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

Day 3

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The soft pitter-patter of rain woke me three times overnight as it pelted our nylon cocoon, and although it wasn't heavy, it was, nonetheless, steady; I just hoped it would be past us by morning. I awoke for the day at 7:20 am, surprised that I felt as rested as I did considering how early it was.

Mike finally began to stir around 8:20 am and I went to filter water so his shoes wouldn't become soaked by the million or so glistening beads of precipitation which adhered to everything outside the tent. Soon afterward the sun broke through the ever-thinning cloud cover and began to shine brightly overhead. We hung the tent and rainfly over some shrubs to dry out while we ate breakfast and packed away the rest of the supplies. It was already becoming muggy and the bugs were beginning to make their usual morning appearance.

The other two groups were already long gone before we hit the trail at 10:30 am. It only took a couple minutes and one small climb before we were peering down from the bluff at campsite #3. From this sandy precipice we were able to look down over a bend in the river and the area where we had camped the previous night. It was a grand view from this vantage point and one which made the canoes and kayaks appear to be much smaller than they actually were. We lingered long enough to get a few photos and to talk with three guys who were taking a break and enjoying the scenery. Somewhere between campsites #3 and #4 a small stream emerged from the forest and tumbled over a rocky, eight-foot drop into a small pool of water below.

Campsite #6 appeared just past the five-mile marker and was followed by a rather long downhill trek. The trail then began a mellow ascent and paralleled the river before bringing us up to campsite #7 where we encountered a single male hiker camping with his black lab. We stopped and talked with him for several minutes and learned that he had somewhat recently moved to Michigan from out of state due to a business opportunity. He explained that he had recently taken up hiking as a way to explore various places around the state. He said he had never hiked the Manistee River Trail but had enjoyed his trip thus far. When I think back over the entire hike I would have to say that campsite #7 would get my vote for the most scenic and tranquil campsite along the trail.

Continuing south from campsite #7 the views of the meandering river quickly faded from sight behind the trees. It was most likely just over a half mile before we came upon campsites #8 and #9, followed immediately by the Slagle Creek Bridge. Actually, bridge is an understatement and a linguistically poor way to describe this man-made feature. Don't get me wrong, this wooden structure is a thing of beauty and is more than capable of carrying people over the river. But, after studying this behemoth of an object it became clear that it had been over-engineered. The bridge was constructed with numerous logs the size of telephone poles and there was no doubt in my mind that it would still be firmly anchored to the ground after withstanding the raging fury of a category five hurricane and a magnitude nine earthquake all at the same time. It's more than obvious that the Slagle Creek Bridge is capable of handling a heavy load, but it is definitely a one-person-at-a-time structure. There's no way two people could cross the bridge while traveling in opposite directions, probably not even without backpacks.

We were almost completely out of water so Mike suggested that we stop here for a dual-purpose break - rest and refill our bottles. As it turned out, our break lasted only long enough for us to chug down the last couple ounces of water, filter the bottles back to the top and down a couple handfuls of trail mix because the blood-thirsty mosquitoes poured down on us like rain from tiny black storm clouds.

As soon as we stepped off the bridge the trail began an immediate steep climb until it leveled out momentarily in the parking area at the west end of Slagle Creek Rd. There were several vehicles parked there but we didn't see or hear anyone nearby. From here the trail climbed again before zigzagging up a steep switchback prior to crossing Cedar Creek. The mile seven signpost followed in quick succession and that was roughly the point where the view opened up and the forest became mostly pine trees. A layer of soft pine needles blanketed the ground making this section of trail a pleasant stroll. Within approximately ½ mile the trail veered close to a bluff overlooking the river, and although it wasn't 200 feet from the trail, it appeared as though many people had made this a camping area because it contained a well-used fire pit and the ground had been trampled free of vegetation. The trail continued south for a short distance before making a sharp turn to the west where we began to descend a deeply rutted portion of trail. As we neared the bottom of the hill we encountered two older women who were out for a short hike. They must have been locals because they were pretty familiar with the trail and the local flora. As we parted ways the women informed us that we were only 60-75 minutes from the end of the trail at Red Bridge. Their statement took us by surprise because we hadn't realized we were that close to completing our trip.

We wanted to leave at least a couple miles of hiking for tomorrow so we began to look for a place to spend the night. It wasn't long before we discovered a very nice location near a bend in the river. There was a wide open area in the trees with a large fire pit and a large grassy area down by the river. It was now about 2:15 pm and we agreed that this would become our home for the night.

After everything had been unpacked and set up we gathered enough firewood to create a bonfire of epic proportions that we planned to ignite at dusk. Upon completing all of our dirty work I waded into the river and rinsed off the dust and sweat that had accumulated over the course of the warm afternoon. The water was pretty cold, but it was refreshing and I felt like a new person after putting on a clean change of clothes. We started dinner around 5:15 pm and were eating by 6:45 pm. It took a little longer than expected to cook the noodles and rehydrate the sauce and hamburger, but it tasted great and was so filling that weren't able to force down the last few spoonfuls of pasta.

The only big annoyance to arise during this hike took place as I was attempting to filter water while dinner was cooking. I dropped the carbon pre-filter into river and within 8-10 pumps it felt as though I was pushing the handle against an immoveable object and the water output diminished to a miniscule trickle. As my eyes glanced past the river all I saw was a cloud of fine silt rising up from the area where the pre-filter was located. The silt spread out into a large fan shape, staining the mostly clear river with a mucky-brown tint as the swift current carried it downstream. It was at this point that a terrible thought materialized in my mind. The reason the filter was no longer working is because the pre-filter bounced off the bottom of the river and sucked in a large quantity of silt, thus clogging the main filter. I spent the better part of the next 30-45 minutes taking the filter apart, cleaning it and attempting to fix the problem, but it was to no avail. The realization finally sunk in that I had ruined the filter. I could still force the pump to work, but it took so much effort that I quickly became sweaty and exhausted after only a few repetitions, so I called Michael over and we took turns topping off the bottles. As it turns out, I could have saved myself a lot of aggravation out there on our last night. After returning home I attempted to fix the filter one last time before springing for a new cartridge. If I had only thought to check the o-ring inside the pump handle I would've discovered it had dried out. A simple dab of silicone grease (which had been in the bag the whole time) fixed the problem and water flowed quickly and easily once again.

The temperature was probably between 70 and 75 degrees today, but a decent breeze kept us cool and the bugs at bay throughout most of the day. The tree cover surrounding us today was comprised mostly of pine and maple trees and the trail was a bit hillier than the North Country Trail, although the elevation gains and losses weren't as drastic in comparison. The trail itself was rather easy-going, but it did have more frequent patches where tree roots wove their way in and out of the ground like a gnarly-looking tapestry. The landscape was awesome and never-ending and I stopped frequently for "look-at-that-view" photos, even though the pictures never did the scenes any justice. We only had a few minutes of rain today and fortunately it blew through as we were cooking dinner. As luck would have it, we were under tree cover at that time and didn't really get too wet. An observation we both commented on was that many of the campsites along the MRT had awesome views, however, they were usually high up on a hill or bluff which would make the task of retrieving water rather difficult if not almost impossible.

Over the course of the day we met an ecology professor out for a leisurely day hike, several members from a local church who were here on a group hike and countess other people. It had been a busy day along the Manistee River, but everyone we met had been very friendly.

After dinner God provided us with some eye-candy when the western sky smeared with vibrant pastel shades of purple, pink and orange as the sun relinquished its duties to the slowly rising moon and evening morphed into night. We sat around a raging bonfire for a couple hours relaxing and discussing our two days of hiking before retiring to the tent around 11:00 pm. We managed to only squeeze in a few rounds of blackjack before crashing 20 minutes later; the soothing nighttime sounds of chirping crickets, howling coyotes and a gurgling river had finally won their battle for our subconscious minds.

Final count for the day: Quite a few geese, several small birds, a lot of canoes and kayaks on the river and more people on the trail than I cared to count.

Miles Covered Today: 5.5
Total Trip Miles: 19.5

Day 4

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