Snowbank Trail Loop with Papinator and Balls
There were a few downed trees throughout the trail, but nothing that wasn't traversable.
The only really tricky part of trail finding we had to do was in the burn areas on the northern part of the lake right before the first northbound loop (from counter clockwise). There were many cairns but somehow still ended up making our trail harder than necessary.
On those notes...
Our trip officially started when we left the ranger station with our permit and the cellphone service officially cut out. The nice man at the station informed us that our trail had been traveled more frequently this year; he didn't know why but speculated something was being passed around on social media. Balls and I decided it was due to the movie/book "Wild."
The ranger also told us that there was 2" hail expected the next afternoon so we had better settle in early. Duley noted; thank you Tom.
Also of note from Ranger Tom, the Mackenzie maps are better for traveling by foot with a little more detail; but the Voyageur map would suffice (which is good, because that's what we had).
My co-worker and I arrived at the Snowbank Loop entrypoint 74 around 8:30-9:00 Monday AM. Opening the door to the smell of pinetree candle is the best smell ever. There was another vehicle parked there, which we were glad to see. Instead of following the loop clockwise, we chose to enter and travel counter clockwise and stay at the Benzie loop campsites.
About 5" on to the trail, it became extremely clear that 25% deet was not going to keep the eagles at bay, so we quickly doused ourselves in 100%, which we happened to pick up at Cabela's on the way up... Smart move. Much more managable, but the buzzing was still present even though we'd be used to it within an hour.
We came across a few hikers heading the clockwise direction, and they gave us another bottle of 100% deet, since they were headed out. SCORE. They would be the only other hikers we saw.
Next up - ticks. The ticks were incredible. I've never seen anything like it. About every two minutes, we'd stop to pick them off our pants. Apparently, deet is not effective against ticks. Would have been good to know, they were especially ravenous in the burn areas.
Which leads us to the first burn area we traversed. A very wet spot with no way around (we checked) lay in our path, about 60 feet long. We luckily brought water shoes! Once I braved up enough to get my feet wet after observing a very large, 1 foot long garter snake swim by, we made it through; best piece of equipment I brought along? A water-wicking camp towel... wicked away the water AND the mud on my feet. This would not be the only time our water shoes came in handy.
After getting our boots back on, we had to tick check. I found one sly fellow clinging to my awesome camp towel. Well played, Tick, well played.
When we came to the break-off post for the Benzie lake loop, we were slightly stumped. The path led across a dam straight into a cliff face. You could either climb the cliff face approx. 12 feet, or take a right along the cliff wall down a spot in the dam where water was flowing... it could have been a path, might not have been.. no way to know. We chose the climb... which, after about 3 feet of verticle distance, we prayed we didn't have to come down with 50# on our backs (next time, we're having our AT friend judge our packs!).
Upon making it to the top, there was much water to traverse with little loggage to step on... but the mosquitoes were so bad, we hussled through anyway; to the fork in the path, where the lower joined up. We definitely took that path to return to the loop!
After about 4-5 hours of hiking, we made it to the first Benzie campsite, down a hill and a little to the right. We kept hearing thunder in the distance and thought it best to set camp (turns out, it didn't rain but better safe than sorry!).
The site was nice, and a little path led down to the lakeside where there was ample space for fishing or doing anything lakeside, as well as several good bag hangin' trees.
When we got in our tent for the night, we watched the ticks crawl up the outsides of the tent. Un. Real.
On our way the next day, my map indicated that the trail is mostly flat. Simply not true. There's lots of rocks and what nots to climb. And not 20 minutes in, we came across a small creek crossing... with nice, sturdy looking birch logs set across it. I was iffy about crossing, so Balls went first and assured me all was well... So... 20 minutes in to our hike on day 2, I'm stuck with a wet foot. Nice.
Asside from that, this part of the trail was rather uneventful and easy to find. We did end up on a portage trail heading north towards Boot lake, but quickly decided this trail had way too many footprints to be our hiking trail. We found rather easily where we were supposed to go straight across the portage trail down to a creek with a nice bridge to cross.
That night, we stayed at the first campsite after the portage. Best. Campsite. Ever. It was up on the rocks above the lake with a wonderful breeze, but a quick getaway should the 2" hail actually come (it didn't, just some rain in the evening).
It was really sunny and warm on our rock base, and we got the cool idea to go for a swim. Got our swimsuits and watershoes on, hussled down the shore to find the water ice cube cold. Instead of swimming, we brought water up to the campfire to warm and bathe. Extra nice since my hiking clothes were already quite ripe with deet and sweat.
We had a visitor. A snapping turtle the size of a hubcap. He was there in the evening, somehow right next to our campsite... and then again the morning. I feel like he was up to something... Balls thought he was just amazing. I thought he was criminal.
The next day would prove to be a doozy. I don't know where I read it, or exactly what I might have read. I was told there were campsites on the hiking trail for campers only, not always on the map. I trusted this when we set out this day... boy were we in for a big surprise.
After traveling through our first burn area full of starving ticks, and climbing up a down bare rock moistened with last night's rain, we came across a path which seemed to lead directly into a small pond. After we searched and didn't find another route, the watershoes came out!
Once we crossed what looked like an extremely rickety beaver dam and then climbed through a patch of very aggressive pine trees, we found the path... that we had missed. Definitely made that harder than it needed to be. Water/mud wicking and tick checking done, we continued on our way.. our very long way.
We headed north around the first loop which seemed way longer in person than on paper, but nothing too eventful.
Second loop. Done.
We came across some canoe trippers at one point exploring the trail and looking for a place for lunch. This happened after we had just passed our chance to camp. We unknowingly headed onward to a campsite-less abyss.
May I note here that the north and west side of the lake has some incredible hills!!!
We marched on. 8 1/2 hours total... I was about to cash in and say throw the tent up on the next open rock face when Balls finally spots the last campsite!! According to my GPS, we had only one hour of the trail left... we did over half the lake in one day.... so we made two dinners, since we wouldn't need the next night's meal. And we ATE two dinners.
Note to self; take the campsite in the northwest corner.
The hike out was easy, other than going the wrong way on the logging road near the end. The trail was marked well, we just didn't know whether to go right or left - we chose right first... and saw a large grassy field and decided that left was probably better. And it was.
We saw Manboots, the muddy boot marks of a hiker who'd passed through recently before us - we'd been following his footsteps all day yesterday in reassurance that we were always on the right path.
And at a small water crossing we saw a hat on a stump with no one around to claim it. We quickly assumed it was Manboot's hat and brought it out with us to leave at the trailhead, in case he wanted his hat back.
It took us exactly 1 hour to get out from the last campsite. I'd like to say that I wasn't happy to see the car, but after our fiasco the day prior and 8 1/2 hours of hiking with no end in sight, I was.
...Though it was short lived, I'm already ready to go back!