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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Traversing “The Tooth” Alaska

The Tooth Traverse from renan ozturk on Vimeo.

Lately I have really been into these mini Vimeo cuts.  This video is so good, it really is unfair to compare to everything I have seen recently.  This cut is like an Oscar winning film condensed into a few minutes.  It has drama, death, redemption, and action all in a mini form.  Renan Ozturk might be one of the best story-telling, most badass filmakers out there. All his flicks will leave you inspired to want to see the rest, let alone travel to the ends of the Earth to find answers (literally). My question is: Where can I see the full feature?

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

 

First Ascent…Guide Built and Approved!

If your accountant walked up to you and said “here, I suggest using this baseball bat”.  Would you?  Maybe.

If Albert Pujols came over and said “hola, I suggest you use this bat.”  Would you? Fo’ Sho! I am guessing you would take Fat Albert’s suggestion.

If American alpine climbing legend Ed Viesteurs recommends using a down jacket, or a technical shell…I’d say he’s a pretty credible source.

Storm Shell

Microtherm Sweater - Limeade

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer) is a line of outdoor gear that lives up to its tag of “Guide Built.  Guide Trusted.” The best part of this line is its mix of simplicity, and technicality.

Take Ed Viesteurs for example.  Here is a man who gave up a possible Veterinarian career to pursue some of the most radical adventures on the planet (7 Everest summits, 1st American to summit all fourteen, 8,000 meter peaks…Basically he’s a guy!)  He, among other world-renowned guides, heads up First Ascent’s guide team.

Hangfire-Hoodie

The best part, is nothing goes to market without these guides signing off on the product first.  Which means that each zipper, hood, or cuff has professional guides opinion and input.  This tactic from Eddie Bauer creates gear that is light-weight, tactical, and simple. Their product lines cover what you need, and they continue to expand their product choices.

Check ’em out!  Eddie Bauer – First Ascent

Guide Built. Guide Tested.