Great Lakes Hikes 2001 NCTA School House Gathering

November 10, South Branch Road to Big Star Lake Road NCT Hike | 16 Mile Road to Big Star Lake Road NCT Hike

GLH Gathering, November 10, 2001. South Branch Road to Big Star Lake Road NCT Hike

North Country Trail near Pere Marquette to Big Star Lake Road (Mi. 76 I think). Paul had said this was about a 10 mile jaunt though by the time the hike was over I was convinced it was in the 12 to 13 mile range (learned later, from second hand sources, that Paul deliberately fudged the numbers). We arrived at the trailhead just before 11:00 on a mostly sunny morning with temperatures perhaps in the low 50s - great hiking weather.

Before we began the hike cars were shuttled down to the southern end of the hike. While that was being done the bulk of the rest of us took a brief stroll north along the North Country Trail (NCT) to the first road crossing (I've no idea how far maybe 0.5 miles, anyone know for sure) to stretch our legs. That little jaunt took us over a narrow wooden bridge that spanned a small dark stream. It was a nice little trek over a couple hills.

The hike would take us over rolling hills throughout its length. Those hills seem to be populated with plenty of white and red pine. There are also hemlocks, oak, maple, and (I'm told) birch. Of course, the deciduous trees have all lost their leaves now. Once in a great while you would spy a tree that had a few leaves left on it that had turned deep brown, but even those leaves were just hanging on waiting for that one great breeze to tear them off the tree limbs.

I think we most have come to one of the higher points in the lower peninsula on this hike. Well, perhaps not a real high point but the stroll up to a ridge line probably resulted in a gain of a hundred or so feet (anyone know). At the top of that ridge we stopped for our first snacks. We were able to look out upon the lowlands stretching out into the distance. It is too bad we could not see the Pere Marquette river.

As the group hiked it slowly split into a few distinct parts. I found myself travelling with the group that tended to dawdle more. Of course, on this hike even that meant we were travelling a bit over 2.)MPH since I believe we finished the hike in about six hours. Our groups took time to take a variety of pictures along the way. For example, early on Eric saw a neat little tree stump that proved to be exceedingly photogenic.

As we moved along the trail the forests slowly changed. As we entered stands of white and red pine I found myself hiking with George. There was a small group of people behind us sweeping the trail for anything people might drop (a water bottle, a hiking stick forgotten). Not long after we entered the evergreen stand (I'm pretty sure it was before the little lake to the west of the trail - is that Bowman Lake? - where I took some pictures, but it was certainly nearby) we found ourselves at a road intersection where some cars were parked and "no trespassing" signs could be seen, but no blazes. We realized we had not seen a blue blaze in quite some time. It was time to backtrack to find a blaze and the trail again. Of we went. We found the hard left (heading north) that the trail does take and were back on the proper path. That intersection could use a better marker - a double blaze - to prevent people from making that little mistake. I think we lost 20 or so minutes. We caught up to the rest of the group a little later at a lunch spot

We stopped for lunch around 14:00. We were just south of a road crossing I believe and the spot was a great one for lazing around watching the clouds that had been becoming a bit more numerous slowly drift by. I think we were about halfway done by this time. Temperatures had risen to about 60 degrees and the day had truly become quite fine. The only sounds around us were the sounds we made ourselves. I did not notice any real bird noise or the rustling of small animals through the leaves. I suppose everything is getting ready to bed down, move south, or just plain relax, as winter closes in. We did the same at our lunch spot.

Our little group including Eric, Nancy, and myself (I hope I did not leave anyone out) were the last to leave the lunch spot. We just were not in any real rush. I think that the highlight of the after-lunch hike had to be the slightly marshy area through a hemlock stand. But, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. We wandered through the rolling hills as the clouds slowly took dominion of the sky. The light changed and the temperature dropped and now and then a great view would present itself whether it was looking across a valley or spy a pine brilliantly lit from the western sun low in the sky.

The hemlock grove though was among the best parts of the hike. Like hemlock groves elsewhere this one was quite dark compared to the countryside surrounding it. Eric saw a truly spectacular stump about 30 feet off the trail to our left and we squished across the soggy ground to it. This stump, from a distance it looks like three stumps, was massive and eerie. If the tree were still present I am sure it would have been a sight to behold. If the stump had a covering it would make a great shelter for a small creature from rain and wind.

Not long after leaving the hemlock grove we found Sharon and a fellow whose name I don't recall coming the other way. The Beldon (?) search and rescue team they said. They really were just out having arrived late and were coming out to meet us. Others had arrived at the trailhead already. We walked with them through the last bit of the trail. That last bit included waling along a corridor between two pieces of private properly. We found a balanced rock on one fence post. Someone must have been rather bored to spend the time getting that rock balanced just right. Sadly, it was dislodged by Eric and it fell on the private land side of the fence. Since, as we later learned, Paul was the person to balance the rock in the first place it might be quite some time before it regains its perch again.

This was a lovely hike.

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