Vol. 23  November 2019    Fall edition 

Author:  Bill Morse

“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods:

 What would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?”

             Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

SOLAR has been around since 1976. Since the club’s earliest years, SOLAR members have offered a Fall Backpacking class. It’s an opportunity for novices to be introduced to what backpacking is about, and for those who have done it to refresh their skills. Here are excerpts from an article by Gene Cordova in the December 2003 SOLAR Ray, about the Fall Backpacking Class of 2003:  

“When the days get noticeably shorter, the trees become splashed with color and you start to feel a cool bite to the evenings, you know it is time for the Fall Backpack Class. During September and October, Carol McCririe and her team of nine experienced instructors taught 18 willing and eager students a broad range of outdoor subjects and skills. These lessons took place over five 3-hour classroom sessions and a weekend practical, each, at Pinckney Recreation Area and Pictured Rocks, near Munising, MI. Among the subjects covered were topics such as fitting and choosing the perfect backpack, footwear and clothing, finding the right tent, sleeping bag, camp mattress, water filter, stove, filtering water, planning and cooking meals, bear bagging, trail safety and etiquette, first aid, hygiene, survival, group dynamics, and many others…

(For the second practical) Students and instructors drove to Munising Thursday night, and began backpacking Friday morning. We had seen snow on the ground as far south as Gaylord. This weekend might push the limits of the students’ resolve and put their attitudes to the test! Even though it rained hard all night long, by the time we got to the trailhead, got cars spotted and started hiking, the rain had stopped. We had about a 4-mile, rugged hike, from start point at Little Beaver info the first campground, at Coves. We passed craggy rock formations, caves weathered out of the solid rock, scenic little streams stained with tannin and fern-lined strands of birch and cypress trees. 

It was quite warm in the woods, but when we reached the (Lake Superior) shoreline, we got blasted by the howling winds, gusting to about 45 miles per hour, and heard the booming of the lake as it crashed against the rocky shore. When we got to camp, the teams immediately got to work, putting their tents up, filtering water, hanging their parawings, gathering wood for the fire, and cooking dinner. We got a roaring fire going and settled in to relax and enjoy our woodland setting, before turning in. 

The students faced a long day, Saturday-8 miles-mostly along the continuous cliff, fronting the lake. We started the day in high spirits because everyone knew this day would treat us to the kind of spectacular scenery for which Pictured Rocks is known…We stopped and had lunch at the Chapel Beach Campground (and) several of us made the 3-mile round trip to visit Chapel Falls, a beautiful, silvery, tumbling cascade that is really worth the effort to go see! 

We still had a long way to go before we reached our camp at Mosquito Beach. Everywhere we looked we saw immense sand dunes, waterfalls, streams, and those massive rocky cliffs. The wind was whipping, the waves were crashing and we were being pelted by spray, at times, but the rain held off. Many tired but happy people were relieved when we finally reached the group campground at Mosquito. We set up camp and went to filter water. It turned into mass team effort like I had never seen before, with one person dipping water from the river and multiple people filtering from the bucket. The whole process developed a rhythm and choreography of its own! 

We only had a 3-mile hike the next, and final, day to the Potato Patch exit point, and the time went quickly. The students learned much about backpacking during this trip, but more importantly, they learned a lot about themselves…Thanks Carol, and instructors, for a great class!”

This photo, taken by Charles Hailey, shows Janet Schester as she learned to filter water in the Fall 2003 backpacking class on the shore of Lake Superior. 


An historic event, from the pages of the SOLAR Ray…

SOLAR Night at Tiger Stadium

September 26, 1999. The Second to Last night at the Old Stadium. Join in the roar for the Tigers, with Mr. Mike Banks leading the cheers. 

The seats are upper box reserve, cost is $15. Time is on Sunday at 1 PM. But ‘Solar Night’ apparently sounds more festive. According to Mike, it’s going to be ‘sunny and beautiful.’ (Hopefully it was, and hopefully the Tigers won!) 


SOLAR members have been on several trips to the Adirondack Mountains, in northern New York. Janet Schester organized a trip in September 2013. We stayed in the Adirondack Loj and ascended various peaks, including Mt. Van Hovenberg and Ampersand Mtn. Some explored Lake Placid and visited other area attractions. A great time! 

French braiding session on top of Mt. Snow!


October 2007:  Dave DeFrance led a group of four to the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. From his report: “We stayed at a condo on the summit of Beech Mountain overlooking the town of Banner Elk and several miles of undulating mountains in every direction. From there, we were a short drive to hike down into the Linville Gorge, called the Grand Canyon of North Carolina. Nearby, we could also hike up. So the second day, we bagged the three peaks of Grandfather Mountain. Remember the ruggedness of the Adirondacks? This was more challenging! It could be the most difficult hike I’ve ever been on. We had mud, roots, boulders, ladders and cables to conquer the 5,964 ft. Calloway Peak (highest elevation in the Blue Ridge Mountains) …We were within 30 miles of where the Appalachian Trail passes. We couldn’t resist the hike up to Roan Mountain – the highest shelter on the AT at 6285’. Later, we hiked across several ‘balds’ and were rewarded with warm sun, stiff breezes and fabulous views…No trip would be complete without some cultural exposure. We got to hear Molly Andrews, the country’s foremost ballad singer, perform some of the pieces that trace back to their British Isle ancestry. Various regional museums explained the history, geology and culture of the native Cherokees and the quest of the settlers to continue west…All in all, we accomplished our mission of climbing some mountains and seeing fabulous colors. This is another ‘Must Repeat’ trip.”      


As the person you see on the ladder, I can confirm what Dave said about how wonderfully challenging Grandfather Mountain was. Going up the ladders was no problem, but getting on them at the top to go down…a bit scary. Just relax and you’ll be fine. If you haven’t done Grandfather Mountain, take a trip there. You’ll love it!



Two SOLAR members were bicycling near Grand Bend, Ontario, when they were tragically killed by a teenager who was driving drunk, during Labor Day weekend. The October 1988 SOLAR Ray stated: ‘Their zest for life was apparent from the wide range of activities in which they participated.”

Marilyn Larkin  1961-1988  “Her special smile and the twinkle in her eyes suggested the personable and adventurous spirit beneath her soft-spoken manner.”

Harsha Vardhan  1953-1988  “He is remembered by many for his positive, upbeat brand of enthusiasm as well as his caring and gentle nature.”

A moment of silence was held in their memory during SOLAR’s 30th reunion, in 2006.   



The second annual (and several more followed) haunted Halloween weekend happened in October 1993. The cabin that weekend did not include electricity, cooking stoves or showers, but it made no difference to all who came. Steve Gardner reported in the SOLAR Ray: “The fun started on Friday afternoon as the decorating crew arrived and put the State Park cabin into the proper atmosphere. I arrived to find Leslie (Cohen, trip planner, and her crew) putting the finishing touches on the decorations. As I walked in the door, I was greeted by peals of maniacal laughter from the floor mat. Several others arrived (more laughter) and we played several rounds of Uno before retiring for the evening.” Saturday included more people arriving, and hiking and biking amidst Bald Mountain’s autumn scenery. Costumes were donned in the evening. Julia Gordon won the apple bobbing contest. Winners of the pumpkin carving contest were Margaret Martin (Funniest), Teresa Savarino (Scariest), and Jim Gilfix (Best). Scary stories (The Raven) and games (Twister) followed, and the evening was completed with a ‘Trick or Treat” call on the bicyclists in the park’s other cabin. A crazy, memorable, fun time for all!

Bob Westbrook taught the Fall Backpacking class for several years during the club’s early years. His thoughts:

Fall Backpacking class could more aptly be named “An introduction to the SOLAR world”. Like a lot of early SOLAR classes, the syllabus was borrowed from a number of sources, such as NOLS (National Outdoors Leadership School), Outward Bound, Appalachian Club, etc.  Its announced goal was to teach basic fundamental outdoor skill sets to allow a student to be confident in planning and executing a week long backpacking trip.  The strong secondary goal was to have new students and club members become comfortable with each other and learn the social and personal skills necessary to enjoy an outdoor trip.  It has been said by those much wiser than me, “Give me someone for three days in the outdoors and I will tell you everything I need to know about their character”. Are they a team player, willing to share and pitch in on the tasks? See how they handle adversity and lend a hand to those that might need it.  Are they willing to be open to new experiences and opportunities to expand their skill sets?

Being an instructor gives you the opportunity to get to know new incoming members. Watching them grow and develop is one of the best rewards you can have.  I originally met some of our best club leaders through the backpacking class.  Made lifelong friends, traveled many a mile with former students and instructors and even met and later married my wife Joan when she first took the backpacking class.

I could share endless stories about present and past club members and the backpacking class. It is interesting to me how often I look at someone and a story comes to mind.

  • The night hikes to reach camp on the first practical at Silver Lake.
  • The great flashlight campfire raid at Picture Rocks on the final practical.
  • A student, whose name I don’t remember, developed a love of backpacking, through hiked the Appalachian Trail, wrote a book about her trip and how it changed her life, and dedicated the book to her SOLAR backpacking class instructors.

An excerpt of a letter from a former student that Bob feels says it best about being in SOLAR…

It’s been about 25 years since I was active in the SOLAR club but I have to say the memories are still very clear in my mind. I was single, in my 20’s, in my first real job and looking for some action. I always enjoyed camping, hiking, and outdoor activities so when I heard about the SOLAR club, I just had to check it out.

I was immediately hooked on the classes, the trips, and the people. It was a relief to find a group of people that had the same interests, motivation and go-getter attitudes that led us on to some memorable trips and experiences. My personal favorites were the Pictured Rocks annual hike, Camp Sea-Gull, Wilderness, Cape Hatteras, and the ever-mysterious survival weekend. Most memorable experience was skiing on the Tahquamenon river right up to the upper falls before they fenced it off.

Those were the days. 

Diane Rivard-Rothman

On the next page:  Graduates and instructors from the 2001 Fall Backpacking Class


Look for the next ‘Past Tents’ later this year. Until then, fall is a great time to be in Michigan. Get outside as much as you can!





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