Monday, March 31, 2008
Winter Backpacking to Lower Russian Lake
We had a fun weekend backpacking to the Lower Russian Lake this past weekend. We had 4 adults and 3 kids (8, 9 & 10 years old), 3 backpacking packs loaded, 3 smaller kids packs and 4 sleds loaded with 30 pieces of firewood, 10 gallons of water and supplies (only 2 on the way back!). There was very little snow up the road from where we were going to be hiking, so we were worried about being able to pull our sleds of stuff, but so many people had been on the trail that it was hard packed and didn't look like it would be melting anytime soon. Yaktraks (rubber things you put on your boots when walking on ice/packed snow) helped us with traction as we pulled loaded sleds and carried the packs on our backs.
It took 2 hours and 10 minutes to hike the 4+ miles (+ because we had to hike from the Sterling Highway since the road back wasn't plowed. The trail itself is 3.3 miles, so I would guess it was a little less than a mile back to the trailhead). We didn't get started till almost 7 pm, so thank goodness for a long dusk! We had to take the winter route because the summer trail is built into the side of the mountain and poses a very real threat of avalanches. There were a couple areas by the lake where the trail had been wiped out by avalanches, so we were glad we took that route, though it was through a bog (very bumpy!), cross country, with small streams to cross and no snow in some areas. When we got to the lake we discovered that we would have to cross the lake to get to the cabin. The ice was not frozen where we came to it because a stream entered, so we were not at all confident how deep the ice was. Once we got started we were more confident, which is good because it was a long mile to the cabin. The picture of the lake above is from the cabin; that is how far we had to hike the lake. We found a hole someone chopped in the ice; it was a foot deep.
The cabin was rustic but well furnished with 2 double bunks and 2 single bunks, a a table with 3 benches, cupboards in the kitchen area and a flat-top woodstove that we could cook on (all for only $25/night! Seriously!). There was an outhouse that we all agreed was quite nice by outhouse standards (new seat, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and reading material!) and a woodshed that had 8 foot sections of dead trees we could cut up if we wanted. The cabin had 4 windows, 2 doors and a wrap-around deck, 2 saws, an ax, games, paper towels, a pocketknife and lots of miscellaneous stuff left by previous campers (I'm guessing). It seemed way more comfortable than I expected.
The only wildlife we saw the whole weekend were a pair of large white birds (swans? geese?) that took off just as we reached Russian Lake. We saw a few moose tracks (very few) and signs of squirrels, but that was it. We had a .44 with us in case we had any problems with bear. We weren't sure if they were coming out of hibernation yet or not in that area, but figured if they were up and about they would be hungry, so we wanted to be on the safe side. From what everyone we've talked to says, it takes a minimum of a .44 to stop a bear. Smaller guns might slow them down, or make them mad, but not kill them. We all practiced some target shooting just in case.
Our biggest problem the whole weekend was climate control. It was very difficult (actually, impossible) to get the temperature "just right" in the cabin, so we loaded the stove with wood and opened the windows. The good thing about staying in such a tiny place is that we didn't want to spend tons of time indoors, so we were out and about. Saturday we got out the toboggan sleds and ran races on the lake, took walks on the lake, the kids made forts, Denver chopped wood with his new hatchet, and Aurora and I climbed partway up the mountain across the lake and picked lowbush cranberries (yum, yum!) left over from last fall. We also read, slept, ate, talked and played games.
The hike out took almost as long as hiking in, though it felt a lot faster as we weren't racing darkness and we knew where we were going. The sleds were lightly packed so we let the kids get on them for the downhill sections of trail and away they flew! A day and a half at this cabin seemed like as much of a vacation as a week in Michigan. It felt like a real get-away. We've got to do this more often!