Thursday, April 14, 2011

Backpacking Sleeping Bear Dunes

Over the winter we've been reading about the trail, planning local trips, and outfitting ourselves. Taking advantage of end of season sales, we picked up a GoLite Shangri-La3 tent, a pair of sleeping bags rated down to 15 degrees, insulated sleeping pads, hiking clothing, cooking stuff, rain gear, etc. With all this yakking and preparation, and with me now uncommitted to any employer, we were itching to get out there. So, when the long-delayed spring weather provided an opportunity, we loaded up our packs for a mid-week trip!

I packed the tent fly, pole and pegs. Mary packed the floor. We both packed clothing, rain gear, personal hygiene stuff, sleeping bags and pads. I packed our food, cooking stuff, first aid kit, and our water filter. We both packed two 1L Platypus water bottles, and I carried a 1 gallon Platypus for collecting water for camp. I wanted to get my pack as close to the 28 lbs I expect to be carrying on the AT. Mary has had a few knee, ankle and back issues, and we have been walking several miles a day, getting stronger and loosing weight, but I wanted her pack to be fairly light for this first trip.

We headed north to Sleeping Bear Dunes, on the shore of Lake Michigan and the The Leelanau Peninsula.  We got our backcountry permits, parked at the Ranger Station at Platte River campground, shouldered our packs and headed out for a big 2.7 mile day! The trail was relatively flat through back-dune country, forested with pines and oaks. an hour or so of easy hiking brought us to White Pines Campground. We had the place to ourselves! We set up the tent, stashed our packs, and headed down the trail a quarter mile to see Lake Michigan. It was glorious weather, the sun was getting low in the sky, and we could see the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes to the north!

Meals were designed to be either eaten cold, or cooked using the freezer bag cooking method - Santa Fe black beans & Minute rice with herbs and spices in individual freezer baggies, along with a pouch of chicken for dinner. Cookies and tea for dessert. Starbucks Via instant coffee, and Oatmeal with raisens, sugar and Nido instant milk packed in baggies for breakfast. Cliff bars and gorp for trail snacks. We brought our Monatauk Gnat canister stove, an REI 1.3L Ti pot, MSI Titan 13 oz cups, Freezer bag cozies and sporks...

When we got back to camp we fired up the stove and boiled enough water to make dinner. Everything worked fine and dinner was tasty. By eating directly out of the baggies, cleanup consisted of licking our sporks clean, zipping the baggies and stashing them in our trash bag.

About this time, another hiker showed up and started a fire in the communal fire ring. We chatted as he warmed up a can of soup over the fire. He headed off to watch the sunset, and we fired up the stove to make a cup of tea and munch on some cookies before turning in. 

Night time was a bit rough. The first time in a long time for either of us to be in sleeping bags, and it got down to 28 degrees. We both tossed and turned trying to get comfortable. The bags were rated well below the tempurature, but we're both side sleepers and those insulated pads didn't quite insulate our hips from the cold ground sufficiently. We'll have to pick up a pair of foam pads to suppliment the pad during shoulder seasons ...

When morning finally came, we made coffee and oatmeal, broke camp, and headed out for a 4.3 mile return loop. This route had a lot more elevation changes, through more mature forests, and past ponds and wetlands. We played with hip belt position, shoulder straps and load lifters to optimize the fit, and carried our loads easily. The shoulder straps on the Atmos were not terribly comfortable, figure I need to let them break in. I did began to wonder about whether this pack would have the volume to carry 5-7 days worth of food on top of my base load ...

Overall, it was a great shakedown, and we're looking forward to tweaking our gear, and taking several more trips before we head for Springer next Spring!

I welcome your comments, and invite you to follow our journey by plugging your email addy into the box at the right.

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