A Collection of Michigan Snowy Day Hikes - 2004-2005

Once Upon A Moonlit Night: A Night Romp Through Snow in Waterloo Recreation Area

We had a slow start. John and I arrived at the car-pool lot just before 5:00pm and began to wait. And wait. And wait. Lynne showed up and the waiting continued. Andy and Ben didn't arrive until after 6:00pm. We got ourselves set up, I guess Andy gets the dinking around award this time though no one really had much dinking around to do, and began our trek at 6;33pm. The wind was vicious, bitingly cold, the temperature was a hair above 10 degrees, the sky was full of high though thin clouds that the nearly full moon could easily pierce.

Once we left the unsheltered parking area and road for the ridge side trail the forest did an admirable job of breaking the wind flow. We still noticed it, but it was definitely not a major concern. We also quickly noticed the 10-12 inches of powdery snow we were tromping through. Many portions of this trek could easily have been done with snowshoes. Pounding through even powdery snow is hard work. We ascended the ridge and moved along its length towards the junction with the two-track that Andy, John, and I had scouted back in December. It didn't take long before we were ready to shed layers of clothing. I believe the shedding actually took place at the junction of the side trail and the Waterloo-Pinckney trail. Those of us who were using platys were also doing all we could to prevent our hoses from freezing. Andy was the only one who didn't seem to have a problem. I can't believe it's just because his platy was full of boiled water and wrapped in some insulation. Mine was full of boiled water too and in the bowls of my pack. Still my tube developed ice jams more than once and not always at the bite valve even though I thought I puffed water out of the tube (leading me to think that leaving warm water in the tube is perhaps a good idea).

The moon was providing exceptional amounts of light even through the lightly clouded sky. We had no need of our headlamps. Besides the crunching of snow underfoot, conversations of Lynne, Andy, John, and Ben (as often happens I was railing behind and not talking much), the swish of some people's windproof pants, the rustle of branches above our heads as the wind continued to whistle through the forest, the only other sounds were the ever present and ever varied creaking of the trees. Those creaks, pops, sighs, and other wood made sounds can fool you. One time I heard a sound that caused me to stop and look in its direction: it had made me think of a bird taking off. I was imagining a wood thrush (grouse) being startled into flight. Of course, it was just a set of branches moving in just the right way.

Our route took us along the horse trails of the region. Initially we followed the yellow trail and I believe we stayed with this trail pretty much all the way to Clear Lake Road. At times this trail was eerily spooky. There is a segment that twists and turns, rises and falls, through many blown down trees. The snow had fallen on these blow downs and formed into all manner of patterns given an eerie life by the stark black and white lighting that the moon was providing. Combine the crazy shapes with the multitude of peculiar sounds and you create a section that would be ideal in any winter scene for a horror movie. It was great. Unfortunately there were also segments of trail that had visitors before us: snowmobilers and ATVers. These vehicles, especially the ATVs, leave tracks behind that are a real pain to walk through. The grooves are too narrow for a comfortable gait and you cannot walk along the uncompressed sections without constantly falling off into the grooves. Very tiring for everyone.

After surmounting some massive snowdrifts including one that was chest-high on me (sorry no photo), numerous hills that caused our calve muscled to strain with the effort, descents that we would slide down that could contain hidden logs to trip over, and the ever present forest sights and sounds, we reached Clear Lake Road. The skies had cleared even further and the temperature had dropped even more. We struggled along the black horse trail, often through an ATV track, towards the parking lot at Clear Lake road where Ben's car was. We reached his car at 11:30 and broke out our sanwhiches (John, andy, and I were powered by Zingerman's) and settled into Ben's Ford for the midnight meal. The temperature was a hair above 0 °F. We decided, and I was certainly happy with the decision, that we had done enough. Sure there was some disappointment that we did not go farther than we did, but the past five hours had been a great experience. We drove back to the Cedar Knoll road parking lot (exit 150 off I-94) and said goodbye to each other. John deposited me at my doorstep at about 1:00am.

Gear Notes

I wore what I have come to consider my typical Michigan winter attire. A modest base layer, light insulating layer, and a windproof storm resistant shell make up the primary body layers. A wool hat and gloves plus mukluks round out the ensemble.

While I wore Smartwool longjohn leggings and a thin polypro longsleeve T-shirt I don't think either of these items was necesary. However, were I planning a multi-day trip I would have packed them both. On top of the polypro base layer I wore my Paramo Mountain Shirt, fuzzy side in, as my main core insulating garment. I've found that this has been sufficient as long as I am warmed up and moving. My outer pants were my old Ibex Guide Light pants (akin to their ClimaWool light fabric pants now). While these pants are not the most windproof pants out there I have found that they provide enough protection from the wind plus enough insulation to keep my legs comfortable.

I wore my Wintergreen Expedtiion Shell Jacket on this trip. It's remarkably windproof and there is ample room underneath it to layer additional insulation layers if I need them. This jacket is not only stylish but quite functional. I especially like its high neck and spacious hood.

Nothing special wool gloves (with a thinsulite lining) and a basic wool hat were worn throughout the hike. If I were selecting a hat again I would likely pick one with a somewhat tighter weave to better block the wind.

I wore my Steger Artic Mukluks with wool socks. My feet were beautifully warm. However, mukluks are not the ideal footwear for this type of hike. Their soft sole means you feel everything you step on. I supose this could be limited with the insertion of an extra insole. Furthermore, you are a bit more likely to roll your ankle while just walking in the mukluks since there is a considerable amount of room within the felt liner to wiggle your foot. This is a problem that is not unique to these boots. Overboots like my NEOS also share these problems. However, my feet remained warm and dry and I would use the mukluks again though perhaps I would add a stiffening insole. On a multi-day trip I'd likely also add vapor barrier socks to ensure moisture did not invade the felt liners from my feet.

At the outset of the hike I wore my Ibex Icefall jacket underneath my Wintergreen shell. I also wore Possumdown gloves inside my wool gloves and a fleece neck gaiter. The Possumdown gloves were the first to come off, followed not long after by the neck gaiter which was trapping far too much core heat, and the Icefall jacket was stowed last.

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Copyright © 2003, Kenneth Knight Last updated: January 28, 2005