From the Braver Institute
I get a serious itch to go camping when Spring rolls around, and this year is no exception. Two weeks ago we had a little snow, and now it is almost all gone. With its departure comes the possibility of an early start to the camping season.
This year reminds me of a spring when I was in my twenties when the air warmed early, and the snow had retreated. I think it was a Thursday afternoon when my good friend Don, and I, almost simultaneously decided that it would be a great weekend for camping. I don’t know who contacted who, but with the warm-up at hand, we were both thinking the same thing.
In those days of adventure we would try to camp someplace new with each trip. We had camped at remote lakes in the rugged terrain of northern Marquette county. We had spent time along the banks of the Escanaba River. We had canoed out to, and camped on Grand Island in Lake Superior shortly after the island had been turned over to the U.S. Forest Service. Once again we needed a new location that would bring to mind great adventure at the mention of its name alone.
We took out our maps, and started looking for places that sounded like good camping. Places like Wildcat Canyon sounded interesting. Places like the Sands Plains did not. Eventually we settled on White Deer Lake in the middle of the McCormick Tract Wilderness Area (anything with the word “wilderness” in its name without doubt suggests adventure).
Cyrus McCormick was an inventor who made, and patented, a reaper, which is a type of harvesting machine. The McCormick Harvesting Machine Company eventually became a part of International Harvester, and the rest is history. Cyrus McCormick was a wealthy man, and had purchased a large parcel of land in Western Marquette county. There were several lakes on this parcel, White Deer Lake being one of them, and on its south shore was where McCormick built a grand lodge. Years after his death the property was turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and years after that all of the buildings on the property were dismantled.
We had heard of the McCormick Tract, but had never been there.
We wouldn’t be able to depart until after work on Friday, so we wanted a place that we could easily drive to, and since McCormick had his lodge on White Deer Lake, we figured that driving right up shouldn’t be a problem.
Friday evening found us traveling up the Peshekee grade to the wilderness area. We turned off of the grade onto what we believed was the road to White Deer Lake only to find......a gate across the road.
The sign read that the road was closed to vehicular traffic, and only foot traffic was permitted. We surmised that this must be the McCormick Tract Wilderness even though there were no signs making such a claim. You see, in those days before the Internet and GPS, we had to use maps and our best judgement. By our estimation we were roughly three miles from the lake. Since it was getting too late to try to find another spot, we decided that we would take what we could carry in our backpacks, and come back for the rest of our gear in the morning. In ideal conditions three miles should take roughly an hour to traverse over flat ground, but given the terrain, and the load we were carrying, we figured it would take just a little longer than that.
After wandering through the wilderness for what seemed like a dozen-or-so hours, we made the decision to drop our gear on the side of the road, and hike back to the truck for the rest of it. The new plan was that we would spend the night on the trail, and continue on in the morning.
The real reason that we wanted to get the rest of our gear was that the rest of our gear was actually beer. In those days we did not go camping without it, and that was also part of the reason for wanting a drive-up camping site. Originally we thought we would save it for the following night, but after all of that walking, a beer, or several, sounded good.
It was well after dark by the time we returned to our stashed gear. I do not recall if we made a fire or not, but I am pretty sure that it was raining. Instead of setting up the tent Don had brought, we just unrolled our sleeping bags in the middle of the road (sounds stupid I know, but hey, it was closed to traffic, and the vegetation was too thick to sleep anywhere else), and covered up with the tarps we had brought along.
With gravel digging into our backs, rain coming down from the sky, and temperatures falling rapidly, we settled in for a supremely comfortable night’s sleep (if a jagged rock mattress is your idea of supreme comfort).
In the morning we loaded up all of our gear, (since we had lightened it substantially by drinking much of the beer), and continued on our way. We were still not certain that we were even on the right road.
Portions of the road were still covered in deep, wet snow, which was tough to walk through with our heavy packs. Up and down countless hills we travelled, expecting that just around the next corner, the forest would open up, and we would behold White Deer Lake.
A lifetime of walking later, it finally did.
Given our trip thus far, it came as no surprise that the lake was completely frozen over with thin ice, which made it difficult to gather water, and impossible to fish, but at least we were there.
That night the wind was strong out of the north, blowing at us from across the ice covered lake. It made our campfire almost intolerable with the smoke and sparks it was sending our way, but it was a necessary evil to tolerate in order to stay warm.
To make a great situation even better, we ran out of beer. We contemplated hiking back to Don’s truck so we could make a run to the store, but opted instead to crack open the bottle of Yukon Jack that Don had brought along, which did much to help us sleep in such conditions.
Sunday afternoon we packed our gear and started out on the long, wet, miserable hike back to the truck.
We had a great time. I can’t wait to go camping again.