A Challenging Loop
Posted on May 10, 2019
The weather is finally feeling spring-like here in Michigan. It takes a while for old man winter to let go, but when it does, it’s glorious. When the sun comes out, I get the itch to be outside, soaking up the sun, moving around, exploring my world. So, the other day, on a day off, I headed out for a solo hike. Don’t worry, this one turned out much better than the last solo hike I told you about!
Deadman’s Hill Overlook is near Elmira, Michigan. It got its name because of several fatal accidents that happened in the area back in the logging days, the last one happening in 1910. The overlook alone is totally worth a visit, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. The lookout sits at 1339ft, allowing you to see for miles over the Jordan River Valley. Even now, in spring, with no leaves to speak of yet, the view is breathtaking.
There are two hiking trails, starting and ending at the overlook. The Jordan River Pathway is an 18-mile loop, suitable for backpacking and overnight camping. There’s also a short loop, around 3 miles, called Deadman’s Hill Loop. This was my goal for the day. I had never been on this trail before, so I packed my backpack with some snacks, an extra layer of clothing, plenty of water, a compass, and trekking poles. I also had my little camp stove, just in case, along with some soup mix. I had planned on throwing in my hammock but I apparently got a little excited once I arrived at the trailhead, because I totally forgot it in the truck. Oh, and of course, I had my camera!
The trail starts off with an elevation drop of over 400ft. I admit, about halfway down this fairly steep section of trail, I stopped and thought “Every downhill step I take is an uphill step I’m going to have to take sometime later in this walk.” In my current state of out-of-shape-ness, I knew this meant that getting back to my vehicle was going to be a struggle. But, the only way to get better at something is to do it. So, I continued on down. Why is it that hills don’t look like much of anything when you take a picture of them?
When I reached trail marker 2, at the bottom of the hill, I was surprised to see the trail converged with the North Country Trail for a short time. I’ve looked at maps of the NCT numerous times, but I guess I’ve never paid much attention to the other trails it intersects with. Now that I was on level with the Jordan River, and water was abundantly available to the plants, the turning of the seasons was visible everywhere I looked. Lovely green growing things were pushing through the leafy forest floor, especially right along the edges of the little streams flowing toward the Jordan River.
At trail marker 3, the short loop and the 18-mile loop split. The NCT follows the longer loop for several more miles. My next trail sign was marker 14. Remember that 400ft decline I mentioned at the beginning? Yep, I had reached the uphill I had been fearing. It took half a mile to come down, but the trail takes 1.2 miles to gently go back up. Most people consider this a good thing. I personally prefer a quick, steep hill over a long, gradual incline. I guess I’m more of a sprinter than a marathoner. This is not news to me, though. I have lived with myself for my entire life, after all. So, I have learned ways to get myself through difficult things. I have to kind of trick my brain. For one, I try to avoid looking at the top of the hill. It can be overwhelming, seeing how far you still have to go. Instead, I concentrate on short intervals. In this case, it was the trail blazes on the trees. Just make it to the next blaze. You can take a break then. With short goals, frequent breaks, and a little help from my inhaler, I made it to the top! I have to admit, I’m glad I did this one solo. I’m overweight, I’m out of shape, and I have asthma. Yes, that all made this trail a bit of a struggle for me. BUT I know my limits, and I’m ok with them…..until I hike with someone who doesn’t have those same limitations.
As for the condition of the trail? It is very clearly marked with easy to read trail signs. I think these are new, because I read a review from a year ago, from a hiker who missed the turn-off for the short loop and ended up on the longer trail. If these signs had been in place at that time, there’s no way that could have happened. There were a couple muddy spots, which is to be expected at this time of the year, from all the snowmelt. But they weren’t too bad, and there are wooden boardwalks over the worst of them. It looks like there’s been some recent maintenance happening on the trail too. A brand-new bridge has been built over a section of river, and some of the little boardwalks have been replaced. Being so early in the season, there were very few people around. As far as I knew, I had the trail to myself. Later in the tourist season, and during the fall color peak, I know there will be much more traffic. Another effect of being early in the season: there were no bugs to be bothered by. However, the river valley consists of quite a bit of wetland, which is perfect mosquitoes breeding ground. Give it another month or so, and the whole place will be swarming with the little blood suckers. I highly suggest bug repellent – DEET works best. The only wildlife I ran into was this little snake. He was sunning on the trail when I came up and startled him.
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