Backpacking & Spelunking
Pictured Rocks and Caves
By Gail Staisil
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Oct 1 (Pre-trip) -The First Snow
I arrived in Munising around 6 PM, it had been quite a drive. As I left home, a series of quick rain storms went through - the temps were in the low 40's. As I reached Houghton Lake, the first snowflakes presented themselves. I really didn't think they would last but it began to snow harder. A couple inches of snow was accumulating, the traffic slowed right down to 60 mph. At Frederic, I decided to leave the expressway and take some pictures. The snow blanketing the colored leaves was awesome.
It continued to snow until after reaching the Vanderbilt area. The ride through the Upper Peninsula was only occasionally interrupted with snow squalls or rainsqualls.
I checked into the Sunset Motel on Munising Bay, it is a decent place to stay. It had two bedrooms plus a refrigerator and microwave which I really didn't need but that was the only choice at the time I made reservations. It has a nice view of the waterfront but there would be no sunset tonight...too overcast.
I reorganized some of my gear and headed over to the Brownstone Inn in AuTrain where I would join my friend Sue from Marquette and Mary who would be joining me on the backpacking trip. Sue brought along her husband Jim and Mary introduced us to Mary Ann from Ontario, who would also be joining us tomorrow.
October 2 - A Rainbow Day (Michael's 50th)
I didn't have to meet everyone until 9 AM. Breakfast was at 8 but I decided to just eat something in the motel...not too hungry this morning.
On my way over to the Dogpatch, where the others were having breakfast, a beautiful rainbow was evident in the sky. I first noticed it as I pulled out of the motel parking lot. Maybe this was a good omen for the trip. I joined the others who now included Michael and Alan. Alan was from Minnesota and would also be a newcomer to our group.
We headed over to the National Lakeshore Visitor Center to obtain a permit. We planned to camp outside of the park boundaries most nights but the permit would give us an option for two of the nights.
Michael helped Mary Ann with downsizing her pack. As Mary Ann was new to the group, it was better to do this stuff at the trailhead than be burdened later on. This is all very time consuming so while we waited, Mary and I took a quick trip to the Post Office to mail a package. We were all getting anxious to go.
The shuttling of cars went quicker than normal probably because we didn't have alot of bush roads to contend with. We left my Blazer and Alan's vehicle at Little Beaver Basin, Mary's car at Miners Falls and Michael's van at Sand Point where we would start our journey.
It was fun to be on our way, we walked along Sand Point where we spotted a shelter that had been made out of driftwood, looked to be a neat project for someone. We took a connector trail to the Lakeshore Trail.
We left the trail around the Cliffs campsite. We bushwhacked through to the Miner's Basin Rd. and then we steeply descended to handrail along the Miner's River until we could find a safe place to cross. The river was flowing rapidly making for a strong current. It was icy cold and we were glad that we didn't have to swim this one with dusk approaching us. We still had to ascend the extremely steep hillside before dark enveloped us.
Darkness settled in but we had found the old road bed that would lead us to a bivy spot that Michael had in mind. Our new recruits did well with the darkness although they admitted that they would rather get in earlier, we assured them that we usually try to. Sometimes things get in the way of that like slow steep descents, ascents, swampy territory and river crossings.
We set up in the dark and settled in for a late dinner. It was already 9 PM and we still had a birthday celebration to enjoy. It was a milestone birthday, a 50th celebration for Michael. Mary and I hadn't compared notes before the trip so we had both made chocolate brownie birthday cakes (hmmm- we were both thinking that this would be well received). We all settled in for a boatload of chocolate although we did save some for another day! We finished our desserts at 11 PM - what a late one.
October 3 - Amphitheater
It rained most of the night. We didn't plan to leave until around 10 AM so we stayed in our sacks until after 8 AM, everyone was content with that. We ventured a short way on an overgrown road bed but decided to bushwhack into a creek and handrail that instead. It had some neat waterfalls on it and eventually it would lead us to the huge cave that Michael calls the "Amphitheater". It is located in a big escarpment so we carefully descended quite a distance down the huge embankment. Last time we had used ropes to do this but we managed without them. Once we had reached the bottom of the escarpment, we carefully walked along the edge to find the cave. There were a lot of dead leaners blocking the way. Michael pushed most of them over, making the route significantly easier and safer for the rest of the crew.
We were to spend some time at the cave as it would be a good spot to have lunch. We had our climbing helmets on to protect our heads from falling rock...looking around, it was a good idea.
Water was cascading in abundance over the edge of the cave from the Little Miner's River, more than the last time I visited the cave. The river doesn't have a name on the quads but Michael has adopted that name to refer to it. We took a lot of pics and then bushwhacked in a northerly direction to come out at the Potato Patch campsite. From there we would take the Lakeshore Trail to Mosquito.
It was an extremely windy day, the waves on Lake Superior were absolutely awesome (strong northwest winds). We climbed out on many of the overlooks and had a hard time taking pictures. The wind would shift your whole body and the camera that you were holding didn't appear to stay very steady.
We arrived at Mosquito and set up our tarps and tarp tent in a huge conglomeration. You have to camp within 15 ft. of the post so we decided to make a big lodge. It is extremely rare for us to camp at an established campsite so we carefully abided by the rules.
October 4 - "Wild" Lake Superior
It had been a real windy night. I got up around 2:30 AM and it was snowing. I did sleep contently the rest of the night, I packed up and headed down to the cliffs along the water in the morning. The waves were even larger than the previous evening. Michael joined me and we watched huge displays of waves and spray crashing up to the top of trees on the cliffs. Michael noted that he saw the trees covered in ice in March on one of his sledge trips.
We were to be on the trail all day today instead of the bush. We stopped frequently at overlooks as one is better than the next. This is really the most scenic part of the whole Lakeshore Trail.
We planned to have lunch in a cave outside of Chapel Beach. When we arrived, we decided that it was too cold and windy there so we headed inland a bit. We were going to set up camp early today. On the way in to camp, we talked to a group from the Solar Club. Michael knew one of the leaders as he used to lead groups for that club when he lived downstate. He shared his knowledge of the caves with them as they also do caving trips.
We set up camp in our lodge style again...we were staying at the Chapel Beach permit campground. It was supposed to be full tonight but eventually only two other sites were full...the weather always scares a lot of people away. Lucky for us as we are only used to silence.
Everyone chose to spend the afternoon in their own style. Alan decided to take a nap, Mary and Mary Ann headed out for a walk to Spray Falls and Michael and I reconned an area north of Little Chapel Lake looking for more caves. We didn't find any caves but we did find the remnants of an old logging camp including metal bunk beds that were fully encased in trees.
When we came back, Mary told us of a group of three that had set up nearby. They were closer to the lake and had a huge bonfire going right on the trail. Mary told them that no fires were allowed at Chapel Beach but they insisted that there were. All they would have to do is look at their permit to find out that they could be fined bigtime. Also, doesn't the lack of fire rings tell them something? Too bad the rangers aren't around to roust them. I guess they have a lot of problems with people camping without permits and otherwise not following the rules. Michael knows the park personnel quite well and they have told him that they actually have taken down the equipment of illegal occupants and hauled their gear back to the park office...so funny but serves them right.
We had a late dinner and settled in for an evening of relaxation.
October 5 - Cave Explorations
Awoke to a bit of blue sky. After I packed up, I headed down to the beach, the lake was still awesome. Huge waves and the light shining on the cliffs were outstanding.
This morning, Alan told us of his previous evening adventures. He was so sure a bear was in camp that he shone a light around camp. Turns out that Mary was making an amazing variety of grunts and snores. We all had a good laugh.
We headed out to check out a cave on Little Chapel Lake. It is on the south shore and has two entrances, one of which you would have to slither through.
We were off to a series of caves along an escarpment of Chapel Lake. No one would realize that these caves even exist while standing on top of them. The caves were at one time sea caves when Lake Superior was at a higher level. Michael has done extensive backcountry exploration in this area so he knows exactly where they are. He has given many of the caves names including Coal, Raptor, and Down and Out. We had lunch in one of the larger caves.
We bushwhacked back to the trail and headed over to Chapel Falls. It was already 4 PM and we had a long bushwhack ahead to Spray Creek. We used a series of overgrown roads and bushwhacked between them when necessary. There are so many old roads back in the bush that are not on any topos, you have to be careful not to utilize the wrong ones. They often change direction frequently making their overall use impractical if time is limited. It was well after 7 PM before we crossed Spray Creek. We loaded up with water and then bivied at dark on a well overgrown road. We quickly hung the bear bag ropes and set up. Everyone was really quiet, it is usually like that on the last night no matter who I am with.
October 6 - Extremes In Temps
Woke to a very cold morning. I guess it got down to 26 degrees, we were all comfortable.
Our hike out went easy and in no time at all we were back on the Lakeshore Trail. I was lagging behind this morning, the tenderness on my ankle bone was bugging me. I think it was caused by my new boots but time will tell. The best thing I did was when I took off my boots and put my sandals on - perfect because there was no contact issue.
We finished our hike around 12:30 PM. Alan wanted to get hauling back to Minnesota but the rest of us settled in for lunch at Sydney's in Munising after we shuttled vehicles.
The temps were steadily rising, it must of been in the high 60's when we finished.
The next two days would produce record highs in the area. I headed up to the Keweenaw to see my family and Wednesday reached a record high of 82 degrees in Houghton.. I'm so glad that we had the cooler temps and high winds for the backpack trip...otherwise we would of never witnessed the awesome sites on Lake Superior. It was thoroughly mesmerizing.
View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip.
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