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!

Aurora Borealis…Where to see it?

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.

Lake Superior Northern Lights - credit Travis Novitsky

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!

Crimes of Fashion

“The missing man was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a Nike hoodie…”  How often do you notice stories about rescued hikers that include that line?  Insufficient clothing (aka not being a gear junkie) contributed to 10% of rescue missions in 2007. 

First Ascent's Downlight Sweater

Some quick things to avoid:

  • Cotton Sucks!  –  Once damp, it will stay that way and continue to suck body heat away from you.  Opt for multiple layers of wicking fabrics like polyester or wool.  Layering order should go:  Longsleeve (or tee shirt), 1/4 zip pullover (micro fleece?), down jacket (First Ascent – ABOVE) and/ or a technical rainshell.  Also pack a hat and mits as we approach fall, especially in northern climates.
  • Wearing TOO MANY layers at the start – Just a few minutes into the hike and you are sweatin’ beads.  I have been guilty of this plenty of times.  Start the hike a bit chilly, and add layers as needed.
  • Sweating: – The surface moisture zaps your warmth as fast as anything.  Be aware of this if you begin to sweat especially in the Fall/ Winter/ Spring.
  • Trying to be fashionable – Stick to the basics.  Good quality base and mid layers, with the option of a micro-puff down jacket or vest (packs down to the size of a Nerf ball) and a rain/ snow shell.  These options should get you through most all outdoor scenarios, from Big Ten tailgates to Porcupine Mountain snow shoes.

Forecast on my mind…

With Hurricane Irene making an exit from the east coast, it seems everyone was a “weather geek” this weekend.  While her damage is staggering, her bark was louder than her predicted bite as she dragged herself slowly across 65 million people like a sopping wet rag.  Weather often plays a role in our daily lives, not to mention your outdoor plans.  A little prep work, and the right resources can keep you prepared.

Yearly tragedies on Mt. Hood, Denali, and Mt. Washington spotlight the importance of understanding weather, forecasts, and proper weather prep work to avoid lethal severe storms.  Be prepared by getting pinpoint forecasts on your routes from NOAA’s WEATHER.GOV. Find your location and predicted route, and click to find elevation, forecasts, and warnings.  (Since frontcountry forecasts don’t apply to the backcountry, or elevation gains)

Key note:  Temps drop 3 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain!

A pin-point NOAA forecast


Clouds are your tell-tale.  Watch for simple clues like wind pick up, rapid cloud cover, and barometric pressure plummets (get a SUUNTO watch).  When it gets bad, go DOWN in elevation, find shelter areas (lightning likes isolated, pointy objects like lone trees, ridges, summits, and open fields)