Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Day 4

Little Miners Falls. The path to this waterfall is by Potato Patch which is an OK campsite though not my favorite.

Thunderstorms rolled on through our camp last night. I don't think they brought all that much rain but they certainly provided us a good sound and light show. Come morning we woke to overcast skies and a dampness in the air that made things feel a bit more chilly than they probably had any right to be (unlike the first day when at times the nip in the air felt like the chill you notice coming off a big patch of snow). People left camp in the usual staggered fashion with Nancy, Tim, and Doug leading the way. I wonder if Doug got up at his stated usual time of 04:30 and waited for the rest of us to stir at more reasonable hours (i.e. when the sun was actually shining or at least causing the sky to be well lit). Gail also left earlier than the rest of us and Matt and Jen left just before (I think) Joni, Andy, Elwira, and I did (or maybe they left with us and soon left us behind - it doesn't really matter). As I said above the air had a slight nip to it: full of moisture and feeling like rain. I think we all started out wearing raingear at least as much for a bit of extra warmth as for its proper purpose of warding off rain (which never came). It wasn't long before everyone had warmed up enough to discard the raingear and it was becoming clear that though the day felt moist it wasn't going to rain.

We strode on along the clifftops through the forest of pine and other trees (It felt like it was a bit different forest than yesterday) and we fell into an easy hiking rhythm that soon propelled us to the area by Potato Patch and Little Miners Falls. This waterfall is down a somewhat steep and narrow path past some lovely sandstone rocks that bulge out in interesting curves. The fallls were flowing well, like so many other waterfalls have been, and I am glad Andy showed them off to me. We continued down the onerous descent from Potato Patch (the worst of the day) down to the nearby road and then to the beach that is near Miners Castle. It was here that we found Gail waiting in a slightly sour mood. The reason for her mood was obvious: a couple people were camping on the beach. Worse they had made a campfire. Both are expressly forbidden but it is the campfire that really is irksome because it will leave a more permanent mark. People should know better.

Top left: Andy and Elwira on the beach near Miners Castle (photo by Gail Staisil). The beach experience was marred by the campsite that had been made and was still present when we came by around 10:00. It was a nice beach though. If you use tour imagination perhaps you will spot Bridal Veil Falls on the sandstone cliffs in the panoramic photo. I never could see the tiny waterfall.

From the beach some were able to spot the elusive Bridal Veil Falls which is only rarely flowing this late in the year when it is very wet. We pushed on along the beach (Joni took the trail) towards Miners Castle. Hiking in the sand is never an easy task and when you are trying to avoid being swamped by Lake Superior as you walk the slightly firmer sand by the surf line it gets tougher still. But I am glad I was walking the beach. It just felt like a nicer way to go than the trail at this point and certainly was nicer than the last bit of trail we had to eventually take to get to the picnic area and gift shop at Miners Cstle. We found Tim and Nancy there having spent their time having a bite to eat and taking in the views. We settled down to do the same and use the restrooms (flush toilets, man!). After spening close to an hour there we hefted our somewhat lighter packs for the last four mile push on to Sand Point.

Even though the castle is down to a single turret it is worth walking down too by this time the sun was beginning to drive the clouds away and the tempersture was soaring into the upper 70s.

The weather by this point had cleared to a partly cloudy sky and the temperature had definitely risen well into the 70s. We paused to take pictures of the now smaller Miners Castle. A few years ago one of the turrets came crashing down. I guess the siege engines of water and wind finally took there toll. The castle has one turret now and doesn't look nearly as castle-like. Though I did not see it a deer was climbing the rocks of the castle to get goodness knows where. I think that may have been the first deer seen on the trip. We had heard coyotes the very first night at Seeney and again off in the distance not long before sunset at Mosquito Beach. We heard a solitary loon once too as well as many gulls of some type the last two days.

The western part of the trail did not want to be outdone by the eastern end so we encountered wildflowers again. Mostly trilliums and Forget-me-nots but I am told we passed Jack in the Pulpit and other flowers too. One way these last four miles really outshone the rest of the trail was the amount of sucking mud to be dealt with. I had said that yesterday had plenty of this type of mud but today was worse. Just before arriving at Miners Castle, a little after the big ascent from the beach to the cliffs, I totally lost my footing on a patch of slick black mud. My feet went out from under me and I fell back and down on my back and butt. I was lucky not to slam my head on anything. Funny to watch for Gail but not so good a feeling for me. Probably less damage was done though by this fall than the one I took yesterday that has definitely resulted in a bruise and a knot of stiffness. Dodging the sucking mud under the even warmer sky was a bit draining. While the forest itself wasn't bad I wouldn't have minded getting some additional last views of Lake Superior.

Just some of the wildflowers we saw between Miners Castle and Sand Point. This stretch of trail was gull of sucking mud sections and would have been far worse had it not also sported many boardwalks. -photo by Gail Staisil

Andy and I trailed Elwira, Joni, and Gail for quite some time but eventually we found them at a rest spot that we decided wasn't quite good enough. We marched on a bit farther to a ridge where a breeze could be felt and water was readily available should we want it. That breeze was lovely against our sweat stained backs. It was a good spot for a short break. We figured we had about 1.5 miles to go and it was just coming up on 14:00. We had left Miners Castle a little after 12:00.

As we slogged through more sucking mud holes and across sometimes slippery boardwalk the skies began to change. With a degree of suddenness that was a bit surprising the temperature plummeted and the winds picked up considerably. I would not be surprised to learn the air temperature dropped 20 degrees. We scurried, well as best as I can ever scurry, down wooden steps to an overhanging rock formation to take shelter from what we feared was going to be a raging storm (some want to call it a cave; a very shallow cave). It turned out to be just wind which I am sure we were all quite thankful for (we learned later from Nancy and Tim who were just arriving at the car park at Sand Point that the winds were really whipping the trees about and pushed the waters of Lake Superior in quite a ways from their normal resting place). It was coming up on 15:00 at this point and we had less than a mile to go. Andy pulled ahead with the rest of us trailing to various degrees. Joni was really feeling it in her ailing foot but with wonderful help from Elwira she pushed on, always positive though clearly not at anything like 100%. Just before 15:30 we arrived at Sand Point with the temperature still much cooler than it had been a half hour before though the winds had subsided. The hike was over and even with the few foibles of sucking mud, aches from unexpected falls, a wounded foot or vagrant headache everyone had a wonderful time. I think our group worked pretty well together and I think Andy did a fine job keeping us together and aware of what was going on. He deserves plenty of praise for doing what it took to make sure everyone finished and finished happily. Of course it helped that the participants were easily pleased. I am sure we would all return given the chance to do so.

-- Post From My iPad

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Day 3

A glimpse of Little Beaver Lake. This is a shallow lake that can be great for swimming.

During the warm nigh it began to rain. I don't think it was ever a hard rain but it lasted for some time. It wasn't enough rain to really bother anyone just enough to wake us up and check our tents or tarps. Those who enjoyed getting up very early, like Doug, did so and the rest of the camp woke up at more leisurely and reasonable hours after the sun had risen. We found fairly blue skies and a steadily warming morning: fine hiking weather.

Tim and Nancy were the first to leave I think just before 08:00. Doug left around that time too and Matt and Jen left somewhat later. Joni, Andy, Gail, Elwira, and I left just before 09:00. No one had been in a real hurry to leave camp and there was no reason to rush. We started our walk along the trail passing Little Beaver Lake which was looking pretty nice and heading towards the campground at Beaver Falls which sits above a particularly wide beach of very white sand on Lake Superior. We saw a handful of sea kayaks beached there but no one came out to the beach during the considerable time we spent hanging out having a mid-morning snack.

Perhaps the most interesting bridge along the whole trail it is by The Beaver Creek campground. -photo by Gail Staisil

Upon leaving the beach we climbed up on to the cliffs that clung to the Superior shoreline. We strolled through the dense forest with lookout points popping up now and then giving us great views of the Lake. At this point the lake was shades of light green with hints of tan in the shallow beach parts. We came upon the Coves which are rock coves that have been wearing away for some time and it was at this point that we were haled from above. Doug, Tim and Nancy called down to us and to say we were a bit surprised that they were there and that they had not seen Matt and Jen was putting it mildly. It turned out they had taken the long way around Little Beaver Lake adding a couple of miles to their day which also neatly explained why they hadn't seen anyone else. I'm not quite sure why they did that but I think they enjoyed themselves despite having to contend with a great increase in biting flies and such.

Our group slowly spread out again as the morning edged into
the afternoon and we closed in on Spray Falls. Spray Falls was a gusher this time. It was spurting water out from the cliffs quite a ways before falling with gusto into the lake. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised by this because we had already passed by a couple of waterfalls that Andy says he has never seen flowing so briskly before. The downside to all this water is that the trail is in many places quite mucky. The kind of muck that can suck a shoe off if you are unlucky. Definitely the kind of mud that can invade a Keen sandal turning a dry havan into a moist one (though a shoe would have been worse). When we stoped for lunch not too far, a couple of miles perhaps, from Chapel Beach we noticed that it was clouding up. those clouds would open up with intermittent rain that was at times more than just a drizzle. It was more than enough to cause us to put on rainwear. Of course with the clouds and rain the character of Lake Superior changed again.

Spray Falls. The close-up photo is bt Gail Staisil. My recollection is that Superior was more green as you see in the wider shot. One thing that surprised me was how small the stream feeding the waterfall seemed to be. Clearly my impression was wrong.

The lake has moods. You can see them expressed in the frequency and intensity of the waves on the surf line. But they're also visible as the lake changes color. As the clouds took over the lake shaded into rich deep emerald green hues. The hue you might associate with a high alpine tarn or glacially fed lake. Fantastic coloring. The forest durning this time also had become incredibly still. It was as if everything was holding its breah waiting for a storm to break. Fortunately no storm came.

Andy Mytys took this picture of me. With the arrival of the clouds, but before the rain, the lake shifted to this wonderful emerald green hue. Gail Staisil's photo shows another fine view of the varied shoreline.

Here is just a sample of how rich forest colors can be. This is a downed log but it is lively nonetheless.

Chapel Beach was something of a zoo. Three tour boats were plying the waters offshore. People on the boats were gawking at the shoreline cliffs and people on the beach. Those on the beach gawked back towards the boats. Both sets hooted and hollered at each other. Overpowering it all was the blaring of the boat's PA systems describing what was worth taking note of. Not the most pleasant of places and we did not linger overly long. It was mid-afternoon by this point and we still had 4 miles to go. Again the trail got muddy as we strolled through the clifftop forests. We would pass a few people, some woefully dressed (cotton t-shirts, sweat pants) during the rain. I hope they were returning to their cars (easily 3.5 miles away). We also passed some other backpackers who also were carrying gear none of us would ever consider: huge packs with massive cinnamon rolls of sleeping bags. The things must've weighed a short ton. I hope they were enjoying themselves. For my part the last few miles did start to feel as though they were going to drag me down. I was tired and I needed a bathroom break. Good spots were hard to come by. I am sure I slowed down somewhat and I walked into camp a little before 18:00. After having had dinner and a chance to relax in good company I feel much better.

Gail Staisil took both of these pictures as she spent some quality time on the beach at Mosquito Beach. The photo with the lovely colors in the sky is actually facing southeast while the other one looks more northwesterly. Not long after sunset we would start to hear the distant rumble of thunder.

Most everyone else is asleep already as has been the custom of many. Jen and Doug led the pack hitting the hay around 19:30; others followed and just Andy, Matt, Elwira and I (maybe Gail) are still up. It is coming up on sunset and the tour boats are long gone. We had a sunset boat go by not long ago. God they create a ruckas. Tomorrow we hike out, about 9 miles, and I expect that some people will tear off ahead so they can start the long drive home as soon as possible. Joni, Gail, Andy, Elwira, and I certainly will not be in that group.

-- Post From My iPad

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Day 2

The morning featured a drizzling rain that came and went with enough frequency that rainwear stayed on. The lake would start out this silver-gray but later would shift to green.

I was falling asleep as I wrote the journal entry for last night. I was just wiped out and even the act of concentrating on creating an accurate and interesting journal note could not help keep me awake. I believe I nodded off three times before deciding it just was not worth continuing the effort. I haven't looked at those last few paragraphs yet but I am sure they'll be an interesting read that will benefit from a serious editing job. Hopefully tonight I will not have similar issues though I am tired and ready for bed as it approaches 22:00 and the sky rapidly (very it seems to me) darkens.

It was quite a bit warmer last night than the evening at Seeney but on the flipside during the middle of the night it began to rain steadily. I don't think I can call it a downpour but it was constant with just enough slackening now and then to give us hope as dawn shaded into morning that it would stop altogether sooner rather than later. I have no doubt that the bulk of the camp was awake long before any of us really began to stir and pack up what we could before breaking down our shelters. A little before 09:00 with the rain spitting at us we donned our packs and various forms of preferred rain garb (I believe we have 5 poncho users on this trip) and struck out for the Au Sable Lighthouse where a couple covered porches would provide us enough protection for a decent breakfast. We strolled through the now gray skied but richly red-brown and green forest past a somewhat quieter and somber Lake Superior and soon came to the lighthouse. In more pleasant conditions I would have taken time to wander the grounds checking out buildings and reading what I could about this historic (not used now) lighthouse. But the weather did not invite lingering about such things and once everyone had eateen we returned to the trail or the beach depending on preference.

The actual trail dives into the pine and birch forest and is definitely an easier stroll than the wilderness beach of Lake Superior. But the beach affords you views of the lake itself as well as the chance to find interesting rocks or peer at the now more exposed carcasses of shipwreches. At the outset I elected to walk the trail thinking slippery rocks did not appeal to me. A couple others joined me but most took the beach route. I wish I had done that too because while the conversations on the trail were fine I ended up missing the shipwrecks and couldn't take the time to walk back to them to see how they have changed since I was last here in 2000. When I did join the beach walkers I was rewarded by a reasonably easy beach stroll that only got a little tricky when having to trod over sandstone rocks and such and not slip or step into standing water (I failed the latter). The clouds were still dominating the sky but when it rained at all it was only a mere sprinkle and at that it did not last long. All things considered it was turning out to be a nice enough day. You might wish for more sunshine at breaks like our early lunch at Twelvemile but even that desire could be tempered as I sat in shade at Seven Mile creek when we stopped later in the day for a gear drying break and a second meal.

By mid-after oon the rain had departed and we shed layers. With the sun making appearances we took a break a little later at Seven Mile Creek to sit on the beach and air wet gear out.

By this time I am sure the temperature had risen to the upper 50s and when we were not on the beach itself we were sheltered by trees so there was little wind to whisk heat off of us. Walking through the forests today was different than yesterday. The forests were of pine and birch. I have to say that this forest was in its way really very pleasing. The colors on an overcast day such as this were really popping out. Mossy green seemed richer, the pine needles looked more lush, the reddish-brown of the forest floor seemed more vibrant in hue. When we would pass through a grove of hemlocks the darkness they brought forth was deeper and the quiet greater. We were still getting a feast for the senses even though the wildflowers of yesterday were long gone.

The photo on the left is from this year and the one on the right was taken August of 2000.

Nancy. While we never got beyond partly sunny most of the day an overcast day still can be quite enjoyable.

The last few miles to Trappers Lake, especially the last couple were also on forested trail. But this stretch of trail is in need of some tender loving care. Many blowdowns had to be negotiated. Trees or bushes with branches poking out into the trail at eye level were a common sights. I hope the person or people responsible for this bit of trail are able to do some work on it soon. Even with these impediments our slow group still reached camp around 17:00. We had taken our usual breaks to gaze at things along the way like the now really ruined ancient Plymouth that has been decaying in the woods for decades why it is there is anyone's guess as there is no track nearby Matt, Jen and Doug had arrived a couple horus before us and Nancy and Tim who had left the beach at Seven Mile Creek a good half hour ahead of us had increased that lead somewhat but not overly much. We had enjoyed our breaks as much as I am sure Matt, Doug, and Jen enjoyed the extra time in camp. Hiking styles vary and each has something to recommend it. Fortunately there has been enough of a breeze here at Trappers to keep the worst of the bugs at bay. To be sure Andy has picked up his large quantity of bites (I hope he was exaggerating the number because if not that is shocking). We all had a leisurely dinner and many people took off to bed before sunset. Even us last hold outs are all packed in for the night and I expect I will be the last to crawl under a sleeping bag as I am about to do.. This has been a fine day overall even if a bit moist. I do wish my digestive issues would go away. It does make me wonder what good those pills are for me, but this is more an irritation than a serious problem. I also have come to the conclusion that the Keen sandals need a bit more support in the heel or thereabouts as both my feet feel a bit sore and it can't be from pounding pavement as the trail when not sandy beach was excellent forest loam. Tomorrow we will have our longest day, about 12.2 miles (today was 11) to Mosquito Beach. I hope the weather holds.

-- Post From My iPad

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Day 1

Our first day here in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is coming to a very fine end. Sure some of us only got a handful of hours of sleep as we did not arrive at the Seeney Township Park campground until well after 01:00 but everyone was up at at 'em in plenty of time to leave the campground around 07:00 to drive into Munising for an early breakfast at Sydneys. Joni would catch up to us a bit later as she had stayed at a nice hotel in Munising and since Gail lives in nearby Marquette she just met us at the visitor center for the park in Munising around 09:00. The morning was already shaping up to be a pleasant one with a warming sun rising into a clear blue sky. It appeared the weather forecasters were going to get it right for the day which was certainly quite cheering for all of us from down below The Bridge where it had been pouring rain in buckets the last couple of days. After a quick detour to gaze at Munising Falls, Alger County has so many water falls, we piled into the shuttle bus for the hour ride along the now completely paved H58 to Grand Marais at the start of our hike.

By now it was edging past 11:00 and even though we took a couple side trips to get a better appreciation of the dunes by Sable Falls along with the falls themselves we were soon striding down the Lakeshore Trail proper (also a portion of the North Country Trail). In this area the trtail rises and falls a little bit but none of the hills is anything more than a mere blip As we walked through the forest of beech, white pine (red probably too), and I expect oak what began to catch our attention were the wildflowers. It was not unusual to see a large patch of tall blossoming white trillium next to a swath of blue-purple Forget-me-nots. Sometimes the flowers seemed to be taking over hillsides bathing them in white and purple blossoms. I do not think I have ever seen so many flowers.

Our first glimpse of Lake Superior at the Grand Sable dunes.

Wildflowers were everywhere on this first day. I do not think I have ever seen so many before. The Trillims were sometimes quite large.
Our winding path took us past Sable Lake (with a bit of road walk, sigh) and continued leading us over hillocks through areas of wildflowers. Not until we reached the Log Slide, some 7 miles in, did we again get view of Lake Superior. The Log Slide once was a giant flume for sliding red and white pines down into Lake Superior where they wer sent to wherever those great logs would go to be processed. The logging industry has been gone for over 100 years but the Log Slide remains as do, I am sure, numerous stories about it. I wish I could recount some of them but I cannot.

A last glance back at the Log Slide. Superior has shaded from the rich deep blue at noon to these green hues of later afternoon (a bit before17:00).
We are camped at the group site at Au Sable East and it is a decent site if a tad far from the Lake. Someone got a nice little fire going and that seemed the best way to end the day. Some folks hit their beds early, others chatted around the fire, and at least one took a sunset stroll on the beach. We were all finding our niches in the group and it was good.

I'll close this out with the roar of Lake Superior hopefully soothing me to sleep. I can hear something chirping or peeping in the distance. With any kind of luck no Whiporwills live nearby to disturb our slumber. Last night one went off for what seemed an age around 04:00 and I'd rather not have that happen again.