Pictured Rocks + Grand Island Kayak

I had heard the legends of Gitche Gumme’s bi-polar behavior in the past, some of which was dutifully chronicled in Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” about the Lake Superior freighter that disappeared and sunk in a nasty gale in the 70’s, but the true magnitude of the lake had escaped me. The sheer size of Superior was what amazed me most, and the fact that we were planning on spending four days camping her shoreline seemed a daunting task (see all pictures HERE), as I stared north towards Canada, but saw nothing but aqua-blue 40 degree water.

4 footers pounding Mosquito Beach during early morning coffee

Neé and I had decided as a final Michigan sendoff, we would sea-kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and spend time at Grand Island as well. Being mid-May, we expected not to run into any crowds, and this assumption proved to be correct. Our guide Carl from Northern Waters Paddling assured us he was doubtful that the DNR had even been over to Grand Island to clear deadwood, or ready it for the summer season. He was right.

Our gear being loaded at Sand Point for the launch

Day 1:

After arriving in Munising, MI after a 6 hour car ride north, we were greeted by Carl at his kayak shop right on the shores of Superior. We were fortunate to have his attention to safety detail, and I reminded myself of this as he took us through our 7-hour safety course in order to venture onto Gitchee Gumme by ourselves. “I would rather have you feel what 39 degree water feels like for real, rather than going to some warm inland lake to practice rescues…You are less likely to take chances out there once she takes your breath away,” Carl told me. He was a grizled Superior local who saw her mood swings, and saw rookies like us get into some pretty hairy situations, some life-threatening.

After 4 hrs of classroomm instruction that included weather, waves, gear, and emergency techniques we were finally paddling. The gin-clear water of Munising Bay seemed like childsplay compared to the 1000 foot deep, 40 degree waters that lie offshore. We practiced paddle strokes, and even in-water rescues. Jeneé and I were shocked at the detail of the tandem, and self rescues, but it was great information, and experience to have!

Getting close to the walls – you can kind of see the comparative size and yes, those are huge, full-grown trees

We spent the afternoon on the water, and it was too late in the evening to paddle the shore to find a camping spot, so we decided to backpack in a couple miles and camp atop the massive cliffs of Pictured Rocks.

Pictured Rocks is visual proof of the Great Lakes glaciated past, and her 500-million year old sandstone is painted with various mineral shades that jut up 250 feet off the surface of the lake for 20 miles on the north borders of the Upper Peninsula. Truly one of the most incredible places I have even seen in the natural world.

We were able to set camp near Miners Castle, on a 200 foot bluff looking back towards Munising and enjoyed an evening completely alone under the massive canopy’s of deciduous tree cover.

Day 2:

After an early start and some camp coffee, we loaded the kayaks and shoved off from Miners Castle Beach planning to paddle along the rocks to Mosquito River Beach. I am not kidding when I say we were the ONLY people on the water. As a matter of fact; we only saw 2 other kayaks the entire weekend, and one fishing boat way off in the distance. True solitude. That’s Pure Michigan (I had to say it).

The sheer magnitude of the Pictured Rocks was in full force, and we had pond water calm lake surface to make the 4.5 mile paddle east. It was amazing to see the various rust colored layers, and random waterfalls sprung from the sandstone rock faces.

Battling the winds headed back to Miners – Jenee Daws

Reaching Mosquito River and it’s campground, we had some lunch and decided that this was where we wanted to stay the night. Only problem was our gear was back at Miner’s Castle Beach. The trip east was smooth sailing, but by afternoon, a steady 15 knot west wind had developed along with steady 2 foot swells. This made the trip back along the rocks anything but scenic, and it turned into quite the workout as we slogged back to Miners.

Deciding that Mosquito River was where we wanted to sleep, we shouldered our packs, and actually hiked 2.5 miles back into the park. The trail was woven amongst huge stands of old-growth and huge deciduous trees. We chose a site up on a bluff overlooking the lake, and by then we were ready for a drink, and some sleep. We wandered the beach taking in the changing weather, then huddled down in our tent as a Lake Superior storm bore down and churned the lake into a frenzy.

Mosquito Beach

The next morning, not wanting to tempt fate, we hiked out and drove back to Munising to wait out the weather and let the seas subside. Our next move was to paddle across the channel to Grand Island, an 14,000 acre uninhabited island off the coast of the U.P just north of the town of Munising.

“Lovers Leap” Arch

The Arch

Leaving Sand Point, we paddled the channel, then gained our security by hugging the rugged shoreline of Grand Island and stayed out of the wind and swell. The 5 mile paddle forced us around the thumb of the island and back into pristine Trout Bay. When we landed on the sands of Trout Bay, I was convinced we were the first people to be on the island in 2012. Not a track or sign of a person for miles!

Neé took a nap on the beach, and I set camp for the night really enjoying the solitude. If I could do it over again, I would probably spend two nights in Trout Bay because the solitude is hard to beat, and the views of Pictured Rocks 20 miles to the east are breathtaking!

A roaring fire and a belly of chili made the 5 mile paddle weigh heavy, and both of us were asleep barely after sundown.

Trout Bay – Grand Island panorama

The highlight of the trip came at 6:25 AM the next morning when we were able to watch sunrise over the Pictured Rocks, while sipping coffee on the beach! We had not seen a person for two days, and the wild feeling of where we were really sank in! Such a beautiful place, that so many people in the Midwest, let alone Michigan barely ever experience.

Sunrise from Trout Bay looking back 25 miles to Pictured Rocks

Here is a brief slideshow of a few pictures, but click the link at the beginning to check out all the pictures!

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Grand Island – Lake Superior shrinkage…

Trout Bay

Sorry for the delay! There has been a ton of things going on including gradution and preparations to move to Bend, Oregon. The Midwest Outdoor Blog will be going through some changes in the coming weeks, but stay tuned!

We are headed to Grand Island in Lake Superior (Gitche Gumee) for some kayaking and backpacking fun as part of a midwest “Bucket List”. We will be some of the earliest campers/ paddlers on Grand Island’s shores, and the 40 degree water will be sure to make us feel fairly “puny”.

The plan is to take an open water kayaking course on Thursday, then tour the dramatic cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore that same afternoon. On Friday we will paddle across the channel to the island and spend the next two nights beach camping on the shore of Trout Bay in Lake Superior.

I will give a full update when we get back!

Fire in the Sky

Lake Superior Northern Lights - credit Travis Novitsky

As we detailed in a post last Novemeber (click here) The Aurora Borealis is going APE in 2012-13! Because of increased solar flare activity the dancing lightshow has been visable in spurts in the northern latitudes since early March.

Here was the original post.

Did you now that an 11-year sun cycle that influences the intensity of Aurora Borealis (better known as the Northern Lights) will peak during 2012 and 2013? Perfect! Enough time to plan a trip to one of these two places, to catch a glimpse of the best Northern Lights show in the Lower 48.

Spending a night beneath this natural, psychedelic light show really ought to be on your backpacking bucket list, especially if you live in the Midwest! Really getting it right is key, and there are a couple of key factors that come into play when deciding where and when to go!

Part 1. Go NORTH! Duh…

Parts 2 & 3. Consider moon phase and equinox – This is because on a moonless night you will be able to see the phenomenon better, and equinox, because the Earth’s magnetic fields will align with the sun and it helps intensify the glow.To get north with ease consider heading back into the bush of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota, or the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Both places should provide northern exposed views, and little – if any – light pollution.

Snowshoe deep into the lakeshore near the vernal equinox (March) or do it bug-free in the fall (September).

For Boundary Waters Minnesota, consider Angleworm Lake for low light pollution and camping spots on northern facing shorelines!

Caps Cabin- Wilderness State Park

The Straits

Growing up in the Rockies, I had the opportunity to stay several nights in rustic Forest Service cabins scattered throughout Southwestern Montana mountains.  These cabins offer the bare minimum giving you a roof over your head with a wood stove, tables, chairs, and bunks with plastic wrapped mattresses.  You bring what you need, and leave the place as you found it. These cabins offer the opportunity to get away, and get back to some of the basics of life:  Warmth, food, adventure, and a simple existance.

Often, when arriving at these cabins you will find kindling split for you by the previous visitor out of courtesy, and logs ready to burn just in case you make a late entry or approach in a storm.  You try to pass along this courtesy as you leave, and the next tenant makes their way in through snow and cold.

I was thrilled to hear of several rustic cabins located in Wilderness State Park at the tip of the Mitten (see below).  WSP is a 7,000 acre preserve located about 15 miles west of Mackinaw City, and the bridge to the Upper Peninsula.  The northern section of the park run along the Straits of Mackinc between the U.P. and Lower Penninsula, while to the west, Sturgeon Bay opens to fantastic Lake Michigan sunsets.

A few trails criss-cross the park, but most of it is left untouched giving a true wilderness experience only a few hours north of Michigan’s most populated cities.

Caps Cabin- WSP

Winter provides the most solitude and expect to ski a few miles after leaving your car at the end of the road (where plowing stops).  Rent one of the cabins from the DNR website, and be prepared to pack in what you need, on your back or via sled!

We arrived at the trailhead around 11:00pm after stopping to warm our bellies at a watering hole in Mackinaw, and had a 2 mile ski via headlamp on a single-digit crystal clear night.  The snow had iced over, so basically it was glorified ice skating!

After arriving at Caps Cabin, we spent some time getting a fire roaring (which was it’s own animal) and a few smoke-filled breaths later the cabin cast iron began to roar.  A few sips of wine and whisky helped lubricate the unwinding process and we were then able to settle in by collecting wood, and unpacking.  **(As an aside and a good FYI, the DNR doesn’t stock the cabins with an axe or a splitter because of “liability” reasons, which makes the collection of kindling tough…especially at 2:AM on an 8 degree night).

Inside of Caps- Tons of space

We awoke early and prepped some cowboy coffee and eggs to start the day right.  Strapping on skis, we were off to see what we could see in the park.  It was in the mid-30’s and our sunny day was spent exploring the park on skis and venturing onto the ice of the straits.  While the middle of the straits remained open, the stillwater near the beach had frozen solid and provided great buckled ice sculpture and exploring.   We followed the snowmobile trail to the end of the peninsula, where we popped off the skis and continued on foot.  Oddly enough we sat and had a couple beers on the beach, as we stared off onto the desolate Lake Michigan sea of ice completely alone!

After skiing about 10-12 miles total, we finally settled back into the cabin for the evening  The sunset on the ice that evening was beautiful, and the bookends provided were priceless.  To the west an amber sunset reflecting off lake ice for as far as we could see, and to the east the glowing lights of the Mackinc Bridge spanned the horizon.  We drank wine and played Blackjack until we had our fill and drifted off to a deep sleep fueled by vino, a warm down sleeping bag, and intense heat from the wood stove.

On the ice

If you can put together some gear, and have decent outdoor skills, you can make this same trip happen!  A true Michigan beauty that not many get to experience!

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Tip o' the Mitt

What to wear? Layering systems

Believe it or not, the gear you wear outside functions best within a systematic approach.   The basics include base layers (close to the skin, usually merino wool), a midweight fleece of light jacket (1/4 zip), a goose down insulating system, and finally an outer shell to protect you from rain, snow, sleet and wind!


Lake Superior Ice Spray







How does Ed Viesturs do it?  Check out his Mt. Rainier summit pack, and packing list.  Rainier is known to have some of the most unpredicatble weather on the planet, so this list will give you a great systematic approach to warmth and comfort while outside.


Ed's Pack


Ed's List