Posted by: Jack | August 21, 2007

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Backpacking Trip of August 2007

Where to begin? How about at the beginning? Or maybe even before that? I should introduce the group…through pictures so everyone has faces to put with my tales.

First, of course, the bachelor and bachelorette: Doug and Autumn

Anna (Right) with her best friend, Megan

Steve and Tyler

Kristen and Heather

At 4 am on August 7th Anna and I got a ride from our very generous neighbors up to SeaTac Airport and our day of travel went quite smoothly. Our connection in St. Louis provided about four minutes of leeway which was fine for us but not quite sufficient for our bags to catch our flight. That turned out to not really be a big deal as they were delivered that night to the apartment of our friend Doug who was kind enough to pick us up in Minneapolis and provide room and delicious board for the night.

On a possibly related note, when repacking my bags the next morning I discovered that my camera was nowhere to be found. As one could imagine, this caused no small amount of distress. Knowing that I am a very organized and thus successful packer, I was pretty certain that I had not forgotten the camera at home. So after various dealings with the airport police and my insurance company, I basically had a check coming in the mail and thats about it.

Before the fretting begins among fans of my photography, find reassurance in the generosity of my co-travelers who were more than willing to provide use of their cameras. Although I didn’t take nearly as many pictures as I would have otherwise, I did manage to get a few good ones.

Anyways, on with the trip. After our night in the Minneapolis area, Doug, Anna and I drove East to Rhinelander, the home of Doug’s fiance, Autumn. After some excellently budgeted grocery shopping for the trip, the four of us returned to Autumn’s parents’ home and were greeted with an unexpected but very welcome, extravagant dinner.

Early the next day we were joined by Kristen and Megan, friends of Anna’s since childhood. The now six of us headed North for Munising, MI stopping along the way in Escanaba to grab some fulfilling, freshly made pasties. In Munising we met up with Tyler, my past roommate of two years, and after acquiring trail permits, all seven of us piled packs and persons into his Explorer and departed for Grand Marais where our hiking would begin.

This first day was undoubtedly the most difficult. Since the last two hikers would be joining us three days later in the middle of the trail, we had to carry food for them as well as ourselves which meant 165 meals divided among seven people. An ideal alternative to this would have been leaving it up to the two late arrivals to purchase all of the food for the second half of the trip so that the initial seven trekkers would only have to carry three days worth of food; approximately one third of the load. But, it was decided unanimously that the chance that Steve and Heather might not show at all was significant enough and the consequences of that were severe enough, that we better just do some extra hauling and play it safe.

And besides, when I say this first day was the hardest, it still wasn’t too tough. We started out late afternoon and had about seven miles to go until camp. Our packs were heavy but we kept our pace and left enough time to go swimming twice and investigate something advertised as a “Log Slide”. This latter attraction was stumbled upon just a couple of miles before reaching camp. Our trail intersected with a parking area and we found a sign explaining this log slide. Hopes rose greatly as I read, “Be warned: while it may only take three to five seconds to slide down, the return climb can take as long as one hour. The slide is 500 feet long and descends 300 feet vertically.” The excitement rushing through me led me to temporarily ignore the obvious error in some of these numbers. If the vertical elevation change really is 300 feet then traveling that distance in three to five seconds would imply a speed approximately equivalent to free-fall. So we hurried to the overlook and were pretty blown away by the view. Stretching a few miles into the distance were sand dunes which ran right down to the edge of lake superior. But as previously mentioned, these dunes were 300 feet high and extremely steep. Doubt drowned out our enthusiasm as we saw that the log slide was basically just a trail heading straight down the sand. Although it was extraordinarily steep, there just didn’t seem to be anyway that one could slide down. But logic wasn’t going to stop us from trying. We got to the top of the slide and I took a running leap…and landed with a solid thud about ten feet later. There was no sliding to be done.

A short while later we made it to a nice secluded camp with an excellent bedrock beach where we took our second swim. After a load reducing meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup as well as a pleasant fire, we were all ready for bed.

The next day (and every other day for that matter) I arose awhile earlier than the rest and was greeted with a strange morning light. The sky was overcast but it must have been a fairly thin layer of clouds because the entire sky was washed with a golden glow. I grabbed a camera and walked to the shoreline where I took just one photo and it has turned out to be my favorite of the whole trip.

Most, if not all, of these photos look a lot more crisp in their larger sizes so be sure to click each image for full appreciation potential.

Day two covered about the same mileage as day one but we had all day to do it so it was pretty easy going. Early in the day the trail began to parallel Twelvemile Beach which, believe it or not, is a beach extending for twelve miles. The weather was ideal and we took plenty of time to enjoy the sights. Upon arrival at Sevenmile creek, our camp for the night, Doug, Tyler and I reverted back to a childlike state and took great delight in navigating the mess of fallen trees which served as obstacles in our attempt to wade down the creek all the way to Lake Superior. After a dinner of shells ‘n cheese with the added bonus of cheddar filled cocktail wieners we spent the evening on the beach with a nice bonfire and our first of many amazing sunsets.

If day two was easy then day three was hardly a short walk. With less than four miles to our next camp we took our time with everything this day. About half way along the trail we came across an unusual sight.

This car was nowhere near any sort of access road and by looking around we determined that it had to have ended up here before a majority of the trees surrounding it began to grow because there was not one gap through which it could have fit. The only parts which retained movement were the doors so of course we began piling in for some photos.

Our camp that night was about a half mile inland on the edge of Trapper’s Lake. This lake was quite murky and filled with driftwood so we took a little day hike and spent most of the afternoon on Superior’s beach. With an abundance of time, Anna and Megan asked that I try to do an artsy photo-shoot of them among the beach grass.

As pleasant as they appear in this photo, neither of them were enjoying the stiff, sharp blades of grass through which they were crawling.

That evening we gorged ourselves with a meal of pancakes and syrup as well as four-cheese-roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. Eating well beyond any reasonable capacity, we then stumbled back out to the beach to enjoy the next sunset.

The morning of day four I presented the group with two routes to our next camp. The original plan was to head further inland and bend around the South side of Beaver Lake where we would find the campsite. But the shoreline was generally much more interesting so I offered the idea of taking on a couple more miles and staying between Beaver and Superior Lakes. Everyone was more than ready to do a little extra hiking and it proved to be well worth it when, after a couple of hours, the trail put us right on a sandy beach where extremely strong winds were producing a considerable surf.

If one were to ask the seven of us for our favorite part of the trip, I would guess that playing in these waves would get at least five votes. It was all of the fun of the ocean but without the irritating salt water getting rammed down your throat every few minutes. After wearing ourselves out we continued West and then South around Little Beaver Lake before arriving at our camp on Beaver Lake. The seclusion of our campsite, much like the others, gave the impression of having all of Beaver Lake to ourselves. We took advantage of this isolation and did a short photo-shoot for next year’s Green Is Sexy calendar, a very successful annual project initiated by Kristen a few years ago. The theme of our photo was something along the lines of enjoying the outdoors in a responsible manner, i.e.: packing out garbage, digging cat-holes, only using fallen wood for fires, and taking away only photographs. I’ll refrain from posting a photo here so if you want to see one, ask me or buy next year’s calendar.

We all enjoyed a cream of mushroom and wild rice soup before the day ended with an extremely colorful sunset over Beaver Lake which Tyler and I chose to enjoy from the middle of the lake. We found this to be entirely possible since after wading about a couple hundred of yards we were still only up to our knees.

The next day Steve and Heather would be joining us but not until mid-afternoon. No one felt like hanging around camp until then so we hiked beyond our meeting point and back out to Lake Superior. We found ourselves at the very end of Twelvemile Beach and were excited to see what was next. The shoreline abruptly changed from soft sand to rocky cliffs and coves. After some consideration it was decided that these areas would be best explored from the water so we climbed in and had a blast investigating the interesting terrain. We even found small “caves” in the rock where, if timed right, one could climb up out of the water and hang on while wave after wave blasted in, nearly washing us back out to open water. There were so many amazing photo opportunities during this hour of exploration but understandably, no one wanted to attempt carrying their camera through the surf.

When time came, Doug and I trekked back to the Steve and Heather rendezvous point and we were thrilled to have them arrive right on time. What could have been an extraordinary hassle, given no means of communication, turned out perfectly and made everything simple and fun. We regrouped on the beach and set out for our next camp. By the time we arrived, we were approximately 150 feet above the water level, walking upon the featured cliffs which give the park it’s name. A very steep and sloppy trail led down to the water where we once again reverted to play-time mentality. The now four boys, myself included, were soon scrambling on top of piled sand stone which continues to fall from the high cliffs on a very regular basis.

Going around one bend after another we suddenly came across a natural bridge and climbed through to find a tempting play-area. There were small ledges of varying elevations above the clear-as-always water which sloshed on top of a soft and sandy bottom. If there was going to be a time and place for some minimal cliff jumping, this was it. After a few test jumps, Tyler discovered a climbable section of rock which he ascended on his first try. We hadn’t planned on swimming and thus hadn’t brought suits, so for the sake of familial readers I have blurred or otherwise censored these images just a bit. The second picture, of myself and Steve, couldn’t have been timed much better.

This night we had our ultra-light not-quite-gourmet meal of ramen noodles. Despite it’s simplicity, it was quite satisfying.

The following morning we made a point of getting an early start. This was going to be our “long” day of hiking and we had even opted for a slightly longer route which would again take us inland in order to check out some nearby sights. Despite the detour, we would still only be traveling a bit over eight miles and with Heather and Steve sharing the burden of food this turned out to be as easy as every other day.

Our first point-of-interest was Spray Falls which drops about 100 feet straight into Lake Superior. More interesting than the falls was the beach from which it was viewed. As you can see in the image below it appears much like a typical beach but in actuality, the point at which the sand ends is a 150 foot high overhanging sandstone ledge. So if you have poor eyesight and are visiting this park, never assume that running off into the surf is a great idea.

Just a mile or so later we came by Chapel Rock which, without explanation, is a fairly baffling sight. I don’t have a picture at this time but basically there is a tower of rock about 50 feet high and on top of it stands a very large tree whose root system covers the entire top of the tower and then some. And by “and then some” I mean that a couple major roots extend out across open air for about 20 feet where they are rooted in the main land. We later learned that just a few decades ago those roots were rooted in the top portion of a natural bridge which then collapsed. Amazingly the roots held strong and remain today. Once I get a hold of Doug’s pictures I will add one here.

Heading inland we came across Chapel Falls which is a very tall set of cascading falls but kind of tough to see from the overlooks so it wasn’t too exciting. Shortly thereafter we took a break for lunch at Mosquito Falls and cooled our feet in the icy waters. Some of us (me) were warm enough to decide that a full shower in the falls was necessary. Very refreshing.

Way earlier than expected, we made it to our campsite in the area entitled “Mosquito”. Yes, there were mosquitoes there but I fortunately seemed to be the only one who was entirely ignored. In fact, I think I took note of one bite throughout the whole trip. The waters in the Mosquito area were a definite highlight. A bedrock beach leads into the waters until a depth of only one or two feet. Then suddenly there is a drop of about fifteen feet. With Superior’s crystal clear waters we could easily make out the features of the bottom. Stepping beyond the drop-off was a bit intimidating with high winds and waves crashing against the ledge at a very high frequency. I volunteered to be the first in and took a flying leap over the next big wave. Descending to the bottom I found the waters calm yet so exciting as I was able to gaze up at everyone else peering down at me. Getting out of the water proved frighteningly difficult as a wave would aid me up onto the ledge but then suck me right back out. The group relocated to a location with an easier exit and we spent the next while throwing ourselves into the depths. If you are ever near this park, get some goggles and go here.

On these trips we have one meal that has been and always will be a mandatory inclusion: rice, bean and cheese burritos. This year we made sure to have excessive ingredients for this meal and after the “long, hard day” we appreciated every bite.

The next day was our last full day on the trail and unfortunately was sort of an anti-climax. We came across a lengthy beach which was relatively crowded with day-visitors. Just after the beach we ended up in the midst of a tourist attraction which consisted of a dramatic but hardly unique rock formation. Moving right along we found our next campsite and were disappointed to discover that access to the lake was prevented by 200 foot cliffs in both directions for at least three miles. Although catching up with all of these friends had been continuous and satisfying throughout the entire trip, we sought out something more to fill the time. Eventually we found ourselves playing a game which I had theorized years ago and implemented only once before, albeit very successfully.

The game is entitled Hünga! (pronounced Hoon Ga, with excitement as noted by the exclamation point) and is a sort of spin off of the game Jenga. The “Hü” implies the use of humans instead of wooden blocks. Nine players are required to play and each must have a slippery sleeping bag; as most modern bags are. Each player is assigned a number, one through nine. Generally a spinner with numbers one through nine is needed but we made due with nine playing cards randomly drawn from a hat. Much like Jenga, the blocks (in this case humans in sleeping bags) stack themselves in sets of three, alternating 90 degrees with each layer. Two numbers are then randomly selected and the individuals assigned those numbers are then required to exchange positions in the stack by way of wriggling, worming, squeezing, etc. The game is non-competitive and has no concept of winning or ending but provides entertainment through the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Our last dinner was a pretty good chicken, broccoli and cheesey rice mix which seemed meager when compared to all the craved foods and beers which had been the main topic of discussion all day. Clearly we were ready to get off the trail.

The next morning we did just that. Setting out relatively early, we made great time covering our last six miles. Much of this is thanks to Doug who happily volunteered to carry Autumn’s pack on his chest for about four miles–with his pack still on his back–after she suffered a pretty severely rolled ankle. The final attraction at the end of the trail was Munising Falls. We hiked up to the overlook mostly for the sake of a final picture which didn’t turn out all that well. If you look closely you can barely make out the falls.

Establishing priorities, we all set out for a little bar and grill in Munising prior to retrieving vehicles left along the trail. Relishing every bite of our highest-fat-content-possible meals–mine was the Hot Hamburger which consisted of a large burger buried in fries and then smothered in beef gravy…with a side of fried mozzarella cheese curds, so good–we figured out expenses for the trip. I had planned and paid for basically everything for everyone at this point and after including gas money and various odds and ends, the entire trip plus the final restaurant meal with drinks came out to less than $60/person. Pretty good value.

We said our goodbyes to Kristen and Tyler who each left immediately after lunch and sent Doug and Steve to retrieve Steve’s car. Meanwhile we camped out in the lawn of the park’s visitor center. Upon their return we parted ways with Steve and Heather, leaving myself, Anna, Doug, Autumn and Megan heading for Rhinelander. There we left the happy couple with Autumn’s parents and rode with Megan to Rice Lake. Although it was only a few hours after our monstrous lunch, we found ourselves unable to pass up foot long subs from Subway which disappeared in mere moments.

Megan dropped us off at Anna’s parents’ farm but before she could leave for her parents’ place the three of us were recruited to head out into the fields in the dark, attempting to herd a couple of stray cattle back within the fences. That was an interesting first for me.

Eventually Anna and I got time for showers–our second in the last three weeks–and crashed for the night. The following day we enjoyed some very large and delicious meals with family and friends and then spent much of the afternoon juggling in the yard. Last Christmas I had given my old juggling clubs to Anna’s little brother, Alec, and although he never really took to them, I apparently inspired the whole family with my ball juggling and they have all been practicing since.

Late afternoon Anna’s mom gave us a ride to Minneapolis where we were dropped off at the home of Anna’s friend Nikki who also grew up in Rice Lake. Nikki was working at the time but we hung out with her roommates and their adorable two-month old Yorkie puppy before taking a walk around town and enjoying another big meal at a Chinese restaurant. Nikki returned shortly after us and we all stayed up late catching up.

In the morning Nikki drove us the two miles to the light rail, with a stop at a local bakery for breakfast, and we hopped on the train. The $1.50 tickets not only took us the twenty miles directly to the airport but would have covered a bus ride to the rail station if Nikki hadn’t chosen to drive us. I really wish there was a rail between Olympia and SeaTac.

Our first flight left fairly late but we didn’t think we’d have a problem given our one hour layover in Dallas. However, after landing we were told that we couldn’t get to our gate because the plane currently there was having mechanical problems. We got moved to another gate and got off the plane four minutes prior to our next flight’s departure. Unfortunately our willingness to run to the gate did not make the SkyLink tram go faster. We arrived at the gate while the plane was still there but the doors had been closed about three minutes earlier. This near miss set us back four and a half hours. Given the mechanical error I figured we were entitled to some meal vouchers but an American Airlines rep said they no longer had the ability to do that. Unwilling to accept this denial I gathered my arguments and found a different rep who simply said “Of course, we’ll print those right up.” With our abundance of time I considered making a formal complaint regarding the first rep but after a very sufficient meal we found a comfy spot and caught up on the news. About an hour before our flight, a thought occurred to me. We had received lunch vouchers ($5 each) because I had requested them around three pm. Although it was only two hours later I thought I might see if I could weasel out some dinner vouchers ($10 each). Ten minutes later Anna and I were headed for the Häage-Dazs stand where we bought $20 worth of ice cream in the form of a shake, a massive sundae and a large cup of ice cream…and a bottle of water. Minutes later we were seated in our exit-row seats on the plane and were very happy to be the small, fit people sitting in the most spacious seats, eating more ice cream than anyone should in a month.

We arrived at SeaTac where we were picked up by Anthony and Allison and made it home about five hours later than originally planned. Unfortunately I found that I had indeed not forgotten my camera and will have to file a theft report with the airport as well as go about replacing the camera with insurance money.

After three weeks of travel it’s very good to be home. And that reminds me, I still need to post photos and stories from the sailing trip. But this post was extremely long and took up a lot of time so it might be a few days.

Check back for more photos from this trip in the next couple weeks.



  1. […] Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Backpacking Trip of August 2007 August 2007 4 […]

  2. This is the real adventure, and it can also help in strengthening the bonding of the group

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