Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Backpacking Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest, Boulder Junction, WI, October 2-4, 2015

Family picture at Concora Rd Trailhead
The Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest (NHAL) offers a number of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, hiking, biking and winter activities. I previously wrote about a day trip we took on one of the canoe routes we explored in the NHAL. I look forward to further exploring some of those routes on multi-night trips, but we promised our daughter canoe camping was over for the season. Instead, we planned a backpacking trip on the Lumberjack Trail near Boulder Junction, WI.

Bridge over White Sand Creek Rd
The Lumberjack Trail (pdf map from WI DNR) is the only backpacking opportunity the DNR lists on its website of the NHAL, although there are probably others. The trail is about 12.5 miles long, including a figure 8 loop that offers 4 and 6 mile hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing opportunities. The trails are classified as intermediate, which I assume is rated for winter sports because it's an easy hiking trail that is wide and well-maintained. There are a couple stream crossings, but there are sturdy bridges, so there is no fording necessary. There are no established campsites, so if you want to camp here, be prepared to explore off trail for a suitable campsite. 

With our daughter having a day off school, we found the perfect opportunity to head up north for a couple nights. We left home Friday morning, timing our arrival to Boulder Junction to be suitable for an early lunch, although we didn't have a particular destination in mind. Coming through Boulder junction, we saw a sign that said homemade pies at a place called the Outdoorsman, so our daughter insisted this would be the place. It turned out to have good food and a cast of animals, including goats, chickens and a rabbit, out back. The food was good enough that we returned after our hike.

Posing at Fishtrap Dam at Manotiwish River
First night campsite
We set off on the trail in the early afternoon with a plan to camp near a water source, which I expected to be near Fishtrap Lake. Once we made it to Fishtrap dam, which separates the lake from the Manotiwish River, we were happy to know that we would have a source of water for the next day and begin looking for a campsite. Since our daughter was ready to stop walking after only 3 miles, Lorraine headed down the trail to look for a spot while I kept Amber occupied. About 15 minutes later, she returned with news that she found an area that would suffice. There was enough of an opening to set up camp, so we did just that. However, there was enough undergrowth that we opted out of making a fire. Being tired, chilly and in the middle of a heavily wooded area, we all went to bed at dark.

Saturday morning was quite chilly, with weather.com reporting the overnight low at 29 °F, so Amber and I slept in a bit. There's obviously quite a bit of hunting taking place in the area as we heard numerous
Posing at our first campsite
gunshots throughout the morning. After the sun came over the treeline and warmed us a bit, we broke camp with plans to hike down the red-blazed section of the trail to make camp. Fortunately, by then, nearly all the gunshots had subsided. First, though, we returned to Fishtrap dam to fill up our water, and while we were waiting for the water to filter, we decided we might as well have lunch. We saw a couple motor boats making there way through Fishtrap Lake. After lunch, we headed down the red-blaze trail, keeping an eye out for suitable campsites. Amber started complaining of not feeling well, so we found a place to camp after only a couple miles of hiking. Fortunately, this site we found was quite a bit more open with less undergrowth than the previous site.

Second night campsite
We found a spot for our new tent, a Tarptent Rainshadow 2, which we decided we didn't really love because it didn't offer as much space as the footprint might suggest due to the sloping tarp. Anyway, we had a leisurely afternoon around camp and even built a small fire, which I sat around until well after dark. I finally decided to call it quits around 9pm or so and climbed into my warm sleeping bag. 

I was later woken to the strangest sound in camp, which we later surmised was a snorting deer, but at the time we weren't exactly sure what was going on. The noise was quite loud, and Lorraine first thought it was fabric ripping, although it sounding like a snorting animal to me. So, after yelling at it, I climbed out of the tent, put on my shoes, grabbed the headlamp and bear spray and went to investigate. We were a little concerned about the safety of our food since the hang, which ended up not going as well as hoped, was probably only about 9 -10 ft off the ground. The food turned out to be hung securely from the ropes, although I need to add some reflective cord or tape because it was kinda hard to find despite not being far away. The next day we found deer scat, and along with listening to animal sounds on the internet at home, we finally concluded it was most likely a deer. Amber was quite worried, but I managed to sleep fine after settling down, and we didn't hear any more loud noises the rest of the night. Finding suitable places to camp off trail in the woods like this is often made easier by spotting faint "trails" near what appear to be open areas off in the distance. Sometimes, these trails are likely used by wildlife, so it seemingly increases the chance of a late-night encounter. We later learned that someone spotted a bear on the trail that weekend, so we were fortunate to not have (to our knowledge) any bears in camp.

Sunday morning was a bit warmer than Saturday but it was still a little chilly. After having some breakfast, which for me included beef jerky, cheddar cheese and hot creamy chicken soup, we began breaking camp for our trek back to the car. The hike back was nice, and despite her foot-dragging on the way in, Amber took a nice pace as she usually does on the way out. After returning to the car, we all changed clothes, which I had not done all weekend, then we went back to the Outdoorsman for another hot meal before heading home.

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