I'm starting with my favorite picture from the first day. Here is Sue at our first campsite, which was a serendipitous find. This is a semi-developed campsite that isn't on the map. It has the benches you see, a cleared flat area for a tent, and water access at Fife Lake Creek. (Although down a steep bank which will get eroded if too many people scramble down. I did one unplanned seat-slide).
Now I'll back up and tell you how we got there. I drove to Sue's house, which is closer to where we were going than my house is. We transferred the gear to her car, and prepared for the hour drive.
Sophie LOVES to go hiking, and she was all ready. "Where to this time, Mom?"
We went to the Old 131 State Forest Campground near Manton, at the south end of the loop. We got there just as a large group of Boy Scouts and some dads hiked in. We chatted with them a few minutes, then got ourselves in harness and ready to walk. I had 33 pounds and Sue had 31.
We chose to go counter-clockwise and do the North Country Trail side of the loop first. That said, this was the piece I had never seen. The NCT used to be what is now the west side of the loop. However, the Grand Traverse Hikers Chapter did some scouting around and realized that a serious re-route of the trail to the east side of US 131 would result in miles of beautiful trail. The existing miles on the west side were pretty dull, and very dry (not many good water sources). By keeping both sections open, this 21-mile loop was created. The new section opened in 2014, after I had completed my NCT End-to-End. I was really eager to see the new trail.
It was late afternoon when we began, and our goal was to just get a good start- whatever we could do in a couple of hours. The beginning mile is on bluffs high above the Manistee River, with gorgeous views.
We liked the thoughts posted here.
Anyway, we hiked on. Sometime after 6 pm, I was scanning the woods for a cache tree (one with a nice horizontal branch at the right height for hanging the food bag). I found one! But Sue wanted to go a little farther. I teased her pretty good, because finding a really nice cache tree isn't all that easy and this one was perfect. At about 6:30 we signed in at a register box and saw some benches off in the woods. Of course we had to check them out. We quickly realized this was an unlabeled and unoccupied campsite, and we claimed it! See first picture.
I did find a cache tree. Not an ideal one, of course, but it worked OK.
The benches made dinner preparation really easy, with a place to set things out. You can see my little stove set up. It looks like things are a mess, but we use everything we carry on a backpacking trip, so most of it gets spread around. Then it all gets put back in the packs when it's time to move on.
We were in bed at 9 pm, with 4.4 miles done. We were pretty happy about that because it would shave miles off what we would need to do on Sunday and Monday.
North Country Trail from Old US 131 State Forest Campground north 4.4 miles
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