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  1. #1
    michigandave's Avatar
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    Pictured Rocks, Michigan – NCT Grand Sable VC to Munising Falls 5-14-15 to 5-17-15

    The 42.5 mile North County Trail segment through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the crown jewels of Michigan’s vast trail system. I’ve done parts of it, but had never tackled the entire trail from the Grand Sable Visitors Center to Munising Falls. I had a window in my work schedule where I could plan a trip, so adding that to a weekend gave me 4 days to do the leg. As per my trip report tradition, I apologize in advance for this long post, but I look at it as a resource for anyone planning a trip.

    Regarding trip planning:
    I needed shuttle service to get me to Grand Sable VC, so for $20, I booked a ride online with the local bus service that provides hiker transportation ( http://www.altranbus.com ) . This is a bargain, because the ride up to trailhead is over 50 miles away and at least an hour or more if other hikers needed to be dropped off at other trailheads. PIRO backcountry reservations are another issue. Since my trip was a week before Memorial Day, I knew that the reservations would be light. For about 3 weeks before my trip, I’d call up to the park office to get an idea how things are filling up and also get updates on mosquitoes and trail conditions. By not reserving, it cost me $5 per night for each site. If I were to go through the system and fax or mail the form with 3 alternate trip routes, it would cost me $15 just for the privilege of sending it in, plus the $5 per night site fee. I would not recommend winging it as I did if you were going anytime during the peak summer and early fall season. If you skip the reservation system, you’ve got to be very flexible in your planning. The park also doesn’t advise breaking your itinerary and going on to other backcountry campsites for whatever reason.
    http://www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm
    http://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisi...lanner2013.pdf

    Here was my route:
    Day 1- Grand Sable Visitors Center to Au Sable East (site #5) 8.18 miles, Day 2- Au Sable East to Beaver Creek (not sure #, but it was at the back next to trail entrance) 13.52 miles, Day 3 Beaver Creek to Mosquito Creek, 10 miles, Day 4 Mosquito Creek to Munising Falls, 12.9 miles. I have a .gpx trek available, PM me if you want it.

    So, without further ado, I take fingers to keyboard and present to you my 4 day, 3 night, 44.5 mile trip through Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the NCT….One other thing, I got lucky on the bugs and missed them. I did see some ticks, but otherwise the flying critters weren’t a problem, but in June and July it can be rough.

    Day 1 - Thursday, 5-14-15 Clarkston to Munising to Grand Sable VC, hike to Au Sable East:
    After getting home from work the night before at 10, the alarm came early as I woke at 3:00 AM for the nearly 6 hour, 387 mile drive from my house to Michigan’s UP. Lot’s of coffee got me to the Mackinac Bridge by 7, then another couple hours to the PIRO Visitors Center in Munising. Arriving by 9, there were a half dozen people wandering around inside and getting reservations. The guy in front of me didn’t have a clue to his route and the clock was ticking for my 10 AM shuttle pickup, so I said I was all set and they took care of me. After getting my permits, it’s a short drive to Munising Falls, where I met up with a Father-Daughter who was taking the same shuttle as me. At 9:30, the driver showed up in a minivan, and since we were the only ones, we got on the road. By 11, I had arrived at Grand Sable VC and was told of a trail reroute that would have me starting out on the trail with a 1.5 mile roadwalk the same way I had come. This was the first time I’d been through this section of the NCT and it was a nice walk along the shores of Grand Sable Lake and the early spring woods with the wildflowers starting to bloom







    Passing by the backside Grand Sable Dunes, I could hear Lake Superior in the distance. After about 5 or so miles, I arrived at Log Slide by 1:30 and took a short break. Back on the trail after taking some pictures of the dunes, the trail started to drop and in the distance I could see the Au Sable Light Station, which was just past Au Sable East CG.



    After a total of 8.1 miles for the day, I arrived at campsite # 5 on the ridge by 3 PM. There are 6 sites here and finding one that was “legal” (note- regulations require you camp 15 feet from the numbered site post) took some time, because I walked by each one looking for something that would work. I did find 2 other ones that were decent, but there was too much forest cover and it was down in a hollow with no wind. It felt way too closed in, so I was happy with my choice of #5 on the ridge with open space around and sun. I got my camp set up, pumped water out of Lake Superior and took a quick dunk to cool down. Needless to say, Lake Superior is pretty cold in May, but it sure felt good. The rest of the day I just relaxed, ate my dinner and enjoyed the beer that I packed in for my first night.



    Temps for the day were around 70 and sunny. I had AT&T coverage, so I knew it would be in the low 40’s overnight with a rain front coming through. After a long day, it was hiker midnight by 8:30.



    Day 2 – Friday 5-15-15 Au Sable East to Beaver Creek 13.52 miles



    By 5:30 AM, I was up and not moving too fast since it was drizzling and I was very comfortable in my new EE Revelation 40 TQ and HG Phoenix 40 UQ. At around 6:30, I forced myself to get up, do a fast pack and head the ½ mile to the Au Sable Light Station to reorganize and have breakfast under the big porch out of the rain. Didn’t feel like going through the hassle of boiling water for coffee, so I went with a poptart, chased down with my carnation instant breakfast with powdered milk and a packet of Nescafe. I hit the trail by 7:45. The walk from the Light Station to Hurricane River Campground is 1.5 miles, mostly through an access road, so it was pretty easy hiking. There was some mud here and there, but that’s expected in May in the UP. In fact, there were still areas in the backcountry that still had snow piles.



    After crossing the Hurricane River, it was back to the woods with views of Lake Superior. Eventually the NCT pops out at H58 and crosses the road. I’ve taken the road walk before, but this time I followed the NCT and was pleasantly surprised with the trail through the woods. A few more miles later would take me through Benchmark, which some car campers were at and pretty much made a mess out of it….garbage, food, gear etc lying around. I think they missed that part of the LNT brochure…Note, Benchmark is due east of a parking lot so car access is easy. After the parking lot, it’s back to a short stretch of trail, then the roadwalk through 12 Mile Beach Campground. Lots of hanging options here, but in the summer it can fill up fast.

    I’ve always wanted to know the history of this place in the woods. What great character!



    Snow is May!


    The next leg was through 12 Mile beach and it’s just that….a long walk along Lake Superior with great views the whole way.



    Eventually, the trail turned inland and got a little wet.



    Need a lift somewhere? Car out in the middle of nowhere.


    After almost 12 miles I passed Pine Bluff Campground, then by 1:30 I rolled into Beaver Creak after 5 hours of hiking.

    I’d been dealing with rain most of the day and I could get a whiff of campfire smoke before I entered the campground. It’s amazing how that smell can invigorate you! Beaver Creek has 6 sites and by the looks of it, most were filled with tents. I followed the trail and met a group of Canoers under a large rainfly, who came in from the access road across Beaver Lake. They were here for a long weekend and made it like home. From the looks of it, most the sites there are perfect for hanging, unfortunately the tents beat me to them. They directed me to the open site at the back and it was perfect. I’m not sure of the site number, but it’s the one on the far west side corner where the trail from Beaver Lake enters the campground. By now, it was starting to clear up, so got my camp set up and took a long nap.



    Beaver Creek as it enters Lake Superior


    Strange clouds over Lake Superior at Beaver Creek CG


    Later on, I would join up with my new friends at the firepit and enjoy some good storytelling and fellowship late into the evening. The group was a mix of father & son-in-laws and they’ve been coming there for years. One guy was from Australia, one guy had a guitar, another had a banjo. Oh, since they brought everything by canoe, there was no dehydrated food…everything was fresh. That night I dined on chicken fajitas, grilled tortillas and a variety of microbrews. They were having problems with their coffee percolator earlier, so I gave them all of my Starbucks Via…It was a small price to pay.

    I turned in around 10:30 and was out fast…temps were in the high 40’s and it was a good night in the hammock.

    Day 3 – Saturday 5-16-15 Beaver Creek to Mosquito 10 miles
    After a restful sleep (and recovering from the fajitas) I was up by 6:30 or so and packed up. A couple of the guys already had a fire going, so I joined them, had a quick breakfast, thanked them profusely for their hospitality and hit the trail by 7:30. I was hoping they’d be pulling out the bacon and eggs stashed in the bearbox, but I was too early. Temps were in the low 50’s and it was overcast and damp.




    From this point on, I’d start seeing some of views that Pictured Rocks are known for. This segment of the trail is my favorite. If you came around a corner, there was another spectacular view.



    I was beginning to see more and more people on the trail and after about 5 miles I met up with another backpacker from Marquette, so we ended up hiking together until he had to turn off at Chapel Beach. He might be a future hammock convert, because he was lugging a 3 person North Face expedition tent for just himself that weighs 10 pounds. I noticed a sense of jealousy when I told him my tarp, insulation and hammock come in under 5 pounds.







    After 8 miles, I had to stop for this photo opportunity. I met up with a couple here that would be going to the same campground I was (Mosquito), so I’d meet up with them later. Arriving at Mosquito River by 12:30, I entered the campground and met a couple at site #1 who was just packing up. They were heading to Cliffs that night and I’d run into them the next day.

    Looking for an appropriate site (total of 5), this was one of the hardest campgrounds to get the lay of. Lot’s of trails seemingly going nowhere, but I finally settled on #3 at the back of the campground on a bluff, with the Mosquito River just down the hill. It had great water access and provided for an abbreviated swim to wash off the trail grime. The bear box was close by and there was a nice spot all set up to cook. I spent the afternoon lounging, wandering around the campground and exploring along the shore. It was nice spending some time soaking my feet in Lake Superior











    Later that evening I met a group of recent MSU graduates and watched the day come to an end.



    Day 4 –Sunday 5-17-15 Mosquito River to Munising Falls 12.9 miles
    Another good nights rest with temps in the mid 50’s got me up and on the trail by 6:30, knowing that I had a long day ahead, plus the drive home. This was a false start, because I got a mile away and realized my camera had fallen out. I turned around and within 10 minutes met a couple, who said they hadn’t seen it.



    I went almost all the way back to the campground looking for it and the man had found it, so he backtracked all the way to find me. I couldn’t thank him enough for his troubles. Now, there’s a long cord on it that’s clipped on my pack…..lesson learned. This next segment of trail followed the cliffs and would go in and out of the woods. Since it was early in the season, there was still alot of trail cleanup that needed to be done

    I went by Potato Patch site, which says there’s no water, but this early in the spring, there’s a small waterfall to use. They trail was getting muddier, so I knew it would be a tough day. After 5 miles, the trail drops down to Miner’s Beach, where the trail turns to sand and it makes for slow going.



    Crossing the river, it’s a climb back up to the bluff for Miners Castle and the famous overlook



    I ended up meeting a family here who was from my neck of the woods. I took a short break at one of the picnic tables and prepared for my final leg: 7 miles back to Munising Falls. By 10:30 I was back on the NCT, stumbling through the mud and climbing over and around deadfall. Occasionally, I’d step where I thought it would support me and end up getting a soaked foot. This section of the trail was pretty much a walk in the woods, with thick brush and few views of Lake Superior. Just when I thought I was home free and 2 miles from my car, my trekking pole slipped off the wooden boardwalk, bent and buried itself in the mud….I went down like a pile of bricks and landed in the mud and soaked my boots. Not a pretty site…

    There was one thing I had been thinking of the whole trip: a stop at Johnny’s Dogs in Munising, and that provided the fuel in my mind.


    At 12:35 PM, I got back to my car at Munising Falls. I cleaned up a bit and headed to Johnny’s for a gourmet hotdog and some piggy fries. I pulled in the parking lot and it’s closed. Now I know how Clark Griswold feels…I consoled myself with a frisco burger, fries and a extra large coke at Hardees instead. 6 hours later I arrived home and it was back to the real world.

    Final thoughts:
    Here are some stats for the trip: 44.6 miles hiked, with a total moving time of 17 hours and 40 minutes, average speed of 2.6mph. Did I pack too much? Sure, but I never learn my lesson…probably could have left the book home plus a few other items. Maybe next time I’ll exercise restraint…

    Would I do it again? Most definitely. There’s some other side trails and areas like the Beaver Basin Wilderness I’d like to explore, plus there’s other backcountry sites I’d like to stay at. Going in late spring could have been hit and miss with the weather. There was still snow in the backcountry and ice flows in Lake Superior. I got lucky with the bugs, but June, July & August have the potential for being miserable. I’ve done it in October with the fall colors and that’s a great time to enjoy PIRO in all its beauty.

    I’ll soon be updating this with a trip video, but here’s the link to my photos:

    http://s113.photobucket.com/user/mic...20to%205-17-15

    Thanks for coming along on my journey through Pictured Rocks on the North Country Trail. Cool runnings.


  2. #2
    Mountain Gout's Avatar
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    Great report sir.... Beautiful pics... Really hoping to make it up there this fall..
    We would be one step closer to world peace, if everyone slept in a hammock..

  3. #3
    Senior Member 2ply's Avatar
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    What a great variety of terrain to hike through. Thanks for sharing the adventure. I really enjoyed the photos and look forward to the video. Were those wolf or dog tracks in the sand?
    Everyone ought to believe in something....I believe I'll go set up the hammock!

  4. #4
    michigandave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2ply View Post
    What a great variety of terrain to hike through. Thanks for sharing the adventure. I really enjoyed the photos and look forward to the video. Were those wolf or dog tracks in the sand?
    You're referring to my photobucket link. The tracks seemed small for a wolf and dogs aren't allowed in certain parts of the park ( Beaver a Creek is one of those places ). I did see day hikers with an illegal dog earlier, so it must of been them on the beach. Good eye picking them out

  5. #5
    Senior Member dtp2c111's Avatar
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    Great report. Thanks.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Redoleary's Avatar
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    Fantastic report, sure is beautiful county up there.
    Good luck,
    RED

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    Deep peace of the running wave to you.
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  7. #7
    Lofty's Avatar
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    Great trip report
    Thanks for sharing

  8. #8
    Senior Member Red Cinema's Avatar
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    Super lovely. Added to my list. And I'm from TC (Traverse City to you non-Michiganders) originally, so just gotta do this sometime. Thanks!
    //
    “Stories set in the Culture in which Things Went Wrong tended to start with humans losing or forgetting or deliberately leaving behind their terminal. It was a conventional opening, the equivalent of straying off the path in the wild woods in one age, or a car breaking down at night on a lonely road in another.”
    ― Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games

  9. #9
    Senior Member Chris K's Avatar
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    I really enjoyed your trip report. Lookss like you had an excellent adventure. Thanks for sharing.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Dux's Avatar
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    Very nice. Thanks!
    (insert pithy quote here)

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