Great Lakes Hikes 2004 NCTA School House Gathering

November 13, Big Star Lake Road to North Nichols Lake Road | November 14, 40th Street to Centerline Road (Echo Drive)

GLH Gathering, November 13, 2004 - Big Star Lake Road to North Nichols Lake Road

The night is cold and clear. There are innumerable stars visible but, sadly, the Northern Lights are not visibly active tonight and I suspect this session of aurora displays is very much on the wane so w probably will not see them even though the sky conditions are perfect. There are about twenty of us here at the White Cloud Schoolhouse for the 2004 GLH Gathering. Most of us managed to arrive between 5and 6pm and we have enjoyed our first dinner together at Caper's and the camaraderie of a campfire already. Tomorrow, really later today, the real fun will begin. Right now I am going to crawl under my Virga Tarptent and catch some sleep.

Like hikers and outdoors-people everywhere most of us got up and moving pretty much at first light. This year I think the percentage of people who slept outside was higher than usual. Even the newest member of our group slept outside: Abigail (Abbey), Julie and Paul's (Siler) daughter of some 6and half months of age. Some people arrived for the day and potluck while we were all making do with our simple breakfasts (thanks to Joy for the hard boiled eggs. I think that's a Gathering first). They included Eric, Amy, and their new Airedale dog Walker. By the time everyone was here I think we had a group of about twenty people.

The plan for the day was to have 2 options for hiking: a shorter and longer one both on the same trail. We would start at Big Star Lake Road and hike 8 miles to 16 Mile Road while the long hike would continue another five and a half or so miles to Nichols Lake North Road. We got sorted out, into cars, and carpooled our way to the start of the overall hike arriving at about 10:30am on what had turned into a crisp, brilliantly blue and clear late autumn morning.

We broke up into more manageable groups to avoid stepping on each other's toes and I found myself in the middle group which included: Eric, Amy, Walker, John, Claudine, and a couple others. The first and fast group included Matt and Dave and other speed demons like Dennis. While the trailing group included Siler, Andy, Elwira, Julie, Joy, Amy, Abbey, and several others I am no doubt forgetting.

The trail winds through rolling hills covered in naked trees and occasional pine plantations. The trail is often hard to spot as it wiggles, serpentine-like around property boundaries. As I sit here writing this I really cannot tell you about specific parts of the trail now. We crunched through the leaf litter scaring any wildlife away. Pam, who must have been hiking solo or at least quietly saw some deer, but I don't think anyone else saw any large mammals.

Walker provided us with plenty of entertainment while we moseyed through the woods. We chatted and we strolled. Over hills, through little dales, across roads, past massive tree root-balls that had been ripped out of the ground. In time we came to a little lake which made a fine spot for our primary lunch. The fast-break group had had the same idea and were just leaving as we arrived. The trailing group caught up to us about 30 or 40 minutes after we settled in to have their main meal and a rest. It really was a great spot to watch the water, stretch out, nap, and eat lunch. You really could not ask for more from the day at about four miles into the hike and just after 1:00 PM.

I know that we hiked this section of the North Country Trail a few years ago and I sort of found myself remembering potions of the trail. This was especially true as we worked our way around Sterling marsh. The trail has been re-routed and it now passes through a large stand of what I think are red pines. We decided that this was probably an old pine plantation but it was still pretty to walk through. According to Eric the trail re-route was prompted by damage done to the former route by massive ATV use which tore up the trail.

After we wandered through the pines the trail got a little ugly on its last romp towards 16 Mile Road. Our group reached the road around 2:30 PM. The end-point was just beyond a creek which now is spanned by a brand spanking new foot bridge that was essentially built in a single day - though some of the really heavy lifting of logs and other supports was done by other people notably prisoners. The bridge was designed by the National Forest Service on whose land we have been walking but mostly built by NCT volunteers. They have done a fine job.

Once we were all back together again a little after 3:00pm we had to decide what to do next. It was getting late in the day and we still had a good five and a half miles to go (according to . However, I think 9 people decided to forge ahead into the gathering dusk to the second, and final, endpoint of the hike at Nichols Lake North Road. Eric , Amy, and Walker had to return home and so said goodbye to everyone. The group of hikers that would continue on included: me, Dave, Don, Matt, Greg, Dennis, Andy, John, and Mike. We stated out together trying to stick together but as the trail meandered about and as I made micro-detours as I led Don and Greg we fell behind the others. The leading group would end up setting a blistering a strong 3.3+ miles per hour pace while we would end up traveling at about 2.5 miles per hour. This section of trail is notably more hilly and full of lakes. Small lakes, larger lakes, and lakes like Leaf lake that used to be considerably larger than they are now. We walked into the setting sun watching the colors change and shadows lengthen. Light played off the fairly still lake waters and the color reached the point where we can almost trick ourselves into thinking there is an alpineglow reflecting off the hills that surround us. The hardwood and pine forest was quiet except or our crunching through the leaves. We would pass by a couple hunters who were out scouting in preparation for firearms deer season which starts Monday. We even passed by a backpacker who was going the other way and that is something that does not happen all that often.

As we rounded one (maybe it was Leaf Lake which the trail curls around) lake Greg spotted a heron. We had heard some other bird but this was the only bird we actually saw even moderately close-up. The light was fading and we still had a ways to go. We caught up to Dave who was waiting for us at the access road to Leaf Lake as Mike scouted out a bale out option. Dave was getting nervous that it was going to get dark before we finished. The attitude of a died in the wool day hiker. I knew that we would get to the end even if the light faded. It was not a big deal. I had a small light, enough to move slowly with, I had water, food, a compass, admittedly poor map (though I knew others had somewhat better ones). I had no real concern at all. Still we spent valuable time talking about things before agreeing to push on while Dave waited for Mike to walk back down the access road. We pulled ahead striving to increase our speed as we raced the sun (with Greg now leading which certainly cut down on any mis-steps off the trail)). Over hills, across ridges, around more ponds. we had maybe an hour to go and were doing alright. It was good hiking. Even as the light faded and the colors went with it we were still having a good time. As we made the final push across the last few ridges the light had made its last few steps down to near darkness. we reached the road where we had parked our cars and knew we were there. It was closing in on 6:00pm. The day was over and it had been good. And the day was not over yet.

We still had our fine and massive potluck and fun evening ahead. This year we did not do any slide shows or really talk hiking stuff at all. Instead we played games. Euchre and Trivial Pursuits were the games of choice and especially the Guys versus Gals Trivial Pursuits game got a bit competitive ending with the ladies eventually showing that they knew more factoids than the guys and winning the game. Then the late evening chit-chat around the campfire that would take us into the small hours of the morning. We will all sleep well.

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