Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 2013: Chapel Loop - Introduction

I didn't think it was possible to forget how to use my camera. Sitting in the passenger seat of my sister, Andrea's, car as we drove north on I-75 through Michigan's lower peninsula, I fumbled with the settings on my simple, point-and-shoot Canon. How do I adjust the brightness, or switch it to wide-screen? Andrea helped me figure it out when we briefly detoured onto US-23 N and stopped for lunch at Wheeler's in Standish. Intending to visit Tony's Tacos, we were sad to discover that it was no longer operating out of the small trailer just off the highway. Instead, a sign encouraged us to visit them in Tawas City.

Stones at Chapel Beach

My camera issues and ignorance regarding Tony's move are both due to the same thing: I have not gone on a hiking trip since September 2011. Between starting a new job almost a year ago and taking classes in the evenings over the last few years, the time I used to have for hiking and other travels around the Great Lakes State has dwindled to near non-existence. I hadn't taken a photo with anything other than my iPhone, or driven to the northern part of the state in a very long time. This was long overdue, and even if I had to substitute a patty melt and fries for tacos machos with chorizo, I was beyond excited to be headed for the Upper Peninsula.

Obligatory Mackinac Bridge Photo
Andrea is an experienced traveler, who often goes on spontaneous cross-country trips. She recently intended to visit friends 2 1/2 hours away in Chicago, but changed her mind along the way and ended up in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. She keeps gear in her car just in case, and is always up for hiking or snowshoeing. She had yet to go backpacking though, and has been wanting to try it for quite a while. She had already been accumulating the necessary equipment, but still needed to be fitted for a backpack and new boots, as her trusty but ancient Sorels had finally (and simultaneously) disintegrated last year. She visited me over Memorial Day weekend, and we spent four hours at REI. 

Andrea's Sorels perish on Mosquito Falls Trail during a previous visit
We would both be trying new gear on this trip. I had recently purchased a Big Agnes Q-Core SL sleeping pad and was anxious to test it. Andrea opted for the ThermaRest Neo Air Xlite. Both of them weigh very little, but inflate to comfortable thicknesses and provide good insulation. Also, Andrea intended to test her titanium Emberlit twig-burning stove, and she and Craig - who owns a Vargo twig-burner - held a competition on our porch to see whose stove boiled water faster. The Emberlit's design allows for more airflow and easier addition of twigs, and it won the battle (and Craig has since purchased an Emberlit).

The Vargo                                    The Emberlit                                      The Boil-off
I typically wait until closer to Fall to go backpacking because I like the cooler weather and lack of mosquitoes and black flies. However, I was due to wrap up school near the end of June and really needed a vacation. Andrea happened to have the last week of the month off, so we quickly made plans for a short, 2-night trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This is our favorite part of Michigan, and we have visited it many times both together and separately. Reservations must be made in advance for backcountry permits and specific campsites along this stretch of trail; it is a beautiful area and very popular with backpackers. 

The trail along Pictured Rocks NL is part of the North Country Trail
The National Park Service begins taking reservations on January 2 and recommends making reservations as early in the year as possible. Because of this, I did not expect to be granted reservations on a month's notice. We must have gotten lucky because we planned to visit the area mid-week, beginning Thursday, June 27. Despite the unpredictable nature of Michigan weather in June and the rumors of unfathomable swarms of mosquitoes and black flies following a very wet spring, we packed our bug nets and decided to go for it.

Lady Slipper Orchid
We reserved 2 spots in a prime section of the lakeshore, which would allow for an easy, 2-night loop and include spectacular cliff and rock formation viewing – a perfect trip for someone backpacking for the first time, and someone who hasn't gone in nearly two years. We would park at the Mosquito/Chapel trailhead and hike to Chapel Beach on the first day. Day two would be spent hiking along the cliffs' edges, past Grand Portal Point to Mosquito Beach. On day three, we would hike along Mosquito River, enjoying the multiple cascades of Mosquito Falls before returning to the trailhead. We have day-hiked to all of these locations before, and they are some of our favorites. At some point over the next few years, I plan to backpack Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore from end to end, but for now, 3 days was all we had.

Storm over Munising Bay
We arrived in Munising Wednesday evening and checked into the Sunset Motel. It was surprisingly hot – near 90 degrees right on Munising Bay. About an hour after arriving, however, a storm blew in suddenly, darkening the skies to a blackish purple and causing the temperature to drop at least 30 degrees almost instantly. Wind blew fiercely off the bay toward the little motel, and we had to change into warmer clothes in order to sit on its covered porch and watch the drama unfold. It rained all through the night, and when we got up at 7 a.m. the following morning, it continued to pour as we gathered our gear and prepared to go to the Pictured Rocks Visitor Center to pick up our permits. An omen?

To be continued in: Day One – Trailhead to Chapel Beach

1 comment:

DC said...

Cool! Glad to see you're posting again. I've always wanted to backpack the Pictured Rocks, never have -- I'm really looking forward to hearing more about it.