Trekking the NCT: The Balmy South.

February 6, 2022

Trekking the NCT: The Balmy South.

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 73, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

For several days, I hiked in the balmy south. At least it was as far south as the North Country Trail goes.

Southern Ohio is a surprise to many Michigan residents. The area is more Appalachian than northern. Untouched by the Wisconsin Ice Age (12,000 years ago), with portions also beyond the reach of the Illinois Ice Age (130,000 years ago), steep-sided valleys eroded from the surface of the Allegheny Plateau. From our current perspective, the result looks more like hills. It’s hard to get your mind around the idea that the ground level used to be at the top of the ridges. Either way you think of it, all those slopes have to be ascended and descended.

One of the biggest treats for me has been a new section of trail through the Edge of Appalachia Nature Preserve. There I encountered the Allegheny Escarpment, also known as the Portage Escarpment. This line of high cliffs runs all the way from New York state to Tennessee. The North Country Trail also crosses the Niagara Escarpment in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The Edge of Appalachia is home to many rare plants, but I’m here in the wrong season to find any of those, although I did spot the seeds and leaves of Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid.

Another special place was the Fort Hill State Memorial. The primary feature of this location is an ancient Native American religious site, but the trail follows Baker Fork past astonishing limestone cliffs. The last time I hiked through here, more than a decade ago, the trail was poorly marked and I ended up walking in the creek until I found a road. This time, there was no angst about finding the trail, and the rock walls were providing awesome beauty rather than creating barriers.

I hit the southern point of the trail at a small creek crossing in the Shawnee Wilderness Area. There were no palm trees or white sand beaches, but there was snow on the ground. From there I entered the Shawnee State Forest with many miles of off-road trail. 

The trail does not quite touch the Ohio River, but the water was visible from a couple of road walks. Some of the oldest settlements in Ohio are located here. Several buildings from the late 1700s are still standing, including the Eager Inn, which was built along Zane’s Trace, an early overland route across what was then the Northwest Territory. The village of Manchester was founded in 1791, and many of the wide creeks and rivers that flow to the Ohio became routes of exploration.  

Hiker Denali is still with me for a few more weeks. Other hikers have joined me for a parts of a day or for several days. People continue to provide me places to park my little trailer so I can base camp. 

There have been very few delays to my schedule due to weather. Currently, however, we are waiting out an ice storm, and it’s unclear if we’ll be back on the trail tomorrow or the next day, but rest is also a good thing. We are warm, healthy, and taking whatever adventure is given to us.

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This story is copyrighted © 2021, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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