» miners castle in ice land
miners castle is probably the most distinct rock formation in pictured rocks national lakeshore and in the summer it can be reached by a short walk. in the winter, however, they don't completely plow the roads and miners castle becomes snowbound, the shortest route to it being 8 miles round trip. so, we headed up saturday morning, knowing that the weather forecast was predicting it to be the coldest day of the year with subzero temperatures and windchills down to -30F. a huge storm had just swept through the area, abruptly bringing cold air and snow to the whole state. in ann arbor, the temperature dropped by almost 50 degrees overnight (50F to 2F). the national weather service issued a winter advisory that basically said to stay indoors, so our plan to spend all day outside skiing deep into the backcountry wasn't sounding so great.
on the drive up we saw ice covered trees that sparkled in the sun, then snow covered roads which made the driving tentative, and the whole way we fought against high winds. my car's gas mileage actually dropped about 30%. i started to wonder if it was worth it, although the drive up is actually quite pretty once the billboards and buildings of the lower part of the state are replaced by trees and hills. crossing over the mackinac bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world (longest in the americas), is always a cool feeling. on this day, the straits of mackinac, under the bridge, were a mixture of ice, snow, slush, and open water.
once over the bridge, there's not much around besides wilderness. we followed along the icy expanse of the lake michigan shoreline for awhile, with huge piles of snow on either side of the road, and then shot up to munising, a small town nestled between hills and lake superior. we grabbed lunch at subway, got a topo map from the ranger station, and headed out to miners castle road to start our ski, not knowing how long we would be able to endure the cold.
well guess what? it turns out that the national weather service is just like all the other media outlets these days, using fear and sensationalist claims to get you to stay tuned to their over the top forecasting. NEXT ON THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE, COULD YOU BE AT RISK OF FREEZING TO DEATH TODAY? MORE ON THAT LATER, BUT FIRST, WE LOOK AT THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF RAIN... just joking, they have a cool website with lots of cool info, but we found that if you dress right (no cotton) and keep moving, being cold will not be a problem. according to NWS data (thanks dudes), it was 8F when we started and got up to 12F later in the day. the cold was apparent by the way the nylon of my backpack felt stiff and brittle like it could fracture into pieces and how our water bottles froze solid (i kept water in my pocket and wrapped the extra water in spare clothing from that point on to keep it from freezing). but i wore only a long sleeve polyester shirt, a windblock fleece jacket, polyester long underwear, nylon ski pants, a hat, and gloves, and was never cold. most of the time i had my jacket unzipped, wore no hat, and covered my hands only in thin polyester glove liners, due to overheating. megan wore similar clothes and never got cold except while standing in lake superior's brisk winds.
so anyway, on to the skiing. the unplowed miners castle road was well packed from snowmobilers which made it a lot easier to ski through the 2 feet of snow that blanketed the area, although the grooves of the snowmobile tracks often made your skis go in directions you didn't want them to. miners castle road is a very straight and pretty flat road, and is also apparently a very popular place to snowmobile as they were constantly whizzing by early in the day. not the most serene sounds, but the previous day's storm had coated the trees in snow, creating the perfect winter scene.
when we arrived at the lakeshore cliffs and peered over the edge at miners castle, we saw huge waves (6ft?) crashing around and ice floating in the water and coating the cliffs. some of the waves appeared to be moving in slow motion like they were about to freeze solid in place. on the way to the miners castle lookout, we caught a glimpse of miners beach where huge slushy waves were crashing into a 10-15ft ice shelf that had built up along the shore. we then skied 1.5 miles down to miners beach via the road because the foot trail was covered in 2 feet of untouched snow.
the beach was covered in snow and ice, sometimes dropping off 10 feet at a time and forming peaks taller than me. it was awesome seeing the huge slushy waves rolling in, crashing into the ice shelf, and shooting spray into the air. the power and frigidness of the waves was a very imposing sight which had to be observed from a bit of a distance because the edge of the ice shelf could be unstable and you also wouldn't want to be covered in the wave spray that occured in unpredictable patterns.
we were running out of daylight now so we headed on back to the car and ended up skiing the last mile in the dark. the car is always a welcome sight, and we did make it back, surviving for 5 hours in the cold, while skiing 10 miles, and remaining in total comfort the whole time. so don't live in fear of the NWS bulletins.
mileages: it is 2 miles from the end of the plowed road to the miner falls turnoff, then 1.5 miles from there to the miners beach turnoff. from there it is 0.5 miles to miners castle or 1 mile to miners beach.
miners castle on a windy day.
me skiing to miners castle (taken by megan). a big storm had blown through the day before, coating the trees in snow.
cliffs as seen from miners castle.
snow blasted trees on miners castle.
big icy swells.
looking through the trees at the distant cliffs.
water to slush to ice.
the top of miners castle. on april 13th, 2006, the castle turret shown in the center of this picture fell into lake superior.
megan skiing to miners beach.
crop circles on miners beach.
me above a huge ice shelf on miners beach. spray from waves crashing into the shelf can be seen on the right. (taken by megan)
megan standing on the edge of an ice shelf. the brown color occurs because the turbulent waters cause sand to get mixed in with the water/ice. my theory on how these ice shelves form is that when it snows, the surface water becomes slushy and the waves push this slush onto the shores where it freezes. then, waves continue to crash into the piles of frozen slush, coating them with water which freezes and builds up the ice even more. what can also occur is that the lake can freeze along the shore and then waves can break up that ice and deposit it on the beach. this didn't so much look like chunks of ice though, it was more like slushy snow that had frozen together (which makes sense because the lake hasn't really frozen much this year).
this blurry picture is the best one i got of bridal veil falls (the tallest waterfall in michigan at ~140 feet).
some idiot standing out on miners castle (taken by megan).
the mostly frozen miners river.
our tracks, near miners beach.
megan skiing the final stretch back to the car.
megan at miners castle, and me skiing back from the lookout (taken by megan).
me skiing back from miners beach (taken by megan).
» spray falls
spray falls, which drops 70 feet over the cliffs into lake superior, is the most remote waterfall in pictured rocks. in the summer it is a 8 mile hike and in the winter, due to unplowed roads, it becomes a 14 mile journey. we brought snowshoes along for this trip because the trail along the cliffs is generally tight and windy, and cross country skiing next to sheer cliffs is not that wise.
my car barely wanted to start on this morning and according to the NWS, it was -1F when we began, although it was a sunny day and got up to 25F later on (once again, the cold was not an issue). we headed out to little beaver lake road which is completely unplowed, but thankfully a single snowmobiler had been there before us and created a decent track for us to ski on. the road is rather hilly and we did not see a snowmobiler all day so it was a very peaceful ski. the only people we saw were some winter campers heading back to their car in the morning. once we reached the end of the road, we ditched our skis, put on our snowshoes, and started on a foot trail to lake superior which followed a nice creek for awhile and wound through a beautiful snowy forest.
twelvemile beach looked similar to miners beach with lots of ice buildup on the shore and a big ice shelf with waves crashing into it. in the area where the beach transitions to cliffs, there were lots of interesting ice formations, including a cave that was covered in icicles.
the lakeshore trail to spray falls was somewhat challenging in snowshoes, there were steep snow covered steps in places and huge fallen trees blocking the trail that you either had to go over, under, or around. also, no one else had hiked this part of the trail and packed the snow down for us. part of the trail was very exposed, going right along sheer cliffs with no trees between you and a fall, and the viewpoint for spray falls was on a treeless rock outcrop that slanted downward and exposed you to stiff lake superior winds that threatened to blow you over. not a good place for people with a fear of heights.
after skiing/hiking 7 miles to get there, i was content to take in the view quickly, snap a few pictures, and head on back. i think the falls would have been more impressive if they weren't totally frozen (i was in the area in early january and from a distance i could see that the falls were still flowing (this was the warmest january on record)).
at this point we were pretty tired and still had to hike all the way back. megan had expressed an interest in turning around back when we were at twelvemile beach but once we got to spray falls and started heading back, she turned into the energizer bunny. i was pretty tired because i had been carrying a large pack the whole time with all of our food/water/spare clothes/snowshoes/etc which made skiing more cumbersome and this was only megan's third time on cross country skis, so i don't think either of us would describe the trip back to the car, which was almost all uphill, as "fun". however, we cruised through the last 3 miles in an hour and managed to make it back to the car in daylight for once. then we headed back to town and got a well earned meal at subway and headed home. we were outside for 9.5 hours, skied 6 miles, and snowshoed 8 miles, for a grand total of 14 miles.
i think we both feel it was all worth it: we saw some really cool stuff that few people ever lay eyes on in the winter, got some good exercise, and we now look like total badasses for doing these hikes in the face of stern warnings by the NWS to stay inside. we are getting tattoos to go along with our new level of badassery, and henceforth i shall be known as "ice man" and megan as "icicle".
mileages: 3 miles to the end of little beaver lake road, then 1.5 miles to lake superior (twelvemile beach), then 2.5 miles to spray falls.
frozen spray falls (far right).
me skiing little beaver lake road.
icy cave near twelvemile beach.
icicles hanging from a cave ceiling.
ice covered cliff.
near spray falls.
cliffs east of spray falls.
lake superior, and an ice bridge/volcano that formed on the beach.
me in front of an ice cave (taken by megan).
looking towards grand portal point.
ice, cliff, and frozen little beaver creek.
ice ice ice.
me on twelvemile beach (taken by megan).
iced (taken by megan).
megan skiing little beaver lake road.
looking at the spray falls viewpoint.
us, and icicles.
» other things
the bridge, coming and going.
sled dogs (there was a race that ended in munising).
» all photo reports from michigan's upper peninsula
Thinking about traveling to Pictured Rocks yourself? You might want to read my guide to Pictured Rocks.
The Upper Peninsula, Michigan
October 2 - 11, 2009
Enjoying fall in the Upper Peninsula from Pictured Rocks to the Porcupine Mountains to the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
October 3, 2009
Spending a short day on the island and enjoying the views, even without the influence of fudge.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
March 7 - 9, 2008
Skiing & snowshoeing in the Miners Castle & Grand Sable Dunes areas. We also checked out the ice in Grand Marais & Mackinac Straits.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
January 27, 2007
Skiing & hiking the Chapel Loop in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on a stormy day.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
January 7, 2006
A backcountry ski trip to the remote lakeshore cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
July 3 - 4, 2005
Hiking in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and checking out some of the other sights in the area.
Bare Bluff, Michigan
October 8, 2009
A fall hike to Bare Bluff, one of the more scenic areas of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
August 30 - September 2, 2007
Back to the Great Lakes with a rare summer visit to Pictured Rocks to see what it all looks like when it's green.
Pictured Rocks in Fall, Michigan
October 7, 2006
Hiking the Chapel Loop & checking out other sights like Spray Falls, Miners Castle, Miners Beach, Munising Falls, Grand Sable Dunes, etc.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
February 19 - 20, 2006
Skiing & snowshoeing the Pictured Rocks backcountry. Areas visited include: Miners Castle, Miners Beach, Twelvemile Beach, and Spray Falls.