Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hiking Pictured Rocks - Part Two: Twelve Mile Beach

All beach all day.  Yet the North Country Trail proper rarely offers unobstructed views of it.  The view shown above is an exception.  It's a trail in the woods that parallels the beach.  If you want beach you take one of the side trails.  I hiked Twelve Mile beach west to east, so my first beach contact came at the end of the 1.6 mile Little Beaver Creek access trail.  Before I got to the beach I encountered a taste of the sandstone rock that would dominate tomorrow's hike, in the form of a rock shelter.

Emerging on the beach, the rocky shoreline began just a few hundred yards to the west.

And to the east, twelve miles of sand.

It's not a continuous beach, though.  Two major streams interrupt it.  The first is Little Beaver Creek.  The trail crosses it on this rustic footbridge.

The other is Seven Mile Creek.  I wonder how far down the beach that is.  No matter, I wasn't counting miles.  I was absorbing the sights and sounds of Lake Superior

The trail followed an old road for a while.  Traffic was pretty light.

More wild scenes than man-made ones.  Hat number 61 found some kindred companions to pose with.

Mosses and fungi were lush and abundant in the wake of all the summer rain.

But honestly, it was beach that I craved.  Woods can be found anywhere.  When there is woods beside sandy beach, it's the sandy beach I want to walk.

And so I strayed from the trail for several miles as I approached Twelve Mile Beach campground and the east end of the day's trek.  Here's the interactive GPS Track.  Zoom in for a closer birds-eye view of this scenic coast.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hiking Pictured Rocks, part one: Au Sable (at the Sand)

Back from a three day trip to Wyoming to take in the Eclipse, I was greeted with sterling weather as I embarked on the first of three magical days in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  This eastern section of the 'park' contains the gigantic Grand Sable dunes, shown in the vista above.  The dunes are up to 300 feet high and cover five miles of beach.  The trail doesn't go through the desolate grassy landscape.  It stays in the woods, leaving the lake shore and skirting the inland edge of the high dunes, but by taking a short side trail I got a close up taste of what the area looks like.

West of the dunes the trail resumes Lake Superior shoreline as it approaches Au Sable point, with its 1874 light still in use.

The light is an essential navigational guide.  This is the 'shipwreck coast' of Lake Superior, and by hiking the beach west of the light for half a mile I got to encounter evidence of several old wrecks.

The day ended at the eastern tip of Twelve Mile Beach, which is tomorrow's fare.  Hat number 60 poses there with a view of the first little bit of the beach and some of the fifteen miles of sandstone cliffs in the distance beyond. 

Excitement to come.  Here's an interactive map of the GPS track of today's hike with a good look at the massive Grand Sable Dunes.  Zoom in for more detail.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Walking the Lake Superior State Forest shoreline

The North Country Trail follows the shores of Lake Superior for a long way across the center part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  It's one of the big attractions of this trail.  This part of Lake Superior is so wide that the shore on the other side is out of sight.  Because it also has long stretches of beach, it's feels more like an ocean than a lake.  In this report, I cover two days of hiking these great shores, both cloudy summer days, cool with temperatures in the 60's F and wind off the lake bringing the wonderful sound of the surf.

But I couldn't walk as much beach as the trail offered.  The first of the days was shortened by rain, and found me abandoning the trail route in order to finish.  I had to skip another section of lake-side trail the same day because it required a significant river ford.  Here's Hat number 54 with the river in question. 

It's called the Blind Sucker River.  Fantastic name!  That's *exactly* the way I felt, not knowing what conditions would be like at the actual site of the ford without walking several miles in from the nearest road.  This photo was taken at a bridge where the Grand Marais Truck Trail crosses it.  The North Country Trail crosses it where it empties into Lake Superior, and there's no bridge there for hikers.

So ... I was here at the bridge in order to assess the flow before deciding whether to attempt the ford.  It's been a very rainy year, and river gauge levels are running at 90th percentile and higher, meaning 90 percent of the time the water is not this high.  What I saw was fairly swift current in water two feet deep or more.  The bottom would be soft sand.  I could ford that.  It's not a safety risk, but one slip in swift current would mean everything I carried would get wet unless I used waterproof bags.

Too much hassle.  It had just finished raining for 12 hours, so water levels would be rising.  With more rain threatening, I didn't want to take the time to do the prep work needed.  So I walked the Grand Marais Truck Trail instead of that 5 mile section of North Country Trail.  It made me sad, and it means that I will not claim to have walked the entire length of the North Country Trail across Michigan's U.P.  Here's the GPS Track of that day.  Too much road walking on a sloppy, muddy dirt road.

But as you can see from the headline photo and in the photo below, the beach that I did walk was gorgeous, despite the dreary weather.

The second day brought me a little sunshine as I came through the quaint tourist town of Grand Marais.  Here the trail follows the shores of a protected bay before hitting some beach west of town.

Unfortunately this beach-walk section of trail was essentially closed.  Fresh erosion had dropped a clump of big trees across the route, so I would either have to wade around them out in the lake or bushwhack high up along the edge of the eroded dune.  I chose the latter, and got nice views for my trouble.

This hike ended at Sable Falls, which marks the beginning of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Here's Hat number 55 with the falls.

Here's the GPS Track of that day's hiking

Pictured Rocks is a unit of the U.S. National Park System, and it is arguably the defining segment of the North Country Trail.  I am very much looking forward to being 'spoiled' by the scenery.  You can't overdose on bliss.

Friday, August 25, 2017

When My Two Wand'ring Soles crossed the Two Hearted River ...

... it happened at the river's mouth, where it empties into Lake Superior.  I crossed it by way of ...
... a pretty impressive suspension bridge, built for soles only -- a bridge that connects

miles of pebbly beach (offering plenty of raw agates for the rock hound,
assuming he knows what to look for, which I don't) with more miles of pebbly beach.
Hat 52, my 'one hearted hat,' thought the rocks were pretty, even if we didn't know what to call them, and he noted that
the local monarchs were a lot more interesting than stupid rocks anyhow;
and they didn't seem the least bit interested in rock hunting.
"Maybe they're looking for me," came a voice from the top of the dune.  Hat 51 had drifted up there.  He said it was Blueberry Man.  He said the he didn't fit too well on that big guy's head.
"Lots of sweet treats for the monarchs to feed on up here on the dunes" Blueberry Man called to me, "including some fat red Teaberries, ripening on the tiny Wintergreen plants even as their white flowers beckon with fresh nectar."
So my two soles climbed up to find several miles of forest recently burned, about two or three years ago.  "Who burned this place?" I called to Blueberry Man, but he had already disappeared, leaving my hat in his blueberry patch.  'Odd, hairy looking guy', Hat 51 noted.
"Imagination," I replied.  "I let you hats have entirely too much latitude.  Come on.  I'm going back down and walk the beach.  The heck with the blue blazes, always making me walk out of view of Lake Superior and back in these burned out woods."
But eventually I had to leave the lake.  The trail headed inland following the Little Two Hearted River.  Finally the trail came out on a road in order to get across another river, and there I found absolute proof --
Those two Big Soles could only belong to ... ... "I know who you really are, Blueberry Man!" I shouted.  And in the distance I heard a deep rumbling call, half laughter, half bellow of triumph.

Two days of hiking, one on either side of the Mouth of the Two Hearted River, yielded the above annotated story.  Here are the GPS tracks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hiking Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan's Niagara

The bit of North Country Trail that goes past the upper falls at Tahquamenon State Park, shown above, may be the most hiked piece of that trail in all of its 4600 miles.  There is a giant parking lot a quarter mile from the falls, which was filled to overflowing on the Sunday afternoon that I arrived, and the only way to view the falls is to walk the North Country Trail.  The flow of walkers on that paved trail was almost as voluminous as the flow of the water.

It has been a wet summer in Upper Michigan.  The river gauge level here was above the 90th percentile, about ten times the normal volume, and the result was a deep rumbling that could be heard half a mile away, and which cranked up to a thunderous cacophony close up.

There is a lower falls about four miles downstream by trail and a lot of people hike that as well.  The lower falls is the kind you could appreciate in a more interactive way.

Though I'm not sure whether park regulations allowed it, the river here was full of bathers.  There is another cascade below this, and getting swept over that brink didn't look like something people would enjoy.

In any case, these points of concentrated interest for non-hikers were far from being the only special sights in the area.  That's where the dedicated hiker gets his/her real reward.  Further downstream you would never know that this was the same river.  This calm morning view shows a river that is about as languid as rivers get.

Away from the river there was a sand dune climb with a glimpse of Lake Superior.  It's there, to the left of Hat 49, although it was too bright to show up well in this shot.

And there was a wetland boardwalk.

There were giant pines.  The sign said so; and the former Hat 50, now hat 90, was there to confirm it.

Hat 50 became hat 90 just a few minutes later when I stopped in at the park concession and found a nice new hat on sale for $7.  It was only appropriate that this should become the hat of the day.

Even farther out there were some very impressive Sphagnum peat moss bogs.

These are actually floating mats of moss that can cover deep water.  The stunted little spruces manage to grow in the floating moss.  Try walking out there and you'll soon realize you're in over your head.  The spongy "ground" sinks under your weight.

One such bog was inhabited by thousands of carnivorous pitcher plants.

These are a common species, Sarracenia purpurea, which grows from Florida's panhandle to Canada's Northwest Territories.

On the other end of the moisture spectrum, I found these dry, sandy soil loving lichens in 'bloom'. 

This is the lipstick powderhorn lichen (Cladonia macilenta), and yes, the 'flower' is meant to attract insects.  It indicates the availability of mature spores, and the insects help to propagate them.

An enjoyable section to hike, for sure.  And in the end I was back to the upper falls. 

How did that work?  Well, this report covers two days of hiking.  On the first I started at the upper falls parking lot and traveled downstream.

On the other, I started fifteen miles or so to the northwest and rambled through some very remote country (where all the bogs were), ending the day at the upper falls.

For a more comprehensive look at my hiking, or to zoom in on any individual segment, check the interactive map of my Personal Continuous Footpath on my Wikiloc page.

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