"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

We are alone, running on an enormous beach, falling into a rhythm and quickly covering ground.  But then its time to slam on the brakes, breathe in the scenery, and take a couple photos; one can't help but be slightly overwhelmed with the magnificence of this lakeshore.  Repeat this series of events over and over again.

Vanhoose cruising along the lakeshore
 The North Country Trail is an enormously long trail that runs from New York all the way to North Dakota, covering over 4600 miles.  This includes a section through a part of Michigan that is less traveled, to say the least.

More or less on a whim, Ben Vanhoose and I decided to head way Up North and run trail for 5 days.  We found a campsite at Little Beaver Lake (luckily) and were good to go.  This particular campsite/trailhead allowed for excellent access to nearby trails and Lake Superior.  From here we launched most of our daily runs.  I'll write about our destination runs, as some of our shorter trips were just to wake up in the morning without the aid of coffee and loosen up the legs a little. 

Run 1:  An exploratory jaunt to get an idea of where we were in relation to the lake, other trails, and to shake out the legs.  The section from the campground out to the lake is fairly technical, but once we made it to the lakeshore the trails were moderately packed sand.  We continued East on the North Country Trail (NCT), until we saw signs for Trappers Lake Campground and turned South.  After some guesswork, we found the trail that took us along the side of Beaver Lake.  All in all a very cool run, with a crossing of Beaver Creek on a super wooden bridge.  Total of about 9 miles.  The trails other than the NCT were hardly traveled, and quite overgrown.
Run map

Vanhoose Crossing Beaver Creek
  Run 2:  We drove to the Hurricane Ridge Campground parking lot and ran towards the Au Sable lighthouse, then continued on to the Log slide, a part of the dunes where loggers used to slide felled trees into the lake for shipping.  This section was different.  The trail from the parking lot to the Lighthouse was essentially a dirt road, so we threw down some fast miles.  Finding where the NCT continues on past the lighthouse was only moderately challenging, and soon we headed up towards the Logslide.  There were a couple nice climbs, and the trail was not as technical as the West end of the park.  We chose to run to the logslide because there was (potable) water at the parking lot.  Just for the hell of it, we explored a couple other trails nearby and found a really fantastic overlook of the Grand Sable Dunes. Then we ran back to Hurricane Ridge and cooled off in Hurricane River.  The round trip ended up being just shy of 10 miles.

You can just see where the dunes begin at the point where we turned around
Atop a dune
More dunes

Run 3:  This was our biggest day.  And the most spectacular.  The park ranger we spoke to described this section of the park as the Gem of the Lakeshore.  Needless to say, we stopped for a lot of photos.  Even cooler, we were able to launch this trip right from our campsite.  Starting at Little Beaver Lake trailhead, we ran to the NCT, then turned West and proceeded to run along the sandy/grassy shoreline that slowly climbed to the tops of magnificent cliffs.  We were also reworded with a great view of Spray Falls (I think this was my single most favorite visual), a waterfall that cascades off the top of a clif and into Lake Superior.  Continuing Westward, we reached Chapel Beach (again we were the only two souls on the beach) and took some pictures, checked out Chapel Rock and then continued down the NCT towards Mosquito campground.  On the way to the campground, we passed Grand Portal Point, an exposed area on top of the Pictured Rocks that offered some stunning views.  Upon reaching Mosquito River, we found a bridge across, and luckily chose the right trail to take us to Mosquito Falls, then to Chapel parking lot (no water) and then headed past Chapel Falls down to Chapel Beach again and back to our campsite via the NCT, essentially making a lollipop-style loop.  Total Distance, just shy of 23 miles.  Terrain went from technical with roots, to flat out fast buffed out trail.

Just an awesome route
Spray Falls behind me

Vanhoose thinking about going for a swim

View from Chapel Beach

Pictured Rocks
At Grand Portal Point

Pictured Rocks namesake
Run 4:  Started at the Munising Falls Visitors Center, which provides immediate access to the NCT.  From a purely running standpoint, this was the most fun section of trail we ran all week.  Incredibly technical in some areas.  Rotted 2x4 bridges over swampy ground, incredibly rooty, and plenty of up and down, and some small stream crossings.  Interestingly, there were quite a few streams that just seemed to go off the sides of the cliffs into Lake Superior, but were unnammed and unmarked.  There were also some ski trails near Munising which intersected with the NCT, it was not too difficult to choose the correct trail, but it also made me want to explore more of the trail system.  We ran to the Miners Castle Overlook, where there was drinking water, then turned around and hammered the miles back.  I didn't bring my camera, which was OK, as this didn't have the views that we experienced on our earlier run, just amazing terrain. Total distance was 13.5 miles.ish.
Along the Lakeshore with Grand Island just off the coast
Miner's Castle (photo Ben Vanhoose)

Overall, the experience was tremendous.  It was somewhat surreal that there were so few people on the trails.  That being said, it was peak season!  I can't wait to go back, hopefully show some more people some of these amazing views, its so spectacular you just want to share it with people.  Much credit to Ben Vanhoose for dreaming up this trip.
A few roots (photo Ben Vanhoose)

There are a few more runs that I still want  to do.  I am curious what the NCT is like from Mosquito River to Miners Castle - the cliffs and trails in this area occasionally fall into the lake, so who knows what the trail is like.  I also would love to explore Beaver Basin Wilderness area more.  Lastly, being so close to Grand Island, its tempting to take the Ferry to the island and explore some of the trails that are used by the Grand Island Marathon (Great Lakes Endurance).  I think another trip is in order!

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great trip. I would have included some cliff diving- looks like great places for it!