Spring Term reading period is a chance for many students to explore the Midwest’s outdoor playground freshly free of winter hindrances. Lawrence Outdoor Recreation Club (ORC) led a trip to the wild expanses of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this past weekend under the careful direction of veteran trip-goers Colin Huggins, Perrin Tourangeau and Lily Sand.
The Pictured Rocks national lakeshore borders Lake Superior and is an attraction to those that want to view a pair of fantastic sandstone formations that create arches over water and are covered in verdant evergreens.
Sadly, both of these formations were inaccessible at this time of year, so the group was forced to settle for bright blue waters, walk-able sand-covered mini-icebergs and watching a cliff sunset over the lake. For three of the 12 backpackers, this was the first ORC trip of their Lawrence careers.
The first day consisted of a sample of the 80-degree Appleton Thursday before a four-hour trek into the northern reaches of the Midwest with a short break for some Subway morsels. Unforeseen snow piles covered the improved gravel road that led to the trailhead, and the travelers were forced to walk the slushy path until a beach access was encountered a mile later.
A wooden staircase led up and over a hill to bring into view the lake in all her glory. The water was placid and unbroken, while huge ice chunks gently floated on top. The path led down to the beach, and the day’s journey moved up and down between the beach and the hilltop depending on snow depth on the path. By the time the group arrived at the campsite most boots were wet with snowmelt and crunchy with accumulated sand. A fire was a welcome addition to camp, helping de-sand the adventurers’ shoes.
Bedtime came naturally early after four miles of hiking. As everyone started to drift off to sleep, a pitter patter of rain turned into an absolute downpour. Even through closed eyelids giant crashes of lightning were visible outside. It turned into white noise that eventually helped everyone drift off to sleep despite the violence rocking the tents.
The next day began with a quick meal of oatmeal and more beach hiking along the shore. A couple of the hikers went out onto the ice floes that were close enough to the shore to be walked on. The chunks were treacherous and there were several wet feet by the end, but the floes were enough support to get out to large stable bergs that were almost completely covered in sand. The water was unbelievably blue on the other side. A careful backtracking fed into a continued march towards camp.
Day two’s campsite was huge and dry with a slight view of Little Beaver Lake, inland from Superior. Sun breached the clouds for the afternoon and made for a comfortable lounging time. A night of fireside chats and friend-making ensued.
More hiking on day three, this time inland and generally overlooking cliffs peering off to the lake. A lunch was had on one such vista, and sun came out for the rest of the day. The campsite was a mile and a half further on, and very marshy with a still pool of water covering half of the fire pit sitting area. Chipmunks were running wild after each other all around the campsite, and ravens occasionally landed high up in nearby trees.
An early afternoon fire turned into an evening one, and peanut butter noodles and rice soon filled the entire party. The sun’s slow progression towards the horizon was always in mind however, and everyone eventually headed towards the mossy cliff top that looked out over the lake.
The water was so calm an almost perfect mirror was below the horizon line. The ice in the lake turned steadily blacker and orange covered almost the entire visible lake. Purples and blues made their way into the gradient as well. By the time the sun went down, all of the travelers had had a sight of a lifetime.
The next day a back-track of around two miles put the group on the exit path. Sun-dappled shrubs and mosses led the way out of the park over boardwalks and rock formations, and to a parking lot. Five valiant volunteers ran the three miles back to the car parked where ice had not allowed any further progress three days earlier. They came rumbling down in a van and picked up another driver to collect the second vehicle. After sunning a while in the lot, everyone eventually packed the cars, and headed back to campus to enjoy the muggy finally-springy remnants of Sunday.