time that we met Ryan at our designated gas station in route, I knew that we were in for more than we'd bargained for.
We met at a small gas station about 3-4 miles from the NF park road we'd planned on taking to the site. We got in, threw on an extra few layers, some gaiters, and used the last toilet we'd see in a couple days. As we were packing up our gear a local sheriff pulled up to see what we were up to. (Picture 3 guys and a dog changing in a small town gas station parking lot during the start of a fairly heavy snow fall.) We explained what we were doing, and the precautions taken. He made sure that somebody would know where we are and that we were safe. He seemed satisfied that we weren't totally insane and left us to take on our adventure.
Once we were packed up again we headed off onto the trail. The snow was coming down pretty hard now. I kept track of the snow depth during the course of my trip from Chicago, we started in Chicago with <1" and ended around 12-14" in the local area around the gas station. We were driving in my 07' MDX and Ryan in his Chevy Trailblazer (year?). I had a bad feeling about the snow depth, boy I had no clue what we were getting into...
Now, we had enjoyed this camping site last fall, with rabbit hunting and steelhead fishing just a short walk away, we'd planned thoroughly our morning/afternoon/evening schedule to hit the best fishing and hunting. We had backup food and water, everything we could possibly need for such a trip. My hammock setup and camp layout was planned in multiple sketches weeks ahead so we wouldn't waste time setting up our shelters. But the last thing I thought of, the last thing we had all thought of, is how hard it might be to just reach our site...
As we pulled off the last country road, snow had accumulated up to around 1" over the time we spent at the gas station. We followed our topo maps and GPS to the T-intersection where we would depart the country snow-kept road and move to the un-plowed back roads of Manistee.
I'd like to say that we shot right back to our site (approx. 2 mi down the back road). I'd like to say that the snow wasn't too deep. But I'd be lying...
My MDX made it about 15' down the deep 14" deep snow powdered road before we got stuck the first time. Ryan's trailblazer proved itself to handle the snow much better and pulled around my car as Mike and I got out to assess the situation. It was pretty clear that this wasn't going to be the 10-20min drive we'd anticipated.
Being the son of my stubborn father, I've managed to hold some of those genetics. While my girlfriend was chiming in my head, "turn around you moron, this is dumb", we pushed on and on, desperate to reach our site and accomplish our challenge. We MUST finish this journey and set-up camp tonight we said...
As the night grew on, we had now been pushing and digging my car and Ryan's trailblazer, which managed to get stuck a few times as well, deeper into the forest. It was now around 3am. We had been pushing our cars through this snowy hell for the past 3.5 hours.
The routine had grown into ritual. Drive, tires spinning and car tail-whipping, for about 15-30', then stop and dig out to get moving again. Ryan's car pushed further, we kept checking the GPS to determine our distance to camp, but what seemed so close, was still so far.
Now, during the course of all this madness, the snow hadn't let up. In fact, it was only growing stronger. Feeling inclined, I turned my walkie we'd been using to communicate to the weather broadcast. As I did this Mike and Ryan had gotten far enough to be able to start hauling gear to our camp site.
We'd almost made it.
As I scanned to the weather channel and listened to the report, I had a tough decision to make. The report called for a winter storm warning that will start in approx 2 hrs and dump another 4-6" of snow on top of what we are already dealing with over the course of Saturday afternoon. The storm is called to stop around 4:30pm Saturday with snow continuing until late Saturday night.
We'd sweated, we'd fought, we'd froze to get this far. It was with a heavy breath that I notified Mike and Ryan that we had to get out now. With another 4-6" of snow and at the current snowfall rate, there was no way that we would get my car, and possibly not Ryan's out of the forest.
The boys agreed, we knew it was the right thing to do, but we all were hurt inside. We hadn't gotten to our site, the trip hadn't been achieved.
Now came the hard part. Getting out of the forest before my car was in too deep. With new lights coming on (overheating tranny fluid), lowered tire pressure, and shifted weight to the other car we set back to town. The fight to get back was exhausting. We were all tired, hadn't eaten anything, and were growing restless. Below, you can see a photo of my car on our way back to town. This was shot around 7:30am. We got to watch the sun come up and hadn't even gotten to camp.
Running time: 8 hrs moving cars through the woods.
As we left the woods, we'd developed new methods of moving the cars. We'd used biners and web as tow ropes, we'd used my plastic disc sleds as shovels. Its amazing where you can find solutions when you clear your mind of the frustration clogging it...
Finally, at 8:30am Saturday the 22nd, we made it to the exit of the back road, a mere 9 hours of struggle later. The road we had started on now was covered with a blanket of 7" of fresh snow that had developed while we were on our journey through the woods. Hootin' and hollerin' we celebrated our victory over the winter storm as we headed back to town. We all had pancakes and home-cooked breakfast on our mind. Calories and meat...bring it.
Our celebration was halted quickly with a radio call from Ryan. "Guys, I'm stuck...bad." He had lost control following my car due to the snow flying up behind me and ended up in a ditch. This ditch was deep, "...we weren't going to be able to push him out of this one", he said. With a heavy sigh I placed my car in reverse to assess the situation. Ryan was about a 1/4mi behind me so I just left it in reverse to get back to him. Bad choice.
Quickly my car lost front traction and I slid off into a ditch adjacent to Ryan's. We were both stuck. Again.
I suppose it was karma or something magical that produced the local kid with his pick-up truck with snow-plow. Within 20 min of fallin into the ditch we were saved. He had tow-ropes...on what a beautiful thing, tow ropes. I would have bought some for hundreds of dollars the nights before...
20 min later, we were in town, starving and cramming pancakes and breakfast meats into our gullets. Our waitress looked at us like we were nuts, and probably thought so since we'd all apparently lost the ability to talk and would just communicate with muffled grumbles and slurring. I guess we were pretty tired?
Discouraged, but not giving up, we took our TOPO map back out and found a location closer to town that we would be able to park and haul our gear to. We were committed to spend a night (asleep and at camp) outside in this weather. With our adrenaline flowing and intense exercise the day before, we hadn't had the chance to relax and enjoy the camping experience we were longing for.
After getting our belly's full to the max and enjoying the local facilities we gassed back up and headed to our new site.
Despite not being our typical location of solitude, (this new site was nearby screaming snow-mobiles and barking dogs outside of some nearby homes), we were happy to find something that would work for a site.
Hitting another stroke of luck, another local MI'er was kind enough to use his massive Ford F-whatever to push us out a nice couple of parking spots off the main road so our cars were out of snow-mobile traffic.
We FINALLY had our site, we FINALLY had our peace. I've attached photos of the site below. The snow around the site was anywhere from 15-20" deep in areas. Temps were in the teens during the day. Ryan and Mike opted for the shelter floor with their thermal sleeping bags and I trialed my ENO Doublenest with my 0 Deg. Marmot bag sleeping above them. (Theory being that their rising body heat would help keep me even warmer at the top of our shelter.)
We built up a fire after prepping some wood and were all passed out by 9:30pm. Not exactly a late night, but com'on we hadn't slept in over 24 hrs.
I did great, slept like a baby...until about 5:30am. The tarp over the shelter had slipped down and exposed my feet at the end of my hammock. After about 30 min of throwing some more hand warmers down into my bag I knew it was time to get warm quickly. My body had begun to shake uncontrollably and the cold had begun to reach my waist. I spun out of the hammock doing my best not to land on my two buddies still fast asleep below me and walked through the deep snow to my car. Fired up the engine and blasted my shaking cold body with the hottest setting she would go. Heat set in and I warmed up within 20-30 min. Yeah, I wimped out after 8hrs in the hammock over-night. At the time, and still til today, I don't care. I had accomplished something pretty amazing. We had built our own shelter, no manufactured tents. (Well, Cody did have his tent, see below - jerk slept better than anybody I think...). We had slept in conditions that could kill, and we did it with a degree of comfort. Lessons were learned, memories were made, and we all awoke that Sunday morning a bit wiser.
Sunday proved to be the camping day we had all been waiting for. The fire was made, I made some amazing turkey stuffing with instant potatoes, and we defrosted our PBR over the fire. (photo below)
The evening had begun to set in as we packed up camp. Looking forward to getting home to our wives and girlfriends we split ways and headed out. Mike and I had one last obstacle on the route home...picture below. Apparently my car had developed a bit of ice in the wheels and suspension. 45min of chipping and 3 car washes later, we were finally on our way home.
Home. Sweet. Home.
Temperature when reaching my car at 5:30am: -4F.
I'm not sure how you gals and fellas will take this story of mine. To this day I don't have any regrets. We had blindly done what we had set out to do. We had fought our way through a challenge that could baffle and overcome others. In that, we had also further strengthened the love and trust in our friendships. There is no kidding around when your lives are in danger, and there will always be a warm fire at the end with a cold beer to help laugh through the struggles prior.
I hope you all have a great, safe, and fun 2011.