Who planned this hike anyway? That was the recurring thought among some of our herd as we trudged the 12 miles our first day required. I had planned it and of course the hike was much quicker and easier in my head than in reality. Not that it was a particularly difficult hike. Twelve miles of relatively level hiking in one day is very doable, even for us turtle hikers. But it requires an early start, something we did not have this day.
After a restful night at 12 Mile Beach, we packed up and headed for the Grand Sable Visitor Center to pick up our permits and meet our shuttle. The visitor center was just short drive away and we had plenty of time. The lady filling out our permits was very nice and we chatted a bit about the trail. There is no water available at this visitor center, something to be aware of if you’re starting your hike from this point. Our shuttle was scheduled to pick us up at 10:30 and was right on time. Something we found out later, you can get an earlier shuttle if you request it but it will cost extra. This would have been well worth it to us to get an earlier start. The Altran (http://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/shuttle-service.htm#CP_JUMP_313223) is the only shuttle service offered by the parks service. It was right on time an the driver was very friendly. We shared our hour long trip to Munising with just one other hiker. He was planning a 4 day hike but had a shorter first day than us, stopping at Potato Patch.
The shuttle ride seemed to go by quickly as we excitedly chatted about our upcoming hike. Once at Munising, we had a short delay getting off the shuttle since the door would not open. The driver told us that Altran had lost all their shuttle buses in a garage fire and were using ones loaned or donated until their new buses arrived. Fortunately he was able to manhandle the door and we were soon headed to the trailhead. There is water available at the Munising Visitor Center and we topped off and took advantage of the flush toilets and sinks one last time before heading out.
We’re off! We’re going to be hiking maniacs! We’re going to tear up the miles! We’re going to … find the trail closed 100 yards into the hike?! What the heck? Turns out there is a detour just after the beginning, or right at the end, depending on your direction of travel. For us, the detour involved going back to the start, walking down the road a short distance (less than 1/4) and the tying into the trail from a short side trail up a steep hill. Now, seriously, they couldn’t have posted that fact at the trailhead??
After the detour, our hike went smoothly and the miles did tick by fairly quickly. We knew we had to make good time but I simply cannot hike without taking pictures. Lots and lots and lots of pictures… Our day was overcast with just a few sprinkles here and there. Temperature was very comfortable for hiking, upper 60’s with just a light breeze. Fall hiking is the best!
The North Country Trail, at least the section we hiked, was well marked and easy to follow. The wet areas had nice boardwalks and there were only a couple of times in our entire 42 mile hike that we had any trees across the trail. What a pleasant change from some of our previous backpacking trips that were as much adventures in route-finding and mud slogging as they were pleasant tromps through the woods! There were stretches where it was a long time between trail markers but the trail was very obvious and did not have numerous trail junctions to throw you off course.
Miner’s Castle was 7 miles into our hike and good place to stop for lunch. We were pleasantly surprised to find modern bathrooms (yes, it matters to female hikers!) and water for refilling our supplies. At least we were excited about the water until we saw the sign telling us that the water was testing “higher than the allowable levels for radium”. The sign then went on to say that the radium was only harmful with long term exposure and we did not need to find another water source. We still had several miles ahead of it and filtering takes time. What to do, what to do… We finally decided that since everything causes cancer these days anyway, a little radium wasn’t going to make any difference. It would fit right in with our cancer causing processed jerky! We filled up and headed out.
After leaving Miner’s Castle, the trail had some sections of sand hiking as we followed along the coastline. Very pretty but more difficult walking than a dirt trail. At times the trail wandered inland and we have some pretty changes of scenery. For the most part, the inland sections were easier walking but we did encounter a couple of steep sections. The steep sections were short lived and had plenty of level walking in between.
One of the great things about hiking a new trail is that you never know what you will encounter. We had been walking in silence for a bit, listening to the sounds of the woods, when we heard an odd noise off in the distance. Was is thunder? No, didn’t really sound like it. Gunfire since it was hunting season? No, didn’t sound like that either. Honestly, it sounded like someone dragging an empty trash can back up after trash day. Eventually our questions were answered when a young couple, newlyweds, popped out of the woods dragging their kayaks behind them. They had been kayaking along the rocky shoreline when the wind picked up and made getting back to their starting point too dangerous. Fortunately, they were smart enough to get out and walk back to their car. Getting the kayaks back was probably no easy feat but certainly the safer choice. I’ve seen a lot of strange things out in the woods but this was definitely a first!
Even though the trail follows the coastline, it is often just inside the woods obscuring a clear view of Lake Superior. There are frequent openings, however, giving ample opportunities to see the cliffs and lake. We stopped at one of these overlooks to see the sun as it began to set. I’d love to say that this picture was taken after we had settled into camp and set up our tents, but sadly, we had not quite reached our destination. We had a wonderful hike but it was not looking like we would make camp before dark.
We managed to make it to camp about a half hour after sunset. We had covered 12 miles and had seen some pretty sights. We choose the first campsite we came across. After 12 miles, they all look perfect! Setting up after dark isn’t ideal but isn’t too difficult when you have an established campsite. We opted not to cook since it was late. We ate some of our snack foods and turned in for the night. I was disappointed not to be able to spend some time at Mosquito Beach but knew I would get to explore it in the morning.