During the most recent Gentlemen's weekend, Jon made an off-hand comment about a possible winter trip. It had been about three years since our previous winter trip so we were definitely overdue for one. At the time it seemed quite unlikely that it could be arranged. Further, it would be a difficult, short trip. Fast forward a few months and we were at the Cabin. The trip happened because Jon pushed it forward and the rest of the guys stepped up to get everything required done very quickly. Bill picked up the snowmobiles from Port Austin and left them in Detroit for Jon to take back to Kalamazoo. He got them tuned up at a local shop and the rest of the guys from Kalamazoo helped test them, get them loaded on the trailer, planned most of the meals, and did pretty much everything else needed to make the trip happen. Within a few weeks we went from planning on going up to being at the Cabin!
Overall it was a stunning trip. The area had received a lot of snow that had accumulated throughout the season. This provided many layers on a solid base resulting in at least 4 feet of snow on the ground. For the few days we were up there the weather was amazing. It was pleasantly cold and sunny the whole time. I don't recall it ever being sunny two days in a row during the winter, let alone for a whole trip.
I went to Detroit on the evening of Wednesday, 5 February to meet Bill and spend the night. Jon, Doug, Ed, and Paul left Kalamazoo on Thursday around 5:20 AM. Bill and I left Detroit around 6:20 AM. Once we got away from the snowy streets around Detroit, the trip was quick and easy. We ran into no problems on the drive up except for the numerous stops we had to make for food, forgotten gear, etc. Even so, we arrived at the parking area off M77 at about 2:00 PM, only 20 minutes or so later than the Kalamazoo crew. Once again Mike from the hardware store let us park in a lot he keeps plowed. This convenient parking area made our trip much easier and was greatly appreciated.
For the trip in I had purchased another tub sled to tow behind one of the snowmobiles. I thought I had gotten a nice large one. It turns out it is only slightly longer and deeper than the old one, but not nearly as wide. I was hoping this would allow us to get all the gear into the Cabin in one trip. That wasn't the case, but this didn't turn out to be a problem. We also brought up many, many gallons of water mainly due to Jon's foresight. It seemed excessive to me, but it turned out we needed pretty much all of it. (This is partly due to the pump not working very well, thus the fresh water we brought up was used for more things than usual. Even accounting for this, the extra water was a necessity, not a luxury.) With all the guys and gear it took us two trips to get in, even with Ed running the trail on small, running snowshoes (he made great time).
Bill and Doug took the first load in. They dropped the gear near the start of the driveway and snowshoed the trail into the Cabin. It took Paul and I a little while to get the load on the second snowmobile ready so we did not arrive until Bill and Doug had done at least one trip on the snow shoes. I just dropped off gear and went back for Jon. The trails were in exceptional shape due to all the snow they had gotten and the work of the groomers. We were able to fly over the trails and all arrived at the Cabin in short order. On bad trails it can easily take an hour for a round trip. We were making it in about half that time.
Instead of digging out the Cabin, the guys who arrived earlier waited for Jon and I so we could all appreciate the beautiful, pristine view of the Cabin with all the snow. It was stunning. This is, by far, the most snow I have seen up there. Despite being deep, the snow had time to compress into layers meaning that it was quite possible to walk on it without snowshoes. You still sunk in some and it was work to walk very far, but it wasn't impassable. This made it much easier to get the Cabin open.
The main fun I had was going up onto the roof to clear off the chimneys. Usually we need to clear off the top of the chimney to the large wood stove since it does not have a cap on it (Bill brought one up so this will no longer be the case). This year, however, the chimneys to both wood stoves had to be dug out; they were buried in snow! The one to the large wood stove required some serious digging to get down to it.
Everyone immediately got to work once we started opening the Cabin. Paths were quickly dug to all the doors, the woodshed, and the out house. By 5:00 PM we had the Cabin open, lights on, and fires in the wood stoves. It would still take awhile for the Cabin to heat up and we still had other work to do, but at least the bulk of the work was done while it was still light outside.
With the remaining day light we finished the last tasks. The gear and some wood was hauled into the Cabin. Also the trail into the Cabin was ridden a number times by the snowmobiles to pack it down. Since the weather was pleasantly cold, by digging out the paths for walking and by riding the trail to pack it down, they froze nicely over night leaving solid foundations. The rest of the night was spent in the usual way, cards, drinking, etc. Given the long day we called it an early night. The Cabin did cool down noticeably during the night, even with a few refills of the wood stoves. Not much can be done to change this, particularly with the large wood stove, until it gets replaced with one more air tight/with fewer holes!
The first full day started for most of use around 8:30 AM with breakfast made by Jon. During breakfast the propane tank ran out. Since the tanks are kept in their own part of the wood shed it was easy to hook up a new one. Even so, it was quite surprising given that a new tank had been hooked up over Labor day. I still don't understand how a full tank could have been used so quickly, particularly since it had been used at times when little gas should have been required. Regardless, it didn't slow us down much and we were able to get out for a nice cross country ski trip.
The plan for this cross country ski trip was to find Camp Oscar again. I had first found it during my most recent solo trip. It shouldn't have been a long expedition, but I had only hiked it once and in the summer. The road to it is off the main snowmobile trail and is a maze of even smaller roads. A group of snowmobilers had ridden on some of the roads which threw me off even more. We ended up going in a small circle once and then eventually come out on Old Seney without having come across the camp. Fortunately I remembered a couple of landmarks and realized we were only a little north of the camp so we all ventured up a hill on Old Seney and did make it to our destination. I don't know which turn I missed that prevented us from coming up on the camp from behind. Even so, it worked out well, I now know there is another road worth some exploring and it was good to see the camp covered in snow. The gate blocking the driveway into the camp was particularly impressive given that it was nearly buried in all the snow.
The other benefit of the slight backtrack was that hill on Old Seney, since we climbed it we had to ski back down it. Paul, Doug, and Jon shot down the hill nice and fast without falling. Ed did a great job of making it down in one piece, particularly since this was his first time cross country skiing!
Coming back down McCloud Grade, Ed went straight on to the Cabin, the rest of us took the scenic route by following the Loop back. This was the first time most of the guys had seen the Loop and winter is the best time to view it. Crossing the old beaver dam and getting around the marsh was particularly easy given all the snow.
We made it back to the Cabin for a shot of Jägermeister and some food. Lunch consisted of chili made and brought up by Doug. We spent a couple of hours relaxing before venturing out again.
Bill decided to stay at the Cabin and nap while the rest of us went out snowshoeing. We didn't really have a plan, so we just headed mostly north from the Cabin through the marsh and along and across the river. During the trip we ended up wandering through the swap for awhile before crossing the trail that runs along the Loop. Continuing north we made it up to the Sucker river and crossed it. Going ever further north we came upon another trail. I expect this one leads from the intersection of Old Seney and McCloud Grade to a dead end near the Sucker river. At this point the sun was getting low on the horizon so we decided to head back. We wandered along the Sucker river for awhile before finding another beaver dam (which appeared to be in use) covered with a thick layer of snow making a nice bridge. We followed the Loop back around, over the other old beaver dam and got to the Cabin before it became dark.
For dinner we had a UP staple, pasties. These were hand made from scratch by Bill. They were excellent and everyone ate way too much. It was also Ed's birthday this weekend. In lieu of an actual cake, birthday cake vodka with whipped cream was served. Surprisingly it did taste like birthday cake and was not disgusting.
We started the next day as usual, breakfast by Jon and plans for another cross country ski trip. This time we planned on a short trip to the Lucky Buck, then around the Loop again, before heading back to the Cabin. A trip to the Lucky Buck is a standard one just like the Loop, but, once again, some of the guys had never been to the Lucky Buck. That has now been rectified. After we returned I spent a little time exploring around the Cabin to get a few more photos of the area.
After lunch there were a few options. We could, of course, go out for another trip. We talked about taking the picnic table to the end of the driveway and sitting there drinking and playing cards as the snowmobilers went by. But it had also been noticed that the back wall in the bunk room was bowing out a bit (and will need to be fixed the next gentlemen's weekend). To help alleviate some of the pressure on this wall, it was decided some snow would have to come off the roof, eventually.
Paul pretty much decided our plans for the rest of the day when he went onto the roof with a shovel and a lid from one of the plastic bins. Due to the depth of the snow on the ground and that overhanging the roof, there was a small, easy drop off the Cabin. Naturally, Paul took the opportunity to slide down the roof on the plastic lid. From there Bill slid down riding a shovel and then everyone else joined in. It quickly escalated. We propped a piece of plywood between the ground and the roof, covered it with snow, and began shaping the path from the roof across the area in front of the Cabin. (As the runs continued we eventually added another piece of plywood for further support.) Bill pulled an old toboggan out of one of the sheds. It has been up there unused for a long time, we finally found a good use for it; tobogganing from the roof!
Each trip down extended the path. The first objective was to get across the area in front of the Cabin. To help direct the toboggan and keep up speed we shaped the path, smoothing and flattening it between the runs. In no time people were making it across the front area and into the trees on the edge of the drop off into the creek bed. Although crashing into trees was pretty funny, we could do better.
After more work on the path, Bill was the first one to make it to the edge of the creek bed and then down into it. Subsequent work and trips made it so that every trip ended in the creek bed until we got to the point of starting to climb the other side before stopping. We spent hours at this. It was a pretty amazing Cabin experience.
Since I spent most of my time enjoying the tobogganing, I did not get pictures of all the progress nor of the final distance we achieved. I did get a couple of random, short movies including the humble beginnings by the intrepid early sliders and the first creek run by Bill. After dinner, in the dark, we went back out for a few more rides. At this point the run had nicely iced up so it was solid and fast. You had enough speed when you hit the edge of the creek drop off to get good air and only stopped on the steep part of the drop off on the other side of the creek bed.
In addition to all the tobogganing other things were accomplished. A lot of snow was actually removed from the roof and moved off the paths. For some reason a lot of apples were brought up as snacks (there were odd miscommunications in planning this trip). Jon turned this into a dessert and an aid in celebrating Ed's actual birthday. Though we had started the night before with the birthday cake vodka, the actual celebration occurred after dinner with the apple crisp, more birthday cake vodka, and of course Krupnik.
We also had 3 extra visitors for the night. Alex, Gwen, and their dog Watson were coming back from Marquette so Bill and Paul went in on snowmobiles to pick them up with their gear. This brought the number of people at the Cabin to eight, exactly the number needed for two concurrent games of Euchre! After the night tobogganing, more Euchre, and more drinking we all went to bed to get rested for the trip back home.
Our last day started like the rest, a big breakfast from Jon. As always seems to be the case, we had plenty of food so Jon made an extra big breakfast to use up some of it. Alex, Gwen, and Watson along with some of our gear went back to the parking area early so they could get on the road. The rest of us set about packing and closing up the Cabin.
One of the biggest tasks was to move snow from around the walls of the Cabin. The overhang on the roof does a pretty good job of keeping most of the snow away from the Cabin, but with all the snow knocked off the roof a lot of it fell against the walls. As before, the guys went at it and we moved a lot of snow pretty quickly. Hopefully this will keep water from pooling next to the Cabin logs when the snow melts in the spring.
It took three trips to get everyone and all the gear back to the parking area. Ed would have run back in, but because of all the work moving snow, everyone stuck around to help with closing the Cabin. With the trails in great shape the round trips didn't take very long. Jon and I finished closing up the Cabin before heading back with the last bit of gear. At the parking area we loaded the gear into the cars, the snowmobiles onto their trailer, and made sure everything was secure. We were able to hit the road south a little after 1:00 PM with a long trip ahead of us. The weather was fine the whole way back and there was no need for extra stops so we made good time.
In case you couldn't guess the trip was incredible. The weather was absolutely beautiful. The amount and condition of the snow was the best I have seen. The temperature was pretty much ideal for outdoor activities. The group that went up worked incredibly well together and I think everyone was impressed with the trip. Even though it was too short (well, a trip to the Cabin is always too short, but this one was particularly so) because of the time we went, it was definitely worth it. It reminded me of some of our earlier winter trips when we had good conditions and were able to do a lot while enjoying this special season at the Cabin. I am already thinking about my next trips.