We headed down to check out this section of 12 mile beach after breaking camp and enjoying breakfast. We had thought about visiting it the day before but a relaxing afternoon of just hanging around camp seemed more appealing at that time. From the beach, we were able to see how far we had come from Grand Portal.
Gail planned to hike ahead but we all agreed to meet up at 12 Mile Campground for a break and a snack. We knew from our earlier visit that there would be picnic tables and water available. Shortly before the arrival at 12 Mile, we came across a creepy cabin that we thought looked like a Hansel and Gretel house! We tried to go inside and look around but it was locked up tight. We peeked through the window and saw some notebook paper laying on a desk. It looked to be some sort of journal but we could not quite make out what was written. One can’t help but wonder about the author of the pages. Were they intended to be left behind for some future traveler to read?
It was just a short walk from the cabin in the woods to 12 Mile Campground. We entered it from the west side and the first thing that catches our eye is the pit toilet. A chance to pee with walls and a door! Sounds crazy but that seemed quite luxurious at that time. After smelling said facilities, however, we decided that maybe we preferred the outdoor throne. Having a picnic table to sit at and have a snack was definitely a treat for sore knees.
The North Country Trail goes from one end of 12 Mile Campground to the other. We came in on the west side and walked along the campground road to the east end. We stopped to refill water at the water spigots and chatted with one of the young men we had met at camp the night before. We also stopped to talk with one of the RV campers. He shared some of his backpacking tales from his younger years. We talked pack weights, backcountry cooking and other “backpacker things”. We honestly chatted longer than we should have because we later ran into “Grumpy Ranger”. She drove up beside us just before we entered the woods at the east side of 12 Mile Campground. She asked where we were headed and when we told her Au Sable, she demanded to see our permit. No problem, I had it secured to my backpack as instructed. I turned around to show her and she then demanded to know who issued the permit. Uh, don’t know her name, the NICE lady at Grand Sable Visitor Center. We were then informed that it was not a valid permit because it listed us as having 4 tents. Well …. that’s because we each have our own tent. We were told when we obtained our permit that it was ok as long as we were all within 15 feet of the campsite post. We had been careful to make sure we followed that rule. In fact, Becky and I had actually shared a tent the night before to make sure we didn’t set a tent where we weren’t supposed to. Grumpy Ranger finally let us go since we were down to our last night of camping but made sure we knew that the RULE was 2 tents per permit with an occasional waiver for 3 solo tents. Never 4. We promised to only use 3 tents and stay within the boundaries of the tent pad. We left 12 Mile feeling bad knowing the nice lady that issued our permit was probably in for a butt chewing. We were very happy to slip back into the woods.
We couldn’t help but be fascinated by the variety of fungus along the trail. It was obvious that we were getting to that point in the hike where food was becoming a preoccupation. Several times we commented on how much the mushrooms looked like different types of food. We saw mini sesame seed buns, moldy pancakes and cauliflower. We also so such interesting fungus shapes as gnome noses and coral.
We stopped for lunch at the trail head for the Au Sable lighthouse. The trail to the lighthouse is actually part of the North Country trail. The trail head had picnic tables as well as potable water. The Hurricane River flows into Lake Superior here and makes a cool “beach river” before reaching it’s destination. Becky wanted to play in the beach river but I wanted to keep moving. I wish now we’d played a bit, it looked very refreshing for sore feet!
The trail head for the walk to the lighthouse also has steps leading down to the beach where debris from many of the shipwrecks has washed up over the years. This section of Lake Superior is known as the Graveyard Coast. The rocks here go out into the lake up to a mile making the water only 6 foot deep in places. Old ships often used the shoreline for navigation and many ships met their end along this stretch. The Au Sable lighthouse was built to warn sailors of the danger.
After checking out the shipwrecks, we headed down the trail to the lighthouse. We were hoping to catch a tour before they ended for the season.
We lucked out and caught the last tour of the day. We went through the downstairs living area before climbing the spiral stairs to the top.
The views from the top were amazing! We could see Grand Sable Dunes, where we would be hiking the next day. We got a preview of our trail heading back into the woods. The tour guide was kind enough to take a picture of all us at the top!
The light of the lighthouse was originally a gas flame that was maintained by opening and closing air vents to maintain the right oxygen mix for maximum light production. This was the function of the lighthouse keeper and his assistant. The light was very large, in this case 6 feet across and mirrors were used to project the light up to 17 miles into the lake. The advent of LED lighting made the lighthouse keeper obsolete and the lighthouse became fully automated. This lighthouse is now maintained by volunteers who live here and give tours to people like us! Below are the old and new lighthouse lights, the old on the left and the new on the right.
Below is the view from one of the lighthouse windows.
The lighthouse tour was fantastic and highly recommended if you can make time for it on your hike! We headed back to the trail and ran across an interesting sign. Just made for insuring pleasant sleeping…
From the lighthouse, it was just over a half mile to Au Sable East Campground. We looked for a campsite, making sure we would be able to get all of our tents in the designated area. We only found one site that would work but I was concerned with about a tree leaning over part of the site. The tree had started to uproot, was broken at the base but appeared to have hung up in another tree. The day was not windy and the tree appeared firmly lodged but it still made me nervous. Not seeing any other good options, though, we went ahead and set up our tents. Becky and I again shared a tent so as to meet the 3 tent maximum. We have actually decided that this may be a good weight saving option for future hikes. Once the tents we set, Becky and I decided to hike back to the lighthouse to see if I could get some nice sunset pictures. Gail and Julianne opted to stay at camp and cook their dinners. Hiking back with no packs was refreshing! We were a little early for sunset so we found a nice spot to sit and watch the waves crash on the rocks. Becky took advantage of the cell phone service to get in touch with home. When we first arrived backed at the lighthouse, the sky was filled with beautiful clouds that we hoped would become a gorgeous background for the colors of the setting sun.
Amazingly, the clouds completely disappeared by the time the sun began to set. The sun set behind the trees so there was no real opportunity to get a good sunset shot. One interesting thing that I was able to get a snapshot of was the sunlight reflecting off the mirrors of the lighthouse light.
While the sunset was a disappointment, we were treated to the almost full moon rising over Grand Sable Dunes. We were one day early for getting to watch the Supermoon Eclipse from the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. I really wished I’d have know about that when I obtained my permits! Even so, the moon was spectacular and made our walk back to the lighthouse very worthwhile.
We made the short hike back to camp before full dark set in. We were glad we had brought along our bear spray since the shadows along the trail seemed just right for a hiding bear. Of course, we never saw or heard anything remotely bear like and once back at camp, the welcoming fire and camaraderie of the fellow hikers pushed any thoughts of bears or other large creatures far from our minds. We cooked up dinner and had another pleasant evening chatting with the others out enjoying this wonderful fall weather. We met 2 men and their sons who were on the first night of their trek. They were eating what looked like a pocket sandwich and we asked about them hiking with them. They explained they are pasties (p*ah*stees) and were a traditional Upper Peninsula food. They were brought over by European immigrants. They were made with large folded edges so they could be held with the dirty hands of the immigrant miners without getting the part being eaten dirty. They would store them in their pockets to keep them warm until lunch. The hikers explained that pasties have become their traditional first night of backpacking dinner. We all thought they looked good and we like to try local food when traveling so we decided that would be our meal when we finished our hike. The hikers also had a large bottle of scotch that they shared with the group. I had never had scotch but was willing to give it a try. Let’s just say, it burns a little! Eventually people began wandering off to bed and we soon decided to do the same. We thanked the men for scotch and wished them luck on the rest of their hike. Becky told them we’d be sure to find some pasties (p*ay* stees) after we finished. They was suddenly dead silence. It was obvious that everyone wanted to laugh but no one wanted to be the first. Finally, the man with the scotch spoke up, saying simply, “I think you’re thinking of something else.” Everyone had a good laugh and we now have a great story to tease Becky about on future hikes! Soon everyone was off to bed for what we hoped would be a peaceful night’s sleep.