Backpacking In The Sleeping Bear Dunes

Backpacking In The Sleeping Bear Dunes

I was backpacking in​ the Sleeping Bear Dunes. it​ was March, so when I made it​ through the woods and over the dunes, I'd have miles of​ beach to​ myself. it​ was an​ over-nighter, a​ chance to​ test new ultralight backpacking equipment. I hiked the wooded hills quickly, enjoying the cold air.

Halfway through the forest, I stopped to​ cook noodles. The cheap 3-ounce pot was from a​ dollar store, and it​ worked fine. I was happy, because from the catalog descriptions, the expensive titanium pots are all heavier, probably because they're too thick and with too many gadgets.

I had to​ use a​ small twig-fire when my homemade alcohol stove didn't provide enough heat. I later learned that isopropyl alcohol doesn't burn as​ hot as​ the alcohol used for a​ gas additive, but the twigs worked in​ any case.

Backpacking On The Beach

After eating, I hiked to​ Lake Michigan, and sat up on a​ large sand dune. I watched the waves push ice up onto the empty beach. Coyotes began to​ howl in​ the distance, and the clouds rolled in. I was on the beach looking for petoskey stones when the snow began. Backpacking in​ March has its risks.

I was in​ running shoes, and it​ would be below freezing that night. in​ northern Michigan, March is​ definitely part of​ winter. My feet stayed warm while I hiked, but I hadn't planned on them getting wet. at​ least I had a​ pair of​ warm, dry socks for sleeping.

Ultralight Backpacking Equipment

It was the first time I used my GoLite Breeze backpack, which weighed only 13 ounces. I was hiking with about nine pounds on my back, and that only because I threw in​ some canned food. I was going light, but I knew the forests here and felt comfortable with my abilities.

My down sleeping bag was a​ 17-ounce Western Mountaineering HighLite. it​ was the first time I would use it​ below freezing (It hit 25 degrees fahrenheit that night). Fortunately, it​ wasn't too windy.

At the edge of​ the forest, behind the dunes, I set up my small tarp. I piled pine needles and dead bracken ferns under it, finishing just as​ it​ became dark. This made a​ warm mattress, and I slept well, listening to​ the coyotes, and to​ the waves pushing ice around in​ the lake.

In the morning I was happy to​ see only a​ dusting of​ snow. My one-pound sleeping bag had been warmer than my three-pounder - and I thought that was light. I poured alcohol in​ the cut-off bottom of​ a​ pepsi can (my 1/2-ounce backpacking stove) and made tea. After some crackers I was soon hiking in​ my mostly-dry shoes, along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Backpacking Lessons Learned

I ended my trip that afternoon, with a​ hike to​ the village of​ Empire, seven miles away. I was mostly satisfied. Only two problems: My tarp was too small, and the alcohol I brought was the wrong type.

After backpacking in​ Michigan for years, I know it​ well. I know where to​ find dead grass and bracken ferns, for example, to​ make a​ warm mattress in​ a​ few minutes. Knowledge, obviously, can be as​ valuable as​ expensive backpacking gear.

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