For the first time in many hikes, I hiked alone today. My husband and I were in Charlevoix visiting family, and I stole away to get out on the trail while my husband and father-in-law went boodling around northern Michigan. There are so many cool places to go that just narrowing down a trail choice was tricky. I was sorely tempted to try the Jordan Valley loop for a big day, but was afraid I wouldn’t get an early enough start to do the whole 18 or so miles in time to get back to my in-laws, make dinner, and spend some family time together. I had a stretch of NCT from Sheridan St. in Petoskey that I’d like to complete, but after about three miles, it’s road walk, which I don’t care for, so the winner was the Warner Creek Pathway, off of M-32 between Elmira and East Jordan. The pathway is a loop, and there is a connection with the NCT, so I could do the stretch of NCT from Deadman’s Hill to M-32, about three original NCT miles for me, and six towards my NCT 100 challenge.
I had planned ahead and brought my Cotopaxi daypack from home, my Keen boots (anticipating wet trails), some snacks, a 2L hydration bladder, my Sawyer mini, a first aid/survival kit including a SOL emergency bivy, and an extra layer of fleece.
The Warner Creek Pathway followed the NCT for a short distance, and then forked off. The difference was noticeable immediately, as the trail was obviously much less traveled. It was blazed with blue paint dots every so often, and easy to follow, but was definitely more wild feeling–narrow and a little brushy. It followed a marsh, and the trail was quite wet in spots–I was glad to be in my Keens. After moving away from the marsh, the trail entered the forest, and became gently hilly. It was still quite green, although the previous night’s rain and wind had blown a lot of leaves to the forest floor. This path was typical Northern Michigan beautiful–rolling hills, and lots of trees. Because this area was logged, most of the growth is relatively young–you don’t see the big monster trees that are hundreds of years old. It was a pretty hike, with enough hills to feel like a reasonable workout. (I am told that this loop gets a lot of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing use in the winter, and I could see that it would be perfect for these activities.)
After finishing the not quite four mile loop, I came across an intersection with the NCT with trail register. I had to laugh reading an entry that complained about how ridiculous it was that the trail went through swampy area. (All caps, and lots of exclamation points.) I had the opposite reaction. As I made my way through the swampy area, I had been glad to test out my boots’ waterproofing in a place where if they got wet, it wouldn’t ruin my whole weekend. Getting comfortable hiking over slick mud, slippery makeshift log bridges, and feeling the pull of the muck on your boot is all part of hiking.
After finishing the Warner Creek Pathway, I double tracked the beginning part again to get back on the NCT, hoping to hike to Deadman’s Hill before my 2:30 turn around deadline. I had hiked the stretch from Pinney Bridge to Deadman’s Hill in the past, coming from the opposite direction, and was hoping to knock off another stretch of miles I had completed yet, from Deadman’s Hill to M-32. I scared up a deer and many grouse along my hike, but saw only a couple of other people. I imagine that most would have turned back at the boardwalk along a small lake that was a little intimidating–the planks were right at the water’s surface, and bowed down an inch or so into the water with a person’s weight on them. I just went slowly, glad that my boots were waterproof, and enjoyed a most incredible view of the forest beyond the lake. After the lake, the trail led to a road walk, but it was a seasonal road, and I only saw a couple of vehicles. I was just beginning to feel a little bummed that I wouldn’t make it to Deadman’s Hill by my deadline when I saw the sign for the spur that led to the top. I had completed the section of NCT that I had hoped to, and took the easy way out, turning back without summiting the hill, which I have done before, and know is hard work. If I’d had time, I would have gone up because the view is really amazing, but I knew I had to be back in time to cook dinner for the family, so I headed back toward my car. I don’t know why, but the return hike always goes so much faster on an in/out hike, and I felt like I was back in no time. I logged about 11 miles for the day. It was a great solitary hike.
If you’re in the area, and don’t have time to do the whole Jordan Valley Pathway/NCT loop from Pinney Bridge to Deadman’s Hill, the Warner Creek Pathway parking lot NCT trailhead would be a great alternative hike–about 6/7 miles round trip on the NCT to the summit of Deadman’s Hill. Just bring your waterproof boots!