October 2003: Porcupine Mountains
I love the upper peninsula of Michigan and I love camping.
I was having your typical burnout year in 2003 like many people in I.T. [Information Technology] and I needed a vacation. I wanted to go back to the UP [Upper Peninsula] and see the Porcupine Mountains from a camper’s view rather then a day hiker’s view. I have wanted to go solo camping for some time as well; I also wanted to give winter camping a shot. So I did it all in one trip.
I made my plans and I bought the gear I didn’t have. I bought a “super pack” and rain gear…it had enough space for a 10 day trip or longer if you know how to pack seriously. Ceramic water filter system, stove, pots and food. When it was all said and done my pack weighed between 55 and 60 lbs. I was going for 5 days, solo through the park in it’s off season. No cell phone and few walkie-talkies work in the heavily wooded area. I was kindly informed that rangers would not be patrolling the area…so I had better leave some information with someone at home. So I explained to my parents where I was going and my probable route through the park. I let them know I would call them on my way home on the last day; but there was a catch. See, the park is about 12 hours away from my home and even further from my parents home. There was no cell service within a 2 hour drive from the park and even then it was spotty…I would have to wait until I had about 8 hours left in my drive before I could call home. To make my parents more nervous I let them know that even if I did not call by the said time; they would not be able to send someone out to find me until the next day; the ranger office was closed on the weekend. Nothing could make matters much worse then the fact that in the morning the rangers would look, but it would not be a “search and rescue” until the following day as the 24 hour rule would come into play. My parents were so pleased that I was taking this trip. :)
The drive up was long and tiring. I slept in the car just a few miles into the UP; pulled over in a KOA campground. The picture below was the sunrise over Lake Superior that greeted me. I would only see the sunshine one other day on my trip…as it started raining a few hours after that picture and only stopped when the rain turned to snow.
I hiked in and made camp…went through my routine and hiked to the main climax of the tip: Lake of The Clouds. In all the pictures I have seen of the lake, I have never seen the phenomenon that gives the lake its name; this day I saw it. The elevation of the trail you can hike in on is around 1400 to 1700 feet above sea level -I should mention that you have to hike up 30 degree slopes at some points to reach that height. While I hiked up the fog rolled in and before I knew it I was walking in a cloud. Within a few hundred feet the cloud cover broke and I could see it…The Lake of the Clouds.
With my trusty mini-tripod and advantex camera I was good for a photo op!
I hiked to the other side of the mountains (yes they are foot hills to many of you, but they were mountains to me!), down the 1700 foot cliff and to a campsite on the other side of the lake.
The third day was great weather and I had extra time to enjoy a few of the natural waterfalls and cascades throughout the park. There are over 200 different sets and some hare harder to find then others. This one was unnamed, but again it was a perfect place for a photo op of yours truly.
That night the cold rolled in. Temperatures were just about 30 degrees Fahrenheit every night; except the last night they hovered just above 25. I only made a fire once as almost all wood was soaked, frozen or a combination of both. I slept with my pants rolled up at the bottom of my bag and my wet socks on my hands. Why? Maintain heat and specifically to dry my clothes. I slept like a baby every night.
I awoke with a scare the last night: I thought I heard a bear. You see the Porkies have many black bear in the park and on my way to the campsite I had seen very fresh bear tracks; they were going to the opposite direction. That night I was careful not to spill my food nor cook with the lid off the pot for too long. I ate, and cleaned my cooking supplies far from camp and I hung my food and gear on a bear pole far from the site. I even took the liberty of cleaning out the fire pit at the site near me as it has some trash in it. -Pause- What is a bear pole? Well picture a flag pole with a hook on top. The idea is that you put your food and things that smell yummy in a bag and hang it on the hook at the top of the pole so the bears don’t smell it and if they do: they can’t get into it.
I heard the crinkle of plastic and then I remembered the half burned Cheetos bag in the fire pit I left thinking it wasn’t worth the hassle of tossing. As the sound of something artificial was dragged across the ground the wind picked up and I could still hear branches falling and drops of water falling on the tent. An occasional scraping noise would follow; I suspected it was small branches falling on the tent. Eventually I could not take it anymore…I could hear the bear pole clanging: there was a bear.
Now I don’t carry a side arm [gun] when I go camping, I just bring a four inch navy seal knife that I call “my last resort”. You really only have one option in a vicious bear attack when playing dead isn’t working: fight. With a knife you have only one option: go for something vital, otherwise you will just piss off the bear even more. So I quietly donned my head lamp…tightening the straps to make sure it would withstand a good smack. I grabbed my knife and rested it on my chest; then I waited and listened.
Well I feel stupid. Why? What happened to the suspense!?!? Well the noise I heard was ice and snow. It started snowing, sleeting and at the end there was a lot of freezing rain. You name it, it was sliding off the trees. The artificial noise was the ice getting heavy and sliding off the back of the rain fly on my tent. Let’s just say that my imagination can REALLY run wild at times!
Overall the trip was great and when I left I felt like I had been gone for two weeks. I saw 5 people total that trip and I didn’t mind one bit. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.