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A Michigan Bush Rats' Photo-Journal...

Off-trail Backpacking and Spelunking
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Munising :: Alger County
Central Upper Peninsula of Michigan
October 3-6, 2008

4 Days of backpacking
and spelunking in the
backcountry of
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

By Gail Staisil (IsleRoyaleGirl or WoodsWoman)
   Marquette, Michigan
   © Copyright 2008

E-mail author at


View Dave Goodyear's photo album from this trip

View Mary Powell's photo album from this trip

View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip

View trip beta page for this adventure on Backpacker Magazine's Midwest Forum

View additional, Michigan Bush Rats' photo-journals

Learn about free, Michigan Bush Rats' upcoming trips and expeditions


October 3
A Day of Extremes

Strong winds and chilly temps interfaced with episodes of rain. The forecast appeared much brighter than actuality. Hopes were high that it would change. Living close to Lake Superior I know the weather can change drastically at any moment.

Tradition had it that the group would congregate at the Dogpatch Restaurant for breakfast before the start of the trip. While this is optional for trip participants, not many ever bow out of the opportunity.

There were seven of us. They included Michael the trip leader, Milton, Mary, Dave, Dale, Mary Ann and myself. Members of the group traveled from as far south as the Detroit area in Michigan to the north border of the state including the Soo area in Canada.

We also joined with seventeen more trippers from the Solar Club at the breakfast feast. Our highly spirited and favorite waitress at the DogPatch Restaurant had the crowd fed in record time.

To top off the occasion a birthday cake was presented to Michael. Rumor has it that Milton tipped off the waitress about the birthday. Michael was highly surprised and remarked that he hadn't had as much attention since his second grade party. A chorus of the traditional birthday song rang through the air and then Michael divided the tiny cake down into an amazing amount of bite-size portions.

We next stopped at the Visitors Center for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Although we wouldn't need permits as we weren't camping in the park itself, Michael wished to inform the ranger about our plans. We would be camping in the buffer zone but exploring the backcountry inside the park at times.

We shuttled cars to Miner's Castle and then drove the gravel road to the Chapel Basin Parking Area. At this point, there was only an occasional spit of rain so we contemplated whether to keep donning our rainwear. Since the vegetation was still somewhat wet and the temperature was cool, I think all of us wore them at least in the beginning.

We left the parking area and after a few hundred yards dropped off the trail proper to explore the area between the trail and lake for caves. The first series of caves that we explored are of various sizes mostly being on the small side (at least compared to the others that we would visit) There are also remains of an old log building that is slowly being consumed by the forest.

Broomstick Cave. (Photo by Gail Staisil)


We soon bushwhacked around to the north side of Chapel Lake. Here we explored the series of caves that many of us are so familiar with. They are always fun to revisit and they're always exciting for those who haven't seen them before.

Dale emerges from the grotto known as Down and Out. (Photo by Mary Powell)

This was an unique way to explore the backcountry of Pictured Rocks for the first time as experienced by Dale and Dave. Several people had fun slithering down into some of the formations without their packs including Milton, Michael, Dave and Dale....and then not to out do each other, it was tried by several of them with their packs on.

Dave, outside one of the Chapel Basin Escarpment caves. (Photo by Dave Goodyear)

Michael had given many of the caves names as he had plotted them years back. Broomstick, Coal, Down and Out, and Predator were some of the descriptive names based on actual findings.

Working the Chapel Basin Escarpment. (Photo by Gail Staisi)

Some caves were shaped like large hemispheres, others were merely overhangs. We had our lunch near the caves and then Dave led us south to find a place to cross the Chapel River. We crossed on a beaver dam with precarious footing. No one got wet! The ground was full of seeps and quite mucky after we crossed. We investigated an old abandoned canoe and supplies that some of the group found mostly buried last year.

We moved easterly towards the Chapel River. We skirted the escarpment that led to the bottom of Chapel Falls. It was around 5 PM when we visited the viewing area at the top of the falls. We soon headed back into the woods on a bushwhack route.

Chapel Falls. (Photo by Gail Staisil)

Along an old road we saw the fresh tracks of a vehicle and then the 4WD itself. A woman was sitting in the vehicle and told some of us that her group had just shot a bear but they were using another old road to get it out. Although hunting bears is fine by me given that they were to be used for food, I really didn't really want to see a dead bear just then. Instead I enjoy seeing them romping around their natural area.

We found a suitable bivouac spot in the buffer zone near the river and set up camp. A hoot owl provided entertainment. A light sprinkle of rain began just as I retired and significant rain developed during the night.


October 4
Trail Travel Along the Pictured Rocks Cliffs

In the morning we saw a patch of blue sky in the otherwise gray sky and it looked like it was going to clear. Although more rain wasn't predicted our proximity to Lake Superior always changes things significantly.

By the time we left camp the rain had mostly abated. We still donned rain gear as we had direct contact with the rain-soaked vegetation. In addition, an occasional shower would spit through the trees. After awhile the rain stopped for good.

We again stopped at the viewing deck for Chapel Falls. A huge classroom of teens from downstate showed up as well as other dayhikers. Quite frankly I have never seen so many people at Pictured Rocks at once. There are often more tourists at this time of year because of the promise of fall color. We hiked along the trail to Chapel Rock. We played cat and mouse with the school group and I was glad that once we got to the lakeshore, they had hit their target of Chapel Rock.

Chapel Beach, as viewed from a cave overlooking it from its western flank. (Photo by Mary Powell)

We took refuge from the wind at the far end of the beach under the rock overhang so that we could eat our lunch comfortably. It was still slightly breezy but it was a place to linger. This would mostly be a trail day as we planned on hiking the lakeshore trail to the Mosquito River.

We stopped numerous times along the way at the overlooks. It was new territory for some members of our group but for most of us we delighted in seeing the picturesque coastline once again. The fall color was probably at about 30 percent along the cliffs at the shoreline.

Battleship Row. (Photo by Gail Staisil)

We arrived at the Mosquito River area around 5 PM. We loaded our packs with an additional water supply as we would be heading well up into a dry area of the buffer zone to camp. Michael set up his camp and then returned down to the group site at Mosquito to visit the Solar Club Group for the evening. It is a group he was affiliated with in the past as a leader.

Most of the rest of us were content to spend a quiet evening in the woods. I talked with Mary and Mary Ann as the evening waned. We caught up on each others adventures during a very full summer. Mary Ann traveled by bicycle with her husband Dave from Sault St Marie, Ontario, Canada to the west coast of the United States and then headed into Canada and biked back. Over 100 days of traveling! I don't think the rest of us were quite that adventurous over the summer. It was certainly a huge accomplishment and they are still fired up to do another long bicycle trip next summer.


October 5
Amphitheater Day

The night had been very dark and quiet. I slept until almost 8 AM. There seemed to be no hurry though as others were just getting into their morning routines.

Dale led us out through the woods back to the shoreline where we viewed more lookouts along the way. At Potato Patch we left the trail for good. Milton took charge and led us on a route up and down the ravines that are unavoidable in getting to where we wanted to go. Thankfully with the dry summer they were mostly dry but of course they're still steep in spots.

After lunch we descended to the Amphitheater Cave after securing our food by doing bear hangs at the top of the ridge. Michael rigged a hand line for those who wanted more security in the descent to the river level.

The Amphitheater. (Photo by Mary Powell)

It was weird to see the falls flowing as most of my recent visits have been in the winter. There is usually a huge column of ice where now was a lightly-flowing waterfall.

The waterfall created a pool at the base. We explored and lingered for close to an hour. When we were nearly ready to leave we collected our gear at the top of the ridge and headed into the buffer zone where we camped by a small branch of the Miner's River.

During the evening Dave became interested in experimenting with his magnesium fire starter. Since we were out of the park and there was a safe and wet sandy area along the river it was suitable for a small fire. Dave and Michael gathered the necessary shavings, twigs and bark. After many attempts the fire was lit. Many of us agreed it would be hard to do in a survival situation.

The night was great. I fell asleep to the sound of the flowing water. I slept better than I thought I would on the highly uneven ground.


October 6
Through the Swamp, Over the River, and To the Falls

In the morning, we backtracked a bit and descended once again to the bottom of the cliff. We bushwhacked through the swamp so that we could get nearer to the Miner's River and Miner's Falls.

We crossed several small branches of the river and then finally the river itself. Some of the group donned sandals and others went barefoot for the wade across the river. We regrouped on the other side and then traveled through the swamp towards the base of Miner's Falls. Along the way Michael found a snowmobile helmet that apparently had fallen over the opposite ridge. There must be some story associated with that!

Miners Falls. (Photo by Dave Goodyear)

We arrived at the base of the falls where most of us relaxed for awhile. Mary and Michael explored the crevices behind the falls.

Miners Falls, as viewed from within MinersFalls Cave. (Photo by Mary Powell)

We retraced our steps a bit and then descended up to the top of the steep ridge that intersected with the tourist path (that leads to the viewing deck above the falls).

The trekking part of the trip was concluded. Some of the group shuttled their vehicles while the rest of us waited in the sun. Eventually after the second round of shuttles we met at the Woodland Restaurant in Shingleton where a hearty lunch was consumed. It had been an enjoyable trip with familiar territory...a time to enjoy and relax in mostly nice October weather.

The author, Gail Staisil.




View Dave Goodyear's photo album from this trip

View Mary Powell's photo album from this trip

View Gail Staisil's photo album from this trip

View trip beta page for this adventure on Backpacker Magazine's Midwest Forum

View additional, Michigan Bush Rats' photo-journals

Learn about free, Michigan Bush Rats' upcoming trips and expeditions


In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.

 —John Muir (1838-1914), Alaska Wilderness, 1890


If you've been able to read this Web page...
thank a Teacher;
If you've been able to read this Web page in English...
thank a Veteran.
—Author unknown

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