The Great Birthday Backpacking Adventure: Day 3

I know it’s been a hot minute since I (finally) posted about days 1 & 2 of my early June backpacking trip along the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; time gets away from me and the summer days are packed with both fun and obligatory happenings. Hopefully you haven’t been holding your breath in anticipation of a conclusion after reading about Day 1 and Day 2. (If you’ve been a regular here you definitely know better. We’re very slow but steady eventual bloggers.)

The second night of the trip we camped in an area called Mosquito River. As I said, that was not a misnomer. The camping spot was basically a mini campground with designated spots and a very rustic outhouse (which was still better than having to dig a hole in the ground). It was right on the Mosquito River in a lush, brilliantly green forest.

Day three’s hike started here with some more mini bluffs and a steep uphill climb. Both Adventure Guy and myself were well rested and ready to go after another breakfast of oatmeal and insta coffee. With only ten or eleven miles left to Munising Falls we knew we’d be done hiking by the end of the day. That put a little extra pep in our steps. Not that we weren’t enjoying this adventure but I, for one, was looking forward to hot showers and cold beer. The fierce hoard of mosquitoes that began swarming as soon as we hit the trail added to our motivation to move quickly.

After a few minutes of hiking and probably half a can of bug spray we stopped so I could put on one of the head nets we picked up on our way up North. The guy didn’t want his…or any bug spray at first (he did cave on the bug spray after a few more minutes of fighting the swarms). Mosquito Valley spanned the first four or so miles of the day. Apparently there’s also a Mosquito Falls but we decided not to take the detour to see it. The bugs along with the lure of showering and hot food played heavily in that decision. (Maybe we’ll get back up there sometime soon for some more hiking. The area really is amazing.)

We stopped as infrequently as possible on this patch of trail. Finally, after close to an hour and a half, we emerged from the trail into a parking lot with freshly cleaned porta-jons. I never thought I’d be so happy to see one of those things but they were so clean and the bugs couldn’t get in. There was a great little boat launch here (not a small launch, rather a launch for small boats like kayaks or canoes). On the other side of the parking lot the woods began thinning a bit and soon the shore of Lake Superior was in view again. Miner’s Beach was a short mile from there and finally we were out of the high intensity bug zone. What a relief that was!

When we got to the information center and “overlook” at Sand Point a few miles later a thick fog was rolling in. Like literally rolling in. We watched the view across the bay disappear.

It went from this…

…to this…

…and then this in maybe five minutes. Maybe.

And as you can see by the angle of the trees in those pictures the wind was picking up too; rain was about to happen. Despite our hunger, the shelters, & running water available we decided to just grab a quick snack and keep moving. There was some debate over whether or not to break out rain gear; jackets, but not rain pants (actually I was already wearing mine) were donned and we picked up the trail again as it headed back into the woods.

The ground was pretty wet throughout this last section of the trail (between Sand Point & Munising Falls). Some of the very muddy areas had boardwalk but much of it had a variety of branches, rocks, & tree debris to hop and step across if you wanted to avoid the thick black mud. And believe me, you wanted to avoid that mud! I did a so-so job of it and was damp and muddy from almost my knees down.

Along with mud and seemingly younger forest in this section there were these awesome fern sprawls. They looked like something straight out of Jurassic Park…

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Can’t you just imagine a T-Rex photo shopped into the background?

The last three miles of the day (and the trip) seemed to take forever, partially because cautiously picking a path over the muddy spots slowed us down. Sometime in this stretch it started to rain. It wasn’t too cold but we definitely ended up thoroughly drenched. Adventure Guy and I agreed that if this wasn’t our last day of backpacking the rain would really suck! As it was we were kind of enjoying it; it added to the sense of adventure as we trudged through the very wet woods.

Another cool feature of this leg of the journey was the waterfalls. There were so many of them! And a lot of them were very tall. While there are a couple falls noted on the map, most of these were not marked or named. They were just out there along the trail.

Sometimes the trail went right along the edge of the falls. It was crazy and somewhat intimidating for someone who doesn’t exactly love heights (such as myself).

That tree on the right is growing straight up out of the ravine.

It’s hard to tell but the line of yellow moss is the cliff edge. All that other stuff was waaay down there!

At the very end of the trail there was a detour. That was quite the disappointment because we were having a debate over where the North Country trail came out at the Munising Falls visitor center. I thought we might hike right behind the falls where we saw the frozen falls back in February but the guy thought we might pop out right by the visitors center. I guess we’ll have to go back to see someday because we were directed out of the woods and onto a small stretch of road that put us in the visitors center parking lot.

And finally we were done!

I was hoping to get to the visitors center in time to stamp our National Parks passports… We just missed it. By maybe two minutes, probably less. There was still a park ranger inside but the doors were locked. This was our second near miss with the stamps at the Munising Falls visitor center.

I was pretty mad about not getting stamps and also very wet and tired. We threw all the soaked gear in the back of the car and turned up the heat. Sitting down on a cushioned seat felt amazingly luxurious.

We did it!!!

On day three we hiked from Mosquito River to Munising Falls, roughly 11 miles, for a total of 42 miles on the North Country Scenic trail (from Grand Marais to Munising) plus all the side run-offs for scenic overlooks and campsites… 45 miles of backpacking in three days.

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The Great Birthday Backpacking Adventure: Day 2

Day 2 of the three day, two night backpacking trip in Michigan’s Upper peninsula was my favorite day. I suspect that having slept, albeit somewhat poorly, for close to eleven hours the night before played a large part in that but it was also a day of fun discovery.

As mentioned I did not sleep well the first night; it was totally my own fault. Both my boyfriend and I were exhausted at the end of the first day. When I went to bed I was seriously dreading waking up and putting that heavy, heavy pack back on my aching shoulders. There was a slight feeling of What the fuck did I get myself into? and I was so tired that I decided against changing into the insulated underlayer I had brought to sleep in. I rationalized that it wasn’t really that cold and my new sleeping bag is rated to 35 degrees, almost freezing. I’d be fine sleeping in my capris length running tights, a tank top, & thin moisture wicking long sleeve shirt. I may have even taken my socks off…

Big mistake, folks. Big one!

I woke up maybe an hour or two after crashing because I was cold. So so cold!

I was shivering and struggled to get back to sleep. A wise person would have taken that opportunity to get out of that inefficient sleeping bag and put on warmer clothes. That same wise person would have then slept peacefully the rest of the night.

Apparently I am not a wise person. I continued to toss and turn and attempt to curl up into a ball inside my sleeping bag for warmth. I kicked my boyfriend who was totally unaware of my misery in his own warm bag. I even woke him up once or twice to tell him my feet were freezing. He didn’t even remember it in the morning. He may have been as exhausted as I was.

We didn’t start moving around until close to nine that morning; it took an hour to prepare breakfast (oatmeal, a little dehydrated fruit and Starbucks via), get cleaned up and our campsite packed back up. When I hoisted the pack on I was happy to discover the dread from the night before was gone. In fact, I felt good and ready to go see what was out there. Our goal for day two was to get as many miles in as we could while still taking the time to soak up our surroundings and enjoy the experience.

All fresh faced & caffeinated for the second day of hiking

Once again our hike for the day started in the woods but it was immediately more interesting than the first part of the first day. Pretty early on we came across an old car smack in the middle of the forest.

It very clearly had been there quite a while. The names and dates scratched in its rust patched surface dated back to the early 1980’s. Hundreds of explorers had left their mark somewhere on the vehicle. My guy and I spent a good fifteen minutes looking over the car and gawking like the tourists we were. A couple other hikers passed us by; I think they had a nice little laugh at our enthusiasm. (But really it was so cool!)

The next exceptionally cool thing we came upon was the gorges. And boy were they gorgeous!

Basically they’re a rather large cliff/rock formation/mini cave in the woods. So of course we climbed them.

At this point we were somewhere in the Beaver River Basin area. Everything was extreme green with great views of Lake Superior and the many rivers and small streams that feed into it. The day was near perfect, sunny & cool. It topped out around sixty degrees that day with most the morning in the low to mid fifties. We had lunch at this beautiful rustic campsite and then continued on to spry falls. And let me say we did not take enough pictures.

The path continued right along the coast and the elevation kept increasing, sometimes gradually sometimes abruptly.

We stumbled on a seagull’s nest on the edge that we could have walked right up to.

Yet another cool feature of day two was castle rock.

We approached it from the higher side then climbed down around it until we reached the beach.

The white water on the right in the above picture is the river shown below.

The beach was a perfect spot for a snack and a mid afternoon rest. We took our shoes off and waded in the cold water of Lake Superior.

Okay, I went in. My boyfriend more dipped his toes than waded. The cold water felt great on my tired legs and slightly sore feet. The river flowing into the lake was warm and more my guy’s speed. To get off e beach we had to climb a sort of ladder of logs set into the ascending side of the sand dunes surrounding it.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with amazing upclose views of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Towards the end of the day we had to choose which of the many overlooks and side paths to explore. There was so much to see here and all of it was phenomenal.

Eventually we got back into the woods and started counting down the miles to our campsite goal. Because my Garmin battery was low the day before and I had not tossed the charger for it in the backpack, I wasn’t tracking our miles on day two. We had estimated the distance to the Mosquito River campsite. While that did not sound appealing the next campsite was miles away. Apparently that made it a popular destination, that and it being part of a ten mile hiking loop. There weren’t any designated spots in the Mosquito River camping area so we pitched our tent in a random spot between trees.

And let me just say, Mosquito River was not a misnomer. Unfortunately. That night was the first time the whole trip that the bugs were bad and they were probably no where near as bad as they typically are or would be just a few weeks later. By bugs I mostly mean mosquitoes. They were plentiful. At least the campsite had easy options for keeping the bears away…

…or at least not attracting them. There were signs posted telling of a bear being sited in the area. The only interesting wild life we saw was a deer that literally walked through our camp site.

At the end of the second day I was tired, we had hiked far, but I still no where near as exhausted as I was the day before. That night I made better choices and changed into the warm sleep clothes I brought. And I slept like a baby…

Actually, better than a baby, like someone who had hiked 17 hilly miles carrying a 25lb pack.

The Great Birthday Backpacking Adventure Day 1

The great birthday backpacking adventure happened, though not as expected. Unfortunately my writing about it has been delayed, first by a crazy week of work (which of course became crazy weeks) and low data on my phone and then by the shocking and untimely death of my sister (which I’m sure you’ll hear much more about… eventually). So now, over a month later, I’m finally getting around to writing about the backpacking trip.

Long story short, it was amazing.

Not making it to the Appalachian Trail was disappointing but it gave us the opportunity to log some miles on the North Country Trail. We noticed this equally impressive though less popular National Trail on other trips to the Upper Peninsula this past year and had even hiked a short ways on it once. So when the forecast for Virginia promised rain for all three days we were planning on backpacking, the North Country Trail made sense.

There’s a popular section that books and stuff call the Lakeshore Trail; it runs along the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (and I do mean right along the coast) from the National Park’s Grand Sable Visitors center near Grand Marais to Munising Falls (which is where we saw ice caves and frozen waterfalls back in February). You can park on one end, book a shuttle service to the other, and hike back. It’s just over 42 miles of trail with designated backwoods camp sites scattered throughout plus whatever side paths you take for the various scenic overlooks and whatnot.

The Lakeshore trail is that dashed line that runs…wait for it… Right along the lakeshore.

We had three days, three and a half max, to get back to Munising Falls. This meant we had to cover at least fourteen miles a day, I was hoping we’d get a little farther and get a night in a hotel (and a shower) before the 7ish hour drive home. Because this was our first experience backpacking we really weren’t sure what our pace would be. Hiking with a 25-30lb pack for the entire day is very different from the light couple hours at a time hiking we had experience with previously.

It was still chilly in the UP on the first of June; forty-two degrees which was startling after leaving eighty plus days. The start of the trail was nothing too exciting, a grassy field that fed into a woods with a river. The trail wound around a lake by way of the highway for a couple miles before returning to the forest. We stopped a couple times to adjust the packs, turns out placement of the weight is crucial for comfort. Well, relative comfort. It wasn’t until we reached the “log slide” six miles later that we saw the great lake we had been hiking alongside all morning.

And what a breathtaking view of the lake it was! Quite literally. The wind up there was a little intense.

This part of the upper peninsula, like most of it, used to be a booming logging area. The steep dunes were used to slide logs down to Lake Superior’s shoreline for transport. There was an old logging shed nearby with a sled for dragging logs in the winter and a giant cart thing for when the ground was less frozen. According to the signs most the log harvesting was done in the winter.

(I took pictures of this and a few other features of the beginning of the trail on an older digital camera but somehow managed to either delete or thoroughly hide them from myself. Doh!)

We sat at the top of the dunes, ate lunch and rested about half an hour before continuing. Lunch consisted of tuna packets, baby bell cheese, and some trail mix.

The trail was very well maintained with scenic steps built into the steeper hillsides and plank bridges covering the small crossing rivers as well as the muddy areas. It was super nice to not have to worry about wet or muddy shoes especially when we were less than half way through our first day.

The next point of reference on the trail was the Au Sable lighthouse on Au Sable point about four miles away.

It was cool because it’s a lighthouse but as far as lighthouses go it was kind of meh.

We poked around at the lighthouse station for a minute, used the rough outhouses, and continued on. Shortly after that we found the stone foundation of an old structured in the woods. It was covered in moss and underbrush type growth but you could just make out the outline.

(I had pictures on the camera of this too.)

Our goal for day one was to make it to a rustic campsite a little past twelve mile beach. We had started hiking around 9am, if I remember correctly, it was close to 4pm when we reached twelve mile beach.

I was using a hiking app on my Garmin to track our progress throughout the day but at this point its battery was running low. As were ours; both the boyfriend and I were exhausted. Twelve miles with heavy packs on low sleep was a lot! So we got out one of our fancy lightweight quick-dry towels, laid it on the sand at the top of some steps leading down to the beach, and took a nap.

We set an alarm and woke up 45 minutes later, right around five o’clock. After another snack & some water we moved on.

The group campsite just before the Beaver River basin area was about an hour away & by then we were so beat neither of us felt like hiking just a little further to the non group campsite. Plus we were starving again. At least I was. The guy wanted to start a fire; we didn’t need one, he just wanted one “for warmth”. It was admittedly chilly in the shade of the woods but when you trekked down to the water less than a quarter mile away the beach was basking in an almost-sunset glow and was comfortable.

Our “one person” hiking tent on its maiden voyage at a Scout overnight the week before the Birthday Backpacking Adventure.

After some annoyance and possible nagging on my part, he gave up the fire attempts and we hooked our tiny cooktop to the small butane tank. Within seven minutes we had boiling water, another ten yielded a complete Mountain House meal of something resembling beef stew. It was a surprisingly satisfying dinner finished off with candy bars we had picked up at the gas station that morning. We ate sitting on a driftwood log on the beach a short distance from where Seven Mile Creek (according to the map above) meets Lake Superior. Not another human was in sight, not even evidence of one, it was peaceful and refreshing; the perfect ending to an exciting and tiring day.

There was talk of watching the sunset but in the short time it took us to scarf down rehydrated stew we realized all we both wanted was sleep. Clean up consisted of adding the meal package to the gallon ziplock that help our garbage for the day, rinsing off the spoon/fork combo eating utensils and closing all of them in a scent proof bag. After we tucked anything that would possibly attract a bear (other than ourselves) into the metal “bear box” at our campsite we climbed into our tiny tent and crashed. It was maybe 9:30pm.

Total for day one: @15.5 miles hiked over roughly 7 hours.