Exploring Copper Country
Wednesday September 16 I left Bayfield, WI and headed east for Michigan. To my knowledge I’ve never stepped foot into Michigan before and couldn’t be more excited to check out the upper peninsula which contains some of the oldest rocks in North America. My first stop in the U.P. was the Porcupine Mountains. I had decided to explore and camp near the NE entrance on the shore of Lake Superior and near the cities of White Pine and Silver City. The cross country ski trails doubled as mtb trails so I wanted to explore those, do some hiking, paddle boarding and more beach combing. The Porcupines were recommended by several others I had met along the way, and now I could see why. I arrived at Union Bay camp midafternoon, set up camp, the flies were horrible which got me motivated to start moving, so I took the Salsa Blackborow for a ride in the mountains. I started easy and rode some wide trails between the main road and beach of Lake Superior, to my amazement did not see anyone on this loop. Getting back to the road I decided to explore the downhill ski area, which also caters to cross country skiers. I followed along the undulating paths which crossed the vast open hills used for downhill skiing until I reached the backside of the mountain. Turns out the backside is completely dedicated to cross country skiing, and I had a blast on the mountain bike, can’t imagine the fun to be had on skis! I climbed about 800 feet before coming to a lookout off the east side of the porkies, I could see a good portion of the peninsula and the vast lake beside it. Some trees were starting to change color the wind flowing through nearby trees was music to my ears. It was near sunset and I wanted to explore further, on went the headlights and I backtracked to the nearest double diamond trail which climbed another 400 feet before descending hard back down the mountain, it felt like I was a blur winding through trees while maintaining a continuous decent. Over logs, through mud puddles, around rocks, the Blackborow really is the best adventure bike out there. Back down the mountain, I recognized one that I had been on earlier and continued until reaching the chalet once again. Made it back to camp for much needed dinner and rest, the flies were gone, I didn’t even start a fire just enjoyed the open sky filled with stars.
Ski and mtb trails
View of Lake Superior and tree filled peninsula from eastern end of Porcupine mts
Thursday morning I drove up to Lake of the Clouds overlook area, where I was going to do the premier hike as called out in the visitor center. This hike was supposed to take 6-8 hours and cover 12 miles of difficult terrain while providing great overlooks and hikes through old growth forests, perfect! I started the hike on Big Carp trail, about a mile in it was starting to rain and looked like it was only going to get worse the further west I hiked. I continued on, thanks to my recent time in Juneau, AK getting wet is just part of a good hike, and besides there was a less likely chance to run into other humans. The Big Carp trail wound around lots of trees, I even got turned around a bit direction wise but the trail was marked really well. I soon reached a river 5 miles in, was going at a good pace by now jogging through the rain, which was deflected nicely by the vast tree cover. After crossing the river (more like a creek), I took the trail towards Meadow Lake. This section was a bit rougher than the last but still fairly easy going, my jogging pace continued, however I took out my hiking poles to assist with descents as the trail was covered in mud. At the bottom of a ravine, mud and water ankle to knee deep I met up with 4 backpackers, they looked miserable and weren’t moving very fast, I said hello they responded with a few jokes regarding the rain and I just continued on splashing through the water as it was a daily event. Upon reaching Meadow Lake the rain stopped besides the occasional secondary rain where the wind blows hard enough to drop rain from the tree leaves. There were 2 cabins at the lake's edge which had people hiding in them from the rain, I stepped onto the beach to check out the lake and slowly people starting sneaking out of the sanctuaries. The lake was small but looked scenic and a good place for rafting, another day. Pushing onto the north Meadow Lake trail then back towards Lake of the Clouds. This trail was neat, cutting through different volcanic terrain. A large ravine had been cut down from years of water flowing in what was now a small creek. The rock making up the ravine walls were perfect cubical blocks broke apart by seemingly straight joints. Not being familiar with the area nor the geology, this part of the trek reminded me to dig in at a later date. After admiring the rocks, I continued down a large slope and slowly departed from the stream until reaching a flat plane, all still covered in trees, I met up with another 2 backpackers (father and son) who were going the same direction as me just much slower with their large packs. After a greeting and some small talk I continued on, my pace had slowed to a fast walk by this point, the wonder of this areas geologic history had kept my mind busy. I was doing more hypothetical thinking while taking in the vastness of the surrounding environment. Shortly after seeing the backpackers I was looking into the trees down a trail for the Lake of the Clouds cabins, this would be a great spot to camp someday. Then I crossed a long bridge over a marsh and stream area at the furthest west point of Lake of the Clouds, which didn’t seem to impressive at this point. I climbed the short but steep stairs back to the lookout area and took in the beauty, already reminiscing today's hike through the heart of the Porcupine Mountains. Checking the gps, the 12 mile hike took me 3.5 hours. I thought about doing another loop and checking out more, however the lure of swimming in Lake of Superior was overwhelming, at this point it was shaping up to be a nice evening. Finding a day parking beach spot just outside the park, I quickly found a trail down to the water. It was cold but didn’t feel too bad, maybe I was getting used this! I ran back to the truck and grabbed the SUP for a quick tour of the extensive beach in this cove. This time the lake was calm with an occasional wave breaking, the paddle was relaxing as I headed toward the Union Bay campground the sandy beach ended and was instead filled with large red sandstone blocks. Back towards the day parking area and beyond to Silver City the sandy beach continued with patches of inch round cobbles brought in from the wave action. Before returning with the paddle board I did some yoga to stretch out after the day’s adventures. After yoga I took a quick swim and washed off a bit then headed for shore. At the truck I warmed up with hot food and some black tea before taking a stroll on the beach for treasures. Turns out this was a perfect day, and reminded me of a quote from Rumi: “On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty. Today is such a day.” The beach combing was superb, found crazy lace, candy striped and moss agates!
Big Carp trail, in the rain
Lake of the Clouds
Time for a swim in Lake Superior
Day beach looking out towards Union Bay campground
It rained really hard Thursday night, leaving the trails soaked and muddy, so I decided to move on. Not much further up the Peninsula I stopped at Twin Lakes State Park. It was a nice campground on a lake right next to the highway. There were only a few campers, leaving most spots open so I decided to stay for a night after finding a campsite with a beach. The night was quiet and peaceful, a fire kept me occupied before falling into a deep sleep. Upon waking the next morning I knew it was time to push on, the atv traffic getting started for the day, turns out there is extensive trails in this portion of the U.P. for motorized use. Traveling further up the peninsula I made it Houghton, MI home of Michigan Tech, I drove through campus on my way to Chassel and back and was impressed by the nice setting which the university is located but was surprised to see so many people on campus it was Saturday day after all. Across the bridge was the town of Hancock, I stopped at the local coop and was impressed by the large store, helpful staff, fresh produce, and beer selection. Next stop was McClain State Park, back on the shores of Lake Superior. While entering the park I noticed a few surf boards on a cliff overlooking the beach, the waves were the largest I’d seen them on the big lake. After getting camp set, I wandered over to where I noticed the boards, but they were gone already, sadly I did not have the ambition to get the SUP into that wave action, but rather decided to walk the beach. The waves were crashing into the cobble strewn beach, it was loud enough to get lost in the moment, I found several interesting rocks, picking up what I could before taking rest on a driftwood log to examine them. There were agates, jasper, copper ore cobbles, datollite, vesicular basalt, rhyolite, granite, and many more. I enjoyed the sunset on the beach before returning to camp for the night.
Sunday I decided it was a good day to play disc golf. Drove to Lake Linden, found the course next to the lake on a large peninsula near a campground. The course was built by the local community and was free flowing, some elevation, few trees, played a fast round being alone and decided to move on. Next stop was Calumet, a new course was set up this year next to Calumet Lake and in the nearby old growth pine forest. There were 4 holes by the lake, great basket locations! Remaining were placed in the trees where fairways were narrow but properly trimmed, baskets ranged from 200-300 feet, keeping the shots fairly technical. After two challenging games here I was tired of throwing and returned to the campground. Shortly after arriving, I got on the touring bike and went to explore the rest of the park as it stretched up and down the lake shore. There was a beach approx. 2 miles down the beach from my campsite, it was near the opening of portage lake, there were several people swimming here, I decided to take a seat and read for a while. Slowly I made my way back to camp, checking out the beach where I could, finding a few more agates for the collection.
The next morning (Monday) I drove the remaining distance up the western peninsula towards Copper Harbor. I took the lakeshore drive where possible and stopped regularly to check out the coast, always amazed at how quick it could change from sandy beach, to cobbles, then sandstone blocks making cliffs and caves, islands of basalt, and basalt bedrock for the beach. A paddling trip to circumnavigate Lake Superior’s shoreline would be nothing short of amazing! Pulling into Copper Harbor, cruised right through town noticing the bike shop was open, so I continued into Fort Wilkins State Park to find a camping spot. After getting set up I returned into town with the touring bike to check it out. Stopped at the bike shop for a map and tips, and local rock shop filled with thousands of copper specimens, datollite, and agates. At the loon shop I purchased a mining book and shirt to serve as souvenirs. Reminiscing the quick chat about the mtb trails in the shop, I couldn’t keep the excitement out of my mind, so I returned to camp switched bikes and headed back out, this time away from town down a paved turned to gravel road and eventually hooking up with the 'Point' trail, the newest addition in the area. Woohoo, single track..a half mile in I was on raised boardwalk that crossed what seemed like an endless marsh past Mud lake. Finally off the boardwalk and back onto trail it was a climb up the mountain. The trail was some gravel/dirt with a lot of outcropping dark red to brown basalt. Think the trail was set up to flow better the other way, but I was having a blast climbing the steep ascents, only dismounting twice to get up extremely steep sections. I stopped at a tree clearing and got a good view of Fort Wilkins and Lake Fanny Hooe before continuing on to ‘Say Hello’ trail and then down ‘Blue Hill’ and down ‘Garden Block’. The trails flowed nicely with difficult features strewn throughout and several wood bridges to navigate. Having flashbacks of my last wipeout riding single track in Whitefish, MT I decided to stop and unclip prior to taking any drinks of water, doubling as scenery breaks. The trails were technical enough to take the majority of my concentration to keep in a constant flow stage. Finishing in town at sunset I had biked 10 miles in 2 hours, good times! Amazingly I did not see any other bikers until I stopped at the local brewery where the trail head conveniently ended. Inside the door of this small brick building were bags of grains lining a hallway which bordered the brewing room, a few tables, and small bar in the corner. They’d had better days, it was really busy over Labor Day weekend and were only able to offer 2 out of 8 beers on tap, and an additional 5 beers in 22oz bottles. There was one other mtb’er at the bar, who chatted about the trails he had conquered that day giving me ideas for tomorrow’s ride. He was from Grand Marais, MN and had sailed to Copper Harbor. Shortly into our conversation his 3 sailing buddies came into the bar. They had biked to the fort and out to horseshoe bay. The 5 of us drank a few, kept the conversation going, and eventually ended up back at the sailboat to cook dinner. They had the only ship at harbor, the sky was filled with stars so close it felt like I could grab a handful to examine further. Stories continued over dinner, mostly where we had been, my journeys intertwined to some of the adventures they had been on in the past. The most adventurous guy sailing to New Zealand from Seattle in 28 days!! Then a glimpse into the future, including their plans to sail around Lake Superior for a week and my commitment to continue traveling for a minimum of 2 years. It was another great night, laughed often, and dinner was superb! Sailing conditions were going to be perfect in the morning so I said my farewell and began the bike ride back through town still laughing from the night’s varous conversations. My headlamp went dead as I entered the campground road, it was still really dark so I had to improvise with the red tail light. Upon reaching camp I realized my tent was never set up in my haste to get out and ride, I probably could have slept anywhere at that point.
Basalt shore on Lake Superior
Lake Fanny Hooe, very tip of peninsula on the horizon
Fort Wilkins on Lake Fanny Hooe, Lake Superior on horizon
Tuesday morning I awoke in my tent, it was later than usual and I continued the laziness well into early afternoon. Between yesterday’s ride and post ride adventures I was hurting a bit. Some coffee, light reading, and house (truck) cleaning helped pass the time. More people started filling up the campground in the afternoon so I did some stretching and got back on the blackborow for round 2. Rode the easy trails into town and was easily hooked once again.. rode up the ‘Garden Block’ trail then continued up ‘Whoopidy Woo’ to finish the full climb up the mountain, no problem for the Blackborow and some determination. At the top I decided to ride the ‘Edge’ and continue down the ‘Flow’ trail back towards town. The ‘Edge’ was gnarly going up, I walked some curly Q’s made from wood (the drop was up to 20 feet off the side) would be easier to navigate coming down. There were some awesome scenic views on the ‘Edge’ including one snapshot of the nearby mountains, valley, Lake Fanny Hooe, and Lake Superior in the skyline (further emphasizing the size of Lake Superior, coming into view due to the curvature of earth!) Onto the ‘Flow’ I found myself winding down a machine built trail with banked corners and several rock obstacles. This type of trail has been tricky for me on the Blackborow, wishing I had a front suspension to take some of the impact off my shoulders and arms. But it was fun, there were places to catch some air, fly around a corner, weave through some trees all without one pedal or touching the brakes! A few miles in I wiped out laying the bike down around a hard banked left corner, jamming a few fingers and puncturing my right foot on the rough gravel. All was well, so I continued the descent a bit more hesitant than before. At the bottom I cleaned up my wounds, ate an apple and came to the conclusion it was too dark to climb back up the mountain, so I bike back into town. While taking the easier trails back to camp I noticed Lake Fanny Hooe was calm with a glassy surface, so I hurried back to camp and got the SUP into the water. First paddling past Fort Wilkins, then across the Lake before paddling towards the trails I had just came from, enjoying the sunset and another peaceful evening. Wednesday I made the long drive back to Minnesota, winding down the copper country roads, already scheming on a plan to get back here someday soon.
If words could describe my excitement for these trails..
Valley and nearby mountains, taken from the Edge
More from the Edge
The Edge trail, don't fall off!
Lake Fanny Hooe and Lake Superior from the Edge