There is a small group of hiking enthusiasts out there whose goal is to climb all the Hamilton County 3000 foot mountains. This is a pretty decent accomplishment considering it's a rather large list to tackle. I wouldn't go as far as to say there's an official list - but a list nonetheless. For the dedicated few, it's an addiction - or sickness could be more like it, one for which I am infected; I mean affected.
It was an iffy weather day when we set off to Indian Lake for this adventure. There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast depending on what source you rely upon. But for sure it was going to be hot, humid, and black fly populated. (In all actuality it ended up being the relentless deer flies that proved the most annoying, but we would prevail - don't forget the bug spray!)
Parking at the small area near Wakely Pond we were amped to get rolling. Our start to the day brought us to the Northville/Placid Trail (NPT); this would access the base of the mountain, making our tour a bit easier. We could see the mountain in front of us as we approached the base of it, it was in perfect view from the trail. We remained on the NPT for just over a mile to where the old trail to Wakley Mountain split off to the left. We followed this old trail, which was still in okay condition, although we did have to battle the forces of nature where littered deadfall and deep grasses were growing up.
A beaver pond soon came in on our right, which we of course had to investigate. What a neat spot it was with great vistas and calm waters. We returned to the trail and pushed on. It wasn't long before we passed by this pond and located an old forest road that seemed to head in the right direction. The condition was about as good as the old Wakely Trail. As it weaved through the hardwood forest it brought us to a beaver dam crossing at the back side of the pond. With a bit of a balancing act (hands out to the sides and all), we accessed the opposite side of the beaver pond and tried to locate the other end of the forest road. We couldn't find much of anything at this point so all we could do is suck it up and start a bushwhack heading toward the summit. The open forest was very inviting but soon enough we were on another old logging road, which we elected to follow. Heavily grown up with saplings and cluttered with dead trees, we were about to leave it, when right over a small berm was another old logging road, this one much kinder.
Following this old forest road we soon came to a wetland/beaver swamp, now dried to deep mud and dead tree stems. From here the mountain was in perfect view once again, and this road might just be the ticket to easier access. The road didn't last too long, but another soon came in. This one crossed an old culvert and continued a steady climb right toward the summit area. This old road was in reasonable condition at best. Again overgrown and at times hard to follow; we remained upon it to its end, and that was the end of the logging roads. We stood at the base of a boulder-strewn brook that drained the face of Metcalf and the shoulder of Wakely Mountain, a remote beauty was surrounding it and us. As much as we wanted to follow it and rock-hop its course, the conditions were way too slippery and we didn't need any broken bones or deep bruising either.
We remained high and dry and meandered our way through the semi-open forest. The forest was a mix of hardwoods and red spruce; enough red spruce I might add to slow progress a bit. The slopes now were very steep, and here's that word again, relentless, to the tune of 1300 feet in a half-mile. The heat was now to a boiling point - well, over 80 degrees anyway. It was very hot for hiking, but we were plenty hydrated, although with that being said, we still wanted to dip our heads in the brook - and we should have.
Steeper slopes still awaited, along with several cliffs. Cliffs large enough we had to circumnavigate them to find a resourceful route up and over. They looked to have been good enough to provide nice views, but we came up a bit empty. Beyond the crags was a wall of balsam trees; while much softer than red spruce, they still grew in a thick entangled mess we had to swim through. Atop these thickets was a view, a small one, but a nice one, of Cedar River Flow and Buck Mountain in the distance. At least we got something for all the work accomplished; kind of like waiting for that bi-weekly paycheck, you think it will never come.
A secondary rock shelf blocked us from the top, which with my initial effort I was able to aid Corenne and Jim up and over. I used my leg as handrail for them to pull themselves up on; I feel fortunate it's still intact. The summit shortly beyond gave us no views but we were confident we would find something atop the steep cliffs on the way down. We could now relax and maybe have a snack before we made our exit off this peak. We chose to NOT go back through the thicket and over the steep cliffs but to contour along the top of the cliffs and take in some views. This contour gave us a few peek-a-boo views out and over toward the Little High Peaks of Indian Lake, but not the grandiose vista we really wanted.
Soon I found a steep but safe descent off the cliff band. It made our backsides a bit of a muddy mess, but nothing more than that. We were now in a wide open field and below that more fields of tall green plant growth which continued on for quite some time. In this area were several oddly bent trees, which I have read in the past could be old Native American trail markers. I am not so sure that these three are some of those, but they were oddly enough in a line right down the open fields.
We made a heading for Waterbarrel Mountain which we knew would bring us right back to the NPT, but another old logging road gained our attention. This old road was in fantastic condition and only overgrown on a couple locations so we stayed on it. Not heading in the perfect direction for a quick exit to the car, we decided it would eventually bring us back to the old Wakely Trail we started on earlier. Sure enough it did, but actually to that old beaver pond first.
The western side of the pond had become a deep, rich grassland, which we all wanted to explore. We walked the grassland, hopped the many meandering tributaries and forks, and finally reached the massive beaver dam that created the pond. We thought the flies were bad in the woods, in the wetland area they were an unforgiving army of hundreds armed with feasting bayonets. Once we explored the pond to our satisfaction we headed right to the trail and a very fast exit back to the car. The cool wind from our car ride washed the dead bugs out of our hair and refreshed our slightly reddened faces... now, what would we do about that hole in our stomachs.