Chet Fromm finished his planned four-year end-to-end hike on the NCT in 1995. Here are his reports from each of those years.
jump to Pennsylvania
jump to Ohio
jump to Michigan
jump to Wisconsin
jump to Mnnesota
jump to North Dakota
My shorter than usual hike on the NCT (1992)
by Chet Fromm
When I hike a trail, I prefer minimum segments of at least 1,000 miles at a time. That's how I completed the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Florida trails. My intention for '92 was to hike the NCT from Crown Point State Park, NY, to White Cloud, MI. I didn't quite make it.
On April 22, 1992, at 8:30 AM, in a slight drizzle, I reached Crown Point to begin my hike. I had gotten off AMTRAK at Port Henry the previous evening, and hiked down the road to within 1 mile of the park. The first store is right there. I tanked up on coffee and donuts that morning! I took photos and started west. By the afternoon, I passed through the town of Crown Point Center, and reached North Hudson Road. There I camped in the rain.
April 23: I couldn't find the trail that is supposed to head north-west from North Hudson Road, so I stayed on the road till Johnson Pond Road, taking it northwest. Rain. April 24: I packed up in pouring rain, and hiked into the town of North Hudson, stopping at McDonalds near I-87 and Highway 2B. The rain slacked off in about two hours, so west on 2B I went.
April 25-26: Still on 2B. Rain. The 26th was the first sunny day! At Newcomb, I got on the Santanoni horse trail heading N.W. toward Shattuck Clearing, where I started on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail. Got there about 7 PM. First camp on an actual trail. The trails were very muddy, and snow patches were everywhere.
April 27: Another sunny day. Crossed Highway 2B late in the day. It's 60 miles south to Piseco and Highway B. About 2 miles down the muddy trail was the first part of my shorter than usual hike. Staring up a ridge, the trail was covered with a deep snowpack. I was sinking up to my hips in it. Well, one time I did a hard split "s", and wrenched my right knee. Of course I fell some more; this snowpack went on for three clicks. My knee was painful, but I hoped just for a while, as I could still walk. In another mile or so I reached Tracy Shanty clearing, which was completely flooded. Detouring around it, through more snow, I got to an area where there were big rocks next to a creek. I laid there about an hour, letting the sun soothe me. Reaching Tirrell Pond lean-to about 5 PM, I stopped for the day.
April 28 - May 2: Still hobbling along on the snowy, icy and muddy trail. Crossing a stream on the second, I slipped, hurting my knee again. Reached Piseco that day, hiking through a four hour downpour.
May 3: Reached Hoffmiester, on Highway 8, my first post office food drop. Ate a good meal at the Bear Paw Inn.
May 4: Reached Noblesboro. Followed a rutted dirt road north to a snowmobile trail that heads northwest toward Atwell. From there, I would take a road toward the town of Alder Creek. That trail was deep in snow. My knee was swollen, and it was painful to thread through. I backtracked to highway 8. I figured if I went down it and highway 365 to Rome my knee would take less pounding.
May 5-6: Left the border of Adirondack Park. On the fifth, at Barneveld, I checked into a motel. First shower since the start, along with laundered clothes. Also had a new pair of boots priority mailed to Holland Patent, which I picked up on the sixth. I got to Rome very late in the day. I confess! I took city buses through Rome as I didn't want to be hassled by cops or anyone else. Seeing someone hiking through a city with a big backpack is not a common sight. I stopped at Fort Stanwix, then took a bus as close to Erie Canal Village as I could get. It was raining when I got there, but it stopped within the hour. Another trail at last, very flat and straight! Hiking some in moonlight, I covered 6 to 8 miles.
May 7-8: My knee wasn't as swollen, and the weather was sunny. There are breaks along the towpath where you have to walk the highway sometimes, but there are interesting things to see along it. Covering the 22 miles, I got to Canastota the afternoon of the 8th.
May 9: What a change in the terrain. From flat to very hilly!! The abandoned railroad the NCT is supposed to follow was overgrown, and I was told the bridges were not safe or missing, so I took roads, mainly highway 13, to Cazenovia, my second food drop.
May 10-16: Got to the Onondaga Trail. Then, south of Cuyler, the Finger Lakes Trail. These trails are quite up, down, up, down, and have road walking in many places. On the 16th I fell again, reinjuring my still sore knee. Lots of off and on rain, from drizzles to thunderstorms. Some sun, muddy, but no snow and ice.
May 17: I was near Ithaca and decided to get off the trail there, as I found out there was no bus out of Watkins Glen, my next food drop. As of this date I've hiked approximately 163 clicks of the Finger Lakes Trail.
July 18: Got off the bus at Ithaca on the 18th. My knee healed after two months off the trail. Ready to try again! Hiked to and through Robert Treman SP to the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area. Rain.
July 19-20: Hiked past Cayuga Lake to a shelter in Finger Lakes National Forest. Rain. On the 20th, I reached Watkins Glen State Park, hiking a few clicks into it. Pouring rain that night into morning.
July 21: The end of the second part of my shorter than usual hike. Hiking a few more clicks that damp, overcast morning, I had just descended some stone steps and was climbing up the trail when I stepped on a short, slightly tilted, wet wooden walkway. My feet went from under me and I crashed to the ground, my left wrist hitting first. As I lay there I knew the wrist was broken. Just before I fell I had heard people noises off to my right through the woods. I figured someone might be camping there. I got up and went down the side of the hill through the woods to the noise. When I got there, it turned out to be a 4-H summer camp. A nurse was there, and she drove me to the Schuyler County Hospital at Montour Falls. X-rays confirmed the wrist was broken, and could not be set by the doctors there. So, I was put in an ambulance and taken to St. Joseph's hospital in Elmira, where they set my wrist. After it was put in a cast I left on a bus toward home. My arm was in a cast for at least eight weeks -- and I'm left handed. My shorter than usual hike. Well, there is always next year!
Yes, it's true! I've finished the NCNST in the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota remain to be completed.
I attended the NCTA annual meeting at White Cloud, MI, in May. On May 16, I started my hike back to New York, where I got off the NCT in '92. I hiked into New York in late July. My hike was an adventure. I encountered all the usual hiker's weather: cold, heat, humdity, rain, thunderstorms, winds, but no snow, though. A few times, I had all that weather in one day. I had fun, good and bad experiences, and a little hardship.
Many miles of the proposed NCT now follow along roads in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Roads are parts of the Buckeye in Ohio and the Finger Lakes Trail in New York. Water, exept when in the forests, I got from stores, parks, and homes along the way. Carrying a two quart canteen and a one pint squeeze bottle, only three or four times did I get low enough to hold my thirst. Many times, when hiking along on a hot road, people would call me over, offering ice water, soda, tea, even beer! I thanked everyone who did so.
I never stayed in a hotel or motel. I pitched my tent wherever I could find a spot. In the forests, there's no problem. I camped at a few state parks, under bridges, on trails the NCT follows, like the Miami and Erie Canal, and in a lot of farmer's fields. I thank those who let me, and those that didn't know I was there. Sometimes, I didn't have to camp, being offered a place to sleep _ in several farmer's barns, once in a church, a camp trailer, even three separate persons put me up in their home; each of those times it was raining, or about to rain. Those people, I really feel grateful to.
Keeping clean wasn't too much of a problem. A few times my clothes and I were ripe. I washed in streams and lakes. Showers, I took in state parks and homes I stayed at. Usually, I cleaned up in store, laundromat or restaurant restrooms. Laundromats along the way kept my clothes clean.
The Post Office was my main source of food. My drops were 100-120 miles apart, each box weighting 10-12 pounds. I figure a minimum of one pound per day. Gorp is the heaviest food I carry. I would call my wife, telling her when to mail a box so it would arrive at a post office before me. I prepackage and address them before setting out, leaving them open for anything to add or remove. Breakfast was the main meal eaten at restaurants along the way, though I did consume a few burgers. My main vice was stopping at stores to tank up on cool drinks, ice cream and pastry. My trail food consists of granola bars for breakfast. Snacks and lunch, it's gorp and peanut butter. Supper, I cook a hot meal, mainly pasta noodles or rice, adding beef jerky, spices, sometimes a small can of beef or chicken stew, etc. The menu gets boring after a while, but is a good way to lose weight! I lost 26 pounds.
Equipment: my main gear: Pack: internal frame LL Bean Mountain, 5320 cubic inches, 5 lbs; Sleeping bag: down, Boy Scout, 20 deg. 25 years old, 3 lbs. Tent: Eureka, Gossamer, 1 man, 2 lbs 14 oz. Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest 3/4 Ultra Lite. Compass: Silva Landmark. Stove: Quicklite, butane. Rain Gear: ECWCS Gore-Tex, parka and pants, 3 lbs, 10 oz. Boots: Hi-Tec Magnum.
Some enounters with the most and least on this part of the NCNST:
Miles hiked in a day: 27, Miami and Erie Canal, flat.
Scenic overall: Hocking Hills area, Ohio.
Scenic city park: St. Marks, Ohio.
Scenic state park: Hocking Hills, Ohio
Bugs: Grand River, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Boring: hiking all those roads
Interesting: Serpent Mound, Ohio.
Miles in woods: 115, Cook Forest SP to Allegany SP.
Miles on roads: 50, Osseo, MI to Florida, OH.
Maintained trail: Glacier Ridge, Glacier Ridge SP, PA.
Refreshing lake: Shawnee, Wayne NF Shawnee, Ohio.
Rugged terrain: Buckeye, Eagle Mills to Hocking Hills.
Quaint name: Oregonia, OH.
Confusing trail signs: Tionesta Scenic Area, Allegheny NF
Novel farm/ranch: B&B Buffalo Ranch, Ellicottville, NY.
Miles hiked in a day: 8, Kossuth to St. Marys, Ohio (thunderstorm).
Scenic overall: all those roads.
Scenic state park: Pike Lake, Ohio.
Scenic city park: Waterworks, Delphos, OH.
Bugs: Cook Forest SP, Cooksburg, PA.
Boring: meeting all kinds of people.
Interesting: scuffle with drunk near Beaver Creek SP, OH.
Miles in woods: 1.8, Prussia Rd. to US 23 near Alma, OH.
Miles on roads: 1.5, 40th St and Spruce Rd., near Croton Dam, MI.
Maintained trail: Baker, near US 66, above Cooksburg. PA.
Refreshing lake: unknown name, north of US 66, Baker Trail.
Rugged terrain: BawBeese Trail, 5 mi., Hillsdale to Osseo, MI.
Quaint name: Oakwood, OH.
Confusing trail signs: 97% of the signs on the NCT.
Novel farm/ranch: Scrap Auto Farm, near Dayton, OH.
I hiked the Buckeye Trail near Marietta, OH, not the eastern unit of Wayne NF, it being far separate, road wise, both west and north, from the Buckeye.
I got a kidney infection while on the trail, I think from bad water at a lake near Allegheny National Forest. I had to get off the trail at Gibbs Hill, PA, on the southern end of the Allegheny Reservoir. Betty, who owns Bob's Trading Post there, drove me to Kane Community Hospital. The doctor prescribed antibiotics, and the next day I resumed hiking.
More trail tidbits to digest: At Grand Rapids, MI, I followed one of the proposed NCT routes, the bike path to Byron Center. From there, I hiked the Conrail RR tracks to Moline. There, NCT member Rob Hewlett put me up for the night, the next morning driving me to the trail near Yankee Springs. It took me two hours, in rain, to find the Baw Beese trailhead at Hillsdale, MI. There are no signs or blazes for it. "Temporarily missed", as I never got lost, and found other turns along the rest of my hike. I covered many miles a day in southern Michigan and western Ohio, like on the Miami and Erie Canal, Little Miami SP and other sections of the NCT/BT, averaging out about 17-19 miles per day, as the roads and trails are flat!
I didn't start hiking rugged ridges, hills or valleys until heading southeast from Milford, Ohio. In Tar Hollow State Park, I just missed, by inches, stepping into a nest of copperheads. I pigged out at a family picnic I was invited to at Shawnee Lake, Wayne National Forest, Ohio. I hitched a three mile boat ride from Dock One to the Burr Oak Lodge at Burr Oak Lake, Ohio.
At Koppel PA, I had to stop a truck to take me across the Beaver River Bridge. It was being repaired, and was closed to walkers. The guy I stopped first thought I was nuts.
I startled an Amish horse and farm wagon team near Chester Hill, Ohio. Hearing clip-clop and clanking sounds from beyond a bend in the road, I didn't recognize the sounds, and we met right at the bend. I guess the horses never saw a backpacker before. Fortunately, they got the horses under control, and I didn't get cussed out.
The flattest section of the NCT, after leaving Milford, OH, was the Sandy & Beaver RR track on the Ohio-Pennsylvania state border. I was happy to hike across the Pennyslvania - New York state border, but disappointed, too, as there was just a blob of yellow paint on a tree, and no sign.
The Conservation Trail in Allegany SP, New York, has great scenic vistas. I detoured to the lodge there, at Red House Lake. It has a very interesting museum, and the Red House Lodge itself is a beautiful building. Stepping out of a downpour, into the lodge with my backpack on, the tourists and front desk clerks didn't know what to make of me.
My NCNST plans for 1994? . . . Just wait!
I started on May 19, 1994 from the NCTA hostel at White Cloud, MI. The previous evening, Virginia Wunsch kindly picked me up from Big Rapids, driving me to the hostel. On this hike, I backpacked the NCT through the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, approximately 775 miles. Unlike my previous two hikes, this was mainly an "in the woods hike," with comparatively little road walking.
The first week I was in a Michigan heat wave. At every stream I refilled my water bottles, and tried to camp near water at night. The tastiest and coldest water in this section are where the NCT crosses the Pere Marquette River canoe landing, and Timber Creek Campground on Highway 10, both places having pumps. My eighth day on the trail was the first really cool, overcast day. After crossing the Sturgis River on the Vince Smith memorial bridge, I discovered a goodies place. Note: it's a few hundred yards north of the intersection of Mile Road 5 and Bass Lake Road. No more stores until Walton Junction.
East of M-37, in the Pere Marquette State Forest by the Manistee River, I met NCTA member Arlen Matson and his wife, Arlene; Senator Carl Levin's aide, Thad McCollum, and his girlfriend, Sherry Park. They were scouting the trail for Senator Levin. He was coming to hike from Baxter Bridge to Lookout Point on National Trails Day. The next day, I came upon an Interlochen Mennonite Church outing. They invited me to their barbecue. Tasty food! From there, I proceeded to my first food drop at the town of Fife Lake. Leaving there, I hiked the Michigan Shore-To-Shore Riding-Hiking Trail, to east of Kalkaska, then hiked north on the NCT, through the Jordan River and Warner Creek pathways. Overall, the trail from White Cloud through the pathways was in good shape, an enjoyable hike.
While on the pathways I developed a toothache, so I followed US 131 to Petoskey. The tooth was pulled by Dr. Willis, a local dentist. While at the Petoskey post office, Karen Joseph, a reporter for the Petoskey News-Review interviewed me about the NCT.
I left Petoskey, again following US 131 to Alanson. There, starting from an old, historic red locomotive, I hiked the rail trail about 30 miles to Mackinaw City. This rail trail parallels US 131 most of the way. There are many built up areas on both side of it, but it isn't hard finding camp spots. I lucked out at Fort Michilimackinac, meeting some people who were staying in St. Ignace, who gave me a ride across the Mackinac Bridge. I camped that night north of St. Ignace, on Lake Huron, at the east end of the Mackinac County airport.
The 77 miles through the eastern part of the Hiawatha National Forest was a pleasant hike also, except for the attacks of mosquitoes and flies north of Trout Brook Pond. I had to wear a head net for several hours. I left a note on a tree in Hiawatha NF, north of East Lake, wishing Ed Talone and Sue Lockwood well. I knew they're not far behind me in their attempt to end-to-end the trail in one season. Such a story makes more of the public aware of the NCNST, attracting some to try, or become more involved with trails and backpacking I became part of the small minority, of six (so far) end-to-end attempters of the NCT. Why? Because I read about Peter Wolfe, Lou Ann Fellows and Carolyn Hoffman's NCNST hikes.
I stopped at Soldiers Lake campground to camp. It's only a quarter mile off the NCT, and worthy of the stop for its beach and pump.
I got my first view of Lake Superior while hiking towards Tahquamenon State Park. I bypassed the park's Riverfront Campground, getting on the NCT off the Tahqua Trail Road. The NCT is marshy in this area, and the mosquitoes swarm. As I crossed the small footbridge connecting the trail to the Lower Falls Campground, my eyes caught the shower building. My first hot shower in twenty-five days on the trail! Left the lower falls, following the river trail to the upper falls. Then, following the Big Pine and Wilderness Trails back to the NCT in Superior State Forest.
The NCT in this section is poorly marked. About a mile and a half east of County Road 500, there's a house trailer, with no trespassing signs strung across the road. Also, when reaching CR500, there's no NCT sign. Going west, turn north about a quarter mile, and there's an NCT sign there. Watch for a blaze to turn right, a few hundred yards past that sign. This was the first time since starting my hike that I hiked in a heavy downpour for several hours.
A few miles east of the Two Hearted River, on the Lake Superior shore, the flies ate me alive! None of the repellent I had did any repelling. Finally, I just stopped and put my tent up. After the Two Hearted Campground, I had to watch the blazes closely. For several miles, sections of the NCT have washed away, along with lots of blowdowns. When I had trouble finding the trail, I hiked the beach until blue blazes appeared again. At Muskallonge Lake State Park, I took another hot shower. A store is a mile and a half west of the park, right on the NCT.
Peggy, my wife, joined me at Grand Marais to hike the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I arrived five days ahead of her, but Grand Marais is a quaint town to spend some time in. The town's Woodland Park Campground is a five minute walk to town, right on the NCT, with hot showers. We spent seven days on the Lakeshore Trail, as Peggy is not an avid hiker, hiking 43 miles. Except for two days of rainy weather, we had a wonderful time. The trail there is in great shape, and is the most scenic section of the NCT I've hiked. It's worthy of just hiking that area by itself.
At Au Train Lake Campground, Hiawatha National Forest West, we had arranged to meet Jeanne Thomas and her friend, Phil, from Grand Rapids, MI. The reason Jeanne wanted to reach me on the trail was to do a video interview about hiking the NCNST, especially in Michigan. She plans to produce a program for public television. They said it was worth it for the trip to the U.P. After the interview, Peggy and I started hiking in the Laughing Whitefish Falls section, but two straight days of heavy downpour ended that.
For me, after being mainly in the woods for many weeks, the hustle of Marquette was a small shock. I didn't hike north out of the city, as the NCT now stops at the Little Garlic Falls. One has to backtrack the trail or walk CR 550 back to Marquette. After my wife left for home, I took a country bus to Negaunee, then backroads to the McCormick Wilderness. I hiked part of Craig Lake State Park back to Highway 28/41 at Nestoria. The NCT is a little hard to follow in the wilderness, being there's no blazes allowed. I wanted to meet Bullwinkle, but didn't see any moose that supposedly hang around the wilderness, a big disappointment.
Catching a ride several clicks west of Nestoria, to the 28/41/141 highway junction, I hiked 28/41 to Section 16 road, and to Autio Road, where the NCT starts again. I hiked to Tibbets Falls (looked like a small rapids to me) and into the Ottawa National Forest. This was the second time hiking for several hours in a heavy downpour. There are some overgrown areas in this section, but passable. On one large creek, the footbridge had washed out. I had to detour a few miles onto FR 30's bridge, as trying to ford that wide and muddy river alone wasn't appealing. Lucky for me, I went downhill on the real slippery forest road leading to the Middle Branch Ontonagon River Bridge.
Crossing Highway 45, the trail is very marshy for several miles. As I found out, it also just stops. There are ribbons heading southeast, the way the NCT will head. Not knowing that at the time, I took a compass bearing to the West Branch of the Ontonagon River. Getting to the river, I wasn't sure which direction the dam I had to cross was. Heading east for about a mile, I saw a house on the bank across the river. I hailed it, but nobody answered. After about twenty minutes, an ATV with two people pulled up to the house. I yelled, asking where I was from the dam. Bob Fisher, who owns the property, said it was west about two miles, but I wouldn't be able to cross, as the dam was spilling. He put a canoe in the water, paddled across and picked me up! He's an expert canoeist. The river is very swift and wide, but he reached me at the bank right in front of me, and repeated the same right in front of his house. He and his wife live in Ontonagon, and had come down to mow the grass. Pure luck, as most probably the next day I would have had to backtrack to highway 45 and go north, then west, towards Victoria.
Getting to historic Old Victoria, Chris, the caretaker, let me stay in the restored bachelor quarters for the night. Worth noting, there's a wonderful spring about a quarter mile east of the site, right near the road. The water flows up from three thousand feet below ground. I left Victoria along CR200, as the NCT is not complete west for about 10 miles. The topography of the Trap Hills stretch is the most rugged I encountered on this hike. I camped at a creek about half a mile west of FR 400, and started into these hills the next morning. The hills run almost to the Big Iron River. As a matter of fact, I camped on Bergland Hill that night. The Forest Service has a radio tower right on top. There's several beautiful overlooks that makes hiking these hills satisfying. Two bridges, one over the Big Iron River, one over the Big Iron's west branch, are beautiful. They're only about two years old, and haven't even weathered yet. However, the west branch bridge led me onto absolutely the worst trail section I have ever been on! This section is nine miles from the bridge to the South Boundary Road of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. For almost the first 7 miles, it's completely overgrown. The trail is almost impassable; sometimes you can't see the next blaze. Several times I had to follow a compass bearing towards the river hoping to pick up the blazes again. If I were a novice hiker, on a trail for the first time, I wouldn't go hiking again. It hasn't been brushed out in years. It will take a lot of man hours to restore this section to a hikeable condition. The last two miles to the road were a little better. (Editor's note: much work has been done on this section since 1994.)
The 17 miles on the trails through Porcupine Mountains State Park (The Porkies) were also enjoyable. This park is a very popular place; I met many people day hiking in it. The trail, from outside the park to Ottawa National Forest's Black Harbor Campground is six miles of old forest road. From Black Harbor, the trail heads south past many waterfalls, the NCT in Michigan ending at a ski jumping hill. From there, it's about 20 miles on roads to Ironwood. I camped at Curry Park there. The park is within easy walking distance of stores, has hot showers and a laundromat. The fee for tents was $7 a site.
Having spent enough time in the upper peninsula of Michigan to be an honorary "Yooper," I crossed into Wisconsin at Hurley. I walked down 27 miles of highway 77 to Mellen, then west on State Route GG to enter Chequamegon National Forest. I bypassed Copper Falls State Park, as the six miles of NCT in it is one ended.
I was fortunate to camp at the first shelter in the forest, as there was a severe thunderstorm that night. I didn't camp at any of the campgrounds, but got water at them. Past Beaver Lake, for reasons unknown to me, the trail blazes turned yellow. I backtracked once, thinking I was on the wrong trail. I found no turns, and the trail was bearing in the right direction. I kept following it till a road crossing, and there were NCT signs at it. I kept following those yellow blazes all the way to the west terminus of the forest. There are several overlooks, and the 68 miles of trail are in good shape. I also camped at the Marengo River shelter. It isn't as new as the first shelter I camped at, but it's on a bluff east above the river, and a good place to stop, wash up and get water. I diverted off the trail to Drummond to eat breakfast; the town is only off the NCT a mile or so.
Continuing on in the Chequamegon, there's a fork on the trail, about two miles from the western terminus. Taking the right fork leads to a private campground on Lake Ruth. Taking the left fork (the NCT) leads to CR A. I went north on CR A to the town of Iron River, there picking up Wisconsin snowmobile route 2, heading west. The route has breaks in it, and switches sides of the highway going toward Superior, about 30 miles. Unlike the rail trail in Michigan, there's little buildup along it.
Superior is spread out several miles along US-2 and is the last city in Wisconsin before Duluth, Minnesota. I finished my hike for this year at Superior, taking a bus to Duluth. There's no way to walk between the two cities, the highway and bridge being constructed for motorized traffic only. When the NCT is rerouted in this section, the trail will have to cross both state borders south of there.
With the extra days spent at Pictured Rocks, I was on the NCT 68 days. I've now completed three-fourths of the NCNST, and am planning to hike Minnesota and North Dakota next year.
After four years ('92 - '95), of four spring and summers, my wayfaring of the North Country Trail are over. In June, I arrived at the final trail marker, at Lake Sakakawea State Park, North Dakota.
I caught a ride to Minneapolis, a bus to Duluth, to get back on the NCNST again. I didn't hike the proposed Arrowhead route, rather generally following the original NPS route. South, on the Willard Munger Trail to Carlton, then hiking west. Through parts of the Fondulac, Savanna, and Hill River State Forests, to the east trailhead of the Chippewa National Forest.
The seventy miles of NCT in the Chippewa was a pleasant relief from mainly road walking up to it's start. When hiking this forest, take note of the unique NCT trail markers. The trail is groomed, the terrain rolls along, with no steep climbs or descents. There are water pumps on the trail. Only had one day of steady rain. Stopping off in Longville, I tanked up on goodies, did laundry and made phone calls.
I started following blue diamond trail markers in the Shingobee Recreation Area of the Chippewa. Think I took a wrong turn, for, getting to highway 34, no NCT signs were present on either side. It was very hot, and I didn't spend anytime looking for signs. A forest road was across the highway, I followed it awhile, until it veered off eastward. From that point, I struck off cross country, bearing northwest, to intersect the Heartland State Bike Trail. Getting to it, and figuring I was about a mile east of where the NCT should cross it, turned left. Following the bike trail west, I found the NCT again.
At the end of the trail in the Chippewa, forest roads led me through the Paul Bunyan State Forest. The forest's West Gulch trail (really forest dirt road) has several campsites, by small lakes, with springs, along it. I left the forest on highway 91, and followed it to Highway 200, walking it through the town of Lake George, to Itasca State Park, the headwaters source of the mighty Mississippi River.
The NCNST in Itasca State Park was dedicated last year. In the park, the NCT is overlaid on several of the park's existing trails. All are connected, groomed, and follow gently rolling hills. Just west of Hernando De Soto Lake, the NCT stops. If there are ribbon markers, to the direction the trail will take, I lost them. Went cross country for several hours, to intercept a road on the west side of the park, or Highway 113, on the south boundary. I'd go west for about half a mile, then south for the same. Had to detour around thick bramble patches, bogs, ponds, and cross beaver dams. Finally reached a west road, only walking south on it for a quarter mile, to 113. There's no more certified NCT sections in Minnesota after this park. For the rest of Minnesota, continued with backroads, even through parts of White Earth State Forest. Arriving at Detroit Lakes, I opted to head for Fargo, North Dakota.
I crossed the Sheyenne River near Fargo, and walked county roads to the Sheyenne National Grassland. The NCT post markers in the grassland make following the trail a cinch. Being there's no cut trail, hiking for two days in downpours, through the grasses, kept my feet quite wet. I only found three of the windmills pumping water. The other windmills were broken. Startling me, by flying out almost beneath my legs, I saw several prairie chickens.
Had my first encounter with the North Dakota law, walking the road to Lisbon. I'd found a tree to sit under to take a break. Hey! Who says theirs no shade in North Dakota? I managed to find four or five shady spots! Anyway, a sheriff deputy pulls up, and asks me if I'm ok, then for ID. He said someone had called on a cellular car phone, saying there was a sick hitchhiker laying by the road! Well, at least somebody cared. Told him, I was hiking the NCT, heading for Fort Ransom State Park. He checked me out, giving me about a four mile lift, to the valley road heading north from Lisbon.
That valley road stretches from Lisbon to Valley City. I wish all the valley had NCNST markers. Not just those signs for a mile in the Sheyenne State Forest, and a few miles in Fort Ransom State Park. For North Dakota, even for the whole NCT, the road lays in spectacular scenery. National Geographic has listed these forty miles as one of the 200 most scenic drives in the United States. Don't know why its there, but took a picture of a Viking statue, perched atop a hill, at the town of Fort Ransom. The valley was an enchantment to my hike, though most was on its road.
At Valley City, from beneath the Hi-Line Bridge, I headed for twenty-two mile long Lake Ashtabula. That bridge is one of the nation's longest and highest single track train bridges.
Ask people their first thought of North Dakota, and most will say cold. Well, that state can be very hot! Hiking all the open road mileage, between NCNST sections had an affect on me by the time I reached Baldhill Dam. Think I "saw the elephant" once. Arriving at the campground, and finding it closed, because of dam reconstruction, didn't help my morale. Continuing trudging further north, I reached the COE Ashtabula Crossing campground. It turned out to be my utopia. Peaceful, shady, a beach, hot showers, with the Ashtabula Crossing Resort 500 yards across the road. That stop was my pick-me-up to resume hiking, not to just trudge along.
North of the lake, a second brush with the law. Again, involving tree shade. The tree was about 200 yards off the road, a quarter mile from a house, and on private property. I guess the land owners thought I was up to something. They called Sheriff Paul Hendrickson, of Griggs County. He's the same sheriff who, last year, checked out two strange people walking on a road, and the van and its driver following them. Guess who they were? Ed Talone, Sue Lockwood and Gordon Smith, on their single-year end to end! He checked me out. When I said North Country Trail, he gave me a short ride to the city camp park at Cooperstown. Even gave me a cloth Griggs County Sheriff badge!
These incidents persuaded me to take a direct route on county roads, west to the New Rockford Canal. For once on it, there would only be thirty miles of roadwalk left to trails end. Those road miles being from the end of the McClusky Canal, to Lake Sakakawea State Park.
Backpacking these canals was akin to my hike across the Mojave Desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Replete with the heat, the winds, endless horizons, and hard to find good water. Together, though, the distance they cover, the solitude along them, to me, was a respite from all that highway walking. As in the Mojave, started hiking at sunrise, slacking off my pace from 12 - 3 P.M., then picking it up again, making camp at sunset.
Between the canals is the Lonetree Wildlife Management Area. Lonetree is the last certified section of the NCNST, presently, in North Dakota. Like the Sheyenne Grassland, there's no cut trail, just follow the posts for thirty miles. A map is necessary, as the posts are far apart. Crossing dips or hills, in high grass, you easily lose sight of the last marker, and finding it difficult to spot the next. The campgrounds have good water pumps. The Coal Mine, and Sheyenne Lakes are refreshing. The vista from the ridge above Sheyenne River is beautiful. Two fast moving thunderstorms, from the west, besieged me there. North Dakota has been very wet this year, all the farmers were planting their crops late because of the rains. Lonetree is a pleasant hike, breaking up the monotony of flat canal walking.
While in McClusky, picking up my last food drop, Mr. James Wills, editor of the McClusky Gazette, interviewed me for his paper. I told him of my hikes and about the NCNST and the NCTA. I also met Ron and Sue Wardner, Sady, Dave, and Kyle, their kids. The Wardners own the last farm on the canal. Sue, spotting me hiking, invited me to their home. She made hamburgers on the grill, and a couple of neighbors came over. We talked about farming and hiking. They let me pitch my tent in their yard, take a shower, and fed me breakfast the next morning!
The last thirty miles of my hike were uneventful, except the crossing of Garrision Dam, knowing the western terminus of the trail was within two miles. Reaching the entrance booth to the park, I asked the attendant to contact the head ranger, needing to know where the last NCT marker was. The logo was placed there by Ed Talone and Sue Lockwood, upon completing their thru-hike last year. Met head Ranger Dave Lyebie, we took some photos and chatted awhile. Reaching that marker was my highlight of this hike, finally becoming an end-to-ender of the North Country National Scenic Trail. My next day's hike was anti-climactic, having to road hike back twenty miles, to Underwood, there catching a bus to Bismarck, there leaving for home. One small consultation, that highway, 200, is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, now I've hiked part of it.
Now that the NCNST, along with the ANST, FNST, and PCNST, are under my boots, I've accomplished half my ultimate backpacking goal. That desire? To end-to-end all eight national scenic trails. After hot, and flat prairied North Dakota, I'm thinking of the cool, high alpine meadows along the CDNST . . .
Chet Fromm is a former member of the NCTA Board. He's a retired Army Chief Warrant officer, was in the service for 22 years, and is a Vietnam Veteran. He started long-distance hiking by thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1987, and has since completed the Pacific Crest and Florida Trails. He's married, and the father of four grown sons. He and his wife, Peggy, live in Port Orange, Florida.
Back to Explore page