Weekend One: Hoist Lakes
I’ve been trying to make the most of the end of the winter season, by squeezing in as many trips as possible, and trying out gear variations. I spent 3 nights, March 22 – 25, on a solo hike at the Hoist Lakes area in the Huron National Forest. I wanted an opportunity to try out my new Optimus Nova stove in the cold to see how it compared to the alcohol stove I usually carry, as well as my new 20* underground quilt set as a lighter weight winter option, some various VB clothing options, a new set of snow shoes, 3 different pairs of boots, a new aluminum table, and the use of a traditional wood toboggan for my pulk.
The conditions were beautiful; the snow storm that moved through the day on Friday left a thick layer of fresh snow throughout the forest. On the initial hike in from the trail head to South Hoist Lake, the trail had been broken by some ice fishers with a sled, which made for a little easier walk in. Aside from the fishermen the first night, the only other people I encountered the entire weekend were two backpackers on Sunday. I offered a seat at my fire, and they offered a few adult beverages to lighten their packs. We talked about hiking in general, the Huron National Forest area, as well as trips out west. They were very interested in my hammock gear, and camp set up, versus the “normal” tent.
Underground Quilts 20* full length Zeppelin UQ and 20* Flight Jacket TQ, Underground Quilt Winter Dream 12 Tarp with XL 13’ DIY hammock. The extra foam pad was brought to supplement the UQ, but not needed.
After setting up, I built a fire on top of the ice in an existing fire pit. I had to build the fire on top of layer of wood to protect it from the thick ice. In clearing out the pit, I was disappointed to find a large pot with a hole in it, and broken bow saw with blade that previous visitors had left behind.
The weather was very cooperative throughout the trip, ranging from a low of 14*F on Saturday night to a high of 34*F Monday afternoon. The snow stayed dry the entire weekend, and made for fantastic snowshoeing, both on and off the trails. A light snowfall throughout the day on Saturday added to the enjoyment.
Sunrise over Hoist Lake
Also of note, the heavyweight poly base layer, VB, Fleece, Down layers I was comfortable in at 14* on Saturday night turned out to be much too warm at the following night at 26*, and I woke up quite wet Monday morning, resulting in an extended stay by the morning fire to dry my base layer before packing up for the hike out. I am left wondering if it was just the 12* difference in temperature, or if the beverages offered earlier in the evening disrupted my temperature regulation.
Tracks from a deer that came to my site
At the end of the trek, with the benefit of the sled I was able to haul out quite a bit of garbage that others had left behind, including a full sized cooler and a broken chair that I had spotted on a trip here late summer, the pot and bow saw I found in the fire pit at Hoist Lake, a broken ice fishing bucket, and assorted other odds and ends I picked up along the way. All in all, a very enjoyable and peaceful trip.
Weekend Two: Cold Overnight with Young Daughter.
In keeping my promise to my youngest daughter (age 6) that I would take her winter hammocking, we planned an overnight trip March 2-3 at the Bay City State Recreation Area. She is really quite the little princess, but also insists that she is an “outdoor girl”. We arrived at camp just before lunch with temperatures hovering around 24*F, drove around to until we located the toilets, and chose a site within walking distance. We were the only ones in the campground the entire weekend, aside from the Ranger who collected our $16 camp fee on Sunday morning.
I brought the same set up I had used the week before at Hoist Lakes, with the addition of a trunk full of dry firewood and extra clothes for my daughter. After a quick lunch, the first item on the agenda, as determined by my daughter, was following a trail of deer tracks into the woods to see where they went. After the hike, unloading our gear, and setting up our hammock we worked on building a fire.
The firepit was filled with ice, so after shoveling out the snow, and breaking out as much of the ice with a hatchet as possible we laid down some cardboard and sticks, then built the fire on top of the ice. Over the next few hours, I scooped water out of the pit with my coffee cup as the fire worked its way down through the rest of the ice, while she worked on roasting a few marshmallows. We had baked beans and grilled hot dogs over the fire for dinner.
When it was time to retire for the evening, I pulled back tarp at my daughter’s request and she instructed me on the proper way to wish on a star, even selecting the perfect star for me to wish on. After our wishes were done, I re-secured the winter tarp, covered the ridge line with an extra blanket and settled back into the hammock. We spent the next hour or so singing songs by the light of glow sticks, until she decided it was time to sleep.
We slept warmly, but woke to a very chilly 17*F early Sunday morning with the sun rising and the birds chirping. I opened the front of the tarp, split some wood, and built a much needed fire while she stayed watching from the comfort of the hammock. With the fire burning, I turned to the other critical necessity: coffee. While my daughter sat by the fire drinking her hot cocoa, I washed the dirt, leaves and ashes out of my coffee cup, and enjoyed a large cup of strong brew. The ranger showed up at about this time to collect our camping fee, and said we were “brave” to be out, though I’m pretty sure she was thinking more along the lines of crazy. After settling up, I then prepared a filling breakfast of sausage patties, bacon, and fried eggs. At this point, the cold was starting to seep through my daughter’s boots, so I replaced her boots with the liners from my mukluks, which came up to about mid-thigh on her, while I started cleaning up and started repacking our gear.
I drove the car back up to the site, and had her enjoy a little heat and music inside, while I broke camp and loaded everything into car. She insisted on being the one to put out the fire, so I supervised her spreading out the coals, setting on hard blocks of snow she had previously carved and set near the fire pit, then sprinkling the entire pit with water from a jug until it was completely out. With the fire out, and warmed from the car, she decided it was time for a hike. I re-parked the car and we set out along one of the trails, eventually circling the entire campground. Along the way, she took over camera duty, and took photographs as we walked, selecting places for me to pose.
After finishing our hike around the campgrounds, we drove across to the state park visitor’s center, and hiked one of the nature trails past the lagoon and down to the beach. We took a couple of quick photographs standing out on the bay, and then headed back into the woods and out of the wind. We completed the loop around the lagoon, and headed back to the car.
Snowman on the Lagoon.
After some lunch, she was tired and cold, but not yet ready to be done with her special time. So, we finished our trip by stopping at the mall for a little window shopping and to catch a late afternoon movie before heading home for dinner.
Weekend Three: To be continued…
Next weekend, I’ll be meeting up with some other HF members to hike the North Country Trail/Manistee River Trail Loop.