First of all, after being on the forums since Fall, Iíve finally upgraded to donating member. Itís the least I could do after winning lymphocytosis free giveaway for a ridgeline organizer. Support the forum...10 bucks is a deal for all this information.
I went down to Zaleski State Forest last weekend for 3 days after reading about it in the forums. Originally I planned on doing a 40 mile stretch on the NCT in Michiganís UP, but the snow is still deep and my buddies and I wanted to go south and finally enjoy some spring weather. We headed out at 4:30 AM on Friday, April 4th and rolled into the park around 10. Weather was perfect and in the 50ís. Our plan was to spend 3 days doing the loop counterclockwise, with our first to be spent at Camp H. Once we found the trailhead at P (and after a few false starts) we weíre on the trail by 11. I knew it would be hilly. This was our first trip of the year and it took a little while to get our hiking legs back. Who am I kiddingÖIím still feeling it 5 days later. Either way, the views and trail were great, the skies clear and the fellowship was first class. 9 miles and 4 hours or so of walking we arrived at Camp H and found that we had the whole place to ourselves. We got set up at our site and I found a pair of trees that were perfect on the edge of the site. My buddy got his tent set up and his son used my extra hammock and Kelty 12 to try out hanging.
This was my first real hang (not counting the backyard) of the year using my Eno single, KAQ New River 30 and the Trail Haven 11 sil tarp from Simply Light Designs (full review coming soon). Everything performed flawlessly, with temps into the 30ís for the night. We had some beef stew with corn and mashed potatoes, hot apple cobbler (didnít use the directions on the bag and just added hot water to the whole messÖwasnít bad at all), After an evening around the campfire, with a few adult beverages, we all turned in and ended our first day on the trail on a high note!
We were up and moving around 7 and had a fire going to warm up. A couple Starbucks Via and some MH breaffast skillet fed our minds and bodies. Our plan was to do the north loop as a day hike and leave the gear in camp. We headed out by 10 and by the time we got to K, we decided to take the short cut and road walk to J to get back to camp. We knew we had a big day ahead, so by 12 we got back to camp and hit the trail by 1. Saturday turned out to be a long day, between the trail reroutes and some confusion as to where the actual trail was at some of the intersections. One of the reroutes in particular was horrible. Going down was unsafe and Iím sure anyone trying to come up would have felt the same. In fact, people weíre waiting at the bottom for people to come down, because having both negotiate it would be difficult. We met quite a few backpackers and a large scout troop prior to arriving at Camp D. Total miles for the day was 11 and we could really feel it on that long uphill to the camp.
My buddyís son had been having ankle problems, so I moved on ahead to secure a spot. Around 4 we rolled in and set up along the main trail past the first group site that was filled with Boy Scouts. We found a spot for his tent and hammock, then I set up a little bit down the hill overlooking the valley. During my setup, 4 of the Boy Scout leaders came over to check out my gear, since they were thinking of going the hammock route for the troop. They had a good comparison between the 2 setups that I brought and the difference in costs involved with the various gear. They also were aware of Hammockforums and the various sources of gear. I have a feeling theyíll be getting off the ground soon. After a long day, we had dinner, dessert and a few more adult beverages. It had been in the 60ís all day and was pretty warm when I turned in at 9:00. By midnight, I was sweating with my UQ and REI 20 degree down bag, so I did some venting and felt great. The night before the temp was perfect, but being in the 50ís was just too warm for the down.
I woke up around 6 and enjoyed the sounds of the woods and was ready for our last day on the trail. We fired up the jetboil for some coffee, oatmeal, and prepacked bacon cooked in a small aluminum bread pan. Ah, something like the smell of bacon in the woods. My buddyís sonís ankle was still bothering him, even after one of the Boy Scout leaders (also an EMT) wrapped it up, so they decided to backtrack to E and roadwalk back to the trailhead. They encouraged me to go on without them and complete the loop. Who knows when or if Iíll ever get back down to Zaleski, so at 9 AM we parted ways and I headed down the south loop. Thereís something about hiking alone that I really enjoy. Maybe itís the solitude and being more aware of your surrounding. Your mind wanders and it affects my spirit. 3 hours and 7.2 miles later, I arrived at the parking lot, loaded up and hit the road for the 5 hour drive back to Michigan. We did have to take a short break and stop for some BBQ south of Columbus.
All in all, it was a great trip. We enjoyed the scenery and the challenging trails. Most importantly, we got to spend a long weekend and experience a new place to backpack.
Link to photos from the trip: