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High Country Pathway (HCP) – Pigeon River Country SF, MI (Backpacking Trip Report) – May 2013

High Country Pathway Hike Overview

Complete High Country Pathway Photo Gallery | High Country Pathway HD Video

  • Trail Name – High Country Pathway (HCP)
  • Location – Pigeon River Country State Forest & Atlanta State Forest, Michigan
  • Park Type – State Forest
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 820 miles Round trip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 days, 3 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 80
  • Trail Difficulty – 3
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
Total distance: 80.01 mi
Max elevation: 1266 ft
Min elevation: 755 ft
Total climbing: 10883 ft
Total descent: -11184 ft
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hcp high country pathway gps stats

High Country Pathway Backpacking Trip May 2013


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High Country Pathway Maps

trail map of the high country pathway (HCP) in michigan

Map of the High Country Pathway

 

Notes

The High Country Pathway has been described as the best “near wilderness” experience in Michigan’s lower peninsula. There is no real wilderness in the lower peninsula in my opinion. So, this is as good as it’s going to get for a backpacking trip near home. I’ve already done the 20+ mile Manistee River loop twice, which is the only other noteworthy hiking destination in the LP. While it is certainly more scenic than the High Country Pathway, the HCP is an 80 mile loop which offers an extended hike not possible at Manistee or elsewhere is the LP.

 

Fees & Permits

The High Country Pathway, referred to as HCP from now on, passes through or very near several Sate Forest campgrounds. You can stay the night at here if you wish at a cost of $13 per camp, per night. You need to bring exact cash or your checkbook in order to make the payment. Each State Forest campground has payment envelopes that you fill out and deposit into a payment pipe along with your money. These campgrounds are not attended, they operate on the honor system.

If you plan on camping in the backcountry (anywhere other than in the SFCGs but on State Forest land), the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural Resources) requires you to fill out a camp registration card. You need to fill it out in PENCIL and leave this card where you camped, tied to a tree or secured in some other way. This system is pretty dumb if you ask me. You need to carry a card for each camp you stay at, and a pencil… who brings a pencil backpacking? And why on Earth do they want you to leave it in the woods where it will likely be destroyed by the weather long before any DNR officer ever finds it? Regardless, you can print out your camp registration card (they are free) by opening the link below:

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-30301_30505_30731-31303–,00.html

 

High Country Pathway Trailheads

Pigeon Bridge is the main trailhead for HCP hikers. It’s located on the south side of E Sturgeon Valley Rd about 9 miles East of the small town of Vanderbilt and I-75. On the North side of the road, opposite to the trailhead parking, is the Pigeon Bridge SFCG. There is plenty of parking at the trailhead, way more than the HCP probably ever sees.

Clear Lake State Park has a day use area with parking. There is access to the lake on the north and south sides of the lake, and I used the south side parking lot.

Shoepac Lake SFCG also has a day use area with parking.

The Pigeon River Country State Forest Headquarters has a small parking area here for hikers. It’s just a clearing next to the building.

Where Camp 30 Road intersects the HCP, there are about 5 parking spots available.

 

 

Day 1 – Monday May 13th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 19.7
Route – Clear Lake State Park to the Canada Creek shelter

I arrived at Clear Lake State Park around 7:30am on an unusually cold morning for mid May. It was 19 degrees when I woke up, about an hour and a half west of here. Yesterday afternoon it snowed, but didn’t really stick. Some areas along the road had a little snow still, but there was none on the ground by the time I reached the trailhead. Not what you’d expect for this area at this time of the year. Regardless of the temperature, I was here and ready to hike! As I pulled into the parking lot for Clear Lake, a deer ran away into the woods.

high country pathway trail near clear lake

north of clear lake state park in michigan

I started the hike with just shy of 9 pounds of food, for only 4 days. I also had 3L of water to start, and my total pack weight was 38 lbs. I chose to hike the HCP in a counter-clockwise fashion due to the logistics of campsite selection and mileages relative to my starting point. The hike began by a road walk out of Clear Lake State Park and back towards M-33. Once there, I headed north, following the road for a ways before heading east on a dirt road, where I hoped to intersect the High Country Pathway Trail. The HCP is marked by blue blazes and was not far off M-33. From the south side of Clear Lake, it took about 15-20 minutes before linking up with the HCP for the first time. There was still a lot of road noise from M-33, and from the looks of the route on my GPS, it was going to be that way for a while. Almost immediately after finding the trail, I began to see signs of animals. Lots of them. In fact, almost every where I steeped for the entire hike, I could see deer or elk tracks. I saw my first Elk track less than a mile on the HCP, and tons of deer tracks. Then I spotted 2 deer which quickly scampered off.

 

hcp logging area north of clear lake

The trail started off in a pine forest which was interrupted every 1/2 mile or so by two tracker roads. I crossed my first logging area only a few miles in. It was strange walking through it, because I felt like I was trespassing on a job site. There was nobody there though, and of course it’s ok to be there as the HCP winds right through. Most of the logging areas had blue blazes and signs for the HCP posted leading the way. The trail was well marked and obvious in most spots.

 

sign that says "the location of the town of McPhee - a pine logging town"

Occasionally, I passed a lone sign alongside the trail which would give some history on the area. One read “Red & Jack Pine, Planted 1924”, another read “Valentine Branch Detroit & Mackinac RR”, and another “Location of the town McPhee – A pine logging town”. There weren’t many signs of an old town here, but supposedly the area had experienced heavy logging in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Small settlements faded away and the land was deemed a State Forest in 1973.

valentine branch detroit & macinac railroad

soggy trail

The trail started out pretty dry, but soon enough I encountered many areas of trail that were under water. Usually, if there were no planks of wood to cross the water on, there would be a way to walk around the water by going around it in the woods, although this proved to be a challenge at times.

One thing I noticed fairly quickly into the hike is that there aren’t many good campsites along the trail. The only opportunities for campsites are small clearings overgrown by tall grass. I did not see any signs of previous campsites anywhere along the trail today.

vast logging field along the high country pathway

panoramic shot of a logging area

I walked through one of the largest logging areas I encountered on the HCP this morning. There was a large logging machine in the middle of the field but there was nobody around. It looked very desolate.

two tracker road south of tomahawk flooding

south side of tomahawk flooding

beach on tomahawk flooding

It was late morning now as I was approaching Tomahawk Creek Flooding. Before reaching the flooding, there were some longer stretches of road walks on two trackers, about 1.5 miles. There was nobody at the lake when I arrived, as with most places I encountered on the trip. The view from the south end was somewhat eerie… there were many dead trees protruding from the water and the winds were strong, making the water look even less inviting. The trail follows the contour of the flooding for a while, at which point I stopped for lunch. I found a nice spot to sit with a view of the water from the cover of the woods. I had covered 12.3 miles, but still had another 8 to go before reaching Canada Creek where I planned on spending the night.

rows of pine trees

big open field along the high country pathway

messed up sign

 

 

After leaving Tomahawk Creek Flooding, the trail passes through a previously logged area, as evident by the perfect rows of pines trees, and patches of forest and open fields before reaching the Big Tomahawk Lake area.There was no view of the lake.

view of shoepac lake - pigeon river country state forest

sandy beach of Shoepac Lake

another shoepac lake pciture

One of the other Shoepac Lakes

Once I reached Shoepac Lake, I saw the trail for the Sinkholes Pathway, which I decided to skip as it would add an extra 2.5 miles. Shoepac Lake had a nice looking “beach” area on the south side, and there appeared to be some homes on the southwest side of the lake. Then I passed by another Shoepac Lake, and yet another Shoepac Lake… looked like three separate lakes to me, but that’s not what the GPS said.

typical random useless field along the hcp

reflection of clouds on the waterway

hcp canada creek bridge unsafe sign

canada creek bridge as of may 2013

I’ll take my chances

When I made it to M-33 and crossed the road, there was a sign posted on the HCP sign that said the bridge over Canada Creek was unsafe to cross, and to reroute to a different crossing. Well, the shelter I planned on staying in tonight is supposed to be located on the other side of the creek, right where the bridge is. I decided not to follow the detour and check out the bridge anyway. I knew that Canada Creek is a smaller stream, and if the bridge was truly unstable then I could always get in and cross it the hard way. The trail meanders through a meadow and up a hill before dropping down to the creek. Once I reached the bridge, I felt very confident that it would support me with ease. Sure it was rickety, but the worst case scenario was fall 4 feet off the bridge into 3-6 feet of slow moving water.

picture of the shelter at canada creek

picture from inside the shelter at canada creek

 

After safely crossing the bridge and walking a few yards further up the trail, I could see the Canada Creek shelter. It was empty as I had expected. There was a picnic table and fire pit outside, along with a shovel. The condition of the shelter was good, despite a hole in the screen. The inside of the shelter has 4 bunk beds and a picnic table inside. There was even a broom to sweep up inside. Very luxurious compared to my tent!

me at the canada creek shelter

I got to camp around 3:30, which is not bad for having covered 20 miles today. My feet and knees were feeling it though. Camp chores were easy tonight with no tent to set up, a steam just yards away, and plenty of firewood nearby. I spent a while relaxing on the bridge, leaning my back up against one of the supporting logs, and listening to the sounds of the creek flowing and the birds chirping.

view of canada creek

another view of canada creek

The banks of Canada Creek have a lot of vegetation and are really soft to walk on in spots, so I wasn’t able to explore along the creek at all. Also, there was a logging area literally right behind the shelter which was not really nice to look at.

It didn’t get dark until almost 10pm tonight… summer is approaching! I heard tons of animal sounds as I sat by the fire, including a few owls. Then, an animal approached my camp. I heard it behind me, and turned to shine my headlamp on it. I believe it was a raccoon, which I scared off by hurling a branch in it’s direction.

 

Day 2 – Tuesday May 14th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 21.5
Route – Canada Creek shelter to Pine Grove State Forest Campground

I woke up at 7am this morning after my alarm failed to go off. Then, as I was putting my watch on, the strap broke. Great, now I have to carry my watch in my pocket.

It was really cold last night, only a few degrees above freezing. It rained from about 3am on, and tapered off as daylight broke. I was glad to have the shelter this morning over my tent. Breakfast this morning was bacon, granola, and dried fruit. Mmm… delicious bacon!

Today’s hike has me traversing the north side of the High Country Pathway, which is supposed to be more “wild”. Of course, there isn’t anything too wild in the lower peninsula. The HCP is also the longest actual hiking trail that I know of in the lower peninsula, other than the North Country Trail.

view from a hill on the north side of the high country pathway

oil drilling rig in michigan - pigeon river country state forest

After leaving camp, the trail winds along Canada Creek for a brief moment before breaking away and heading west. This morning provided a few hilltop views that were far from breathtaking. I passed by an oil drilling rig in the middle of a field, which was strange to see. I had never seen one before in Michigan.

swampy area north side of hcp

swampy areas of the north side

north side of the hcp

Everything was still wet from last night’s rain, and the trail also served as a drainage in spots, channeling water downhill. The woods were much denser here on the north side, and I noticed fewer two tracker roads. The terrain was also more swampy, and there were more hardwood forests. There were a lot of boardwalks today, where can be very slippery when wet. The swampy sections looked like a sea of green moss covering the forest floor with pools of water flowing between everything. There were a lot of uprooted trees here as well.

Every once in a while, the trail would pass through an open field. Many of these fields would make good campsites, but most of the time there was no water nearby.

the black river as it crossed the high country pathway trail

lots of water over the trail

When I reached Black River I was glad there was a bridge to cross as it was a good size stream. There was a house on one side of the river where the bridge crosses it with a very loud dog. The trail was underwater where it continued on the other side of the bridge, which took a few minutes to figure out how to get around. The woods were too thick to go around it, and this one was deep. I encountered some pools that were about knee deep today. Fortunately I didn’t have to walk through any of those.

springtime in the pigeon river country state forest

The trail goes uphill after leaving Black River. Once away from the river, the annoying dog that wouldn’t shut it’s barker was out of earshot. Now in a different patch of forest, I could see lots of green vegetation sprouting up everywhere. Finally, the transition from a dull, brown world to a lush green one! I personally find winter to be very dismal and depressing, and prefer the summer when everything is green and in bloom. So, seeing this green was a nice mental boost.

Shortly after leaving Black River behind, I found myself on a two tracker road in the middle of a pine forest. This is when my left knee started to hurt, in addition to my already painful right knee. Nothing happened, but a simple step sent throbbing pain into my left knee all of the sudden. I didn’t twist it, strain it, anything… it was a simple, easy step. However, the pain was quite strong initially and I had to stop. I was about 30 miles into this hike and I didn’t think I could finish. I took an ibuprofen 800 and 2 extra strength Excedrins as I rested. For a moment, I contemplated hiking to the nearest road and hitching back to Clear Lake. This was certainly the most appealing option at the moment, but regardless I was still a ways from a road that would see any traffic.

After mustering up the strength to continue, I pushed on down the two tracker. I assumed the pain would get worse as I moved, but it became more manageable. Maybe it was the pills. Still, every step was painful. I decided to continue the hike and try to tough it out.

just another plain old field along the hcp

former loction of mccreedy homestead

The trail eventually leaves the two tracker and wanders through more fields. One of them had a sign that said “Mc Cready’s Field Homestead Site”, but there were no signs of any previous settlement here that I saw.

swampy section north side hcp

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through what I would consider some of the most remote sections of trail the HCP has to offer. There was less logging areas and more thick wooded sections. It was also much more swampy than other parts of the trail, so there were tons of boardwalks built over the wet areas. I saw a deer earlier in the morning, and tons of tracks everywhere. I also saw a lot of what looked like coyote crap… had lots of fur in it.

view of dog lake

Dog Lake? More like Dog Marsh.

The High Country Pathway then winds in between two lakes, Duby and Mc Lavey Lakes. There was a sign marking the side trails that lead to the lakes, but I opted to pass. Soon after I came across Dog Lake. When I planned this hike I assumed this lake was accessible if I needed to use it as a water source, but in reality the land surrounding the lake was really marshy. The lake looked more like a wetland in Florida, and was not worth the hassle trying to get to it. Fortunately I did not need water.

campsite along dog lake

After passing by the lake, I saw my first actual “campsite”, marked by evidence of a fire in a crude fire pit. Normally when I hike, I am used to seeing obvious campsites here and there. So far, not on the HCP. Where do hikers camp here? Or better yet, does anyone hike here at all? After 30+ miles, I still haven’t seen one person.

elk tracks in the pigeon river counrty state forest - high country pathway

Elk tracks north of Pine Grove state forest campground

tracks from logging machinery

I saw tons of elk tracks after leaving Dog Lake, but no elk. After a few more miles, I rounded the northwest corner of the loop and began heading south. Shortly afterwards, I began to see signs of logging again. This time, the logging hadn’t cleared a huge tract of land yet. The trail suddenly gave way to heavy machinery tracks on a road cut through the forest. A while later, I saw a lone logger with his chainsaw in hand. It felt odd to see this one guy by himself cutting down trees in the forest after hiking nearly 40 miles and not seeing a soul. He was 100′ off the trail, not even sure if he saw me.

I was getting close to the area I picked to camp for the night, which was beside the Pigeon River about a mile north of Pine Grove State Forest Campground. It looked feasible on the map before I left home, but now that I was here I was faced with some thick brush on the hillside that sloped down towards the river. At first it was manageable, and there were tons of game trails to follow. This soon changed as the trails disappeared into extremely thick brush. I could see on my GPS that I was only about 200ft from the river, but I couldn’t see it. I could only see about 5 feet in front of me as I was confronted with an impenatrable wall of brush, and I was forced to turn back. Even if it were possible to somehow make it to the river, thee was nowhere to camp, and the bugs would ave been horrendous.

view of the pigeon river from hcp

After bushwhacking my way up the hill back to the trail, I had no choice but to hike the extra mile to Pine Grove campground. The only water source around is the river which is inaccessible here. I had already hiked over 20 miles today and the last mile seemed like it took forever. Eventually I made it to the campground, which was empty.

My GPS said I hiked 22.5 miles today, but later when I got home it said 21.5. It always does that, overrates the day’s mileage when checking it on the go. I didn’t like the idea of camping in the state forest campground since I normally camp in the backcountry, but hey, I could care less at the moment. My knees where absolutely killing me.

pigeon river at pine grove campground

a view of the pigeon river at the pine grove state forest campground

After setting up camp, I headed down to Pigeon River to wash up. My campsite was only about 100ft away which was nice. The river also had a set of stairs leading down to it with a wooden platform that protrudes out into the water. This was perfect to sit on and let my legs soak in the water. The water was freezing (it snowed less than 48 hours ago!) but I figured it would help alleviate the soreness in my knees and feet some. While sitting here I noticed I had some ticks on my stomach right above my belt line, 5 to be exact. I am almost certain I got them while trying to find my riverside campsite. Those bastards.

I enjoyed having the amenities of the campground tonight as there was no need to filter the water, and having a real toilet sure beats the alternative. Still, I was bummed about not securing a campsite along the trail somewhere. I just can’t believe how few campsites there are along the HCP, especially on the north side.

 

Day 3 – Wednesday May 15th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 18.6
Route – Pine Grove State Forest Campground to Town Corner State Forest Campground

I slept pretty decent last night. There was a sprinkle of rain as I went to bed but thankfully that was it. I drank a liter of water this morning before hitting the trail as I normally try to do. I figure it’s good to start the day off well hydrated, especially since there’s easy access to water here in the campground.

leaving pine grove campground

crossing the pigeon river

on the bridge crossing pigeon river

I hit the trail around 8:30 this morning. Soon after leaving camp the HCP crosses the Pigeon River. The sun was shining and the river was begging to be fished, but not this trip.

near pigeon river

big ramp in a boardwalk on the high country pathway

The HCP is also used by mountain bikers. I’ll bet they love this section

I crossed the bridge and headed into another swampy area. The boardwalk here was damaged by some uprooted trees that had pushed the planks up from below, creating what looked like a ramp for BMX bikers. Walking over this was awkward and somewhat comical. Gotta find something to laugh at when you are alone for days on end.

michigan dnr backcountry camp registration card

Later in the morning I came across a camper registration card tied to a tree. I wasn’t expecting to see one of these. I was surprised to see this one survived the winter and was still legible, considering it was written in pencil as the DNR wishes.

It was nice to be outside and all, but to be honest this hike was rather boring. I really started to feel it today. There isn’t much to see on the High Country Pathway, just an endless cycle of nondescript forests, swamps, fields, logging area and two tracker roads. The knees were still hurting and definitely attributed to my lack of enthusiasm for this hike. They were making a lot of grinding and popping noises and it certainly felt like more than just “sore knees”.

hilltop from on day 3

beaver dam along an intermittent stream

 

a lake made by beavers in the pigeon river country state forest

About a 1.5 – 2 miles north of Grass Lake the HCP passes by what I would call a lake or very large pond that was not present on my GPS. The GPS maps show an intermittent stream here, but there was a beaver dam holding the water back. It would have been possible to camp next to “Beaver Lake” as there was just enough room to fit a solo tent. There was also a few clearings within a hundred yards or so of the beaver dam area that would have been suitable for camping as well.

beaver lodge and dam on grass lake

See the beaver dam and lodge?

nice campsite along grass lake

Best campsite on the high Country Pathway!

panoramic view of grass alke from the hcp

Grass Lake also had beavers. There was what appeared to be a small dam near the shore of the lake where a small stream trickles in, and I could see the lodge out in the open water. But I did not see any beavers, nor did I at where I saw the last dam. I think the best campsite along the entire High Country Pathway trial is right next to Grass Lake. This was by far the best view of any of the campsites I’ve seen, and it was right next to the water. I would have loved to camp here, but I still needed to cover over 10 miles today.

ford alke in the pigeon river country state forest

About a mile up the trail I passed by Ford Lake. It looked like the water level was low since there was such a large flat area surrounding the lake where the HCP passes by it. I suppose you could camp here, I believe the ground was solid enough.

view of the pigeon river from the pigeon bridge

The trail then parallels the Pigeon River for the next 1-1.5 miles until you cross the river. Once across the bridge at Sturgeon Valley Rd, a short road walk leads to the Pigeon Bridge campground. Here, there is a marked trailhead for both the High Country Pathway and Shingle Mill Pathway trails on the opposite side of the road. I decided to take a lunch break at the campground, which was empty. It was convenient to have quick access to potable water via a hand pump well, and I took advantage of this by finishing the rest of my 2L bladder. Typically I drink a lot of water in the morning and at night, and try to ration my water on the trail. I do this somewhat subconsciously, but also because I don’t want to be bothered with filtering water during the day when I could be hiking instead. I also changed my socks at lunch as I have been doing the other days to try and keep my feet dry. My damn feet are always hot and sweaty, gotta do what I can to combat that.

another field the hcp passes through

islands of trees in random fields

Back on the trail, about 1.5 miles east of the Pigeon Bridge campground, I saw 2 coyotes about 100ft off the trail. They ran off once they saw me. I wasn’t able to get my camera out in time to get a picture. Next the trail passed through more logging areas and more open fields. One thing I was beginning to notice about some of these fields is that they often contained an island of trees. They must have been cleared in the past and for some reason those trees were spared.

view from high point near town corner campground

The trail then follows a ridgeline that is slightly elevated providing a view over the treetops. It was very windy today and you could really feel it up here. And when I say it’s elevated, I am talking Michigan standards here… about 100ft higher than the land below. Not a grand view by any means.

Now mid afternoon, it was time to start thinking about finding a campsite. My options where to head down off the ridge and look for the Black River, which I could not see from above despite being less than 1/4 mile away, or camp in the Town Corner State Forest campground. I could also keep going and another mile and see my options are near Tubbs Creek, but I didn’t want to make it there and not find something. Based on what I have seen so far,  there as no reason to believe there would be any good place to camp there. .Considering the hassle it was to try and reach the Pigeon River yesterday, I chose the state forest campground. I thought the campground was a little closer to the HCP, but it ended up being 1.2 miles. Great, another 1.2 miles extra tomorrow morning.

view of town corner lake

Once I reached Town Corner campground, I found a nice site next to the lake. It was extremely windy though and I had to weigh down any gear that was light enough to blow away, like my socks. There was one other person camping here farther down the lake, and up a hill so that he was out of sight. So far, this was the second person I have seen in 3 days.

view of town corner lake from the campground

The first thing I did was take off my boots and put on my camp shoes, and relaxed on the picnic table for a while. The downside of resting like this is that when it comes to move around and do stuff, my knees and feet did not want to cooperate. I decided to try and soak my legs in the lake as I did last night to bring down any swelling. I found a tree that had fallen over into the lake, but was still sticking up high enough out of the water to provide some cover. I used the tree for balance while soaking the legs, and then decided I needed to wash up. I immersed my whole body in the water and tried to rinse off as much salt and grime as I could. After a few minutes the water was actually tolerable. It felt great to clean up a bit!

my campsite at town corner campground

Back at the campsite, I relaxed a while longer by the lake.. There was a turkey running around near camp that I watched for a while before he disappeared. Eventually I got tired of the wind and decided to move. I chose a more wooded campsite recessed back away from the lake and it helped quite a bit. The only problem now is that there were a lot of mosquitoes here. I made a small fire to try and keep them away but ended up putting more clothes on as a more effective deterrent.

I was still close enough to the lake to walk down here and sit by the shore. I saw a bald eagle soaring overhead as the sun slowly started going down. It was very clear out and I could tell the stars were going to be bright tonight. Although I brought a tripod and remote control for the shutter, the damn batteries died  in the remote. I’ve lost track of how many trips I’ve intended to attempt nighttime photography, but each time there has been some issue preventing me from doing so. To make matters worse, I lost a lens cap for my camera as the little string that attaches the lens to the camera had broken.

At 9:30, I heard a couple of coyotes howling. The first was a little farther away (1 mile?). The second was literally on the other side of the lake… very, very close!

 

Day 4- Thursday May 14th, 2013

Miles Hiked -19.9
Route – Town Corner State Forest Campground to Clear Lake parking lot

town corner lake on a calm morning

Smooth as glass!

The wind died down last night just as I went to bed, go figure! The stars were very bright and it was actually an extremely still night. Hard to believe it could be so still, so suddenly after it had been so windy all day. I had a lot of condensation on the inside of my Tarptent Moment when I woke up. I was really looking forward to being done with this hike this afternoon. My car is roughly 20 miles away, and I hoped to get there as soon as possible.

tunnel of vegetation on the high country pathway

After leaving camp around 8:30, it took a bout 1.5 miles before the pain in my knees was tolerable. I lost my watch this morning as I took off my jacket. Since the strap was broken, I had been carrying it in my pocket. Oh well, this gives me an excuse to buy a cooler watch now. I’ve been wanting one with a thermometer/barometer for a while now but couldn’t justify the purchase since I had a fully functional watch already. Not anymore!

view of the black river

nice campsite along the black river

Black River campsite

About a mile past the junction between the HCP and the cutoff trail leading to Town Corner, there was a nice campsite along the Black River. Seeing this made me wish I had taken a chance and pushed on past Town Corner last night.

hcp woods

tubbs creek in the pigeon river country state forest

Beyond this there was another swampy section, and yet another logging area. It seems like a huge portion of the land the HCP passes through has been logged or is marked to be cut. The southern side of the HCP seemed to have the most logging activity.

signs that says there are bear claw marks on some trees

While walking through a forested area, I passed a group of people out picking mushrooms. There were about 8 people or so. I knew I must be close to a trailhead or road of some sort, and sure enough, about 1/4 mile up there were a few cars parked along Camp 30 Rd. Just a short ways into the woods on the other side of the road there was a sign that said “Bear claw marks on beech trees”, but there were no obvious claw marks on the trees. I wonder how long ago that was?

phigh country pathway elk sighting

elk sighting in michigan

elk in the pigeon river country state forest of michigan

About 2 miles down the trail I spotted an elk as I dropped down into another logging area. I snapped a few pictures from farther away by zooming in. Then I started to work my way closer to it, and eventually got within about 50ft. Not knowing much about elk, I couldn’t tell if it was male or female since it didn’t have antlers. Male elk shed their antlers every year so this could be a male as it was still mid spring. After getting some pictures I was ready to move on, but it was standing right where I needed to go. I started moving around in an obvious way so that it would see me, but it didn’t move. The I tossed a few stones it’s way and starting making noise, but it didn’t move much. Finally I just started walking and the elk moved out of the way lazily, only as far as he had to to keep a small buffer between us. I herded it down a dirt road that cuts through the field and it continued to be in my way for about 5 minutes before it finally chose a path that didn’t mirror mine.

high country apthway west of rattlesnake hill

panoramic view from rattlesnake hill

A rare view in Michigan’s lower peninsula

view from rattlesnake hill

After half mile road walk along Country Rd 622, I was approaching Rattlesnake Hill. This hill has the highest elevation along the HCP at a towering 1240ft. Yes, that was sarcasm. Today has had more ups and downs than the other days but it’s not difficult terrain by any means. The best view came from a “false summit” before reaching the top. There was a park bench here to sit and look out over the Pigeon River Country State Forest. For the lower peninsula of Michigan, the view was one of the farthest I’ve seen, if not the farthest. Farther up the trail I discovered that the summit of Rattlesnake Hill actually has some sort of cottage on top of it with No Trespassing signs all over the perimeter. I could only find a handful of trip reports for this hike, and there were maybe 3 good/helpful ones. None mentioned that that summit of Rattlesnake Hill is private property!

a small metal building with a noisy generator

After “descending” Rattlesnake Hill, there was nothing else left of interest for me on this hike. My mission now was to get to the car! The south side of the HCP is definitely the least wildernessy (that’s a word, right?). I saw more people, more cars, and more homes here than in the other days. At one point I hear the sound of a motor in the distance. When I emerged from the woods into a clearing I could see a small metal building that had some type of generator running. I’m thinking it was some type of well or gas drilling facility.

one of the last large fields along my backpacking trip

After this I didn’t take many pictures. I crossed a creek that showed on my GPS as Van Hetton Creek, but there was a sign calling it Van Helen Creek. I called it Van Halen Creek!

canada creek north of muskellunge lake

Canada Creek north of Muskellunge Lake

I was getting pretty close to Clear Lake now. The trail passed through a few more logging areas before turning into another 1/2 mile road walk on County Rd 622, again. I saw a dead snake in the middle of the road, flattened. I don’t think I’ve ever seen snake roadkill before, haha. Another mile or so and I was back at Clear Lake, finally! What a grueling experience.

 

Final Thoughts

It was strange for me to hike and NOT camp in a backcountry site once. I slept in the Canada Creek shelter, Pine Grove SF CG, and Town Corner SF CG. There were very few suitable campsites along the High Country Pathway. There were some flat spots to pitch a tent here and there, but seldomly where they near a water source.

My lips got extremely dry and cracked, to the point they were bleeding. I’ve had this happen in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, but I wasn’t expecting that here in Michigan. I am going to start bringing lip balm on every hike now just to be safe. It’s something I never use in my daily life, but apparently is a necessity when backpacking. I probably won’t need it often, but I am not going to be without it again.

The HCP is a rather boring hike. There is a lot of logging areas, two tracker roads and road walks. When you are away from these things, it was still kind of boring. There weren’t any awesome views or attractions here, just some plain ‘ol woods and nondescript landscapes. There is not much wilderness left in the lower peninsula, everything is built up everywhere. Even areas like this that are considered wild by Michigan standards, you can’t go more than maybe 2 miles without crossing a two tracker road or some signs of civilization. It’s pretty sad, really.

The wildlife in the Pigeon River Country State Forest is probably the main draw to the HCP in my opinion. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked anywhere where there were more signs of animals than here. Maybe because nobody hikes here, lol. Many people are unaware that elk even exist in Michigan, let alone the lower peninsula. Believe it or not, This area is supposed to be home to the largest herd of elk east of the Mississippi River!

I hiked the HCP in mid May, before the vegetation really started to take off with summer growth. I have read that this trail is often overgrown in the summer and I can definitely see why. A few more weeks and I think I would have been up to my waist or chest in a sea of green along many of the trails.

I pretty much expected to be the only hiker out here, and I was right. Although I did see a few people during the trip, none were hiking or mountain biking. I can’t imagine this trail being heavily used at any point in the year.

It took several weeks for me knees to feel right again. I don’t know what the problem was, but I didn’t do much to prepare for this hike in terms of leg workouts. I only ran a few times and maybe did a few stair climbing sessions with a loaded pack, but not as much as I should have. I may have simply overworked my body, since I didn’t work my way up to 20 mile days. Still, I was expecting my body to be sore, not for my knees to make that awful grinding sound. I could feel my kneecaps grinding if I put my hand on them.

I don’t know if I would every hike the High Country Pathway again. If I did, I would add an extra day and plan my hike around the best campsites.

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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3 Responses

  1. Becky Williams

    This was very helpful. Many husband and I are planning this hike for late June. I enjoyed reading all your details.

     

    May 27, 2015 at 12:26 am

  2. Thanks! Thinking of hiking this soon. Just got the map and it shows the HCP going on the east side of the Pigeon River north of Pigeon Bridge over to Pigeon River Campground, missing Ford Lake and most of Grass Lake. The map labels the section by Ford Lake and Grass Lake as the Shingle Mill Pathway. I was thinking of camping at Grass Lake as you mentioned it was a great place to camp, but maybe it’s not even on the trail anymore? Was it like this when you hiked it?

     

    July 19, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    • MetalBackpacker
      MetalBackpacker

      Yeah, I took the Shingle Mill Pathway in that section if I remember right, instead of following the HCP proper. They form a loop though, so you can take either. There’s trailhead parking on the south side of Sturgeon Valley Rd, across the street from the Pigeon Bridge campground. The Shingle Mill Pathway starts here, or you can take the HCP. Looking at my caltopo map though, the Shingle Mill Pathway is actually printed as the HCP, in addition to the actual HCP.

      Here’s a picture of the campsite at Grass Lake:

      Grass Lake campsite - High Country Pathway

       

      July 21, 2016 at 9:42 pm

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