Great Lakes Hikes December 2005 Gathering at Waterloo Recreation Area, Michigan

by Ken Knight | by Julie Neitling

It's 8:40PM and nearly 70 degrees. We are gathered around the table here in Burns cabin #2 with a covering of snow all around - not much, but enough to cover the ground. John and I got here just after 4:00PM and started gatherimg and cutting wood. It's always remarkable how warm you get doing this kind od manual labor even on a cold day like this afternoon. We got a fine fire going. A bit after 6:00 Steve pulled in and with him came a Coleman two burner stove and lantern and there was light. Not long after that Andy and Elwira came in. An hour or so later Paul, Julie, and Abbey with Nancy showed up. We would spend the rest of the night eating kilbasa and chatting. The appropriate amount of chastisement was sent my way since I forgot the mustard and fudge. I did a lousy job of organizing myself for this car-camping style of trip.

The wood stove here is quite something. It heats this 20 bunk cabin to the 70s (higher in the upper bunks). In fact for many of us it was too warm. John was a good indicator od temperature - when it was warm he snored and when El opened a window (or more) to cool things down he stopped. All in all I suspect many of us slept fitfully.

We will spend today doing an Andy and John cocncoted route of about 10 miles that will start at Sackrider Hill and end at the cabin. The sun tried to peek through the high overcast skies, but it was a battle that it would never win. The temperature was hovering just below freezing and there was very little wind to cool exposed skin further. In short a fairly typical late fall day here in southeastern Michigan. The light covering of snow helped give the area a touch of extra character than it would have had were the ground bare. We got ourselves to the trailhead around 10:30 after finishing off a varied brakfast that will be best remembered for the cameo appearance of Gran-Ma Soule. She dropped by to say hello and catch up with us on how we were and on how she is doing (which is much better), but she begged off on joining the hike even for the initial loop. It was great to see her.

The hike John and Andy had planned started out with a loop that took us west of Sackrider Hill along the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. We would veer off the main trail and head (first turn I think) south down into state land John, Andy, and I had explored nearly a year ago in the course of our mapping project (see the winter 2005 hikes). Our route would head towards I-94 before turning west (first intersection) towards some substantial walnut groves before curving back towards the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. Since this hike was designed by John and Andy it had to take advantage of the side trails. We would skirt Sackrider Hill by following the bypass trail we had probably last hiked on our first east-side GLH night hike. It was fun hiking it in the daylight.

As we hiked the group spread out just a bit and conversation groups formed but we never strung out to any great degree. We were all enjoying the pace that was being set as well as each others company. Besides unlike many Schoolhouse Gathering hikes a hike in the Waterloo Recreation Area has so many potential routes that keeping the group tight is highly advisable. After all most of the hikers do not know this area that well and even if they had maps the trail markings, what few there are, are minimal (for example the route between Katz Road and the great road walk, keep reading, followed the following trails: yellow trail , side trail, Waterloo-Pinckney trail, side trail, yellow trail, side trail, side trail, side trail, yellow trail, green/yellow trail past Maute Road, yellow trail, "black trail" trail, then the great road walk).

An early highlight of the hike was the sights and sound of an English-style (so it seemed) fox hunt complete with many dogs and a half dozen or so men and women on their steeds. The dogs would bark, someone would blow a horn, and I imagine somewhere a fox was running. I have no idea if they caught anything, but I bet a large measure of the joy of such an event comes from the doing of the event (like hiking) and a success is a bonus. It was good that we had such a neat highlight because in many other ways the hike was, for me at least, nothing thrilling. A nice area to hike to be sure, but it was the people I was with that made it really enjoyable.

We worked our way along the twisting paths through the steep valleys (not exactly ravines), along ridges, throough fields, and even along a very nice road walk through properties owned by a single family and clearly lovingly cared for by that family. The varied terrain is always fun to move through.

We finished our 10 or so mile hike at 4:00PM and as we strolled into the area of the cabin we could see a fire burning in the ring and Jeff and his toddler son Adam moving about it. Jeff was preparing to make his lamb ragout and Adam was doing what toddlers do. It was going to be a fun night full of good cheer, food and drink.

Of course, after eating as much good food like the above mentioned dutch oven made ragout, Eric and Amy's paellia, Nacy's chilli, chhesey pitas, fine breads, and more, you just have to spend time around a campfire and perhaaps go on a night hike. Going on a night hike was just what some of us would do after Audrey made smores for us and we made sure that Elwira had her first smore ever (andy too, though he just had a little bit). The group consisted of Andy, John, myself, Paul, Dave (who had arruved just before dinner), and Jeff with Adam bundled up in his cold-weather finery in his backpack. Andy had come up with a plan (vetted by John) that would take us about 4 or so miles and we were set to have a fine winter nightime experience.

When we left the bright cozy surroundings of the cabin it had just begun to snow. Small wet flakes that would now and then sting your eyes like icy needles. The snow would affect our hike making it more memorable than I think it would otherwise have been. Andy took the lead and we sallied forth into the deepening snow following the faint trail east past McClure road and beyond. On this cloudy snow filled night you could still hike without using a headlamp. In fact I found that I was moving much more easily and confidently on this trek than I had been on the last night hike. I think the lack of a moon played a substantial role in this because there were no shadows to confuse me. I followed Andy's lead and the group behind shifted around behind us. We strolled over the hills making a remarkable amount of noise during the generally snow quieted night. It was great.

In time I took the lead and was quite pleased with how well I was able to find the right pathway along the side and hunter trails we were following northwesterly back towards the cabin (after having crossed through the spring area on the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail before crossing (I think before) the rotted boards above the stream (no one fell in though it sure sounded like Dave stepped on the bad boards instead of the more robust ones). I am not sure how long I lead the group, but I feel I did a good job. When our path started to pass through many blowdowns though it was time to let John take over since he knows this area like nobody else in our group.

Hiking at night in conditions like this is totally different from doing a hike at night in the summer. The snow changes things. Sounds are silenced, the light is changed, and animals and people act differently. Their is nothing like it especially when you are navigating soley with your unaided senses of sight, touch, and hearing. Yes, touch. You feel the trail underfoot and when you stray you feel the change. Perhaps you brush past a twig and that cues you to the possibility that you are veering off trail again. You can see slight, but distinct, differences in the trail. You can even hear a change when you step off the proper precarious path that leads to the privvy (our eventual goal).

The hike was filled with all manner of experiences and one of the best were the turkeys we startled as we skirted a field. First one bird and then as we paused to both make sure everyone was present and to figure out the best way around some blowdown we heard at least one more bird leap into the air. I bet they were totally confused as to what our purpoae was out there in the steadily falling snow. Of course we got back to the cabin, but in order for the hike to live up to its self proclaimed name we could not stroll into the cabin area by way of the parking lot after confirming that we were at the cabin when we heard Elwira talking at the fire ring. We worked our way down to where we thought the privvy was and while some people found the actual path that passes by the stinky privvy I ended up pushing through the tangled masses of brush to the glade. The hike took about two fun hours.

We found most of the group had packed it in and gone to bed. Considering it was pushong 11:00PM by now that wasn't really surprising. But some were still awake and around the steadily burning fire. We hung out there for another hour and a half or so and it was a great way to end the long day. I guess Andy, Elwira, Paul, Jeff (especially after he put Adam to bed, what a trooper that kid is. He did great on the hike up until the end when he hit that overtired wall and let us all know it.), and I were the last to hit the sack.

Sunday dawned cold and clear. The snow had stopped sometime after we went to bed and by mid-morning the sky was mostly blue and the air a crisp 28 degrees. Paul, as is normal for him, rose with the rising sun. He took a 2-burner Coleman stove, pot, and water outside and began the process of making coffee in his Chemex coffee maker. Yum. Others, including me, were slower to rise but it is hard to resist getting up at an active campsite especially one with toddlers. Breakfast included even tastier lamb ragout leftovers plus an assortment of other goodies. We cleaned up the place, replenished the wood supply for the stove, and John gave the cabin a thorough sweeping. The morning was a fine one with the new snow and we took full advantage of it as several of us borrowed Adam's yellow baall and had an imprompu game of snowy kickball/soccer. Nancy was the most competitive (no shock) and the others showed off their athletic prowess with the occassional header and slide into the snow. It was a lot of fun.

We left the cabin a bit before noon. Throughout the morning people had been leaving starting with Amy and Eric who had to get to the kennel where Walker was before noon. Dave , Jeff and Adam were next to depart going in their separate directions. That left John, me, Andy, Elwira, Steve, Nancy, Paul, Julie, and Abbey to go on the final 4 or so mile hike of this weekend.With the new snow and clear skies it was easy to see the fine crystaline coatings on the pine trees. The trails we followed had no tracks but our own and things were wonderfully peaceful. We crunched through the virgin snow keeping an open eye out for hunters. We found a few over the course of the day as well as a fellow out with a long bow saw in one hand and, I think, shoes around his neck. Maybe he was out to do trail work, but then why carry the shoes? So maybe he was going to do some work on a blind and then use it for a ehilr and wear his comfortable shoes inside it.

It was a great hike. I enjoyed it more than Saturday's day hike perhaps because the fresh 2 to 3 inches of snow changed things so much. It just felt like a better day. Even with our lunch break at Winewannah Lake we finished the hike in less than 3 hours. We nevr felt rushed. I don't think even when Abbey got a bit tetchy Paul or Julie felt harried. We were out and about and having a blast. What a great way to end the weekend.