North Country Trail - Manistee River Trail
Loop Hike, May 2009

Day 2

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We woke up Friday morning around 8:30 am to discover that the temperature was cool and the sky was cloudy and gray. We got out of the car to stretch our legs and then walked down Coates Highway a short distance to check out the views up and down the river. The scenery looked nice.

We made our way back to the car and ate breakfast as it began to drizzle. This morning's weather forecast predicted partly cloudy skies and a high of 65 degrees, overall, a pretty nice day for a hike. By the time we finished our pop tarts and bagels the rain had ceased and the clouds began to break, revealing a sapphire blue sky and beaming sunshine. We filled our water bottles from the nearby spigot, made final checks of our gear and posed for a quick self-portrait before embarking down the trail at 10:00 am.

During the planning phase I decided we would hike the loop in a clockwise direction for a couple reasons. First, the North Country Trail is set back quite a way from the Manistee River which most likely meant that the views were not quite as nice as they were on the east side of the river and I wanted to save the most scenic views for the last part of the hike. Second, I figured our first day would be the longest day and Eddington Creek would be a logical place to stop for the night as it is the only decent source of water along this stretch of the NCT. As you'll learn later, plans are always subject to change.

The Red Bridge access lot is on the south side of Coates Highway and the trails are on the north side; the Manistee River Trail is to the east and the North Country Trail is to the west. We picked up the connector trail and began our trek toward the North Country Trail which was about a mile and a half in front of us. Gray rectangular blazes painted on the trees marked the way, although they were not necessary because the path was well-traveled. The trail was pretty level and wound through the relatively open, damp woods. The bugs were fairly plentiful and we actually resorted to wearing headnets within the first couple minutes because we did not want sticky bug spray on us this early in the hike. In roughly 15 minutes we crossed a clear-cut corridor and noticed our first NCT sign alongside the trail.

From here the trail re-entered the woods and immediately began to climb. By 10:55 am the connecting trail had exhausted its elevation gain and we were standing at the intersection with the North Country Trail. Every once in a while as we looked to the east we were afforded nice views through breaks in the tree cover and were able to see ridges out in the distance, but for the most part, our views consisted of mainly forest in all directions.

A short time later we crossed Pole Rd, basically a narrow dirt two-track through the forest. Immediately after Pole Rd the trail began a short climb that momentarily headed east before cutting back toward the north where we were able to look down over the area from which we had just come. We stopped for a minute to check our progress against the map and were met by a husband and wife walking up the trail behind us. Their names were Doug and Carol and they were from the Flint, MI area. After we exchanged introductions we learned that Doug was a self-employed technology consultant and his wife was a nurse. Doug explained that they are empty-nesters so they now have the time to participate in more outdoor activities and hiking. He said they had done a lot of day hikes, but now they wanted to branch out and try longer backpacking trips. They had just visited the R.E.I. store in Troy, MI where they picked up a bunch of new gear. This was going to be their first major hike to test and break-in the equipment and to get in shape for an assault on Long's Peak in Colorado. Doug said he enjoyed playing guitar and outdoor photography so Mike and I had a lot in common with them. As we hiked along we took turns recounting the various hikes we had been on and reminiscing about some of our favorite outdoor experiences and locations. As it turned out, we ended up hiking with Doug and Carol for about three miles and had a great time with them.

We all stopped for a quick snack break at Sheep Ranch Road and then Mike and I continued on by ourselves. Shortly after crossing the road the trail began to curve to the west and began a fairly steep ascent. We stopped for a quick breather at the top and to talk with another family who had stopped there for lunch. Doug and Carol passed us while we were speaking with the other family and we never saw them again. This other family had left Red Bridge about 30 minutes before us and was hiking to the Seaton Creek campground at the north end of the loop where they had left a second vehicle. We spoke with them for a couple minutes and then resumed our hike.

From here the hiking became easier as the trail leveled out and the ground became softer. The trail closely paralleled the edge of a tree-covered bluff before transitioning into a gentle, downhill grade toward Eddington Creek. When we finally arrived at Eddington Creek I was amazed to discover that it was basically a little trickle of water through the woods and not the small river I had been picturing in my mind. At this point the trail took a sharp turn and headed west for a short distance before depositing us on the bank near the Eddington Creek Bridge. We were pretty hot by now and our water was almost gone so we put the backpacks on the bridge, filled our water bottles from the creek and took an extended break.

We had planned to make this our campsite for the night because it was the only place with a decent source of water, however, the bugs were pretty bad and there was no level ground suitable for placing the tent. I asked Mike if he felt good enough to push on for another mile or so before stopping for the night and he said he was good to go. With that decision behind us we shouldered our packs and began hiking once again believing that we would be finishing up day one within another half hour or so. Immediately after crossing the bridge the trail turned sandy and began a gradual ascent before making a sharp turn and heading back west through a wide open, clear-cut area. It was at this point that we crossed paths with a single male hiker coming in the opposite direction with his 95 lb. horse-like husky plodding along next to him. I remembered seeing him leave Red Bridge before us earlier this morning. He was a really nice guy, as are most people you meet on the trail, so we once again stopped and struck up a conversation. I told him about our initial plan to stop for the night at Eddington Creek and our subsequent decision to push on to a more viable location. He said he had hiked the trail in a counterclockwise direction and was planning to stop for the night somewhere near here as well because his dog was becoming tired which was evident by his heavy panting and the rather enlarged tongue hanging out of his mouth like a dry, pink rag. He mentioned that he had passed a few "rowdies" a little way back near the bridge and decided not to stop there. We thanked him for the "heads up" and then wished him well before parting ways.

About 60 yards later we came to a signpost and a split in the trail. If we were to continue on the North Country Trail we would veer to the left, otherwise, the trail to the right would lead us to the Manistee River Trail. From this juncture the trail began a long, gradual downhill course over sand and soft, loose dirt covered with pine needles. The fresh, aromatic scent of pine permeated the warm afternoon breeze and helped keep our spirits high as we pushed on in search of a resting place for the night.

When we crossed East River Road the trail cut through a pine forest and led us to a sandy bluff overlooking a bend in the Manistee River far below. I recognized this location from many of the photos I had seen on the internet while researching this trail. Pictures never do justice to a scene like this and I realized why so many people had stopped at this very spot to take a photo. We followed the trail to another bluff a short distance away and then continued on. Suddenly, as the trail began to disappear, we realized there were no more familiar gray rectangles on the trees which meant we had somehow lost the main trail. We backtracked a ways and were eventually back on the official trail again.

The trail weaved through more pine forest until we came upon campsites #1 and #2. We quickly discovered that both sites were already occupied so we resolved, once again, to just keep moving. Hopefully, we would find a suitable place to camp not far from here, maybe near the "Little Mac" suspension bridge. Just past sites #1 and #2 the trail again crossed East River Road, or so we thought. We followed the trail a ways and even crossed over a small bridge made from cut sections of logs which had been laid side by side in the mud over a particularly wet section of trail. Once more we realized the trees were lacking blazes so we backtracked again. When we arrived back at the road I realized I had made a mistake. Usually there are signs or markers on both sides of a road at these types of crossings, but there were no such things here which meant this last section we hiked was not part of the official trail system. Figuring that the trail must run along East River Road we traveled on and found the blazes around a nearby bend in the road. At this point we were able to catch a glimpse of the "Little Mac" bridge in the distance.

The "Little Mac" is a suspension bridge across the Manistee River not far from the Hodenpyle Dam. The is 245 feet long and only accommodates foot traffic. The bridge was built in 1996 by the U.S. Forest Service and Consumer's Energy to provide an easier way to cross the river. It was quite a sight to see.

We reached the bridge at 5:00 pm and as we were making our approach I realized that the loud voices I heard belonged to the rowdies we had been warned about. There were three guys standing in the river at various distances from the bridge, drinking and fishing, and one guy fishing from the bridge itself. One of the guys in the river made his presence known to his buddies and everyone else within a ½ mile radius. He was yelling out in his gruff, gravelly voice about all the fish he was almost catching, while at the same time managing to keep a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth as he splashed noisily downstream. We scouted the grassy area near the bridge, but were not able to locate an area that was 200 feet from the river or the trail. By now Mike was getting tired, but I convinced him that this would not be a good place to stay for the night. First, there was no place to put the tent where we wouldn't end up being ticketed, and second, it was fairly obvious that we would not find any peace and quiet here. I was willing to bet that once these guys were done fishing they would probably consume even more alcohol and would continue whooping it up until who knew when. Translation -- a long, unpleasant, sleepless night. Reluctantly, we moved on.

Upon crossing the suspension bridge we made an abrupt right turn and headed south on the Manistee River Trail. We walked for roughly another ¾ mile, but didn't see any designated camp sights so we agreed to just camp off-trail. The backpacks were happily eased to the ground and we enjoyed a couple relaxing minutes before setting up camp. We saw a lot of tent caterpillars along the trail today, and unfortunately, the area we chose to spend the night was infested with them. It seemed every few minutes we were brushing them off our pants, shirts and out of our hair - they were virtually everywhere.

After getting settled we began to make plans for dinner. The alcohol stove we built before the trip was prepped and ready for its inaugural burn. The stove worked flawlessly, boiled the water in no time and by 6:45 pm we were dining on a very tasty beef stroganoff meal. By now the mosquitoes and flies were coming out in droves so we took shelter inside the tent so we could eat in peace. After dinner we walked over to the bluff anticipating that we would take a leisurely stroll downhill to the river, filter more water and then make our way back up to the tent. But, as we approached the bluff we discovered it was way too high, the grade too steep and the ground way too muddy to navigate the descent safely or cleanly. We backtracked along the trail and checked several other spots, but found the same conditions. We returned to camp a bit dejected over our water situation. We had enough to wash the dishes, but that would have left us with only a few ounces for breakfast in the morning and the first part of our hike.

It was now 8:15 pm and the sun would soon be setting. Taking a lesson from Bear Grylls I extended my arm out in front of me and counted six finger widths between the horizon and the sun. I told Mike that the sun would be gone in roughly 30 minutes (about five minutes per finger). Mike and I just stared at each other for several seconds while exchanging awkward smiles in the fading evening sunlight. All of a sudden Mike broke the silence and said, "I think maybe we should just pack up and hike to the next official campsite." I reminded him that daylight was dwindling and we would really have to hustle. He said, "Let's just go for it!" And, with that we commenced to breaking camp. We dismantled and repacked the tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, cookware, water bottles, filter, clothes and miscellaneous items, shouldered our packs and were on the trail in 15 minutes. I was impressed!

As our feet carried us toward site #2 I couldn't help wondering if we would find an open place to camp. Before dinner we had already seen several people heading south past our previous location, and since we hadn't seen Doug or Carol again I assumed that they were probably at the upcoming site as well. Fortunately, it only took about 30 minutes to reach campsite #2. As we were approaching the site I noticed a father and his young son standing outside their tent cooking dinner and another tent a short distance away from them in the woods. The father and son had passed us while we were cooking dinner and stopped to talk with us for a minute. He now mentioned that a husband and wife had already been at the site when they arrived. They told him they had departed from Red Bridge and had hiked about 14 miles today; it must have been Doug and Carol. Did I just hear him correctly? Did he say they had hiked 14 miles today? I know Doug was carrying a GPS so his distance calculation would have been fairly accurate. It didn't seem like we had hiked that far today. As it turned out, the mileage was about right and so was my estimation; the sun disappeared below the horizon a couple minutes after we arrived.

We quickly located a place for the tent in the grassy flood plain and set up camp for the second time tonight. It was still pretty buggy, but at least we weren't being overrun by caterpillars. More importantly, we had water. With all the necessary jobs completed we dug a small pit, started a fire, reminisced about the day's adventure and discussed tomorrow's itinerary.

All in all our first day of hiking had turned out to be rather pleasant. The temperature was about 65-70 degrees, the sky was mostly sunny and we enjoyed some good company for a couple hours of our day. Overall, the trail was easy-going with only a couple big climbs on the North Country Trail, but nothing that presented any problems. The NCT blazes were consistently spaced and easy to spot, at least on the section we hiked. In comparison, blazes on the Manistee River Trail were not as uniform. They ranged from white diamonds, to tiny shreds of what used to be white diamonds, and in certain places they appeared to have been missing altogether because we would travel quite a distance before seeing one.

We crawled into the tent around 10:30 pm and I think Mike was in full REM mode within 2 minutes. I wrote for about an hour before the sleep-inducing symphony of crickets put my eyelids down for the count.

Final count for the day: Several other hikers, a couple mountain bikers (what a workout that would be), four rowdy fishermen, a couple chipmunks, a few birds and lots of bugs.

Miles Covered Today: 14
Total Trip Miles: 14

Day 3

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:27 AM