Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger, Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.


On the Fox River Pathway at Stanley Lake

Stanley Lake
along the
Fox River Pathway
(Photo by Mary Powell)


Trip journals and photos

Rocks &
Fox River

An early
Backpacking Trip

Alger County
August 30 -- September 3, 2002

By Mary Powell
   Flint, Michigan
   Copyright 2002

E-mail author at

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip


We have done a number of trips in the past couple of years at Pictured Rocks, exploring different parts of the park and seeing it in different seasons. No two trips have been the same or even similar.

I arrived near midnight at our pre-trip bivouac near the intersection of H-58 and the Adams Truck Trail. Awakening the following morning I was surprised at how different it looked from the way it had in March.

Gone were the ten foot berms of snow with scrubby bare trees sticking out. Gone were the wide open expanses of white, and the cold wind stirring up "snow devils."

In their place was a lushly foliaged forest and cleared areas covered with a profusion of late summer flowers, mostly chicory, goldenrod, Queen Anne's lace, and mullein. Though the sun hadn't been up long it was already hot and dusty.

Trip leader Michael Neiger and I ate a leisurely breakfast awaiting the arrival of Gail Staisil of Midland who showed up, as usual, exactly upon the appointed hour.

After spotting Michael's car at the proposed end of the trip, we drove down to Beaver Lake to start our hike.


The sandy trail was easy walking and offered many scenic views of Beaver Lake. A light breeze kept the temperature almost comfortable.

Numerous chipmunks scampered across our path and we spotted a sandhill crane wading in the shallows. At the far end of the lake was a research weir sampling fish passing through its outlet.

We spent a few minutes talking with a couple of dayhikers there and savoring the fact that while they were headed home our trip was just beginning. Leaving Beaver Lake we headed for the nearby shore of Lake Superior where we planned to have lunch and a swim.

A short time later we crested a small sandy hill. The wide beach and the blue expanse of Lake Superior came into view. There was a brisk on-shore breeze to cool us and we sank down in the shade at the forest's edge to eat our lunch.


By the time our meal was over, we had cooled off considerably. It was mid afternoon with quite a bit of ground left to cover to reach our planned bivouac.

Swimming no longer seemed like a priority. Besides, the water's edge was lined with a jelly-like substance of questionable origin. And there were countless clear pea-sized lumps of it floating in the waves.

Where the stuff had washed up on the beach and lain in the sun it had melted to form a band of sticky goo on the sand. Still farther from the water, this band had dried to a thin iridescent film in shades of pink and blue.

Michael teased that anyone who would taste the liquid in a vodka bottle found on the beach as I had done on Drummond Island should have no trouble swimming in jelly.

Perhaps if it had been warmer and we'd had a couple days of trail dust and bug bites to rinse off we'd have gone in, but instead we shouldered our packs and returned to the trail.

Post-trip inquiry at the Munising DNR office elucidated the origin of the strange jelly spheres: they contain a tiny animal called Holopedium gibberum.

According to the DNR handout, "they are a native zooplankton eaten by cisco, coho salmon etc. Many of the females are carrying eggs in special sacs on their backs.

The animal inside the jelly is much smaller than the glob and is quite clear itself except for food in the digestive tract and the eggs."

The handout included a picture of the animal, which is only 1-2 mm long and vaguely resembles a flea. They definitely don't bother swimmers--as we discovered later in the trip.


We walked by Trapper's Lake and started up a ridge that divides the main part of Beaver Basin from a smaller wetland. As crossing this swamp was not an option, we traversed the length of the ridge then swung back to climb to the rim of the basin itself.

We picked up a good supply (read heavy) of water from Downey Creek, briefly checked out the remnants of an old camp, and trekked up the long grade to the basin's rim.

Resting a bit at an overlook, we talked about exploring or camping in the swamp someday.

The sun had definitely set when we reached our bivouac in the buffer zone. We set up camp, had a relaxed dinner, and talked well into the night.


Saturday morning was sunny and warm-very warm. We began hiking some old logging roads along the edge of Beaver Basin. After awhile the partially overgrown two-track began a transverse descent from the rim.

It was like walking in an airy green tunnel on the side of the ridge; shade dappled with sunshine, a steep hill on our right, treetops on our left that parted occasionally to give a glimpse of the valley floor.

When we got hungry we were at the bottom of the basin near Seven Mile Lake and decided to stop there for lunch. We waded in the cool water, inadvertently disturbing some ducks and a heron.

We ate lunch and relaxed in the shade. Gail found a strange iridescent, pencil-thin worm moving about in the shallows. It looked like it might make good bait, but we were without a hook to put it on--or a license to fish, for that matter.

I tried walking downstream at the outlet of the lake but fifty meters below the remains of a beaver dam the loon shit was thigh deep and getting deeper. Not wanting to swim in it, I returned to the beach. We gathered our things and got back on the two-track.


Very shortly we began to see, on both sides of the road, parts of vehicles, remnants of buildings, small excavations and many bottles and cans--the remains of a lumbering camp from 50 to 60 years ago.

We spent some time poking around and speculating on these bits of history before moving on.


At our road's closest approach to Lake Superior we did a short bushwhack through a hardwood forest, reaching the lake near Seven Mile Beach campground.

We found the strange jelly all along the water's edge again, but it was hot and there were biting flies on the beach, so we went in.

In the shallows the jelly globs felt like peas floating in the waves, but the water was cool and refreshing and they were less apparent farther out.


By the end of the swim it was dinner time. We found a place in the shade at the edge of the beach and settled in to cook and eat.

Walking along the beach after the meal, I spoke briefly with a young man who was enjoying the solitude and waiting for the sunset.

Following a ways behind me, Gail spoke to him too. After acquiring his entire life history, she brought him over to introduce him to us: seems he was looking for people to hike with!

Though our schedules kept him from joining us for the rest of this trip, he assured us we'd see him again. He and Michael exchanged e-mail addresses.


Leaving our new friend to contemplate the sunset, we located the trail that connects the coastal section of the NCT to the Fox River Pathway and hastened into the darkening woods to camp in the buffer zone.

By the time we reached the edge of the park, the sun had set and stars were beginning to appear. For our bivouac we picked a fern-covered hill with a mixture of birches and evergreens scattered about.

A shooting star streaked across the sky as we began to settle in. As it was clear, I decided to forego putting up my tarp and instead sleep under the open sky.

When I lay down, the ferns were silhouetted against the stars. I fell asleep with the soft sound of the breeze and the voices of my friends in the background.

Later that night I made an interesting discovery: if you leave a sleeping pad in the dark in the middle of a bracken-covered meadow you'd best be paying attention--because when you turn around it will have disappeared beneath the ferns....


Sunday we awoke to another beautiful day and to a pleasant surprise. Under the ferns there were blueberries everywhere--handfuls ready for picking and eating.

This finding predisposed us to a leisurely breakfast: a sip of coffee, some blueberries, a little oatmeal, some blueberries, etc. Eventually we got packed and made it to the trail.

We hadn't gone far when we flushed a flock of grouse and counted fifteen of them altogether. They jumped into the air individually or in groups of two or three. Wings whirring desperately, they disappeared into the woods.


The day's hiking was dominated by the Kingston Plains, an area we were all taken by, but Gail, found it especially intriguing.

From the DNR trail brochure and her post trip inquiries of a biologist friend, we gleaned that the virgin stands of timber in this area were rapidly logged off in the late 1800s.

Several fires swept through the area after the loggers left. Fueled by the debris of the logging, these fires also consumed much of the organic matter in the topsoil, markedly decreasing its fertility.Gail Bosio of Midland and Michael Neiger of Marquette follow the Fox River Pathway through Kingston Plains


Gail Staisil of
Midland, Michigan
and Michael Neiger of
Marquette, Michigan
hike along the
Fox River Pathway
as it winds its way
through the expansive
Kingston Plains.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

The plains as a whole were never replanted with trees. What remains is a "stump museum," a vast expanse of sandy ground scantly covered with grass and lichens, and dotted with the stumps of the original forest. There are a few small pines and bushes, but it definitely doesn't look like the woods are coming back.

There is a lot of beauty in the present day scene: fields of grass bleached by the sun wave endlessly in the constant breeze. There are scattered dark pines for contrast.

The silver-gray stumps of the old trees have been shaped by the fires and the weather. Some are decorated with moss or lichens. Others hold arrangements of new plants in their hollow centers. They are like an endless array of sculptures in a gallery.

But they have an eerie quality, too, that keeps calling up pictures of the past, as if perhaps ghosts of the original forest and its inhabitants still roam there.


The sun was high and the temperature climbed into the 90's as we walked. We carried extra water, took frequent breaks, and drank often. A steady breeze kept us from melting....

We ate a light lunch at Kingston Lake, a shallow sandy-bottomed reservoir surrounded by pines and edged with reeds and water lilies.

We were on the Fox River Pathway now and we followed it to Fishhook Lake where we decided to camp among the red pines on its shore.

The lake is really more of a wetland than an open body of water: it is thickly edged with sweetgum bushes and almost covered by lily pads. A few flowers remained on the latter and the scene must have been spectacular when they were in full bloom.

To the west across the lake was more of the same red pine forest that was sheltering us. Others were camped out of sight there as we intermittently caught the sounds of children and a dog. Later, the evening was punctuated with gunshots as if they were engaging in some target practice.

There was time to explore and it was an interesting place. Gray leeches swam at the water's edge and farther out were picturesque arrangements of pink smartweed flowers and pale yellow lilies.

In an open area at the edge of the pines I found the shell of a map turtle. (See this shell and learn more about it on the Sheds and Skulls page on this Web site.)

There was a trio of sandhill cranes hanging about--we saw them several times. Numerous ducks came and went on the lake. We watched the sunset and fell asleep to the calls of whippoorwills.


I awoke in the morning to the peeping of frogs in the trees around us. They were likely rejoicing at the light rain that was falling steadily from an overcast sky. Their mood was contagious.

I contemplated how much simpler life was here in the bush--where coping with depression means finding the right spot to lay your sleeping pad and if something's bugging you, it usually has six legs...

Speaking of which, the mosquitoes were awake too... They were thinking my tarp was their shelter and perhaps a restaurant as well! Lit a bit of Pic to discourage them and boiled up some coffee.

By the time breakfast was over the sky was clearing. We made our way through the dripping bracken to the trail.

Finding the trail was not a difficult task as the DNR apparently employed an individual with an ATV and a passion for painting things blue to mark it.

Whole small pines were blue. There were two-foot patches on larger trees. In many places you could see seven or eight marked trees at a time. There were drops of paint on ferns and lichens.

In those few places where the marks were spaced out there were ATV tracks to follow. The only consolation was that much of this defacement would be muted by time.

We followed this contemporary Picasso (he had a Blue Period too) across the last of the plains and down a short stretch of back road.

After some scouting we discovered the "mad marker" had taken the path of least resistance and driven his ATV down the edge of the plain instead of following the original trail along a forested ridge by the river.

We decided to follow the old marks and had an enjoyable time playing "hide and seek" with the next couple kilometers of trail. We rejoined Blue Boy where the plains came close to the river on some rolling hills.

While taking a break near the end of this road, we walked down a narrow path--probably the work of fishermen or hunters--and found the Fox River winding through a brushy valley.

It was an eight-foot-wide ribbon of water bordered entirely by overhanging bushes. There was a narrow wooden bridge spanning the stream--so low that it was touching the water. Mary Powell of Flint examines an old foot bridge across the West Branch of the Fox River


Mary Powell of
Flint, Michigan
examines an
old foot bridge
across the
West Branch of
the Fox River.
(Photo by Mary Powell)

View Gail Staisil's
   Photo Album from this trip

A variety of plants had sprung up between its boards. We had to try it out. It was tippy but supported our weight. Being that close to water on a warm day presented a strong temptation.

I gave in, removed my boots and lowered myself from the bridge. The water was over four feet deep and deliciously cool. The bottom and sides of the stream were lined with branches as if the river had made a nest for itself.

After taking a few pictures, we returned to our packs and hiked on 'til late afternoon. We found a place to camp in a lichen covered clearing on a hill by the river.

Some big pines offered shelter from the storm that was approaching. We ate the last dinner of the trip together before the rain began.

Gail ate up her "leftovers" (open packages that wouldn't keep well) while I decided that tomorrow's lunch looked better than the dinner I was "scheduled" to eat.

We discussed the need to move to lower ground if the thunderstorm came close. Then we retired to our shelters and fell asleep watching the trees being intermittently silhouetted by distant lightening.


Tuesday morning was pleasantly cooler. We hiked from our bivouac to the Stanley Lake campground over a series of moraines covered with mixed forest.

The campground is closed, but the cleared areas provide beautiful vistas of the lake. We watched a heron there and sandhill cranes could be heard in the distance.

We used up the last of our film at the dam on the outlet of the lake, then reluctantly walked to Michael's car a few hundred meters up the road. A trip's end is always bittersweet.


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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

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