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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Let It Burn!

A post from earlier this spring…
It’s springtime in the Midwest, and you know what that means. Old piles of brown snow mixed with Wendy’s wrappers, sand, and road salt.  Brown, matted grass, flooded muddy streams, and unsettled weather means the impending end to the gray midwestern winter.  But look on the bright side; unlike the higher altitudes of the west, you KNOW the weather is going to warm and summer is just around the corner.  A few more sunny days in a row has the winter depression lifting, you are hitting the trails, and dreaming of jeep rides, single track biking and maybe some backpacking.
This is a perfect time to hone some of your outdoor skills.  One of the most crucial skills for the outdoors is the ability to make a fire under any circumstance. Wind, rain, wet, hot, dry, snow, thaw, you name it, and you should have the skills to find fuel to make it burn.  What better time to practice than in the early, soggy, days of spring. Saturated grasses, damp sticks, little tinder, and damp air stack the deck against you.  But these are a few things that can help you make a warming fire under any circumstance.
10 Steps style!

C'mon Baby Light My Fire

         1.  Start small!  A little cotton smeared in petroleum jelly, or just a handful of dry pine needles stuffed with dry twigs will ignite.
         2.  Need dry tinder?  Look for areas that have been sheltered from storms and snow pack.  The grasses around the base of a tree, or twigs and branches underneath a fallen log are usually dry, and even if they are damp, we can split them to find a dry core. (See step 3)
         3.  If your kindling is a bit damp on the outside, use your knife or multi-tool to split it with a rock.  Usually the center meat of the stick will be dry, and will ignite.  Eventually drying out the rest of the kindling.
         4.  Use dry fuel.  It goes without saying, but a dry CRACK is a good noise.  Any green color or bending and twisting?  You’ve got the wrong stick.
         5.  Dig a small trench (about a hand width) in the dirt. Put some dry leaves, and your tinder wad in this trench, then gently cover with your smaller sticks stacked JENGA style (crisscross). Light the fire from underneath.  This will allow the fire to BREATH, and we all know the best fuel for fire is AIR!
         6.  Start with tiny dry twigs, then graduate to sticks about the width of your finger.  Once those are blazing, move on to sticks about an inch or two across.
         7.  Purse your lips, and blow HARD at the base of the fire.  Then turn your head away to suck in a breath, and repeat. Be careful with this step, as I have heard of people who have accidentally inhaled a batch of black fire smoke and immediately passed out INTO the fire.  That’s bad, don’t do that.
         8.   Once you have a nice bed of hot coals, and a good open flame, you can start to use larger logs, but don’t smother your fire!  Many times I have gotten anxious and plopped a log on top only to snuff my little creation.  Stack the larger wood in a tee-pee fashion around your flame.
         9.  For a fire to last awhile, you need way more wood than you think.  Wood heat is one of the most inefficient ways to warm up, but in the woods it’s really your only option. Stack wood at least waist high, and make sure it’s able to stay dry.
         10.  Once it’s crackling sit back and enjoy!  While backpacking, a fire can be a crucial source of boosted morale, or a simple recharge!

Sleeping Bear: Find solitude by visiting one of the most visited places in the U.S.

Michigan.  You think white sand beaches, towering dunes, and crystal clear waters.  Valley View trail and backcountry campsite inside the park offers none of that!  In a slow weekend just before Memorial Day, my wife and I decided to break in our packs and do our first backpack trip of the summer.  The weather was cool and rainy, and the crowds had not formed yet in the small beach towns on the northern tip of the mitten.
Or so we thought!
We loaded up our packs (Osprey Kestrel 38), and made sure to pack rain and wind breakers.  The weather off the lake can be unpredictable, but with proper gear, you can have a very enjoyable experience.  We had originally planned on backpacking a 2-mile clip to “White Pine Backcountry Campground” right near the beach in the deep interior of the National Lakeshore.  There we could setup camp and enjoy the dunes of Lake Michigan away from any crowds, and cars.
Or so we thought…again!
After a bit of trouble with some directions, we finally found the DNR station.  There, the ranger informed me that the camp we were planning on hiking to, was filled with a troop of boy scouts, and there were no spots left!  Really?  On a rainy 51 degree day, with wind spray and a couple weeks before Memorial Day?
So he recommended another backcountry site.  Valley View Campground, nestled in the hills over looking over the tiny town Glen Arbor, MI.  The short, easy trail, gradually gains a few hundred feet elevation through an amazing forest of hardwoods, and thick Northern Michigan timber, before topping out on a ridge and into a small open valley.
The ranger told us this trail, and its little set of backcountry tent sites would be virtually guaranteed privacy, and we probably wouldn’t see any other people in this rarely visited corner of the park.  He was right!
The hike only took us about 35 minutes, and we were able to enjoy the deep forest of mature timber around us. We arrived in camp in a heavy rain, pitched our tent under a huge pine, and tried to dry off, completely alone in the site.  Sitting inside the tent sipping whisky, and playing blackjack while listening to Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen provided entertainment, while we gently were pelted by the tiny beads of rain slipping off the pine.
Around 9:30 pm the rain stopped, and I was able to make a little dinner on our butane stove.  About this time we heard a coyote a little ways away give a fantastic howl into the night sky.  This was our yellow lab Gus’s first camping trip and the coyote’s howl reminded him he wasn’t in Kansas anymore!  The evening was chilly, with rain off and on, but the morning brought fantastic sun, and great color for some pictures, as the sun bathed our little valley

While the other campgrounds are filled with motorhomes, huge tents, and sun burned city slickers, Valley View is a peaceful clearing where you can pitch your tent and sip your morning coffee in the shade of hardwoods while watching a whitetail meander through the small meadow.
The price for such tranquility is carrying your necessities 1.5 miles from a parking lot. And then carrying them out when you’re ready to head home.  Valley View is an EXCELLENT choice for a quick backpack getaway that is virtually guaranteed to be private!

Saddle Peak Bozeman, MT

Having been back to Bozeman a few times this summer, I figured I could do a couple write ups on some of the hikes we were able to do while back in God’s country!

Nee and I decided to bag a summit in the Bridger Range that is clearly visible from my parents kitchen window. Why the hell not?  It’s there!  So Saddle Peak it was.

Our Route

Saddle Peak sits at the southern end of the Bridger Range outside Bozeman, MT.  At 9100 feet it’s not the tallest in the range, but easy to ID features and the scramble seemed like fun!  We woke early the day after arriving and threw down some of my Dad’s tar-black cowboy coffee, filled our hydration packs and had my Pop’s drop us at the trailhead.

We began out ascent of the peak from Middle Cottonwood Creek Trailhead at 6:45 AM.  I was happy to be on the trail in the cool, damp, early Montana morning, and it made it even better being the first on the trail.  The trail follows the bottom of the drainage and creek for the first 45 minutes with very gradual (almost unnoticeable) elevation gain.

At the 45 minute mark, after passing sheer cliff walls, the trail opens to a large meadow covered in every wildflower imaginable.  A true awe-inspiring sight at 7:30AM!   Once the trail leaves the creek bed, it traverses the northern hillside gaining elevation quickly.  After another 30 mins or so you open to another small meadow at the base of a rock slide, which is at the base of Saddle Peak.
Looking north to Sacajawea Peak
Looking south to Baldy

It is at this point that your climb starts!  From the high meadow (almost looks like a small wanna be alpine lake) you follow switchbacks until you reach a high bench, which runs as a spine towards your summit.  From this spine you have great sweeping vistas of the Northern Bridger range, and great views of the western slopes of Mount Baldy and Saddle Peak, not to mention Bozeman in the distance.  The entire area looked as though it would be a fun backcountry ski destination, with its ease of hike and proximity to town when the snow flies.

Looking South
Final Scramble

At the spine is where the trail peters out, and the scramble begins.  As we got above the treeline the trail pretty much heads straight for the summit.  After about 25 minutes and a few Class 3 scrambles, we were at the final pitch.  Nee hit the summit first and I right behind her.

Hiking back from the “dual” summit

We stood on the summit, on a cloudless, cool Montana summer morning.  The temperature difference was over 20 degrees from base to summit, and a few wind gusts cause my breath to vaporize reminding us that fall wasn’t far off.  All-in-all we spent about 40 minutes on the summit, hiking back-and-forth between the dual summit piles (hence the name Saddle Peak).

After a Clif Bar and some H2O, we scrambled back down and were back to the trailhead by 12:30.  Saddle peak was easily one of the best hikes I have done in the Bozeman area!



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.